Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Soivohle' Lilacs & Heliotrope

Liz Zorn, the nose behind Soivohle, creates some truly unique and artisan fragrances. Sometimes, in the case of Underworld, Oudh Lacquer and Purple Love Smoke, it takes a fragrance connoisseur to appreciate the brilliant twists and turns of her work. Other times, Zorn creates beautifully rendered true-to-nature scents; such as Acoustic Flower, Grand Canyon, Violets and Rainwater and today’s focus: Lilacs & Heliotrope.

When I heard Zorn had created something called Lilacs & Heliotrope, I couldn’t wait to try it. I knew from wearing many of her other scents that she could do this like nobody’s business. I knew the lilac would be ethereal and true and never glance towards air-freshener-land.

Lilacs & Heliotrope (L&H) is a slightly green tinged pillow of lilacs floating in a sky made of marshmallow heliotrope clouds. It begins with the emphasis on lilac blooms and leaves over a billowy heliotrope note. L&H is relatively linear on me, except that it begins with mostly lilac but ends with mostly heliotrope. The lilac here is subtle and there is a whiff of green leaves keeping it from becoming cloying. The base of heliotrope, musk and benzoin reminds me of LT Piver Heliotrope Blanc, which is my very favorite heliotrope fragrance. The heliotrope in L&H is of the floral variety, not the foodie sort. If you’ve ever smelled real heliotrope blooms or LT Piver Heliotrope Blanc, you’ll understand the difference (there is no candy or syrupy-sugary sweetness here; this is all floral sweetness). Once dried down L&H becomes a delicate balance of heliotrope, soft white musks, benzoin (which smells like vanilla to me) and the slightest sprinkling of earthy moss.

Lilacs & Heliotrope is gorgeous. In fact, I’ve decided I must carry this at The Posh Peasant. Our Soivohle stock has dwindled and it’s time to restock some of her older classics as well as her lovely new offerings.

Notes (from Soivohle website): green tinged lilacs in full bloom, settling to a rich heart of white and purple lilac, a touch of orchid, the slightest hint of rose melding into heliotrope with a base of mosses, soft musk and benzoin.

Friday, May 14, 2010

1000 ... Mille

I’ve been keeping a secret. I never wanted to confess my love for Jean Patou 1000 to the public. It’s been in my top 10 list for the past 7-8 years. Anjelica Huston, as much as I admire her, has pissed me off. She has expressed her love for 1000 (also known as Mille to the French) and now the whole world seems to know about it. I started, stopped, hesitated and in the end never written about JP 1000 because I wanted it to be Mine. I’ve been selfish. Teo Cabanel Alahine is my public Holy Grail. Jean Patou 1000 is my secret Holy Grail. And now my secret is out.

As far as I’m concerned, the house of Jean Patou is the best there is. If so many masterpieces from Jean Patou hadn’t been discontinued I would proclaim JP the king of perfume houses – easily better than Guerlain, Chanel, Caron and the like. Jean Patou Joy needs no introduction, it’s a household name, up there with Chanel No. 5. I happen to prefer Joy to Chanel No. 5 by a mile. But with all the discontinuations (no more Vacances, no Chaldee, L’Heure Attendeu, Adieu Sagasse, Colony, Que Sais-Je) it becomes difficult to appreciate Jean Patou for what it was, what it could have been, should be. It’s terribly sad.

But the silver lining is that 1000 still exists and it’s still excellent. Sure, I have the vintage and it is slightly better but I don’t think the current 1000 is ruined by any means.

I find 1000 to be so beautiful it’s distracting. When I wear it I lose myself in thought when I sniff my wrists. It’s utterly, sublimely gorgeous and stunning. The House of Patou describes 1000 as “the essence of extravagance,” letting the consumer know the considerable cost of the ingredients that are used to create this luxurious fragrance. I find 1000 to be that perfect sort of luxury, the sort that that doesn’t shout or wear it’s pricey label on it’s sleeve, it’s simply effortless beauty and elegance. Similar to Alahine, my other HG, 1000 is potent yet subtle, stunning yet discreet.

I don’t think categorizations particularly matter with 1000; if you favor classically styled fragrances then it’s something you must try. 1000 is somewhere between a rich floral and a floral chypre. There are so many florals and notes at play yet it all comes together as if they were meant to exist this way, perfect harmony. I suppose the most prominent floral note for me is rose. And the base seems like woody suede. The smoothest suede ever. Nothing else smells specific to me, I wouldn’t know there was osmanthus, violet, patchouli or angelica in 1000. 1000 is simply itself, it exists as an entity, a being, a whole which is so much more than the sum of it’s parts, I don’t find it necessary or worthwhile to tease apart it’s notes.

