Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My "Alabama" Perfumes

True Romance is a fantastic flick. Patricia Arquette plays the character of Alabama Whitman-Worley and Quentin Tarantino wrote the screenplay.

Alabama Whitman has been a hooker, I mean a call girl, because Alabama insists there’s a difference, for exactly four days when she meets her third customer, Clarence Worley (Christian Slater), and falls in love.

Alabama is a down on her luck gal with a kind heart who's full of spunk and feist. True Romance isn’t exactly your typical boy meets girl affair – but aside from the stealing, killing, violence, gangsters, pimps and drugs, it’s one of the best love stories, ever.

But I digress. I just wanted you to understand why I call these my Alabama Worley scents. Occasionally I don’t want to wear something discreet, understated, cerebral, neutral or soft – and these times call for my "Alabama" scents.

Top 12 Alabama Scents:
Bond No. 9 Broadway Nite
Dior Addict
Frederic Malle Carnal Flower
Givenchy Amarige
Guerlain Insolence edp
Guerlain Shalimar
Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum
Kenzo Amour
Miller Harris Noix de Tuberose
Monyette Paris
Thierry Mugler Alien
Yves Saint Laurent Baby Doll

Quotes from the movie:
"I'm gonna go jump in the tub and get all slippery and soapy and then hop in that waterbed and watch X-rated movies 'till you get your ass back in my lovn' arms."
- Alabama Whitman-Worley

"Please shut up! I'm trying to come clean, okay? I've been a call-girl for exactly four days and you're my third customer. I want you to know that I'm not damaged goods. I'm not what they call Florida white trash. I'm a good person and when it comes to relationships, I'm one-hundred percent, I'm one hundred percent... monogamous." - Alabama Whitman-Worley

Does everyone have Alabama perfume days or is it just me?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Keiko Mecheri Oliban

Keiko Mecheri Oliban is named for its most prominent scent note, olibanum. Olibanum is the proper name for frankincense which is a fragrant gum resin from Boswellia trees mostly commonly identified as the scent of incense.

Very often I review fragrances that are considered the Greats, such as Guerlain, Chanel, Serge Lutens, Comme des Garcons etc. But just as often I find myself writing about perfumes that are equally as great, but not as often discussed or perhaps disparaged on the perfume forums – the underdogs if you will. Perfumes like Ivoire, Safari, Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, Alien, Lalique Le Parfum (which Turin calls ‘rock bottom’ for Ropion), Angel, Angel Innocent, Youth Dew, Trouble, LouLou and Amarige are all perfumes I love and have written about. The reason I write about these underdogs is threefold, (1) to balance a fragrances’ reputation, particularly if I read mostly negative reviews about a scent that I happen to think is wonderful (*clears throat* Amarige and Angel are definitely on my mind for this point); (2) to point out that there are so many fragrances available at drugstores and department stores that are fabulous – one does not need to shop at Luckyscent to find good perfume or spend over $200 per bottle; and (3) to shed light on an excellent perfume that seems hardly discussed/undiscovered.

I believe Oliban falls into category #3. It’s a fabulously well crafted incense fragrance with gorgeous whiffs of blond tobacco, woods, rose and honey. The initial burst of incense and cedar are refreshingly spiritual (don’t most incense frags seem rather churchy to you?). Oliban, especially at the start, seems soothing, calming, centering and cleansing. When I feel harried, rattled or just tired, Oliban serves as a meditative pick me up. Most frankincense type frags seem decidedly unisex to me (well, all frags, in essence, are unisex but you understand I’m referencing cultural norms here) but Oliban introduces a soft rose note that causes it to lean towards the feminine, just slightly. The middle phase of Oliban is a delicate incense, tobacco and rose aroma – very subtle, a little mysterious, and with just a teaspoon of sweet honey. Oliban is not strictly an incense fragrance like anything from the Comme des Garcons Incense Series – I love Avignon and Zagorsk – but, for me, these are not for wearing to the office – these are ultra dry, seriously hardcore, virtually unadorned by anything but incense and woods fragrances. Oliban, on the other hand, is a perfume that I can wear to the office. Once dried down, some vanilla appears in the base, so for the longest duration Oliban smells like a softly spiced rose draped over a bed of woods and frankincense. Others have mentioned leather – I just don’t smell the leather myself.

I think Oliban would be a nice surprise for those who like incense, but not austere Catholic mass incense. Oliban is similar in style to YSL Nu edp (not edt), sans the pepper.

Longevity: Soft but excellent 5+ hours
Sillage: Soft but present
Rating: 4.5

Listed notes: atlas cedar wood, olibanum, blonde tobacco, damascene rose and honey

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Madame Rochas

The Madame Rochas available today at outlet stores like Perfumania is probably a paler rendition of the original 1960 release. Still, it's lovely in a vaguely masculine way, smells both fresh and musky, can be had for less than thirty bucks, and lasts throughout the day. Madame gets knocked around by reviewers for its supposed resemblance to shampoo, and it does have that slight soapiness associated with many older perfumes. But it has enough complexity to make these accusations and comparisons beside the point.

Madame Rochas was designed by Guy Robert using a template made famous by its biggest inspirations, Chanel No. 5 and Arpege. During its development, it travels back and forth along the continuum separating those two. It has the honeyed floral warmth of Arpege, and diffuses off the skin similarly. It doesn't have the aldehyde overload of No. 5, but doesn't seem as aldehyde heavy as Arpege, either. Rose, Jasmine, Tuberose and Lily of the Valley mingle around in the heart of the fragrance, creating more than the sum of their parts.

The base notes interest me the most and, I think, determine what you're smelling throughout the lifespan. Orris root is said to be costly, and I'm not sure how an inexpensive perfume like this one can afford to use much if any, but it's listed in the pyramid, and the overal impression has the buttery affect you'd expect from its inclusion. Santal and musk are listed, too. Given that the former is expensive as well and the latter is unquestionably synthetic, it's pretty astonishing just how rich and textured Madame Rochas actually smells.

It was officially reformulated in 1982 by Jean-Louis Sieuzac and Jacques Fraysse. Sieuzac was the nose behind such greats as Dune, Opium, Fahrenheit, and Sonia Rykiel. Fraysse could be related to Andre (who created Arpege), Richard (in-house perfumer at Caron) and Hubert (who reformulated Arpege at some point). Madame Rochas, like so many other modern fragrances, has very likely been reformulated more than its manufacturers would prefer you to think. The so-called shampoo soapiness in question is nothing compared to some of the squeaky clean astringency of Bond No. 9's Madison Soiree or many more modern peers. For me, Madame Rochas is that rarity, an older perfume which, however different from the original, continues to smell good. More remarkably, it smells better by far than present day fragrances with retro-feel aspirations.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thoughts on formulations and reformulations

The other day I was in a perfume shop and smelled Fahrenheit. I was shocked when I brought the card up to my nose because it smelled so different than the bottle I own. It was richer, for one, and I started to wonder if maybe the tester was an older version. I could smell leather, and I never get leather from my wimpy excuse for the fragrance, which practically dribbles out of the nozzle. What if I went into this store and bought a bottle and got it home and it smelled nothing like the tester did, because the two were different formulations? How can you be sure which version you have at any given point?

It made me wonder. I have three different versions of Arpege, and though you can see the bone structure in all of them, they get more interesting the older they are. The newer version is nice enough but has none of the floral complexity, none of the smooth diffusion I get from the others. It also has a strong whiff of what smells to me like synthetic vetiver, and I'm starting to wonder about that, too, because I smell the same note presiding over the latest reformulations of Mitsouko, Je Reviens, Chanel No. 5 and White Linen. What is this note, exactly, and what's it doing in so many contemporary reinterpretations?

The Fahrenheit I own smells good enough, if just--and you can sense that original silhouette in it, if watered down to transparency--whereas the one I smelled in Sephora last week is atrociously far removed. I can barely see the relation. They seem to have simply gutted it. White Linen, Worth, and the others have fared better in the face of restrictions and penny pinchers; then again, I don't have the originals at hand to run comparisons. The old Arpege is preferable enough that I worry my 3.4 ounce bottle will run out sometime in my lifetime.

Today I read the Chandler Burr review of Britney Spears Midnight Curious. I was curious myself, and drove over to the store to smell it. Had I missed something good all this time? Not really. The discrepancy between what I smelled and how he talked about it left me confused. It smelled fairly generic to me for what it was: an intensely sweet bluebbery accord, part rubber Barbie skin, part scratch and sniff pie. I thought, well if he's going to champion this dreck I'm going to stop telling myself not to buy that bottle of Giorgio Red simply because it's gauche.

For twenty dollars I got an ounce and a half. I sprayed some on my arm once I was in the car and instantly started wondering what it used to smell like. I appreciate it now, but I suspect natural musks made it much different, like the old Arpege and Fahrenheit. Something about the current Red has always smelled slightly askew to me. I feel that way about Bal a Versailles, too.

