Sunday, January 31, 2010

Annick Goutal Un Matin d'Orage: Revisted

This kicks off my week-long tribute to the House of Annick Goutal ~ DAY 1

I already reviewed Un Matin d’Orage (UMdO) last year but this was back when I’d worn it only about 3 times (3 full days). Now a year has passed and I’ve worn UMdO several more times and I must say it’s a glorious fragrance.

I had it right in my first review, that UMdO is about wetness and warmth rising from soil. I find it odd that people can take away dryer sheets from this but our perspectives are so different. To me, this is the exact opposite of anything synthetic and reminiscent of dryer sheets. It’s so real, natural, clean (yes, soil can smell clean) and pristine. I absolutely adore the effect of damp soil and stones. And, just like the marketing copy suggests, this is a Japanese garden, it’s minimalist, delicate and perfectly balanced. Unlike the marketing copy I don’t think UMdO smells of heat and humidity but more along the lines of a temperate day; a cool morning with a slightly warm, breezy and comfortable day ahead.

Doyen does a marvelous job capturing the sweetness of gardenia but she avoids over-the-top sweetness with the addition of magnolia and champaca. There is a crisp freshness to this gardenia accord and it is divine. Un Matin d’Orage is aquatic but this is “just after the thunderstorm” aquatic and not merely the suggestion of water. I can scarcely think of another fragrance where the aquatic nature is rendered so beautifully. Hermes Apres La Mousson has an aquatic nature but here it is blended with swampy vetiver and fruits. Un Matin d’Orage showcases a garden of dewy gardenia, jasmine and magnolia against a backdrop of wet stones and soil. Stunning.

I don’t often like fragrances which evoke melancholy or somber moods but UMdO gives me a wistful feeling that I quite like. There’s something reflective, quiet, solitary and thoughtful about UMdO and for a change I enjoy this quality.

Un Matin d’Orage is one of Annick Goutals more unusual, edgy and certainly not-for-mainstream-tastes fragrances. I looked around at other reviews and noticed reactions differ a great deal.

For reference, here’s the marketing copy from Annick Goutal:
Imagine yourself in a Japanese garden – a family garden, surrounded by dozens of delicate trees, grapefruit and hundreds of bushes of gardenias. It’s early morning, the day after a thunderstorm. Imagine the drops of the rain on the leaves with the sun breaking through the cloud. The scent of the white gardenia is strong. With the humidity and heat, the scent emanates from the ground.

PS: While I'm becoming a collector of Annick Goutal Limited Edition bottles, there is something about this butterfly bottle I just don't like. I don't think the frosted white color is as lovely as others I've seen. But I still like all the AG butterfly bottles in general, I just don't need this one ;)

Friday, January 29, 2010

TWRT 1.29.10

Beverage of the week: Schweppe’s Dry Grape Ginger Ale. OhMyGod so good!

Favorite person of the week: Brian, my co-blogger. Brian rules. Among other things he found and gifted me my new favorite linden fragrance. It's Bond No. 9 Eau de Noho (not Nuits de Noho). I had never heard of this before and it’s the most breathtakingly lovely linden perfume. It’s tenacious, too, something I have never found in a light & fresh linden fragrance before. Even if you aren’t crazy for linden like I am, you might give this a try if you’re looking for a fresh, green, floral for warm weather.

Brian and I split a bottle of Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse L’Animale. He just received it today. He loves it! Now I can say how much I love it’s ripe, murky, powdery, floralcy (where did I get ‘floralcy?’ was it NST commenters?). I find Tubereuse L’Animale wonderfully unique – a sweet, tobacco, hay, tuberose that’s to die for. I don’t detect much straight up leather but it’s certainly there doing something to everything else (!).

Confession: I love DK Cashmere Mist body wash and lotion. The fragrance is boring but the wash and lotion are fab for my hands. In fact, I got the Luxe (edp) edition of Cashmere Mist and these items were included as freebies. I might buy some when I run out.

I have 3 of the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire and I really don’t get the hoopla. Gardenia Petale is nice. Orchidee Vanille is a sweet vanilla and Bois d’Iris is too sweet and smells of toner/ink. “Nice” means simply pleasant, agreeable, and not bad but surely doesn’t mean anything great to me.

A Scent, by Issey Miyake is surprisingly terrific. I love the galbanum burst and the mossy greenness throughout. It lasts, too. It reminds me slightly of Liz Zorn’s Green Oakmoss (Soivohle’)Above pic are my current favorite earrings. I bought these for myself as a holiday gift. I absolutely love this shop on etsy, called The Jewelry Bar. Their prices are so reasonable and the jewelry looks just as pretty once received.

I’ve noticed I tend to have the same taste in fragrance as The Non-Blonde. So she mentioned that Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanille was good so I promptly bought some. It is good. I really like it and it’s actually a nice warm floral for winter, even though it’s light. Although, I can’t help but want to don a perfumer’s hat and blend in a little heliotrope and mimosa. That would be a sublime fragrance, prominent notes of ylang, mimosa, heliotrope and vanilla. Is there anything out there like this? Fluffy, sweet, delicate with a twinge of green.

I've been collecting the Annick Goutal limited edition butterfly bottles lately. I have a few beauties - some are hand painted. My favorite is Ambre Fetiche. But, I just want to shout out to Annick Goutal and ask why she doesn't create more limited edition flacons, perhaps for more of her scents. I can imagine a beautiful one for La Violette.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Christian Dior Diorama (reissue)

Some important questions: Where has Diorama been all my life? How is it that it’s taken me this long to procure a bottle?

I have never smelled vintage Diorama. I’m afraid to look for it now. I’m in love with reissued Diorama, and feel the need to wear Diorama and only Diorama for awhile to make up for lost time.

