Sunday, February 28, 2010

Excessive Indulgence in Sensual Pleasures: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's Debauchery

After wearing it for more than a month now, I'm convinced that anyone smelling Debauchery on me wouldn't just be surprised to find out it's an oil, but shocked. I won't get into detailing what makes an oil smell like an oil. I'm not sure I could tell you. And I'm not going to argue that a perfume is preferable to a fragrance oil. I don't believe it is. I happen to like good fragrance oils, and some of my favorite Black Pheonix Alchemy Lab scents could never be mistaken as classic perfumery, a distinction which often appeals to me. They're always something different. What's so unusual about Debauchery is that it smells more like classic perfumery than most of the classic perfumes I've gotten my hands on.

The mix includes civet (synthetic), red Egyptian musk, and opium, but I find it hard to believe there isn't more in there. Black Phoenix oils tend to be pretty complex--or appear to be. They do typically go through various stages, so much so that many reviewers break their assessments down into three categories: in the bottle, wet on the skin, dry on the skin. That's another way of saying top, heart, and base, though the stages play out at different rates. I point all this out because, while it's been my experience that the BPAL oils change a lot as they wear, they aren't exactly shape-shifters. For the most part, they don't start out dog and end up cat.

Not so Debauchery. In the bottle, Debauchery is strictly your "Who farted?" one-liner. I've never smelled such a dose of civet, and I've smelled--and love--Mona di Orio's Nuit Noir, the animalic thrust of which divides people like a brick wall. Debauchery is powerful stuff at first, as if all its component parts were clenched tightly into...a fist. The moment you put it on, everything starts to relax, eventually softening into an unusually sublime wear. Debauchery smells vaguely floral, slightly animalic, musky, even a bit powdery, though by a bit I mean so faintly you'd have trouble putting your finger on why.

It smells to me like what I expect the old-timers will when I finally get my hands on them. I'm often disappointed with those. I won't name names. And it's not always due to reformulation. Debauchery delivers on their promise. I think the fragrance it comes closest to in its dry down is Paco Rabanne's discontinued La Nuit. To give you an idea of La Nuit's character, I offer the following anecdote. I once put some on a friend before we left for the evening. It was summer and we could smell the stuff radiating from her body all night. We stumbled back very late, worn out from walking and sweating and various other nocturnal activities. Not everyone thought La Nuit smelled divine. My friend was attacked by a usually placid chihuahua on our way home. She bent down to pet it after permission and encouragement from the owner. The dog lunged at her as if it had been surprised out of its slumber by a ferocious wild animal baring its fangs, and probably would have torn into her had he or she not been restrained by a leash. Nice little doggy became, in a flash, wolf in sheep's clothing. The owner was shocked silly. He'd never seen anything like it. Neither had we.

By classic, I mean French, and by French I don't just mean French perfumery but French films, French men and women, a stroll along the Seine, a sudden confrontation with the Arc de Triomph after an unexpected turn onto the Champs-Elysees, strong coffee, the rhythmic pull of the language blanketing the air around a American visitor's ear. French iconography, let's say. More than anything I picture that famous image by Robert Doisneau, Le Baiser de l'Hotel de Ville. Nevermind that the image has become something of a cliche representing romantic ideas of Paris. Take any Doisneau photograph, really, like the one above. Debauchery captures that mood for me. The name gives fair warning of the opening. What it doesn't indicate is how fantastic the rest of the experience is.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Givenchy Ysatis: Classic Floriental

I cannot believe I didn’t know Ysatis was created by Dominque Ropion. I have always liked Ysatis and just when I decided to sit down and write about it (today) is when I googled to find Ropion is the culprit. I’m a huge crazy fan of Ropion’s work and the fact that I was enamored with Ysatis before knowing the nose behind it makes me feel even more strongly that I’m a Ropion devotee (stalker?). Except Ego Facto’s Poopoo Pidoo, that is most definitely not a good Ropion fragrance for me. Bleck.

I found this fantastic review of Ysatis on a blog called Yesterday’s Perfume. She makes me laugh when she writes “Ysatis is not only a pleasure to pronounce (look in the mirror, purse your lips and whisper “Eee-saht-ees, by Jee-vahn-shee” just for kicks) it's a gorgeous and sensual floral.”

Ysatis is a classic floriental. It’s sensual and timeless and surprises me that it was created in 1984. It could easily have been made fifty years before that. But, like all Ropion fragrances, I find them classic but not dated or old fashioned. Well, maybe a 20 year old smelling Ysatis today would think it’s old fashioned, but I don’t concern myself with the youngsters. I imagine Ysatis to be the signature scent of a devoted group of sophisticated 40-somethings. These lovely ladies probably grew up smelling Ysatis in the 80’s and it just spoke to them. Ysatis has a signature scent vibe to me, because it’s distinct, complex and sexaaaay.

I’ve been wearing Ysatis for the better part of this week and it keeps reminding me of something else. It finally struck me today. It reminds me of Divine eau de parfum. Well, I should write that Divine reminds me of Ysatis because Y came before D. Then after reading there is a coconut note in Ysatis, the whole composition became so clear and obvious. Now I can really smell the individual notes, which is unusual in a dense floriental like this, but I can. In the top I smell mandarin and dark coconut. But I doubt you’d know there was coconut here on your own, but once you know, it just screams coconut. The heart is my favorite combination of big florals; the tuberose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang do their magical Ropion dance in my nostrils like the drumbeat from a far-off exotic island. Somehow Ropion stops just short of making Ysatis a tropical fragrance. The exotic elements are here but it never goes completely native – it remains mainstream floral with a twist rather than stepping off the plane to be greeted with a lei around your neck. I’m not sure if Ysatis actually contains oakmoss (probably not anymore) but there is a mossy, civetous, patchouli base here - yum, yum, my favorite kind of stuff.

Most likely Ysatis has been reformulated. It’s definitely been repackaged and I’m not sure if the packaging will tell you which is which (pre-reform vs. current). It comes in either a black or purple box. The one I have is the black box and I *think* this might be the original.

Ysatis is grand. I will be having some goofball fun this weekend looking in the mirror and saying ““Eee-saht-ees, by Jee-vahn-shee." I imagine a pure parfum concentration of Ysatis would be Holy Grail material for me. Does anyone know if parfum exists? Also, I've never tried Ysatis Iris - has anyone out there?

Notes ~ (Notes for Ysatis are scarce and varied so I pieced these together from several online sources)
Top: Green note, aldehydes, mandarin, rosewood, coconut
Heart notes: Tuberose, jasmine, narcissus, carnation, rose, ylang-ylang
Base notes: Patchouli, sandalwood, castoreum, civet, oakmoss, amber, honey, cistus

Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum Trio

I noticed when Loukhoum was first introduced all the perfumistas seemed to love it. Then suddenly it became passe. I’m not sure why, maybe because KM doesn’t have the back story, the brand mystique (read: heaps of $$ for marketing) or French roots that seem to keep many houses rather lofty in our minds. The first time I smelled Loukhoum I was blown away. I am not a gourmand lover but Loukhoum is a sweet gourmand that manages to be a proper perfume. It’s complex enough to keep the scent interesting, it isn’t just a sweet dessert but layers of rose petals, powder, almonds and honey. Original Loukhoum is a confection, to be sure, but it’s brilliant because it manages to be a wearable perfume for those who want to leave something besides a patisserie trail.

In 2008 there were two additional Loukhoums added to Keiko Mecheri’s line-up. Both were created by Yann Vasnier and seem to have taken aspects, more specifically certain notes, from original Loukhoum and magnified them as well as lessening the gourmand nature of the fragrance. Parfum de Soir, is parfum concentration, and focuses on the rose note, truly magnifies it, and adds a bit of oud, patchouli and tonka bean to the mix. Parfum de Soir seems well-liked by many fragrance reviewers, such as Nathan Branch who calls it a “femme fatale” sort of scent. Donna at Perfume Smellin’ Things fell for Parfum du Soir as well, who calls it “not a sugar fest but a celebration of sensuality.”

