Winter Cravings

So lately I’m craving chypres. Anybody wanna ‘splain that to me? ‘Cause I don’t get it. I’m the Floral Gal. And it’s winterrrr, for heaven’s sake.

Okay, so they are all chypres with a noticeable floral aspect. I mean, we ain’t talkin’ green meanies like Bandit here.  We’re talking mostly samples and decants and small bottles, because I don’t own large bottles of these, because other than L’Arte di Gucci*, I’ve never committed to any amount of a chypre that exceeds, say, 11ml. (Well, since my mom bought me that 1-oz. bottle of Prince Matchabelli Cachet back in high school, and even then, as I say, I didn’t buy it. It was definitely not my favorite. I suspect that Mom was trying to combat my devotion to honkin’ BWFs even then.)

What I’m wearing: samples of Roja Dove Diaghilev and Pierre de Velay Extrait No. 11 (which is, in a way, another Roja Dove creation, and those two have similar DNA), as well as Carthusia Lady. Also a decant of Leonard de Leonard (which puts me in mind of Cachet, although I have not smelled it in any iteration since about 1992). There are people who would call the Leonard a green floral, but they would be wrong; that is definitely a mossy-ambery drydown. I am wanting Soivohle Centennial every day still, but since I only have an 11ml bottle I can’t wear it every day as I would like.  My sweetie Mary Greenwell Plum is not chypre enough; it’s too summery and bright for these cold days.  I have not yet busted out the vintage (60s?) Coty Chypre or my teeny-tiny 2ml bottle of Mitsouko parfum from 1990, but perhaps I will tomorrow. Or next week.

What’s puzzling me is that yeah, I do go through these cycles of wanting certain types of fragrances. Last spring, it was all floral leathers. At times in the past, it’s been white florals.

Also puzzling me is that it’s winter. Why not ambers or spicy things or vanillas or traditionally warm things?

Chypres? Me? Now?

Why? It no make sense.

How about you, do you go through cycles like that?

*L’Arte is a ROSE chypre. In general, I love those. In these other things I’m wanting lately, the florals are very well blended and the focus is more on the chypre than the floral part.

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We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Guerlain Mitsouko, a sort-of Perfume Review

Let’s get this straight, right up front: I have tried. I mean, she’s the Empress. Ruler of all she surveys, epitome of style and grace and the Art of Perfume, often-cited as “the best fragrance ever.” Oh, the shame I have felt at failing to adore her! It’s me, isn’t it? It must be my fault. I have given the Empress plenty of skin time, plenty of chances to make her case with me, multiple trials in varying weathers, various concentrations and ages. All in all, I have worn Mitsouko in five different versions now, probably up over twenty trials now…

And… FAIL. Failfailfail. Only one of these concentrations has worked for me, and even that one was not love, so I hereby put the Empress back on her pedestal, bow low, and step away. Y’all go ahead and worship, I’ll not stop you. I’ve seen the greatness now, but not the love.

I tried modern Eau de Toilette first, early in my Fumehead Forays, back in 2009. I liked the ambery basenotes, but that was all: Mitsouko was shrill and musty, dusty and unpleasant, good bone structure in a really ugly dress. I swapped my decant.

Then at some point I realized that I typically do very badly with classic Guerlains in EdT formulation. They often seem harsh, sharp, un-blended. Stabby, even. Shalimar EdT? Hideous lemon-patchouli-dirty ashtray-powder bomb. L’Heure Bleue EdT? Hell’s Medicine Cabinet. Yuck. I made peace with Shalimar in PdT, a beautiful lamplight glow in a rainy evening with woodsmoke in the air. L’Heure Bleue in parfum smelled full and complete in a way that the EdT does not, all deliciously-medicinal pastry.

(I did love my small decant of Apres L’Ondee from the minute I bought it, though. And Chamade, which I first tried in vintage parfum de toilette, has been lovely in every version I’ve tried. But those are strongly floral; make of that what you will.)

So then I sampled Mitsouko EdP, and it was, well, not as awful. Again, I really liked that nice ambery thing in the base, but the rest of it seemed so… just wrong. Just wrong. Ditto for the sample of vintage EdT a kind friend sent me. People wear this on purpose? Gah.

