Flapper Perfume

The 1920s was an influential decade for perfume, though striking changes in fashion began in the years immediately after World War I. The dust was settling in Europe after the war which had laid waste not only to infrastructure but also political alliances and the young male population, and everybody was tired of wartime bleakness and deprivation. There was a feeling that the old ways were gone and done with, and young women in particular were ready for a change. Gone were old-fashioned morals as well as those complicated hats, hairdos, and long dresses over rigid wasp-waist corsets.

The modern young lady was wearing tube dresses with little underpinning and tank-style bodices and short skirts, as well as dramatic makeup. She was drinking, not tiny ladylike glasses of sherry but potent cocktails in jazz clubs. She was cutting her hair and smoking! in public, yet! She could vote (as of 1918 in the UK for women over 30, and as of 1920 in the US). She could drive. She could — gasp! — possess her own checkbook.

And she wasn’t wearing her mother’s perfume, either.

She wasn’t wearing a soliflore  — lavender toilet water, or a simple floral like Coty’s Jasmin de Corse. She wasn’t wearing a simple floral bouquet like Houbigant Quelques Fleurs, or a soft floral oriental like Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. No, she was wearing a decadent, sensual oriental, a sharp and bold chypre, a sparkling aldehydic floral, or a gender-bending leather or tobacco scent. New directions in scent abounded, and aren’t we glad?

Here are some fragrances that graced many flappers’ wrists and décolletages, and which are still in production today (albeit in changed form). Try one, or a handful of these, and smell history.

Guerlain Mitsouko (1919, fruity chypre) This more elegant take on the chypre is such a classic among perfumistas that it is hard to imagine it being daring, but it is. It has the bold chypre tripod structure of bergamot-oakmoss-labdanum, rounded with peach undecalactone, and it smells not only formidable but also kind of, well, ripe. I’m guessing that those flappers who danced the night through smelled a bit like this on their way home at dawn.

Millot Crêpe de Chine (1925, aldehydic chypre) Crepe de Chine was a mashup of the bold three-part chypre structure and the modern-at-the-time aldehydic floral. It is bold, but in a well-groomed, exquisite-tailoring kind of way. Where Chypre was a little, well, tribal, Crepe de Chine is much more civilized. This is for the flapper who only drinks her cocktails out of proper glasses, rather than resorting to a hip flask.

Guerlain Shalimar (1921, oriental, came into wide release in 1925) It was once said that there were three things a respectable woman did not do: smoke in public, dance the tango, or wear Shalimar. With its almost chiaroscuro contrasts of bright bergamot-lemon top and dark smoky, leathery, vanilla-balsamic base, it is striking… and sexy. Louise Brooks wore Shalimar; ’nuff said.

Corday Toujours Moi (1920, spicy oriental) This one is a kitchen-sinky oriental similar to Tabu (1932) with some green notes, and it is extremely bold. It wafts. It is a Liberated Woman scent very far from, say, the very-Victorian Berdoues Violette. It goes perfectly with its name, “Always Me,” and the attitude “Look, I have my own checkbook! and these great T-strap shoes!”

Caron Tabac Blond (1919, tobacco/leather) There is no tobacco listed in the notes, by the way, but the effect is at least somewhat tobacco-like. This scent seems to me to be an androgynous, “let’s steal all the things that smell like a gentlemen’s club,” appropriation of notes that had been regarded as traditionally masculine, softened by traditionally-feminine florals.

Molinard Habanita (1921, leather oriental) This scent began its life as an additive for cigarettes — you were supposed to dip the glass rod into the oil and stroke it along the length of your cigarette, so that while you smoked, the fragrance filled the air. Leaving aside the reason this was A Thing (you didn’t want Mumsy dear to know you were smoking? I mean, presumably she also knew about the hip flask and the lace step-ins, so you weren’t fooling anybody), Habanita probably smelled good with the tobacco smoke. Here’s Robin’s description at Now Smell This, because it’s pretty perfect: “If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you’ll get the general idea.”

Chanel No. 5 (1925, aldehydic floral) Perfumer Ernest Beaux’ attempt to recreate an Arctic snow field and Coco Chanel’s affinity for the smell of starched linen combined with No. 5’s enormous overdose of aldehydes, the aromachemical that is in smell form big Hollywood klieg lights. (Maybe.) And Chanel’s famous dictum that a woman should not smell of flowers, but like a woman, played into its abstract presentation, too. (Maybe. There are a number of contradictory stories about its genesis.) No. 5 feels like a smooth marble sculpture to me. In its day it was utterly modern, and to its credit, its florals are still lovely.

Lanvin My Sin/Mon Peché (1924, aldehydic floral) Like No. 5, My Sin is an aldehydic floral, but it is dark and carnal in a way that No. 5 has never been and will never be. It’s a complicated perfume: along with the aldehydes and florals are some deep woods and an animalic base just shy of “Are there mating buffaloes somewhere on the premises?” I suspect that it got worn more often by women grabbing a little vicarious sinful pleasure than by women who were actually sinning while wearing it, but there you are. Brilliant marketing. And that cat! Love it.

Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924, leather) Again with the gender-bending for 1920s gals. Leather was previously known as a masculine note, and this leather-for-ladies boasts the enormous and expensive Chanel powdery iris as well as florals and aldehydes. Fans speak of its “good purse” leather, or its “expensive car” leather, both things that flappers seemed to enjoy.

Weil Zibeline (1928, aldehydic floral chypre-oriental) “Zibeline” means “sable” in French, and this fragrance was intended for scenting furs. As you might guess, Zibeline is heavy and rich, and yet dry and aromatic. It smells very much not of this century, but it is a luxurious scent in the best sort of way. One imagines fancy cars and diamonds and satin gowns, and that ne plus ultra sable, for a fancy party.

By 1929, with the stock market crash around the corner, the general prosperity which had allowed so many young women to taste freedom and decadence was about to disappear, and the day of the flapper was drawing toward a sudden twilight.

What the flappers left behind were some glorious abstract perfumes. Like much of the Art Deco of the period, the fragrances are bold yet graceful, natural yet influenced by humans. Chanel No. 5’s beautiful florals are buttressed on either side by the highly-artificial aldehydes and the pillowy strength of (nitro) musks. Shalimar’s combination of lively bergamot and smoky-sexy vanillin makes it round and memorable, unlike anything smelled in nature — but if you smell it on a person, even now, fifty-‘leven reformulations after its release, it has affinity for skin and does not scream I AM SYNTHETIC! the way many modern fragrances do.

There were, of course, several other classic fragrances released during the 1920s which are still favorites today, but I have not included everything here. Caron’s Nuit de Noel (1924), Bellodgia (1925), and Narcisse Noir (1925), for example, were hugely popular and remain extant, but they are not what I think of as bold and daring “flapper perfumes.” Nor are Chanel’s lovely woody Bois des Îles (1925) and satin-smooth Lanvin Arpège (1926). Coty L’Aimant (1927) is likewise a bit too prim, Emeraude (1920) too soft.  Jean Patou’s Chaldée (1927), as a perfume recreation of French suntan oil (we can blame Coco Chanel for popularizing the tan!), seems to go with the flapper propensity for displaying bare skin, but it was not as widely worn as the others. Bourjois Evening in Paris (1928) is a gentle floral composition. Patou Joy, released in 1929, in my mind belongs to the Depression era.

Mia on the left, Carey on the right.

Do you have a favorite flapper perfume? Do you love Art Deco and low waistlines? Does Daisy Buchanan make your heart sing? (And did you prefer Mia Farrow or Carey Mulligan?) Do share!

