Sniffery in the “Big City”

By which I mean “the so-called big city,” with exaggerated finger air quotes and nudges and winks and elbows to the ribs, and it’s only big city if you live in Podunksville, as I currently do. This afternoon, I dropped off the rest of my family at the minor league ballpark and headed off for some mall sniffies. I enjoy revisiting the place where I grew up. Roanoke, VA is not big. Nor is it particularly citified, although it does contain several places I wouldn’t dare to drive through at night – especially not in my minivan with its “Virginia – Farming since 1614” license tags. But compared to where I live now, it’s “big city.”

Roanoke is approximately 50 miles from my house, and a good thousand feet lower in elevation. Consequently, it’s on average a good five degrees cooler here. Today, it was 93 F in Roanoke, and humid. The other thing about Roanoke is that it’s a valley surrounded by mountains, and the mountains hold the heat/humidity/air pollution in, so it can get really, really muggy. It was so today, with the mountains blue and hazy, and the air nearly wet enough to wring out.

Roanoke is where The CEO went once a year when he was a kid, to buy school shoes. His mother would bundle him and his sisters into the Plymouth in August, and they’d drive downtown to Thom McAn and buy one pair of leather shoes for each child. (Digression: Remember those days? I do. But I have weird feet, and my mother took me to Julien’s instead because they sold “corrective instep” Stride-Rite shoes. My first pair of school shoes I can see in my mind’s eye right now: dark red leather lace-up shoes, with a leather sunburst applique starting where the laces began and pointing toward the toe. I loved them. In first grade I owned a pair exactly the same, except in dark blue. I wore skirts to school, or corduroy pants, and was probably in third grade before I even owned a pair of jeans… I don’t think any of my children have ever worn anything other than sneakers to school. Ever. EVER.) The Thom McAn store downtown closed seventeen years ago. But Julien’s is still a going concern, catering to people with unusual footwear needs.

 

"Cross Creek Mall" from Wikimedia Commons

And there’s a mall; it contains a Sears, a Belk, a JCPenney, and a Macy’s. Belk and Macy’s have fragrance counters (oddly, Belk has a larger selection of men’s fragrances than Macy’s does). Bath & Body Works, where I’d gone to restock my sister’s bathroom shelves with Aromatherapy Lavender Vanilla body products, is closer to Macy’s. So I went a-merrily sniffing down the aisles at Macy’s.

The revelation: I’ve been spoiled by niche and indie perfumery. I’ve come to expect that the scents I plan to drop cash on be mostly natural-smelling, coherent, free of nasty chemical surprises, and interesting. That combination is difficult to find in many mainstream fragrances.

So the sniffery goes like this: I walk into Macy’s, right past the big display of Thierry Mugler Angel, the fancy lopsided star bottles. There’s no “fragrance counter” here, rather a little stand for the register and miscellaneous stuff the SA’s need, and several tall freestanding shelves, upon which are placed the stock of the fragrance department. These are the fragrances I see on the shelves:

Beyonce Heat and Heat Wave

Burberry Brit, Touch, and Gold

Bvlgari Omnia, Omnia Green Jade, Omnia Amethyste, and Blv II

Calvin Klein Eternity, Euphoria, Obsession, Beauty, and cKOne

Chanel No. 5 (in edt, edp and parfum as well as body products), Allure, Chance, Chance Eau Fraiche, Chance Eau Tendre, Coco, Coco Mademoiselle

Christian Dior J’Adore and L’eau Cologne Florale

Coach Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum, Coach Poppy

Dolce et Gabbana original Dolce et Gabbana, Light Blue, The One, and Rose The One

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist and Be Delicious

Ed Hardy Hearts and Daggers, Love & Luck, and something else I don’t remember now

Elizabeth Arden 5th Avenue and Mediterranean

Gucci Flora, Guilty, and Gucci Eau de Parfum

Guerlain Shalimar (only the EdT)

Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, L’Eau d’Issey Florale

Jessica Simpson Fancy, Fancy Love, and Fancy Nights, as well as the new I Fancy You

Juicy Couture original Juicy Couture, Viva la Juicy, and Couture Couture

Katy Perry Purr

Lancome Tresor, Tresor in Love, Poeme, Magie Noire, Hypnose, Magnifique, and Miracle

Marc Jacobs Lola and Daisy, and Daisy Eau So Fresh (gag me with a plastic SPOON, words cannot possibly express how much I hate that name, even though I still have a fondness for Daisy)

Paloma Picasso

Paris Hilton Siren, Just Me, and CanCan

Prescriptives Calyx

Queen Latifah Queen and Queen of Hearts

Ralph Lauren Romance and Romance Always Yours

Thierry Mugler Angel, Angel Innocent, Alien, and Cologne

YSL Parisienne and Opium

It’s been, oh, ten months or so since the last time I was in Macy’s fragrance department, and it was surprising to see what was missing: L’Air du Temps, Poison, Dior Addict, and Be Delicious Fresh Blossom, all of which I’d seen on my last visit.