Mitsy parfum (from a sample labeled “vintage” at Surrender to Chance) was peach and mustiness. Musty musty musty. HORRible. Beyond horrible. I mentioned the fact that I was Officially Giving Up on Mitsouko on a Facebook perfume group, and a longtime fan of it suggested that the oakmoss has gone off in this parfum. Someone who’s only recently come around to liking Mitsy swears that a vintage Eau de Cologne version is the only one she can possibly do; “no screaming,” she said, and “the peach is in the background.” Someone else recommended the EdC too, but the only way I know of to get it is to buy a whooooole bottle of it on eBay, and I just don’t think it’s going to work for me, so there I’d be, with a whoooooole 100ml bottle of Mitsouko EdC that I’d have to get rid of somehow…

And then, I went trolling eBay, Just in Case, and bought this beyond-cute micro-mini parfum of Mitsouko in this very-cute li’l box, just to try. The famous Louise says it’s generally a good iteration, from the early-to-mid-1990s, and she owns two of them. (You don’t know Louise? She’s good friends with March of Perfume Posse, the instigator of a whole slew of PP posts labeled “Blame Louise,” and the wearer of all kinds of things that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot dabber vial top, like Angel, but also of Datura Noir, which I like, and she’s BFFs with Mitsy. Also, she teaches middle school, which just leaves me gasping in awe.)

I could wear this. There’s no Mean Girl in this bottle. Everything is there: the bergamot, the milky peach, the jasmine. The labdanum and iris. The oakmoss. Well, let’s be honest here: the oooooooakmosssssss. This thing is All About the Oakmoss. Which, okay, if you are an Oakmoss Ho, I can see how Mitsy would be the ne plus ultra of fragrances for you. And clearly it is for a lot of people.

Also, it is symphonic in a way that makes me finally get why people swoon over it. I geddit now, okay? I geddit. Everything works together and swirls in the same direction and has this distinctive personality, and yes, it is autumnal, and rich and nostalgic and tapestried and masterpiece-y.

Yet I remain a Mitsouko Philistine.

It still does not speak to me in the way that its predecessor Coty Chypre does.

I’m still not absolutely convinced that there isn’t some sort of mental placebo effect going on when I test old Cotys versus classic Guerlains (particularly the old Guerlains that seem based on their Coty counterparts – like Shalimar and Emeraude, L’Heure Bleue and L’Origan), because the Guerlains are very good. Is it that all the old amazing Cotys are gone, either discontinued or crippled through ever-cheapened reformulations, and I’m such a sucker for The Love That Can Never Be? Or is it that I’m annoyed with everybody’s saying that Jacques Guerlain improved all of Francois Coty’s ham-handed creations, that Coty was after the shopgirls’ trade while Guerlain, more artful, pursued the deeper purses and discerning noses of sophisticated women?

Could be any or all of those. Or, I think again as I resmell my sample of gen-u-wine vintage Coty Chypre parfum from the vial, it’s simpler and more personal: M. Coty knew what would clutch at my heart, and he bottled it.

I don’t think it’s going to happen, Mitsy and me. I just don’t. I’m just going to let her go. I just heard this song on the radio last night, Taylor Swift in a semi-humorous vein, singing, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” and it seemed so appropriate I had to laugh. Mitsy and me? Never getting back together. I’m never trying her again.  I mean, like, EVER.

Because, finally, I appreciate her. But we don’t love each other. And I am, finally, okay with that.

(Meanwhile, Coty Chypre? All those tiny parfum bottles of you languishing in Great-Aunt Mary’s girdle drawer in the highboy or Cousin Mildred’s attic? I know you’re out there somewhere. Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe…)

NB: My gen-u-wine sample of vintage Coty Chypre parfum came from Surrender to Chance, where it is ridiculously expensive but still cheaper than airfare to Paris to visit the Osmotheque. Just so you know. And the stuff is pristine, too: the bergamot’s a little faded, but there isn’t any nailpolishy weird topnote as I’ve come to expect from really-vintage perfume. Review coming soon.

BTW, I have no idea why some text is dark here and some is lighter gray.  I wrote this all in one piece on my laptop.  I keep trying to fix it, but so far no dice.

