Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom, 2010 reorchestration of the 1976 release, composed by Bertrand Duchaufour: really very nice. I had bought this small split portion a couple of years ago, and then apparently “put it away for safekeeping”, which any fool knows is like tossing things into the Bermuda Triangle: you never know if you’ll see those items again. I found the decant when cleaning out my closet recently and, despite barely remembering buying it, decided to give it a shot. Regular readers know that I Haz Orange Blossom Issues, by which I mean that OB fragrances nearly always smell like soap on me. I mean, it’s generally nice soap, of the creamy Dove kind, but still: soap. Bleagh. Don’t get me started on the list of OB scents that do not work for me, because it’s long. If they don’t smell like soap, they smell like candy. I really like By Kilian’s (pricey) Sweet Redemption, which is orange blossom and myrrh, but every time I wear it, Taz says I smell like grape and root beer lollipops. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Honestly, I can’t remember why I went out on a limb for a 5ml split portion of the Penhaligon’s, other than I remember hearing it was good.
I’m glad I did, though. This one is distinctly un-soapy, which is a blessed relief, and more floral than candy-sweet. It’s a simple-seeming floral fragrance that is what I’d call a true soliflore, in that although there are materials in it other than orange blossom (notably petitgrain, jasmine, muguet, violet leaf, virginia cedar, vanilla), it mostly smells of orange blossom all the way through. The angle of light shining on the flowers changes, from a lemony-green sparkle up top to a warm, mellow, honeyed base. It’s lovely. It also only lasts about three hours with a moderate spritz, so the Annick Goutal spray-until-wet method would serve you well with it.
Lubin Epidor: Angela’s review on Now Smell This last May made me think that it would not be up my alley in the least. “Thick”? Not my kinda thang. And Lubin’s ad copy mentioning peasant girls and ripe wheat and dreams is soppy and even more useless than ad copy usually is — even from Lubin, which is famous for its ridiculously OTT ad copy.
But then my almost-Evil Scent Twin Kafkaesque reviewed it and said it was very simple, linear, but called it “cozy comfort” and said she needed a decant. And then March’s review of it on Perfume Posse in December made me think that I needed to try this. She called it “unashamedly romantic” and “narcotic,” and told me the base was more hay/woody than sweet vanilla. So I ordered a 1.2ml spray sample.
And y’all, it’s gone already. I used it up. I like it that much.
The notes include violet, plum, orange blossom, jasmine, cedarwood, sandalwood, vanilla and tonka bean. It is not complicated at all: it is just so golden and pretty. I get lots of violet, a haze of white florals, then a gentle wheaty, almond-cake drydown. Which sounds like not much, right? but it’s just so dang pretty, and it smells relatively natural. None of that blocky, lab-created jasminoid thing that annoyed the pants off me in Twilly d’Hermes. No buzzy Ambrox. I’m not saying there aren’t any synthetics in it, I’m just saying that the synthetics in it are not ones that trip my “this smells like Chem 102 lab” threshold.
Annick Goutal Nuit et Confidences
Ad copy mentions sparkling champagne and sequins; the bottle is floofy (see left). But the notes list is pretty simple: bergamot, black pepper, tonka, frankincense, white flowers, vanilla, white musk. The fragrance is pretty simple, too. It’s basically . . . vanilla.
To confess, I’ve never tried what’s generally recognized as the ne plus ultra of vanilla fragrances, Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille. (SDV itself has been revamped in the last couple of years anyway, and aficionados say it isn’t as long-lasting now.) Never mind the fairly malicious review of it in Perfumes: The Guide, because people who love vanilla still love SDV. Haven’t smelled L’Artisan’s late, lamented Vanilia, either. I did enjoy a sample of Dame Perfumery’s Black Flower Mexican Vanilla, though it’s a tad more powdery than I’d prefer.
The thing is, I love vanilla-flavored anything, so long as it’s real vanilla. Offer me a choice of vanilla or chocolate cake? Vanilla, please. Vanilla or chocolate ice cream? VANILLA. Hands down. But for some reason, I generally don’t want to wear vanilla perfume. (See the Sexy Cake post for further explanations.)
In fact, on my skin Nuit et Confidences was so straight-up vanilla that I got out a bottle of vanilla extract to compare it. The extract lasts longer — and is significantly less powdery.
Now, for full disclosure, my bottle of vanilla extract is actually double-strength Madagascar bourbon: fairly expensive stuff from The Spice House, with vanilla bean in the bottle, absolutely worth its weight in gold. It has taken me three years to get the bottle down to the last teaspoon, and that vanilla bean has been macerating in there for long enough to infuse the stuff with real magic. At the current price point, it’s $26 for a 4 oz. bottle, compared to $190 for 3.4 oz. of Nuit et Confidences (currently out of stock at the Goutal’s US website). Frankly, my dear, I’d rather have another bottle of the double-strength vanilla extract.
