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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Fragrance Throwdown: Ines de la Fressange I versus Ines de la Fressange II

THROWDOWN!
THROWDOWN!

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a throwdown, but thanks to Portia’s comment the other day, I finally got down to business to set the two Ines de la Fressange fragrances head-to-head.

Okay, first off, let’s clarify things: the first Ines fragrance was discontinued before the second came into being, so apparently nobody thought it would be confusing to give them the same name. (Wrong.) Luckily, the packaging is different enough that there should be no question which version you’ve got – unless you are looking at a sample vial labeled simply “Ines de la Fressange.” Because then, you’re going to have to smell it to find out. 🙂

Inès Marie Lætitia Églantine Isabelle de Seignard de La Fressange, daughter of a French marquis and banker and an Argentinian model, is a model and couturier who worked exclusively for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel in the 1980s.  She is a designer in her own right, and has owned a chain of boutiques; she recently wrote a style guide called Parisian Chic. On top of her own career, she’s a mother as well: that’s her lovely daughter Nine d’Urso featured in the ad campaign for Bottega Veneta’s first fragrance.

Photo stolen Fragrantica.
Photo stolen Fragrantica.

And in 1999, she released the first perfume under her name. It was created by Calice Becker.  This one was packaged in the octagonal column bottle with simple silver top, and the juice inside it is a soft peachy-yellow color. That’s appropriate, because this scent is one of the best representations of fresh peaches out there (according to me), at least in the topnotes.  If you’re already shuddering, please give me a moment. It’s not about the peach. In fact, it’s a multilayered Proper Lady’s Fragrance, and if I had to classify it, I’d have to resort to a description that goes like this: Aldehydic Fruity Floral Woody.  It’s not exactly everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, but it’s complex.

The notes for Ines I include peach, aldehydes, bergamot, Brazilian rosewood, rose, jasmine, ylang, carnation, iris, lily of the valley, sandalwood, tonka bean, benzoin.  I warn aldephobes that the aldehydes are noticeable here. They are less soapy than they can sometimes appear, and add a great deal of sparkle in a fizzy Champagne-like way. The peach is not sweetened, candied, or even creamy; it’s very tart and refreshing. From that sparkling Bellini top the florals come up, and they are beautiful. The rose and ylang are prominent to my nose, but this is definitely a big bouquet of flowers, symphonically floral in the way that, for example, Estee Lauder’s Beautiful and the old Karl Lagerfeld Chloe are floral. Both of those fragrances are considerably bigger than Ines’ first – if they’re big hotel-lobby arrangements, this one is a far simpler mixed arrangement on your best girlfriend’s dinner table, not formally arranged but simply flowers heaped into a bowl in a simple profusion. The base, which blends benzoin and sandalwood undergirds all those flowers with a warmth and friendliness. I do not know whether the sandalwood is real Mysore, though given the release date, it is just possible that there is at least some in there. The general effect of the fragrance is summery, graceful, and effortless, maybe even a bit nostalgic.

I reviewed the first Ines (Garden Party in a Bottle) in August of 2012, and I still love it every bit as much as I always did – maybe more, because supplies are truly drying up. (It’s extremely hard to find now. I paid under $15 for a 1-oz bottle from Beauty Encounter – not affiliated – in 2009, and under $20 for a 1.7-oz, once I realized how lovely it was. Those days are gone.  I can’t find any reasonable supplies of this one at all, save for ONE 100ml bottle, currently listed at $150, on eBay. It seemed to have been available at the discounters when I wrote that review two years ago, but time unfortunately goes in one direction…) I wear this fragrance only in the summer, when its quiet, effortless elegance seems just right. It’s perfect for tea parties and afternoon weddings, or any occasion where peach silk and cream lace wouldn’t be out of place.  (For other reviews, click the “Garden Party” link above.)

Photo stolen Fragrantica. See, isn't this bottle pretty?
Photo stolen Fragrantica. See, isn’t this bottle pretty?

The second fragrance from the house of Ines de la Fressange came just five years later, so I might assume that the first one didn’t sell like hotcakes. (It might have been too ladylike.) This fragrance, packaged in a beautiful flask-shaped bottle with a gold overlay and gold oak leaves, was created by Alberto Morillas.

I recently snagged a manufacturer’s sample of the 2004 version and have been wearing it. It’s… nice. It’s perfectly okay.  It may be suffering from not being sprayed, because even dabbed generously it’s pretty quiet (and I’ve heard from two friends who own both versions that the Morillas one is louder and more fun).

Notes for this one include bergamot, mandarin, either blackcurrant or blackberry depending on the list, neroli, peony, iris, white rose, muguet, patchouli, benzoin, vetiver, white musk.  I’ve read reviews of this one that call it “blackberry musk,” but to be honest that’s not what I get out of it. It is, instead, something of a Coco Mademoiselle clone on me, dominated by patchouli until very late in the drydown.  I am sort of freakishly sensitive to patchouli, so of course your experience may vary, but there it is: patchy floral.

It opens up with a sharply acidic fruit note – I say it’s blackcurrant and mandarin – and, to be frank, the opening is my favorite part of this one.  “Froot” smells that approximate candy or Kool-Aid, those I don’t like, but I tend to appreciate a fruit note that smells realistic, as this does.  It’s nice. Blending with that tart fruit accord is some neroli, joined by rose and peony, and then very quickly I get a snootful of patchouli. It’s at this stage, and for the next four hours, that Ines II reminds me of Coco Mademoiselle. (It also reminds me of Patou Enjoy, for that matter, and it’s not all that surprising since all three are modern chypre florals, “modern” meaning no oakmoss, with a number of notes in common. Come to think of it, a three-way tussle between CM and Enjoy and Ines II would be a fun throwdown as well.)  There are clearly some natural florals involved here, as well as some that are clearly synthetic (the peony, obviously, and there’s a “clean rose”

Well into the drydown, Ines II becomes a real joy to wear. It’s in this late stage that I do begin to get the musk, which does have a berry tinge to it, and there’s a good deal of benzoin. I am a sucker for that, I admit. The soft plushy base lingers for a long time, as a quiet skin scent, and it’s lovely.  Whether you find Ines II pleasant may depend on whether you like this style; if the phrase “modern chypre” incenses you, you’ll curl your lip.