Contrary to what you might assume, Parfum du Soir is less sweet than original Loukhoum and, similar to the nature of most pure parfums, it stays closer to the skin. Parfum du Soir isn’t nearly the potent blast of sweetness as the original, but it’s still sweet and downright delectable.

Now for my favorite of the three, Loukhoum Eau Poudree. Loukhoum Eau Poudree is fluffy whipped heliotrope heaven on a bed of white rose petals. The powdery element is created by orris powder so this isn’t death by baby powder like Teint de Neige. Eau Poudree is sweet yet airy and not dense, you can smell the space between the notes. The vanilla, almond and musk play into the confection theme but somehow the overall scent manages to be sexy, soothing and insanely addictive. Two of my perfume pals tried this recently and had to have a bottle. And the odd part is that I wouldn’t have pegged either of them for liking this sort of sweet-gourmand fragrance (I’m not the type either and it’s surprises me that I love Eau Poudree so much).

Notes for Eau Poudree: White rose, orris powder, green violets, narcissus, candied almond, vanilla Madagascar, crystalline musks

Notes for original Loukhoum: hawthorn blossom, bulgarian rose absolute, precious woods, vanilla, Comores flowers, white almond, musk

Notes for Parfum du Soir: Rose absolute, Wardia rose, oud, patchouli, white almond, vanilla Madagascar absolute, tonka bean, benzoin

You can purchase all three Loukhoum fragrances at The Posh Peasant

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Best Linden/Tilleul/French Lime Blossom fragrance is: Bond No. 9 Eau de Noho

Few things are as exciting as being gifted a fragrance when you’re an avid scent junkie. Brian bought me a perfume that not only had I never heard of; I’d never even sniffed. It was Bond No. 9 Eau de Noho. The beauty of it was that I sprayed Eau de Noho (EdN) without any preconceived notions whatsoever. I had no idea what I was about to smell , no clue if it was floral, oriental or gourmand (and if you read me, you *know* how much I try to avoid preconceived notions!).

Eau de Noho, without knowing the notes, started off reminding me of Jean Patou’s Vacances. It is delicate, softly green and innocently floral. At first I thought I was smelling green lilacs and violets in a meadow of fresh spring blooms. After about 10 minutes the morning fog passed and I realized I was smelling linden. Linden! One of my all-time favorite notes. Linden is such a cheerful, naïve, fresh girly-girl scent and I have never found a fragrance focused on it that lasts more than an hour. I have Jo Malone French Lime Blossom, D’Orsay Tilleul and L’Artisan La Chasse aux Papillon and these are all beautiful but far too fleeting. D’Orsay Tilleul is my favorite and during really swampy humid summers in New Jersey I recall carrying around a decant in my purse to re-spritz all day long. Eau de Noho is the only linden I’ve ever worn that projects (a little) and lasts for hours.

I can’t tell you how touched I was that Brian found a linden fragrance for me and kept it quiet until I opened it! Bond has another fragrance called Nuits de Noho which is similar in name but entirely different. Nuits is closer to Thierry Mugler’s Angel with zero linden in sight. I can’t believe no one ever talks or writes about EdN. After wearing it a bit and swooning all over myself I looked EdN up online to find linden not listed among the notes. No matter, this is still the best linden fragrance I have ever encountered bar none.

If you have a fondness for linden fragrances you ought to try EdN. Like all linden scents, there’s a slight cucumber effect here, a vegetal, leafy-green-garden-shoot- in-early-spring vibe. I still remember the few times I’ve smelled actual linden blossoms and it’s blissful. Eau de Noho should be the sleeper hit of the summer (and summers past). Only problem is, I don’t think it’s even that popular. It ought to be one of the more well-known Bond’s, I need to spread the word, for those who love linden, try Eau de Noho.

Fragrant friends rule. I am so lucky to have found Brian.

From Basenotes, the notes include: mandarin, watery greens, mimosa, violet leaves, cashmere woods, green moss, amber

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

And the winner is...

The winner of the bottle of Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio is VIOLETNOIR!

Violetnoir, please contact me with your shipping details.

Congratulations :-)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Simple Pleasure: Ex'cla*ma'tion

I'm not going to embarrass myself by telling you how many fragrances I have, but there are enough that in order to get to the ones in the back of the cabinet I need to take everything out and rearrange. Meticulously. And increasingly, this is no easy task. I think of it like a Rubik's Cube. Many get rotated. I get sick of them for a while, or discover something I'd forgotten. I bring one forward like a stepchild I've neglected out of unfair bias. There are a few, only a few, that remain front and center, where I can get at them regardless of whim or weariness. Exclamation is one of them.

I have no idea why I like this stuff as much as I do. It's not a complex scent. It isn't breaking any new ground. It's simply a gorgeous boost of happy, which is why, on this dreary, muddled Monday morning I want to talk about it. The stuff cuts through the drizzle with the precision of a scalpel on skin. It has a distinct buoyancy to it that I'm hard pressed to find anywhere else. The smell lifts me a little. I think of it primarily as peachy osmanthus and rose with minimal foody accents (cinnamon, vanilla, almond). Nothing new there, but give three cooks the same ingredients and you get three entirely different meals, and if one of those cooks is Sophia Grojsman, Exclamation's creator, at least one of those meals has the very real potential to rise above and beyond its ingredients to far more than the literal sum of its parts.

For many women, this is a nostalgic scent, more sweet than sophisticated. I don't remember Exclamation from my high school years, so there's no such sentimentality for me. How anyone smelled the stuff with a wall of Poison, Paris, and Giorgio in the way is something which would have to be explained to me with scientific lucidity. Setting that aside, I'm not sure I've smelled anything by Grojsman which could be realistically assessed as anything approaching quaint. Exclamation is rich and fairly heady. I continue to think of Grojsman as a major sensualist, and Exclamation does nothing to contradict that evaluation. There are others working somewhere in this vein, with a corresponding richness of sensory detail which could probably be described as super saturation--Francis Kurkdjian and Maurice Roucel, to name just a few--and for a while I wasn't sure what exactly distinguishes Grojsman from them. I'm still not sure, but Renoir comes to mind as a useful means of comparison.

Those two perfumers are full bodied, but Grojsman produces something close to the kind of figures Renoir painted, where the flesh is rendered with a weirdly palpable succulence, and the colors used are more like texture than hue. In some ways it's hard to approach Exclamation as an expression of sensuality, but I suspect most of that is context. Put it in a different bottle, one that isn't a silly if adorable little piece of punctuation, a play on shape and words, but more formal, something by Baccarat maybe, and place the bottle in a different environment, a bit farther away from Shania Starlight and Bratz berry lipgloss, change the name to I don't know....Rapture,maybe...and you're apt to see Exclamation in a very different way.

There's a powdery disposition to Exclamation that isn't baby talcum and comes much closer to the wonderful cakey make-up of Malle's Lipstick Rose. The two have a lot in common. I love Lipstick Rose but probably prefer Exclamation. Lipstick Rose is a much vampier shade of lipstick, a notch or two more garish. Exclamation has a softness to it. Grojsman's work is often faulted for a certain synthetic or chemical quality somewhere in the top notes. You would expect to find that in something as cheaply made and sold as Exclamation. Instead, it's one of her most natural smelling efforts. You can find the notes on Fragrantica but I'll list them here, because I looked for them a long time wondering what they might be. Peach, apricot, bergamot, orris root, jasmine, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley, rose, vanilla, cinnamon, sandalwood, amber, musk and cedar. Like much of Grojsman's work the fragrance is mostly linear. It does soften considerably into the dry down, where the base notes are a little more pronounced. It last better than most perfumes ten times the price.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More on Baudelaire: Response to a Reader

I started the following post as a response to a comment left by RM, a reader, after I reviewed Baudelaire by Byredo. You can read that review elsewhere. As usual, I was far too verbose (i.e. full of hot air?) and exceeded the word limit, so I'm posting both RM's comment and my response here. This is a dialogue that goes on all over the internet. It didn't start here and it won't be resolved here, certainly not on my two cups of coffee. I would need six this morning to even approach lucidity. But it's something Abigail and I talk about a lot in our emails to each other, and the spirit of this debate often finds its way into our posts.