And, to be honest, I’m not bothered that I don’t. I’m fine not knowing. Couldn’t afford it, couldn’t fit in it, find it interesting to look at but not very practical: that all adds up to my don’t-care attitude.
I went looking for images of Denis Durand’s couture frocks when Parfums Micallef so kindly offered me a sample of the fragrance composed with Durand’s sensibility in mind. They’re interesting, at least – often what I’d call over the top, in terms of silhouette or embellishment, and really only wearable when you’d want to make an emphatic statement. “Simply pretty” is not really applicable to any of the ones I saw, though I will say that often the embellishments are luxurious and very feminine – Swarovski crystals, silk ruffles, enormous floppy satin bows.
The flacon offered for this fragrance is beautiful, too, at least in photos. It’s square and blocky, with a blocky rectangular lid, but as the press release says, “Dressed with hand sewn delicate Chantilly black lace, the bottle is adorned with a little satin bow and a golden medal with the initials of the two artists.”
Micallef calls it an oriental, but it seems quite floral to me so I’m going to toss it in the floral-oriental category and be done with it. As for the notes:
Head notes: Ceylon cinnamon, Italian tangerine
Heart notes: Bulgarian rose, orange blossoms, honey and animalis
Base notes: sandalwood, patchouli, amber and white musk
On to the fragrance. Does it smell like this dress?
Um… well, without the slit rising to risque levels, it’s not too far off. It wears closer to the skin than these outrageous dresses would suggest, for one thing. For another, it’s not particularly dark, but it’s not a clean bright floral either. There’s enough of a black-lace quality to the earthy base to suggest evening wear and liaisons over drinks, but the florals are quite lovely. Orange blossom tends to dominate the heart, and despite the Animalis note – which smells something like my fur hat, a delightful hint of really-vintage fragrances – it is relentlessly clean on me, like a bar of scented soap. (But then, I typically get a soapy quality out of orange blossom, so this is nothing unusual.) The opening moments remind me just a bit of Tauer Une Rose Chypree, with the aromatic tangerine and cinnamon, and they might be my favorite part of the fragrance. Not that the rest is dull or badly composed at all – no, it’s lovely. A number of people are getting oud and honey out of this, but I really don’t. There’s nothing about it that smells particularly animalic (the way oud and honey often can) to me, and it’s possible that other reviewers’ “oud” is my “dry wood,” but honey can sometimes go really, um, ladyparts on me, and I am not getting any of that at all.
The drydown is what many oriental-lovers are going to rave about, because it is warm and sensual without being too sweet or too raunchy. It makes me think of Givenchy’s Organza Indecence, though Parfum Couture is a little drier, its patchouli a little more prominent. I smell both sandalwood and a different, drier kind of wood in here (is this what everybody else is calling oud? I’m really only familiar with oud from those Montale rose-oud things, and the By Kilian Arabian things, and those were all much more medicinal), as well as a touch of amber. Lasting power is about average for an edp on me, 4-5 hours, and sillage is also average.
All in all, a very lovely fragrance. It’s available at Lucky Scent in the US.
Encouraged by a mention of this fragrance in a comment on a fragrance blog – which one I can’t remember – I bought a tester bottle, unsniffed, on eBay two summers ago. I was pleased with the result and I have worn it fairly frequently, but there’s still a lot in this pretty disc bottle. It is, as the name suggests, a very summery potion. However, it is not one of those light citrusy things designed to cool off the wearer. Rather, it’s very floral and spicy, with a sweet golden drydown that seems to encourage thoughts of warm, suntanned skin, and I find myself enjoying it as the summer days tail off into autumn.
The main accord is carnation and ylang-ylang, on a warm oriental base. The notes list includes, according to Fragrantica, bergamot, mint, pear, jasmine, lily, rose, carnation, ylang-ylang, iris, heliotrope and vanilla.
The vanilla is apparent from the beginning, although I wouldn’t call Terracotta VdE a vanilla fragrance; it is clearly a Guerlain. The carnation comes forward pretty quickly, and if I sniff hard I can smell the lily, both flowers that I’ve always loved for their spicy and floral aspects. Ylang-ylang is present too, with a creamy-sweet angle that seems to soften the clove of the carnation. I struggled to pick out the iris, but once I stopped trying to smell it and began focusing on the satiny quality iris often gives to a composition, I found it. The iris serves to keep the fragrance from being way too sweet – it is sweet, as you might expect with the vanilla and heliotrope in the base, but not gourmand. Or, rather, as Luca Turin says in Perfumes:The Guide of the classic Guerlains¹, it smells of food and of other inedible smells, in this case of old school tanning lotions. The heliotrope is noticeable, but not a powdery cherry thing like the stuff that bangs you over the head in, say, Serge Lutens’ dreadful Louve; it’s delicate and almondy. I also tend to think there must be a little bit of musk in this scent, because it often smells like skin at the end of a long day, not like body odor but just, you know, skin, after it’s been going through the day.