The Clinique fragrances are an aisle or two over: Happy, Happy Heart, Happy for Men, and Aromatics Elixir.

Also, there’s a whoooooollle long counter full of Estee Lauder, with testers for every single flankered thing: Estee. Beyond Paradise, BP Blue, BP Men. Pleasures, Pleasures Sheer, Pleasures Intense, Pleasures Exotic. White Linen, Pure White Linen, PWL Light Breeze, PWL Pink Coral. Beautiful, Beautiful Sheer, Beautiful Love. Cinnabar. Youth Dew. Knowing. Azuree. Bronze Goddess, BG Soleil. Private Collection, the original only. Tuscany per Donna. Intuition. Spellbound. Dazzling Silver. Sensuous and Sensuous Noir. (No Dazzling Gold or Youth Dew Amber Nude or Alliage or PC Tuberose Gardenia, though.) I had a nice conversation with the older lady staffing the Lauder counter: she was surprised that I knew what the bottle for Cinnabar looked like, even as I mentioned that I was smelling it because I wanted to know if I still hated it. She likes Estee and Beyond Paradise, herself.

 

Macy's from Wikimedia Commons

The young man who was so enthusiastic about perfume and helpful to me on two prior visits to Macy’s wasn’t working this afternoon, but there were several SA’s floating around, with offers of help. “Are you looking for anything in particular, ma’am?” And when I said no thanks, I was just browsing and smelling, each one smiled and told me things like, “Oh, enjoy!” or “Feel free to sniff, and if I can get you anything or answer any questions, please just wave at me.” Maybe it’s just in Really Big Cities that the SA’s are snobby… The Belk SA’s are clueless but very pleasant. (I know nobody trains those poor people adequately. I spent a summer and two Christmas breaks from college running a cash register at Sears, and nobody ever told me a dang thing about what I was selling, whether it was lingerie, women’s wear, or children’s wear. Or belts. I once had a customer scream at me because I asked her in which department she had found a belt which had no tag, so I could find out how much to charge for it.)

I sniffed nearly everything. I’ve already smelled the Juicy Couture things, and I think they’re hideous. Ditto Cashmere Mist, ugh. The Ed Hardy packaging just annoys me, so I didn’t pick up any of those, either. I was shocked that there were a lot of testers missing. I didn’t ask about them, so I suppose it’s possible that the SA’s had hidden them, but the testers were AWOL for several things I’d have loved to have smelled: the original Dolce et Gabbana, Paloma Picasso (do I hate it as much as I used to?), Mugler Cologne (does it really smell like steam?), and that new Justin Bieber thingy. Actually, I’m not surprised that the tester for the Bieb’s fragrance was under wraps; they ought to have one chained to the counter.

What I made an effort to smell were largely scents I’ve not intentionally sniffed before: Angel Innocent (chemical custard), Fancy Nights (which would have been better with less restraint – it should have been a big trashy thing, I’d have liked it more), I Fancy You (glorified shampoo), Beauty (rather nice, an inoffensive lily scent with a nice woody cast), and Euphoria (berry-candy-vanilla, somehow not as good as the superbly-trashy Dark Kiss at Bath and Body Works). Also, I laid nostrils on some Lauders I’d not tried, and even that thing that Musette over at the Posse calls Aromatics of Dooooooom (yes, I find Aromatics Elixir hideous). Azuree is just ashtray-nasty, and Spellbound is not as sweet (“cloying” as PTG calls it) as I’d thought, but still it’s fairly synthetic-icky. I also smelled Poeme, which I was unfamiliar with – and I have to say that I was happier not knowing what it smelled like. Tresor in Love was not dreadful, but not interesting either.

And I sniffed some old enemies as well: Opium, Obsession, Youth Dew, White Linen. Obsession seems lighter, and so does Opium, but I still hate them. White Linen still smells to me as if it should have been named Mildewed Laundry: sour, squinty-eyed, suspicious. (Mind you, I like aldehydes!) I resmelled Private Collection, and actually sprayed it on skin. It is wonderful for all of an hour, and then it tries to kill me with that Lauder base. Surprisingly, Cinnabar smells rather nice to me now, very cinnamon-spicy and sweet and warm, but that Lauder balsamic thing is in there so it was also a complete bust.

Youth Dew I still despise to the depths of my being, so I suppose the world can go on turning. If I ever mention on the blog that I like Youth Dew, somebody is going to have to come down here and check my body for signs of alien invasion.

 

Collection of panterachik at Fragrantica.com

There is very little available at the mall that is rich, distinctive, and wonderful-smelling. It’s depressing as heck. Aside from Shalimar and Chanel No. 5 (and okaaaaay, fiiiine, toss some of the Estee Lauders in there too if you like), it’s kind of a desert. Way too many fragrances smell like other fragrances: Gucci Guilty smells an awful lot like Coco Mademoiselle; Coach EdP smells sort of like Calvin Klein Beauty. Worse, too many fragrances simply do not smell good.