If you’d like to read more about how the social phenomenon of the flapper arose, check out this post at We Heart Vintage.

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Perfume Review: Chanel No. 5 L’eau

Only this commendation I afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other but that she is, I do not like her.

                        Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing,” Act I, Scene 1

I could say the same thing about the most recent flanker to what may be the most iconic and easily recognized fragrance in the world: Chanel No. 5.

Giovanni Strazza's "The Veiled Virgin," which has always amazed me. How does cold marble look soft and tactile? No. 5 is, in my opinion, similarly amazing.
Giovanni Strazza’s “The Veiled Virgin,” which has always amazed me. How does cold marble look soft and tactile? No. 5 is, in my opinion, similarly amazing.

Created in 1925, with the addition of aldehydes – not widely used in perfumery at that time – to suggest the aroma and sparkle of clean snow, this floral creation is still the best-selling fragrance worldwide. This wasn’t the first commercial, or even successful commercial, use of aldehydes in a fragrance (those would be Armingeat Rêve D’Or, 1905, and Houbigant Quelques Fleurs, 1912, respectively), but No. 5 is overdosed with them, specifically C10, C11, and C12. As a consequence of its popularity and the growth of aldehydic florals in the industry, the use of aldehydes came to be so closely associated with Proper French Perfume that soap manufacturers began scenting their products with aldehydes, and now we tend to think of aldehydes as smelling soapy.

Full disclosure now: my mom wore No. 5 parfum, the mid-1960s stuff, until her bottle ran out in the early 1980s. It was her “dress-up” fragrance (the everyday one being Jovan Musk for Women, another aldehydic floral musk). My dad bought her a bottle of EdT for Christmas, but she didn’t care much for it. She took to wearing clean florals like Coty L’Effleur and Elizabeth Arden 5th Avenue instead, until recently, and now she is devoted to the No. 5 Crème Velours pour le corps, the body cream. It is truly wonderful on her!

Although I always liked No. 5 on her, I didn’t want it for myself. What young woman wants to smell like her mother? Not this one.

cannes-med-klieg-lightsAlso: those blinding aldehydes. Klieg lights in the face, dude, at least before the florals pop up. I like them now, but No. 5 has always had that aggressive alde-slap opening, and it takes some getting used to. I’ve never smelled the early-90s Elixir Sensuel version (reportedly focused on ylang, with the aldehydes toned way down), but I liked 2007’s Eau Premiere very much, so I was looking forward to trying the new L’Eau variation, created by Jacques Polge and released this year (2016).

The SA who’s been working at the New River Valley Mall Belk since the mall opened in the late 1980s was there when I popped by last week, and offered me a manufacturer spray sample of L’Eau. L’Eau’s notes are Rose de Mai, lemon, mandarin, bergamot, orange, aldehydes, jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, cedar and “cottony” musk notes.

I was excited about trying it, and sprayed more liberally than I am wont to do, thinking that it would be a light scent that would need the three spritzes I gave my wrist.

no-5-leauAt first sniff, it was recognizably a light, citrusy version of No. 5, with the aldehydes damped to barely-there levels. (Which is fine; I was expecting any new version of No. 5 to be updated in this way.) As the minutes passed, the beautiful mix of florals that is the heart of No. 5 came up and the citrus receded, and it was even prettier. Lighter weight than Eau Premiere, and less rosy, it was more light-hearted and, probably, more wearable for many people.

Half an hour later, the florals were faint and there was an undeniable savor of white musk in place of the attractive woody-rosy-musk drydown of Eau Premiere. Two hours after first spritz, there was white musk, period.

Instead of No. 5’s glorious rose-jasmine-ylang-iris-sandalwood-skin musk, instead of the luminous and lovely Eau Premiere version, L’Eau smells mostly of… laundry. The first 15 minutes to an hour, depending on how much you put on, are really beautiful, a cheerful lighthearted summer-sundressy No. 5 being all friendly, and then? Dryer sheets in attack mode. GAH.

dryer-sheetsNow listen up. I don’t mind white musk per se; a lot of other reviewers hate it with a passion I don’t share. If it’s the only noticeable note grounding an otherwise-lovely floral, and it starts disappearing into my skin shortly after the florals recede, leaving very little drydown, I’m okay with that.

No, really, I am. Witness my fondness for Chanel’s own 1932, a sparkly citrus-jasmine-iris that ends in musk. (I just bought a decant of the soon-to-be-rolled out EdP version of the Les Exclusifs collection, having recently drained my 5ml decant of the original EdT. See? I don’t hate it when Chanel uses musk in a light floral.) I didn’t like No. 19’s flanker, Poudre, because it stripped out all the Amazonian qualities of the original and made her a Stepford Wife, all her individuality gone. But Poudre is not awful taken on its own merits; in fact, when I think of it as “a greener take on Prada Infusion d’Iris,” I find it cool and calming and very pleasant.

See, I don’t really mind a Chanel frag ending in musk… unless the musk comes across as vapid. And in this case, I think it does. Chanel could very well have sent No. 5 L’Eau in the same direction as No. 19 Poudre: musk, yes, but a nice woody or skinlike one shaped with iris, vetiver, and tonka, a cool smooth drydown very poised, groomed, and collected. Chanel-like. Instead, they gave us a laundromat.

Lasting power on me is about as expected with a light eau or cologne: 3 hours with one generous spritz on each wrist, a little over 4 hours if I follow the Annick Goutal spray-until-wet protocol. Sillage is soft to moderate, again depending on amount applied. I have no complaints for either. I am less happy, however, that the last two hours of L’Eau are so laden with clean, cottony, boring, dull white musk.

No. 5 L’Eau still smells enough like No. 5 that I’m encouraged. There’s no froot, no sugar, very little vanilla. It’s not a disaster. It doesn’t stink. Chanel could have screwed it up in a bazillion different ways. It pays homage without smelling overtly retro, and as such, might convince some young things with disposable income to spend it on Chanel fragrance. Being other than she is, she were unhandsome.

But there’s that laundromat. … and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.

Sigh.

Other reviews of Chanel L’Eau (all from people who liked it better than I did):
Victoria at Bois de Jasmin
Persolaise
Angela at Now Smell This
Gail at Ca Fleure Bon
The Candy Perfume Boy

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Spring: An Embarrassment of Riches

 Redbud in the Morning Sun

My scent wardrobe is, like the climate in which I live, very seasonal.  We have weather distinct from one season to the next, and it can range from below 0F in winter, with snow and wind and hail, to 98F in summer, hot and practically humid enough to grow mushrooms on your skin.  The most comfortable seasons in this area tend to be spring and fall, with moderate temperatures and cool breezes and sunshine, though we certainly get plenty of rain (the average annual rainfall in my county is approximately 38 inches).

There are certain fragrances I wear at just about any time of the year, perennial go-tos.  There are other fragrances I associate with certain seasons or weathers, and I never think of wearing them at other times.  I love changing my fragrance with the season – I bring them out of the perfume cabinet and place them in the decorative hatbox on my dresser for easy access, and tenderly stow away the out-of-season back in the cabinet.  I try to wear my seasonal fragrances when they are in season, appreciating each  one like a beautiful day, though choosing among them is often a challenge.

Winter is easy: Alahine.  Ubar, Lyric, Memoir. Tiny dribble of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant, if the weather is cold and damp.  Carnal Flower or La Myrrhe, if the air is so cold it turns to crystal.  Dolce Vita parfum.  Parfum Sacre. Vanille Tonka.    