Peach, black currant, hyacinth, and cardamom supposedly compose the nigh notes. Red reminds me of a drugstore perfume dressing up as Opium for Halloween with articles found in its mother's closet. I don't know who the mother is. Remember Bugsy Malone, the gangster movie where all the characters were played by child actors? It's like that. Instead of gunfire, pies in the face. Things are tangier than they should be in Red, exaggerated, a little cruder, but I can't help it. I love the stuff. It feels sort of schizophrenic in an entertaining way.

After some talk on this blog about Karl Lagerfeld's old KL perfume, I found some at the mall. It drove me crazy for a few days, as I knew I'd seen the bottle somewhere in town but couldn't remember where. The store had only a half ounce splash bottle left. It was nice, but too similar to other orientals I own to spend what they were charging. I'm not much of a dabber, either. KL smelled deep, but not as deep as Opium and Cinnabar, which still get my vote for the hardest of the hard core. And I'm more partial to Obsession than it seems legal to be on the blogs. How could such a great perfume have been, as some critics allege, a mass delusion?

Rather than buy the KL, I picked up two older Nina Ricci fragrances, Deci Della and Les Belles de Ricci Delice d'Epices. Deci Della was created by Jean Guichard in 1994. Some say fruity floral; again, I don't get that so much. The oak moss, cypress and myrrh force the raspberry, peach and apricot down roads they're not accustomed to traveling, if perhaps at gunpoint. There's that strange tension there between opposites. The oakmoss gives the fragrance an aroma very few contemporaries have, obviously.

Delice might also have been created by Guichard. I know he created one of the Belles at least. I'm not sure which. When I first smelled it I thought it had to be Annick Menardo or Sophia Grojsman. It has the edible qualities of the former and the sensual overload of the latter. I thought for sure, until I got it home, that Delice smelled identical to Tentations, another Grojsman creation. It has a caramellic undertone, for sure, but isn't entirely foody to me. It isn't exactly spicy, either.

Comparing Deci and Delice to Midnight Fantasy might seem unfair, but I do think it points up what perfume has lost since all the restrictions on, among other things, musks, oakmoss, and civet. And I don't think a fragrance like Midnight Fantasy is any kind of answer, as pleasantly banal and insidiously catchy as it might be. Aurelien Guichard is probably one of the best barometers right now for how these older visions can be recreated in the present without entirely losing their original spirits. His Visa and Baghari for Piguet find ways around the black hole left where oakmoss and natural musks once were, and I can't wait to see what he's done with Futur. As for Midnight Fantasy, I'll pass.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Prada Infusion de Fleur d'Oranger: A Review

Prada’s Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger is the first installment in Prada’s Ephemeral Infusion Collection, which I believe to be a limited edition and will have annual launches. Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger might be a rather long and clunky name, but the perfume itself is well done.

Similar in style to Infusion d’Iris, Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger (PIdFdO) is sheer, gauzy and billowy. PIdFdO starts off with a juicy blast of orange blossom and jasmine that is quite simply nose nirvana. Like most neroli/orange blossom fragrances, PIdFdO is fresh, lively and literally puts a smile on my face. The initial 20 minutes of wearing PIdFdO is when the fragrance shows you its best side – at this point, it’s the most bouncy and potent. Once the fragrance dries down, it becomes a bit limp, like an overtired ballet dancer who can’t quit hit all the choreographed points. PIdFdO, while mostly about orange blossom, does pay a good amount of heed to jasmine. Once dried down, I’d say the fragrance seems less like a purely neroli based scent and more like a neroli/jasmine (white floral) blend. Even so, PIdFdO is still a lovely little treat.

It’s hard for me to imagine anyone disliking PIdFdO, unless you abhor the scent of orange blossom. I would guess that those who adore L’Artisan Fleur d’Oranger might prefer to stick with the L’Artisan as this fragrance seems more focused on orange blossom in a pure sense. Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger is a different experience altogether, it’s much heavier and more potent overall, not meant to be as sheer as Prada.

Prada’s Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger is well done. I’m not doing cartwheels but it’s very good and I’m sure the fragrance will sell like hotcakes and many will be wearing it this spring and summer.

Longevity: good, 3+ hours (more potent than Infusion d’Iris for me)
Sillage: good
Rating: 4 stars

The box and bottle are tres chic.

Notes: orange blossom, tuberose, jasmine

L'Interdit (R.I.P. Audrey Hepburn)

Can someone please tell me what the 2002 reformulation of L'Interdit ever did to anyone?

I know, I know, the first one was Audrey Hepburn, all powdery florals and white gloves with a touch of wispy, ephemeral whatnot. I'm sure it was lovely, and in comparison, here comes Raquel Welch, top heavy, shaking it, showing it, lips like a come on, hips like a been there, done that. It's like replacing a Rolls with a Ferarri, I know, but a Ferarri is quite something too, so can we all stop acting as if it's chopped liver and onions?

I'd read so much about the reformulation (and we're not talking about the more recent reformulation, which seeks to restore, some say successfully, the original Hepburn effect) that when I tried it, I was a little shocked how much I liked it. I don't know why these things keep shocking me. When I smelled Parfum d'Habit, more recently, I was surprised too. I'd read customer reviews on basenotes and makeupalley describing it as the most animalic thing this side of a rat's ass; foul, leathery, urinous, and just generally, unforgivably offensive. I couldn't figure out what people were talking about. Medicinal, yes; urinous, no. I smelled no leather, no animal, no wet dog, and really, truth to tell, not a whole lot of anything I'd heard described. Parfum d'Habit is pretty, to be sure, and even somewhat jarring at certain points, particularly the opening, which has the medicinal astringency of witch hazel, but it's hardly the caveman I expected, and the 2002 L'Interdit is certainly no run of the mill fruity floral.

I should have known, with Jean Guichard at the wheel. Everytime I smell a Guichard fragrance I'm again reminded how much his son Aurelien has inherited from him, and you can see links between L'Interdit and the light/dark achievements of Visa and Azzaro Couture. Like father, like son. Papa Guichard's genius, to me, is persistent radiance with an inner edge which somehow turns things inside out or upside down. Rather than getting brighter, and lighter, Guichard Sr.'s best work dries down to a burnished, heat seaking core, revealing unexpected, unsettling dissonance. So Pretty by Cartier has a straightfirward succulent fruit note up top and a darker, contrasting pit of angst deeper down. Eden seems so bright, so cheery and floral at first, and yet the picture Cacharel uses to package this fragrance gets right to the bottom of its attraction, showing a tangled jungle of competing white flowers and the somewhat unsettling suggestion of something like a poisoned apple beyond all the distracting foliage. Fendi Asja achieves this contrapuntal effect by turning berry into heady red wine. Go down the list, and you'll find these magic tricks throughout Guichard's oeuvre, right down to the weird, doughy jasmine of LouLou.

Guichard's L'Interdit sprays on like an easy going if steeply pitched fruity floral, but there's something in there which doesn't quite fit the image, and you start to see it very soon after the initial notes start wearing down. I'm no chemist, but judging by the pyramid provided by Osmoz, I would guess this has something to do with the combined effect of iris, frankincense, and tonka bean in the dry down. What I kept thinking, before I'd seen the notes, was that someone had mixed some incense into my bottle. How could a stereotypical fruity floral dry down into something so resinous and compelling? The answer: this is no stereotypical fruity floral. Givenchy seems to have known this, and after you discover the fragrance's weird complexity, the red label and box make perfect sense. Yes, red for rose--and passion.

That iris and frankincense combination gives L'Interdit a rooty incense accord I find pretty intriguing, making L'Interdit anything but a 1950's nice girl perfume. That isn't to say you would notice iris in the mix, before or after you know it's there. The tonka bean gives it a sturdier platform to stand on, suggesting cinammon, hay, clove, caramel and, especially, almond. This trifecta of contrasting basenotes gives L'Interdit a curious quality, making you wonder what it might do next. The Audrey Hepburn prototype died with its source, and what Guichard seems to have been saying or suggesting with his reformulation is that it might be high time we redefine what we mean by "nice girl" in the first place. In the fifties, being a nice girl meant that you knew your place and didn't rock the boat. You were to look pretty and to defer, always demurely. You refrained from showing more skin than absolutely necessary. Guichard's L'Interdit is a celebration of the nice girl's emancipation into sensual and emotional complexity, allowing her the freedom to be outspoken and even contradictory without reducing her to total transparency. Whereas the original evoked soft, powdered skin, Guichard's version celebrates the dewy prespiration of a woman too busy experiencing life to let the tought of a little sweat trouble her.

The accomplishment of this 2002 remake is its ability to balance light and dark, sweet and salty, hot and cold, and a world in between.

TWRT 3.27.09

This week’s random thoughts

I’m enjoying the American Idol finalists this year. I was shocked that Alex (blond girl with pink streak) was voted off last week. I’m still warming up to Adam, who I maintain looks like Elvis. I suppose my favorite right now is Danny Gokey. I love the spunky Allison (girl with crazy red hair) and Lil Rounds (who Simon thinks is “Little”) and also Kris (the kid with guitar). My all-time favorite will always be Bo Bice, though. *sigh* I wish his career would have gone somewhere...