Diorama reminds me of Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Therese (also created by Roudnitska), which I smelled first and fell in love with first. Diorama and Therese seem to be very close sisters, with Diorama outdoing Therese in the sillage and longevity department and also not showcasing any aqueous nature. To me, Diorama is a classic fruity floral, but it appears to be categorized by the experts as a fruit chypre. I’ve read there are base notes of vetiver, oakmoss, civet and patchouli but these are not discernable for me, not until the way dry down. Fruits and white florals are showcased here; it’s all about melon, plum and peach with jasmine, tuberose and very soft spices if you’re looking for them. Perhaps it is because of this fruity quality, with fruity floral fragrances being an enormous trend of the past decade, which makes Diorama seem completely modern to me. I thought the same thing when I first smelled Therese; it seemed strange that Therese was created decades ago, because any sort of fruitiness seems modern. Maybe it’s just my own perception but mossy chypres and powdery scents seem old fashioned, while fruity fragrances do not. The fruity quality in Diorama is light, bright, effervescent and blended with white florals and soft spices. There’s also some similarity to YSL Yvresse, which is another sparkling and classic fruity scent worth checking out.

I’ve read several reviews which describe Diorama as buttery. Oddly, Diorama is the opposite for me, it starts off rather sharp and only in the way dry down would I describe it as buttery. One spice I notice is saffron. I have no idea if saffron is among the listed notes, but I dig saffron and it works like magic here.

Coming of age in the 80’s I have the tendency to prefer big fragrances. Diorama isn’t crazy big, but it’s big enough to please me (smirks at perverseness of this sentence). I’m of the thinking that good sillage and longevity mean I’m getting my money’s worth. For those who read ISTIA regularly, you won’t need to ‘spray yourself wet’ with Diorama (smirking, again, what’s with the perverted minds?!).

I read a few reviews on other perfume blogs before writing my own and realized I have a very different experience with Diorama. Diorama doesn’t make me recall Paris or women in fur, pearls, diamonds and couture evening gowns. Instead Diorama smells youthful, gregarious, brimming with a zest and zeal for life. Diorama smells like the study of nature on an early spring day. The essence of Diorama is a verb; it’s budding, growing, juicy and bursting forth with fresh natural vapors and dewy realism.

Notes are listed as: melon, peach, plum, jasmine, rose and tuberose.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


While not so surprised that I like it, I am surprised how little Aziyade reminds me of the things I'm told it should. What's not to like? Are there many who don't like Serge Lutens' Arabie? I don't know many of them. It's likable, too. It smells to me of dates marinated in various resins, and Aziyade has some of those fruity woody aspects too. As do Kenzo Elephant and Feminite du Bois. But Aziyade has so many peculiar qualities those don't that I'm not sure I would have made the connection on my own. For me, likability is about the biggest thing they have in common.

I made a comment the other day, talking about Noix De Tuberose, that tuberose fragrances often seem very similar, with only very fine distinctions. I see the school of thought which places Aziyade among the sugared fruits and woods of the perfume world, but it has such a nice, tart angle, with some leather and terpenoids going on in there too. I get some pine, though it isn't listed. I think this might be ginger, which is. None of the notes come as a shock to me. Yes, okay, there are those crystallized dates and prunes, but they're more of a backdrop. Orange is a big player here, adding to that terpenoid zing. Pomegranate, a cameo. The ginger, almond, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, carob and ciste season the mix in a way which feels uniquely spicy. Aziyade isn't a cold smell, it has some warmth, but it lacks the fuzzy splendor of Elephant and Arabie. Those have always reminded me of Cinnabar in a certain way: they heat up on the skin the way the smell of food on the stove spreads through the house.

Aziyade is brisk. I would call it radiant. It doesn't smell anything like them but its radiance brings Caleche and Clinique Wrappings to mind. Those have a similar, slightly camphorous edge for me which should probably be chalked up to aldehydes. Aziyade's tangy vibe isn't something I've smelled anywhere, except perhaps in another Parfum D'Empire fragrance, Ambre Russe. What to call this? Both make me think of a rich, high end liqueur like the one I sometimes see and covet: a pear floats inside, like a model ship in a bottle. Aziyade dries down into a dreamy booze of a fragrance. It doesn't have the forceful longevity of Elephant and Arabie but it lasts quite well. Actually, now that I bring it up, it smells a bit of pear.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Miller Harris Noix de Tubereuse: My Little Story

When Brian posted his review of NdT it gave me a flood of memories.

It was about 7 years ago and I lived in New Jersey. I lived in a sleepy little town along the Delaware river called Frenchtown. About 30 minutes directly south is a less sleepy little town called New Hope, PA, known for it’s antique shops and restaurants. I remember being in a boutique and coming across the Miller Harris line. I had never seen nor sniffed the Miller Harris line and I was quite taken with their beautiful boxes and bottles. Truth be told I hadn’t seen nor sniffed much back then. I probably had about 5 bottles of perfume at home and thought this was excessive. So there I was, in this little shop, completely fascinated by Miller Harris. I sniffed and sniffed each and every scent from the line and knew I just had to have one. After about 30 minutes I think the shop owner got nervous that I was some sort of freak who would never buy anything and never leave. Eventually I decided upon my favorite – which was Noix de Tubereuse. After spending so much time I was embarrassed to ask the price so I simply bought it. I remember being shocked at the price tag which I think was $110. Back then, all the perfumes I bought cost around $50 bucks so this hundred dollar perfume was a big deal. I left the shop with my little treasure in hand. I was so excited. I brought my luxurious perfume home and stared at the bottle all night. It was such a treat. I remember thinking the scent was a bit strong and heavy and wondering if I could pull it off at the office.