Purplebird7 from basenotes describes 1000 so perfectly I had to quote her:
"This perfume will draw you in. Most florals expand outward, diffusing sweetness. Hence, they risk becoming piercingly sweet and cloying. Mille seems to concentrate the scent of a thousand flowers in one, small space. That one place where it is applied acts like a gravitational force, a black hole, a dark star of fragrance."

Jean Patou 1000 launched in 1972. It doesn’t smell like the 70’s to me. It definitely smells classic, but it’s easier for me to wear than many other classics I own, it seems to transcend time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quick Notes

I've sniffed a lot of fragrances lately. None have compelled me to write full glowing reviews but many have been better than average.

Atelier Grand Neroli
I’ve been impressed with the Atelier line. They are all (except Bois Blond, I haven’t tried that one yet) refreshing cologne-type scents with better than average longevity for colognes. Their marketing states that they have high percentages of essential oil/fragrance so I guess we ought to expect better longevity.
Grand Neroli is a nice refreshing orange blossom with only a little soapy quality. Overall it’s very good. If you already have several neroli/orange blossom scents which you like then there’s no need to try this. But if you adore neroli and can’t have enough of them then you ought to try Grand Neroli.

Atellier Oolang Infini
I expected something different from Oolang Infini but what I got was a pleasant Earl Grey tea scent. It begins with a big bergamot note and dries down to a lightly woody base. I expected to love this the most yet it’s my least favorite from the line so far.

Atelier Orange Sanguinne
I generally don’t go out of my way for citrus scents but Orange Sanguinne is just the sort of citrus I can love. It’s the scent of blood oranges with a fizzy orange haze hanging all about. Orange Sanguinne reminds me of what I’ve written about Guerlain Insolence eau de parfum (violets in neon lights) because I would describe Orange Sanguinne as blood oranges in neon lights. And the great part for me is that Orange Sanguinne doesn’t go sour (or turn into the dreaded urine note). It stays sweet oranges and never ventures into ‘citrus gone bad’ alley.

Atelier Trefle Pur
Trefle Pur is one fragrance at the start and then another one once dried down. It begins all happy clover fields with cotton tailed rabbits nibbling on dandeloins. It’s natural, cheerful, slightly green and refreshing. There’s an obvious herbal/basil note at the start as well as a kaffir lime leaf (to my nose, not listed amongst the notes). Once Trefle Pur dries down it morphs into a darker green mossy type scent. This isn’t truly mossy, it’s probably vetiver, but the overall vibe is dry green moss. After about 90 minutes Trefle Pur reminds me slightly of Ô de Lancome with more innocence.

Bond No 9 High Line
Another pretty bottle with nice jus but not something I love. Again, I can imagine there being fans of this green floral. It’s nice enough. In style, High Line reminds me of J’Adore or Magnolia Nobile. I would call this a sharp green floral. And the bottle is my favorite from Bond so far.

Bond No 9 Saks-en-Rose
Now this is a pretty rose scent. Saks-en-Rose is a slightly powdery, honeyed rose. It has a classic structure yet it is simpler and lighter than most classic rose fragrances. This is quite pretty - I’m wearing it today and enjoying it.

Tauer Perfumes Orange Star
Orange Star is not something I would have tried if I hadn't purchased a bottle for The Posh Peasant. But lo and behold I think Mr. Tauer has done a really nice job. Orange Star is a meditation on citrus but it is also a proper perfume, not simply a refreshing hesperedic tonic. Orange Star has a wonderful base (coming to be known as Tauerade) consisting of a creamy ambergris with a nice heft and depth in contrast to the fizzy orange-y top notes. Katie Puckrik compared Orange Star to pixy sticks and I do smell this at the start but once Orange Star dries down I think it's unusual and nice. This is one that I find a bit cerebral. I know that might seem odd since it's been compared with candy but there's a lot going on here. It keeps me sniffing and I think it's growing on me more and more. Oh, and the bottle? Bravo to Mr. Tauer! It's a great new design.

Vivara by Emilio Pucci
I love these bottles. They remind me of my Aunt Anne who collects paperweights. The bottles are almost like Prada (the funky design in the cap) meets Pucci paperweight. Vivara is a nice enough green floral. In fact, I can imagine lots of people loving this. I just have so many better green florals. At the moment, it’s making a pretty paperweight on my desk.