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Perfume Review: DSH Perfumes Pandora

 

Photo from DSH Notebook

Oh, dear. I feel bad about this review… but I’m determined to be truthful. This one’s getting a lot of love from vintage-perfume fans as well as natural-perfume fans all over the perfume blogosphere: Jen at This Blog Really Stinks (who hosted the draw for the large sample I tested – thanks, Jen!), Scent Less Sensibilities, Eyeliner on a CatIndieperfumes, The Non-Blonde, EauMG, Scent Hive, Oh, True Apothecary, Scentual Soundtracks, Perfume Pharmer, Escentual Alchemy.   I love many vintage perfumes too. I like chypres, particularly if they have floral components. I am an AldeHo – if it’s got aldehydes, I’m probably going to like it.   (If I’ve missed some other reviews, please let me know.)

See, the thing is… this is the fragrance that started out as an experiment in naturals, a “modern fragrance in vintage style,” if I’ve got the story right (somebody jump in to correct me if I don’t).

I’m not typically a big fan of “all-natural.” For one thing, I think it’s silly to claim that only synthetic materials can be harmful to the body or the environment. (Oooooh, don’t get me started. The smug attitude makes me grit my teeth in rage.) From a practical standpoint, I’ve been mostly disappointed with the skin longevity of all-natural perfumes, with a couple of notable exceptions (Dawn’s own Rose Vert, and Honore des Pres Vamp a NY). I’m not one of those people who complain all over Makeup Alley that “this doesn’t last, it only stayed six hours and I had to reapply in the middle of the day,” but if I’m not getting three hours’ worth of wear at least, I’m just not interested in spending the money to buy it. I know, too, that all-naturals have different qualities – they tend to sit closer to skin, they tend to “bloom” in unexpected ways rather than lifting slowly off the skin the way fragrances underscored with synthetic materials tend to do – but they’re not qualities that make me excited. I’m always happy to give an all-natural fragrance the good old college try, and I’m willing to make a few allowances, but I’m not predisposed to prefer all-naturals.

I’ll remind you at this point that aldehydes are synthetic. And that I like them.

At some point, Dawn seems to have decided to go ahead and add a few synthetic materials that she felt made Pandora “come alive” – the aldehydes, and a small amount of ozone (unnoticeable to me, by the way). Here’s what she has to say on her blog about the project:

The “Beautiful Evil” is a quote from the story of Pandora as told by the Greek, Hesiod. She is the all gifted, all giving one, a singular woman and synonymous with Eve in many respects. It is she who opens humankind to the knowledge of good and evil and ultimately breaks the utopian ideal. With Pandora, mankind has plagues but also knowledge and maturity. She opens the door to truth and hope.

What began as an all-botanical design for a project changed direction with the addition of a subtle synthetic influence. It made all of the difference. This is also a perfume that also utilizes some new and exotic botanical materials…in Pandora, the ancient meets the 21 century.

The notes feature ruby fruits, bergamot, aldehyde, spices, ozone, violet leaf, davana, cassis bud, green and pink pepper, rose de mai, juhi jasmine, linden blossom, yerba maté, cabreuva wood, orris, green tea, mousse de saxe accord, cyperus, fossilized amber absolute, ambergris, patchouli, vetiver, muhuhu, sandalwood, tonka bean, oakmoss and vanilla.

(Yes, she said oakmoss. Please start breathing again.)

On my skin, Pandora has very good longevity; one spritz will last about four to five hours. There’s no indication on my small sample what concentration I have; the fragrance is available as 15ml parfum ($220, shown above), or as 4ml/10ml eau de parfum ($25/$60).  

The first thing I smell is a cheerfully intense herbal-tea note (if you were worried about the red berries, fear not) under a bright haze of aldehydes. There’s an immediate suggestion that you might accidentally have gotten hold of some vintage Miss Dior, what with the moss and the dry iris in there, and there’s a very old-fashioned air to this stage of the scent. It’s an incredibly layered scent; it contains a lot of notes I can’t identify other than to call them “woody” and “herbal.” Earthy, foresty, and vintage – it’s very pleasant.

A little while later, Pandora segues into a warmer, woody-chypre sort of fragrance with a hint of spice here and there, and I begin to like it a lot less. It’s still layered and complex, but this is not the kind of thing that pleases me. It reminds me somewhat of vintage Magie Noire, but drier and less green, without Magie Noire’s opulent floral heart. There are florals in Pandora – I smell jasmine, definitely, and a bit of rose – but they are not the focus. Instead the focus is on the woody notes and moss.

