Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shifting Clouds: Organza

I keep thinking I must have written about Givenchy's Organza.  It's one of my favorites - even though, until recently, I didn't wear it all that much.  Weeks ago, a friend discovered a tiny bottle, probably 5 ml at most, in a flea market, and he wore it so much I was compelled to bring my bottle out of effective retirement.  Suddenly, I saw Organza in a different light, the way you do when you watch a favorite movie with someone who's never seen it before.  I appreciated it more, and saw some of its qualities more clearly.

I always liked Organza - creamy, rich, and long lasting, it's pretty hard not to like.  But when I bought a bottle a few years ago, it was only an ounce or so.  My friend loves Organza, along with Poison and Moschino de Moschino - and his signature, Chanel Egoiste - and it smells so fantastic on him (everything seems to) that I hated to see him dabbing rather than spraying, so I gave him my bottle, and I went looking for another one.

The bottle I gave him is older, and my bias against reformulations led me to assume it must be better than the current version.  I was surprised to learn that whatever they're currently stocking is just as good, if not a little better, than the original.  That's not the case with the fragrance's flanker, Organza Indecence, which is still nice these days but less in some indefinable way than it was.  Weirdly, Organza doesn't seem as robust now but projects with more presence and seems to last even longer than the old stuff, which is muskier but moves more quickly through its development, if something as linear as Organza can be said to develop.  The latest Organza envelops you in a mood, permeating your outlook all day.

Organza was created in 1996 by Sophie Labbe.  That surprised me too.  Labbe isn't one of my favorites. In fact, there isn't much of anything she's done that I would recommend.  The last thing she did that I smelled, Calvin Klein Beauty, was..what it was:  a clean, musky floral with all the presence of a raw peanut.  Nice enough for a Christmas gift - unlikely to offend anyone; it was a bit like giving your father a striped tie or a winter scarf (guilty, by the way), beige or camel colored, the kind of thing he wouldn't cry too much over if he left it behind after dinner at the restaurant.  He might not even run back for it.  Labbe's Parisienne, for YSL, left me kind of cranky.  Why mess with perfection?  Like Belle d'Opium, Parisienne seemed like some kind of vandalism: like Jean Luc Godard remaking Breathless as Porky's, although I suspect someone like Godard would have made the material a little more interesting, if not exactly re-inventing the wheel in the process.

The thing you notice most about Organza - which might just be a lie of the mind, an illusion created by the color of the "juice" and the name itself - is an odd impression of oranges, odd because there's nothing the least bit citrus about the fragrance.  The notes list orange blossom, but orange blossom doesn't smell like oranges, nor does Bergamot really, which is also listed.  The effect resembles Anne Pliska, another deceptive use of orange - though the two fragrances are otherwise pretty dissimilar.

That orangey impression never really wanes for me, though the floral heart makes itself known from the beginning and only deepens as the top notes recede.  Nothing really recedes, I guess, in Organza.  You just become aware of different things the longer you spend time in it.  The orange is abundantly creamy.  The florals - gardenia, honeysuckle, tuberose, ylang ylang, jasmine - are even creamier.  Organza is sweet - and gourmand - but doesn't feel sugared or foody.  It feels slightly old fashioned - perhaps because it's so rich and expansive - and big boned, like another creamy floral, 24 Faubourg (by Hermes), but the sweetened aspects make it feel distinctly contemporary at the same time.

Some of the sweetness - maybe a lot of it - can probably be pinned on the vanilla.  There's quite a lot of it in Organza, but, again, it's so perfectly balanced with the florals and a dash of nutmeg that it feels inseparable from them.  Smelling Organza, I would never think "floral", either, whereas with Faubourg you can't think anything else.  The base isn't really much of a base, as when Organza "dries down" it remains consistent with its initial impression.  The base is more like a coat the fragrance is wearing.  In addition to the vanilla, it includes amber, cedar, and sandalwood.  There's the faintest woodiness to Organza.  It's an amazing construction, this thing.  You regard it the way you do the sky, amazed at something so huge and wondrously constellated, its slow-moving clouds constantly shifting into the subtle shapes of only vaguely recognizable things.