RM's comment:

I don't know if I agree about the whole idea of perfume ethusiasts and the media etc. dismissing cheaper products on the basis that they're of lower quality. The posters on NST for example are always on the look out for "cheap thrills" and will be the first to sing the praises of any good perfume regardless of whether it's celebrity, designer, niche or cheap or expensive.

I think the general public sentiment never lies and if a company, whoever they may be, consistently release crap people will notice. If you're a musician for example, there's only so many crappy albums you can release before people just stop buying. But release one good song after another and we'll start paying attention. No one can ignore quality and a unique point of view for very long. And I think in this case, there hasn't been enough hits to achieve a certain level of respect from the fragrance enthusiasts and the like.

I think that if a perfume is good, people will say so, regardless of which brand releases it and what price point is sells for.

My Response:

RM, I think you're probably right about the love for the steal/find. I think we all are looking for one. Bad example? At the same time, I think a bias coexists with that hunt for the hidden in plain view, contradicting itself. How many times have I read in a makeupalley review that something smells of, say, Exclamation, and is therefore unforgivably bad? Plenty. That hypocrisy fascinates me, and sometimes annoys me. One of my favorite bloggers is Angela on NST. She heralds a lot of so-called drugstore cheapos, most recently Bill Blass Nude.

I think I might have been more specific by saying that we often seem to have a bias against mall or mainstream fragrances, which also tend to be less expensive. I understand that. The selection at the mall depresses me. But I find some amazing things there, and I think that mass market environment can produce very interesting work. I find the stuff Kurkdjian and Sophia Grojsman have done for major brands like Estee Lauder, YSL, Gaultier and others to be their best. Whereas when they have less curatorial influence their creations feel more wan to me, less focused. If anything, I feel an all things to all people bid in the Maison Kurkdjian line, which is something he himself has admitted as his goal in one way or another. How is that better than his Fleur du Male, executed for Gaultier, a brand which also operates along some corporate bottom line?

I don't agree that things which are good find their audiences. I'm not sure who ended up with Van Gogh's ear, but I think he or she would have been short of it had VG found more favor in the marketplace during his lifetime. I guess you have to qualify "very long". Was Van Gogh's lifetime very long? That's how long his quality and unique point of view were ignored. Bonnie and Clyde, which was a total innovation in terms of editing and style, was passed up at the Oscars the year it was made, except for best supporting actress and cinematography. Paula Abdul won several Grammies, I believe, and her wonderful, unique songs still litter the airwaves, beaming out into the provinces. People love the stuff. Coke is super popular, and it rots one's teeth.

Seems to me there's often a discrepancy between what's in fashion, what sells, and what's any good. Many people adore the fragrances of Britney Spears. Even Chandler Burr sings the praises of Midnight Fantasy or whatever it is. I'm not sure as many people as you'd imagine are smelling a rat there. On the other hand, people truly fault artistic ventures for trying to find an audience in certain ways. Sometimes, I admit, probably with good cause. I'll go with your musician example. Liz Phair was an indie recording artist with a pretty loyal following over the course of her first several albums, all of which were released on indie labels. Her next move? Hire Avril Lavigne's producers and songwriters. Why? Because, she openly admitted, she wanted to be successful. I.E. (in HER case) write the kind of song that takes root in people's heads until they pull out their wallets and throw money at the cash register to make the voices go away. Something like that. It definitely hurt her fan base.

But for every Liz Phair there's somebody like Robert Pollard. His band, Guided by Voices, put out dozens of popular albums. Indie labels. Gradually, he got the chance to be produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars on a major label. He'd always loved Ric Ocasek. Is that a sell out? A lot of his fans thought so. When Stephen Malkmus left Pavement and started a solo career, people cried sell out, too--I guess because, what, he changed his sound? "Mob mentality" works both ways, championing the mediocre as often as slamming the pretty decent.

It's probably a lot more complicated than either of us can get at. I think we're both simplifying. It's hard not to make sweeping generalizations in this format, probably.

But back to Byredo. I notice a bias against them. Whenever I speak of my love for Pulp it's like I've said I sort of like underarm hair on women. People take issue. There must be something wrong with me. Don't I know women only let their underarm hair grow to be deliberately provocative? And yet to me Pulp is just so fantastic, so supremely pleasurable. I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a really great fragrance. Turin and Sanchez dismiss it as basically a glorified candle. That was weird. I looked and looked for a wick and couldn't for the life of me find one.

I was shocked to read bad reviews of Baudelaire. Like Monika, I love the stuff. I think I could have made more sense out of someone simply saying it wasn't his or her thing. But in the face of all this Kurkdjian love, I'm apt to wonder why the same microscope of suspicion and cynicism isn't applied to both parties. It leaves me wondering whether there's just something I don't know about Byredo. That's the only way I can make sense of it.

The hating on Bond makes more sense to me. I've had firsthand experience with the brand's attack dog tactics. At the same time, some very good perfumes have been produced by that line, no more or less synthetic or crowd-pleasing than any other niche line, to my thinking. Bond's own ratio of hits to misses is pretty impressive. Creed gets people's hate on too, as Abigail says. I think, like Bond, they set themselves up for it in some ways. They trade on this idea of regal exclusivity. Any time you put a crown on, you're daring someone to knock it off. Not everyone's going to buy it and bow down. Not that I spend much time in a crown, mind you. I swear. Still, Creed's marketing strategies can largely be ignored, as you can hop right on the internet and order most of their line for more than half off their outrageous price point. This makes it a lot easier to judge the fragrances on their own merits, so I wonder why more people don't.

TWRT 2.21.10 and Free Giveaway, Ninfeo Mio!!

This Week's Random Thoughts ~
I’ve no idea why this popped into my mind but do you remember the Olivia Newton John song from the 80’s called Physical? Did people actually think she was singing about aerobics? Because “let me hear your body talk” was something else entirely. But her video – she was doing aerobics – and all of us in aerobics class in the 80’s were “getting physical” with our headbands and Flashdance legwarmers (Flashdance, by the way, was the first R rated movie I went to see at the cinema).

I’m a dark chocolate person but when it comes to Luna bars the white chocolate macadamia flavor rules.

Jacques Fath, Fath de Fath (1994 version I believe) is great. It’s a fruity, woody, powdery oriental housed in a dynamite bottle.

American Idol: so now we have the top 24 semifinalists; 12 girls, 12 boys. This means I’ll be watching 5 hours of Idol this week (with Tivo I can chop this down to about 3.5 hrs)

Dinner of week: vegetable lasagna made with layers of ricotta & goat cheese, and *separate* pureed layers of mushrooms, broccoli and roasted red peppers. Topped with cheese, fresh herbs and beurre blanc sauce.

Rant of the week: The email from Serge Lutens was ridiculous. C’mon, according to Lutens marketing folks, L’eau was created as “A Reaction to an Over-Scented World.” I don’t think perfumery is solely an art form, I think it straddles a fine line between an artistic endeavor and a business; a commodity. I’m just annoyed because I don’t think for a moment that L’eau was created as a “reaction to an over-scented world.” Instead it’s “a fragrance to keep the business in the black.” There is nothing wrong with this, I’m just irked by the marketing.

Really nice & cheap candle: Target brand, vanilla rice flower

Why so much hate for Bond and Creed? There are excellent fragrances from these lines. Similar to Brian’s piece on Byredo, these houses seem to be the outcasts of the fragrance-aficionado world. I’m not a hater and I find many fragrances from both Bond and Creed exceptional. Of course I have my ideas on which lines are over-hyped, overpriced and resolutely mediocre, one that springs to mind is Tom Ford Private Blend.

I came home one day this week to find my friend eating chinese food with my wooden knitting needles.

I need to spend more time with Givenchy Ysatis. I remember liking it a long time ago. I purchased a mini recently and it still smells good to me.