Vivara Sole 149 by Emilio Pucci
Anything with a tomato leaf note is something I’m going to try. There are three flankers to the original Vivara and I like Sole 149 a great deal. It’s along the lines of Parfums de Nicolaï Week-end a Deauville or Chanel Cristalle. I would be head over heels in love with this if it weren’t so fleeting. It might last an hour on me. But I do love it for the hour I can smell it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Whole World is Mothers and Daughters

My mom lives only two hours outside of town, and I haven't been to see her in over eight months. There's a perfume shop at the halfway mark. Nothing you can't find online at less than half the price, but it motivates me; if I can just get in my car and drive an hour, it's an instant fix. This trip, I pick up stuff I already have, mostly. I do find a tester bottle of Ungaro, the one Francis Kurkdjian did several years ago. Versace White Jeans. Luckyscent the place is not.

My mom lives out in the middle of nowhere. Fifteen years ago, she and my stepfather made a conscious decision to remove themselves from society, a series of life moves I've been trying to understand ever since. Like her own mother, my mother rarely makes the effort to visit her children. Perfume isn't the same kind of motivator for her it is for me, and taking care of her husband and dogs makes leaving home for any length of time very difficult, she says. A year ago, I didn't speak to her for months, after she promised to make the local premier of my first film and backed out at the last minute. She'd missed my first book signing for the same reason: who would feed everyone in her absence?

So there's some baggage involved in these visits, and typically I arrive with my feelings shut down. I go straight to my room, and try to make myself come out. It's so quiet and remote where she lives, so slow, that for the first forty eight hours I can barely keep my eyes open. It's like checking into rehab; like coming off speed. You crash hard. This makes quick, overnight stays problematic. It also works against me, because I seem not to want to help around the house or engage in any social interaction, adding to the overall impression my mom and stepfather have of me being a total jerk off.

I try to create things to talk about, so that I have some kind of outlet and can direct the conversation myself. This time, I go straight for the perfume I've given my mom over the last few years. She always loved Joy, but she hasn't worn any of the bottle I bought her. The vintage Chanel No. 19 seems untouched, too. I feel guilty for wanting to take them back. She does seem to like the Fath de Fath. She admits she wears that one the most.

I've packed her a grab bag of presents for Mother's Day, including a few small perfume decants, and I wonder whether she'll use them. She tends to save things. The perfumes are in their boxes, sitting out on her bureau. Last time, they were in the closet. I'd warned her about keeping them in the light. But a closet is a miserable place to keep something like perfume, especially when you really only look at the stuff, so she boxed the bottles and brought them out: a happy medium. While we're in the closet, she points to the highest shelf, where a large blue plastic tub sits. "That's where I keep all the letters you and your sister have written me," she says. "If anything ever happens to me. Just so you know."

I feel weird in anyone's house who doesn't have a special relationship with at least one perfume. It's like someone who never had children or a pet. There's some kind of emptiness there. My mom had me and my sister but something about the quiet out in the country reminds me of her loneliness and has the same basic effect. It makes me want to get out. Or to smell a lot of perfume in private. I brought about fifteen bottles with me. That seemed like a reasonable number at the time. Now, in this barren environment, it seems lavish, remarkably excessive.

My mom was one of three sisters. Her mother was pretty tough. I don't remember any of them wearing fragrance. I do remember a special bottle of perfume in my grandmother's medicine cabinet. It was special to me, anyway. I stole it when her health started to wane. Who would ever give it to me? I don't remember my mom wearing perfume as a child, though the bottle of Oscar she has now seems to have been around forever. I remember it sitting out on her dresser as far back as my memories will take me. It occurs to me that her perfume would probably be fine wherever she puts it. The Oscar has traveled all over the country, sitting in cars, boxes, bathrooms, and bureaus. It smells like it always did.

I don't know where my thing for perfume comes from. I wonder about it, as I smell my perfume stash behind closed doors in my mother's house over the weekend. I'm careful not to spray too much. I can write whatever I want about the genderlessness of scents on a blog, and I can wear whatever I want pretty fearlessly most everywhere in my life, but this is Arkansas, and my stepfather is a truck driver, and I can't imagine Poison going over so well at the dinner table. I feel as if I'm huffing glue. The act is so clandestine. All weekend I have sudden surges of memory; what it felt like to grow up in places I had to try to try so hard to fit into. At some point, I spray on Angel, and I think about that fragrance in an entirely new light.

Angel is beauty and force. It's a mingling of opposites, a declarative mission statement. I understand now why I feel so great wearing it. Angel means not having to hide anything. It's a rebellion, like some hostile act of beauty. You either get it or you don't. This is a stretch, but during my visit I read a book on the Columbine school shootings. I also watched Man on Wire, a documentary about the guy who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center Towers in the seventies. Inevitably, I viewed Angel and my feelings about my upbringing through the prism of those two influences.