The effect, overall, is of a beach blanket on which a young swimsuit-clad couple are embracing. You smell the suntan lotion, the vanilla milkshake they were sharing, and the young man’s Old Spice aftershave, as well as the sunshine on the couple’s warm, salty, tanned skin. Think Beach Blanket Bingo, lose the goofy music, and you’d be halfway there.
TVd’E doesn’t smell quite so retro, but it doesn’t smell modern, either. There are echoes of L’Heure Bleue in it (the clove, the heliotrope) and definitely of Old Spice, a fragrance my father wore for decades. Some reviews on Fragrantica mention a clay or baked earth aspect, which I can’t pick out specifically, but which doesn’t seem out of place in my experience with this scent.
This fragrance was a limited edition. Octavian of 1000Fragrances says that Guerlain’s 1910 creation, Quand Vient l’Ete (When the Summer Comes), was the inspiration for this scent, or rather that Mathilde Laurent, then the house parfumeur for Guerlain, streamlined Quand Vient l’Ete to create Terracotta Voile d’Ete. I’ve read other reviews² that compare the newer rerelease of Quand Vient l’Ete to it, with some commenters preferring Terracotta Voile d’Ete. Someone (Denyse at Grain de Musc?) claims that Quand Vient l’Ete is the edp version of Terracotta Voiled’Ete, which seems a logical conclusion, but I don’t have confirmation of that.
I like the first radiant burst of the floral notes best, since it’s chock full of the spicy florals that I love. However, after an hour, the fragrance settles down and pulls in closer to the skin as the vanilla-heliotrope-musk-iris base develops. From then on, it becomes fairly quiet and close to the skin, with little radiance. It is an eau de toilette, and wears like one; it is nearly gone in about three hours. Like L’Heure Bleue, it blooms in the heat and smells rich and interesting. I sometimes wish it would be either all sillage-y like the first stage, or all quiet like the second (to be honest, the top notes of bergamot and mint zip past me in about thirty seconds and I don’t really consider them part of the overall character of the scent). Since people are accustomed to smelling Old Spice on men, I think Tvd’E would be perfectly acceptable as a man’s scent. Guys, try it out.
Terracotta Voile d’Ete was a real bargain at $24 for a 100ml bottle, and I imagine I’ll be wearing it for summers to come. Sadly, as stocks have become depleted following its discontinuation, I notice that prices have gone up for this fragrance, and the bottles are now selling at about $45 a pop. It’s still a reasonable price to pay for such an unexpected summer scent.
¹ In the review of Elixir Charnel Gourmand Coquin:
The trick of the old Guerlain gourmands was to smell like the sum total of a large household in which dinner, among other things, was being prepared. Thus did Mitsouko smell of floor wax as well as peaches, and Shalimar of fence-paint creosote as well as vanilla.
² Typically in comments on blog reviews of Quand Vient l’Ete. I won’t list those reviews here, but if you want them, Now Smell This has a great search feature.
Obviously, there are many reasons, but one of them is that she knows what interests me and tries to encourage me in those directions. Recently, she gave me a 1 oz. bottle of Guerlain Samsara EdT, thinking that I’d enjoy it. In my hometown, a small city about 50 miles away from where I now live, there’s an Elizabeth Arden warehouse, and a couple of times a year, the warehouse has terrific sales on makeup, skincare items, and perfume.
Mom had asked me a couple of times last year what she could get me at the warehouse sale. At the time I was stocked up on lipsticks and EA’s warehouse didn’t have the kind of foundation I like. And I checked the website twice to see if there was anything, anything at all, in the way of perfume that I’d like to have.
Nothin’. Really. I said as much. Mom looked disappointed. She’d given my sister a bottle of Alfred Sung Shi, which both Mom and A liked and called it “nice and light, like fresh water.” Uhhh, yeah. Water… well, maybe watered-down window cleaner, if you ask me. Bleargh. Though I didn’t say so to either of them. (Digression:Mom and A, if you are reading this blog, either of you, you’d better tell me now so I don’t embarrass you in the future. Hmmm?)
During a recent visit to my parents’ house, Mom pulled me into the spare bedroom – once my brother’s – and told me, “I got you this at the warehouse sale. I hope you like it. It’s Guerlain – I think you like that, don’t you?” The price sticker was still on it, in case I hated it: $18.00. You did good, Mom.
Uh, edit here. Looks like putting that photo in took out an entire paragraph, and I did not notice. Aarrgh. I’ll put it back now.