I have way too many perfumes.  I make it a policy not to say just how many.  The point is I have no business getting anything larger than 50 ml.  Eventually, it will run me out of house and home.  Were I a more practical, sensible person, I would buy decants, or travel sprays.  Lately, though, I've been drunk on the way a big brick of a fragrance feels in the hand.  Case in point: those older, slender Chanel chunk bottles (what's dreamier than something called Cristalle in a container which strikes you as a fortress?)  I bought a bottle of Organza that is so enormous and formidable it feels like a staggeringly tall building on a busy street corner.  I can't help myself.  Nothing equals the feeling of a bottle like that, or matches so perfectly the scale a fantastic fragrance like Organza dictates on your fantasies.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Voodoo: A Review

So I decorated this bottle for a film we're shooting this week involving the discovery of a long lost fragrance in a vintage clothing store.  The picture shows it with everything but the label, which I've yet to apply.  Someone of facebook suggested the name "Voodoo" for this fictitious fragrance.  After dressing up the factice, which is something like twenty inches tall, I started to think about what such a fragrance would smell like.

I like to think it was put out by a company called Parfums de Picolo.  Don't ask me why.  Picolo put out about five fragrances.  Voodoo was the standout, but it never really took off, and the company discontinued it after about three years.  An Italian company, Picolo eventually turned to soaps and other little novelty items.  Giovanni Finnochio, the founder, several years later, got into film production - cheapo Italian flicks that never made it over to the states.  Sophia Loren lookalikes.  Starring roles for late stage Gina Lollabrigida.  One of these films, roughly translated as "You Hurt Me Today, I Kill You Tomorrow", is now a collector's item, mainly for a scene involving Lollobrigida and a cat in an arguably non-consensual scenario.  After the film, Lollabrigida was said to be estranged from old friend and animal lover Brigitte Bardot, and blamed the entire incident on Finnochio, claiming a body double was used for her scenes without her knowledge.

Voodoo was one of only three fragrances created by perfumer Mario Pistina.  In the only existing interview with the man, he said that he wanted to construct the scent of sex, animals, public intoxication, children laughing, and cigarettes wafting over the top of a stucco wall at dusk.  He got the sex part right, at least.  And the animals.  Voodoo came in a beautiful leopard patterned glass bottle with gold and black trim and a black pedestal.  A smaller bottle, 1.7 ounces, was a bit less ornate.  At one time, a purse spray was made available, for those moments out in the world when the spell had worn off.  But the smell was strong and rarely wore off, and a dab appeared to last all day and into the night, at which point it took on subtle suggestions of the wearer's own body odors.

It wasn't as expensive as Joy by Jean Patou, nor anything by Guerlain, but was considered pricey nevertheless for the Italian housewives who were generally its targeted audience.  It sat nicely on the dresser or vanity, holding its own amongst better known fragrances and potions.  The rich formula contained patchouli, civet, amber, vanilla, peru balsam and vetiver in the base.  The floral heart consisted of ylang ylang, cinnamon, rose, jasmine, and carnation.  The top notes were peach,  bergamot, clove, and aldehydes.  Voodoo's closest kin would probably be Youth Dew and Tabu, though it was far more animalic than either of those.

The ad featured a woman's face with the shadow of what seemed to be a man's hand cast over her features.  The model's eyes were closed as if in a trance, suggesting some kind of languid ecstasy.  Behind her could be seen a leopard printed, somewhat transparent screen.  Through the screen, the vague impression of jungle foliage.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ultimate Film Prop: The Perfume Factice

Lately I've been on a crazed hunt for an old perfume factice.  You've probably seen these larger versions of well known perfumes in stores or online.  Fragrance manufacturers use them to promote their lines - less so, maybe now, than at one time.  Dummies don't seem to be displayed as often as they once were, and the older ones don't stay around for long, as the turnover is so high at the perfume counter, the shelf space there at such a premium.

The inspiration for a film I'm shooting this Sunday was a gorgeous Shalimar dummy I saw at a local department store here.  Over a foot tall, it looks like something out of a dream.  It has a little blue tassel, that instantly recognizable scalloped blue stopper, the fanned bottle sitting atop a fluted pedestal.  The Guerlain counter at this store has about three such dummies.  In addition to the Shalimar, there are Samsara and Jardins de Bagatelle bottles, both equally large.  Hands down, Shalimar is the stand out.  Online, these go for upwards of a thousand dollars.  The one at the Guerlain counter in question is covered in dust.  I've seen it there for several years now, sitting back behind the display case on a low, neglected shelf, and I've been lusting after it, thinking "if only..."

That Shalimar bottle was the inspiration behind the story I'm filming, which involves a perfume lover who discovers a large factice in a colorful, slightly ragged vintage clothing store.  He tries to convince the proprietress of the store to sell it to him, but of course she knows what she has on her hands, and wants more than he can afford.  Stupidly, I got it in my head that the folks over at the Guerlain counter would happily let me borrow the Shalimar, or even rent it - just for the shoot.  Last week, when I finally built up the nerve to inquire, I was embarrassed by the response - a definitive no - realizing what an idiot I'd been to imagine a fortuitous outcome.