This one is still available (albeit in limited quantities) at discounters, and it’s reasonable, approximately $30-35 for a 50ml bottle.  Other reviews: The Non-Blonde, March at Perfume Posse, Musette at Perfume Posse (brief).

Neither one of these fragrances are groundbreaking or innovative or terribly distinctive; nor were they apparent commercial successes.  I enjoyed wearing both of them, however, and it’s highly unlikely you’d cause a fellow elevator-occupier to faint while wearing these.  Ines II seems very much “of its time,” the husky-voiced, floral-patchouli-musk “modern” chypres of the early 2000s, but for all that it’s quite pleasant.  Ines I is a Calice Becker through and through, with its soft-edged floral blend that seems shot through with light and grace.

It’s pretty clear which one I prefer, but then I love perfumes done in a soft mixed-floral bouquet style.  Feel free to disagree.

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Garden Party in a Bottle: Ines de la Fressange

This fragrance, purchased for a song at an online discounter three summers ago – not even a whole song, to tell the truth, more like twelve whistled bars of an sweet old folk tune, maybe “The Happy Wanderer” – has become a summer staple for me, and more valuable with every new release of a so-called-”sexy” fruitchouli.

I was absolutely sure that I could blame Abigail of I Smell Therefore I Am for this one – but I can no longer find the blog review that I could have sworn she wrote for it, and so I can’t prove anything. (It’s possible that when ISTIA switched blog hosts a few years ago, the post disappeared into the cloud, but who knows?) Continue reading Garden Party in a Bottle: Ines de la Fressange

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Perfume Review: Sonoma Scent Studio Nostalgie

 

Image from Sonoma Scent Studio

I first tested a sample of this back in September, though nose Laurie Erickson has been working on this scent for about a year now. I tested another version in November, and Nostalgie has been tweaked slightly from that version, which I liked very much. The working name was “Classic,” and the idea was a vintage-inspired floral scent.

Seems that vintage-inspired is hot right now, at least among the independent perfumers – witness Andy Tauer’s beautiful Miriam, produced for Tableau de Parfums, and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ lovely-but-not-me Pandora, Vert pour Madame, and Mirabella. I couldn’t be happier with a trend in the perfume world: it means excellent raw materials, plenty of naturals, the use of aldehydes and oakmoss and hard-to-source real sandalwood. Above all, it means rich composition and quiet confidence, qualities I like in my perfumes and which are difficult to find in the current market, full of thin and skeletal iFrags, as Denyse of Grain de Musc calls them.

Laurie was so kind as to send me a sample of Nostalgie, and I’m very pleased to review it. In a word, it is gorgeous.

Continue reading Perfume Review: Sonoma Scent Studio Nostalgie

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Perfume Review: Tableau de Parfums Miriam

I’ve been looking forward to this one for months now. I’ve been a fan of Brian Pera’s writings on I Smell Therefore I Am for a couple of years now. I’m a fan of Tauer Perfumes, too. As I’ve said before, the scents either don’t work at all for me, or they work beautifully and make me feel a little like I’m flying. Even the Tauers I don’t enjoy are well-made and solid and have distinctive personalities of their own. Furthermore, I am a big fan of aldehydic florals, so when I heard that Brian’s A Woman’s Picture project (see Evelyn Avenue website) would include a collaboration with Andy Tauer, and that one of the associated fragrances would be an aldehydic floral, I was thrilled.

Thanks to a very generous giveaway instigated by Andy Tauer and A Woman’s Picture, and hosted by Now Smell This, I won a full bottle of Miriam.  Miriam is now available at Lucky Scent, at $160 for 50ml plus a copy of the Miriam segment of the film and some other goodies.  I’ll just say now, I have rarely been so pleased to receive a box of perfume in the mail! Just look at this gorgeous packaging, will you?

Look at all these goodies! Complete with handwritten note from Andy Tauer, too.

I admit to enjoying a nice bottle, but I have never bought a bottle simply because it’s pretty. (Hey, if that’s what you like, more power to you. I’m not judging.) But I squealed like an excited little girl, opening Miriam last week. The pretty box holds an insert with a lovely jacquard-like pattern, die-cut to fit the Miriam bottle, as well as a DVD of a portion of the film and a notepad  the Miriam booklet (duh, I hadn’t gotten the chance to open it yet). There are silver strings and a frosted glass cap, and pretty pink stickers, and a simulacrum of an old-fashioned cut-paper silhouette, and the whole thing is so intricate and adorable that it could have been any Christmas present hand-wrapped personally for me by my artist sister, for whom such things are Serious Business.  Also, the liquid is a very soft yellow-green, one of my favorite colors.

I have not yet viewed the entire DVD. I have seen clips from the Miram segment, and also from some of the other segments that make up the ongoing A Woman’s Picture project, and they have all been moving, thoughtful pieces. Briefly, though, the Miriam segment focuses on Miriam Masterson, a middle-aged woman whose career is in jeopardy, whose relationship with her layabout boyfriend is deteriorating, and whose mother, with whom she has a complicated and painful relationship, is in a nursing home as her mind and health fails. All of Miriam’s anchors have been lost, and a storm is approaching.

What drew me to the fragrance, in particular, was the notes. Regular readers know that I lurve me some aldehydes, and when someone as talented as Andy Tauer does a vintage-inspired aldehydic floral – well, I wanna smell it. The official notes list for Miriam includes aldehydes, bergamot, sweet orange, violet blossom, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, violet leaf, vanilla, orris root, sandalwood and Ambrox.  From the Evelyn Avenue website, here is the inspiration for Miriam:

The dream of a hug, the vivid bitter sweet memory of her perfume,
her hair shining golden in the morning sun, so fine,
the violets from the garden in her hand,
freshly picked with the dew pearls dropping one after the other,
the green May roses on the table, lasting forever.
It is a dream of days long gone, with a smile on my lips.