I came home and put on some vintage Caron Parfum Sacre, and I felt better. I sniffed my Mary Greenwell Plum, and my Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete, and felt better still. I sniffed my DSH Oeillets Rouges and felt positively euphoric.

Perfumery is not dead, no matter the state of the mall.

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Perfume review: Bvlgari Black

Bvlgari Black, released in 1998 and composed by Annick Menardo, sits in the center of an odd Venn diagram that shows the overlap of “comforting” and “weird.”

I have a miniature bottle of Black and had been dabbing it, but finally decided to decant the bottle into a spray atomizer, for convenience. Well, no wonder I wasn’t getting any staying power from this stuff. With one spray on each wrist and one at the base of the neck, I smelled myself all day – without violating my 3-foot sillage guideline. Black is, in my opinion, a wonderful scent, but nothing like the brainy, astounding wonder Perfumes: The Guide calls it. I like it a great deal; it’s something of a comfort scent to me. A genius perfume? Huh. Probably I don’t know enough about aromachemistry to realize geniusity when I smell it. Black smells to me of Lapsang Souchong tea, smoky vanilla, and the powdery, exciting, slightly-bitter smell of new bicycle tire.

Here are the notes for Black, from fragrantica.com (which categorizes it as a woody oriental, by the way):

Bergamot, tea, jasmine, sandalwood, cedar, leather, amber, musk, vanilla.

I work in an auto parts store, doing the books part-time. I love it when the counter guys have to make a new hose: they choose the correct metal hose end and the proper type and diameter of hose, then cut the rubber hose and attach the end with a piece of equipment that is located fairly near my desk. I love New Hose days – the entire back room smells of that faint rubbery dust. Mmm. I’ll walk through the area just to smell it. This is the rubber accord you’ll smell in Black – new tires, new bicycle tires, new auto-part hose. Oddly, it doesn’t smell funky or unpleasant or tarry (no CDG Garage here), but clean and dusty.

I puzzled for a very long time over Luca Turin’s description of Black as being “emerald green plush fit for Napoleon’s box at the Opera” and “a floral note green as a banker’s desk lamp.” That’s greeeeen. I still don’t smell greeeeen like that, not even after I pulled out my vintage (60’s era) bottle of Je Reviens and dabbed some next to Black. Good black tea smells quite floral to me, but I still smell “smoked tea” in Black, whereas Je Reviens smells intensely floral, with an overlay of the pleasant smokiness that you smell right after you blow out a candle. I see the family resemblance now, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a mental reference to this note as “green.” On the contrary, I now think of Je Reviens, in the vintage before they screwed it up (don’t bother with the currently available synthetic blue mess), as afternoon tea, with a bouquet on the table and blown-out candle smoke in the air.

Turin also calls the other big accord in Black “a big, solid sweet amber note.” This note is what I think of as the powdery version of amber, and it seems very vanilla-ish to me, without being terribly sweet. It’s not that gorgeous labdanum-y amber you get in 31 Rue Cambon, Attrape-Coeur, Alahine, and even Mitsouko (what is that stuff, the famous Ambre 83 base?), but what you get with Black is quite pleasant.

Black doesn’t seem to have a traditional development – it keeps cycling through its three stages of new rubber, smoky tea, and powdery vanilla, over and over. I find it somewhat fascinating and somewhat brainless comfort, depending on what phase it’s in, which is in itself sort of freaky. It’s like mercury – hard to put your finger on! When dabbed, it doesn’t last more than a couple of hours on me. Now I spritz four spritzes, and it lasts a good 4-5 hours.

Black is sometimes sold as being “for men,” and sometimes as “unisex.” Reviews on fragrantica and basenotes seem about equally split between “I can’t imagine this on a man,” and “Women shouldn’t wear this, it’s masculine.” Which is, de facto, a good reason to call it unisex. I did have a lot of fun wearing it to the Cub Scout’s Pinewood Derby races last year; the tire bottle seemed perfect.

I first wore Black and wrote down my impressions about it in my (in)famous Excel worksheet before reading either NST’s review or Bois de Jasmin’s, and I find that their reviews are so similar to mine that you might think I plagiarized. Not so. It was, however, vindication that I was smelling what several other people were smelling. To be honest, I still don’t really get part of Luca Turin’s review (a “battle hymn for Amazons”? Um, nope, too much fun for that), but I don’t care at this point. I like Black.

Review Report: Now Smell This, Bois de Jasmin, I Smell Therefore I Am, 1000Scents (by pyramus).

Image of Bvlgari Black and list of notes from fragrantica.com.  Middle image is New Bicycle Tyres from Michiel2005 and bottom image is Lapsang Souchong from selva, both at flickr.com.

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