I don’t care about this Octo-Mom. Enough. I do hope nice people are able to adopt the children, though. (yes, I think the kids need to be taken away, she can’t care for that many children; she couldn’t afford the first 6 or however many there were before the recent 8).

The daffodils and crocus are in full bloom. Spring has sprung in my neighborhood.

I’ve grieving over the fact that Big Love and Flight of the Conchords are finished for the season. What will I watch now?

I’ve worn Chanel 28 La Pausa on and off for the past week. At first, I thought I had found my favorite iris. I knew it was sheer and fleeting but I have a big jug of it so I apply it lavishly. The more I’ve worn it the more obvious it has become that it’s beyond fleeting. I think I applied 30 sprays on Wednesday. I’m not kidding. And I couldn’t smell a thing 20 minutes later. The other Les Exclusifs aren’t this bad. Sheesh.

After nearly poisoning myself with 28 La Pausa I wore Hermes Hiris. Ahhh. Now that’s better. It’s been years since I sniffed Hiris, but it now seems like a powerhouse in comparison with 28 La Pausa and its really nice. More floral than I remembered. Nice.

On its way to me is Sonoma Scent Studio’s new Tabac Aurea. Yay! It will be available for sampling/decanting. Laurie is still finishing Gardenia Musk – hopefully in time for summer.

Also on its way to me is Prada’s Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger. I’ve been looking forward to this one.

Susan, my perfume-project at the office, has so far liked Diptyque’s L’eau Trois the very best. This isn’t even amber but myrrh – a beautiful myrrh, incense, herbal scent. She adores it so I am happy. It’s been wonderful smelling someone wearing great ‘fumes (besides me!). I was surprised that I liked Estee Lauder’s Amber Ylang Ylang so much on her. I was utterly bored by it on me, but on her it was quite nice.

It’s about that time of year when I switch gears and start wearing light, sheer, summery florals, fruity-florals and citrus scents (yes, there are good fruity florals! :-). I will enjoy this for a bit but then I’ll start complaining about how much I miss my autumn/winter fragrances. At heart I’m an oriental/chypre person – I love woods, spices and heavy florals. For now it’s fun to pull out all the summery stuff but I worry it’s too early. I don’t want to tire of them before July when the Jersey weather really hits it’s hazy, humid stride. I don’t switch with the seasons because it’s a rule or something – I do it because I truly can’t wear heavy scents in hot weather – I get headaches...

Have a fragrant weekend everyone!

Anya's Garden Kaffir

Most of the time I’m skeptical about natural/organic perfumes. Not because I have a problem with things being all natural and non-synthetic (of course not!) but because I’m a stickler for perfumes with nice sillage and excellent longevity. I’ve been disappointed by a few natural perfumes, one being Red Flower, which lasts about 5 minutes on my skin.

So with a bit of cynicism and trepidation I approached some samples of Anya’s Garden perfume. Lo and Behold Anya has done it! She has created some gorgeous fragrances that actually l-a-s-t. One in particular really caught my nose, it is Kaffir, and it’s so perfect for these early spring days, or anytime of the year.

A few years ago my husband bought me a potted Kaffir Lime tree for my greenhouse. I wanted a Meyer Lemon but those were all sold out so I got the Kaffir Lime. Kaffir Lime trees are indigenous to most warm climates but are especially prized in Southeast Asia and Thailand. In Thailand the leaves of Kaffir Lime trees are used frequently in cooking. If you’ve had Thai curry dishes and noticed a green leaf in the sauce it was probably a Kaffir Lime leaf. Recently Jo Malone launched a fragrance called Sweet Lime & Cedar and this fragrance is also based on Kaffir Lime leaves (though, for the record, Anya’s Garden did it first).

Since I’m familiar with Kaffir Lime trees I can say that Anya’s Garden Kaffir (henceforth AGK) captures the fragrance of tearing open a handful of Kaffir Lime leaves perfectly. Upon first spritz, AGK is a juicy, green burst of joy. Because AGK is from the leaves of a lime tree, please don’t mistakenly assume it smells simply of limes or citrus. AGK smells more like the leaves of this tree, and the leaves are incredibly fragrant; they are citrusy, yes, but also very green. Once the fragrance dries down, a beautiful woody, floral, leather scent emerges. Placing this gorgeous citrusy green on a bed of woods and leather is pure genius. The woods & leather seem to anchor the fragrance, giving it complexity and interest.

To find the list of notes I visited Anya’s Garden website. While there I noticed that the packaging for her products is made from recycled paper and the sustainable Daphne plant. Plus, and get this because I think it’s a fantastic idea, the boxes contain wildflower seeds, so you need only plant the whole box to have yourself a little patch of wildflowers. What a great idea!

Anya’s Garden Kaffir is absolute joy in a bottle. It is refreshing and playful. I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this fragrance is, how complex, and how long it lasts. Bravo to Anya.

Kaffir Lime notes: Top: Thai lime leaf, galbanum, French and Tropical tarragon accord, Heart: tinctures of eight jasmines, heritage oak extract, Grasse jasmine
Base: sustainable golden agarwood, musk seed, leather accord

Click here to visit Anya's Garden website

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Guerlain Iris Ganache

Please accept my deepest apologies but I really love this stuff. If the idea of cool iris mixed with creamy & powdery dough turns your stomach then perhaps you should stop reading here.

Guerlain Iris Ganache is strangely intoxicating and delicious. Osmoz describes Iris Ganache perfectly as: “iris butter worked like a pastry ganache.” For me it’s addictive, particularly because of its duality. I love the unusual blend of chilly iris with creamy and sweet notes. I need to take a step back here and say that I don’t find Iris Ganache particularly gourmand in nature. It is sweet, but not overly so, and I don’t actually smell the foody notes per se. I find myself huffing my wrists when I wear it.

The iris note emerges for me mostly in the beginning. At the start, Iris Ganache is a gorgeously sweet powdery scent with a cool river of iris flowing through it. This stage is entrancing and I wish it stayed throughout. After about 20 minutes the iris note changes from a rooty-vegetal floral into a doughy, gummy, marzipan coated aroma. It becomes less about iris and smells more like vanillic heliotrope. I think Iris Ganache definitely pays tribute to both L’Heure Bleue and Apres L’Ondee with the same soft, powdery floral qualities. The iris note never completely vanishes because the memory of it remains for me.

Iris Ganache smells very Guerlain; it’s very creamy and highly addictive.

Notes: Iris, vanilla, cinnamon, bergamot, patchouli, white musks, cedar

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

becker eshaya golden amber

Last week I suggested that b.e. golden amber is the D&G Light Blue of ambery scents. By this, I meant that b.e. golden amber is simple, easily worn and ultra pleasing. I was thinking about golden amber because my colleague, Susan, who is my current perfume-project, has been wearing the sample I gave her. It smelled absolutely wonderful on her. If I hadn’t known what it was, I would have been knocking on her office door, or trailing after her like Pepe Le Pew.

Fragrant amber has been on my mind. It was ironic that Brian posted about amber fragrances today (the post below this one). It seems true amber essential oil doesn’t exist; the amber scent in perfumery is typically a synthetic aroma chemical or an umbrella term used to describe several fragrances used together resulting in an “ambery” scent (e.x., labdanum, benzoin, tonka, ambergris, oppoponax). Fragrant amber is not the fossilized bronze-orange colored stone nor is it ambergris. Ambergris, by the way, comes from the lining of a sperm whale’s stomach which is said to smell horrendous at first but beautiful once dried.

I found the following, very basic, definition for fragrant amber from Wikipedia: “a large fragrance class featuring the sweet animalic scents of ambergris or labdanum, often combined with vanilla, flowers and woods. Can be enhanced by camphorous oils and incense resins.”

It seems, most likely, that there are natural elements to fragrant amber; one being labdanum, which is, indeed, a real essential oil. Labdanum (also called Cistus) is an essential oil from the rock rose shrub. Also ambergris (or the synthetic version of it) usually provides a salty quality.

The scent of amber varies fairly drastically; it can be sweet, pungent, musty, salty, spicy, woody, resinous, warm, animalic, balsamic and so on. To say that amber is a fragrant chameleon is an understatement, however, for me, one similarity amongst all ambery scents is that they are comforting. Amber is a staple in my perfume wardrobe and I have a big collection of scents falling under this scent category. My absolute favorite is Teo Cabanel Alahine, which is a stunningly sophisticated ambery scent with a dry, aldehydic Chanel-esque quality. Other ambers are more rugged and complex, paired with tobacco, woody and earthy elements, such as Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe, Sonoma Scent Studio’s Ambre Noir and Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the uber-sweet ambers, such as Estee Lauder Amber Ylang Ylang or just about anything ambery from Bath & Body Works.