Autumn is easier: Tabac Aurea, always. Champagne de Bois, Organza Indecence. Shalimar Light.  Vintage Magie Noire, if the weather is just right: cold, rainy, windy.  Smell Bent One.

Summer is easiest, with the fewest season-devoted scents: Fleur de Matin, Hanae Mori Haute Couture.  Ines de la Fressange first edition. Moschino Funny!, Rose d’Ete.

But spring?  Spring is hard.  I hate choosing in spring.  Green scents?  Violets? Lily of the valley?  Green florals, floral chypres, straight-up florals?  There are so many, and I love them all, and they all say “spring” to me in some way.

What to choose? And how to make sure nothing gets left out?  I still don’t know.  I have no real plan, I just get up and pick something to delight in.  Some favorites for spring:

Crown Perfumery Crown Bouquet – “the greenest of all flower gardens.”  A big green juicy smack of galbanum and marigold gives way to very, very tender white flowers, from a wisp of tuberose to a hint of lily of the valley.

Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete – a shifting green-and-gold symphony like sunlight dripping through green leaves.  Galbanum, green notes, narcissus, hyacinth, patchouli, moss and woods combine to create the essence of happiness for me.

Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve – this long-discontinued, much-coveted floral chypre gem gleams like good pearls.  Very elegant yet gentle, with a powdery softness due to aldehydes and oakmoss, it is a reserved and quiet pleasure.

Jacomo Silences – cool, silver-green perfection.  Contemplative, streamlined, nothing extraneous at all.  Satin ribbons of galbanum, iris, rose, oakmoss.

Penhaligon’s Violetta – simplicity itself: green leaves, purple flowers, a whisper of sandalwood.  Shy but lovely.

DSH Perfumes White Lilac – the true delight of lilac sweetness, garnished only with a handful of leaves and a sprinkling of spice.  A joyful scent.

Guerlain Chamade – the essence of romance, it slowly blooms from chilly green opening to the budding jasmine-ylang-rose heart and on to the full-blown warmth of mimosa and vanilla in the drydown.  A perfume for surrender. 

Balmain Jolie Madame, in vintage parfum – a gorgeous juxtaposition of green notes, violet and gardenia against smooth leather.  Bittersweet in the best sense.

Chanel No. 19 – the Seven-League Boots of pure beauty and empowerment.  Galbanum, iris, oakmoss, and a whiff of leather, elegance with a riding crop.

Parfums DelRae Amoureuse – Languorous and vibrant all at once, with green notes, richly sensuous white florals, spicy notes, and honey set against a slightly-mossy sandalwood background. 

Christian Dior Diorissimo – the essence of spring, in the form of lilies of the valley.  That is all.  And it is spectacular.

What’s on your spring list?

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Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances of 2011 in the US: part IV of the mini-reviews

If you thought Part III was a bad bunch, just wait. This was worse, waaay worse, way the heck past worse and into Will the Horror Never Stop? I am warning you now: snark will ensue. Sensitive people should go read one of my more cheerful reviews instead. (Try Mary Greenwell Plum, or Carnal Flower. Better yet, try reading my review of SSS Nostalgie, which costs less than any of these fragrances and was handmade with love and skill by somebody who still knows what real flowers smell like.)

Here’s the fourth and final installment of mini-reviews of the most popular women’s fragrances in the US last year.  For Part I, click here, for Part II, click here, for Part III, click here, and for the description of the original project, click hereContinue reading Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances of 2011 in the US: part IV of the mini-reviews

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Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances of 2011 in the US, part I of the mini-reviews

I went malling this week! Here’s the first installment of mini-reviews for the Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances in the US for 2011.  (Thanks again for the push, Ari.)  All images are from Fragrantica.

Chanel No. 5 – I have a long history of familiarity with No. 5, and reviewed the parfum here.  I have been wont to grab a spritz or two from the tester when I breeze through the mall (it’s not often, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). I tried the EdP last summer and was surprised that I did not like it much; there’s an odd plasticky sort of accord in the drydown that seems out of place and just plain wrong. In Perfumes: The Guide, Luca Turin says that the EdP composition contains Polysantol, described as “the oily and prodigiously durable sandalwood drydown of Samsara.” (I didn’t mind Samsara so much, but I do admit that it smelled cheap to me, which I declare to be unforgivable in a Guerlain.) My store doesn’t have a parfum tester, so I make do with the EdT, which is still lovely and instantly identifiable as No. 5. I begin to wonder whether so many people continue to buy it because it is a) Chanel, the epitome of “classy” to so many Americans, b) despite reformulation, still smells mostly like itself, thus c) recognizable. No. 5 still has its furious whirlwind of soapy-whooshy aldehydes, and its golden-glow floral heart of rose, jasmine and ylang. It’s still worth wearing.

Coco Mademoiselle – this, as regular readers might remember, is the other fragrance, besides Dune, that my younger sister has forever banned me from wearing because she’s claimed it as hers. What she hadn’t realized is that her Coco Mlle is safe from me: I don’t like it. I smell it on a lot of women our age (30s and 40s) in this area, and I don’t like it on them, and I sure don’t like it on me. It’s a patchouli bomb on me, with a sharp screechiness to the topnotes and a muddy indistinctness to the floral notes. I wore it every day for about two weeks in 2011, connecting with a character I was writing whose signature scent it was. (Would it surprise you to find that I took an intense dislike to the character and stalled out on writing her story?) Continue reading Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances of 2011 in the US, part I of the mini-reviews

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Perfume Review: Chanel 31 Rue Cambon

This fragrance, frequently deemed the most striking and original of the six “Les Exclusifs de Chanel” released in 2007, has been reviewed by many, many perfume bloggers… but not by me. Robin at Now Smell This reviewed it in the context of the Exclusifs collection; Victoria at Bois de Jasmin reviewed it as a stand-alone. Denyse at Grain de Musc reviewed it as reminding her of Great Chypres We Have Known, several in succession (and so, famously, did Tania Sanchez in Perfumes: The Guide, in a small difference of opinion from Luca Turin). Recently, Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am reviewed it as fulfilling a brief that simply said “elegance” and “the most Chanel of all the Chanels.”

Looks like it’s my turn. I’m reviewing it from the perspective of having heard that 31 RC, as I’ll call it, was “good,” and as a newbie to perfume, I should try it. Dear Daisy sent me a sample, and I had to agree: it is good. Shortly thereafter I got in on a bottle split, and own a sadly-depleted 10ml decant.*  Incidentally, the Les Exclusifs were originally only available in 200ml bottles, selling at about $210, but have recently been made available in 75ml bottles, at $110.

31 Rue Cambon, named for the apartment which Coco Chanel kept Much has been made of 31 RC being the “no-oakmoss chypre,” or the first “modern chypre.” I should probably mention that I’m not one of those people who throws tantrums about my chypres having their teeth pulled. (I know, I know, it hurts to lose the things you love, and if the use of rose in perfumes were suddenly restricted the way oakmoss has been, you’d better bet I’d be pitching seventeen kinds of hissy fit.) But then, I only love chypres if they are heavily floral, and I’m not all that bothered by less oakmoss. I’ve always said, if a fragrance has that bitter edge to it, even if it has less oakmoss than a “proper” chypre should, it’s a chypre in my book. If you’re a big fan of the bitter greenies like Bandit – or Diorella, even – 31 Rue Cambon will not seem like much of a chypre to you.

