Thursday, September 16, 2010

Diptyque Eau Duelle

Eau Duelle is a soft, citrusy, fresh, vanilla with subtle spices in the mix.

I have a long list of vanilla centered fragrances I love, which I call “vanilla for those who don’t like vanilla.” The reason I named the category as such, is because there’s a lot more going on in these perfumes than straight-forward vanilla. Most are heavily woody or boozy, with big dollops of incense and other notes negating any foodie vanilla prominence. Some highlights from my favorite vanillas list are: The Different Company Oriental Lounge, L’Artisan Havana Vanille, Parfumerie Generale Felanilla and Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille. I wouldn’t place Eau Duelle into this category, however, because it’s much closer to a typical vanilla scent, with far fewer spicy, woody notes.

Eau Duelle reminds me of Creed Sublime Vanille with a touch more spice. It starts off citrusy, dries to a soft vanilla and sports some gentle cardamom and tea-like spices if you look for them. It is entirely inoffensive and easy. While it’s obviously vanilla, it isn’t foodie nor very sweet. It’s a comforting skin scent.

Comparing Eau Duelle with Sublime Vanille isn’t an insult. I happen to love Sublime Vanille and, in fact, think Eau Duelle is a great way to avoid the Creed price tag.

I am, however, getting nervous about the direction of Diptyque. Diptyque was my first niche love interest with Philosykos and I have remained faithful to the brand ever since. I have adored L’Ombre dans L’eau, Opone, Oyedo, Tam Dao and L’eau Trois to distraction. I have been newly introduced to Eau Lente and it's breathtaking. All of these fragrances have excellent longevity, sillage and are boldly unique. The past few offerings from Diptyque have been much less bold, and closer to the zero sillage situation from L’Artisan. Vetyverio was nice, reminded me of Guerlain Vetiver Pour Elle, but is so soft and agreeable I easily forgot about it. I’m worried. I want Diptyque to stick to what made them brilliant and not go all soft and L'Artisan on me.

Notes: two kinds of vanilla, bergamot, cardamom, pink pepper, elemi, juniper, saffron, calamus, frankincense, cypriol, black tea, musk and amber.

Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir

From Estee Lauder: Intensely rich. Mysteriously seductive. Fragrance type: woody, floral chypre

Sensuous Noir becomes Estee Lauder’s flanker to the original Sensuous (2008). I liked the original Sensuous and I also like Sensuous Noir, but Sensuous Noir is entirely forgettable to me, and while I like it “ok”, it’s just not something I will wear or what I was hoping it would be. While I like both fragrances I find Sensuous Noir to be more derivative and ‘samey’ as other fragrances on the market already.

Sensuous 2008 was the more original launch for a mainstream brand. Sensuous Noir is that sort of typical woody floriental with a clean patchouli base that one can find anywhere. Estee Lauder categorizes Sensuous Noir as a “woody, floral chypre” and I’m so tired of this completely off base description. Sensuous Noir is not a chypre. If Sensuous Noir is a chypre, then so are Flowerbomb, Dior Midnight Poison and Bond No. 9 Lexington Avenue and Success is a Job in New York.

It’s no accident I just listed off the four fragrances above. Sensuous Noir reminds me strongly of Dior’s Midnight Poison, it also reminds me a bit of Flowerbomb in its candy woody sweetness and there’s some similarity with both Bond No. 9’s except that I think the Bond’s are much better. I did a side-by-side comparison of Midnight Poison and Sensuous Noir in which a household member couldn’t detect much difference. I can tell them apart, easily, but they are quite similar overall.

I’m actually annoyed because I expect more from Estee Lauder. I think Estee Lauder is a fabulous company. Almost every fragrance from Estee Lauder usually brings us good quality and oftentimes well above average fragrances completely deserving of adoration and fans. I have immensely enjoyed everything from their Private Collection. From my youth I enjoyed White Linen, and it turns out the White Linen flankers are pretty good. Pleasures, Knowing, Cinnabar, Youth Dew, Alliage, Azuree and many others are excellent fragrances which stand the test of time. Sensuous Noir, to me, is just a derivative mass market launch, adding nothing to a sea of sweet woody patchy orientals.

In Sensuous Noir I also smell this “cheap, plastic, sweet synthetic musk” which in my head I call “cheap-o synth musk” that I can’t get past. Oddly enough, the other perfume brand in which I always smell this cheap-o synth musk is Ormonde Jayne. I have no idea if this note is, in fact, musk, it could be the scrubbed clean patchouli, but, nevertheless, I hate it.

Of course I still think Estee Lauder is a fabulous company. It’s possible I’m being too hard on Sensuous Noir. After all, Estee Lauder IS a mass market company and Sensuous Noir IS intended for the Flowerbomb-Midnight Poison wearing crowd. I suppose Estee Lauder needed to jump into this particular market, they needed a sweet, woody, floriental in their arsenal. I guess my only consolation here is that I like Sensuous Noir better than Flowerbomb and Midnight Poison. There’s a nicer and stronger woody note flowing through Sensuous Noir that eventually, upon dry down, cuts through the cheap-o synth musk note.

I usually think of Estee Lauder as a leader and not a follower. I’m reacting to the fact that Sensuous Noir is definitely a follower among the mass market launches with Sensuous Noir. If, perhaps, you want to wear something along the lines of Flowerbomb or Midnight Poison, but can’t wear either, then maybe you should check out Sensuous Noir, because it is better than both, even though it’s similar.

Good points: the 30 ml / 1 oz bottle is terrific. The bottle itself is cool. I liked the beige Sensuous (2008) bottle, too, but this purple one is nice.