The beauty of becker eshaya golden amber is that it’s a middle of the road amber. It’s not very sweet nor is it especially earthy or challenging. I noticed when Susan was wearing golden amber that it’s pleasing yet stands out as something unique. When I smell golden amber on myself (close up) it starts off with mild citrus top notes then settles into a beautifully salty-sandy-floral amber with just the suggestion of a spicy woody side that allows the overall fragrance to stay dry.

To sum it up, I think becker eshaya golden amber is a gem. It is easy to love and easy to wear. It’s definitely not a sweet syrupy amber nor a deeply resinous, vanillic or woody amber. Golden amber is delicate and light yet manages to be a tenacious little critter. The addition of citrus and fruit notes are well done and while perhaps not something I would have imagined to blend well (pre-sniff), it totally works

golden amber notes: mandarin, bergamot, lychee, jasmine, golden amber, sandalwood, cashmere wood, patchouli and musk.

Amber Waves

Amber has never made my socks roll up and down, so I'm probably the last person to argue for or against its finer points. I can ultimately only judge an amber fragrance on the purely technical terms by which I judge every fragrance, but even anything good I have to say about the rare amber I like will lack that dramatic enthusiasm I have for a galbanum scent which gets it right, like Chanel No. 19 or Alliage. Every so often I pick up an amber I like, even if it only truly speaks to me because nothing else happens to be competing with it at the time.

I do like Ambre Gris by Balmain. It's cheap, it performs, and in its way it stands out. It's the only amber I know (you'll have gathered I don't know many) which takes an abstract, aquatic approach to the material, signalling its oceanic origins. There's something salt-watery about Ambre Gris. There's something sweet, too--probably the immortelle--but in contrast to the salty aspect in a way which makes the fragrance seem unfinished sometimes and slightly askew at others. I don't get the tuberose or the cinammon, or much of anything else listed on the pyramid. It lasts well and the bottle is one of the most attractive for the money. It sits in your hand and on your dresser like a million bucks. The glass is smoked. The cap weighs more than the whole thing put together, and, as Abigail pointed out elsewhere, looks like a souvenir from Epcot. In a good way. Somehow, the packaging only reinforces the nautical feel.

Belle en Rykiel smells similar at times to Ambre Gris, but more well rounded. The company described it as an aromatic oriental, which might be why you can find it on so many sale shelves now. It's one thing to play around with gender expectations. It's another thing to announce the intentions so inelegantly. Hey, says the aromatic oriental, I'm your dad coming out of the barber shop to meet your mom in front of the beauty salon. Have some Barbasol. Belle en Rykiel goes on with a burst of rooty lavender, underscored with chocolate, mandarin, red currant, coffee, and incense. Don't get excited by the word incense. You won't smell it in the mix. It all dries down into a nice, friendly amber, which floats up from the skin indefinitely. I'm not knocking it. I had a small bottle and figured it wouldn't be enough to last me as long as I feared I might think I need some, so I bought a bigger size too. So I must like it. Then again, this stuff pops up pretty regularly at Tj Max, where 2.5 ounces goes for 15 bucks. If spending so little makes you feel cheap, it might make you feel better to know that it can be had at Perfume House in Portland for somewhere around 50 to sixty. Another nifty bottle: this one, too, a nice chunky block of glass. A thick block of lucite tops it off, recalling the seventies. The dry down is slightly woody, with enough patchouli to keep things intriguing.

Recently I tried Ambre Precieux by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. I have to agree with its many fans that it smells of high quality, whatever that actually means. It begins, like Belle en Rykiel, with lavender, getting off to a cheery start. Its foray into herbal is much less halfhearted though. It actually puts the Birkenstocks on. There's no pretense toward gourmand or sugar sweetness as in Belle and Ambre Gris. Neither is there the fragrant Middle East I was led to expect by reviews. Eventually it goes slightly powdery, and stays that way, rich and subtle, for hours. It doesn't register to neighbors as well as Ambre Gris, and yet it isn't exactly a skin scent either. It was created by Jean Laporte, who nosed many of the line's best. Ambre Precieux is one of those perfectly respectable fragrances I would grab for an occasion I didn't want to offend anyone. It would still allow me discreet little surprise discoveries throughout the day. Because it's so respectable you assume it will be innocuous. It isn't. There's just the faintest whiff of wine in there, too.

Another amber I might never have given a chance had I not been bored and smelled it myself is Ambre Passion by Laura Mercier. Could this be discontinued now? It isn't listed anymore on the company's website. Ambre Passion is actually ultimately the more interesting of the lot to me and I have no idea why. There's a smoked leather accord in there somewhere, albeit barely. Enough of it comes through to make the overall effect as quirky as it is pleasant, I suppose. There isn't the slightest bit of powder to it, in case that kind of thing bothers you. It has a balsamic aspect I enjoy. Like the others, it lasts--and has a great bottle. What is it about all these amber fragrances? More than half the attraction is the packaging. All have big chunky tops. The Maitre bottle has the standard oversized red jewel on top and looks like one of those candy sucker rings kids get from the convenience store when they can't convince their mothers to buy them anything else.

All but Ambre Precieux come in EDP.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This Week at the Perfume Counter

I've resisted writing this for over a week now because I know it's going to upset some of you. I told a friend over the phone a few nights ago and, hearing her reaction, I was glad we were separated by several states. Listen, I'm always going to TJ Max and Marshalls. I drop in at least once a month, sometimes (okay, usually) more. Most of the time I find nothing, nothing being your Polo Sport, your Giorgio Red, your Ralph Lauren Hot, Rocks, et al. I leave empty handed more than I'd like, and sometimes the thought of leaving empty handed bums me out so much that I grab one of said nothing specials. Believe me: what I'm about to tell you is a rarity for me too.

Last time I casually ambled into Marshalls, I found Armani Prive Cuir Amethyste. This retails for a pretty penny, as you might know. At Marshalls, it was less than thirty bucks. Luca Turin detests Cuir Amethyste--or is it Tania Sanchez--or does it matter? If one disagreed with the other, the dissenting opinion would have been logged under its contradiction. The Guide calls Cuir Amethyste a mess. I think it's pretty great. It aspires to the violet leather territory occupied by Balmain's Jolie Madame and provides, I think, an interesting contrast to that fragrance's more old fashioned approach. The violet is creamier, the leather more sheer, closer to the Lancome Cuir reformulation than the heavier-handed leathers of yester-year. A steep price tag is almost always mediated by good longevity to me, and Cuir Amethyste sticks around quite a while. I could smell it hours later.

Naturally, once I knew that one Marshalls had an Armani Prive, I was obligated to drive all over town. How would I sleep that night, otherwise? What if there had been other bottles in other stores? How would I ever sleep again, wondering what might have been? I visited four TJ Max and Marshalls locations and realized very quickly that some sort of major drop must have occurred recently. There was so much product I hadn't seen before. I'd love to tell you just what, but I was in a fugue state, and now only Calvin Klein Secret Obsession comes to mind. It won't make you any happier to learn that I did find another Armani Prive, perhaps the best, according to many. Hidden among the other, bigger boxes was a bottle of Bois d'Encens. I'd smelled it at Nordstrom months before, and might have even sprayed some on. I remembered liking it, but at upwards of several hundred dollars for 1.7 ounces, I'm more apt to dismiss alleged greatness than collapse in helpless ecstasy. What's the point?

Bois D'Encens is indeed fantastic. For under thirty bucks I'll spend all the time in the world allowing myself to fall in love with a great fragrance, and Bois d'Encens rewards the adoration. It goes on sharp and, like Amethyste, sheer. Even sheerer, really, a penetrating incense which feels like something burning up at higher altitudes, at some mountain monastery where the air is thin and brisk and makes all the monks a little giddy and ditzy. This sets it apart from every other incense I've smelled, including the ultra popular Comme des Garçons series, which locate in lower altitude houses of worship. I would say Bois d'Encens is more of an outdoor scent overall, smelling somehow of clean air. This impression only intensifies as time goes on, reinforced, if anything, by the emergence of an interesting, equally sharp but bracing vetiver.

Interestingly, both of these Armani Prive fragrances were created by Michel Almairac. They were the only ones I found, and, as far as I know, the only two he created for the line. Almairac is someone I've known about and with whom I've been fairly familiar ever since I started consulting the nowsmellthis nose directory. Until recently, I never took as much of an interest in him as in my initial favorites: Maurice Roucel, Annick Menardo, Calice Becker, Sophia Grojsman. Slowly, I've acquired more and more of his fragrances, and over time have started to pay more mind. Cuir Amethyste and Bois d'Encens certainly caught my attention. Until smelling these powerhouses of persistence, I'd thought of him as someone who created some nice but wan fragrances, among them L'Artisan's Voleur de Roses, Chopard's Casmir, Gres' Cabaret, Gucci Pour Homme, and Rush, most of which I liked, some of which I really loved, all of which, however loud in theory, faded to a maddening whisper on my skin. While the Prive scents don't change my mind about these others, they do give me a more well-rounded appreciation.