Digression: Look, I’m just going to say it: Guerlain is not for everybody. It might be THE perfume house with the most noticeable family resemblance among its perfumes, Chanel’s gorgeous luxury iris notwithstanding, but not every fragrance fanatic is going to like every single Guerlain scent. In fact, it’s long been a pet theory of mine that most Guerlainophiles are going to fall either into the Shalimar camp or the Mitsouko camp, and while it’s possible to like both, it’s rare to absolutely-love both.
Please notice that I did not even bring up Jicky (which I hate) or Apres l’Ondee (which is gorgeous but emotionally taxing for me) or L’Heure Bleue (which sometimes seems beautiful and sometimes boringly one-dimensional). Those just complicate the concept, so I’m pulling a Research-Faculty fast one on the options and ignoring them in favor of my elegant theory¹…
… and where my so-called elegant theory touches on my mother’s preferences, it’s probably safe for me to say that if you offered her a bottle of any Guerlain she wanted, any one at all, she’d dither between Vega and Vetiver pour elle, and whichever one she wound up picking would languish on her dresser, while her Elizabeth Arden 5th Avenue and her Chanel No. 5 and her Jovan Musk for Women would be the ones she actually wore. My take on the matter is that Guerlains are too rich and vanillic, and too “obvious,” to suit her taste, and she really prefers the tailored chic and the reserve of Chanel.
I have no earthly idea whether my sister would find a Guerlain she liked at all. Based on her love of Coco Mademoiselle, I’m guessing she might find a kindred spirit in Idylle – modern, not too heavy, light florals over a woody-patchouli base. Thing is, although I’m not going to suggest it, I think she could totally and completely rock some Mitsouko, with that dark-and-mysterious and Do Not Mess With Me vibe it has. Even with all of that, it’s still very… old-fashioned… and A might find it too, too much. End digression.
I was unfamiliar with Samsara before cracking open that shiny red box. It might have been ubiquitous in certain places in the late 80s/early 90s, before the Attack of the Clean Fragrances began, headed up by cKOne and L’Eau d’Issey (which really were everywhere, as I remember), but to my knowledge I really had never smelled it. I’d heard a lot about it: Samsara is loud, Samsara hits you over the head with fake sandalwood, Samsara smells trashy, Samsara was the beginning of the end for Guerlain… that sort of thing. I sniffed from the bottle and had to agree. I said to myself, “It smells fake. And sweet. And loud. Gah, the Eighties are aliiiive…”
And I figured that since there were very few serious blogger reviews, I might as well write one. So then I thought, Well, if I’m going to review, I actually have to wear it several times. I never, ever, write a review based on a fragrance I have only smelled on a test strip or only worn on skin once. My minimum is three times. And even though it’s been hot and humid here – not ideal weather for a floral oriental – I figured I could manage to wear Samsara in air conditioning.
And I read up on it: the user reviews at Makeup Alley and Basenotes and Fragrantica, which tend to be split between “sexy, elegant, sophisticated, complicated, my signature scent” reviews and “huge flaming mess, way too sweet, only fit for helmet-haired automatons” reviews. The blogger reviews I found tended to be noncommittal. Angela at Now Smell This called the modern EdT wearable, Victoria at Bois de Jasmin compared vintage parfum to modern and found the modern less rich but not totally ruined, Barbara at Yesterday’s Perfume found vintage EdT unbalanced and (the kiss of death!) boring. Dane at Pere de Pierre called it “stylish, eccentric, genius” as well as “too loud and in-your-face.” There’s also a mini-review of Samsara EdT by March at Perfume Posse, in which she said that it’s pretty much all jasmine on her, no sandalwood, very linear, and very Not Her.
And, of course, I had to check Perfumes: The Guide, which devotes several paragraphs to Samsara. I’ll condense a bit here, but I’ll say this review/history by Tania Sanchez (Hey, Elisa!I double-checked this time!) is one of my favorites, even though I disagree on the ickiness of Samoas:
As with Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, the case of Samsara is fascinating first because it was so bad, second because it was so big, and third because it was happening to a beloved franchise. Samsara… is a fragrance in which the things that had always gone right [for Guerlain] were tainted by the things that have gone wrong since… What Guerlain wanted was something modern, and by modern, they meant something you could smell a quarter mile away… [Samsara] is, in every sense but one, a Guerlain in the classic style, with top-notch, rich jasmine and ylang-ylang playing the full, vast white-floral chord from banana to licorice and grass, and tons of the delectably complex burnt-sugar amber we loved so much in Attrape-Coeur: in other words, high quality materials working in concert to provide a lovely plush effect. Except for that sandalwood. I’m told that Samsara used to feature quite a bit of excellent real sandalwood from India as well as the pottery-shattering synthetic polysantol for which it is infamous: a smell so thundering you can almost hear it coming if you put your ear to the ground. Mysore sandalwood is now all but unattainable… so Samsara seems to have gotten only more synthetic. Sadly, beyond the beautiful florals lurks an indigestibly heavy, artificial praline-and-coconut confection, like those evil cookies the Girl Scouts sell called Samoas… Samsara felt to many like an irreversible break with tradition, confirmed by the subsequent (awful) releases of Mahora and Champs-Elysees.