Notes: Crème noir, spiced lily, molten woods, purple rose, black pepper, honey, amber and patchouli.

PS: It's possible this will be a huge seller for Estee Lauder. It closely follows current trends/tastes and yet it's a notch above the rest.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia

Jo Malone’s newest English Pear & Freesia (JM EP&F) is meant to convey a cool, crisp, autumnal afternoon in England. As the name suggests, the prominent notes are pear and freesia. My only pear reference is Annick Goutal’s Petite Cherie, which, in comparison, is much more pear-like in a sweet fruity way, along with very green spring-ish notes. The JM pear is true to its marketing copy in that this is not an especially summery fruity floral, nor is it green. JM EP&F is so crisp it pretty much smells like pear wine to me; dry white effervescent pear wine, with a lemon twist and a rose petal nearby. The pear note is fairly realistic but it leans toward representing the tartness, not the sweet, ripeness of the fruit. Imagine a tart pear note casually strolling along a bucolic country scene in England when it bumps into a wistful September sunset of light musks, and soft amber.

While you might have guessed that JM EP&F is not my personal thing, I do appreciate its quality and think it will hit the right spot for many others. JM EP&F is an elegant scent made for adults and not a fruity floral for the tween set. I imagine Martha Stewart would find this lovely for an autumn afternoon gathering on her veranda.

Notes: pear, quince, green rhubarb, white freesias, wild roses, patchouli, white amber, musks

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Diptyque Eau Lente

When I first smelled Eau Lente, months ago, I wasn't crazy about it. Sometimes, I have bigger fish to fry, and this was one of those days. I was debating more heavily-discussed fragrances, and the bit of Eau Lente I'd sprayed on my arm seemed wan by comparison. The squeaky wheel got the grease. I can't remember what I walked away with, but it's hard to believe, smelling it now, that I ever thought Eau Lente was timid. While it isn't Poison or Giorgio, both near contemporaries and handy comparisons, it's no shrinking violet, either. It lasts very well, is immensely interesting, and has the power to initiate or terminate conversation. I'm going to venture a guess and say I'll end up wearing it more than whatever I chose back when we first crossed paths.

I've loved Diptyque since I first heard of the line, back in the mid- to late nineties. Several cool people I knew had the candles--probably Figeur/Philosykos, which came out in 1996. Philosykos remains one of the best fig fragrances, and has been much imitated. At the time, there was nothing like it. Though it was a slight change of tune for Diptyque itself (more food, less spice) the fig fragrance showed how ahead of the curve the company tended to be. Diptyque really was one of the first niche lines to permeate my consciousness, and throughout the nineties and onward, before I ever heard of Lutens, L'Artisan, Malle, Bond, or Rosine, I'd smelled and appreciated some of those earliest Diptyque scents, if only by candle.

It's only now, years on, that I can appreciate how forward thinking the line's really been. The latest fragrances have been much less compelling to me; otherwise, I suspect I might have had occasion to undergo some sort of reassessment sooner. Diptyque isn't quite--okay, not nearly--as cutting edge now as it was. The line still produces some lovely things, but the shock of gorgeous strangeness is lacking most of the time. In many ways, L'Ombre Dans L'eau (1983), with its shockingly bright burst of dew on roses, seems like an important transition, pointing the way toward the company's future florals without turning away from the idiosyncrasies of its past. Opone (2001) turned back to the past altogether but failed, for me, to resume some of those earlier qualities. For the most part, I'd forgotten about the line until recently.

Diptyque began as a purveyor of home furnishings and printed fabrics. Eventually they added candles to the inventory. The candles, even now, sell very well. The hand drawn quality of the packaging feels consistent with the aesthetics of the sixties, the decade during which Diptyque was launched; it makes even more sense when you learn that the company was created by a textile designer, a set designer, and a painter. They don't seem to be doing much at this point beyond the candles, room sprays (may I recommend the sublime John Galliano and Pomander?), and body care (fragrance, lotion, butters, soaps) but I suppose that's quite enough. I suspect part of what made those earliest fragrances like Eau Lente so fantastic was Diptyque's identification as something other than a manufacturer or personal hygiene product, and its open embrace of 60s homeopathy.

L'Eau (1968), the first scent, is one of my favorites, a compellingly robust, nearly boozy, arrangement of clove, rose, cinnamon, and sandalwood. It's heaven in a bottle and the farthest thing from anything you'd find in your average body shop. It smells more like something you'd find in some chic, French hippie apothecary, as do L'Autre (1973) and L'Eau Trois (1975). L'Autre is a veritable spice cabinet--cardamom, pepper, cumin, coriander, caraway, nutmeg--the combination of which, for once, finds a way to subdue carnation. Some people hate L'Autre. Okay, many people. It's a dividing fragrance. I love that about it. To blame this on the cumin is giving cumin an awful lot of credit. L'Eau Trois seems to have been discontinued and I'm glad I found a bottle. There's a lot of myrrh in Trois, but there are other things as well: caraway, rosemary, pine, and olibanum. These fragrances looked forward many years to the spicy gourmands and orientals many perfume lovers take for granted, and still they manage to surprise and even shock. There's a purity of intent to them you don't find as much anymore, not even in fairly fearless commercial enterprises like Lutens.