And in point of fact, it doesn’t seem like all that much of a chypre to me. I would classify it alongside Guerlain’s lovely (and discontinued, grrrr) Attrape-Coeur and my darling Teo Cabanel Alahine as a Floral Amber.

Notes for 31 Rue Cambon, cobbled from reviews and the Chanel website: bergamot, jasmine, iris, patchouli, labdanum. This is surely not a complete list; the fragrance is far more complex than that, and I suspect that the amber note is not straight-up labdanum but rather the Ambre 83 base that Luca Turin mentions as being the centerpiece of Attrape-Coeur. It is, however, a list that mentions every note discernible to me.   Some reviewers mention pepper, but I don’t pick up on it.

Now that I’ve gotten the “to chypre or not to chypre” discussion out of the way, what’s 31 RC actually like? It starts off with bright citrusy notes of lemon and bergamot, with just a tiny hint of bitter-green, and for just a moment or two I think of Chanel Cristalle, that classic citrus chypre (which, for the record, I do not love). After the first five minutes, I’m already smelling amber underneath the citrus. It’s the same rich, plush-but-not-too-sweet amber note that you get with those other floral- amber fragrances I already mentioned, and which I also smell in Mitsouko (another chypre I don’t love). 31 Rue Cambon seems to slide effortlessly from citrus into jasmine, and from there into gorgeous satiny iris, but everything always underpinned with the soft amber. There is a bare hint of patchouli in the base, but – thank goodness – it’s the aged, green/herbal kind, and merely a suggestion anyway, not enough to bludgeon me. The fragrance is seamless in its transitions, and even after the citrus and jasmine are gone, they have left an impression on my brain, so that even the far drydown carries with it a suggestion of the way 31 RC smelled from the beginning.

The entire scent is a perfect model of elegance – clean lines, nothing sticking out, nothing overemphasized. It’s not the crisp elegance of a perfectly-pressed white blouse or the stern perfection of a tight chignon with not a hair out of place, however. It’s far more comfortable and effortless than crisp and restrained, and it imparts a graceful, smiling demeanor. When I wear it, I feel rich – and, somehow, nicer.

31 RC is thick, like a full chord, and yet somehow airy and weightless. This is a quality it seems to share with Chanel No. 5 – it’s lushly sensual, and at the same time it is never too much. The seamlessness, the tactile satin effect, make it very easy to wear despite its fullness.

The one quibble I have with 31 RC is the same one that most people have with it: it’s a little too light. Chanel needs a parfum concentration of this. I keep seeing the prediction that they’re working on a parfum and it’ll be released any moment, but we’re now four years (almost five!) into the life of this scent, and there is no parfum available, nor any definite announcement of one coming to the market. Which makes me wonder if the balance goes off somehow when you try to strengthen the mixture. This makes me a little sad: I love Bois des Iles, too, but it’s so fleeting that the Les Exclusifs EdT just frustrates me. Knowing that the parfum is available, even if I can’t afford it, makes me feel a little better. 31 Rue Cambon does have a slightly stronger presence than Bois des Iles, and it does last for close to four hours on me, twice as long as BdI, but I have to snorfle my wrist to smell it for that last hour.

That said, I still think 31 RC is wonderful. “Distilled elegance” sounds about right to me as a short descriptor. I think I’m always going to want to have a small amount on hand, for wear when I feel I might need a reminder that I’m a worthy human being.

A few other reviews, besides the ones linked in the first paragraph (and I do mean a few – there are dozens more!):  Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things calls 31RC “austere, yet opulent,” and I’d agree wholeheartedly.  Dane at Pere de PierreAbigail at ISTIAThe Non-BlondeFor the Love of Perfume1000 Scents.  

* Here’s some further information on bottle splits (scroll down into the post), in case you’re not familiar with this wonderful opportunity for owning small amounts of full bottles you can’t afford. In my case, there are a lot of scents I’d love to own, but can’t swing $200 a pop; sometimes I don’t even want a whole bottle, and 5 or 10 ml is the perfect amount. Splits are the way to go, if possible. Robin at NST has more information, too.

Image of 31 Rue Cambon bottle from Fragrantica.  Image of Coco Chanel and Suzy Parker ca. 1957 from The Recessionista.

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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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Fragrance Throwdown: Chanel Bois des Iles vs. Sonoma Scent Studio Champagne de Bois

Bois des Iles, originally released in 1926, has for decades been The Reference Sandalwood fragrance, and is still a favorite of many perfume fans.  Robin at Now Smell This calls it “the epitome of understated elegance.”  Victoria at Bois de Jasmin calls it “beautiful from any perspective.”  Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things calls it “miraculous, smooth, soft, infinitely wearable.”  Tania Sanchez, in Perfumes: The Guide, calls it “timeless” and “basically perfect.”  She describes the Chanel scents as “a series of Little Black Dresses,” and Bois des Iles as “the one in cashmere.”    

But I didn’t know any of that when I first smelled Bois des Iles, which was one of the first fragrances to captivate me when I began my sojourn into PerfumeLand.  I had started, you see, with a “Pick Four Chanel EdTs” sampler pack from The Perfumed Court.  I wanted to smell the classics first, and I knew No. 5 already, so I chose No. 19, No. 22, Cristalle, and Bois des Iles. 

I tried Cristalle first, and was not moved – except that I recognized the drydown as the smell of my mother’s best friend when I was a kid.  No. 19 came next, and I liked the topnotes, which I described to myself as “old-fashioned,” not really knowing what galbanum was.  Then I found that I had my wrist glued to my nose, and from then on we were best buds, No. 19 and me.  No. 22, which I’d identified from the notes as the one most likely to please me, was instead a sugar-bowl nightmare, with a powdery-crunchy texture that I disliked from the get-go.

Bois des Iles, from the first minute I put it on, was beautiful.  It reminded me a great deal of Mom’s No. 5, and then developed a texture so unusual and so lovely that in describing it to myself, I pulled up an old memory.

When I was fourteen, my family went to Florida on vacation.  We went to Disney World, and Daytona Beach, and Weeki Wachee Springs, and Fort Augustine, and we also went to Sea World.  My brother, then four, was fascinated with the shark tank, but the experience that stayed with me was petting the stingrays.  In a long but shallow pool, Sea World had several rays which had had their stings removed, and visitors were encouraged to pet the rays as they swam past.  The rays didn’t seem to mind all the hands, at times appearing to seek out a patting hand the way my cat will arch her back under a piece of furniture, so I stuck my hand into the water as a ray swam past.  It felt amazing – like wet velvet.  Like wet, living velvet, really, because I could feel the ray’s body flexing and arcing as it moved its propelling tail, and it was warmer than the water surrounding it.  My parents had to practically drag me away from the low pool so we could see the killer whale show, and I still wish I could go back and pet the rays again.

Bois des Iles feels like the texture of the ray: soft, velvety, warm, but with a solid, flexible frame underneath. 

So what does it smell like?  Well, as I mentioned, there are those aldehydes to begin with, much lighter than in No. 5, but with that sparkly-powdery-soapy brightness that says Proper Perfume to me.  As the aldehydic veil lifts, you notice the floral blend floating past, and it too is reminiscent of No. 5, with that rose-jasmine-ylang heart.  The florals always go by more quickly than I expect, and then we’re down into the deep heart-and-base that lasts a long time.  This, like Chanel says, actually does smell like gingerbread: a spicy warmth that’s just a bit sweet, with that wonderful bitter edge of molasses.  If you’re worried about the vanilla, fear not – it’s neither the sweet gourmand cupcakey kind nor Guerlain’s patented TarNilla, but rather, like really expensive vanilla extract behaves in a yellow cake, it gives the scent a roundness and depth without being identifiable as vanilla. BdI is definitely a Chanel, too – the identifying Chanel iris is present, noticeable mostly as that satiny texture that iris seems to give a fragrance, while itself disappearing, like the vanilla, into its surroundings.   And then there’s that sandalwood.