I’m with Tania on that amber being the best part about Attrape-Coeur. I’m also with her on Mahora, which I thought was gorgeous for six hours, a big tuberose-y tropical thing that eventually went so inexplicably nasty that I truly thought I was going to toss my cookies (no, not the Samoas).
I was expecting Samsara to be this huuuuuge jasmine-sandalwood oriental thing, big enough to fill a stadium. I was fully and completely expecting to hate its guts. While I like sandalwood very much (my favorite sandalwood scents: Chanel Bois des Iles, Lanvin Arpege, Sonoma Scent Studio Champagne de Bois, and a small vial of New Caledonian santalumalbum essential oil), jasmine can be very, very difficult for me, since it tends to take over a scent and also because jasmine grandiflorum – the traditional French jasmine in Jean Patou Joy – can go really skanky on me. So I sprayed one half-hearted spritz on my wrist, cringing away from myself as I did it.
But it didn’t overwhelm me. I sniffed closer. Hmmm. It smelled oddly familiar – not in the sense of “Hey, I’ve smelled this before,” but in the sense of “Wait, this reminds me of something I wore when I was younger!” I sniffed again. Was that rose? Yeah, rose, which I hadn’t expected. And ambery vanilla. And, oh yes, there’s the sandalwood. The jasmine in Samsara smells to me not like the green, clean kind I tend to enjoy, and not like the Ho Panties stuff in Joy, but like the very tropical and sweet jasmine sambac. Which I happen to like, by the way. The other thing that surprised me was that it was not, in fact, all that loud. After that one spritz worked out okay, I started spritzing twice during wearings. And then I went brave and did three spritzes – and I was still not radiating past my three-foot radius.
Well, okay. Maybe a four-foot radius with three spritzes. But only briefly.
So: tropical jasmine and ylang, rose, vanilla and sandalwood, very sweet and very radiant, and, truth be told, a little on the trashy side. And what Samsara reminds me of is a scent I wore in my last year of college: Revlon Xia Xi’ang, a half-ounce of which I must have paid all of $10 for at the drugstore. To be honest, I am sure Xia Xi’ang smelled exactly as if it cost all of $10 for half an ounce, but I liked it. And I rather like Samsara, although perhaps I like it because it smells sort of trashy and obvious and cheap and big-haired.
Notes for Samsara: bergamot, lemon, ylang-ylang, green notes, peach, jasmine, iris, narcissus, violet, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean, amber, musk. The notes for Xia Xi’ang are much simpler, which makes sense for a drugstore cheapie, but similar enough that now I understand why I immediately picked up on the resemblance: tangerine, lemon, gardenia, rose, sandalwood, vanilla oakmoss. Citrus, tropical white florals, rose, vanilla, sandalwood, and there you go: Samsara is a lot like Xia Xi’ang on a (slightly) better budget. (Notes for both from Fragrantica.)
Another edit, because I’ve been thinking about this: Xia Xi’ang, while ubiquitous in the drugstore for a couple of years, disappeared pretty rapidly. I don’t know why. I did look for it on ebay several months ago, when I was going through a stage of wondering whether the fragrances I loved in my younger years were good or cheap dreck. And guess what? Half-ounce bottles of Xia Xi’ang cologne, the same bottle I owned for $10, are now available on ebay, from $35 to $60. Yes, really. I’m not sure what this indicates – was it really that good a scent, or was it just loved that much? If it was loved that much, why was it discontinued – raw mats scarcity? Or was it just Loved That Much by only a few people? Puzzling. As a matter of fact, thanks to ebay, I’ve found that most of my earlier fragrance standards really were pretty good, even if they were drugstore cheapies: Chloe, Cachet, Emeraude, VS Victoria…
However, a puzzling fact is that the Samsara EdT is only big-sillage for about an hour on me, after which it does an Alice-in-Wonderland shrink right down to something vanilla-ish and only smellable within half an inch of my arm. This phenomenon was confirmed by four different people I came upon after two hours of wear, so I don’t think it’s nose fatigue. Freaky, right? Especially when I read accounts of one spritz lasting twelve hours and Samsara’s unassailable, unavoidable presence on skin. I begin to wonder whether there was something off about this particular batch which might account for its being found at Elizabeth Arden’s discount warehouse. Insufficient maceration? Messed-up formula?
I’ll point out that I have not attempted any other formulas of Samsara, whether vintage EdT, or EdP or parfum of any age. That probably would make a huge difference in my perception. I hear rumors of “peach” and “iris” in others’ comments about this fragrance, and I’m not getting either out of my little bottle of EdT. Too, the longevity and sillage of a higher concentration might be more what I was expecting.