One last thing about Armani. I find--do you?--that those sheaths they come in, wood casing with stone tops, somehow reinforce the idea that they aren't worth the asking price. The bottles are light as air, which made me feel, however unconsciously, that there was practically nothing in them, that whatever it was had little substance. Who knows what the design principle was behind this packaging decision from a rigorously, even religiously, uniform company. Armani's aesthetic is all about straight lines, simple contours. No showy flourishes intrude upon this cool surface like a ripple does on the surface of a pond. In that sense, the bottles fit. But from a sales perspective, lightweight risks reading as negligible.

I did make some other purchases, though none which will likely inspire jealous fits of rage. Who knew Bulgari Blu was so nice? I didn't. The packaging is so similar to Bulgari Blue Notte that I'm not sure I even realized these were two separate fragrances. Blu gets knocked a lot on the blogs and boards, I discovered. Soapy, too much ginger, yuk, gross, etc. I think it's a far superior ginger scent to the latest Ellena Hermes, by so far a margin that to compare them in any other way would be exceedingly misleading. Blu is milkier, for one, in stark contrast to the Jardin's ozonic properties. It's a richer, more pungent ginger, with a creamy floral influence. I like it a lot and will wear it frequently (as frequently as someone with as many fragrances as I own can).

Let me just close by saying that being sick with a cold sucks for anyone. For a perfume lover, it's truly utter hell. For the last two days I've been unable to smell a thing. What torture it was last night, inviting my friend Bard over for dinner, begging him to describe for me the smell of Parfum D'Habit and Ambre Precieux, especially when his descriptions are so typically off the wall. Please, I begged him, try to describe them, just this once, using typical perfume descriptors, rather than items one finds in a thrift shop, as "stuffy vinyl suitcase with strawberry juice stain" will mean next to nothing to me. It didn't help that my efforts to reconcile his impressions with the reviews on makeupalley and basenotes proved futile. Without fail, eight out of ten reviewers described Habit's opening as compost or fecal or Kouros with even more urine. Bard's bewildering verdict was "no such thing." The consensus seems to be good longevity and sillage, whereas Bard says both Precieux and Habit remain skin scents, barely there. Any thoughts from readers who have smelled these and can describe them realistically, as opposed to romantically? Your input would be more than welcome, and I promise I'll return the favor in your time of need.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Human, Do You Mind if I Spritz You?

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, a Maryland-based outfit named Genki Wear has plans to release three Star Trek-related fragrances. Their tentative drop date is the 24th of April, just a scant week or so ahead of the J.J. Abrams movie based on the early days of Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise.

Two of the scents will be marketed as masculines. One of these will be called Tiberius and will be based on Captain Kirk's character. Tagline: "Boldly Go". The notes are said to be warm vanilla, sandalwood, and white musk. Red Shirt, the other, refers to the Enterprise officers who don't last beyond an episode's first scene. Its tagline: "Becase tomorrow may never come."

The feminine is to be called Pon Farr, which references the Vulcan mating ritual. During Pon Farr, which occurs once every seven years, Vulcan males go into a blood fever, becoming violent, and finally die if they do not mate with someone with whom they are empathically bonded. No word as yet on the tagline, though we humbly suggest: "Fleet in Heat".

Each fragrance will retail for 30 bucks.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

TWRT 3.20.09

Quote of the week: "I'm tired of trying to find happiness through lies and self-medicating. If you need me, I'll be at the bar." -- Lindsay Funke from Arrested Development

Normally I purchase unscented laundry detergent because I dislike the scents of liquid detergents. But lo and behold I’ve found a detergent whose fragrance I love! It’s Tide with baking soda and the scent is white lilac. I bought it by mistake. A great mistake.

Serge Lutens Fleurs de Citronnier is pretty much universally panned. In the Guide, LT calls it“unfinished cologne.” I wore it this week and I think it’s nice. I do realize that I recently complained that Nuit de Cellophane is too pedestrian for Lutens (beautiful yet boring). And Fleur de Citronnier is the same, it’s beautiful yet boring. But I feel compelled to point out that it’s beautiful – a lovely combination of neroli and citrus. I do have a thing for neroli.

I’ve been looking for the perfect eye cream for ages. I’ve tried everything – from high end to inexpensive drug store brands to organic and “everything” free. I’ve never found an eye cream that doesn’t irritate my eyes - ever. I had almost given up until I placed a perfume order with Bergdorf Goodman. They sent me a free gift set of Guerlain Orchidee Imperiale moisturizers. The Guerlain Orchidee Imperiale eye cream is fantastic – and it doesn’t irritate my eyes in the least. I used up the entire sample. Every last drop. I squeezed that little tube like you roll up toothpaste. Then I called Bergdorf to place an order for the eye cream. Why was I not surprised to find that a half ounce jar of this stuff costs $185?!? ((big sigh)) I ordered it anyway. At my age, I figure eye cream is a good investment.

SaraD recently went crazy for Teo Cabanel Alahine. In the process of describing her take on it she mentioned that she finds it similar to Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe. I dug out my sample and she is right. I still much prefer Alahine but Ambre Russie bears a strong similarity.

At the risk of seeming self absorbed (aren’t we all a bit?) I thought I would mention that my Mom arrives today. I have the weekend planned down to 15 minute intervals (exaggerating a little). I hope the weather is nice because I’m looking forward to a visit to The Grounds For Sculpture and Rat’s restaurant (Hamilton, NJ).

Alert for amber lovers: Annick Goutal’s Ambre Fetiche is wonderful. It reminds me of Sonoma Scent Studio’s Ambre Noir. Just gorgeous. And the longevity is excellent.

Update on Susan, my new perfume project at the office: So far I’ve given her about a dozen good sized samples. She likes CK Obsession, so we identified that her favorite note is amber. So far she really loves becker eshaya golden amber. Golden Amber is a nice fragrance that’s hardly ever mentioned. To me, it’s the D&G Light Blue of ambery scents. It’s so likeable and wearable. The other winner is Montale’s Blue Amber. Her one dislike is Serge Lutens Arabie, which, I admit, was a bad choice on my part, perhaps too challenging for a newbie, and not enough straight up amber. It was so much fun for me to smell these fragrances on someone else. I can’t tell you how dreary it can get being the only perfumista I know in real life.

Oh, one more thing about Susan: her partner is all about mimosa, so I’m putting together a mimosa sampler pack for her, too. I have the following – do you have any other suggestions for a mimosa lover? [Amarige Harvest Edition 2007, PdN Mimosaique, L’Artisan Mimosa Pour Moi….would you put FM Une Fleur de Cassie in the mimosa category? What about Caron Farnesiana? Others?]

Big Love. I’m speechless. Suffice it to say that I’m awfully upset that this Sunday is the finale. How long must we wait for the next season?

Today is the first day of spring. Have a fragrant weekend everyone!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Put Another Blog on Fire: Eau des Iles

I'm sure Eau des Iles has its roots in several other fragrances (I've heard tell of L'eau de Navigateur) but I'm not sure I've ever smelled anything remotely like it. I'm a latecomer to Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, having just tried Camelia Chinois earlier this month. That perfume reminded me of a Barney's fragrance I once really dug and still own, with the addition of a smoky petrol note lurking underneath an otherwise chipper green amiability. I liked Chinois so much that I scanned reviews of the line's other fragrances to see what might interest me, and Iles seemed an obvious choice, with Parfum d'Habit running a close second. What sold me were comments referring to Iles' smokiness. It was also compared to wood wine barrels, cigars, and meat rubs. What's not to like?

I'm always on the hunt for a good smoke scent, though I understand others are just as eager to run from it. Kolnisch Juchten is a good example of the category for me, as are J'ai Ose and the John Galliano room spray produced by Dyptique. All have a cured leather sensibility that really appeals to me, something about which takes me into a nice headspace. J'ai Ose is one of my favorite fragrances of all time (and a real undiscovered gem), a sublimely unisex blend of florals and birch tar which is at least as well done as Lancome's Cuir and in my opinion far superior to most other cult leathers (Reve en Cuir, Cuir d'Iris, et al). Like Kolnisch Juchten (German for "Russian Leather"), J'ai Ose smells of the hearth and the outdoors, conjuring mercurial trails of bonfire smoke.

Because I had only these fragrances to go by, I unconsciously expected something along their lines, so I wasn't prepared for Eau des Iles, which is in their camp but burning a different kind of wood. It could easily become my holy grail smoke scent, but there's more to it than that. Under the smoke are coffee, spices, and green notes. This dry smell is similar to the fragrance produced at my local coffeehouse, which roasts its own beans, a slightly resinous coffee aroma, as if coffee were taking a cigarette break. Add to this labdanum, frankincense, myrrh, and ylang-ylang. Perfume Shrine's profile of labdanum is worth quoting:

"It is balsamlike, with woody, earthy, smoky, and even marshy undertones. Some even describe it as ambergris-like, or leathery and honeylike with hints of plum or oakmoss after a rain. Usually it is referred to as ambery, but it is mostly used to render leather or ambergris notes..."