Here were two senseless acts, both of them driven attempts to reorder a universe. It's amazing, how much time and effort, how much focus and passion, went into planning the Columbine attack and the walk between the towers. All kind of subterfuge was required. These people planned their acts of defiance for over a year. They had no real lives to speak of as they prepared, like monks, for these fateful days. Each was thoroughly unhappy with the conventions imposed by society. And look how different the results of their malcontent. The people who looked up to the top of the towers from the sidewalk saw inexplicable poetry. It changed them. The act spread hope and possibility through generations in one way or another. It hurt no one. Witnesses to Columbine have had their lives rent apart. They're still trying to make sense of what happened; the hate and unhappiness fueling the incident. The parents of the killers have asked themselves every day since what they must have done wrong.

All of these things came together for me as I sniffed Angel and others furtively at my mom's. I've always been at odds with her. I've always protected her from the complications of who I am. We talk about what she can handle. We hardly know each other. What kind of inner life must she have, I wonder? What must it feel like to be so disconnected from your son? The Columbine kids were in the basement everyday, plotting, fantasizing, assembling pipe bombs. Right under their parents' noses. Dylan Klebold, one of them, was horribly depressed. He was miserable in his life, and totally alone in it. Reading the book, I kept thinking, he and his mom must have been disconnected.

I remember when I first got Angel. I'd sprayed some on a strip of paper and had it in the car with me. My mom was in town on a rare visit, and I took her out to dinner. When we returned she asked what the smell was. I felt awkward about telling her, but it was such an obvious smell. There was no hiding it. Back then, it still seemed slightly feminine to me. Now it's androgynous, but only the way glam rock is. My mom put the strip to her nose and seemed to really like it. She wasn't put off at all. I was amazed she saw the beauty in it. I considered getting her some but knew she'd never wear it. No. 19 I can bear to see unused. Seeing an untouched bottle of Angel would feel like someone cut down in her prime.

I'm a filmmaker. My mother still hasn't seen my first film, though it's been around the world. I think she's scared to see it. It's sad, because so much of me and my childhood went into it. The movie I'm finishing up now is based on a lot of my experiences, too, though it's all been fictionalized. It has a lot to do with motherhood, with the complex relationships mothers have with their daughters, and vice versa. Growing up, I watched the women in my family as if they were in a movie. Their lives seemed so interesting. One of the characters in this film, a home shopping network saleswoman, gets in an argument with her boss, who wants to take away her callers, most of them women. She talks about her mother and their children with them. Some of the women have been calling her show for years. "The whole world is mothers and daughters," she tells her boss. "The whole world is mothers and daughters, and what's going on between them."

Like her boss, I've often felt outside the world of women in my family. But I'm fascinated by the connections they make, and I've always wanted to be a part of them. I never planned to hide in the bathroom with perfume. It was never my intention to be disconnected from or at odds with my mom, and I often wonder where things went wrong. Still, I look around and see it could have been much worse. And we're both trying, though we act as if we have all the time in the world to get it right. I know perfume is a crucial component of the connection I keep trying to make, the poetry I keep trying to create between the two of us. I keep throwing the line out, hoping for magic.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

This Week at the Perfume Counter: Vending Machine

By now, the Russians at the fragrance kiosk are used to me. We know each other the way maybe a grocer used to know the guy down the street; not as best friends or even intimate acquaintances, but with a regularity that involves a lot of shorthand and a respite from yet another stranger in a long line of customers looking for the latest celebrity scent.

They know I want to see whatever just came in. I have no idea who their sources are, but they're always getting something I might have trouble tracking down on my own. I like the blonde woman the best. The place is cramped--they keep over half of their inventory in a storage unit they rent from the mall--but she'll dig through it without complaining. She'll open however many perfumes I want to smell. She'll even let me repackage them when she's particularly slammed.

Lately, the celebrity scent du jour has been Beyonce Heat. The kiosk generally stocks no more tan two or three bottles of the most popular sellers. They have ten bottles of Heat on hand at any one time, and they move quickly. Latifah didn't move anything near that. The most popular scent overall seems to be Light Blue. They don't move much Chanel. But Heat has spiked the chart in a way no other fragrance has. This seems to surprise no one but Beyonce, who, based on a recent quote, wasn't apparently paying attention.