I’ll also point out that this is not the first time I have found a Guerlain fragrance that smells cheap: Terracotta Voile d’Ete, which was a limited edition and which smells to me a lot like a girlier Old Spice with a beachy, suntan-oil angle, seems similarly cheap to me. I like both fragrances, which probably says a lot about my personal tastes. Or maybe not. There’s nothing that says that you can’t enjoy an ethereal sorbet (Apres l’Ondee) on Monday, a rich crème brulee (Shalimar) on Tuesday, and a sloppy sundae-in-a-waffle-cone (Samsara) on Wednesday, right?
¹Okay, okay: I’ll apply my Shalimar-or-Mitsouko theory to my own tastes. So which am I? Neither, actually. If I had to pick one of the two, it would be Shalimar, though I do not love it the way I love Shalimar Light. This is, of course, the ultimate sarcastic take on hardcore academic types: my theory doesn’t apply to myself, because I’m special. And I cannot be quantified like the rest of you poor saps, so there, ha ha HA. (“A census taker once tried to quantify me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”)
To be honest, if I had to pick one Guerlain for the rest of my life, I’d take a bottle of Vega myself, thanks. For preference, I’d rather have the gorgeous original reissue bottle, though I wouldn’t say no to a fresh, full bee bottle if the older one was unavailable.
Today kicks off A Week of Violets, a joint blog project at Redolent of Spices and Scent of the Day. We’re each reviewing three violet scents this week, so be sure to go read their reviews today, and then check back later in the week for more reviews. First up here: Caron Aimez-Moi.
In general, I haven’t been a big fan of Caron scents so far. It’s true that I’ve largely limited my Caron testing to the currently-available fare, without resorting to the vintage ebay finds that make up most of my vintage experience, so I’ve never smelled, say, Narcisse Noir or Tabac Blond as they were before the current round of Richard Fraysse reformulations. Those classic Caron scents are fairly rare and sometimes available, but at long-lost-love prices. It’s true that, with a few exceptions, I haven’t been all that impressed with the current Caron offerings.
Aimez-Moi is one of the exceptions. Two years ago, I was trolling along looking for recommendations for violet scents, and ran across a review of Aimez-Moi by Robin at Now Smell This. It would eventually become clear to me that Robin’s tastes and mine share a very small area of overlap, but I didn’t know that at the time, and her description of Aimez-Moi as “deep, cool and mysterious” pulled me in. Shortly after that, a sample became available to me via swap – and I was hooked.
The scent opens with a dry, almost nail-polish-y overlay, which is more noticeable on fabric than on skin, and which might be a bergamot note beginning to go off. It doesn’t matter, because very quickly, AM blooms into an anise-violet accord which is both sweet and pungent. If you think of candy at all – you may – you’ll think of those odd, old-fashioned British candies called Liquorice Allsorts, which are bits of stiff, chewy licorice, tougher and less sweet than the American stuff, encased in thick, chalky-tasting pink, orange, or green candy coating.
Shortly after that, a pleasant rose note appears, staying to hang out with the anise and violet for at least an hour or two, while gradually a dry, powdery vanilla-heliotrope accord surfaces under that. It actually reminds me a good deal of Apres l’Ondee, if Al’O were less misty and ephemeral. Aimez-Moi becomes cheerful and friendly, a sort of perky, quirky yet wholesome ingenue version of Apres l’Ondee’s ethereal, wispy poetry-writing maiden. Think Emma Woodhouse, from the Jane Austen novel, and you’ve got a pretty good idea. She’s known some sadness in her life, but generally things go her way, and since all she really wants is to make all the people in her life happy, she’s optimistic and rather naive.
The first time I wore Aimez-Moi, I thoroughly enjoyed it, only realizing toward the end of the four-hour ride that I wished that I’d known of it when I was young and optimistic myself. I thought it was the perfect scent for falling in love – and then the moment that thought occurred to me, I became terribly sad that I was no longer that young, optimistic, in-love person.
Heliotrope tends to make me unaccountably wistful.
The second time I wore Aimez-Moi, and every time since then, the entire experience was cheerful. No sadness – which after all had more to do with my life than with this scent – at all.
If Apres l’Ondee is a silk chiffon scarf in lavender and silver, Aimez-Moi is a fluffy, girly sweater in mauve and pale silvery purple, cuddly as a basketful of blue-eyed kittens. It is a fairly quiet scent, and not very sweet beyond the brief initial blast of weirdness. It’s also good for what I like to call a “handkerchief scent,” one that’s feminine and unobtrusive enough for spritzing your linen handkerchief before tucking it into your purse. If you just said to yourself, “Tucking a what into my what?” then it’s possible that Aimez-Moi may not be for you. But, of course, I might be wrong, and who am I to say that biker chicks in black leather who carry wallets chained to their belt loops might not love it?