Eau Lente came a little later (1986), several years after neon rosy L'Ombre, but it relates very strongly to the company's first fragrances. It is to opopanax what L'Eau is to clove and Trois is to myrrh, but cinnamon plays a central role, as do other unidentified spices. Unlike Ligea La Sirena, another opopanax-based scent (Carthusia), Eau Lente doesn't feel very powdery to me; nor very vanillic. Many disagree. Some say it smells like Old Spice. I don't really get that either, though I do get a little of that after shave vibe from yet another opopanax fragrance, Imperial Opopanax (Les Nereides). For me, Eau Lente remains spicy from start to finish. Like the other early Diptyque scents, it remains compelling and robust throughout. I can see a direct link between Eau Lente and Rousse (Serge Lutens), which is equally bold but gentler, and more floral in feel. Really, though, there's nothing like it. Lente smells as new to me now as it must have to those who smelled it when it first came out.

I have tremendous admiration for Diptyque and appreciate these fragrances, which over the years have offered something truly singular in terms of vision, quality, and pleasure.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

There's a Special Place in Heaven, If Not My Heart, for the Local Department Store Sales Associate: Or, Some of the Wacky Things SA's Say

1. "It's the same perfume. They just changed the packaging."

You will hear this, most recently, in reference to Opium, and Shalimar. Both have changed: the latter more respectfully updated, the former pillaged and plundered. Which formula ends up appearing in the box you buy is anybody's guess. How much it smells like the tester bottle is too.

2. "You're in the women's section. The men's fragrances are over there."

It's a wonder I'm able to locate the store in the first place. I'm so bad at finding my way around. I get lost sitting still. Yesterday, I watched an entire episode of Golden Girls before I realized it wasn't Hogan's Heroes. Estelle Getty sounded so...German to me. I was halfway into The Departed before I realized Matt Damon and Leonardo Dicaprio weren't the same character. I point the remote at the refrigerator. I pet the couch instead of the dog. I always took toilet water literally, and could never figure out why my homemade refilling system never smelled as good. The Women's section? Really? I came here to repair the tire on my flat iron.

3. "That perfume has been discontinued. You can't find it anywhere."

Invariably, you hear this from one vendor who is located no more than four yards away from another vendor who stocks the item regularly from a discount source in some garage outfit in Peoria. The other vendor sells it at half the price. Many of these things appear on the shelves at TJ Max with a mind numbing regularity. The packaging shows a list of ingredients which makes it clear the product is not only still in production but using the cheapest materials the manufacturers can get their hands on.

4. "Women love this."

That's great, if the love of women is the kind you're looking for.

5. "The EDT and EDP are exactly the same."

I want to strip naked and dance all over the store when I hear this, tipping over displays. I know this sounds dramatic. And God knows there are more important things than perfume going on in the world. But here's the thing. I'm a stressed person. I might drink copiously if it weren't for perfume. I would develop another kind of addiction. I'm not saying crack. I'm not saying heroin. I'm just saying it would be something serious, and I can't tell you where I'd wake up in the morning, or what morning it might be. All I ask is that when I walk into some stupid store, which only stocks about four things I'm remotely interested in to begin with, and I ask whether they also carry the EDP, someone says, why yes, we do have the EDP, but you know, I think I prefer the presence of more vanilla in the EDT. If I can't have that then at least give me some good samples. If I can't have that either, move out of my way. I'll find you when I want to shell out some money.

6. "You seem to return a lot. Why don't you give me your girlfriend's name and number so I can call her and ask her what she really wants. That way you don't have to ask for so many refunds."

Let me explain how this works. Stop making sucky perfumes and I'll stop returning them. I'll retire my super glue. I'll stop oh so carefully opening new purchases from the bottom, spraying them once, repackaging them, and trotting on back to your little ninth circle of hell. At the very least, start learning more about the perfumes you're peddling. Become conversant in them. Admit they're not probably the stuff you just sprayed on a card. I don't expect you to tell me how wretched they really are. I just need a little more to go on. "Ooooh, I LOVE it" is pretty vague. What exactly do you love? If this were a restaurant and you described the food you wished to serve me with the same poverty of detail...oh, nevermind.

7. "How many perfumes do you have now?"

Pointing out a customer's sickness with a twinkle in your eye and a barely suppressed snicker isn't probably the yellow brick road to a commission.

8. "Here's a card with some of that sprayed on it."

In some parallel dimension, SA's are led to believe they can spritz something lightly on a piece of paper at 10 a.m. and a customer at, say, 3 or 4 p.m., smelling that piece of paper, will get the full panoply of aromas that scent has to offer. Here's a similar universe. I baked you a quiche, with fresh eggs, flour, cream, and cheese. It's cool because I left it out on the counter overnight. It's got paw prints on the surface because my cat has free roam of the house. Enjoy! Here's a universe right next to that one. I'm a model and I get laid all the time. Keep your eyes closed, please. My skin is highly sensitive to scrutiny and I rely on it for a living and free trinkets from admirers.

Sometimes, when you tell the above SA that the card is not sufficient, she or he will say:

9. "Let me spray some into the cap for you."

Where do I start? I love you. I feel for you. It's right out in public, what you do. That's got to be a pain at times. I would never go out in public if I could help it. All those demanding people. Everybody and their lousy needs. I feel for you, I do. But if you think perfume is something I want to smell from a stinking plastic cap held by a stingy hand we really have a problem here. That problem is, you bug me.

10. "I'm including a few samples of our latest fragrances in the bag."

It's a great comfort to me that when I'm done smelling something faint from a cap I can look forward to wiping something else on my arm from what amounts to a moist towelette. It's reassuring to know that I won't have to figure out where to put a little glass vial because this little treasure comes wrapped in peel away foil. It is a joy, a real thrill, to know that you've given me not a variety of things from which to choose--saving me much needed decision making time--but have limited my choice to Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, and some variation of Givenchy Irresistible. It was smart of you not to give much thought to what samples I might be interested in based on my purchase of an older Guerlain perfume. I am blessed to have such efficient thoughtlessness at my disposal. I would like to give a gift to you, too. Here is a piece of paper I once put my gum in. I've been sitting on it for weeks. Inside, somewhere between the gum and paper, I wrote down the combination to a locker in Grand Central where I have hidden ten thousand dollars and a week's supply of gummy bears.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Not With A bang But a WHIMPER

Marc Jacobs is such a disappointment.