Now it’s 7 years later. I still have that bottle of Noix de Tubereuse with about 10 ml remaining and so much has changed.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Miller Harris: Noix de Tubereuse

I'm guessing that with more of an online search than I'm willing to conduct right now I could find out what's up with the Miller Harris line being discontinued in the states. I know it's at least being liquidated at Bloomingdales, where I got a few bottles at half the usual price. The pickings were slim--I came to the sale late--but I did get Noix de Tubereuse, which interested me more than some of the others. I'm a fan of L'Air de Rien (and how) and had intended eventually to get Noix, but so many other fragrances at that price point spoke to me a little more urgently.

It could have something to do with the company I was keeping when I first smelled Noix at the counter. I sprayed some on and it gave her a headache. Of course, almost every perfume gives her a headache, but knowing this, tuberose was an evil move. At the time, I was inclined to agree with her: it smelled like an older lady's perfume. It's the knee jerk reaction to tuberose. But as we roamed the mall, my opinion changed. Noix seemed much fresher than any tuberose I'd smelled. It lacked that heavy resinous bombast which seems to anchor so many of its peers; yet it wasn't transparent, either.

The addition of mimosa really does magic on tuberose. Some have called this candied. Others say bubblegum. I get neither. For sure, the mimosa sweetens the mix, giving it an almost edible slant. Violet sweetens it further. I get the green notes, which come off like snapped stems. But it's the mimosa I smell more than anything for a while. Smelled from the bottle, this seems more like Noix de Mimosa.

That note really never goes away, but the tuberose does gradually emerge more emphatically. Noix goes powdery; not overwhelmingly, it's still too damp for that, but it's there. The best part of the fragrance is the buttery drydown. I can't think of a tuberose fragrance I remember having this quality in quite the same way. There's a creaminess to Noix. It remains bright but has that buttery warmth of something darker. I often feel when I smell a tuberose fragrance that I have too many already, and so many of them are so similar. I would never say that of Noix de Tubereuse. It's truly that miraculous rarity, a contemplative tuberose, quiet and thoughtful. Nothing is weighing too heavily on its mind.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise

It wasn’t very long ago that I disliked Vanille Exquise. I think that any true fragrance fanatic would have to admit to changing her mind on occasion or even frequently.

Prior to November, 2009, I didn’t wear many vanilla focused fragrances but lately I’ve been having a vanilla renaissance. It started with The Different Company Oriental Lounge, then PG Felanilla, then L’Artisan Havana Vanille, then Montale Chypre Vanille and now Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise. Somehow it took liking these four non-foodie vanillas for me to understand Vanille Exquise.

Vanille Exquise (2004) came years before Felanilla, Oriental Lounge, Havana Vanille and Chypre Vanille and it’s another vanilla scent for those who don’t like foodie vanillas. Initially there was a note in Vanille Exquise that was too harsh for me – I think it’s either angelica or gaiac wood – but this harshness is no longer there, it has magically disappeared or more accurately I’ve taken a liking to this jarring slightly nutty, woody, dry and herbal quality in combination with sweet vanilla.

Vanilla Exquise (VE) also reminds me a bit of Guerlain Angelique Noire, but again, for the record, VE arrived on the scene 1 year before Angelique Noire. I find VE better than Angelique Noire because it’s less sweet and foodie. Like many Guerlains, Angelique Noire has that sweet vanillic/Play-Doh “Guerlainade” that I’m not fond of. You either love that Guerlainade or you don’t and my favorite Guerlains are the one’s without it. I’m pointing out that Annick Goutal VE came before many of the interesting non-foodie vanillas on today’s market for a reason, and that is, that Annick Goutal is a phenomenal perfume house and Isabelle Doyan a brilliant perfumer . The more I focus on scents from Annick Goutal, the more I realize there are plenty of gems and not just boring pretty stuff.

The vanilla note in Vanille Exquise is always present but it’s in the background like a pair of delicate hand made curtains framing a picture window. The vanilla here is sweet, but it is blended with angelica and gaiac wood which are dark, dry and incense-y. The longer VE stays on my skin the better it gets; the blending of vanilla with this incense-y dryness is sublime. As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts, some fragrances require me to ‘spray myself wet’ and VE is one of them – but once I do it lasts all day and the sillage is nice.

I’ve come to realize that Annick Goutal is one of my favorite houses. Spray yourself wet with a few from AG and you might find you missed the beauty before.

Notes include: vanilla, angelica, almond, benzoin, gaiac wood and white musk.

Above photo courtesy of Decomprose on Flikr

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Highwayman (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab)

Few fragrances are discussed on the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab forum with as much bewilderment as Highwayman. Though not without fans, it seems to leave detractors feeling as if they've been assaulted by some unseen hand. Two days into spending time with it, I started comparing it to Angel, not because it smells similar, but because Angel elicits equally strong, equally contradictory reactions, and because, like Angel, Highwayman is a proposition of opposites which can be as off-putting as it is mind-bending.

Many of the Black Phoenix fragrances require creative association on the part of the wearer; the oils are interpretations of a theme or a subject, and sometimes they're left of center to your expectations. Dracul's pine and mint notes--brisk, almost cheery--are anything but vampiric for some. Jasmine and patchouli might not readily come to mind when you think of the cryptic caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Names like Sin and Perversion are bound to divide opinion. These things are discussed at length on the forum by fan and foe alike.

The first image I got, hearing the name Highwayman, was a pavement-bound drifter, dressed in scuffed leather, mirrored sunglasses hiding his eyes, vapors rising off the asphalt around him, desert on either side of the road; an unshaven stranger, fairly unwashed, his face and hands scuffed with the grease, grass, and dirt of innumerable days out in the open. That image sprang to life like a dry sponge hitting water the moment I smelled the fragrance.