Miriam is undoubtedly a Tauer fragrance, despite its being something of a departure from Andy’s usual style. The Ambrox (something of a signature note for Andy) is definitely noticeable in the first few minutes, and although it’s more muted than you might expect, it’s a little thread of Andy running through the composition, with its sweet-salty-rich chord. Up top, there are the aldehydes and a light-hearted citrus note. I’ll make a prediction that if you don’t like aldehydes, you certainly won’t like Miriam; the aldehydes are sweet, and both powdery and candle-smoke-y. Soon I notice the beautiful rose and jasmine heart, very classic and reminiscent of 1940s feminine perfumes, and the violet flower seems to drift in and out. As the fragrance develops, the sandalwood and vanilla become prominent. I don’t smell iris on its own, but I often notice that orris root seems to disappear into rich floral scents, contributing mostly a satiny texture and keeping sweeter elements like vanilla or amber from being too sweet, in much the same way that adding a small amount of salt to batter makes the flavors blend well. The sandalwood in this, according to Andy’s blog, is a mixture of real Mysore and Australian, and it is the most delightful part of the fragrance for me.

Andy Tauer has been quoted as suggesting that Miriam is “slightly provocative,” and “not naughty, but bold,” a fragrance in the tradition of the grand parfums of the 1940s and ’50s.  I don’t find it bold or provocative in the least – rather, it strikes me as being very soft and cloudlike.

Miriam lasts quite well on me, typically about five hours with a very gentle waft. It is recognizably perfumey in that “Mmm, somebody’s wearing nice perfume” sort of way, as opposed to the “Something smells nice” sort of way that has drifted in and out of fashion since the stripped-down, anti-perfume perfumes of the early 1990. I like that. The CEO likes it too, and mentioned that smelling it reminds him of his college years, going to the department store to pick out Christmas fragrance gifts for his then-girlfriends (none of whom were me). It didn’t remind him of any scent in particular, but the general perfumeyness of Miriam resembled the air in the department store, and recalled for him the pleasant excitement of good, “feminine” smells.

I will admit to being surprised that there isn’t any oakmoss in Miriam, not even a little bit, because Miriam’s mother’s fragrance purportedly contains it. But it seems that Miriam, the fragrance, is more based on Miriam, the character: it is nostalgic, soft and powdery atop a strong, comforting base. It is on the sweet side, with the aldehydes, sandalwood and vanilla contributing to that facet, but it’s a rich woody sweetness rather than a sugary overdose. There seems always to be a gentle wistfulness about rose-and-violet scents, and Miriam is very wistful.

The mother of a young friend of mine died suddenly about six months ago, and there is a certain stricken wistfulness I’ve seen on his face at unguarded moments, particularly if I’ve been playing with my younger son in the friend’s presence. Taz loves to roughhouse and be physical; it’s a primary avenue of affection for him, and I try to indulge it. Taz won’t always be eleven, asking for “mommy hugs.” I keep wishing I could offer that kind of affection to my young friend, and I hope that sometime soon he’ll feel able to accept it.

Miriam the fragrance conjures images of motherhood for me – partly due to the film, partly due to the fact that my own mother, with whom I have a good relationship, has frequently been so comfortable in aldehydic scents, and partly due to the wistfulness in my young friend’s face over the past few weeks. Wearing Miriam feels bittersweet and emotional, tender and wrenching and beautiful. It smells like a memory of love to me, and I will cherish it.

A few other reviews of Miriam: Carol at WAFTThe Non-BlondeMarina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things,  Perfume Shrine.  Here’s a post from Andy’s blog, with some of his thoughts concerning Miriam, too. 

And one more thing:  I also won a sample of Miriam via the drawing at The Non-Blonde, but wasn’t able to get hold of Gaia to request her to consider redrawing for it, so I’ll offer a draw here to one commenter, and my immense thanks to Gaia.  Draw will be open, as the original was, to US residents, from the time of posting until midnight Eastern Standard Time Friday, November 4, 2011  Draw is now closed. 

(I will post the winner of the Pandora sample on Wednesday.)  All photos mine.

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An AldeHo Dishes: Le Labo Aldehyde 44, a Perfume Review

I have to blame Abigail of I Smell Therefore I Am for this decant. 

See, Le Labo annoys me no end.  They really do.  They have this quasi-scientific packaging, they fill and label your individual bottle upon order as if this is a desirable thing, and they name their fragrances in this strange, quasi-scientific way that turns out to be misleading, as in Tubereuse 40 being a citrus cologne instead of a tuberose fragrance.  Grr.  Also, they have these certain fragrances available only in certain cities, and they won’t sell them online or by phone order.  To get Aldehyde 44, you have to go to Dallas and buy a bottle.  This strikes me as unnecessarily exclusionary in that country-club, “you don’t belong” sort of way, which burns my shorts because I am pretty well bought in to the whole American ideal of all [humans] being created equal (which, I know, isn’t actually borne out in practice, but I still believe in it as an ideal).  I am not likely to make a trip to Dallas any time in the near future, unless I have to connect through the airport on a trip to visit my sister in Fort Hood, TX, which is also not likely.

Also-also, Le Labo makes a big deal out of being French, as in, “We are French, and you are not.  You can buy our ridiculously-priced French perfume, but it will not make you French.  Ha ha ha ha!”  On top of all this snobbery and floofery to do with misleading names and ugly packaging and city exclusives and Frenchiness, the Le Labo fragrances are ridiculously priced.  Did I mention the ridiculous price schedule?  It’s ridiculous.  As in, you can currently buy a 100 ml bottle of one of the city exclusives (assuming you can travel to the appropriate city) for the whopping total, before tax, of $440 USD. 

So the fact that I purchased a 5ml split portion* can be ascribed directly to Abigail’s review of Aldehyde 44, because I would absolutely never have done it if she hadn’t activated my acquisitiveness glands.  I think the phrase that did me in was this: “OH MY GAWWWWWWWWD.”  *at a price somewhat lower, about $3.60 per ml – still ridiculous, but manageable in small amounts.

The notes for Aldehyde 44 include aldehydes (duh), neroli, tuberose absolute, narcissus absolute, jasmine sambac, vanilla, musks and woods.  Aldehyde 44 was composed by Yann Vasnier and released in 2006.  I am a total sucker for narcissus.  Ditto aldehydes, ditto tuberose.  Although I’m not a jasmine fan, I like tropical jasmine sambac much better than traditional-French-perfumery jasmine grandiflorum.  So of course, of course, I had to try it.