I was walking my dogs today and saw a seagull flying above me. A Seagull. I live in New Mexico.

Robin posted this in the comments section on NST and given my adoration for Craig Ferguson I needed to find a reason to post this video here. I think Ferguson’s rant is the precise explanation for the existence of this

Craig Ferguson Rant

***Free Giveaway*** a brand new 1.7 fl oz / 50 ml bottle of Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio. I will select the winner on Wednesday, 24 February, sometime after 12 noon US Mountain Time. You MUST have left a comment at least once before (and, no, you can’t leave a comment on another post and then this one all within 5 minutes! ;-) And, I apologize to our non-US based readers, but because this is a bottle, the winner can only be from the United States. If you are outside of the US but have a US-based address I can ship to – that is fine by me...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Roja Dove Scandal: Enters my top 10

Anything described by Luca Turin as “preposterously intense” and “enormously rude” is going straight to the top of my must-try list. If that weren’t enough, anything considered heavily tuberose, indolic and slightly animalic is a siren call loud enough to keep me awake at night.

I started with a good sized decant of Scandal. I’m nearing the end of my decant and now a full bottle is on the way.

Here’s the thing, Scandal isn’t particularly intense nor is she rude. To me, Scandal is sublime with a capital S. Scandal is intoxicating, warm, and engaging, but she does have an attitude. Get this: Scandal is now firmly on my top 10 list of all time. Don’t ask me to list my top 10 – those that are *always* on this list (at least lately) are: Teo Cabanel Alahine, Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche, Amarige Harvest Edition 2006, No. 22 and now Scandal. Naming the remaining 5 will give me fits. Oh, heck, listing this much has given me a panicky sensation.

The fragrance which reminds me the most of Scandal is Fracas. Do Fracas and Scandal actually smell alike? Not really. But they are second cousins. I find Fracas more in your face than Scandal. Fracas is a straight up Diva while Scandal basks in the shadows with inky, smoky eyes. Fracas is platinum blond, Scandal is brunette. I sort of hate these appearance and personality comparisons but sometimes they just make sense. I wore Fracas a great deal back in the 90’s. I also wore Fleurissimo which is another big white floral. As much as I love the idea of both of these perfumes, they wore me out. I need to admit: I can’t wear Fracas, it’s too much and makes me a bit headache-y. I also feel like an imposter wearing Fracas and Fleurissimo, like I have a sign over my head which reads: “Alert! Alert! This woman is trying to enter our club but she is NOT one of us.”

Are Fracas and Fleurissimo cold white florals? Is that it? Scandal feels warm and easy. Scandal melts into my skin and I feel completely comfortable wearing it. Scandal has been described as a classic 1950’s type of big white floral; it most definitely reads classic to me but not particularly retro. Scandal smells like equal parts tuberose, jasmine and freesia with touches of lily of the valley to make it gentle. The start is strongly orange blossom and this is where Scandal reminds me of Fracas, the opening is a big tilt-o-the-hat to cousin Fracas. The jasmine adds a green touch and the tuberose is very warm and animalic. The whole composition is loud yet cozy warm and the softly woody spices and musk in the base are nothing short of perfection.

Most of the time, my very favorite fragrances are one’s which are a scent of their own, not an accumulation of notes. Take Alahine for instance; maybe you could pick out the notes if you tried, but overall, Alahine is Alahine, it’s own scent entity, it exists as a whole, not a group of notes sticking together in the same vicinity. Same for No. 22, No. 5 and many others. Scandal, while a beautiful rendering of the sum of it’s notes, is also one of these scents; it is simply the smell of Scandal. The notes are dense are difficult to smell apart whereas some fragrances leave space between the notes, like Hermes Vanille Galante, were I can smell the spaces in between the notes. Scandal, like Fracas, Divine and Songes is a big white floral with an existence and attitude all it’s own.

According to basenotes:
Top: bergamot, muguet, orange blossom
Middle: freesia, rose, jasmine from Grasse, tuberose
Base: sandalwood, orris, balsams, musk

Byredo Baudelaire: Unintentional Outcast

I'm fascinated by some of the reverse snobbery involved in the active appreciation of perfume. On the one hand, critics (and by this I mean makeupalley reviewers, bloggers, and print media practitioners alike) are apt to dismiss the relatively inexpensive, as if equating quality with cost. On the other hand, we often fault companies which seem to have become or to have started out too big for their britches. We fault the attempt to try new things as pretentiously artsy and obscure, then deride the latest posse of ubiquitous fruity florals for cashing in on a dead horse.

Case in point, Byredo, a small, relatively pricey line I've never heard many good things about. Byredo has been around for a while now, long enough for me to grow accustomed to the general apathy and casual skepticism they seem to engender among perfume lovers. But it surprised me, recently, when I looked into Baudelaire, one of the line's latest, and discovered that what started as mild disdain has gradually evolved, with what seems like very little active encouragement, into venomous ire.

I might not find this so perplexing, were the fragrance in question, say, Gypsy Water or Rose Noir, both rather inauspicious entries into niche perfumery. At 200 bucks, a rose needs to pop in some way for me. Rose Noir is nice but hardly as dark or dense as the name indicates. Neither Rose Noir nor Gypsy Water have much going for them in terms of persistence or projection. And I would never argue that Byredo is as consistently interesting or pertinent as lines like Serge Lutens or L'Artisan. Byredo's ratio of hits to misses is skewed in favor of misses. But this Swedish outfit does have winners, for me at least, and I appreciate the line in general for a number of reasons, many of which have to do with the care put into the presentation of their product and the overall understatement of the brand.

I liked Baudelaire better than anything else I smelled at Barneys. I sprayed some on my hand and walked around with it all day, enjoying it more and more. I'd intended to disregard it. I needed the real estate on my hands and arms for more coveted items: I hadn't smelled any of the Maison Francis line, perfumer Francis Kurkdjian's breakout bid for marketplace independence. There were a few new Tom Ford items to smell. A few new Serge Lutens.

I liked the Lutens, and the Fords were somewhere along the continuum of quality I'd come to expect, but Maison Kurkdjian was a massive disappointment. The fragrance I'd been most interested in trying, Lumiere Noire, is in fact very pretty, but it's a rather weak entry into a population of much more interesting, forceful and diffusive spice rose scents. APOM, Kurkdjian's orange flower-centered fragrance, was persistent enough, but rather flat and incongruously synthetic for a high quality line. Knowing that Kurkdjian has been creating perfume for years under the direction of other people, I expected something much more adventurous, even audacious. Instead, I found that the Maison Francis line pales alongside efforts he's executed for other people. I went down the street to Dior to buy a bottle of Eau Noire, done several years earlier by Kurkdjian, something I've lusted after for several years now without buying. And I realized that Fleur du Male, which Kurkdjian did for Gaultier, is the best orange flower I've ever smelled and a hard act to top.

How is it that Kurkdjian, who has marketed his new line like gangbusters, is taken at face value, where Byredo, who remains relatively obscure, is regarded with open, uncensored suspicion bordering on hostility? Reviews of Baudelaire criticize Byrdeo for very shrewdly putting out a masculine which stoops to smell like other masculines. Reviews of Kurkdjian celebrate the perfumer's innovation. Perfumed bubbles? How quaint! Nevermind that the bubbles are a novelty at best and so overpriced (eighteen bucks per ounce and a half) that it's hard to see them as anything but calculated. No one seems to question the integrity of Kurkdjian's stated desire to make luxury fragrance affordable to everyone in the form of 45 dollar liquid detergent. I'm not saying anyone should, but I find it curious someone doesn't.

Baudelaire's apparent disadvantage is that it is just a fragrance, that rare dinosaur, something to be worn on the skin. Another disadvantage is its resemblance to other fragrances. This seems like faulting a fantastic little black dress for being black and a dress. Every woman has that black dress, and it resembles every other black dress in at least two ways. But the importance of it resembling others enough can't be underestimated. There is a place for a little black dress, and there's a place for a good, traditional, well made masculine. It seems more than irrelevant to me that Baudelaire resembles masculines of the eighties. The question is whether it stands alone as a good fragrance and holds its ground among the others. I would say it does both, whereas Lumiere Noire, also derivative, is a whisper you would scarcely hear next to the magnificence of Montana's Parfum de Peau.

