Mini-Review Roundup, Jan. 19, 2018

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.

A couple of other reviews of the Penhaligon’s: Persolaise, Scent Epiphany and Olfactoria’s Travels.

Lubin EpidorAngela’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.

La Faneuse by Emile Claus. Epidor smells like these colors: wheat and white and blue, all layered with honey-golden light.

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.

Pretty, isn’t it? Also kinda floofy.

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.

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Perfume Review: Dame Perfumery Scottsdale Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

Artwork for Black Flower Mexican Vanilla, by V. Dave Dame. From Dame Perfumery website.
Artwork for Black Flower Mexican Vanilla, by V. Dave Dame. From Dame Perfumery website.

The Aztecs called vanilla tlilxóchitl, meaning black flower.  The origin myth explaining the existence of vanilla springs from the Totonac people, who live on the eastern coast of Mexico, and may have been the first to cultivate the vanilla orchid.  From Dame Perfumery’s website:

According to Totonac mythology, the tropical orchid was born when Princess Xanat, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the vine of the tropical orchid grew.

I’ll be honest, I have never been the biggest fan of oriental vanilla fragrances for myself.  I did love Emeraude, back in the 80s, at first sniff, and even though it is now an absolute disaster (seriously, don’t sniff the current stuff. This has been a Public Service Announcement), it has a very definite vanilla focus and at one time was a pure-genius sort of fragrance, the kind of thing that belongs on cleavage.  Rumor has it that famously-vanilla Shalimar is a riff on Emeraude.  Other vanilla fragrances often either have a “vanilla-and” character, or can be ridiculously simple to the point of dopiness.  Either way, I have yet to really love a vanilla scent the way I love vintage Emeraude.  (See my Sexy Cake post for an elaboration on the subject.)  The short version is, I like my gourmandy vanillas (berry-vanilla, or caramel vanilla), or my white-floral vanillas.

I will say that I loved the drydown of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Havane Vanille (renamed Vanille Absolument) – after the boozy, fruity, pipe-tobacco parts faded off, about eight hours into wearing HV, the vanilla appeared on stage solo, so clear and intoxicating. No hint of powder.  I sometimes had difficulty waiting out the early stages to get to the part I really liked.  What was really super-awesome about that clear, intense vanilla drydown was putting a dab of By Kilian’s Beyond Love on top of it. Tuberose-vanilla, yum, a do-it-yourself floral vanilla that I loved.

So I admit that I was sort of hoping that Black Flower Mexican Vanilla would be something like the drydown of HV, particularly when reading the description of it on the Dame Perfumery website: “A perfect vanilla is simply vanilla without added accents, and its creation is a task of restraint and avoiding misguided add-ons of ‘vanilla + such and such’.” 

The notes list for BFMV is more complicated than “simply vanilla.”  Fragrantica‘s list is as follows: lemon, grapefruit, caramel, nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, musk, tonka. Fragranticans smell mostly vanilla in it, plus tonka bean; the other elements seem to be noted as present but not a large portion of the scent. I’d agree: vanilla and tonka, primarily. It’s not particularly sweet, either, which is nice in a vanilla fragrance.  I was expecting a floral cast, but there isn’t one: it’s mostly just vanilla-tonka.

What I don’t understand is what smells so powdery in it.  On my skin, BFMV has a good bit of powder, following its barely-citrusy opening. I do not smell much in the way of white florals or woody notes, and I don’t notice vetiver or nutmeg at all. The caramel shows up, but if I’m being honest, all it does is make me want to go buy a mini of Prada Candy.  Perhaps the powder is due to a dusty-quality patchouli making itself noticeable; whatever it is, I’m not enjoying that bit.

There is a similar dusty/powdery quality to another one of my “vanilla” fragrances, Givenchy Organza Indecence.  But OI has so much else going on (the orange, the spices, the woods) that I can forgive it a smidge of powder.  Black Flower Mexican Vanilla – not, I emphasize, very floral on me, despite its name – has placed the vanilla front and center, so there isn’t anything to distract me from the dusty qualities.  The aspect of the drydown of Havana Vanille (which does, yes, have a dusty quality in its heart) that I loved so much was its clarity and its complete lack of powderiness; it is much more like vanilla liqueur than the powdery stuff.*

Sillage is gentle and lasting power is quite good, 6-8 hours on me where I typically get 3-5 hours’ wear out of an eau de parfum.  If you are looking for a nicely-done, unsweetened vanilla fragrance, test this one. It might be what you’re looking for.  It’s decently priced, as well: you can still pick up a 7ml spray sample for $10 including shipping, and it’s worth it if you ask me.

*Habanita nearly killed me, if you’re wondering about my tolerance for that version of “powdery.”

Well done, Dame Perfumery. It’s still not my sort of thing, but it’s competent and pleasant and engaging to wear, all the same.