Aldehyde 44 starts out with a blast of, you guessed it, aldehydes.  I do not recommend huffing your recently-spritzed wrist up close, unless you want an aldehyde headache – I had to warn Gaze “Not too close!” when he sniffed me this morning – but within a few minutes, the blast is gone.  What’s surprising to me about this fragrance is that unlike most other aldehydies, there’s not an aldehyde-heavy opening quickly transitioned to something else that usually smells completely different

You look at the classic aldehydic floral fragrances like Arpege or, say, Balenciaga Le Dix, and they only start out with aldehydes.  Arpege, to me, is all about the rich, almost composty florals followed by a wonderful sandalwood.  Chanel No. 5 is aldehydes followed by rich florals and a beautiful woody-musky drydown.  Robert Piguet Baghari (the reformulation, at least) is aldehydes followed by a delightful orange-and-wood accord.

But Aldehyde 44 seems to keep its aldehydic character throughout.  I was expecting the aldehydes to slide into a sweet white-floral bomb, but they don’t.  Instead, I get just a vague white-floral veil, light and pretty and uncomplicated, still with that sparkly champagne-bubble character of the aldehydes.  I’d swear that there is a little bit of rose in this scent, too, a pretty woody rose.  After several hours, I smell a hint of vanilla and lots of dry wood, and at this point it reminds me to a small degree of Baghari.  The aldehydes are never very powdery, as often happens; rather, they keep their sparkly quality.  Even in the far drydown, six hours after application (a stunningly long time for an edp to last on me), I seem to still get sparkly, white fairy light aldehydes.  The transitions are so smooth with this fragrance, I can’t pinpoint when it’s moved from opening to floral to woods.

The whole thing is pretty and light and fairly dry, not as sweet as I’d expected.  My one complaint is that it wears too close to the skin and doesn’t project much, even in warm weather.  In fact, when I’ve worn Aldehyde 44 in the summer, it has shrunk down to skin and disappeared too soon, very forgettable, which is close to unforgivable in a scent that costs as much as this one does.  It is lovely, but not as assertive as I’d like – and you might remember that I am not a big sillage fan!  All the same, I’m glad I have this small portion, and I’ll be wearing it happily until it’s gone.

And then I’ll wear my Guerlain Vega, which is also gorgeous, more warm and friendly, and slightly less expensive.

(This review interrupted for a public service announcement: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TAZ!!)

If you’ve been reading and cursing your bad luck at not living in or near Dallas, you should know this: in a special promotional program, samples of the Le Labo city exclusives will be available at the Le Labo website during the months of October and November 2011, at $10 per 1.5ml spray sample (shipping included).  Bottles will be available for purchase at LuckyScent in November, with samples available from now through the end of November.

Other reviews, most of them favorable: Bois de Jasmin, Tom at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Marina at PST (not favorable),  Aromascope, The Non-Blonde.  In Perfumes: The Guide, Luca Turin first slyly pokes fun at Le Labo (yay!) and then calls Aldehyde 44 a “mini-White Linen.”  (Thing is, I don’t like White Linen…)

Fragrance image from Lucky Scent. 

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An AldeHo Dishes: Divine L'Ame Soeur, a Thumbnail Review

Yup, more aldehydes. This one is a favorite of our dear Daisy, Empress of Perfumista Enabling, and my small decant came from her.

P:TG review: *** aldehydic woody This combination of dry, talcum-powder wood and a slightly metallic, sweaty cast I find classical in feel and pleasingly aloof, and LT finds nerve-wracking in the extreme. Several fragrances in this vegetal, pale, unsweetened style have come down the pike in recent years, two by Pierre Bourdon (Ferré, Iris Poudre). This one from 2004 (the names means “soul mate”) by young perfumer Yann Vasnier seems both steely and mild-mannered, like a sort of woman you might have known whose soft, maternal build belies an icy manner. TS

(I’m still puzzled by the reference to Iris Poudre as being “vegetal” and “unsweetened.” “Pale” it may be, but in a white-angora-sweater sort of way, and it always strikes me as being fluffy and candy-sweet, due to the lovely benzoin in the base.)

But I digress. L’Ame Soeur, when I first started wearing this decant, struck me as being both fruity and aldehydic. Sometime around 8 months ago, I started smelling a faintly sour, celerylike twist in it every time I put it on. The celery is fleeting, thank goodness, but there is a saltiness to the scent that seems odd to me. I cannot pick out any florals, and the entire fragrance has a slick texture that I can’t quite put my finger on.

The notes, according to Divine’s website, include Bulgarian rose otto, ylang-ylang, jasmine, and ambergris. Unquestionably, there are also aldehydes, and I suggest a bit of vetiver as well. I don’t know if the ambergris note is ambreine, or ambrox, or cetalox, or what-have-you, but it is a salty-soapy note that reminds me quite a bit of Creed’s Fleurs de Bulgarie.

I’m still not sure whether I like L’Ame Soeur or not. I do know that I’d almost always go hunting one of my many other aldehydic floral scents when I want one. There is a strangely sour, salty cast to this fragrance that makes me think of Chinese food gone stale, and sometimes it bothers me more often than other times.

I’ll add a rating system. Scents of Scelf just added one, and it’s fun: pictures of the Harajuku Lovers fragrances, from 1 figure to 5. I’m not that clever, so I think I’ll go with stars or something equally clear but uninspiring… I’ll give L’Ame Soeur 2.5 stars. It ranges from “acceptable” to “below average.”  Other reviews of  L’Ame Soeur: Bois de Jasmin and Aromascope (brief), both of which are more favorable than this review!

Bottle image from Fragrantica.

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An AldeHo Dishes: Lady Stetson, a Thumbnail Review

In my teens and twenties, I’d have told you that I didn’t like aldehydes. I may have been affected by my mother’s use of Chanel No. 5, and by my disavowal of anything that Smells Like My Mother. Aldehydes are very much out of fashion these days, with only the occasional niche fragrance firm making use of them, and then only rarely.

But now I love them. There’s just something about aldehydes that say “proper perfume” to me, and I enjoy that little clean fizzy sparkle they can give to a scent, as well as the powdery cast they leave behind. I call myself an AldeHo these days; I’m always interested in trying new ones.