I remember seeing a picture of him in--was it Vanity Fair? Way back when. Marc Jacobs with his long hair and his big nose, in the buff, in bed, with only a wisp of sheet covering the jewels. He seemed so American, kind of anarchic and trashy, puckish; he seemed like a lot of fun. He seemed like a lot more fun than stale, stately, resolutely "hetero" Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and the rest of his peers. They were Nantucket and the society pages, walking through some croquet or polo game somewhere in their stiff little "relaxed" fit suits. He was...not.

The problem with Marc Jacobs is that, while he's always seemed like a lot of fun, his body of work has always seemed like much ado about nothing. While it was somewhat radical at the time to put grunge on the runway, and slapping a hefty price tag on the stuff might have been viewed as some sort of fashion-forward dadaism, it was also, ultimately, nothing new to the overwhelming majority of his audience, many of whom (raises hand) had been wearing thrift store and dog-eared for decades. Jacobs got out of bed quickly. Always photo-ready, he got dressed in a hurry and arrived fully prepared for all this hype, harnessing all that puckishness for maximum publicity. I got bored just as quickly.

The fragrances weren't much more exciting. Straight up gardenia is swell, but hardly seemed in keeping with his agenda. It started to feel like he had no real agenda. The real agenda was personality--which might have been fine, had more of it found its way into the work. The first male fragrance, Marc Jacobs Men, was a little more promising. No one save Diptyque seemed to be doing much with fig at the time, and who besides weirdos had heard of Diptyque? Sadly, it only got worse from there. Very early on, I came to the conclusion that Jacobs was someone I would most definitely kick out of bed.

The line went belly up but the fragrances, with several regular additions (most visibly, the "Splashes") continued. Jacobs started over, regrouping artistically if not personally. The new line was supposedly truer to his own muse. It was alleged to be super cool but struck me then, as now, as something approaching Deconstructed Dowdy. Who besides Sofia Coppola and Chloe Sevigny can pull that off? The ads, shot in stark Polaroid by Terry Richardson, didn't help me make out the clothing's possibly redeeming nuances. Splash Pear, Cotton, Fig, Cucumber, and Biscotti didn't seem very subtle either.

A few years ago, Jacobs went into recovery. He became very confessional. Given his propensity for self-publicity, this hardly endeared me more to him. He gave interviews, often in the nude, it seemed. One spread, in W I think, showed off his newly buff bod amidst his chi-chi digs as if he were simply another commodity in the place, interchangeable with the trendy artwork hanging on the walls. He came out in a big way, which seemed more than a little odd to me, thinking back to that playful picture in bed. The differences were notable, though. Granted, he was younger before, but he seemed to like his body the way it was, and didn't care what you thought so much, enough to leave it all playfully ambiguous.

I can't say the latest fragrances have been disappointments. That might imply I'd approached them with high hopes. Lola is, to me, just plain silly. Like Daisy, it seems hellbent on assuring everyone around you that you did in fact wash your hair this morning. The bottle seemed like dowdy on steroids. Still, Bang, the latest "masculine," promised something, however unsure I was just what. Yes, the ad photo suggested more of same: nearly naked Marc Jacobs, the privates covered not by a sheet but the fragrance. True, looking tediously buff, tattooed to within an inch of his life. True, looking more aloof than playful. Still, I guess I hoped for a masculine in quotes, something audacious, something which delivers on that puckish promise from the early mock boudoir pose.

Instead you get faint woods and spices in something which looks like one of those vintage themed Avon bottles. That makes it sound a little more exciting than it is, but I'm already too bored to grasp for better descriptives. Bang doesn't merit descriptives. Oddly, Jacobs recently said that he decided to pose for his own fragrance because it felt more personal. Me, I would have settled happily for a more personal fragrance--but this seems in keeping with the marketing approach of his product, not just the clothes and the fragrances but his physical, if not spiritual, self. Marc's body shouts at you. The fragrance, positioned over his crotch, whispers. This kind of overcompensation reminds me a lot more of straight male culture than gay. Like most straight guys, the fragrance doesn't stick around long to make sure you're as satisfied as it promised you'd be during its come on. Let's not ask for the moon when we have the star, I guess.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Eye of the Needle: Sartorial

I'm not starved for blessings, but I don't tend to hit the jackpot very often, so I was really excited to win the latest Penhaligon's fragrance in a draw conducted by Indieperfumes.

I haven't been the most ardent fan of Bertrand Duchaufour, Sartorial's creator. Like Jean-Caude Ellena, he works within an artistic vein I can appreciate but find hard to enjoy. The transparency of his best work for L'Artisan, Comme des Garcons, and Eau D'Italie left me irritated more than intrigued, and the conversation around the alleged pleasures of these fragrances still baffles me. Their merits I can acknowledge; the experience of wearing them is something else altogether. Nothing baffled me more than Nuit de Tubereuse, which was the source of much talk online and seemed less rather than more interesting than the other things Duchaufour has done. I feel like I should get that out of the way.