Notes for Aimez-Moi, which was composed by Dominique Ropion (Dominique, will you marry me? I’d at least like to thank you for Carnal Flower, Alien, Ysatis, Jungle L’Elephant, Safari and Une Fleur de Cassie, as well as Aimez-Moi) and released in 1996: Top notes include bergamot, star anise, mint, and violet. Middle notes are jasmine, iris, magnolia, vanilla, peach, rose. Basenotes are musk, amber, woody notes and heliotrope. What I mostly smell, as I mentioned, is anise, violet, rose, vanilla and heliotrope.
I bought a small 1-ounce bottle for about $17 at one of the discounters, and I’ve been very happy with it. I was lucky enough to discover one of the pretty, original-release bottles; it looks like an ornate Victorian cushion with tassels on each corner, interpreted in cut glass. I don’t care much for the standard Caron bottles, and have been known to call them “butt-ugly,” but who cares about ugly bottles when the scent inside them is so pretty?
When I was at college, my university chorus group put on a Madrigal Dinner every year. It was a longstanding tradition that our director would prepare us to sing eight or nine madrigals, and the students would be in charge of everything else.
And I do mean everything else, from arranging to rent the ballroom to organizing costumes, meals, publicity and tickets, from creating an original play to obtaining the services of the medieval-music club for instrumental music and the fencing club for demonstrations, from learning medieval dances and extra pieces of music for serenading guests during the meal to preparing decorations, including fabric wall hangings, fresh evergreen garlands, and clove-orange pomanders, and placing the hangings and garlands in the 14-foot-high ballroom. There are 50 students and twelve weeks in which to get everything done – Ready, Set, GO!
We called it Mad Dinner, and those four evenings were some of the happiest of my life. (They were also some of the most stressful, especially the year I was Costume Co-chair. I think I still have a bald patch on the back of my skull from that experience.) I loved it – every Mad minute of it. Pure joy, from wandering minstrels to cloved oranges to funny hats to candlelight to beautiful music.
I probably wouldn’t have gone after Alahine on my own – I like amber, but if you’ve read my posts about Opium you know how I feel about resiny Orientals (hint: I’d rather slide down razor blades than spend any time cooped up in a room with them). I’d ordered a sample of Julia and one of Oha, a dark spicy rose chypre that I thought I’d adore, and a sample of Alahine arrived with it in that package from The Posh Peasant. Oha I found very beautiful but eclipsed by the stunning L’Arte di Gucci, with which I had already fallen in love; Julia, a soft floral with tangy fruits in the top, is also beautiful in a wistful, innocent way that feels a little naive for me to wear at this stage of my life. I wasn’t expecting to love Alahine, and in fact upon my first test of it, its opening notes skated close enough to “Citrus-aromatic-masculine” that I almost wrote it off then and there. But by the end of an hour, I found it heavenly. Upon second wearing, I knew I wanted a bottle.
If I am paying attention to the notes – to what I actually smell – Alahine opens with a zesty burst of bergamot, which is highly aromatic and therefore difficult for me. Fragrantica and the label on my manufacturer’s sample say there’s lavender too. It doesn’t smell like the lavender I know, but it is sharp and unpleasant. I am coming to expect this opening, and I know all I have to do is wait ten minutes before a lovely, creamy ylang-ylang will appear and soften the aromatics to a level I enjoy. Shortly after that, the curtain rises to reveal a floral heart so well-blended that I can’t tease out any note except rose, and then only because I’ve become familiar with the deep winey rose in Caron Parfum Sacre’ and Ormonde Jayne Ta’if. Spices swirl around these abstract flowers, spinning down into the ambery labdanum that is weighty and smooth as a heavy gold-colored satin shawl. The scent hovers over this rich amber for hours afterward, caressing it with vanilla and patchouli and benzoin, and wrapping it up with a resiny thread. I don’t actually smell any iris, but there is the effect of something cool there that I think must be due to the iris – it does seem like satin, after all, rather than velvet.
If I don’t pay close attention to what my nose tells me, but lift my head and go through my day only registering my impressions, I smell this: pine branches, curried fruit, flowers, mulled cider, cloved oranges, candle wax, vanilla liqueur, and the very faint mustiness from a costume that has been stored in the basement under Old Cabell Hall for several months. I sense candlelight, and laughter, and the faces of friends, voices raised in song, and the excellent feeling of hard work that has paid off handsomely.
When I wear Alahine, I smell joy.
For a few other reviews of Alahine, click on these links:
Image: Natural Christmas decorating! by LDHumes at flickr.
Madrigal Dinners produced by the University Singers of the University of Virginia are no more. When Dr. Donald “Coach” Loach retired in 1994, they went by the wayside – seen, I think, as being too much work. I raise a glass of mulled cider in honor of Coach, who was pictured recently in the alumni magazine, still looking his natty, mustachioed and spectacled self in a pink polo shirt.