It’s beautiful, and nearly indescribable.  As it is, I can only come up with adjectives without really telling you what real sandalwood smells like: creamy, tangy-sweet, complex but in a completely natural way, floral yet astringent with a clean “bite.”  Once I’d smelled it here, I was then able to start picking it out of other fragrances – it seems particularly noticeable, and lovely, in vintage scents.  My 1960s Arpege extrait has an enormous quantity of sandalwood in it, and although it is accented differently in Arpege, with oakmoss, patchouli, amber and musk, it’s unmistakable.  I also have a small vintage bottle of Prince Matchabelli Stradivari, where the  top and heart notes have been irretrievably damaged by age, but the drydown is a stunning harmony of sandalwood and cedar. 

Real sandalwood from the Mysore region in India has been overharvested, and although some quantities of oil from santalum album from a government-sponsored plantation in nearby Tamil Nadu are available, most perfumers have gone one of two routes in replacing it in their compositions.  Option 1 is synthetics.  Several aromachemicals which mimic sandalwood are available: Polysantol, Javanol, Sandalore, Ebanol, Sandela, probably some others.  However, the word is that none of these are excellent substitutes, just available ones.  (Guerlain Samsara is famous, or perhaps infamous, for its proportion of Polysantol.)  Option 2 is essential oil from real wood, produced somewhere else.  This option includes the aforementioned Tamil Nadu sandalwood, or essential oil produced from santalum austrocaledonii, a similar species, in Australia, Vanuatu, or New Caledonia.  Supposedly the New Caledonian and Vanuatuan sandalwood oil is very good, albeit lighter and a bit more astringent than traditional sandalwood.  The kind grown in Australia is more plentiful, and priced lower, than the island versions, [1] but it is brighter still, with more bite and less creaminess.  Option 3, of course, is a mixture of naturals and synthetics.

I have no way of knowing, of course, but if I had to guess, I might postulate that Chanel is still getting its hands on at least some of that Tamil Nadu sandalwood.  If anybody can afford it, it’s Chanel!  However, it’s possible that they’re supplementing with the Australian.  I notice that my decant of Bois des Iles, from the Les Exclusifs line, is clearly thinner than my original vial of BdI from TPC.  Even “sprayed wet,” it is hardly smellable from a yard away, and by the time the gingerbread accord shows up, I can only smell it by hoovering my arm. 

Other people have said that their LE version of BdI smells just fine to them.  Maybe it’s me.  Maybe my decant was the first sprayed out of the bottle, and the alcohol had floated to the top.  Maybe that particular bottle, so kindly ordered from the Chanel boutique in Washington, DC, and so kindly split by hand by the Queen Enabler, Dear Daisy, was insufficiently macerated (see FlitterSniffer’s post here at Bonkers about Perfume, on how a coveted decant of Guerlain Plus Que Jamais was so different from the way that it ought to smell that even the SA acknowledged it).   My Les Exclusifs decant does have the right smell  – it’s just faint, as if it had been diluted by half.

For this review, I wore both my own decant of Les Exclusifs Bois des Iles, and an older sample of edt from The Perfumed Court.  The LE decant lasts about four hours, with the final two – my favorite part, of course – clinging very close to the skin.  The TPC sample lasts about five hours, and even dabbed from a vial, projects better and lingers longer.  A parfum version is available in Chanel boutiques and certain high-end outlets, but I have never smelled it.  (I should.)

Notes for BdI:  Aldehydes, jasmine, damask rose, ylang, bitter almond, gingerbread, iris, vanilla, sandalwood, tonka bean, vetiver.

Dear Daisy also sent me a sample of Sonoma Scent Studio Champagne de Bois, saying, “You like Bois des Iles, right? Try this.”  And she’s quite correct – CdB, while not a dead ringer for BdI, is undeniably in the same vein, and could conceivably be labeled an homage to Bois des Iles.  Certainly perfumer Laurie Erickson has smelled Bois des Iles, and I’d betcha money she loves it.

Since my small vial of CdB was nearly exhausted, I ordered a larger sample from SSS recently in order to test for this review.  My padded envelope came in the mail, and the samples I’d ordered were further encased in a small plastic envelope – yet I could smell the Champagne de Bois the instant I opened the larger mailing envelope.  A tiny bit had leaked out of the spray vial, and it immediately perfumed the air. 

SSS fragrances are fairly concentrated, I’ve noticed before.  My favorites, Tabac Aurea and Velvet Rose, are so strong that one spray lasts for hours.  This is true for Champagne de Bois as well.  The SSS website notes that the fragrance concentration ranges from 20 to 24%, which makes all these scents essentially parfum strength.  (I nearly overdosed on Tabac Aurea once.  If you’re considering three sprays – well, take it from me, it’s a bad idea.  Seriously, don’t.)  A drop of CdB lasts about six hours on me, and when sprayed, eight to twelve hours. 

The fragrance starts with sparkly aldehydes, and something that reminds me of Andy Tauer’s distinctive mandarin note, up front, and a jasmine-spice bit shining through the aldehydes.  Although it’s not listed, I’d swear there was a tiny bit of rose in there, but just a tad.  I love clove and spicy notes, and I think I’d also say there was a bit of some other spice in there with the clove – cardamom, maybe? I don’t know.  It does feel more symphonic than clove alone, which can be a rather single-minded, Genghis Khan take-no-prisoners sort of accent.

Champagne de Bois has a lovely sandalwood focus as well.  I asked Laurie if she’d be willing to identify her source for sandalwood, and she was kind enough to tell me that she uses a blend of real sandalwood and synthetic.  It’s a very beautiful interpretation of sandalwood.  The amber, though, tends to take over toward the end, so that the last couple of hours are a little sweeter than I’d like.  

Notes for CdB: Aldehydes, jasmine, clove, sandalwood, labdanum, vetiver, amber.  (I keep wondering if this is a truncated list, simplified for the Sonoma Scent Studio website because it gives a good description of what’s prominent in the scent.  I’m smelling at least three things in there that aren’t listed (orange, rose and spices other than clove).  Which may of course be olfactory illusion, and if it is, that’s genius.)

For this review, I performed two serious, all-day, wrist-to-wrist comparisons.  The first time, I tried it with a drop of CdB from a sample vial on my left wrist and two drops of BdI from my TPC sample on my right.  The second test was two generous spritzes from my BdI decant on my left wrist and one small spritz, what I call a “squidge,” of CdB on my right.  There are strong similarities between the two, but a few distinct differences. 

Right from the start, CdB has lighter aldehydes, and that orange-citrus note I mentioned before, flowing very quickly into the jasmine and spice phase, while BdI spends a good 15 minutes in the aldehydic stage before changing.  The CEO actually prefers the topnotes of Bois des Iles, although I don’t myself, finding them a little soapy.  Once the jasmine-spice of Champagne de Bois has settled in, CdB is unusual and lovely, and my family seems to prefer it over BdI’s aldehyde-classic floral blend.  In fact, CdB stays in this lovely spicy-floral stage for quite some time, during which the rich wood-and-amber base begins to float up, creating a lovely spice market effect.  It’s beautiful and luxurious, and while I know some people like to wear CdB in the summer, it’s too rich for me in the heat. 