I haven't found too terribly much at the kiosk these last several months. They do have a big bottle of Armani Onde Mystere, and having revisited it a couple of times I see it's a little more interesting than I originally thought, but I haven't seized it. I can get it fairly easily online. They got a bottle of Armani Gio in several months ago. I ignored it at first--it seemed like a pretty standard spiced tuberose to me--but after spraying it on a card and carrying that around for a while I realized how unusual it is. The real bonus with Gio arrives about an hour into wearing it, when the fruity green components bridge more fluidly into the tuberose and orange blossom. I'm guessing they still make this and sell it in Europe, because the box is not old and the list of ingredients is distractingly extensive. I imagine it smelled even better back in its day.

Yesterday, I had a curious conversation with a vendor at Macy's. I asked to smell Organza Indecence--not the tester, which was a much older bottle, but the Parfums Mythiques version, which is what they were selling. The vendor looked at me as if I were some kind of eccentric. Mention of the other Mythiques, none of which are available at the mall, opened up a parallel dimension for her. It was as though I were talking about alien sightings at Roswell. She might have told me what sales associates usually do, that there wasn't a tester for that and anyway they're the same, if not for the sales associate standing with us, a woman who told her, "He's a perfume connoisseur." I don't think she thought much of that--why should she? It still translates as "eccentric"--but she seemed curious where this was going, so she opened a bottle of the Mythiques version and sprayed it on a card for me.

They tell us there isn't a difference, she said. I'd just been through this with the SA at Dillards, where I returned a bottle of the new, allegedly unimproved, Opium. I'd bought it to spend a day with it. It was a boring day, like a date who keeps ordering salad. The SA asked me what the problem had been. Normally, I would say, "She already had it," as if I'd purchased it as a gift. But having just written a review of the changes to Opium's formula, I was interested in seeing what her reaction would be to an assertion something had been altered or tweaked. Oh no, she said. You should tell her it's exactly the same. They just changed the bottle. It has changed, I said. It's been reformulated. She looked at me like I was crazy for a millisecond, then her face relaxed into Stepford SA mode, if you can call that relaxed, and she chirped how pleased she would be to reimburse me.

It's fascinating to me that a vendor, as opposed to a sales associate, wouldn't truly know about or at least sense these reformulations. The idea that anyone could mechanically move through the tasks of a job having to do with fragrance is like the idea of a unicorn. Surely such a thing can't exist. Even so, it seems to me that customers would have to be making the changes known to her, if she can't tell or isn't bothering to pay attention herself. I'd just smelled Hypnotic Poison, and, sure enough, as the blogger Ambre Gris pointed out, it's no longer the same--maybe even eviscerated, to use Grain de Musc's term. Indecence too smelled altered.

The vendor assured me she wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I asked her to spray the old version on a card. Like the older Opium, older Indecence smelled deeper and richer, with a boozy bottom line to it. It was as if I were detailing the intrigue of some other industry when I told the vendor about the regulations and restrictions, the changes, the eviscerations. Isn't that something, her expression said. I think it's just difficult for me to imagine having a job in fragrance and not wanting to know all about it: good, bad, ugly, and otherwise.

These newer formulations seem much shriller to me. They're louder. And for all that shouting, they peter out more quickly, as if they've exhausted what they have to say before they even get going. They lack subtlety. Hypnotic Poison has none of the nuanced softness it did. Pure Poison has changed a lot too, but in a different direction. Gone are those wonderfully pungent, over the top contours. I found an older bottle at a discount store here in town, and compared it to a newer bottle. The newer version comes out with a whimper and stays there. The older Pure Poison is like a speed freak chatterbox on the skin. I happen to like a chatterbox with something to say, especially when, as with Pure Poison, orange blossom is a big part of the one sided conversation. I'll give orange blossom the floor any time it has something to say. This is what it really comes down to for me: even at their best and most sensitively done, the reformulations are one dimensional.

All of this makes me appreciate one of my favorite SA's, the woman just a few yards away from the Givenchy vendor, at the Estee Lauder counter, who very openly told me that Beautiful has been so drastically reformulated she can't stand to smell it anymore. She and her co-workers have been instructed to accept exchanges from disgruntled customers without acknowledging that anything has changed, presumably from women who have been wearing the stuff for decades now. The idea that the early onset of dementia in their elderly clientele is being hastened by the cosmetics counter is really disturbing to me.

Speaking of Lauder, I found box sets of Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia at the discount outlets for about a third of their retail price. The underbelly of this is the implication that the fragrance, like Opium and the Poisons, has been or is being reformulated. This fragrance was released in 2007. I put a positive spin on this by considering myself lucky to have found a bottle I can afford before they "change the packaging".