Highwayman is the best leather fragrance I've ever smelled, and I've smelled quite a few. There's just no comparison. My biggest disappointment, even with my favorite leathers, is their eagerness to tame the foul harmony of the real thing. Chanel Cuir de Russie and Lancome Cuir make friendly with florals. Even more openly jarring leathers, like Heeley's Cuir Pleine Fleur, are ultimately a lot more softened than I'd like. Knize Ten, too, is incomparable--I wouldn't be without it--yet as it ventures deeper into tanned territory it sprinkles sweetener about generously. Creed's Royal English Leather and Parfum D'Empire's Cuir Ottoman are smooth and buttery, and ultimately more about amber than anything else. I want something that smells of the undomesticated animal it came from.

Highwayman has gardenia, rose, and jasmine in it but you'd never guess. Then again, gardenia and indolic jasmine are the last thing you'd expect to be paired with leather, about as far removed from the polite iris of Cuir de Russie as a baseball is from a basketball court. There's a floral aspect to Highwayman but you'd be hard pressed to say exactly what. It enhances the overall effect perfectly, the way the unlikely addition of chocolate to patchouli radicalized antagonistic opposites in Angel. The rubbery, camphorous vibe of gardenia works ideally here, and your mind continues to struggle its way around such an improbable counterpart.

Highwayman's biggest emphasis is on the smoked tarry ambience of creosote. The asphalt drives of my childhood were fertile with this smell during the summer, when the sun baked their dark surfaces, giving them a tactile rubbery spring and an aroma which seemed both aggressively unnatural and perfectly appropriate to the surrounding environment, smelling as much of wood as smoke. This quality, without taking Highwayman away from leather, places it alongside Santa Maria Novella's wonderful Nostalgia, which is a much more civilized version of Highwayman, a volatile marriage of creosote and kerosene. The scorched pavement Nostalgia burns rubber on is far too small a patch of land. It doesn't last. Highwayman is a wide open road, and it goes on forever.

Another useful comparison is Garage, from the Comme des Garçons Synthetics series. Again, Garage is a much more transparent and affable fragrance than Highwayman, but it plays around in the same space, among fuel spills and oil leaks and the rubber of well-worn tires. Garage pulls up to the dangling tennis ball, but, unlike Highwayman, it leaves the electric door open, allowing the air to circulate. Highwayman is more of a shut-in. It even lights a cigarette. Like Garage, Highwayman's effects have a lot to do with vetiver. Garage, again, cleans that up, making it a much prettier, more presentable contributor. Highwayman uses vetiver the way several good BPAL fragrances do, exploiting its rich, almost chocolatey depth, full of happy contradictions. The dry down of Highwayman is predominately vetiver, and not dissimilar to Lalique's Encre Noire.

I smell so many things that the idea of a holy grail seems a little bizarre in theory, like finding a needle in a haystack. I've smelled a lot of Black Phoenix scents too, and love more than I like. Some, like Djinn and Now Winter Lights Enlarge, are uncommonly good. The past year introduced me to Tabac Aurea by Sonoma Scent Studio and Teo Cabanel's Alahine. I knew when I smelled them what people mean when they designate a holy grail fragrance. It isn't that I wear these all the time, or even often. But they bond with my sensibility in a powerful, emotional way, as if they sprung out of my imagination, or take root there in a wonderfully parasitic way. Highwayman is at the top of that list.

Michael Storer Stephanie

Michael Storer won my heart a long time ago with Monk. I’m pretty much always in the mood for deep, dark, balsamic, woodsy, musky and patchouli laden gems and Monk is most certainly a lot of these things. Truthfully I was so taken with Monk that I sadly ignored the rest of the Michael Storer line.

About two weeks ago I was decanting some Michael Storer Stephanie and I decided to give myself a spritz, not remembering what Stephanie was all about. I knew it was a white floral of sorts and I thought perhaps it was heavy on jasmine (not my thing) but that was all I recalled. When the fragrance first hit my skin it smelled of metallic alcohol. Ewww, I thought. But less than 2 minutes later the most gorgeous green gardenia jumped up and swatted me from the back of my hand. Whoa! Stephanie is not to be missed – she is one feisty little diva of a gardenia fragrance.

I then sprayed myself a few more times and settled in for the ride. Stephanie is an absolute must-try for anyone who loves the scent of gardenia. I think Stephanie is meant to be a real-life gardenia – a photographic olfactory image of gardenia blossoms. On me, it’s one better than that; it’s more like the dream of a perfect gardenia. A gardenia that is green, sweet and slightly clean but with the overall impression of perfume and not a bouquet of gardenia flowers. Think of what Frederic Malle Carnal Flower does for tuberose – this is what Michael Storer Stephanie does for gardenia.

I’m more of a tuberose-aholic than a gardenia fiend but I do have my share of gardenia scents. Kai is a lovely green gardenia but Stephanie knocks it out of the park. Isabey is a nice enough gardenia (actually I like the bottle more than the juice) but again Stephanie is the sultry winner here. The Annick Goutal I’d offer as being closest to Stephanie is Songes in EDT. I love Songes (in both EDT and EDP) too much to say Stephanie is better but it’s definitely in the same realm (and I adore Songes, it’s one of those desert-island scents for me). I also like Jo Malone’s Vintage Gardenia but after taking Stephanie for a spin, well, she makes Vintage Gardenia seem a little thin, waif-like, basically a tad Kate Moss-ish. A bottle of Van Cleef & Arpels Gardenia Petale is on its way to me so I can’t compare it yet. Basically, what I’m trying to communicate with all these comparisons is that Stephanie holds court with the crème de la crème.