But during the drydown, as I mentioned before, the amber of CdB tends to take over and skew just a bit too sweet, while the “gingerbread” accord and sandalwood-iris of Bois des Iles becomes more and more wonderful.  Restrained – like having afternoon tea with only a single bite of gingerbread left on your dessert plate – but wonderful, subtle, elegant, with those sculpted Chanel cheekbones.  My daughter put it this way: “It smells deep.  And smooth.  I don’t know what it is, but it smells like a fall day.” 

So who wins?  I still don’t know.  (And I still think there’s something wrong with my Les Exclusifs Bois des Iles decant, which is considerably thinner and soapier than my pre-LE edt sample from The Perfumed Court.)  I really love the drydown of BdI – it is simply gorgeous, and so perfect that I can’t imagine any way to improve it, except maybe to have it last longer.  And CdB really gets too amber-sweet near the end of the ride.

But on balance, I get hours of spicy-woody goodness out of Champagne de Bois.  Hours! For cheap, too!  At the time of writing, you can buy a 200ml bottle of Les Exclusifs Bois de Iles for about $220, and a 15ml parfum for $160 – but a 30ml bottle of parfum-strength Champagne de Bois will set you back about $60.  I know it’s vulgar of me to throw cost per wear into the mix, but hey, I got limited Perfume Bucks.  If you’re giving me perfume for free, I’ll take a bottle of Bois des Iles parfum, thanks.  But that’s only because I can manage to snag some Champagne de Bois on my own. 

(Gee, another Fragrance Throwdown where I have to declare a winner on points, and it gets all nitpicky, because I like both scents… one of these days I’m going to do an Fragrance Throwdown review where one scent just flat-out kicks the other one’s butt.  Someday.  I promise.)


[1]From Perfume Shrine, Wikipedia, and Eden Botanicals.

Images of wrestlers, sting ray, and sandalwood sapling are from Wikimedia Commons.  Images of perfume bottles are from Fragrantica.
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Perfume Review: Guerlain Vega

Vega, named for that bright star in the constellation Lyra , was composed by Jacques Guerlain and released in 1936.  It was reorchestrated by Jean-Paul Guerlain and rereleased in 2006.  It is an aldehydic floral with notes of rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, iris, and sandalwood.  I’ll go ahead and say what you’re already thinking: Yes, you’re right.  It is indeed Chanel’s iconic No. 5, done up Guerlain style.

Okay, okay, it isn’t exactly No. 5.  The aldehydes have much less of that brilliant glare of sunshine-on-snow than No. 5’s do; the jasmine is sweeter and more prominent than No.5’s, and the ylang more buttery.  Iris is not the cool, chic Chanel style here, it’s more of the satin ribbon tying the bouquet together, and to be honest I don’t smell a lot of sandalwood in Vega.  The sandalwood is present, but to my nose is utterly eclipsed by that dirty-sweet Guerlinade that I like so much in L’Heure Bleue parfum: woody vanilla, with musk, amber, and tonka, as well as whatever-it-is in Guerlinade that reminds me of cat fur.   The opening is a little soapy, particularly near the skin, but the waft in the air has a juicy, peachy sweetness to it that I like very much.  It’s a happy sort of smell for me – it smells like perfume and it smells like flowers, and after awhile it smells like vanilla.  Gaze gave this one two thumbs up:  “Smells like Nana,” he said.  “Except, you know, it’s sort of fruity.”  The floral blend (rose-jasmine-ylang) is so beautiful that it’s been used in hundreds and hundreds of fragrances, which is why this trio of floral notes is a true classic. 

So, basically… um… fine, I’ll say it again.  Vega is No. 5, Guerlain style.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Vega is a lot like No. 5 with her hair down, lounging on the mussed bed and considering a cigarette; No. 5 sitting on the deck in the sunshine with a lemonade, with her top button undone, laughing and dabbing sweat away from her temples and cleavage; No. 5 at home after she’s wrestled her four kids into bed and read stories and given kisses and fed the dog and collapsed on the couch to have her feet rubbed by her adoring husband.  No high heels, no uncomfortable couture party dress with underwear armor, no diamonds: Vega is beautiful and relaxed and really, really friendly.

Mind you, I think No. 5 is absolutely wonderful, and one of the things I like best about it is that it can be appropriate for all kinds of situations, from fried-chicken picnics to the opera (um, applied discreetly, of course. Dabbed from the parfum bottle is best).  Vega is similarly versatile.  And to me, No. 5 is the comforting, welcome smell of my mother.  Yet for years I found it too cold and a bit harsh, like those TV studio lights that can wash out facial tones.  It’s only within the last year that I’ve begun to appreciate its  bouquet-on-a-marble-stand perfection, and learned that I truly love its sandalwood-iris-musk base.  Had I smelled Vega first, I’d have fallen for it immediately.  Most of the things that people tend to find challenging about No. 5 have been softened in Vega, and I’d bet if No. 5 is hard for you to deal with you might do better with Vega.

Now for the bad news: Vega is hard to find.  Really, really hard to find.  Right now on ebay there are two 4.2 oz tester bottles, being sold at $400 a pop, and one bee bottle of the same size (125ml) for $350.  The Guerlain website lists it in a 60ml bottle in the “exclusive fragrances” line.  I managed to jump in on a bottle split, and I have a 5ml decant that is rapidly disappearing.  That’s the other part of the bad news: Vega is EdT concentration, and it’s got standard EdT lasting power – about three hours on me.  I have recently begun following the “spray until wet” technique for lightweight scents and getting better staying power from them, but I cannot do this with Vega.  Spray Until Wet leads to aldehyde headaches, even though Vega’s aldehydes are fairly gentle for an aldehydic floral.  Therefore, I’m stuck with reapplying every three hours if I want to keep smelling Vega, which I do.

Oddly, nobody seems to be talking about this one in recent days.  Fragrantica doesn’t even list it.  Nobody mentions, “Oh, I’m wearing Vega today,” at the lazy weekend polls at Now Smell This.  Or maybe it isn’t so odd: Vega isn’t new, it’s pricey, it was released four years ago, it’s a boutique exclusive and hard to find.  Also, lovers of aldehydic florals have plenty else to wear: No. 5,  No. 22, Liu, Chamade, Caron Nocturnes, Divine L’Ame Soeur, White Linen and Pure White Linen, L’Interdit, Le Dix, Arpege, My Sin, Climat, L’Aimant, Calandre, Rive Gauche, Je Reviens, Madame Rochas…  the list is long.  I’m finding that with few exceptions (the Lauders, of course, and the sugary disaster of No. 22 on me), I really love aldehydic florals.  You’ll be seeing more reviews of these sparkly gems here as time goes on.   

Other reviews: Bois de Jasmin, Patty at Perfume Posse, Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Victoria’s Own.  Brief but telling description of Vega in Angela’s post at Now Smell This.

Top image of the Vega bottle is from the blog Victoria’s Own.  (Isn’t that gorgeous? The bottle is really beautiful.)  The vintage Vega ad is from Perfume-Smellin’ Things.  It doesn’t really get across the soft, approachable smiling nature of Vega, but the rays of light fit very well.