That said, there are a few Duchaufour fragrances I really love. Amaranthine continues to grow on me, and I know that when my small, second decant runs out, I'll be considering a bottle. S.T. Dupont, going back to 1998, is a truly great fruity chypre. Lalique's Flora Bella is pretty lovely, too. But Jubilation XXV is the real treasure for me. I save the big bottle like fine china, I love it so much. Words fail, which I why, loving it as I do, I've written so little about it. I save it for special occasions which never arrive; no occasion seems special enough for this fragrance, which smells like a million bucks and a new lease on life. I love Jubilation so much that I pay close attention to whatever Duchaufour does, because I know that he's capable of great things.

Sartorial is no Jubilation, but it's pretty damn good, and reason enough for its own kind of excitement. Intended as a tribute to and an evocation of the bespoke tailors along London's Savile Row, Sartorial is steam, fougere aftershave, and metal sheen in a bottle. Many fragrances set out to pay tribute in this way but few seem ultimately to bear any relation to their alleged sources of inspiration, or do but only in the most literal-minded way. The wonderful thing about Sartorial is--

Well, there are many wonderful things. What I love most I think is how well designed and executed it is, not just the packaging, which can often seem like an afterthought on its own, but the fragrance itself. It feels like such a gift to the weak, effete world of masculines; bold and imaginatively rich, it engages its wearer and his or her social intimates in a conversation about what masculine is and might be, veering just far enough outside preconceived ideas to keep the dialogue fresh.

The beeswax (prepare for pun) seals the deal. How Duchaufour keeps this element from taking over without sacrificing its sweet, resinous characteristics is a mystery I'll leave to someone more qualified. You feel it could have gone over the fence, dominating the fragrance. Instead, it peeks out from the margins, inflecting every other impression you get as the notes waft in and out of your consciousness. The fougere profile is unmistakable, and at varying points seems as if it too might take over. You get those ferny elements; the woods and herbal touches--but the dull, milky sweetness of beeswax, along with vanilla, cardamom, linden, ginger, and ozonic elements waft steadily in and out, complicating and expanding your initial impressions.

To wear Sartorial is to be made aware of how careful a balancing act great perfumery must be. Still, it feels inarguably modern, speaking to traditional perfumery from a contemporary vantage point. Conducting that conversation successfully, so that each voice rings distinctly at different times, in unison at others, requires delicate calibration. When discussing a good perfume, people often say that no one note is distinguishable from the others. Sartorial tweaks things so that, while no note can be distinguished from the others necessarily, each continues to contrast itself against another, showing you something new.

I think I'll probably wear the hell out of this.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

First Impressions

I never really thought much of the flagship Van Cleef and Arpels fragrance, aptly titled First. It seemed a lot like Chanel No.5 to me, and not just due to its overdose of aldehydes. There are many aldehydic perfumes I love, and many don't smell much like emblematic No.5. Arpege, old and new, is much warmer to me, for instance, and smells as much of the tobacco pouch as the flower garden to my nose. White Linen is its own wonderful beast, a bottle full of unique radiance which, however floral, reminds me more of a spring day than a perfume.

Not that one thing smelling like another has ever stopped me from buying it. I found a fantastic fifteen dollar Vicky Tiel aldehyde several months ago, which I'm convinced smells even more like No.5 than the real No.5 does, and I have many florals and green chypres and orientals which would be indistinguishable from one another to your everyday nose. Similarities don't bother me. More of the same is great if I liked it enough to buy it to begin with. The truth is, I'm not a huge fan of No.5, and that was my biggest problem with First.

I want to like No.5. I keep trying. I do actually "like" it. I think it smells great. The issue I have is that it smells great for all of ten minutes on me, no matter which concentration I apply. I appreciate the iconic recognizability of No.5. You know it instantly, and over the years it has cut such a wide swath that it means something to nearly everyone, whether its name is known or not, so in some ways it can operate interestingly in a room, unifying or dividing people in mood or mindset on a level beyond your average bit of social anarchy. You feel the presence of various dearly departed figures, and suddenly the room has doubled in size. But every time I try to conjure this alchemy on my own skin it goes flat, like a genie bottle whose genie I can't figure out how to summon.

Before things fade, First isn't as ladylike as No.5. After a night of carousing (however chic the pitstops) it checks in at the barnyard before continuing on to the manor. First has a simmering honeyed warmth you don't find in anything Chanel, as well as a slight booziness. There are strange, plush dissonances at play. No.5 is a much more remorselessly chilly affair, bent on leaving you hanging. The focus on lemon and bergamot in No.5's opening moments sharpens the initial effect of the aldehydes. First switches out lemon for mandarin, and the addition of blackcurrant gives it a tart succulence I really like. Both perfumes have the jasmine / rose combo you might expect from a perfume of this particular subset of classic perfumery. But No.5 is all about cool, aloof orris for me in the heart stages, while First plays around with Ylang-Ylang and hyacinth.

The rage over the last several years for iris (and other things, like, say, oud and vanilla) has kept me until recently from paying much attention to notes I might actually hype myself if given the platform, but it becomes increasingly obvious to me that Ylang-Ylang really does it for me. Part of this is my ability to identify it a little more clearly these days. Cheap-o Histoire d'Amour, by Aubusson, helped. A recent favorite of mine, Histoire contrasts Ylang-Ylang with a particularly dry, woody patchouli. It has a rubbery succulence not too dissimilar to First, and a slightly off quality to it.

I only know how much I like First now because I came across a bottle of the EDP concentration a few days ago. Unlike No.5, it seems, concentration does effect longevity when it comes to First. The toilette made First seem a lot more like No.5 than it actually is. It was so fleeting on me that I had no idea really what to make of it. Maybe it stopped at the barnyard. All I know is, it stopped altogether. I couldn't make it out. The EDP extends the dry down significantly, giving me time to notice how fantastic First truly is. I assume the civet is synthetic, if really there at all anymore. No matter. The Ylang-Ylang provides ample interest, an edgy, vaguely mentholated frisson. Vetiver and vanilla contribute to its sense of warmth with a subtle earthiness. Oddly, First reminds me at times of Opium, now that I've absorbed it. I wasn't surprised to see that Opium lists Ylang-Ylang among its heart notes. I'd never noticed that, either.