Earlier in the life of this blog, I reviewed several other aldehydic fragrances, including THE QUEEN ALDEHYDE, Chanel No. 5, as well as some others in that fragrance category. Click for reviews of Chanel No. 5, No. 5 Eau Premiere, Mariella Burani, Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, Guerlain Vega, Lanvin Arpege, Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, Ferre by Ferre, Frederic Malle Iris Poudre, Lancome Climat, and Coty L’Aimant (vintage). I’m proposing the occasional review of an aldehydic fragrance in this “AldeHo Dishes” series, on an irregular basis. Some of these reviews will be quick ones, and I’ll call them “thumbnail” reviews. Some will be more in-depth reviews. It will depend on how much time I’ve had with each fragrance, and how much I have to say about them.

Today’s quick fragrance review concerns the decidedly downmarket Coty Lady Stetson, praised by Tania Sanchez in Perfumes: The Guide, particularly in comparison to the far-pricier Chanel No. 22:

Lady Stetson sets out on an airy, slightly powdery peach. As time goes on… The Lady seems simply to relax. It’s a well-balanced structure of just enough amber, just enough floral, just enough peach, just enough soapy citrus to pull up a smile each time it comes to your attention. This fragrance smells great without showing off, and truth to tell, I prefer it to the Chanel. Now, if only the bottle weren’t so hideous.

I’m not a huge fan of Chanel No. 22 either (more on No. 22 to come), but my take on Lady Stetson is a little different.  And the bottle doesn’t bother me, either.  Coty is not a company where you pay for the packaging.

LS does start off with those sweet, powdery aldehydes – not enough to burn your nose, but they’re definitely present – as well as a lactonic peach note. I can’t pick out the florals, but they seem both classical in structure and mostly-synthetic in nature to me: rose and jasmine, perhaps, but not the real expensive stuff. As LS develops and the aldehydes go away, I get more and more peach, amber, and musk. The musk is rather pleasant – the “skin” version rather than the “laundry” version – but I find the amber and peach far too sweet for my taste. I suspect that my skin often renders amber notes too sweet, and not everyone has that problem.

Overall, my complaint with Lady Stetson is that it smells nice, but cheap. I can’t pick out any natural floral notes, and I find it inoffensive but boring. It has a “PTA Volunteer Mom” sort of vibe to it. Although Lady Stetson was launched in 1986, the year I graduated from high school, it smells like the PTA Moms of my own youth: dull, safe, stodgy, but comforting and pleasant.   It smells nothing like the “declaration of independence” this ad touts:

Notes according to Fragrantica: aldehydes, peach, tangerine, rose, ylang-ylang, carnation, jasmine, sandalwood, amber, and oakmoss.  I don’t smell any citrus, and I definitely don’t get any oakmoss out of it at all.  Read Angela’s review at Now Smell This for yet another take on Lady Stetson. 

Rating: ***  Lady Stetson has a couple of undeniable assets: it smells decent, it’s easily available, and it’s pretty inexpensive. I sprayed from a tester at my local Wal-Mart. A 30ml bottle will run you $16.50 there, a huuuuge bargain… if you like it.

Images are from Fragrantica.

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Perfume Review: Lanvin Arpège, in two formulations

Arpege bottle on chain, image from toutenparfum

As regular readers might remember, I usually love classic perfumes, and I especially love aldehydic florals.  There’s something so enjoyable to me about smelling “perfumey,” which is one of the things that aldehydes do to a scent as well as giving it a burst of light and fizz, that I try all the aldehydic florals I can get my hands on.

Arpège is pretty famous.  It was one of the classic fragrances that was widely available to American women in drugstores and department stores from the 1940’s through the 1970s, and it was also heavily advertised in magazines.  It was expensive, but not madly so, and many of the ads seemed to encourage men to buy it for their lady friends: “Promise her anything, but give her Arpège!”  I imagine that a fair number of women received it as a gift, and either wore it with pleasure, or wished it had been another fragrance and tucked it away under their girdles for several decades. 

During my “vintage spree” on ebay a couple of summers ago, I bought a boxed bottle of vintage Arpège extrait; judging by the packaging, it’s perhaps 1970s or late 1960s. It was pretty cheap – 7.5ml for $12, including shipping.  (I frequently buy “used,” especially if the fragrance is still in its box.  I’ve had good luck with that.)  

Arpege ad from ebay (sorry, no seller listed)

Perfumer Andre Fraysse created Arpège in 1927 for designer Jeanne Lanvin.  As a birthday tribute to Lanvin’s daughter Margaret (later called Marie-Blanche), a violinist, the fragrance was given a musical term meaning “arpeggio,” a graceful broken chord.  A sketch of Mme. Lanvin’s, depicting herself and her young daughter dressed for a dance, was adapted into the silhouette that became the emblem of Lanvin perfumes.  I love the tender, joyous bond between mother and daughter in this emblem, and the design in gold on a black boule bottle is just beautiful.

A reorchestration of Arpège took place in 1993, streamlining the rich, dense original formula but keeping its structure intact.  I received a mini bottle of reformulated eau de parfum in a swap, and it was interesting to compare it to the vintage extrait.  My little mini is clear glass with the gold emblem printed on the front, and a tiny ribbed gold cap.  I often see this bottle advertised on ebay with the description “vintage,” and the look is indeed retro, but this is the new.

Notes for Arpège, from Fragrantica (and these seem to be appropriate for the reorchestration, not the vintage):  Topnotes are aldehydes, bergamot, peach, orange blossom, honeysuckle.  Heart notes are rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, coriander, tuberose, violet, geranium, orris.  Basenotes are sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, vanilla, styrax, and musk.

Based on my experience of the two formulations, I suspect that the original may have contained a base or two (or more!) that is no longer available, as well as some florals not listed.  I also suspect that the original did not contain vanilla, and did contain a hint of oakmoss.  But like many classic perfumes, Arpège has been reformulated many times over the years, and at this stage, it’s difficult to say just how much has been changed. 

The refo EdP is quite wearable really, even given its old-fashioned aldehydic top.  It carries a golden sort of glow with it, beautiful rich saturated florals seen through the sparkle of aldehydes.  There is a bit of lightness and sweetness to this scent, compared to the vintage – the violet and lily of the valley are quite apparent, and the squeakiness of geranium too.  Rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang are prominent in the heart, and only lightly touched with the herbal-spice of the coriander.