Stephanie seems to me to be one half gardenia and one quarter each tuberose and orange blossom. These floral notes aren’t all listed, but this is my guess, because Stephanie has aspects of tuberose and there’s a bright clean quality that reminds me of orange blossom. I’m thankful for the slightly clean quality because real-life gardenia flowers can stink, I won’t mention like what (ok, fetid cheese and feet). Stephanie starts with a beautiful green floral burst, thanks to the galbanum, but then she quickly veers more floral than green. The greenness reminds me of Carnal Flower. There is pepper amongst the notes and even though I don’t detect the pepper prominently, I know it’s there, giving the fragrance some pizazz and vivaciousness. I’m glad the pepper doesn’t stick out because I’ve decided I do not like white florals with an obvious pepper note (I’m thinking of La Chasse aux Papillion Extreme and Rochas Poupee where I find the pepper completely jarring).

Michael Storer Stephanie is flat out gorgeous. She is a sultry, sweet gardenia with a little spice. Longevity is very good and sillage is nice (not too much, just enough).

Incidentally, we carry Michael Storer at The Posh Peasant. But you can also go directly to Michael Storer's main site.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The random experiment

This is one of those fragrances that truly must be sampled blind. Because I did just that. By mistake. And now I’m humbled because it is a perfume I had all sorts of preconceived notions about – basically I assumed I didn’t like it. A friend of mine dared me to do a blind sniff - he chose something and sprayed me with it. I had absolutely no idea what it was. And the fact that I’d never given this stuff the time of day before only made the process more intriguing because it was familiar yet it wasn’t. I couldn’t imagine how he had taken a perfume from my room, sprayed me with it, and I didn’t know what it was. One thing was for sure: I did know that I liked it. And I liked it more and more as the hours past. And eventually I gave up and had to ask what on earth I had been sprayed with (it's a sad thing when a perfumista admits defeat).

I’ll tell you what I smelled. I smelled rose immediately. Not a fresh floral rose but a deep abstract rose with loads of sweet spices and darkness. I knew I was smelling roses, spices, definitely saffron which was blazing a rather medicinal trail and the whole thing was rolled up in a cloud of sweetness. Roses + spices + saffron + dark syrupy sweetness. But not too sweet for me to wear. It seemed to walk a fine line between syrupy sweetness and woody dark spices and medicinal saffron. This wasn't gourmand or was it? I ended up thinking it was not really gourmand, just at the doorway, the edge of gourmand.

I admit to nearly losing my mind during the 4-5 hours when I did not know what this fragrance was. Why is it so important to know what it is? I kept thinking that it shouldn’t matter what it is – I knew I liked it – so why did I need to put a label on it – why was I losing it to find out the brand – find out the notes – found out the perfumer - and put the whole beautiful scent in a preconceived little bucket tied with a knot and stored away? I realized I don’t sniff with an open mind. I realize that if I’m told I’m sniffing Guerlain or Chanel or Dawn Spencer Hurwitz or Olivia Giacombetti this all means something very specific to me – and will result in how much I like the fragrance, how artistic I find the fragrance, how exceptional I think the ingredients are...these are all little assumptions, you know? Well, this time I didn’t have my blinders on. I was completely bare and naked to this scent – this particular scent - who was rather intoxicating. And I must tell you, once I found out what it was, I felt a bit ashamed, like I shouldn’t like it so much. But I will not do that, I will not ruin this experience by over thinking the stuff now that I have it’s proper labels. I will now tell you that it is Keiko Mecheri Gourmandises and it is amazing. If I sprayed you with this stuff and told you it was Guerlain or Serge Lutens believe me you’d swoon your socks right off.

Notes are listed as: praline, rose petals, jam, saffron, musk.

Longevity is excellent and the sweetness tempers after the first 15 minutes. It has the start of a syrupy Montale but it quickly morphs into a beautiful sweet rose saffron & spice fragrance.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Montale Chypre Vanille

Montale is not my favorite line. I enjoyed Sandflowers last year, but as much as I still like it, I’ve grown tired of it and never wear it. I’m not a fan of Aoud so this rules out a good portion of Montale fragrances. Blue Amber is nice but I have too many other amber orientals I like better. Steam Aoud is one of the strangest fragrances I’ve ever worn. Granted there are loads of Montales I haven’t tried – simply because there are so many – and they’re expensive and can never be found on discount. But, I’m here to tell you, along came Chypre Vanille and I find myself oddly drawn to it.

For me, Montale Chypre Vanille is NOT a chypre nor is it a typical vanilla fragrance. I don’t smell anything like oakmoss nor patchouli which has come to be the ‘modern chypre’ base. I’ve read as many reviews of Chypre Vanille as I can find and I don’t agree with most of them. The vanilla here is not foodie but I would also not call it dry. It’s a sweet vanilla, but not a foodie vanilla, if that makes sense. Think of the sweetness of Shalimar – I would say it’s sweeter than that – but the vanilla here is similar to the type of vanilla in Shalimar (sans the citrus edge). I do not mean Chypre Vanille smells like Shalimar – it doesn’t. I’m just trying to describe this type of vanilla.

Overall, once dried down, I think Chypre Vanilla smells like the most buttery sueded vanilla LEATHER imaginable. It starts off syrupy and potent, like most Montales, with a hefty dose of powder. But this isn’t Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder – it’s more like an orris root powder. You’ll have to be a hardcore Scent Junkie to make this sort of powder distinction but if you can imagine what I’m describing, you’ll get it. Once you get past what I think of as a rocky start, it becomes a gorgeous soft vanillic suede. There aren’t any spices jutting out, it’s all about being smooth, creamy, cozy and sublime. I’m just so oddly attracted to it.

The past few months I’ve found myself enjoying vanilla fragrances when I don’t normally like this category at all. TDC Oriental Lounge is a nice take on vanilla and L’Artisan Havana Vanille is excellent. Montale’s Chypre Vanille is probably my favorite take on vanilla of late – it’s wonderfully unique and I can’t say I’ve ever smelled anything like it.

Chypre Vanille is easily unisex. The longevity is excellent.