Apparently, First is harder to come by as an EDP. It makes me wonder how many people have dismissed the fragrance, like I had, simply because it didn't sit still enough for a proper appraisal.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This Week at the Perfume Counter: Boston

I should say Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is where I spent most of my time on this trip; but Portsmouth had no perfume to speak of, and though I only made it into Boston for a two hour perusal, most of what I saw during my stay was there. Neither my host nor her boyfriend are very much into perfume, so that limited my time considerably. She likes it but would rather have something picked out for her; he can't imagine anyone needing more than half an hour to shop for something so...hygienic. I knew I wasn't going to have long.

I'd intended to head over to Neil Morris, and I'm sad I didn't get to, but Barney's and Saks were close together and covered more ground in a shorter window of time. The selection at Saks was unexpectedly extensive. They had all the Guerlains, it seemed--every last one of them. The bee bottles, the elixirs; Vega and Derby and Liu, even. I'd smelled Vega before, from a decant, and liked it, but smelling it there, in the presence of its fantastic bottle, I appreciated it more. I wasn't crazy, still, about the elixirs. Again, I'd smelled them by decant, but even their bottles failed to sway me. All the sales assistant wanted to talk about was Idylle--and yet she had no idea, when pressed, what the prices, or even the available sizes and concentrations were. I feel almost certain that, had I asked the difference between the EDP and the EDT, I would have been told something along the lines of "none whatsoever", never mind the fact they're marketed as entirely different interpretations. One SA went off to find me a bottle of Vega, after forcing me to repeat the name several times. She'd never heard of it and seemed to believe I was making it up.

I don't know why I didn't grab a bottle of Acqua di Parma's Colonia Intensa. I've been enjoying a tiny decant for months now, and keep telling myself I'll purchase a full bottle the next time I see one, but I'm always looking for things I haven't already seen or been given the chance to smell, and when I arrive at a place like Saks there's a lot of competition for my attention. Or so it seems. It's only later, returning to the relative quiet of my decant, that I realize I like the reliable pleasures of Colonia Intensa more than any of the shiny new bells and whistles the department store has to offer. Colonia Intensa has good sillage and longevity. It smells richer and warmer than anything I ran into at Saks. Note to self: when you see it again, focus.

The new Halston Woman, also at Saks, is a strange thing. I'll give it another chance at some point, but I'm in no hurry. It's a bit of a hot mess, really. I don't know where to start. It rubs me the wrong way and keeps rubbing. I felt downright chafed as the day went on. Musky? Rubbery? Floral, fruity, woody? Halston Man is much better, but it smells so much like z-14 that I see no real reason to bother. Z-14 is as good as it ever was and ubiquitous at the discount outlets. Ten bucks, last time I checked.

I'm thoroughly confused by these releases. Assuming the audience for anything Halston is anything beyond select at this point, why not restore the original fragrance to the shelves? No fancy silver bottle is going to give Halston This or That the kind of boost it would need to waste the time and money coming up with something supposedly new. The original Halston remains one of my favorite Bernard Chant creations. It remains one of my favorite perfumes, period. It's so fantastic that on four separate trips over the course of the last two or three years I've purchased a bottle on vacation, even though I know reformulations have made trying to find a good one something of a grab bag. I bought a half ounce at a CVS pharmacy in Portsmouth and was shocked at how bad it's gotten. Luckily, you can still find older bottles here and there (try older Walgreen's and Rite-Aids) and the manufacturer has made it very easy to tell the difference between newer and newest; the latest, most wretched version of Halston has decided to go against the designer's wishes, printing his name across the bottom of the bottle. Older bottles are without this "signature".

One trend I noticed at Saks, seeing everything laid out for the first time in ages, all the new releases in pretty little rows, is the rage for trios and "exclusive" lines. I wasn't totally unaware of these developments and have even partaken of some, but being faced with them in person was a little depressing, mostly because so many of them suck. The Eau de Fleurs series from Chloe is so half-assed I'm not bothering to report on it.

Everywhere you looked, there was something pretty unremarkable being touted as the best thing since a bottomless cup of coffee. In case you doubted the wondrousness, two more were thrown in--or the price was jacked up so high that you couldn't possibly perceive it as anything short of luxurious. I suppose I felt this way about the Elixirs at Guerlain, though some were nice, and some even great. Part of what gets lost in this strategy, for me, is the charm of something like Vega, a re-release which feels special and unique, clad in its own distinctive fashion, rather than some sleek, almost militaristic line-up like Elixirs, which inadvertently (again, for me) makes fragrance feel like yet another part of a regular drill, something to dab on after making one's bed so fastidiously that a quarter could be bounced on it.

I suspect this is Guerlain's and Chloe's way of absorbing the lessons of niche lines like Lutens, whose uniform bottles and overall corporate sensibility have made a dent in the way fragrance companies approach marketing and manufacturing the fantasy of desire and luxury. I don't love the Lutens silhouette but I do think they got it right. The delicacy of the bottles, the precarious way they sit, like fragile dominoes, the care you must take with them, knowing they might fall over and shatter: all of these things create an interesting contrast to the utilitarian aspects of the packaging, giving those sharp corners and flat lines conceptual curves. I see none of that intelligence at play in the trickle down product at Saks.