The aldehydes are pretty heavy in the vintage extrait, and the floral heart notes thick and almost sticky, heavy with that French jasmine that often shocks me with its indolic languidness.  The jasmine-rose-ylang combination so common to classic perfumery is perfectly distinguishable here, even with the enormous list of other florals.  The coriander is quite strong in my vintage bottle, adding an herbal twang to the mix.  I sometimes find the heart of the vintage parfum too loud and buzzy, nearly overwhelming.

As the refo EdP moves into its basenotes, it settles a bit and the flowers stop humming.  Sandalwood (Australian or New Caledonian, I think, judging by the brightness), vetiver and musk are prominent, and Arpège EdP becomes a dry, floral-woody fragrance with stature.  It seems like the scent of a young woman who is described as “twenty, going on forty,” a sensible, reliable person.

Image from toutenparfum. My vintage extrait bottle looks much like this.

In the vintage extrait, the richness continues into the drydown.  The prominent notes here are sandalwood (gorgeous creamy Indian), vetiver, oakmoss, and a very sensual musk, and the entire thing is absolutely beautiful, a scent of grace and generosity and gravitas.

I have sometimes commented that I wished I could merge the top and heart notes of the reformulation with the incredibly rich and poignant basenotes of the vintage.  There is something close to overripe in the florals of the vintage parfum, and at times it is almost too, too much for me to wear.  Usually I just soldier on through the first couple of hours, because I know what’s awaiting on the other side: the most amazingly beautiful sandalwood-heavy drydown I have ever smelled.  Ever.  That includes the drydown of Bois des Iles, mind you, which may be an icon as far as sandalwood scents go.  I do love BdI, but Arpège is just stunning at this stage, where BdI merely whispers.

I love wearing Arpège in the autumn; its tremendous richness complements the richness of the colors on the trees and the golden slant of sunlight across grass in late afternoons. 

Other blog reviews: Angela at Now Smell This; Bois de Jasmin, Fragrance Bouquet, For the Love of Perfume, The Non-Blonde, Donna at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Yesterday’s Perfume.   Forum reviews: Makeup Alley (I especially enjoyed the review by FlameDancer), Fragrantica, Basenotes.

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Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds (parfum)

I had long dismissed Elizabeth Taylor’s fragrances as being too big and bombastic for me, based on my reaction to her first fragrance, Passion. Passion was a big old honkin’ oriental, and given my usual reaction to that genre, it’s not surprising that I absolutely hated it then (and still hate it now).

Liz as a young woman was so stunningly beautiful, and so perfectly aligned with the standards of feminine beauty in her prime, that I was never surprised at her celebrity. She was also a very competent actor, in contrast to the many models who turn to acting as a career but retain their “stand there and look pretty” skills instead of learning to portray emotion. By the time she began to release fragrances under her own label, she had a Former Star status in my mind, having not appeared in film for several years, and having gained weight and married a politician. (The then-Mrs. Warner was once an attendee at a party some staunch Republican neighbors of ours threw, back in… oh, 1980 or ’81, I think. Think of that: Elizabeth Taylor, on my block! I never laid eyes on her, though.) White Diamonds, composed in Sophia Grojsman’s inimitable, bosomy feminine style, was released in 1991. But it was so much of the era of Dynasty and Dallas, all dress-up“fancy”, that I felt it would definitely not fit my sense of style. I avoided it, as best I could: I often smelled it on older ladies, the kind of woman who will dress up in her nicest Alfred Dunner pantsuit and add Sarah Coventry jewelry before getting her hair set and then going to the grocery store! In short, it was for my grandmother. It was definitely Not Me.

But when Angela at Now Smell This reviewed White Diamonds back in the spring of 2011 and found it better than she had expected, I determined for myself that I’d find a way to test it somehow. Ebay is my usual go-to source for small portions of fragrances that aren’t new, and this was no exception. I snagged a 5ml bottle of White Diamonds parfum, in box, for $4.

I opened the bottle and took a sniff, and instantly recognized it. Yes: big white floral with a buncha stuff in there, the olfactory equivalent of a red sequined cocktail dress with shoulder pads, worn with high matching red heels, teased hair, and way too much jewelry, not to mention scads of blue eyeshadow and blood-red lips and nails. It is Obviously Dressy and a little Over the Top, perfectly in keeping with its decadently luxurious name. It’s White Diamonds, plural – not your engagement ring solitaire, not the single diamond on a slender gold chain.

On skin, it goes like this: some soapy aldehydes and a luscious, almost overripe peach, as well as an immediate hit of tuberose and jasmine/orange blossom. It reminds me just a bit of my old Karl Lagerfeld Chloe, though White Diamonds is even more in-your-face than Chloe was. It smells rich and soft and blatantly feminine. There is a noticeably spicy carnation in there, as well as a rose note. Sometimes, though not always, I can pick up on a strange ashtray smell, which I at first thought my memory was adding in, but have since smelled in a few other fragrances as well (vintage Chanel Cristalle edt, and Ysatis). It can smell a little… dirty… like post-coital sheets, perhaps from the influence of narcissus. Eventually WD settles into a soft, plushy floral-musk drydown, with tiny hints of wood and moss, that retains its luxurious character. The whole experience lasts about nine hours on me, which is nearly unheard of! It stays comfortable and pleasant throughout. I’ve heard it called “soapy,” but it’s not nearly as soapy as most orange blossom fragrances seem to veer on my skin. Instead, the tuberose and narcissus seem to pull it toward “cosy” instead.

Notes for White Diamonds, according to Fragrantica: aldehydes, neroli, bergamot, orange, lily, carnation, cinnamon, violet, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, narcissus, tuberose, orris root, amber, patchouli, musk, oakmoss, sandalwood.

The parfum is softer and less radiant than I remember smelling on most of those ladies of my grandmother’s age when WD was new. And if they’re selling this mini bottle at about $12 retail, there’s no way that the ingredients are top-notch, but I do smell what I think is at least a bit of natural tuberose in there. The entire thing is soft and floral and cooshy (a little like Liz’ famous curves?), and I think most men, even ones that regularly wear women’s fragrances, would feel uncomfortable in it, given its cultural connotations of femininity. White Diamonds does feel a little dated and definitely not of the current era. But oddly, for all the long list of notes and the jam-packed overripeness it can sometimes give off, it’s actually pretty. It is not young and innocent, but it is pretty. My teenage daughter, who’s notably sensitive to skank, wrinkled her nose, but my sons and husband all commented on it smelling nice on me. Unasked! That’s a fairly high endorsement.