Notes (borrowed from Luckyscent): vanilla, rose, amber, incense, sandalwood, iris, vetiver, tonka bean

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hammam Bouquet

You have to love the tactile pleasures of Penhaligon's packaging. Even the sound of the name feels right. It rolls right off the tongue. I suppose I'm on a kick lately, noticing these things more, though not yet enough to make anything but sweeping generalizations about my taste.

I do often notice that bottles considered lovely by others are sometimes downright annoyances to me. I try to picture who must have designed them, and what on earth made them think this would appeal to a buyer of perfume. What made them think this would look good on a vanity? All I've ever thought when I see a Bond No.9 bottle is "gingerbread man"--and I'm that rare thing, a Bond No.9 defender. I like the perfumes enough to disregard the way holding them in my hand feels (in short, all wrong), but I resent that someone somewhere felt confident enough in this design to build an entire line on it. It seems like some kind of assault on my intelligence. I really don't get the draw of the Givenchy Organza design, either, to give another random example, and not just because you have to book end it with sturdier specimens if you intend to display it. In all the hours designers spend thinking about these bottles, do they ever stand one up on a bureau to see how it feels about heights?

Penhaligon's gets me almost every time, right down to the box, and for whatever reason, Hammam Bouquet is one of my favorites. The fragrances I end up loving seem to fall generally under two categories. There are those I love the moment I smell them, and those I'm massively disappointed by at first. Hammam Bouquet was one of the latter. Typically, these are things I've read about, so my expectations are high--and highly specific. It takes a while to adjust. I didn't know what to make of Hammam for a long time. I almost gave it away during the first six months I owned it. I bought it un-sniffed. I was attracted by the promise of rose and the prospect of yet another contender for the ideal dandy must-have.

I couldn't figure out where the rose was. I still can't, but at this point I'm not looking for it. It feels more theoretical than anything, when I start trying to discern it. What I got at first and for a long time was the kind of whiff given off when a rather hefty fellow plops down onto a vinyl seat, the cushion of which promptly farts from the pressure. Let's call this plastic flatulence. Nostalgic I suppose, but surely more suitable as a room spray. I've never been to any Turkish bathhouses, and Hammam is said to evoke one, so that was no help in placing this fragrance.

Knowing there's lavender in the mix makes a little more sense of things. Cedar and Sandalwood illuminate things further. The first is robust in a way I recognize in Hammam. All three can be slightly astringent and/or medicinal in their own ways, producing something of a clamor on the skin, and I now think, having spent more time getting farted on, so to speak, that what I took to be vinyl is that medicinal astringency. Hammam mellows after a while but always retains the signature of that bold beginning. It can feel contradictory, refined but in a crude, caricatured way, harsh and rich simultaneously, a little brash, a little refined. I believe the florals must give it this more laid back counterpoint to the energy of the woods and lavender. Even iris, though, reinforces this contrapuntal attitude; cool and camphorous on the one hand, buttery smooth on the other.

And what of that packaging? It shouldn't matter, you say? Maybe not. But fragrance is a complex enterprise for me, something pretty special. I like that quality to extend as far into the experience as possible, and it helps to know someone else is thinking about it that way too, helping indulge and sustain a fantasy in every way possible.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TWRT 1.14.10

This Week's Random Thoughts ~

I haven't written for awhile and here I am with some random thoughts (seems cheap, eh?!)

I have all sorts of new perfumes rolling around in my head. I haven't come to the point of reviewing any of these yet but here are some initial impressions -
Montale Chypre Vanille: LOVE it
Theo Fennell edp: Hate it, not worthy of hoopla. The bottle isn't even all that.
Juliet Has a Gun Calamity J: It's OK. I can't smell much of anything.
Strange Invisible Perfumes Fire & Cream: I think I might be falling for this, not sure yet.
Van Cleef & Arpels Bois d'Iris: smells like toner, you know, from a printer or photocopy machine.
Prada L'eau de Ambree: it's nice enough.
Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Ambre Precieux: can you believe I am just getting a bottle of this now? I LOVE it.

I saw a really cute 'girl power' movie about 1 week ago, called Whip It starring Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis and Drew Barrymore (also this is Drew's directorial debut). I imagined it would be ultra-daft but it was actually quite entertaining. I wish Juliette Lewis would be in more movies and Ellen Page is great.

I also saw It's Complicated with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. I thought it was lame. Even Meryl wasn't good.

I can't wait to try the new Annick Goutal: Ninfeo Mio. In fact, now that I've been 'spraying myself wet' I'm enamored with more Goutals than I previously realized. I know Goutal seems boring to many Scent Junkies but the line is so beautiful, high quality and are occasionally edgy. Even though I've always liked Un Matin d'Orage, it's growing on me and might get loads of wear this coming summer. And Ambre Fetiche has been a favorite for awhile now as well as Encens Flamboyant which is a gorgeous incense with a touch of sweet.

American Idol is back. I miss Paula. I could barely manage looking at Victoria Beckham the other day - she annoys me terribly - I want her to eat and to smile. I like Ellen D. but worry she'll try to be a comedian instead of a judge.

I love saying "Twenty Ten" for 2010.

I was gifted Fracas solid perfume and I'm in heaven. Fracas in solid is less obnoxious (though I do love the edp nonetheless) but it's very close to the scent of the edp. Solid perfumes seem so luxurious and special. This might be a new thing for me.

Did you see Nathan's review of Alahine?! I am SO HAPPY he loves it. His photos... I am speechless over his photos. Well, I'm not speechless, but rather doubt you want to read about me raving like a lunatic here.

Beverage of the week: Diet Dr. Pepper. Nobody likes this stuff 'cept me. Oddly it's really popular here in New Mexico. You see it everywhere, even at the fountain drink stations at fast food chains.