Not that Lutens is getting everything right. Smelling the line at Barney's, I noticed nothing different. It was only later, when I took a generous selection of samples home, that I smelled a rat. Many people have commented in the recent past on Fleurs d'Oranger: something's different, not quite the same, not as good, abysmal by comparison. I only smelled it within the last year, so I have no idea what it once was, or whether it has in fact been altered, but I do know what Arabie used to smell like, and the sample I was given is, frankly, what new dimestore Halston is to old designer label Halston. It feels hollowed out. That's about the best way I can describe it. The Arabie I knew was rich, deep, and emanated from the skin in waves of spicy warmth. That warmth is altogether gone. I can still smell the basic outline of Arabie, and what's left is a very attractive fragrance, but it would be generous to call it a ghost of its former self. Ghosts have more presence.

I couldn't help thinking back to a recent feature on Lutens' Moroccan home in W magazine, photos of which give new meaning to the words opulence, embellishment, lavish, and affectation. The home is lovely, if you can call something which seems to span five city blocks a home. The article revealed that, aside from chief houseman Rachid, Casa de Lutens once employed 500 people (I'm guessing most were male). The place is a cornucopia of detail and filagree. Plush textiles, textures, and tapestries seem to adorn every available surface which can't be determined to have a pulse.

The decoration, like the creation of a perfume, took years. The density on display is something I inevitably contrasted to the practically anorexic specter of Arabie 2010, begging some interesting questions. The article would like me to believe that, at heart, Lutens is a simple man. Now that the renovations on Casa Lutens are reaching their conclusion (in an age of ever present coverage, what better end point than a definitive photo spread?) Lutens might just abandon it altogether, opting instead for a "small, spartan maid's room somewhere."

One has to wonder where the maid will be shipped off to, or what makes Lutens so sure that a maid's room can generally be classified, outside of those in his own home, as spartan, as if poor people have fewer belongings because they've reached some purer state of being where, even could they afford them, belongings would feel like a spiritual nuisance. Friend Anjelica Huston says she wouldn't be surprised to see Lutens move into a yurt. Judging by these photos, I wouldn't be surprised, either, as long as we're talking about one of those yurts with air conditioning and an indoor pool. You know the kind. I hope you'll oblige me a sense of humor about Lutens' meticulous extravagance. One would hope to find as eccentric a figure as Serge behind such a visionary line of fragrances. I only wish he hadn't moved Arabie into the spartan maid's room, and I wonder what else he's going to cram in there before he's done rearranging. Not all of his customers look to perfume as an expression of asceticism.

What distresses me most about the Arabie discovery is the seed of doubt it places in my mind about consistency in Lutens fragrances. How do I know that the bottle of Cedre or Rousse I buy will be the one I smelled a the counter? Testers are invariably older. At least the newer species, like the fantastic Fille en Aiguilles, can be counted on to smell the same, if only because no one's had time to tinker with them yet. I find this same frustration store-wide when I shop for perfume these days. The bottle for Shalimar has been redesigned by Jade Jagger, as has the perfume itself, though no SA that I've come across will admit to this. Because they see no difference, and the older bottles are still in stock, who knows what I might be handed, or how surprised I might be upon smelling it at home.

My host was rushing me, which made it very difficult to reach a conclusion about what I wanted to purchase, if anything. Too late to go back to Saks for a bottle of Colonia Intensa. I decided to play it safe. I picked up a small bottle of another Bernard Chant fragrance, Antonia's Flowers. I think it must be pretty old, as the ingredients list only aqua, parfum, and alcohol. I also got Malle's Lys Mediterranee. When I do get anything Malle, I tend to go for the travel size. Three little 10 ml atomizers are more than enough for me, and make Malle a much more affordable purchase. I've had my eye on Lys for over a year but always talk myself out of it at the counter. Too much like Donna Karan Gold, I tell myself. Getting Lys home, I realized there are more differences between the two than I'd realized. Of course, what do I know? When I first bought Gold I swore it was a dead ringer for Black Orchid. Have no doubt, though: Arabie is not itself lately.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

White Linen & The Summer of '86

My parents divorced when I was 14. I have a very kind and wealthy aunt who decided to give my mother and me a fantastic gift. My aunt gifted us a 3 month trip to Europe during the summer of ’86. My mom took a leave of absence from work and we were able to take off on an unforgettable adventure, forgetting the divorce, and all the typical issues of day-to-day life.

My aunt also gave me a perfumed gift set as a going away present. She chose Estee Lauder White Linen, which was extremely popular in 1986, so I left for Europe with the body lotion, shower gel and perfume. For the rest of my life, the scent of White Linen will remind me of that fabulous trip. I’m not sure if this is still the case, because I haven’t sniffed White Linen in years, but when I imagine White Linen I can feel the heft of that frosted glass container the body lotion was housed in.

Being 15 years old and traveling for 3 months with one’s mother can be a little tricky. I was the poster child of a rebellious teenager and my mom and I were already having lots of trouble getting along, and, of course, 95% of the time it was my own fault. But when we got to Germany, the first country on our trip, we were so happy and interested in everything that it was fairly easy to let everything fall into place and treat each other nicely. Our first stop was to visit my uncle and his wife in Munich. My uncle’s wife is a gorgeous Korean woman, who turns out to be one of the few people in my family who wear fragrance. She always had a bottle of Shalimar, and I think it was the pure parfum, on her dresser. Her name is Chong Suk and she was/is gorgeous, with long flowing blackish-blue hair, perfect skin and fashionably dressed (heels at all times). Chong Suk and I did some damage shopping in Munich. She also bought me a bottle of Shalimar for myself. But I didn’t open Shalimar, I was using White Linen on this trip, until it was empty.