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Perfume Review: Elie Saab Le Parfum

I’ve been a pretty big fan of Francis Kurkdjian for awhile; his fragrance house’s Lumiere Noire pour femme is an absolute favorite of mine, and there are several other fragrances he’s authored that I really enjoy.  So when Vanessa at Bonkers about Perfume praised Elie Saab’s new, eponymous scent, I added it to the “To Investigate” list.  And then when Angela at Now Smell This enjoyed it and called it a “tornado of aldehydes and flowers,” I shifted it over to the “To Test” list, since I am a confirmed card-carrying AldeHo.  I was expectant of joy. And when Ann N, of Perfume Posse, sent me a sample, I was thrilled and put it on right away.

Also, I think that’s a pretty bottle.  People keep saying it looks like the bottle for Guerlain L’Instant, but you know me: I’m not terribly bothered by recycled design elements.  I like a nice heavy squarish thing that feels good in the hand, and this one certainly looks like it would do that.  I don’t know anything about Elie Saab other than that he’s a fashion designer, which of course means that I am completely oblivious to his typical artistic bent and whether or not his fragrance fits his oeuvre.  It’s a good fragrance, though.

Here’s my “short review” version: La Chasse aux Papillons and Coco Mademoiselle made a baby.  I don’t really care much for either of those fragrances – La Chasse veers too toilet-cleanery and Coco Mlle. is far, far too patchouli-heavy – but there are elements of each in Elie Saab, somehow pairing the two in a way such that the best features of each parent are present in the offspring.  Nice.

The thoughtful, serious(ish) version:  Elie Saab Le Parfum starts off with a tender, sweet orange blossom that I’m enjoying more than usual, since OB is almost guaranteed to go soapy on me.  I don’t smell a lot of fruit, just a fleeting sort of… succulence?  Like biting into a plum, with its terrific sweet-sour balance.  It passes quickly.  Elie Saab is only a little soapy at the top, with a youthful, shy quality that is extremely pretty.  Very quickly, the scent shifts into a thing of light and sparkles, with a hint of aldehydes and a lot of jasmine.  There is also a buncha hedione in there, methinks – it’s that aspect of jasmine that seems both green-dewy and light-clean, the farthest thing from indolic that you could imagine.  Angela writes (so charmingly!) that this phase makes her think of the instrumental ascending-pitch crescendo in the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.  I often experience certain scents as being auditory in some sense, but Elie Saab doesn’t sing to me.  Instead, it’s a dazzling white light, diffused gently over an array of blossoms.  I did dab it generously rather than spraying, and I might get more aldehydes if I had the opportunity to spray.  All the same, it was very pretty, with the effect of a sparkly white chiffon veil, just my girly-girl type of thing.

Notes (from Fragrantica): Orange blossom, jasmine grandiflora, jasmine sambac, rose-honey accord, cedar, patchouli.

I do find it a little heavy on the clean patchouli for my taste.  But then, I’m sensitive to patchouli.  It’s a nice base accord, very light and clean with that astringent and almost sour quality that clean patchouli, and sometimes cedar, can have.  I’ll make nice here and call it tangy rather than sour, because it’s not unpleasant at all.  I’d have liked a bit more of the so-called rose honey accord, because that really is up my alley.  However, over two wearings (using up my sample!  which I never do!), I did not detect anything I could have pinpointed as honey, while the rose is there but very much in the background to that scintillating jasmine.

It lasted for a fair amount of time on me, about five hours.  With the “spray until wet” technique, it might last even longer.  I don’t actually smell musk, but I’d bet there’s either some musk or other in there, because of the decent lasting power on my usually scent-eating skin.  With musks, of course, you always run into the possibility of specific anosmiae, and I’d bet I just can’t smell whatever this one is.

I like Elie Saab Le Parfum.  I’m not moved to want a bottle or even a decant, for reasons that longtime readers can probably predict: I wanted more aldehydes than I got, I’m not a big jasmine fan, and there is of course the Dreaded Patchouli, which is not offensive but still too much for my personal taste.  I did really like that cloud-of-light effect.  I’m sure this scent will sell very well, deservedly so.  And I think I might heart Francis Kurkdjian even more, for that glowy effect he’s so capable of producing, in Elie Saab and in Lumiere Noire pf – and probably in other things, as well.  Hmm… Oh, Francis, dahlink? Would you maybe consider making something just for meeeee?  How about you try that effect in a tuberose floral this time?

Image is from Fragrantica.  Also, here’s another review from a blogger I’m sure I’ll be adding to my blogroll, The Unseen Censer (cool name! Poe! Yay!).

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Fragrance Throwdown: Ferre by Ferre versus Gianfranco Ferre (2005)

Photo of wrestlers via Wikimedia Commons

I went looking for these in the first place because of Iris Poudre. I had read in comments on a ‘fume blog that Ferre by Ferre was a close cousin of Iris Poudre, which I love. Then there’s a review of Gianfranco Ferre in Perfumes: The Guide stating that it is a more-polished, fully-developed version of Iris Poudre. However, I’m still not absolutely convinced that the confusingly similar names of the Ferre fragrances haven’t caused a mixup in at least one case. Here are my thoughts on the matter, developed through multiple wearings and side-by-side comparisons over several months, as well as some good old-fashioned internet research. I confess that I’m still puzzled by the P:TG review.

(In case you are wondering, “old-fashioned internet research” was a joke. A terrible joke, but nonetheless.)

Both fragrances tested are minis acquired on ebay, with Ferre by Ferre in the black hand-grenade bottle (also produced as a goldtone mesh hand-grenade) and Gianfranco Ferre in the rectangular Ferre bottle, the same shape as my golden Ferre 20 bottle except clear glass with gold top. (see pix) This was the other blog comment that kicked up my interest in these Ferre fragrances: Commenter Melissa on Perfume Posse: “I am also amassing bottles of a few of the entirely underrated discontinued Ferres. Specifically, the older Ferre by Ferre (“classic”) in the round grenade shaped bottle, a modern floral aldehyde. And Ferre 20, a floral with a rich, woody-vanillic base. The latter has become crazy expensive, if you can find it at all.” That was the reason I was so happy to snag that bottle of Ferre 20 in Rome – well, that recommendation, and the fact that I think it smells great.