Another criticism of Baudelaire and by extension Byredo is that it capitalizes on a trend for incense fragrances, as if Byredo, unlike Maison Francis Kurkdjian, should not be in the business of trying to sell perfume. Personally, I find Kilian far more questionable in this area than little old Byredo. Even L'Artisan has jumped on the oud gravy train. That said, Baudelaire, like the recent signature scent from another widely maligned line, Bond No. 9, is one of my favorite recent incense fragrances. Baudelaire wears smoothly but with presence. It has chocolaty undertones. It smells of leather, like well known masculines of the eighties, and looks forward, carrying that quality into the present tense with a remarkable levity. My first impression, upon smelling Baudelaire, was that it smelled like something else, only much, much better. Juniper and floral undertones give it interesting contrasts. It lasts all day. The frankincense in Baudelaire is to die for. So smooth you don't even realize how fearsome it is.

Does it smell like its namesake? I never smelled the man, so I can't say. I'm not sure his work has a smell either, or that its associations could be agreed upon. The general consensus seems to be that a fragrance named after Baudelaire should be a shade skankier. I'm not sure I agree with that. Baudelaire's evocation or even exaltation of the ugly and perverse involved seeing beauty in them. I'm not convinced that a cumin note, for instance, which might lend a suggestion of body odor, is the only means to inject the pretty with some ugly. It doesn't do the trick for me in Lumiere Noire. And I'm not so sure something has to be ugly to be beautiful in the way Baudelaire means. I'm not so sure seeing or appreciating the perverse requires viewing it as repulsive. There are opposites in Byredo's Baudelaire, and Baudelaire is a rich, pleasing fragrance. We all know how marketable a fragrance like Secretions Magnifiques is, and how reviled. How many wear it? Would we only have accepted Baudelaire in the form of something widely regarded as unwearable, and if so, who is operating with narrow vision? Interestingly, Kurkdjian's lovely, lush Fleur du Male is a Baudelaire reference few seem to accuse of mismatched or opportunistic profiteering. Funny world we live in.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And the Winner is....


Ines, please contact me with your shipping details.

I decided to send all three to one individual to make things easier for myself ;-)

However, a note to everyone else, please stay tuned. There will be another really good free drawing coming up soon...

*pic above not the actual items

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TWRT 2.14.10 and Free Giveaway!!

So I tried teaching myself to knit this week. I couldn’t even do a double cast on. I had yarn wrapped up all over my hands. A complete disaster. I called the local yarn shop (sounding dismayed) and she told me to stop in anytime (kind person). I’m thinking it’s odd that no one in my family ever knitted (or sewed or made anything crafty). Not a single grandmother, aunt, great-aunt Sugar, not one. Come to think of it, it’s also rather extraordinary that so few in my family wore perfume as well. I’m making up for these perfume-starved relatives big-time.

I received Heure Exquise in edp this week. It’s fairly different. Not sure I like it better than the edt but I do love it. It’s got a play-doh note where the edt doesn’t.

I wonder why two of the Hermessence perfumes are missing from the Hermes website? Rose Ikebana and Osmanthus Yunnan are not there.

Who was it that recommended I try Roja Dove Scandal? C’mon step forward. One of you out there is the enabling culprit. I LOVE it. I didn’t realize it was so expensive though. Even with one kind soul offering to split it with me I’m considering whether I want to spend that much for 25 ml. It’s over $500 for a 50 ml bottle. I do love it though… (you know I’ll cave sooner or later).

I haven’t reviewed it and I’m not sure I will but I also love Ormonde Jayne Tiare. I need to confess that I don’t like Ormonde Jayne. I’ve tried nearly every single one and they all dry down to a cheap synthetic musk. But Tiare is different. Tiare is old school fruity chypre yet modern. Definitely worth trying this one.

American Idol: I think Ellen is going to work out well. I supply nicknames to all my favorites, so far I like “Peacock earrings”, “the girl with brown teeth” (surely said teeth will be whitened if she makes it to the final 12?) “the waitress,” “son of ganstas” and “bluesy hot guy” the best. I think it will be a girl this season.

Parks & Recreation: Even though I’m the only person watching this show I just need to say it’s so great (I’ve said this before and if I keep it up maybe more will tune in).

I admit that I bought a bottle of Alexander McQueen Kingdom this week. I figured I ought to get it over with before the prices are sky high. I have a bottle but it’s for The Posh Peasant so it isn’t mine – this will be mine.

Dinner of the week: I made goat cheese raviolis (not from scratch, but still). The sauce was deeeelish - mostly a white wine sauce but I added pesto, lemon and roasted garlic to make it scrumptious. And some early spring peas and asparagus tips.

Brian and I agree: Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrances aren’t rocking our worlds. I like APOM Pour Femme but I expected to be overwhelmed to the point of needing to lay down. This didn’t happen. I wanted to love them, but this might be a case of reading too much advance praise.

Why is Guerlain’s Mayotte (formerly known as the symbol Mahora) so unloved? I haven’t worn it enough times for a review but it seems very pretty to me.

The Office: It’s strange that the company is Sabre and not Dunder Mifflin. But how funny is Kathy Bates as CEO? As good as The Office still is, it’s not hitting those highs from back when Pam & Jim were crushing on each other. The new receptionist, Erin, is truly an enjoyable quirkfest.

Free Giveaway: Crazylibellule and the poppies sent me four solid perfumes. I’m keeping one, the one I tried, but I’m giving away the other three. One is Musc & Patchouli; the second is from the Divines Alcoves Collection called “tot mon prince” which means “you my lord” in English and the third is Vanille Lemon Pie. Depending on how many comments we receive I’ll decide whether I’ll send to three different people or whether one person will receive all three.

Please leave a comment and I’ll draw the winner(s) on Wednesday, 17 February. You must have commented at least once before...

Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Parfums de Nicolaï: Week-end a Deauville

Week-end a Deauville (WaD) is a pleasant surprise. When I read about the two springy launches from PdN last year I was most interested to try Violette in Love. Violette in Love was nice enough but it didn’t knock any of my favorite violet fragrances off their pedestals. I took my sweet time getting around to buying a bottle of WaD and lo and behold this is the easy winner of the two.

Why do perfume houses do this to us Americans and make certain fragrances exclusive to Paris (or Europe?). Is there a financial/profit issue I’m not understanding? For instance, I’m trying to get a bottle of Roja Dove Scandal and the Roja Dove website is under construction and I don’t think the other stores that carry it ship to the U.S. Week-end a Deauville is another one of these non-exports. So, this is another reason why it took me a lot longer to try this little gem.

Weekend a Deauville is a bright, cheery, sparkling, effervescent, dry citrusy floral chypre (enough adjectives for you?). It reminds me of Chanel Cristalle except without the sharp galbanum claws; in comparison WaD is a gentle little pussy cat who is so darn adorably soft and purrs so happily on my skin. I like Cristalle but sometimes she just claws me up a bit. I don’t think The Scented Salamander was as taken with WaD as I am. She describes it as simply pretty and nice for a casual weekend getaway, making the name perfectly fitting. I agree with The Scented Salamander where she writes that this is an unusual chypre in that it’s casual. Most chypres strike me as rather formal fragrances, too, but WaD is resolutely fun, fresh and flirtatious; words I would not normally use to describe a chypre.

For a citrusy chypre, WaD’s longevity is exceptional. Usually citrus notes are the most fleeting but here the combination of citrus and galbanum last and last. This is a huge accomplishment in my book. Week-end a Deauville begins citrusy and green and actually stays this way. The florals are lily of the valley, hyacinth, mimosa and rose and I don’t detect any of these individually, and the overall floral thrust seems an early spring bouquet – delicate and charmed.

I’m quite taken with Week-end a Deauville; so much so that if I had tried it in 2009 it surely would have made my favorites of the year list.