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Simply Pretty: Micallef Ylang in Gold Perfume Review

ylang in goldIt’s Christmastime, and I’ve been making my grandmother’s boiled custard. First, I should explain: “boiled custard,” in the American South, is not your classic custard preparation. It is not the same as baked custard, and it is definitively not crème anglaise, either. It is more like a thin, drinkable sauce than a pudding. My grandmother Nell always made it at Christmas, and we’d have it at our family Christmas Eve dinner, poured over a slice of pound cake or spooned up from cups or small dessert bowls, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream slowly melting on top.

It is not a “fancy” dessert. No raisins or candied cherries or chocolate, no dustings of shredded coconut or dragees or chopped nuts adorn it. It tastes of egg, milk, sugar, and vanilla, and it is exactly as good as its texture is smooth.

In fact, Nell never gave me her recipe. She’d say, “Well, you start with a gallon of milk – whole milk, mind you – and fourteen eggs.” Then she’d sigh, shake her head and go on, “It’s tricky to make. You’d just have to watch me make it sometime.” And then she’d leave the table. My aunts knew the recipe, and the trick, apparently; after Nell’s Alzheimer’s disease forced her to sit and watch at family get-togethers, Aunt Doris would sometimes bring a pitcher of boiled custard, to my father’s delight.

My mother recently gave me a copy of this recipe, scaled down and adapted for the microwave, and I made it for Christmas dinner, to be eaten with pound cake. It’s delicious: smooth, velvety, fragrant with vanilla.

Which brings me to Micallef Ylang in Gold.

Cast an eye over the notes list: tangerine, peach, lychee, bitter orange, geranium, sage, rosemary, artemisia, mint, ylang-ylang, rose, magnolia, lily of the valley, sandalwood, vanilla, musk, coconut, oakmoss. Pretty complex list, isn’t it?

The fragrance smells anything but complex. It does not smell fancy. It is simple, and simply pretty, a tropical-floral smoothie with plenty of vanilla and coconut, the perfect beachy refresher when you are longing for sunshine.

It’s well-named. Other reviewers have mentioned green notes lightening the floral pudding, but I don’t perceive them as a strong presence. There is a pretty, tangy citrus opening followed by ylang – big buttery floral YLANG, lots of it – and other floral notes. I can pick out the rose fairly easily, and the creaminess of magnolia. The base is dominated by vanilla, with more creaminess from the coconut and a cushiony musk.

The fragrance, which I’ve been dabbing generously from a 5ml sample graciously provided by Micallef’s PR company, has soft to moderate sillage (it would probably radiate a bit more when sprayed) and lasts about four to five hours on my skin, which is about average longevity for an Eau de Parfum for me.

It’s simple, yes. Despite that long list of notes, Ylang in Gold is ylang and vanilla and coconut, very simple, very smooth, and very, very pretty. When I’ve worn it, The CEO has trailed me around the house remarking about how attractive I smell (his fondness for traditionally-femme scents is legend), and who wouldn’t want that?

Sometimes simple is best.

Which brings me to That Bottle. I’ve heard some whining about blingy the packaging is, and how gimmicky the optional gold shimmer is, but I disagree. I like the shape of the bottle, and the crystals decorating it seem shimmery to me, a soft sparkle rather than a Las Vegas glitz. Dressed up, yes, but appropriately so. My sample did not contain the gold shimmer, so I can’t speak to that aspect of the fragrance.

A bottle of Ylang in Gold will set you back $245 for 100ml, gold shimmer or not. In the US, it’s available at Luckyscent.

Here are a few other reviews of Ylang in Gold: The Alembicated Genie, Angela at Now Smell This, Musette at Perfume Posse, and (brief) Eyeliner on a Cat. (As always, if you know of other reviews, please share in the comments.)

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Perfume Reviews: Micallef Collection Vanille fragrances (Vanille Cuir, Vanille Fleur, Vanille Marine, Vanille Orient)

Photo courtesy of Fragrantica.

The US distributor of Micallef fragrances, Hypoluxe, kindly offered me a sample set of Parfums Micallef’s newest fragrance line for review, and I promised my honest opinions of these four scents.

(I love PR review samples, but I always try to make it clear to the sender that I’m not going to praise a fragrance unless I like it. Most companies are very gracious about this stance, and I think in general that’s encouraging.)

The PR packet for Collection Vanille has this to say about the set: “A four-movement symphony on the theme of vanilla,” and [the collection] “consists of four fragrances combining the sweetness of vanilla with specific notes of leather, oriental, floral and water fragrance families… the collection has been created with the best natural oil of Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar.”

