Here’s the second installment of mini-reviews of the most popular women’s fragrances in the US last year. For Part I, click here, and for the description of the original project, click here.
Estee Lauder Knowing – I once owned a miniature bottle of Knowing parfum, and it was glorious for two hours: rosy-green chypre with plenty of moxie and plenty of waft. There is a ton of green stuff in here, with some sharp green bergamot, some rich patchouli, some galbanum and moss and woody notes, and there is a full delicious rose with some mimosa for depth. After two hours, though, Knowing begins to make me feel physically ill. (I traded away that mini, feeling really happy about getting it into some appreciative hands.) Resmelling it in EdP on my skin, I had much the same experience – gorgeous for two hours, and then immediately nauseating.
My aunt wears this, and she smells wonderful, both elegant and warm. This is the aunt who just retired from a 35-year career as a chemist, and I always thought she smelled the way I would expect a “career woman” to smell: like she has good taste and won’t put up with any nonsense, even-tempered, secure in herself. I’m beginning to realize that if I apply Estee Lauder scents to fabric, they smell whole and coherent, rather than the sickening mess they degenerate into on my skin. Dear Estee, it’s not you, it’s me.
Chanel No. 5 – I have a long history of familiarity with No. 5, and reviewed the parfumhere. 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
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.
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:
BeyonceHeat and Heat Wave
BurberryBrit, Touch, and Gold
BvlgariOmnia, Omnia Green Jade, Omnia Amethyste, and Blv II
Calvin KleinEternity, Euphoria, Obsession, Beauty, and cKOne
ChanelNo. 5 (in edt, edp and parfum as well as body products), Allure, Chance, Chance EauFraiche, Chance Eau Tendre, Coco, Coco Mademoiselle
Christian DiorJ’Adore and L’eau Cologne Florale
CoachEau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum, Coach Poppy
Dolce et Gabbanaoriginal Dolce et Gabbana, Light Blue, The One, and Rose The One
Donna KaranCashmere Mist and Be Delicious
Ed HardyHearts and Daggers, Love & Luck, and something else I don’t remember now
Elizabeth Arden5th Avenue and Mediterranean
GucciFlora, Guilty, and Gucci Eau de Parfum
Guerlain Shalimar (only the EdT)
Issey MiyakeL’Eau d’Issey, L’Eau d’Issey Florale
Jessica SimpsonFancy, Fancy Love, and Fancy Nights, as well as the new I Fancy You
Juicy Coutureoriginal Juicy Couture, Viva la Juicy, and Couture Couture
Katy Perry Purr
LancomeTresor, Tresor in Love,Poeme, Magie Noire, Hypnose, Magnifique, and Miracle
Marc JacobsLola 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)
Paris Hilton Siren, Just Me, and CanCan
Queen LatifahQueen and Queen of Hearts
Ralph Lauren Romance and Romance Always Yours
Thierry MuglerAngel, Angel Innocent, Alien, and Cologne
YSLParisienne 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, PWLPink 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.
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.
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.
This one gets a lot of love, for being warm and cheerful without running people out of the room (Fracas, anyone?), and for being a mainstream release that doesn’t suck up to the trendy taste for ditzy fruity-florals.
Perfume Review: Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia eau de parfum Date released: 2007 Perfumer: Harry Frémont (Firmenich) Sample provenance: manufacturer’s sample, probably from 2007, from swap
Subcategory: Gentle white floral with tuberose (and, duh, gardenia)
Since the Private Collection disappointment, the Beyond Paradise debacle and the vintage Knowing parfum tragedy, I’ve been wary of testing Estee Lauder scents. You may have been reading this blog long enough to know that I have difficulty with some note or ingredient common to the base of many Lauder fragrances. I still don’t know what it is; I’m not sure it would do me all that much good to pin it down. To sum up, I’ve found a number of Lauders really lovely for the first two hours, and then gotten sucker-punched by whatever-it-is in the base, so that I’m suddenly and extremely nauseated by this nameless, cloying Wrongness that I can’t even describe. It’s not sugary, vomitous, overtly chemical, sweaty, or overpoweringly loud, but it turns my stomach over.
So I approached ELPCTG with some trepidation. I sprayed it on a stray scrap of cotton from a sewing project, and when it got to six hours without causing me to carry the scrap out to the trashcan on the porch while cursing, I decided to try it on skin.
Despite the alleged presence of a number of floral notes, PCTG is pretty much true to its name. It opens with creamy, luxuriant gardenia which lasts maybe forty-five minutes to an hour, rolling along with the tuberose, eventually fading to leave only the tuberose and a hint of lily. The white florals are soft and lovely, with a buttery, smooth texture. Heady for the first ten minutes, it does soften rather quickly to a scent polite enough to wear to church, as its sillage stays rather close to the body. I did wear it to church, and my daughter could smell the perfume from right next to me. My son, sitting on her other side, could not smell it. Four hours after my two-spritz application, there was no sillage at all, and I could only smell what was left (mostly tuberose, with a tiny hint of vanilla) by hoovering my inner arm.
A workplace test was less successful. I felt silly wearing it with black twill trousers and a pink sweater. Never mind that my sweater was fuzzy – I felt like Esther Williams, totally out of place at my desk.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a base here, and perhaps the simplicity of the base is what makes this fragrance wearable for me. Either the common Lauder base is not part of the formula, or the tuberose is enough to – like love – cover a multitude of sins.
Luca Turin is really smitten with gardenias, and this scent gets high marks in PTG. Here’s a portion of his review: **** Real gardenia… gardenia is a reconstruction, and few fragrances actually achieve the flower smell that I rate as the most irresistible and impossibly pretty on earth. This beautiful creation… is one of them. The tuberose note in PCTG is very quiet, while the rest of the fragrance is an utterly lovely gardenia accord on a refined, radiant white-flowers background…
PCTG is indeed very lovely. It has a devoted following among perfume fans, and it’s a well-made, attractive scent. However, it does make me feel as though I should be wearing it with white gloves and, possibly, a pastel strapless gown. It feels like a fifties fragrance to me, very Donna Reed, and I doubt I’d wear it frequently. (And this from someone who’s happy wearing true vintage girlish fragrances like Sortilege and Je Reviens!) I seem to be the only tuberose fan who wasn’t smitten with this one. I admit that it could be the Curse of Lauder to my nose, although I did give it three good tests with an open mind.
(See Tuberose Series 1 for any clarification on the Bottom Line criteria.)
Top image is the eau de parfum bottle, from esteelauder.com. The parfum bottle is far more gorgeous, with semi-precious stones. However, I didn’t review the parfum. Lower image is pua tuberose from victorey at flickr.