So I went on a wild goose chase.  While there are plenty of display dummies online, none are as fantastic as the Shalimar, except maybe Chanel No.5 and Mitsouko, both of which I would also possibly embarrass myself amply for.  The Chanel goes basically for what Shalimar does, and Mitsouko I think is about the same as well.  I did find one fairly reasonable Miss Dior bottle, with that white cap and the black and white herringbone motif striping the top and bottom of the bottle, but the seller is out of the country and it would take much longer than I have to get my hands on it.  Other bottles on Ebay are pretty, even very pretty, but wouldn't elicit the gasp of recognition I expect from the character in my film.  I'm guessing that anyone who loves perfume and sees the film would wonder what all the fuss was about, if one of these lesser revered bottles were featured as if the holy grail.

My mind keeps going back to a store in Seattle I visited once a few years back.  All along the place, on the highest shelf, were display dummies.  I remember Caron, I think, and Balenciaga Quadrille.  The owner wasn't all that friendly - the kind who opens the door when someone who loves perfume comes in and starts the spraying, complaining of headaches.  A real buzz kill, this woman, so I highly doubt she'd feel empathetic toward my need for one of her dummies, let alone be in the frame of mind to part with any of them for less than a princely sum.  If I were in Seattle, I'd be begging her shamelessly regardless.

I also talked to someone on facebook who told me he had a factice and would talk to his "co-owner" about loaning it out to me for the film.  Several days later, he got back in touch to say he didn't really see how it was possible.  The bottle, which went mysteriously unnamed, is incredibly valuable, he informed me, and while he doesn't normally think this way, he couldn't imagine what kind of scenario we'd find ourselves in should something happen to the prized possession - crack, chip, tear, or worse.  He and his co-owner - and I love that two people who don't seem to live together or even in the same city went in on this factice together - would have no choice but to require a security deposit.  I totally understood.  Knowing what I do about the unforeseeable mishaps that occur as a matter of routine on film shoots,  I wouldn't dream of lending anyone my own mysteriously unnamed factice, had I one.

A friend of mine knew how committed I was to obtaining the Shalimar bottle.  Let's say unnaturally fixated.  He thought it might be a good idea to buy a decorative bottle somewhere and dress it up like a fictitious old fragrance, but he didn't dare mention it until yesterday, when I'd reached the point of desperation and was resigned to my limited resources.  Pottery Barn had a great decanter: square, with no embellishments, and a stopper that resembled one you find on antique perfume bottles.  Only 25 bucks.  I called Pottery Barn to order one and to make sure it would get here on time.  Apparently, it's very popular.  It's on back order until July 5th.

Today I found the bottle pictured above, and it seems perfect to me.  Exactly the kind of thing Coty, Revlon, Dana, or Max Factor might have once put out.  I think I might call it Voodoo, as per a suggestion I received on Facebook.  For a while, I thought Baise-en-ville, another suggestion, would be pretty great, but it's too wordy to register on film with any kind of resonance.  Voodoo, I imagine, is some long lost perfume hardly anyone has ever heard about--like the unmarked violet fragrance I remember finding in my grandmother's medicine cabinet, or the little vial of Primitif I discovered in a flea market last summer.  The incredibly rare Voodoo was worn by adventurous women in, say, the fifties, lending a touch of the forbidden to their suburban Tupperware parties.  Voodoo, I think, would be very rich, dark like Youth Dew, balsamic, with civet and jasmine, carnation, patchouli, and enough ylang ylang to revive a dead man.

Now all I need is a fancy tassel, a worn label, a thick velvet ribbon, and a thin gold rope to coil around the stopper.  Who needs Shalimar when you have Voodoo?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Balenciaga Paris

Last night, I had a dream I was visiting my step mom, and we got in the camper and drove I don't know where.  Somewhere with an indoor pool and a little coffee house and various dream situational things that made me nervous for no particular reason.  All my dreams are hotbeds of anxiety.  It's never anything particular.  They're just suffused with this unnamed, lurking dread.  I envy people whose dreams are full of well being and happy reunions.  Mine always seem to be about missing flights, unduly upsetting people, looking desperately for an address I can't find, or visiting the dead a minute too late.