Notes include: essence of Italian bergamot, petit grain from Paraguay, galbanum, lily-of-the-valley, rose, mimosa, pepper essence, pink pepper, clove, oakmoss absolute and styrax balm

Sunday, February 7, 2010

TWRT 2.7.10

This Week's Random Thoughts ~

I’m still tempted to use 2009 as the date. Why is ’10 so hard for me?

I’m truly pleased that many readers enjoyed my week-long tribute to Annick Goutal. This house deserves all the accolades it receives. One commenter, Dain, made me laugh when she called this week of reviews: Justice.

Does anyone know where to find Guerlain Habit Rouge L'Extrait (parfum/extrait)? I’ve been looking – I know for sure it exists but cannot find it.

Lovely little gem of the week: Hermes Caleche Fleurs de Mediterranee. This is a soapy, aldehydic nummy fest. Not particularly similar to the original Caleche.

American Idol: Thank goodness the crappy part is over. Next week we’re onto Hollywood. Is this when Ellen D. shows up? Hope so. I read a rumor that Howard Stern is being considered to replace Simon next year. Wow, the combo of Ellen and Howard would be odd. I can’t imagine Howard leaving NYC to be in LA for such a stretch of time, though. He’d miss Beth and Scores.

The above pic are the limited edition Grossmith bottles. I’ll include a pic of the normal bottles below to be fair. But the LE bottles make me lose all financial sensibility and want to order them pronto.Beverage of the week: I’m still hooked on Diet Dr. P - but I ventured out with some Boylen’s Birch Beer and it was unusually good.

Luckyscent sent me a sample of By Kilian Rose Oud (they just sent it – first time this has happened to me). Rose Oud is probably going to be a huge hit for rosey oud lovers if they aren’t disturbed by the silly price tag. I’m not an Oud-girl so it’s hard for me to judge but this doesn’t conjure band-aids at least. I think it might even be nice – less syrupy than the Montale’s.

It has snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed here in Santa Fe. I knew it snowed a bunch here, it’s a big skiing town and the elevation is higher than Mt. Washington in NH...but still. My dogs are pugs and the snow is up to their shoulders making it distressing for them to do their business outside.

I’m excited about Donna Karan Iris.

Finally got a bottle of Ormonde Jayne Tiare and Orris Noir. I haven’t worn either long enough for an accurate assessment but Tiare reminds me of a tropical Diorama. Diorama is on my mind since I discovered it recently and fell in lurve but I think there’s something similar here. The newer packaging from OJ is quite nice. Lovely to display these bottles. (I need to stop using the word “lovely.” Seems so teeth-clenched to me).

Um, does Amouage Epic Woman remind anyone else of Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge?

I now officially pump my own gas. I know you think I’m mad for not having done this prior to moving to NM; but lemme explain... in MA full service was always an option (which I took) and in NJ there was *only* full service. So, after spilling gasoline all over myself about 2 wks ago (yeah, I used to like the smell of gas, once you wear it, believe me it’s not a nice smell) I now know the ins and outs of pumping gas. I feel accomplished and self sufficient. (!)

I can’t put words to exactly why but seeing the bikini spread of the Octo-Mom in one of those gossip rags was disturbing. And, good for her if she hasn’t had any work done but she certainly looks like she’s had some stuff done. I mean seriously, how could those massive stretch marks vanish in one year? And how can her stomach be completely flat after giving birth to 8 babies one year ago (on top of many other kids before that)? She does remind me of Angelina Jolie – I think it’s the lips and the kid obsession.

Jean Francois Latty, in house perfume for Teo Cabanel, has created a new fragrance for the house. It launches in a month or so. They are keeping the fragrance a secret but I’m giddy with optimism since Alahine is my HG.

Have a great Sunday everyone!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Annick Goutal Grand Amour: Effortless Grace

Day 7, the last post in my week-long tribute to Annick Goutal

I’ve had the most difficult time with this last post. I want to write about so many more AG perfumes but this is it, the last one, and I had to make a choice. So I chose Grand Amour.

But first, I want to leave you, dear reader, with a few parting thoughts about the house of Annick Goutal, so please indulge me. Perhaps a normal fragrance customer (you know, those odd souls who have less than a dozen bottles of perfume) would immediately understand the sheer beauty of fragrances from Annick Goutal because it takes just a sniff to instantly recognize the exceptional quality and artistic creativity captured in this line. But then there’s “us,” the fanatics, the connoisseurs who have sniffed so many beauties that we’ve become jaded and bored and require so much more than simply “pretty” from our perfumes. But I ask you, is it not an enormous accomplishment, worthy of high praise, for a small artisan perfume house to create exceptionally beautiful, exquisitely high quality perfumes, time and time again? Annick Goutal is not driven by the latest fad and is never derivative or just blah. What is that you say, Annick Goutal is not edgy enough for you? Well, I would ask if have you tried AG Vetiver, Sables, Eau de Fier, Ambre Fetiche, Musc Nomade, Un Matin d’Orage, Vanille Exquise or Mandragore? The house of Annick Goutal has something for everyone – edgy, unusual and classically beautiful. And, I don’t think it’s just me, but I’ve worn nearly every single fragrance from AG and never has there been a sour or unpleasant note. Clearly, the house knows how to make perfume.Anyway, back to my last review: Grand Amour. Grand Amour was created in 1997 for Annick Goutal by Isabelle Doyen. Annick Goutal wanted a fragrance that expressed the devotion she felt for her husband, to capture that feeling of true and tender love. Grand Amour is a perfume for a lady, it is not one of the “daughter” perfumes, not particularly light or girly, but not heavy or overdone either. This is the perfect fragrance for a woman who has come into her own, and knows true love. Grand Amour is an airy blend of hyacinths, lily, honeysuckle and rose with a base of amber, myrrh and vanilla. I smell mostly hyacinths and honeysuckle, which is good for me, because I’m not usually enamored by lily. The hyacinth note is dreamy and reminds me of Guerlain Chamade, mostly because this is the only other perfume I’m familiar with that smells of hyacinth. Grand Amour is more casual in comparison with Chamade, there’s a stronger aldehydic formality to Chamade; Chamade is the beautiful woman with a full face of make-up and glamorous couture ensemble while Grand Amour is the natural beauty who knows her lover finds her even sexier without make-up lounging in her white eyelet baby doll pajamas.

Grand Amour starts off all hyacinth and honeysuckle with a tender green leafiness as a foundation for the florals. It then unfolds slowly but surely to a less green and more pronounced rose note toning down the succulent hyacinth and honeysuckle brigade. Once Grand Amour dries down it turns into a gorgeous soft ambery myrrh scent, ever so slightly powdery and delicate. Inexplicably, I think of Grand Amour as a floral for those who don’t usually like to wear florals. It’s feminine but still subtle. It’s pure class and grace.

I apply Grand Amour lavishly. About 6-8 sprays last 4+ hours on me and I have the eau de parfum. Unfortunately I can’t compare the edt with the edp because I’ve only ever purchased the edp. Typically I prefer the edp concentration because I like a more potent perfume.

This concludes my week-long tribute to Annick Goutal. In the past I’ve also written reviews for Sables, Vanille Exquise and Ce Soir ou Jamais.

PS: If anyone from Annick Goutal is reading, I think you should make more limited edition bottles! I have ideas for so many gorgeous bottles :-) Also, some new perfume suggestions: a mimosa scent would be a dreamy addition to your Soliflores Collection. Also a dry green chypre, an aldehydic oriental and a tuberose-fl-oriental (think sultry vixen) would be a great addition to the line. And don’t forget the boys, surely they could use an edgy leather.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche: Exceptional Amber

Day 6 of Annick Goutal Week

The Annick Goutal Les Orientalistes Collection is an excellent addition to the Goutal brand. Since the houses' fragrances consist mainly of florals, a quartet of orientals was most welcome. All four of the offerings from Les Orientalistes collection are fantastic with my favorites being Ambre Fetiche (#1) and Encens Flamboyant (#2).