We stayed in Germany for almost two months, using my uncle's home as our launch pad and taking several long weekends and extended trips to Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland. Everywhere I went White Linen came with me. I always used the body lotion after shaving my legs and I would cup my hands over my nose giving it one last big huff when I was done. White Linen seemed so clean, effortless and sophisticated at this juncture in my life. We spent a week in Paris, which oddly, wasn’t the highlight of my trip. We did all the museums and all the sights that tourists must do. I ate escargot and macarons. We pretty much didn’t leave a stone unturned. My mom had a friend, a distant cousin, whose apartment we stayed at in Paris, so the experience seemed as authentic as can be.
In Paris I bought a few gifts for friends back home. I chose Rochas Lumiere because I loved the bottle. I haven’t a clue what Lumiere smells like, but the bottle was purplish, romantic and feminine. I ended up keeping a bottle for myself. No surprise there.

Our last month was spent in the United Kingdom. My mom had a friend whose flat we stayed at in London for a week. Then we spent 9 perfect days staying at the Savoy in London where we had afternoon tea every day and at night attended the theater. I visited my pen pal who I’d been writing to since the 5th grade just outside Bath, England. Anne, my pen pal, turned out to be aloof and not what I expected, but it was still an experience hanging out with her for a few days.

My best friend Megan gave me a few mix tapes before we left. I listened to these mix tapes constantly while we were in the car, train or subway. I had a boy crush back home. Tim and I weren’t technically dating, we had only kissed once at the movie theater, during a showing of Nightmare on Elm Street, but I thought about him nonstop while listening to Madonna’s True Blue. Even though I was having the time of my life, it did feel a little scary missing out on a whole summer of friendship, gossip and goings-on back home. I wasn’t listening to Tears for Fear Everybody Wants to Rule the World over and over again like everyone in America; this wasn’t playing on the radio in Europe. I caught up with MTV, the gossip and the music scene once I returned, a slightly different person.

Mom and I then took an ultra touristy bus tour across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It lasted 3 weeks and lucky for me there was a whole contingent of teenagers traveling with their parents on this trip. Now this was fun because I could sneak off with the teenagers and get into little bits of trouble here and there. Don’t forget, back in ’86, it seemed the UK had a relaxed attitude towards the drinking age, so there was lots of fun to be had. I met a boy on this tour, his name was Adam, and we had a 3 week teen-aged love affair. I remember one night after sneaking out of his room (no, THAT didn’t happen in case you’re thinking I was THAT rebellious), he said “you always leave such a pretty trail of fragrance after you leave me,” and here I am thinking all these years later that this was the very definition of sillage, I was leaving Adam a little White Linen scent trail.

This 3 month trip didn’t heal all our wounds but it allowed us to forget about many of our familial problems and gave both my mom and I a lifetime’s worth of memories. The sensation of those White Linen bottles in my hands and the scent of its perfume, both on my person and emanating from inside my suitcase is an embedded scent memory and so much a part of my European adventure of ‘86. I finished off all the White Linen that my aunt gave me by the end of the trip. As much as I loved White Linen that summer, I never bought it or wore it again. White Linen remains the summer of '86 for me.

Pucker Up

The weather this time of year, with the last vestiges of hot sunny days bearing a cool crispness around the edges always makes me crave tart fruity fragrances. I’ve been wearing one little trollop called Aqua Allegoria Grosselina off and on all summer but now is the time when I pull out my tartest berry scents and wear them exclusively for a week or two.

Here are some of my favorites:

I think everyone knows the story of Yvresse and its original name being Champagne. The French champagne industry brought a lawsuit against usage of the name “Champagne” and hence YSL re-named the fragrance Yvresse. Either way, the fragrance is drop dead gorgeous. Yvresse was originally aptly named because it is like champagne with its effervescent, fruity, crisp and tart quality. Yvresse is the ultimate in tart little numbers, she is the king and queen of tartness but she is ultimately easily worn and elegant. Every single time I wear Yvresse I stop at some point during the day and think "I should wear this more often..."

Annick Goutal Quel Amour!
Quel Amour is a tart berried scent draped over creamy powdery musks and springtime roses and peonies. Quel Amour often strikes me as a lovely wedding scent. It is so darn Pretty with a capital P.

Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte is another fruity floral with emphasis on berries but this one settles down and doesn’t remain tart on me. It’s still beautiful but not quite the ultimate in puckeryness like it's sister Quel Amour!

Byredo Pulp
Pulp is an absurdly tart mélange of fruits, but I love it. Along with citrus and orange blossom type scents Pulp’s sort of exuberant fruitiness always feels uplifting.

Jo Malone Wild Fig & Cassis
This is the tartest fig on the market. Other figs can be salty or sweet but Jo Malone’s Fig is puckery and tart due to the cassis note. It’s a nice fig scent. I like the juxtaposition of sweet fig and tart cassis.

Teo Cabanel Julia
Oh, Teo Cabanel, everything you do is simply perfect...Julia, is a fruity floral done right, similar to Annick Goutal in style. Julia is not an insipid fruity floral by any stretch mostly because she maintains a green (rhubard) tart fruity texture (blackcurrant). Notes are list as: mandarin, rhubarb, blackcurrant, jasmine, hyacinth and violet, sandalwood, incense, citrus and musk. I'm wearing Julia today and am feeling a tad special because not too many know of this beautiful fragrance.

Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Grosselina
Grosselina is a scent I’ve been wearing a lot this summer. I love the main event which is red currants. The fragrance dries down much less puckery than at the start but the whole affair is certainly an ode to tart red currants.

I figure I’ll stop here. Do you like tart, berried fragrances? Which are your favorites?