My stepmom informed me that the investment thingy my father bullied me into getting was three months past due.  She seemed rather gleeful about it, and of course I couldn't figure out why a.) the statements were coming to her, not me, and b.) why she wouldn't have let me known earlier, so I wouldn't be remiss.  For whatever reason, a friend of mine was sleeping in the bedroom.  Actually, I'd put him in there with another friend, and I was really worried they were going to start having sex, and that it would be noisy, because they were both good looking guys, and they were nude, and they were in a bed together.  So I kept checking on them, hoping for the best.  Later, my step mom was cleaning the place, and she seemed really tall, and after studying her for a while, trying to figure out why suddenly she towered over me when usually she was so short, I looked where her feet should be and I said, "Are you wearing...?"

Yes, Brian, she said, annoyed, I'm wearing stilts.

I woke from the dream relieved not to owe money, though a little sad I haven't in fact been bullied into investing into any such savings schemes.

And I did what I always do when I first wake up.  I went straight to the perfume.  I sprayed on some Balenciaga Paris.  Has anyone smelled that?

The thing about Balenciaga is that it's one of those full-of-well-being fragrances.  I only really got that this morning.  It resolved all the lingering tension from the dream almost instantly.  For weeks I've tried to put my finger on what I like about the fragrance, because, for the most part, the reviews have been, at most, lukewarm.  The biggest surprise, according to the makeupalley customer reviews, seems to be that for something so...faint? lasts forever.  Others aren't so friendly, calling it grandmotherly, old fashioned, altogether foul, or just plain unexceptional.  I thought it must just be the bottle, which is incredible - one of the nicest I've seen in a long time.  Maybe because I liked the bottle so much, I carried that enthusiasm over into the fragrance itself, I thought, because, really, it's true what they say, Balenciaga isn't exactly groundbreaking.  So why did I keep coming back to it?

Now I know.  It's essentially a comfort thing.  Balenciaga, with its overloaded creams and slightly sugared violets, is something close to a cashmere blanket.  As others have mentioned, there are a thousand other fragrances like it in circulation.  And a big problem with the thing, for me at least, was the schizoid discrepancy between what it smelled like and how it was advertised.  Charlotte Gainsbourg isn't exactly the soft, candied, creamy sort, and she sticks out like a sore thumb in the ads, like Jennifer Anniston posing as Sophia Loren.  You expect a little more something - a little more edge, a little more oomph - not just because of who Gainsbourg seems to be but because of what Balenciaga fragrances themselves have been in the past.  You want Balenciaga Paris to be something spectacular, and it really isn't.  Neither is a cashmere blanket, most of the time, until it's cold and you wrap yourself up in it.

Later, while shopping at a counter full of things I'd already smelled or bought, I saw Balenciaga again, and in that context it seemed a lot more interesting to me.  I felt like I was better prepared to appreciate it properly.  The thing is, I'm not sure I like this fragrance any less than Balenciaga Le Dix, Prelude, or Quadrille.  And I'm not sure I would like any of those were they to be released right now.  The safety of the past protects them from a certain kind of scrutiny I apply to something when it hits the shelves.  Truthfully, Balenciaga Paris holds its own amongst them, and while in the field of contemporary releases it seems uninspired, held up against the line's classic fragrances it seems perfectly at home.

Balenciaga Paris was created by Olivier Polge, the nose behind Dior Homme, a similar fragrance in many ways.  Like Homme, Paris has a fresh powdery aspect I like.  Both share that distinct creaminess.  Polge also did Kenzo Power, which feels a lot like Balenciaga Paris as well.  Balenciaga's projection is moderate, the longevity decent enough, though with a fragrance this subtle (it's subtle to me) longevity is sort of beside the point.  The violets are somewhat green and peppery, and though people mention carnation, I can't say I detect any.

I woudn't say Balenciaga is a dream, but it certainly seems like a good way to wake from one.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Slightly Stinky Cologne: A Snapshot from Woman's Picture

Woman's Picture: Snapshot 3 - Slightly Stinky from brian pera on Vimeo.

Woman's Picture is a film series I started this year, the episodes of which for the most part focus on women characters and their relationships with each other, with men, and with perfume.  The first full length episode comes out in September, on,, and a few other sites online, coinciding with the release of the first fragrance in Andy Tauer's new line of perfumes, Tableau de Parfums.  The Tableau fragrances relate to the shorts in the Woman's Picture series.

The first three episodes we filmed for Woman's Picture are playing at festivals over the next year or so as a sort of movie triptych, starting on July 11 at Outfest in Los Angeles.  You can check the website for showtimes.  Woman's Picture is a ten year series and will broadcast online, at festivals, and in theaters, and each episode will be released on DVD.

Ingrid, featured in this "snapshot", a shorter short from the series, loves perfume, but Mackie, her male friend, loves it even more.  He's one of the only guys in the series so far to really represent my fascination with fragrance and he embodies certain fearless, even confrontational attitudes I wish I could pull off myself.