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Fragrance Throwdown: Chanel No. 19 versus Annick Goutal Heure Exquise

In my mind, I’ve been calling this kind of head-to-head (wrist-to-wrist?) comparison a Celebrity Death Match. However, I’m now concerned that if I make it a regular blog feature, some rabid lawyer-type person may start getting all up in my grille about that phrase being copyrighted. I don’t think that Bobby Flay, restauranteur and chef, star of the Food Network shows Boy Meets Grill, Iron Chef America, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay, would care. He didn’t invent “throwdown,” and his show with “throwdown” in the title prominently features his name. Clearly, this blog is not in danger of being mistaken for being any project of Bobby’s, since it involves neither slabs of red meat nor the intense spices he’s famous for using. FWIW, I don’t think that perfume has much to do with Claymation celebrities, either, but just to be on the safe side, the two-fragrance comparisons are now Fragrance Throwdowns.

After reading comment after comment that Goutal’s Heure Exquise could be the long-lost twin of Chanel No. 19, I decided to wear them at the same time.

I love Chanel No. 19, particularly in vintage edt. (The parfum’s nice, too, but for this one I’m happy with the edt.) Needless to say, the suggestion of another fragrance very like my own personal Seven-League Boots got my attention. The raves of other HE fans, particularly those of AnnS on NST, intrigued me. The comparison in Perfumes: The Guide, where both fragrances get four stars, made me resolve to test Heure Exquise, although I’m appalled at the description of my Tough Gal perfume as “neurotic.”

Here’s Tania Sanchez on HE:

…HE is one Goutal that I genuinely love: a rich galbanum-and-iris composition close to Chanel No. 19 but, in contrast to the neurotic feeling of the Chanel, with a generous, warm backdrop of woody and animalic notes that feels like falling into a featherbed.”

I wound up with two samples of HE edt in two separate swaps, and it was oh-so-eagerly that I dabbed on some Heure Exquise. Galbanum, okay… rose, check… iris, check… vetiver, present. I saw the family resemblance right off. But where No. 19 was the emboldened, booted sister off to conquer the world, or at least the DMV, Heure Exquise was the prim, judgmental, “Come back here and get back to your knitting, like a proper lady!” sister. That iris note, while escaping the fatal Hiris and Bvlgari Pour Femme musty-basement qualities, was dry. Dry as toast, drrrrrrrry.

It made me think of the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, complaining to his wife that his daughter’s prospective in-laws are just too different for her to be happy: “This no work, Maria, this no work! They so drrrrry, they’re like toast. My daughter gonna marry Ian Miller with the toast family -” and I concurred: too dry. This no work.

And then I got the bright idea of doing a Celebrity Death Match Fragrance Throwdown. In this corner, the toasty-dry Heure Exquise edt. In that corner, the modern No. 19 edt. First was the elimination round – I decided that if modern No. 19 rolled over HE, then I wouldn’t even bother with testing other concentrations.

Notes for No. 19: Galbanum, neroli, bergamot, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, narcissus, muguet, iris, sandalwood, vetiver, oakmoss, musk, leather (leather in the vintage, not in the modern).

The notes for Heure Exquise are sketchy, but here’s the list from TPC: Galbanum, iris, rose, hyacinth, sandalwood. I would estimate that there’s also vetiver and musk.

Round 1: For the first 30 minutes, it looked like 19 was on top, no contest. HE was quiet, soft, a whisper of galbanum flowing into a patina of rose, while 19 was a fresh wind tossing my hair. And then as 19 began to soften into its soft classical florals, HE settled down too, into a plush rosy powder puff with a texture smooth as a baby’s butt. And by the drydown, HE had eaten 19’s lunch, with a pillowy, rosy musk that rounded out the edges of the sandalwood and vetiver. I was annoyed, and only slightly mollified by the fact that HE had beaten modern 19, not at all what I’d call the Real Thing. I began to feel like Vizzini in The Princess Bride: “Inconceivable!”

Round 2: Vintage No. 19 edt stepped in to face HE, winner of the first round. HE was the same lovely experience – a light veil of galbanum over the rose and iris, the smooth powdery-musky softness of sandalwood.  Vtg 19, though, is still an Amazon.  Not a pillow in sight, vintage 19 is still striding about the springtime landscape, among the flowers, in those boots of hers.  She’s smiling, glad to be alive.

Heure Exquise is lovely.  I recommend it, particularly if you found No. 19 a little too assertive.  For me, though, the assertive nature of No. 19 is what I prize.  This is especially important to me, I think, because I don’t really own any of the classic bludgeoner scents like Angel or Poison.  It’s my considered opinion that everyone should have a “Don’t Mess With Me” invisible-armor fragrance.  (Unless you are Dirty Harry or Leona Helmsley, of course, who don’t need invisible armor.)  I have two: No. 19, and Jolie Madame.  JM stands up to frigid winter weather but is too much even for me in the heat; No. 19 fills the bill for spring and summer.

I did not test Heure Exquise against No. 19 edp, which is softer and rosier than either the edt or parfum; I’m guessing that they’d be almost twins.  I also haven’t tried HE in edp, which is said to be rosier than edt.  I love rose, too – but if I want rose, I think I’ll get it elsewhere.

Throwdown result: No. 19 in vintage edt or parfum is the winner, by this judge’s preference.  However, another judge might feel free to declare for Heure Exquise, depending on personal preferences, since it’s equally well-composed of quality materials.

Review Report (for Heure Exquise; see my review of Chanel No. 19 for other reviews of it): Aromascope, I Smell Therefore I Am, 1000 Fragrances.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons.

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Perfume Review: Chanel No. 19

I was planning to post my first Fragrance Throwdown result today, but I found that I had so much to say about No. 19 that it was necessary to do a full review of it first before comparing it to something else.

No. 19 was one of the first fragrances I tried upon getting interested in perfume late in 2008. My first sample purchase was a set of four classic Chanel fragrances. I thought Chanel was a good place to start – I was already familiar with my mother’s No. 5 and my sister’s Coco Mlle, and I’d smelled Coco (hated it) at the counter at Belk’s. I tried the four samples in reverse order of how much I thought I’d like them, and No. 19 was first up. It was pleasant but so dignified as to be, sort of, you know, boring (this was my first experience with galbanum, mind you)… until it began to change on me. I didn’t know what I was smelling, but I felt compelled to keep sniffing my wrist, until it disappeared. I wore that sample until it was gone, falling more in love each time I tested it.

I promptly started picking up mini bottles of No. 19 on ebay… a tiny parfum half-full, a little bottle of edc, and two edt’s. Was surprised to find out that one of the edt bottles held a yellowish liquid, and the other a greenish one, and when I investigated and went on to try both, I found that the green was the modern formula – and while it’s perfectly acceptable, the version I love is the vintage, which has leather in the base. Turns out, too, that No. 19 is full of iris and vetiver. Both of those notes are iffy for me; I’m not going to see a new vetiver fragrance and fall all over myself to try it, the way I would, say, a new tuberose. There are very few iris-focused scents I like (Prada Id’I, PG Iris Taizo, PdN Odalisque), and the ones I don’t like, I really hate. I mean, I really hate them. You could probably torture me successfully with Iris Pallida, for example. But somehow, No. 19 gets the two notes just right, and I would actually say that No. 19 is primarily an iris fragrance, with a green attitude. 

Notes for No. 19: Galbanum, bergamot, neroli, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, narcissus, muguet, ylang-ylang, musk, sandalwood, vetiver, oakmoss, leather, cedar.

There’s a lot of galbanum; there are smaller touches of hyacinth and narcissus. The classic rose-jasmine pairing shows up, but the focus is iris. It persists even into the drydown, which is largely sandalwood-vetiver, with a wisp of oakmoss and a caress of leather. You’d probably peg it as a Chanel even if you had no idea what you were smelling.