This is a good starting point for a description of Eau des Iles, as well. It would seem that labdanum ties all of the fragrance's disparate influences together, blurring their individual start and end points. If there is galbanum in the base notes of Iles, as I've heard, it's used with unusual subtlety. I've also heard tarragon. I wonder if the absence of birch tar and the addition of labdanum makes it seem simultaneously kissing kin to my favorite leathers and worlds apart. One of the things I appreciate most about Iles is its resistance to easy classification. This is a softer, woodier, foodier smoke than J'ai Ose and John Galliano. It's certainly smoother, more refined than Kolnisch Juchten; both are savory, but Kolnisch seems slightly undercooked by comparison. Jean Laporte created Eau des Iles in 1988, after leaving L'Artisan; thus, perhaps, some of the comparisons to L'eau de Navigateur (1982), which also makes use of a coffee accord. The dry down brings in a little bit of the barbershop and the fougere, a powdery aftershave which makes more sense to the nose than the mind. Iles is said by some to be too challenging to wear. Me, I've yet to find a fragrance too challenging to wear, including Secretions Magnifique (though that comes closest, admittedly), so I'm probably the wrong person to judge. No question, it's an uncompromising, no nonsense fragrance. I'm not sure that means it takes no prisoners, or whether some might feel incarcerated in its presence. For me, if this is a life sentence, I'll gladly serve it.

Guardiania Angel: Bond No. 9's Nuits de Noho

At this point, there are enough Angel smell-alikes to create their own separate category, so that owning more than one isn't any more ipso facto redundant than owning several green chypres or fruity florals. Spend enough time with these unconscious, unofficial flankers and you perceive the differences, subtle and otherwise, though, judging by the fragrance blogs, you'd never know there were any at all. Maybe it's just me, but Mauboussin for Women stands on its own (and how). So does Piguet's Visa, which is yet another variation on fruity radiance by Aurelien Guichard. Miss Dior Cherie is lighter than Angel, a study in strawberry. It has a lucidity Angel lacks, which isn't to say it's superior. The complex bombast of Angel is more than fine by me. Even Molinard's Nirmala, which is likely the inspiration for Angel, smells like its own bird to me, the difference between a Warhol cartoon painting and a Lichtenstein, maybe.

For some reason, you can't have enough chypres, but when it comes to Angel and its ilk, you must make a choice. You either love Angel, own it, and need nothing else like it, or you hate it for some perceived deficiency and would gladly choose an alternative which improves upon its mistakes. Angel's biggest transgression, unforgivable to many, is its liberal dose of patchouli. Nuits de Noho solves this problem for some, while for others it's so similar to Angel regardless that it isn't worth bothering with. It's true, Nuits de Noho smells a lot like Angel, but only here and there, and its focus on white florals, with a bit of indole and creamy vanilla, set it apart.

It has good staying power and mile wide sillage, so I don't see how it's a friendlier Angel, as some argue. Maybe the distinction has to do with tonal qualities. Both fragrances have peerless density, but Angel hits more bass notes, whereas Nuits de Noho explores a mid range. A pineapple accord gives the opening added bouyancy, and a bright and shiny character unique to the Bond line. Jasmine is the primary floral, and in some ways there are more similarities with cyber jasmine Alien than with foody, broody Angel. I smell an awful lot of gardenia, myself. It might surprise the uninitiated to learn that Nuits in fact does have its share of patchouli, perhaps because white musk mediates its overall effect. Nothing earth-shattering is happening here, but it's good enough for the price tag, projects wonderfully, and fits well within the larger project of its brand. I suppose vanilla is enough to make Nuits de Noho gourmand, though I can't see what else in the mix would push it in that direction. Still, like many of the Bond line, it conveys that near-edible impression.

Nuits is the top seller, next to Scent of Peace, at the local store here which carries Bond. Many of these customers wouldn't shell out the money for a bottle of Angel. And I don't think they're buying Bond because it's trendy and expensive. Bond gets slammed a lot for being overpriced, gimmicky, and unimaginative, all of which infers a lack of art direction or an overriding aesthetic. This seems disingenuous to me and I grow tired of hearing it. It's just as fashionable to knock Bond as it is to buy it, it seems to me, so who's ultimately following the herd? The truth is that the Bond line, like it, love it, or loathe it, is remarkably consistent, and from first sniff one can usually see clearly that each fragrance relates to the bigger picture of the company, speaking to the others before and after it. People like to accuse these niche firms of lacking originality. At this point in the game, with several hundred perfumes released each year, one or two glimmers of "originality" a season are about as much as can realistically be expected, so perhaps we can stop holding perfumes and perfumers up to that ridiculously misleading yardstick and start appreciating the subtle distinctions, advancements, and discernment involved in what they do. Consistency of vision, for instance, is no small accomplishment. A lovely, eminently wearable fragrance is a shock in itself. It's easier to see the differences between the work of Lichtenstein and Warhol when you look more comprehensively. If you set two of their cartoon paintings side by side, you have very little frame of reference for comparison, let alone deeper appreciation. You can only compare dots so long, and come up with only so much of interest.

I think Nuits smells great on a guy. To my nose, it smells no less masculine than the fruity green nelly-ness of Wall Street. I find it curious that Bond wastes time marketing to any single gender at all. Why not make the entire line unisex, and let the buyer decide? Is there some concern that an innocent young girl will stray into Riverside Drive and find herself trapped in Roucel's thicket of simulated chest hair? Is some guy going to walk out of the store with Bryant Park, only to be mistaken for a woman on the subway by a man who holds the door open for him, thereby ruining the lives of both?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gobin-Daudé Sève Exquise and Sous le Buis

Please welcome, SaraD. This is Sara’s first perfume review for I Smell Therefore I Am.

If an obsessed perfumista researches 'green' fragrances, one is bound to come across the mythical Gobin-Daudés; in particular Sève Exquise, the exquisite sap. In my mind this was on par with Jean Patou's legendary Vacances, the fairy queen of green florals. I wasn't prepared for the reality of actually sniffing it, though.

Victoire Gobin-Daudé created a range of incredible, natural ingredient based perfumes that all too quickly were discontinued due to financial and marketing problems. We can only hope and pray that she will someday return them to us, as they stand out amongst the niche crowd in sheer quality and beauty. Parfums Gobin-Daudé has recently been rumored to perhaps make a comeback, so I'm watching that space keenly. I kept accidentally wanting to read the perfume's name as 'Goblin' so I've come to call these the goblins!

With the notes of orris, poplar bud, liatrix and vetiver, Sève Exquise promises to be green, intense and fresh. Orris root is metallic, dry and sweet and not the carrot we expect from the iris, and in Canada/USA, balsam poplar bud is usually taken from the new shoots of cottonwood trees in spring as a liniment folk remedy for headaches, joints and muscle pain used according to American Indian healing. The scent of raw essential oil of poplar bud is sweet like Spring wine, a fresh green candy that is familiar, medicinal and yet heady. Liatrix is a green, vanillic fern note. And of course vetiver is dry and rooty, unmistakable. I do not know if the poplar bud used in this was European or North American, though I am willing to bet there is little difference in the intense green sweetness of the new buds. However, there is no description based on these notes that could have prepared me for the experience of actually smelling this famous Sap.

In real time, my comments were as follows
TOP: Delicate. This is the first word that springs to mind. It's not the power trip I expected. Delicate, green, pretty and fresh, definitely juicy leafy green delicate ferns in a cool forest. Yes, and the sap! Cool trickle of clear, thick sap droplet, dripping down a tree's bark or stem of bracken. I really do feel surrounded by the woods. I've sat in woods in the Scottish highlands, surrounded by ferns and rannoch, bracken, so this smell places me right back there instantly. So nice not to have "moss", as this is like a chypre of ferns rather than spongy dankness. Now I know why everyone loves this so much! Truly a work of art. I've never smelled anything like this before.
MIDDLE: Intoxication. Translucent green fairy juice. Love, Love, Love. It may be so diaphanous that some noses get underwhelmed? I find it subtle with nuances that are breathtaking and enchanting – entrancing! The way it moves, develops – it gives me visions. If asked to choose between this and Vacances, I can't. This is a fantasy experience. I'm completely enthralled. I may cry. It actually feels like smelling a river or slow-moving current of air that pulls me with it to my surprise and I'm caught in it, and start to drown. Smells like a living dream, brought to life from those places glimpsed in sleep where palaces and true love exists to silently sing and pierce the heart. Hmm, it also stops time and makes the mind slow down to follow along at the pace it sets, perhaps the purity of the ingredients she used? Definitely high-grade stuff, here. It’s no wonder she went out of business – marketing something this expensive had to be difficult to balance against the marketing costs and getting others to see that it was worth EVERY and any effort to get it out.
DRYDOWN: I've never smelled anything like this in my life. Unique beyond words. I'm its slave. The use of vetiver was utter genius. I can't say that enough. So green and clean, I do feel this is the yang to Vacances' yin – where that is floral, this is not, so they are a perfect harmony. I don't feel the need to compare them anymore, as they each complete their own side of the green dream. Yeah, like… the fairy king and the fairy queen. Makes me want to make music, though, this perfume does. Inspiring to the max.
But the words 'Holy Grail' are definitely going through my head.