Sandwich of the week: Well, this isn't a sandwich, but, it's really yummy. Trust me because it's sounds awful. Toast a whole wheat english muffin and spread lightly with butter, then spread marmalade on one side and small curd cottage cheese on the other.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Juicy Couture: Couture Couture

I must be one of the only people on Planet Perfume immune to the charms of the trinket-laden flagship Juicy Couture perfume bottle. It isn't the worst thing imaginable, I guess, and struggling for something nice to say, I would compliment the lucite cap. The necklace wound tightly around the neck I can do--and have done--without. The fragrance itself, meanwhile, is a wonderful thing, as though someone took the shoulder pads out of Herrera, salting the rim of her fruity cocktail before placing it back in her hand. Juicy Couture is much better than it has any reason to be. Turns out, salt is a good seasoning for Tuberose, toning it down without diminishing its depth. The notes list watermelon, a notion which, like those on the bottle, seems totally silly.

I've never wasted much time with Juicy Couture's second fragrance, Viva La Juicy, the bottle of which is nearly identical to the first. So let's just move on to the latest, Couture Couture, and I'll get this right out of the way: I like the perfume enough to buy the bottle. I put it that way because, while I do like Couture Couture much more than most people seem to, I can't tell you I'd buy it without this packaging.

I can't get over how impressed I am with this bottle. I want six in six different sizes. It's like something the set department of Marie Antoinette sold at auction after production wrapped. It has an interesting shape to it, and little embellishments have been cut into the glass. It has a fancy gold cap which reminds me of things I've seen in antique stores on old flatware or religious iconography. It's like a Chambord liqueur bottle if a Chambord liqueur bottle didn't look like something you'd use as an air-freshener in your car. The ribbon around its neck is a zipper strip, and from the broken zipper pull dangle gold-plated gew-gaws, one a textured charm, the other I don't really know what. It sits on the dresser with the kind of authority only good design and stacks of cold hard cash command.

And what of the perfume itself? Look, I don't smell the grape people are talking about. It's in the pyramid, but so is amber, and I don't smell that either. Maybe it's just me. Couture Couture reminds me of things I have--not exactly, meaning it isn't redundant, but it recalls them, which is to say it's something I would own. I'm not sure I would pick it up and exclaim "Fruity" with a wrinkled nose. And it's curious to me that so many reviewers on makeupalley do, when just as many nearly faint in despair at how much it reminds them of something their mother slash grandmother might wear. This alone puts us in entirely separate camps. To anyone afraid of smelling like her grandmother, I'd say, grow up. There are far worse things to smell like. Sniff from a bottle of Secretions Magnifiques and get back to me. I've run these comments through a tween-speak translator and what they seem to be saying is that Couture Couture doesn't smell as "young" as Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy has conditioned them to expect. A further decoding of this would be: it doesn't smell like pastry without everything but the pie filling.

Couture Couture seems to update an older template in ways the original Juicy Couture did, lightening things up, but it retains some quality that looks backward, if only fleetingly. It's far from old fashioned. I smell more vanilla than fruit, and though honeysuckle and jasmine are said to be in the mix I'm getting something which is too blended to say. You might hear tell of a hairspray note. This always perks up my ears, but probably in a different direction than it does yours. I tend to like what a good hairspray note does for a perfume. I like the images of cosmetics and coiffure it elicits. I liked it in Insolence, I liked it in Jean Paul Gaultier Classique, and I rather like it here, though it's much less discernible than in those.

The fragrance is eau de parfum strength, though it lacks the tenacious vigor of its oldest sibling. It wears fairly close to the skin. I like it. It strikes me as an admirable effort. I'm not a star-rating kind of guy, but I can tell you, at least, that I bought it, and not just on the basis of the bottle alone. But the bottle was definitely a determining factor. Ultimately, Couture Couture serves as a forceful reminder of just how effective good design and packaging can be. "I always judge a book by its cover," says company co-founder Skaist-Levy, blissfully superficial. I wish other fragrance lines would take more of the same approach.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Old Spice: I'm A Man Commercial

Click HERE for YouTube Video

Scented Event at the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History will host Adventures in the Global Kitchen: Aromatics Along the Silk Road.

Featuring Perfumer Mandy Aftel

Frankincense, myrrh, patchouli, and jasmine were among the valuable commodities traded along the ancient Silk Road, and they are still prized today. Renowned perfumer Mandy Aftel, the nose behind Aftelier perfumes, will awaken the senses as she leads visitors on an aromatic journey.

Attendees will learn about the fascinating world of fragrances and have the chance to sample authentic and pure essences during a discussion about aromatics’ history. This program is part of a series of tastings and lectures for adults and educational programming for children that are being offered in conjunction with the exhibition Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World, on view until August 15, 2010.

WHEN Wednesday, January 20, 6:30 pm

WHERE Linder Theater, first floor

Enter at 77th Street


For more information click HERE to visit the website

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Versace Crystal Noir

I'm not sure why I would characterize Crystal Noir as a guilty pleasure. I don't group many of Antoine Lie's other fragrances under that category. Crystal Noir is as satisfying a scent as most of the perfumer's Etat Libre D'Orange compositions, and certainly isn't as low rent as his Pi Neo for Givenchy or Everlast Original 1910. I suppose I start apologizing for any Versace fragrance I happen to like before I even get down to the notes because I'm slightly embarrassed. Something to do with Donatella, maybe. Making it known that she curated Crystal Noir doesn't, of course, do the perfume any favors. The Versace aesthetic is about broad strokes, brassy pastiche, and a blatant disregard for craftsmanship. Far from eschewing parody, Versace embraces the baldly synthetic. Witness Donatella's various plastic surgeries. While nowhere near famous Cat Lady Jocelyn Wildenstein's excesses, Versace and her surgeons aren't exactly going for photo-realism, either.