(I hereby remind myself to someday post about the Kamikaze Tenors.)
Amaranthine by Penhaligon’s London, New for Fall 2009 Amaranthine is a corrupted floral oriental for those private moments when everything is anticipation. It opens with a dramatic flourish of spices and tropical green. This unsettling lick of drama is beautifully ambushed by an unctuous accord of jasmine and ylang-ylang, a heady bloom renowned for its aphrodisiac properties, and clove swathed in spices, tea, musk and the rounded beauty of tonka bean absolute. The perfume is reportedly “reminiscent of the scent of the inside of a woman’s thigh”. *
Head notes – Green Tea, White Freesia, Banana Tree Leaf, Coriander Seed Oil, Cardamom Absolute Heart – Rose, Carnation, Clove Oil, Orange Blossom, Ylang Ylang Oil, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute Base – Musk, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Condensed Milk, Tonka Bean Absolute
You know what? For once, the ad copy is pretty accurate, although perhaps it overstates the “drama” and “aphrodisiac properties.” * The hilarious quote about thighs is purportedly from composer Bertrand Duchaufour, from cosmeticsinternational. It alone made me want to smell this thing, and people seem to be associating the scent with the word “thigh” now. Maybe it’s just that “thigh” is a funny word, which it is. Say it six times in a row: thigh thigh thigh thigh thigh thigh. Kudos to you if you said it without snickering; I couldn’t.
And look at those notes, too – does that sound anything like thighs to you?? The notes say “tropical floral with oriental base” to me, and that’s a category I like in general. So here it is the beginning of winter, and I’ve spritzed Amaranthine four days in a row, to make sure the experience isn’t a freak occurrence. I think, honestly, it would be better in warmer weather. It’s a bit light when one is wearing sweaters and shivering in a cold rain. But even though it’s been less satisfying in early December than, say, Alahine (about which, more coming next week), I say this: Amaranthine is beautiful.
It starts out with fresh, dewy florals only lightly dusted with spices. I get very little tea from it, although other reviewers find it more prominent; I get more general “green” notes. And yes, there’s a banana hit to it, probably from the ylang, although it’s a green banana thing, not an overripe squishy vibe. I can’t identify rose in there, but the carnation is prominent, as well as the orange blossom. The jasmine is grassy and fresh, as opposed to that indolic heavy Joy-type jasmine that makes me think of dirty panties, and it doesn’t stand out.
Eventually I get down to the base, which is soft and clings to the skin, and still retains a veil of freesia and orange blossom. I was a bit worried about that “condensed milk” note, but although Amaranthine is a little sweet, it reads as floral sweetness to me rather than gourmand. At this stage, it smells a bit like skin smells if the weather is warm and it’s been most of a day since it’s been showered: not squeaky-clean, but not smelly-sweaty either. Like, you know, skin, warm and slightly moist.
It may be my nose, but I’m not getting of the weirdness some other reviewers have discovered. Nor do I get the smuttiness that some people have described. Is it just too cold and/or dry? Is my brain twisted? I’m not sure. All I get out of Amaranthine is tropical, relaxed, fresh beauty. I’ll be putting my decant away for a few months, at least, and wearing things more appropriate to this chilly weather. When the time is right, I’ll know.
On a related subject (THIGHS!), I’m going to talk about body image. I have a daughter in her early teens. She’s healthy and fit; she’s petite; she’s still wearing a few things from the girls’ department, particularly dresses, as she finds the juniors’ department offerings immodest. (I’m not complaining.)
But she said to me the other day after track practice, “You know, Mom, I have big thighs.” I looked at them and raised my eyebrows. “They’ve got muscles. I mean, you can actually see my thigh muscles. They’re runner’s thighs.” I nodded. “I think that’s the reason I have trouble finding jeans that fit.” (Yeah, tell me about it.) But I’m not going to apologize to my kid for giving her the thunder thighs genes, because – honestly? – she’s got great legs. She complains that her broad shoulders make her shirts fit funny, and her muscly thighs make her jeans tight, and how her jeans are always too big in the waist if they fit her hips.
And she’s looking around her high school at all the girls with thin thighs and thinking, How come I don’t look like them?, while I’m looking at her and thinking, Hey, that is my basic body shape, just younger and shorter and much, much thinner, and it’s beautiful. It’s a swimmer’s body (okay, a short swimmer’s body!), and it’s healthy and athletic and beautiful.
And I think I want it back. I’ve been avoiding exercise for way too long. Time to remedy that.
Ad copy from Penhaligon’s. Top image: Amaranthine in the limited edition crystal flacon, from Penhaligon’s. Center image: Shield Bug on Globe Amaranth by innermt at flickr. Bottom image: 2008 Cross Country by nmhschool at flickr. No, it’s not Bookworm, but she runs cross-country and distance track. I’m so proud of her.