Eventually the oriental/mousse de saxe base begins to float up through the woody notes, and this is where I have to start gritting my teeth. It’s strikingly reminiscent of several scents that I really dislike: Opium, Youth Dew, Caron Nuit de Noel. Whatever accord it is that those scents have in common, it’s popping up in Pandora, both cloyingly sweet and oily-dusty. It makes the back of my throat ache and I find it unpleasant. But that’s me, my personal taste, and if you like the perfumes I just mentioned you won’t be bothered by it at all.

Pandora is an exceedingly intelligent-smelling perfume, a swirling pastiche of woods and herbs and amber, lightened with a few glints of aldehydes and fruit, a cornucopia of fragrance materials. It is, truly, a vintage-inspired modern fragrance, and if this sort of thing seems up your alley, I suggest that you go get a sample from the DSH website, post-haste! Buy a bottle! Now! Support independent perfumery! (The parfum bottle, by the way, is Drop. Dead. Gorgeous. So elegant – and I do love the beautiful mossy green color of the liquid inside.)

Thing is, Pandora is beautiful… and I do not like it.  This fragrance is not my style, but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing its obvious excellence. A large part of it is natural, and there is something wonderful and solid and complex about natural ingredients. Too, it’s put together in such a way as to create a seamless, smooth, and yet distinctive and bold perfume. Kudos to DSH Perfumes.

My great thanks to Dawn for making the sample available and to Jen at This Blog Really Stinks for hosting the drawing. It is a joy to know that somebody is still making perfume with brains!

Pandora sample on my dresser, next to a tube of Revlon Certainly Red and my favorite garnet-and-pearl drop earrings.

I am happy to be able to pass on this sample to a commenter on this post. It’s a spray sample, approximately 3ml with about 2ml (possibly more) remaining, plenty of perfume left for testing and enjoying! Since it’s a small sample, I’m opening up the draw to commenters outside the US.

To enter the drawing, please let me know if you like any of the other fragrances I mentioned in comparison to Pandora in the review: Miss Dior, Magie Noire, Opium, Youth Dew, Nuit de Noel. Which is your favorite? Do you have any special memories associated with these, either worn by you or a loved one?

Draw will be open until Friday night, October 28, at midnight Eastern Standard Time.  DRAW IS NOW CLOSED.

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Perfume Reviews: Coty Chypre (reissued) edt and DSH Chypre oil

Coty Chypre, first released in 1917, was a stunningly successful fragrance that immediately began to influence perfumery, and is still influencing it. While it wasn’t the first chypre fragrance released (there were at least two others on the market, released circa 1909), it was the one that caught everyone’s attention. Countless words have been written about the impact of Chypre, and so I won’t belabor the point but will point you toward some excellent articles on the subject. Briefly, it is based on an accord of bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum, along with florals and woody notes such as patchouli and sandalwood, and all chypre-type fragrances have these components.

For more on the impact, history, and structure of Chypre, read this post by Victoria at Bois de Jasmin.  Also, Elena at Perfume Shrine has a whole series discussing the chypre genre which is well worth reading, as well as a review of Coty Chypre written by Denise of Grain de Musc.

Coty stopped producing Chypre sometime in the 1960s, so far as I can tell, and then reissued it in 1986, along with two other older fragrances, La Rose Jacqueminot and Les Muses, as eau de toilette. I have two samples of Coty Chypre, both of the 1980s reissue but from different sources. They are quite similar. Both are dabber samples, so I haven’t been able to experience Chypre sprayed.

The Coty starts out with that indefinably “old-lady” vibe, which for me evokes my great-aunt’s dressing table. Aunt Leacy was the wife of a dairy farmer/minister, the sister of my grandmother Sarah Lou, and it’s hard for me to imagine a relative’s house, other than my grandmother Nell’s, more welcoming and enjoyable for a kid. I loved visiting her. There is a definite face-powder note to the Coty scent – not surprising perhaps when you realize that for years Coty scented their loose face powder with Chypre – and there is a dry dustiness to even the topnotes, which have probably lost their citrusy power by now.

From the beginning, I smell that powdery oakmoss and the ghost of something vaguely citrus (which we all know was once bergamot). Under that is a very blended, classical heart of rose and jasmine, and I’d swear there’s just a hint of cool, satiny iris in the mix too. Occasionally I get a waft of a sweet floral note that could be ylang-ylang, but not every time I wear it. On skin, Coty Chypre stays in this rose-jasmine-moss mode for about two hours before getting even more comfortable, with that powdered moss gradually becoming less powdery and more alive. The labdanum is well-mannered, which isn’t always the case, and it mostly serves to warm up the moss to create a lovely gentle smell that stays close to the skin.