I waited a long time to write about Crystal Noir. I kept thinking I'd come to my senses. How would anyone ever take me seriously again? I stuck it in a drawer, trying to forget about it. I pulled it out of the drawer a lot. I came out to Abigail about it, inspiring her to buy a bottle, but she was unimpressed. It didn't last very long, she said, so I reconsidered. But it does last on me--and in eau de toilette. Today I pulled it out again and decided it's ridiculous to go on pretending I'm better than Crystal Noir, with its Cadillac-sized cut diamond cap and its deepest purple glass. Maybe I'm just easy. So be it.

Listen, I'm not alone. There are 112 reviews on, awarding it an average of 3.9 out of 5 lippies. A whopping 68% say they'd purchase again. Now I know, popularity doesn't always indicate greatness. Often, quite the opposite. But there are many more popular, even more ubiquitous brands than Versace, and Crystal Noir isn't sold in most department stores, unlike some of the company's other fragrances. People seek this stuff out. And I should just add that the makeupalley reviewing public doesn't strike me as a demographic that hands out faint praise or minces words.

Crystal Noir is supposed to be a gardenia-centric fragrance, right? I don't get that. I get tropical, for sure, and nocturnal. But the tropics are darkened fruits, like succulent fig and plum and, say, grenadine-drenched coconut. For all that, there's a saltiness to the aroma. While it might be slightly candied, it has some weird, inexplicable savory undercurrent, creating an interesting tension throughout. It would smell good on a sweaty dance floor, wafting up from moist décolletage. It would smell just as good to me on a guy. I suppose there is that dread thing, the synthetic amber, here. I guess there would have to be. But isn't that the point? It corresponds with the sensibility. You don't get anything remotely like development. That's like asking Donatella to age in reverse. After a strong opening it is remarkably mellow. But if you've spent any time with the brand, you know better. You don't ask for much in your Versace fragrance; just that it might not be as bad as Versense. Crystal Noir isn't.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Black Annis

I've fallen so hard for so many of the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab fragrance oils that it will take me at east a month to really dig into the nature of their appeal. It's a curious line, and I'm sure more than a few fragrance lovers have dismissed them out of hand. How do you classify what they're doing? The volume of their product inevitably seems suspect. The oils themselves often smell crude in the bottle, giving very little if any indication what stories they'll tell on the skin. The image is decidedly Goth, and those who don't view that sub-culture as a harmless, even quaint relic of pre-internet suburban disconnection suspect that its exclusivity isn't imposed but self-ordained, implying an active hostility toward outsiders. For various reasons, Black Phoenix is approached with a preconceived set of dismissals, a phenomenon which can be felt on makeupalley, the pink hues and girly splendor of which would seem diametrically opposed to BPAL's sensibility, like the jock's girlfriend bewildered by a goth peer's heavy eyeliner.

Go to the Black Phoenix forum and you get a totally different impression. Every BPAL release is discussed there, sometimes passionately, often heatedly. Far from sycophantic, the reviews display a wealth of opinion which quickly dispels the stereotype of the Goth as conforming nonconformist. The people who (sometimes lazily) get grouped under Goth aren't a select few--but as author Poppy Brite might tell you, they're a fantastic audience, often as discerning, committed, and articulate as the majority is fickle and indifferent. Part of what bonds them together is the ability to look beneath surface impressions. One way of looking at heavy black eyeliner is to view it as a shorthand. Dismissing the person underneath without going much deeper saves the wearer a lot of time.

But this is all sort of philosophical, suggesting that the Goth sensibility is purely cosmetic and, ironically, superficial, a theoretical exercise. Another way of looking at black eyeliner is: it's gorgeous. Bands like This Mortal Coil aren't thesis papers. They make fantastic music, rich in sensory detail, a sonic gift to the listener. To say they're not for everyone is kind of beside the point, really. As much as I love so many BPAL scents, there are those I can't get behind (March Hare comes to mind). What exactly is for everyone? Certainly not Black Annis, and I won't waste time trying to convince fans of the department store fruity floral to give it a whirl (instead, I recommend Jezebel or Sacred Whore of Babylon) but I do want to bring it to the attention of those who might just truly love it, as I do.

Black Annis is as interesting as just about anything I've smelled from a niche line. Maybe more so. Its challenges are more viscerally palpable than those supposedly presented by more widely known fragrances like Oud 27, Pathcouli 24, Boadicea Complex, Parfum d'Habit, and Rien, to name just a handful off the top of my head, while, for all that, going nowhere near the assault which is Secretions Magnifiques. Black Annis takes something of an adjustment. Like the majority of BPAL fragrances, the smell given off of the bottle is no real indication of where this scent will go; likewise, the list of notes. Try to wrap your mind around damp cave lichen, vetiver, civet, and annis. The combination is something you can only really experience.

On skin, the initial impression isn't much easier to describe. What starts to emerge for me immediately is a fantastic interplay of opposites, what I call barnyard gourmand. I get chocolate and hay, particularly, with a leathery anise chaser. In the spirit of concision, the nearest analogues to this effect are Heeley's Cuir Pleine Fleur and Molinard's Habanita. Black Annis is at first much darker than the former, but they dovetail at certain stages of development, chiefly around this sweetened hay aroma. Habanita is powdery par none, but it too adjusts more gourmand influences with something smokier, resulting in a peculiar density unique to these two scents. After a heady intro, Black Annis softens down to something above a skin scent. Not all of BPAL's fragrances do. Many retain that early vigor.

Though there are comparisons to be made, I've never smelled anything quite like Black Annis. The first several times I smelled it I alternated between disliking it and loving it. Mostly I disliked it. I think that's because it doesn't operate the way most fragrances do, the way I'm conditioned to believe they should. I wasn't looking past the black eyeliner, maybe. I highly recommend getting to know this stuff. All of the BPAL oils come in 5ml apothecary bottles and can be ordered from the website. They're also available as testers.