Seve Exquise is supernatural.

Lasting power: not bad, actually. Not as lasting as Vacances, but I don't mind either; Seve Exquise is a drug and should only be used when it is required.

Next up:
Gobin-Daude Sous le Buis (Under the Boxwood Notes: galbanum, lavender, clary sage, orange flowers
TOP: cold woodsy love, intensely familiar somehow – the galbanum is like a subliminal message in this, not screaming its presence but hypnotizing behind the opening notes, like bass. The clary sage; lavender is bursting out, taking it over. I love clary sage, and this is very well-blended. God, this woman is a genius. What she does with lavender is simply breathtaking; she uses it as a proper blender rather than as a main note – she lets it work its magic on the other notes yet it remains visible. Amazing
MIDDLE: ohh so warm now, the softest sweetest green and flowers ever, like a herbal flower warmed in sunlight. The flower sibling to Seve Exquise's fern green. One of the prettiest things ever. Smells soft almost like a cat's fur after it's come inside from brushing against flowers in the field. So comforting that I can honestly believe this is medicine! An aromatherapy blend and not just a perfume. It is clean, and true, and very inviting. Like a soft, beloved bed. I'm glad to be wearing it with the Seve Exquise on my skin, as it soothes me during the heartache of beauty that is the Sap.
DRYDOWN: This may be very underrated. Perhaps even dismissed. It is too natural and beautiful to be heard, so overlooked. I can see why some might not like it, as it doesn't have the extremes, harshness or depth that some people may recognize from most mainstream frags, but I love it for its smooth warmth. The lasting power is hamstrung by the use of natural ingredients. This is not one I can hoard; I'll have to wear it until it is gone, it's so comforting and beautiful. I believe at that point I'll have to make a little natural blend of my own using the listed notes, just to make myself feel better.

Seve Exquise truly is the goblin king to the Vacances fairy queen. Where Vacances is all flowers and green, trailing down into goldenwood musk like Lothlorien, the Sap is a force of nature, elemental and wild, taking matters into its own hand and using that power most gently. Sous le Buis is the balm for the healing heart. One needs to be in the right place in oneself to experience these, I believe; it's too personal for one to spritz Seve all over and then hit the clubs/opera/movies/dinner-date. It would be all too easy to dismiss these as fleeting or failing to provide the vanilla/fruit/sugar rush of mainstream fragrances.

In my opinion, the two 'goblins' I have are creative masterpieces that deserve to be kept in glass bubbles like butterflies and literary dreams.

I'll continue to dream what the other three Victoire created are like, and wish for them with every dandelion puff I find.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Will the Real NORELL Please Stand Up?

When I was a kid, Norell was the kind of perfume I expected to see out on my grandmother's dresser, displayed on a gold and glass tray. I wonder what it was about the bottle, or the perfume, that made it seem so formal, made it such an exhibition piece. I remember it being incredibly rich, with smoky galbanum notes and a luxuriant complex of spiced musks, placing it alongside other old time heavies like Dioressence, Miss Dior, Youth Dew, Aliage, and Arpege. I couldn't imagine anyone wearing it without a dinner date or a gala to attend.

Now that I know what was in Norell--in it back then, at least--that doesn't seem like such odd company to have kept. At the time, I knew nothing about galbanum, and really didn't identify it as a green, coniferous note with mentholated overtones. Instead it made perfumes like Miss Dior and Aliage seem impossibly heady to me. Youth Dew was heady too (and made, or so some say, by Josephine Catapano, the same nose who created Norell and Laroche's Fidji). Youth Dew and Norell share a balsamic density which made them seem interchangeable in some way, a dignified secret passed from one bottle to the next. They were the kind of perfumes old women wore to create a line of defense against a younger generation's lack of manners, good breeding, and class distinctions.

Over the past several weeks I've tried various reformulations and concentrations of Norell, all of which, though fairly different in many respects, open on a strong gust of galbanum. Where they differ most is in the dry down. The latest reformulation ($5.99 an ounce at Perfumania) opens with sharp galbanum, radiates quite nicely, then promptly collapses into a muddled, if persistent, amber. Given how low much higher and mightier ilk have stooped during the past decade, fudging around with their formulas and their ingredients, it's a wonder a drugstore standby like Norell hasn't descended altogether into hopeless mediocrity. Just don't go comparing it to the original. Lucky for you, that would be hard to do, as the original is hard to come by, and after so many versions, who would recognize it?

The fragrance was released in 1968 by Norman Norell (he dressed Lady Bird Johnson, Babe Paley, Lauren Bacall, the socialite Hope Hampton and Dinah Shore, among others) and was sold to Revlon in 1971 for 1.25 million. The Revlon formulation would have been what I snuck out of my stepmother's medicine cabinet in high school: still rich, still smoky, opaque and full of stark contrasts, like a strand of pearls against a black wool evening dress. It still had something of a reputation to uphold. In the late nineties, the fragrance was sold to Five Star Fragrances, which also owns the rights to Royal Secret, another perennial el cheapo balsamic bomb (not necessarily a bad thing: see Youth Dew). An attempt was made to market the fragrance back to the young women who must have smelled it on their own mothers and associated it with class, luxury, and a certain overall way of life, a fantasy of affluence. Faye Dunaway, a woman their generation watched mature on movie screens, was made the face of this new good old Norell. The Dunaway formulation smells, like the others, of galbanum up top, pungently green, but this is something of a come on, as the underlying content is lacking in substance and devolves into a hollow, tangy mess; not quite green, not remotely smoky, and nowhere near rich.

It seems to me the closest I'll get to the old Norell is the bath oil, judging by recent revisitations. At about 10-20 dollars an ounce online, the oil is a real bargain, if not an outright steal. For this you get the smokiest, greenest, most balsamic iteration of the lot. It goes on rich and it dries down that way, remaining complex, retaining its density. It smells wonderful, and relates clearly to Youth Dew, which is also available, also smoky and warm, as a bath oil. I imagine the bath oil is close to the pure parfum, though I haven't tried the latter. Norell also comes in a colonge spray. I haven't tried that either. The pure parfum is also dirt cheap, all things considered, and might be worth a shot.

The Scented Salamander lists Norell's notes as: galbanum, ylang ylang, carnation, clove, cinnamon, coriander, vanillic cardamom, musky vetiver, oakmoss, and myrrh. I can't dispute any of these, nor can I smell them individually. Norell is a concerted effect and feels, like Youth Dew, highly concentrated. Myrrh makes rational sense, as does clove and carnation. There's a spicy radiance to Norell. A New York Times Magazine article from 2001 discusses how complex those old perfumes were. Catapano characterized them as "long, like a treaty." She never understood why Norell didn't remain more popular than it was. Maybe she did understand and simply refused to accept the obvious. Comparing Ellena to Norell, for this generation, at least, is like trying to convince someone to wear a heavy boucle coat instead of a gauzy linen wrap on a Spring afternoon.

From the Times article: "Paul Austin, Quest's vice president of marketing and new business development, says that when Norell appeared, it had a lot of presence and character, unlike the lighter florals in America. Perfumers today could never get Norell past the focus groups. 'The green top note is a tough sell,' admits [perfumer Rodrigo] Flores-Roux, referring to the pow of galbanum, the resinous grassy odor that first hits the nose. Austin adds that American women have an aversion to the clove and spicy floral notes at its heart. The aldehydes supported by ylang-ylang dates the fragrance, putting it in a class with Chanel No. 5..."

"It's a silly world," Catapano said, considering what had become of her favorite creation. "It's the best fragrance. And nobody buys it anymore." Chanel has had reason and the wherewithal to reformulate Chanel No. 5 for future generations, translating the fragrance according to changing times. Norell has had no such good fortune.

Friday, March 13, 2009

TWRT 3.13.09

This Week's Random Thoughts

Have you ever noticed that Reese’s peanut butter cups can sometimes be stale? About half the time I buy a Reese’s its dry and gritty. I just toss it when they’re like this because who wants unenjoyed calories? A good/fresh Reese’s is heaven. (I know 'unenjoyed' isn't a word).

I have officially made a perfume milestone: I now love and appreciate fragrances from every category; including the very last one to win a place in my heart, which is powdery scents (Talco Delicato).

We will have a guest blogger writing for I Smell Therefore I Am on occasion. Her name is SaraD and her words debut very soon.

SaraD sent me some real civet essential oil. Oh My. This explains so much. As nasty as a vial full of civet smells, I realize I love the addition of civet in perfumery. I can now detect it’s presence in many of my favorite perfumes and find it adds a sultry depth, richness and complexity like no other.

And have you ever sniffed real galbanum? The real EO? Oh My. Amazing stuff. Sort of awful but overwhelmingly awesome.

Regarding my confusion about the woman/man (?) on Big Love. It’s Selma, a woman, and the Greens’ are so creepy!