It lasts about three hours on me, quite light, but, as always with fragrances that aren’t fresh from the perfumer, age and storage could have affected its strength and longevity adversely. Having read Luca Turin’s assessment of Coty Chypre, I was surprised to find it an extremely wearable scent, relaxed and quietly confident. Here’s what he has to say, from the review of Guerlain Mitsouko (which I freely admit right now that I do not like without knowing why):

[Mitsouko is] an improvement on Francois Coty’s Chypre, released… two years earlier. Chypre… is brilliant, but it does have a big-boned, bad-tempered Joan Crawford feel to it, and was a fragrance in whose company you could never entirely rest your weight.

I still have not smelled the original formula of Coty Chypre, which is said to have been bold, modern, and surprising. But I do like the reissued Coty Chypre. It is cool and smooth and self-possessed, and I enjoy wearing it. What it reminds me most of is a sample of vintage Miss Dior parfum (thanks, Tamara!), which smells to me both of face powder and of intimacy, of dressing up and of the smell of skin at a near distance.

Read more reviews of Coty Chypre at The Non-Blonde, Yesterday’s Perfume, Olfactarama, Suzanne’s Perfume Journal (Eiderdown Press), and Perfume Fountain(Know of any other reviews?  Share, please!)

However, given my surprise at enjoying the reissued Coty, I have to mention that Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ recreation of Coty Chypre simply stunned me. It is elemental, a natural force that buffets me with emotion.

Caveat: before you go rushing off to the DSH Perfumes website to order it, I have to give you the sad news that it is discontinued. I’m so sorry to even bring it up, but it’s so amazing that I simply can’t not write about it.

I have DSH Chypre in oil format and of course have only dabbed it. But that’s fine in this case. I often feel that oils are not a good format for me, because what I gain in longevity I give up in sillage, and my preference really depends on what kind of fragrance it is. Florals in oil format are frequently too quiet and wear too close to the skin for me (and you might remember I’m not a fan of big sillage!). But Dawn’s Chypre in oil is just about perfect: it has body, it has depth, and just a bit of waft.

The notes, so far as I managed to jot them down before Chypre disappeared from the DSH website (and I make no promises that these are correct or complete), are thus: bergamot, rose, jasmine, oakmoss, labdanum, patchouli, musk.

The DSH Chypre is, presumably, based on an older formula of Coty Chypre, since it bears very little relation to the 80s reissue I’ve smelled. And it is indeed bold, uncompromising, and starkly contrasted, a good counterpart to the strange Cubist and Fauvist art of the early 20th century. DSH’s version starts out with a strongly aromatic, resiny bergamot, under which I can immediately smell the labdanum like a sustained bass note. After a few moments, I begin to smell rose and jasmine as well as the bitter citrus and labdanum. This phase continues for some time, and if I sniff carefully I seem to pick up hints of a creamy, ripe floral note that reminds me of ylang-ylang, as well as a small bit of powdery cool iris. This is definitely not a powdery scent, however, keeping it miles away from the reissued Coty, even after the oakmoss note sort of sliiiiides stealthily into the picture. There is a bitter, earthy, yet lively character to DSH Chypre, and I would never in a million years call this thing “pretty.”

Yet it’s compelling. It’s one of those scents that grabs me by the base of the spine and yanks, saying to me, “You know you’re human, right? You know you’re a creature and you won’t live forever, right? Well, while you’re still around, get going. Live a little. No, I’ll rephrase that: live a lot.”

After several hours all I can smell is that soft, ambery labdanum, with perhaps a bit of musk, and it is almost edibly delicious. This is the only stage that my family seems to enjoy. Gaze said, “Vanilla? Amber? Almost something you could eat. Nice.” Before it gets to this stage, noses wrinkle and children leave the room. I think my family’s unevolved. Or maybe I am, given the brute power of DSH Chypre. Not that it’s beastly or animalic in any way that I can tell – I rather like civet, in small doses, and I tend to be pretty sensitive to some musks smelling dirty – it’s just… raw and untamed and lacking in parlor manners.

Which is just fine with me.  I’ve been wearing this thing all summer, intoxicated by its elemental appeal.

Top image of reissued Coty Chypre from Eiderdown Press.  Lower image of vintage Coty Chypre from Perfume Fountain.  Image of labdanum resin from Labdanum-shop.

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