In this short, Mackie and Ingrid have stopped at a cafe before a visit to Ingrid's mother.  Ingrid hasn't seen her mother--or been back to her home town--in ten years, so she's nervous, and wants Mackie to behave, even though she probably secretly cherishes his need to shock and agitate social conventions.  I imagine he has enough perfume on to sink a small ocean liner.  I imagine he thinks of it as a special kind of armor to keep boring people and the restrictions they might try to impose on him at bay.

It was fun playing Mackie.  It gave me a chance to be a lot more bold than I tend to be in person, in my own life.  I'm always so quiet when I shop for perfume, for instance.  I play it safe with all the sales associates.  I sometimes pretend I'm buying perfume for a girlfriend, though I'm buying it for myself nine times out of seven.  Mackie is a great alter ego to slip into on film because he just doesn't care.  Like me he might say outlandish or highly opinionated things, but he doesn't worry too much about the consequences, or what people think.  I trouble over every little thing I say, wanting ultimately to be understood and liked.  I think Mackie knows who his friends are, knows who is worth worrying about - like Ingrid, for instance.  The rest he doesn't spend too much time considering.

I always want to be Mackie when I walk into a perfume store.  Instead I end up a very pale imitation.  I try to be nice and patient and I feign ignorance so as not to make anyone feel I think I know more.  I fumble through interactions with sales associates a little bit.  I'm still scared to spray perfume on, unless it's something in the men's section.  It seems bizarre to me that at my age and after all this time loving perfume I'm still so nervous and worried out among people.  Mackie is the friend I always wanted to have - the kind of guy who would go with you and give you the balls to douse yourself in Poison, right out for the world to see.  I pretend he's with me when I hit Sephora at the mall.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Serge Lutens: La Myrrhe

Is it just me, or does this Serge Lutens non-export smell foody?

I smell the myrrh in there, but it feels as if it's cushioned in some kind of vaguely fruity, slightly chocolatey something or other.  Maybe it's the honey.  Might be it's the almonds.  Could be the "spices" listed in the notes.  For me, La Myrrhe is a totally irreverent take on the idea of a myrrh fragrance, paying very little lip service to what I tend to think an incense fragrance is supposed to be.  If you were to describe it to me, I think I might dismiss it as something I couldn't possibly be interested in.  Fruity, foody, fuzzy - sweet and savory both: on paper, it sounds like you just had to be there.

But oh this thing is a wonder.  Silly me, I thought it came out fairly recently.  It seems so modern.  I was surprised to learn it was released over fifteen years ago, in 1995, long before I'd bought my first fragrance.  I often poke fun at Serge Lutens, not just because he's been around so long he can probably take it, but because, though the house is trying new things lately, its reputation seems to have calcified around a rather tried and true (make that trite, at times) template of stewed fruits, honey, and woods.  At times, the Lutens line up can strike one as a little like that lovely society lady who, finding the hair style that "works", proceeds to work it to death, twenty years on and counting.

La Myrrhe is nothing to laugh about.  It shows how ahead of their time so many of the Lutens fragrances have been - how simultaneously adventurous and serene.  Hard to snicker at a house which produced, in the course of several years, Myrrhe, Iris Silver Mist, and Bois de Violette.  All are masterpieces, I think, whether or not you find them wearable.  La Myrrhe is soft and mysterious but emphatic, too, almost rubbery - and thoroughly androgynous to me.  It's a linear scent.  All of its components seem to circle around in the air, working together to maintain the same dreamy fuzziness from start to finish.  Something about the fragrance reminds me of another fuzzy scent, Cinnabar, which, though different in every other respect, wraps you in a sort of blanket of scent.  Like Cinnabar, which is also strangely foody, La Myrrhe feels comforting.  It isn't austere, like Iris Silver Mist, but calming.

I smell citrus, anise, amber, subtle jasmine notes with indolic undertones, spices, honey, and almond.

Instinct told me La Myrrhe might not be so widely loved, so I wasn't too surprised to see it has an average of three and a half lippies on makeupalley.  The first three reviews call it medicinal, bitter, and harsh.  I get neither bitter nor medicinal.  Harsh is hard for me to understand in something so abundantly soft.  One of the reviewers compares it to a dimestore perfume.  That might explain why I like it so much.  La Myrrhe's unusual combination of aldehydes and resins has a curious effect, and perhaps one reviewer summed it up best when saying, "much easier to enjoy than to analyze."  It lasts moderately well on me.