What No. 19 really feels like to me is a fabulous pair of leather boots. You can stomp all over town in them, you can kick butts in them, they make you feel ten feet tall and invincible, and – oh yeah – they are so hot they’re practically smokin’. No. 19, along with Jolie Madame, is my invisible armor. It makes me an Amazon. I love it.

Here’s Tania Sanchez of Perfumes: The Guide on No. 19 (and an aside from me – I strongly disagree with TS on the general feeling of this scent, but I will say that this is one of my favorite reviews ever, a real gem, although I’ve cropped it in the interest of space):

In the history of feminine perfumes, there seem to be two recurring motifs of femininity: let’s call them the cloth mother and the wire mother, after Harry Harlow’s famous experiment… the wire mother is angular, unkind, tough, and cold – scary and handsomely hollow-cheeked. Of the wire mothers of perfume… No. 19, first released in 1971, may be the cruelest. It’s said that Henri Robert composed No. 19 for Gabrielle Chanel when she was in her eighties, and a striking and admirably dissonant portrait it is, from the silvery hiss of its nail-polish-remover beginning to its poisonously beautiful green-floral heart… For a fragrance with so many springtime references, all white blossoms and leafy greenery, No. 19 never lands you in any Sound of Music meadows. It keeps you in the boardroom, in three-inch stilettos and a pencil-skirt suit. Haughty and immune to sweetness, with a somewhat antiseptic air, this extraordinary perfume appeals to any woman who has ever wished to know what it is to be heartless. 

Incidentally, I’d like to know what scent Ms. Sanchez finds appropriate for a trip to the DMV, or a negotiation with the contractor who’s building the addition onto one’s home, or a job interview. Maybe she doesn’t need Seven-League Boots. Maybe she spends less time being in touch with her Inner Cloth Mother than I do, and needing a change from it. I’ll leave it there before I get snippier – I already said I love this review. I just don’t agree with it. (And who says there’s no place for a boardroom fragrance, anyway? If I want Alpine meadows, I’ll wear Chamade, or Miller Harris Fleur de Matin, soft little things that they are.  Or Climat, for that matter.)  I love it that No. 19’s florals have some backbone.

I feel pretty lucky to have identified, in my first ten samples, a fragrance – and a genre, the green floral – that I still love nearly four hundred samples later.

A word about formulations: No. 19 has been reformulated in the last couple of years; the new version lacks leather in the base, and is possible more rose, less muguet in the heart.  How to tell the difference? Easy in the edt – the new is quite green, the vintage more yellow-green.  I don’t think there was quite as much change in the edp, which was apparently rosier to begin with.  About the parfum, I can’t say.  The parfum is more powdery than the edt, and possibly has a higher percentage of iris.  My favorite version is vintage edt, although the edc (no longer produced) is nice too, if fleeting.  The edt tends to last about 3 1/2, maybe 4 hours on me, while the parfum lasts about 6 hours.  (I don’t own any edp, and can’t remember the staying power on that.)

Review Report:  Bois de Jasmin, Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Pere de Pierre, The Non-Blonde, Yesterday’s Perfume, and Chicken Freak’s Obsessions 1 and 2.

Look for an upcoming Fragrance Throwdown, where Annick Goutal Heure Exquise challenges No. 19.  Image is from fragrantica.com sorry, my mistake – it’s from seller “flaconetti” at ebay.com. I did have a pic up from fragrantica, but decided I would rather have one of the bottle.  I repeat, the picture is NOT from fragrantica.

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Dear Scent Diary, December 13-14

I’m planning on making this a recurring feature, in which I document the fragrances I wore and/or tested during the week, including the circumstances and whether they were right for the occasion or not.  To be blunt, my Excel file is getting really bloated, and I’m not keeping track of samples very well at the moment. 
Then, too, I figure this ought to be an easy way to oversee which bottles are getting used, and which aren’t. 
I’ll start back a week ago, because I had an epiphany, and didn’t blog about it because I didn’t think it was worth a whole post.  Turns out I changed my mind.  Last Sunday and Monday, the 13th and 14th, my community chorus held its winter concerts.  They went well, no major screwups.  (Hey, you can’t count on that.  Last concert, two separate soloists went totally off the rails: one skipped a portion of her solo, which you might not have noticed unless you were familiar with it – the accompanist picked up where she was, and there was no big hole; the other got completely lost and there were several measures of either silence or wrong notes.  Weird, the stuff that happens to amateur vocalists.  Both of those ladies had been just fine in rehearsal.)  I was fortunate this year to be picked for a solo, and for those (few) of you who wanted to know how it went – it was fine, and Monday I’d say was even pretty, although I don’t think I ever did it justice.  I was afraid of screwing it up and never really relaxed, which is sort of a metaphor for life, right?  You can overthink things.  Anyway, I think Mozart’s music is like whipped cream: perfect to start with, sheer heaven if you do it right, but even bad whipped cream is better than no whipped cream.
Here is the lovely voice of Lucia Popp with the Ambrosian Singers Philharmonic Orchestra, performing Laudate Dominum.  Please click on it to enjoy it – c’mon, it’s Mozart.  It’s beautiful.  You should never turn down beauty, unless you’re in a hurry because somebody is bleeding.  (Oh, and I could only dream of sounding like Lucia Popp.  Sigh.)
My epiphany: I’ve been singing with choral groups since I was five.  (My mother made me.  That’s definitely a story for another post.)  One of the cardinal rules for choral singing, along with Always Have a Pencil and Never Chew Gum During Rehearsal, is Please Don’t Wear Perfume to the Concert.  Last week, I Broke The Rule.  (Gasp!) There are people who break rules all the time – a few months ago, The CEO decided to turn left at a red light, because, as he said, “We’re late for church, and nobody’s coming toward us for half a mile, you can see that far,” – but I’m not one of them.  Breaking rules for no good reason gives me hives.  (I gave The CEO down the road for that one, especially since the kids were in the car – let’s all chastise him together now: bad, bad CEO.  Bad Example.)
But I was really stressed.  I’ve had this cold for seven weeks now, off and on, and while it’s not really hindering my daily life – it’s winter, nobody’s freaking out over my tissue use – I haven’t been what I’d call In Good Voice since about September.  And I was dreading the possibility of screwing up Mozart, which is a crime against humanity, or at least a crime against the ears of humanity.  So, I confess, I broke the rule, and snuck a spritz of Mariella Burani.  Just one, in the cleavage, so I could lower my chin and catch a tiny breeze of it if I needed it.  MB is a comfort scent for me – it’s vaguely reminiscent of Chanel No. 5, which is what my mother wore when I was a child, although it’s far quieter and less immediately recognizable to the noses of many.  The low sillage and the metaphysical hand of Mom on my shoulder made it just right.
You know what?  Nobody noticed.  And later, it occurred to me that the whole perfume ban probably came about primarily because of those killah sillage monsters of the 80’s.  Which I wouldn’t wear to a concert, so I think I’m safe.  And I had a great time singing and smelling Mariella.
Image is Some Perfume Bottles by parfumgott at flickr.  I don’t know whose collection it is, but I’m envious.  Check out the vintage Dior in houndstooth, and those Goutals in the gorgeous butterfly boules.  There’s also J’Adore and Ungaro Diva, both in pretty bottles, and I recognize at the right front a vintage bottle of Nina Ricci, probably L’Air du Temps.
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