The amber note is a chameleon in perfumery. Amber essential oil doesn’t exist, it’s not a real thing in nature; amber is not strictly ambergris (ambergris may be a component) nor does it have anything to do with fossilized tree sap (i.e., amber stones in jewelry). Amber is, in fact, a man-made accord, which usually consists of varying degrees of labdanum, benzoin, tonka, ambergris and oppoponax. Some amber fragrances are really sweet and blended with heavy doses of foodie vanilla – these are usually cheap smelling Bath & Body Works type stuff and not the amber fragrances I seek. I physically crave deep, incense-y, dry, resinous ambers during the fall and winter. Some pefumes that fall under my favorite amber category are: Parfums d’Empire Ambre Russe and Sonoma Scent Studio Ambre Noire. I like, but don’t love, Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, because there’s a bit too much cedar in this for me, and I think Ambre Fetiche blows it away, it’s more fierce.

If I’m not feeling like wearing my most outrageously decadent amber, namely PdE Ambre Russe, but still want something deeply rich yet wearable my go-to amber is Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche. Ambre Fetiche is a phenomenal brew of frankincense, leathery birch tar, dry woods, smoke with a touch of powdery (iris root) amber and vanilla in the dry down. At times, Ambre Fetiche seems less about amber and more about incense and woods. I happen to adore the strident initial blast of frankincense, birch tar-ry leather and smoky dry woods. If you were blind-folded you would never guess Ambre Fetiche is brought to us by Annick Goutal because there is *nothing* demure about it. The reviews on Ambre Fetiche are mixed and I think (once again) this might have to do with sampling practices. Ambre Fetiche must be sprayed and sprayed liberally to get the full effect. This is not to say Ambre Fetiche is fleeting because it’s anything but – it easily lasts 6-8 hours on me and the farrrr dry down is just as breathtaking in it’s own softer way as the start.

Even though there is nothing gourmand about Ambre Fetiche I always have the desire to lick my arm when I wear it. I noticed a review from The Non-Blonde, where she feels the same. There is something deeply carnal and subconscious about Ambre Fetiche. It feels familiar, like a scent I’ve known all my life and perhaps in past lives. I think it’s the resins, incense and dry smoky woods that call to mind a time long ago, when we anointed ourselves with precious salves, ointments and oils in ritualistic ways. I think of Cleopatra. For those who love this sort of fierce amber I’ve described, Ambre Fetiche is an absolute must. But keep in mind there are two sides to Ambre Fetiche, the fierce start and then the gentler dry down where it becomes a dreamy woody-amber.

Notes are listed as: frankincense, labdanum, styrax, benzoin, iris, vanilla and leather

Photos of Ambre Fetiche bottles are the brilliant works of Nathan Branch

PS: Did you notice the guy in the Cleopatra image licking her thigh? Well, the scent of Ambre Fetiche gives him the urge to lick, too.

Public Service Announcement: The Last Few Bottles of Vintage Tabarome

I know there are many of you who long for Vintage Tabarome. I received this announcement just today




The CREED fragrance company of Paris ( is pleased to announce that 50 bottles of the rare fragrance Vintage Tabarome will be offered to the public starting March 9. Twenty-five bottles will be offered at CREED at 794 Madison Avenue in New York City (1-877-CREED 44), and 25 will be offered at, the official online CREED boutique serving the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Presented in 1.7-ounce shatterproof sprays wrapped in caramel Italian leather embossed with CREED’s crest and etched with CREED’s Paris address ($405 each), these are the last bottles of Vintage Tabarome CREED will offer.

Originally created by Henry CREED in 1875, Vintage Tabarome -– also sometimes known as Private Collection Tabarome or Tabarome Prive –- is a fragrance of depth and character that commands a strongly dedicated, niche following to this day. Yet with the earth’s warming climate, creating this blend of more than 60 natural ingredients is increasingly difficult.

The quantity and quality of natural ingredients available to make Vintage Tabarome no longer meet the standards of the CREED family. Speaking recently from France, the family said that rather than use “substitute” ingredients yielding an inferior result, they would stop all production of Vintage Tabarome with no plans to resume.

The 50 bottles offered starting March 9 are the personal reserve of the President of CREED North America, who used it for VIP gift-giving and performance recognition. In response to numerous requests from clients seeking rare Vintage Tabarome, he has generously agreed to release his supply for the enjoyment of clients.

Based in Paris, CREED ( is the world’s only privately held luxury fragrance dynasty. Founded in 1760 and passed from father to son since then, CREED has served more than ten royal houses, leaders in all fields and the discerning public for 250 years.

Annick Goutal La Violette: Violet Perrier

Day 5 of Annick Goutal Week
La Violette is a beautiful green violet fragrance. It is not an overly candy-sweet powdery plastic thing which I find with many other violet soliflores.

Awhile back I wrote a piece called The Indies Saved Violet for me because at the time I couldn’t stomach violet fragrances and especially not most typical violet soliflores. After some coaching from Brian, I began trying violet fragrances and found I loved La Violette. While Annick Goutal’s La Violette isn’t nearly as edgy as the indie violets I described in my earlier piece, it still remains one of the best of the old school violets. The only other violet soliflore I like as much as the Goutal is Penahligon’s Violette.

Annick Goutal created a series of soliflores in the early 2000’s to include Neroli, Le Chevrefeuille, Le Jasmin, Le Muguet and La Violette. I’m a little confused because I thought Tubereuse and Rose Absolue were part of the Soliflore Collection but they aren't listed as such. I have already written glowing reviews for Neroli and Le Chevrefeille both of which I believe to be the very best in their categories. Le Chevrefeuille is the best honeysuckle fragrance in the world. It smells like honeysuckle iced tea. And it’s heavenly in the summer. Le Chevrefeuille seems simple but I imagine it's not simple at all to make such a beautiful honeysuckle fragrance that doesn’t smell like air freshener. Honeysuckle isn’t a note that translates well in perfumery but it’s sheer perfection when created by Annick Goutal.

La Violette starts off with a blast of violet and violet leaves. It’s green and purple at once. There’s a hint of fruity raspberry and a dash of violet flavored candies. Once dried down La Violette becomes a tad powdery and also a tad more candied – I happen to love this smidgen of powdery candy-ness – it’s just enough to make La Violette charming without being trite or the likes of something a 9 year old flower-girl at a wedding would wear. There’s a dab of clove in the base, if you’re looking for it. Overall I’d describe it as Violet Perrier – it’s fresh, clean, effervescent, green and delightful.

What am I comparing it with? Well, these are the violet soliflores that I’ve also tried: Borsari Violetta di Parma (too plastic-y), Serge Lutens Bois de Violette (go ahead, call the perfume police, I must be crazy but I dislike this combination of cedar and violets), Norma Kamali Violette, L’Artisan Verte Violette (lasts for 11 minutes), i Profumi di Firenze Violetta di Bosco (too cologne-y and masculine), Keiko Mecheri Genie de Bois (ditto what I wrote about the Lutens), Guerlain Meteorites (too powdery), Calypso Violette (too sweet), Histoires de Parfums Blanc Violette (too fleeting and somewhat drab) and so on. The Goutal Violette reaches the perfect pitch of crushed parma violet flowers and leaves rolled in Italian violet candies called Violetta Pastiglie Leone

I find the longevity of La Violette to be shorter than the other Goutals I’ve reviewed this week. If you apply lavishly it’s reasonable – probably lasting about 2.5-3 hours on me after 6-8 sprays.

There is something delightful, charming and cheery about violet fragrances, and Annick Goutal La Violette hits every note effortlessly.