Is anyone watching the United States of Tara with Toni Collette on Showtime? I love this show. It’s great. John Corbett plays her husband and I have a serious crush on him.

The most amazing meal for me this week (well, aside from the Sea Bass I had out at a restaurant) was a Fluffernutter sandwich. I used plain white bread, the soft and useless kind, with creamy peanut butter (not crunchy), fluff and razor thin slices of banana dusted with cinnamon.

My biggest wish for this weekend is that I stay in my pajamas and not leave the house. It’s not going to happen but a girl can dream.

A colleague of mine heard through the grapevine about my perfume habit. She’s a newbie, a budding perfumista, but very, very interested and excited about trying new perfumes. After talking with her in the most ridiculously effervescent and giddy fashion I’m thrilled to have found a new project. Heh, heh, heh. She will never know what hit her, two years from now when she has 35 bottles of perfume! Oh, the adorable questions she asked me, like “how do I find my signature scent?!” (Susan, are you reading this? I mean no harm).

My Mother comes to visit me next weekend. Eeeeeeeek.

I love Chamade but I wore it this week and found it sadly fleeting. By noon I couldn’t remember what I was wearing and couldn’t smell it.

I was very happy to read Chandler Burr’s lovely review of Neil Morris’ fragrance for Takashimaya. Congrats to Neil Morris.

Oh, and because of Tania, Vivienne Westwood Boudoir is now renamed "have sexy time" perfume (spoken like Borat).

Have a fragrant weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Fine Art of Pretending Not to Have an Opinion

I rarely visit the boards at makeupalley.com, mainly because I put my time in at high school and don't see any reason to go back. Still, the attraction is there. Maybe it's like high school, sure, but a high school where everyone's talking about perfume. At least when they're being bitchy, one hopes, it's about Habanita, rather than the new girl in Social Studies and the weird, even stupid knee socks she has on. When I do stray into that minefield of insult and injury, I often wish it amused me more. But I don't derive much if any pleasure from people saying ugly things about each other, and a lot of sadism seems to permeate the tommygun posts on the boards. More often than not, you're pepper-sprayed with lazy, arm chair negativity.

Like in high school, some of the most frequent posters are really rather chummy. It's only when they're talking about people unlucky enough not to have been deemed worthy of their circle that they get downright pissy. The funny thing about writing a blog that people within a tight community of interest read is that you become a little bigger in their minds than you really are. At the end of the day, even Chandler Burr and Luca Turin--shock!--are fan-boy geeks. We all are. We're all just expressing our opinions. So it's weird to see Abigail slammed on makeupalley.com as if she's a celebrity or something. It's like I've strayed onto perezhilton and there's a picture of her with little hand drawn farts and squiggles superimposed over her figure. What is it about someone who puts herself out there that makes her a legitimate target of verbal abuse and childish graffiti?

When I do go to makeupalley, and I do a lot, I use it as a resource, an alternative to basenotes.net. I read the user reviews. Call me kooky, but I like to hear what others are saying about a fragrance. The more people sound in, the happier I am. I can take the overload of negative reviews from, say, user-names "Caltha" and "Trebor", and though I disagree with much of what Foetidus says (I'm bound to, as he's written 2064 reviews--and counting) I never tire of the way he phrases it. I can't think of a time a review, or even a series of overwhelmingly negative reviews, dissuaded me from buying or loving a perfume. Typically, reviews help me articulate my appreciation for or defense of them.

What I do find amusing on the makeupalley boards is the oft-iterated idea that an opinion is a harmful thing when it comes to perfume criticism; or, more plainly, that perfume criticism should make a commitment to being unbiased. I love the idea that a careless or thoughtless reviewer might ruin your favorite perfume for you. They say cumin, perhaps, and all you can smell, forever after, is sweat and stale food. They say cat urine, rendering Joy Joyless. What if they have their facts wrong, and think that galbanum is eucalyptus, or that Lyra was composed by Marc Buxton rather than Maurice Roucel? Then they've damaged not just you but the sanctity of a great artist's reputation. I love the idea that anything I say on my nothing little blog has that much sway, as if I wield the power to thrust the planet off its axis, bring the perfume industry down to its knees, get the damn postman to bring my perfume orders first thing in the morning, or entice niche lines to send me free bottles of any perfume I review favorably (hint, hint), when in reality I can barely remember what I was saying five minutes ago.

All of this becomes even more amusing when you consider how blatantly hypocritical it is. Without exception, everyone I've ever heard decry unbiased perfume criticism on makeupalley makes it a habit to offer his or her opinion on a regular basis. Recently, several people were saddened and disappointed when Abigail failed to merely regurgitate the Serge Lutens ad copy during an unforgivably opinionated review of Nuit de Cellophane. How dare she call it a bid for mainstream ubiquity. Who died and made her the last word on Sheldrake? It amazed me that anyone bothered to embarrass themselves by making this kind of complaint. It seemed surreal that the chain would go any further than that (26 comments, last time I looked). Then again, people got really upset when Dan Rather dispensed with so-called journalistic impartiality to verbally challenge Bush Senior.

Then too there's the fact that to post at all means having an opinion. If you think as everyone else does, what's to post? Someone else has already said it for you. Posting stems from the urge to distinguish oneself, to express a singular opinion in a way, you believe, no one else can, has, or will. Here's a newsflash (and sit down; I don't want you to pass out): If you're posting, at all, on makeupalley, you're a critic. Write me, I'll send you your membership card. With membership: a clue. If you respond to a Lutens review by saying reviews are only much fun for the person writing them, well, I mean, have you seriously surveyed everyone on that issue--but you would know, I guess, wouldn't you, having written, the same day, that "Cedre = the powdery sexiness of Tigress plus tobacco; a tiny pinch of cumin & sweet tobacco." Great. You party pooper. Thanks for ruining Cedre for me. And I was just about to go buy some. Before that, you'd written that someone ruined your newest favorite by comparing it to Cabotine. And you hate Cabotine. And now you must kill yourself, for whatever else can you do but save humanity by terminating this insidiously contagious brain poison?

It seems so obvious that we never say it, and I speak for Abigail here too I think, but we write this blog because we want to throw our opinions into the pot. Neither of us has any interest in playing authority or even in being the last word on anything. We met on a fragrance blog, where we both made it a practice to consume as many biased reviews as humanly possible. It never occurs to us that some reader on makeupalley might be crushed by our opinion or anything we write on our blog. We assume people are made of stronger stuff than that, and really, if you don't want an opinion, we wonder what the hell you're doing on the internet, or why you ever leave the house (assuming you do), or turn on the TV, or smell a perfume in the first place. Another newsflash: perfume itself is a perspective (i.e. an opinion). Michel Roudnitska's Emotionelle is said to evoke France (for HIM). Whether or not it does for you is what we're all doing here. If you don't want an opinion, for God's sake, keep a cap on it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I’ve noticed some people appreciate candid reviews, while others become seemingly offended by the fact that I dislike a particular perfume. I write perfume reviews because I enjoy every moment of it – but I also take painstaking care to tell the absolute truth and never sugarcoat my opinions. If you want poetic and undecipherable ad copy – that gives you very little in terms of what the juice smells like – you can surely find that elsewhere, all over the internet.

In the spirit of being candid, here are a few perfumes that I’ve purchased over the years due to reading over-the-top swooning reviews which turned out to be duds:

Lorenzo Villoresi Teint de Neige
I completely fail to see the appeal of this. I adore Chandler Burr and his reviews; however, he tells us stories and never quite tells us what the perfume smells like. It was Mr. Burr’s review that caused me to purchase Teint de Neige and I was rather disappointed once I realized I could have gotten the same effect by dusting myself with Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.

Guerlain Attrape-Coeur
Average for 10 minutes – then disappears

Tom Ford’s exclusive private blend collection
Yawn. The prices are ridiculous.

Serge Lutens Bois de Violette
I’m sorry, I’m obviously a philistine, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why this makes The Guide’s top 10 perfumes of all time. It smells like a stack of cedar wood with one tiny violet. For the same effect, I could store my sweaters in a cedar lined bureau and apply just one teensy weensy spritz of a very soft violet soliflore like Annick Goutal La Violette or Borsari Violetta di Parma (or take your pick).

Bvlgari Black.
I like Black. But it’s neither particularly “Black” (as in deep, dark or mysterious) and it’s really just about vanilla. Maybe the construction is amazing, but the tenacity isn’t there and the overall scent is just an oddball vanilla. But I do like this one, it isn’t a dud, but I often wonder why it has such a big following.

L’Artisan Dzing and Dzonghka
If these scents were created by Givenchy or Paris Hilton – would there be such a cult following? Dzing smells like cardboard and Dzonghka like stones.

Amouage Jubilation 25
Seriously. This is killer. This is one of the reasons non-perfumistas hate perfume. (okay, leave my beloved Amarige out of this – I *already* know ya’ll hate it).

Montale White Oud
Where’s the Oud?