I warn you now – if you hate aldehydes, these two are not going to change your mind. But if you like them, these are both enjoyable and attractive fragrances, and the 2005 version is still available at a reasonable price at discounters (currently selling at FragranceX at about $37 for a 50ml bottle).

Ferre by Ferre from Fragrantica

Notes for Ferre by Ferre: Top Aldehydes, orange, green notes, peach, neroli, bergamot, lemon. Heart Mimosa, passionfruit, carnation, violet, orange blossom, ivy, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, rose, oakmoss. Base Spices, orris root, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver, styrax.

It reminds me more of Le Labo Aldehydes 44 than of Iris Poudre, but I can see the IP reference. It never develops IP’s delicious, angora-fluff benzoin drydown, though.

In fact, nothing does, so far as I have been able to find out. My opinion is that Iris Poudre got robbed in Luca Turin’s three-star P:TG review, which states, in part, “Simply stated, the problem with iris-root smell is this: everyone loves its gray, nostalgic, romantic powderiness, but the stuff is, truth be told, as funereal as it gets… [Pierre Bourdon’s] expertise in making resolutely sunny, fruity compositions very quickly dries iris’ tears. After a restrained initial gravitas appropriate to the occasion, Iris Poudre veers toward a happier disposition reminiscent of Bourdon’s Dolce Vita… A good fragrance, but not true to its name or material.

I’ll concur, Iris Poudre isn’t all that iris-y. Which is fine with me, for to be honest I am not the World’s Biggest Iris Fan. And true, it’s sunny and fruity; this is also fine with me because I like Dolce Vita very much. I would, however, quibble with the assertion that IP is “powdery.” It isn’t all that powdery; rather, it is as fluffy as a marabou stole.

Okay, true: I admit that I got pretty snarky about Elizabeth Taylor’s Violet Eyes having violet in the packaging, violet in the name, but no violet in the fragrance – but it is after all a very attractive floral that I might have bought if it had been just a little more distinctive. Dr. Turin gets similarly snarky when a fragrance name references either gardenia or iris, and turns out to not have much of whatever’s advertised, so I can’t blame him all that much. All the same, here I am looking for an Iris Poudre clone because I love it so much and it’s so expensive, and I still haven’t found one. Various fragrances replicate pieces of it – Ferre by Ferre and Ulric de Varens pour Elle mimic the sweet aldehydic top, Dolce Vita and Ferre 20 do the fruity bit, and Mariella Burani does something close to IP’s wonderful drydown. An all-of-a-piece replica? Doesn’t exist.

As a matter of fact, Ferre by Ferre happens to be discontinued and very difficult to find. Minis still float around on ebay, and I know of at least one fragrance seller on ebay that has a bottle or two of it, at approximately $100 for a 100ml bottle.   However, it’s still not all that much less expensive than a bottle of IP, so I’m still totally stuck on that “find a replacement for Iris Poudre” quest.

Ferre by Gianfranco Ferre (edp) from Fragrantica

After the fun start, GF turns into floral soap for some time, prim and opaque, flat as a piece of Sheetrock. The contrast with the sparkly topnotes is drastic. I don’t get a lot of iris in it, nor much rose. What does pop out, to my nose, is the lemony-creamy note of magnolia, and a sullen pouty jasmine, with just a hint of sugared violets. The drydown – primarily woody-musky-vanilla – is very comfortable, and easy to wear, though sweetened with amber.  It lasts well, about four hours on me (dabbed).  In my opinion, GF seems very little like Iris Poudre, despite the same perfumer and what is claimed to be a similar structure.

Notes for Gianfranco Ferre: Top Pineapple, melon, iris leaf, bergamot, [aldehydes]. Heart Magnolia, iris, freesia, jasmine, ylang-ylang, violet, rose. Base sandalwood, amber, basmati rice, musk, vanilla, orris root.

Now here’s Tania Sanchez, reviewing this fragrance (referred to as Ferre from the house of Gianfranco Ferre) and giving it four stars where Iris Poudre received three: “Five years after doing Iris Poudre… Bourdon polished the idea for Ferre. Slightly more vegetal than the Malle fragrance, Ferre is nevertheless a close match: powdery, woody-sweet in a violet way, and slightly too bright, like overexposed flash photographs.”

I admit here that I am not at all sure that I’m smelling the same fragrance that TS was reviewing. The notes list for this scent seems congruent with what I’m smelling – the fruit in particular, which TS doesn’t even mention, is prominent. “Powdery” is not at all a phrase I’d use to describe what I’m smelling here. Neither does “too bright.” This thing seems sort of dense to me, and, yes, sweet. It’s a fruity sweetness, but it’s true that sometimes violets (ionones) can seem fruity and sweet.  I am totally Not Getting the Iris Poudre reference, not in the least bit.  I noticed, too late, that my miniature bottle is Eau de Toilette, while the larger bottles are Eau de Parfum, and that may be the  issue.  Please weigh in if you’ve tried both the EdT and the EdP – and if you think I have the wrong one!

Over on Fragrantica, I notice that people keep putting reviews on the wrong Ferre fragrances. Someone has done a long, thoughtful review of the original 1984 Ferre fragrance, a rich floral oriental, on the 2005 Gianfranco Ferre scent. (FAIL!) Someone else has posted a lovely review of GF on Ferre by Ferre; I know it’s GF because it mentions a strong presence of fruit. Aargh. I think we have to blame Gianfranco Ferre himself for that. Was there ever another designer so enamored of his own name?! (Well, maybe. But nobody else has committed the marketing mistake of confusing potential customers with similar-sounding fragrances.)

A few other blog reviews of the Gianfranco Ferre fragrance: Bois de Jasmin and Legerdenez.  Enjoy.

Once again, we have a Throwdown where the winner is decided on points: While I think the 2005 Bourdon fragrance is a good one, a lighthearted sweet fruity floral with aldehydes and vanilla, I prefer the older fragrance, the hand-grenade bottle one, much more. It’s much softer, a pleasant powdery veil.  I might actually prefer Ferre 20 to either one of these, but they’re both lovely.

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