Above photo taken by Susan/The Well-Seasoned Cook on Flikr

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dior Ambre Nuit

The fourth in a series of colognes initiated and originally curated by Hedi Slimane, one time bad boy at Dior, Ambre Nuit had some steep competition. Cologne Blanche, Bois D'Argent, and my favorite by far, Eau Noire, were basic but rich, presented in almost industrial looking, over-sized bottles. They were made to be worn generously, using a grade of ingredient which made a little go a long way. The colognes were hard to find and filtered out into the market the way niche lines do, primarily by word of mouth. The perfumers involved delivered some of their best work, indicating the kind of artistic freedom a niche line typically provides. Bois D'Argent was Annick Menardo at her best, revisiting themes and motifs she'd explored more commercially in Hypnotic Poison (also Dior), Bulgari Black, and Body Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent). Francis Kurkdjian hadn't done much at the time, unless you consider how many units two of his earliest creations, Gaultier Le Male and Narciso Rodriguez Her, moved off the shelves. His Eau Noire remains, for me, the most skillfully imaginative use of the immortelle note in fragrance, and was ample indication, way back in 2004, that Kurkdjian had the strength of vision and a recognizable enough fingerprint to create his own line.

Slimane had strength of vision too, and helped to make Dior Homme stand out in a marketplace where name alone increasingly mattered less. Perhaps he was a bit too visible. He left Dior in 2007, and the indication until now was that the line, at least vis a vis fragrance, lost not just the sense of vision he'd provided but any vision whatsoever. Their next moves seemed more like stumbles. Dior Homme Sport, while perfectly nice, was a fairly insipid flanker to Polge's brilliant Dior Homme. Packaging it in the same bottle seemed majestically ill-judged. It was hard to imagine pale, pencil thin Slimane on a treadmill, cigarette dangling out the corner of his mouth; intentionally or not, this was the picture Sport drew. Fahrenheit 32, also perfectly nice, was either a step back or a standing in place.

Until now, the cologne series languished. It lay so still I thought it was dead. Word of Ambre Nuit filled me with cautious dread. Surely the world could do without another synthetic amber. They'd already taken the edge out of Dior Homme, grafting a little red racing strip onto what felt like a spaceship by way of a Bentley. Surely someone with the freedom to use his head realized that bastardizing sleepers this way did the line as a whole no favors, whatever the immediate gain by association. Maybe the series was better off dead, but no one seemed willing to protect its grave from vandalism.

There was every reason to expect the worst, and things beyond Dior have gotten equally grim, especially in terms of masculine fragrance, so the quality and pleasure of Ambre Nuit isn't just a surprise but a real blessing. To call it cologne is an understatement. Like the others, Ambre Nuit lasts better than most toilet waters. It feels and smells rich and textured. The clear liquid is packaged in honey-colored glass. It sits comfortably between masculine and feminine. François Demachy has created in Ambre a spiced rose which makes as much sense on a woman as a man. And what a rose. In an interview with the Fragrance Foundation, he listed rose as an exact scent he would one day like to capture. "Just when you think you know everything about [it], there are always new things to discover," he said. Ambre Nuit isn't by any stretch a photorealist rose. It doesn't aim to be, but it feels like some kind of discovery along that path Demachy is traveling.

In the same interview, he admitted he has yet to master the use of cumin in fragrance. While admitting it can work wonders, he hasn't discovered the right proportions. I don't get the sense there's cumin in Ambre Nuit, but it offers ample evidence that the perfumer uses spice notes carefully and intelligently, practicing restraint where others exercise indulgence. Ambre Nuit feels just right in any number of ways, resulting in an infinitely satisfying wear. The dry down doesn't offer much development. Ambre Nuit is in the end what it was from the beginning, a song you play on repeat all day because you love it so much. There are resins in there, those spices, rose, a nice, mellow amber. The fragrance has the soft feel of leather to it, adjusted by woods and patchouli. It isn't a show-stopper. It isn't incredibly cutting edge, though it is without a doubt more interesting than 99 percent of its mass market peers. It strikes an interesting, precarious balance. Demachy addresses the need for vision as perfumer at Dior, but seems well aware of the need for the walk along that tightrope.

Dior is a context, ultimately, and any story Demachy wishes to tell must somehow serve to advance that larger narrative. He's interested in refining parts of the story, essentially. "I'm not saying I have a particular vision of perfumery," he says, "but at Dior certain types of perfumes are expected and, most of the time, created." What the brand has sometimes lacked is more of a hand-crafted feel, in his opinion. Despite their current vogue, perfumers aren't an elite but an imaginative group of skilled artisans, assigned the responsibility to create not just effect but substance, a synergy between the two poles. More personal, hand-crafted products might not sell very well, but they provide a backbone of quality and in their own ways provide subtext to the brand, adding detail and nuance to the sweeping plot points of the master narrative which is Dior. Ambre Nuit shows a lot of respect to the line but has the good sense to demonstrate some amount of idiosyncrasy as well. What it adds to the story is character.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Annick Goutal Eau de Ciel: Pure Innocence & Memories

Day 4 of Annick Goutal Week ~

Eau de Ciel, along with Petite Cherie, is the quintessential innocently pretty Goutal. If I hadn’t already sniffed hundreds of fragrances in my lifetime I might not realize what a masterpiece of loveliness Annick Goutal created with Eau de Ciel. But I’m here to say I’ve sniffed many, many, fragrances and very few come close to the delicate, bucolic, greenery that is Eau de Ciel. Perhaps you don’t long to smell like sweet grasses, hay, linden, violet leaves, rosewood and iris but I occasionally do and Eau de Ciel takes me gently by the hand and skips with me down the dirt paths and trails of my childhood on a damp spring day.

Eau de Ciel opens on a gentle green note. This isn’t a bitter galbanum green but a delicate sweet greenness evoking meadow grasses and hay. It bears mentioning that Eau de Ciel is an incredibly natural fragrance, to the point that it doesn’t just evoke but replicates the scent of a spring day. I feel as if Annick Goutal has captured the air, like a butterfly in a net, on the most idyllic day and bottled it. It seems improbable that this aroma is man-made. Eau de Ciel makes me think of an English countryside. When I was a teenager in the late 80’s I was obsessed with British pop music. Morrissey, The Smiths, The Cure, The Clash, New Order, Radiohead, This Mortal Coil, Ian Astbury from the Cult, these were my heart throbs. I spent a summer in England and the memories and love of everything English will remain in my heart forever. Eau de Ciel, even though I wasn’t wearing it at the time, reminds me so strongly of this summer. The privet hedges, ivy, wildflowers, teensy violets strewn across the meadows, bales of hay, mossy stones, this is Eau de Ciel. And odd as it may seem, Eau de Ciel reminds me of a particular cemetery in England where my cousin and I used to sneak off and smoke cigarettes and meet boys. The smell of this cemetery was green, mossy, damp yet sweet, and it wasn’t creepy to hang out there – it was peaceful. This also ties into a song by The Smiths, Cemetery Gates, but I digress…

Eau de Ciel is one of those fragrances where you need to spray yourself wet. But once you lavishly spray yourself it lasts all day long. As much as I’ve described it as a delicate, gentle green floral I still think it’s easily unisex. On a man, the green freshness would likely be the most obvious aspect. The gorgeous base note of Eau de Ciel is rosewood and this is one smooth and precious rosewood note. Many describe EdC as a violet fragrance and while violet is present it’s mostly violet leaves and it in no way does EdC bear any resemblance to a candy-sweet or powdery violet scent.

Annick Goutal lists the notes as: Brazilian rosewood, violet, Florentine iris and lime blossom. Lime blossom is also known as linden in English and Tilleul in French - this isn’t a citrusy scent; lime blossom is a floral note.

Click to listen to The Smiths Cemetery Gates
A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mine

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people all those lives
Where are they now?
With the loves and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived and then they died
Seems so unfair
And I want to cry

You say: "ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn"
And you claim these words as your own
But I've read well, and I've heard them said
A hundred times, maybe less, maybe more

If you must write prose and poems
The words you use should be your own
Don't plagiarize or take "on loans"
There's always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who'll trip you up and laugh
When you fall

You say: "ere long done do does did"
Words which could only be your own
And then you then produce the text
From whence was ripped some dizzy whore, 1804

A dreaded sunny day
So let's go where we're happy
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Oh Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day
So let's go where we're wanted
And I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose because Wilde is on mine