A word about my relationship with vanilla: I like vanilla, it’s the finest of the flavors1. That is to say, I would usually rather have vanilla cake than chocolate, and definitely I prefer vanilla ice cream. However, I’m not a huge vanilla fragrance fan. I like it as an accent, but probably the only vanilla-focused fragrance I ever really wear is Hanae Mori, and even then, I only wear it at home. (I really hate chocolate notes in perfume, for what that’s worth.) I do love my vanilla-accented Shalimar Light and my vintage Emeraude and my Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka, and I enjoy my little decant of L’Artisan’s Havana Vanille (now Vanille Absolument). I used to really like Rochas Tocade’s smoky rose-vanilla, but these days my bottle of it smells more like ashes than anything else, and I’m not wearing it. Givenchy Organza, that vanilla-and-white-flowers extravaganza, is perfectly nice but a bit dull.

So I’m interested, generally speaking, in vanilla-plus fragrances, which these are. Here are my reviews, in alphabetical order. Continue reading Perfume Reviews: Micallef Collection Vanille fragrances (Vanille Cuir, Vanille Fleur, Vanille Marine, Vanille Orient)

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Fragrance Throwdown: Givenchy Organza Indécence versus Anné Pliska eau de parfum

 

Photo of wrestlers via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Full Review Friday post is another Fragrance Throwdown.  I’m glad to see these wrestler guys again – I had missed them!

I had owned a small bottle of Organza Indécence for three years or so and enjoyed it before smelling Anné Pliska. AP seemed to me to be a darker, thicker rendition of Organza Indécence – OI on steroids, if you will – and I thought it would be interesting to test them wrist-to-wrist.

Organza Indecence (original packaging) from Fragrantica

Notes for Organza Indécence, from Fragrantica: Cinnamon, tangerine, jacaranda wood, plum, patchouli, amber, vanilla. With all those weighty notes, you’d think this would be a heavy oriental behemoth, a 400-pound gorilla plopping himself on your couch with a bag of chips and the TV remote, but it isn’t. Instead, OI is warm but lightweight, a nice slubby silk sweater that has texture and warmth but doesn’t smother. I never seem to notice the plum, and I can’t pick out jacaranda as opposed to other wood. I do also pick up on a few notes that aren’t listed; perhaps I’m imagining them, but possibly they’re there in smaller quantities; I think I smell a bit of rose, and I’m almost certain that there’s cedar in the base as well as a light touch of skin-type musk.

Continue reading Fragrance Throwdown: Givenchy Organza Indécence versus Anné Pliska eau de parfum

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Perfume Review: Guerlain Terracotta Voile d'Ete

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.

Other reviews of Terracotta Voile d’Ete: Denyse at Grain de Musc, Pyramus at One Thousand Scents.  Also at Basenotes, MakeupAlley, and Fragrantica.

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.

Top image from Fragrantica.  Lower image from Ruffled (a blog about weddings).

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Perfume Review: Nobile 1942 Chypre

I should never, ever read the “new and upcoming” fragrance notices at Now Smell This. Ever. Nobile 1942 Chypre is a case in point: I do really enjoy chypres when they are very floral, as this notes list would indicate. Also, the inspiration for the scent is enticing. I don’t know much about Anna Magnani, except that she was an early film star of the smoldering Italian type, and that from the pictures on her biography, she was beautiful. It makes perfect sense to honor an emotional, sensual woman like her with a beautiful floral chypre.

So when the word came that a friend was going to split up a bottle of Chypre 1942, I jumped into the split for 5ml, my head filled with dreams of the beautiful floral chypre I imagined from the new fragrance publicity release, which goes sort of like this (given the limitations of BabelFish and Google Translator, please bear with my interpretation of the original Italian):

Anna Magnani, from Wikimedia Commons

Languid like a lioness returning from the hunt, Anna comes into the house and collapses into her thoughts, enveloped by a cloud of cigarette smoke and wafts of Chypre. Chypre 1942 is dedicated to Anna, a woman full of life and faith in the possibilities of fate, who likes to observe and read the stars, witness the rising of the sun, fixing her deep gaze eastward. Anna’s unconventional lifestyle and naturalness overwhelm those around her, in a storm of instinctive charm and fascination. Her style is unconventional – the way she dresses, perfumes, and adorns herself. The scent’s originality and refinement fittingly crowns her perfect, attractive figure, and gives an air of imperious femininity.”

Believing a fragrance ad is a bad idea. Even if you discount 80% of the claims, you will nearly always be disappointed. 

When I opened the package from M, before I’d even unrolled the bubble wrap, a very sweet and intense smell of baby powder blew out like a mushroom cloud. “I hope it doesn’t smell like that,” I said to Gaze, alarmed. “That’s dreadful.”

He made a face, too. “It smells like… I mean, just that little bit there, it smells like… powdered marshmallows.”

But this is supposed to be a chypre,” I said, bewildered. “Wonder if I got the wrong split? I know M was splitting Muschio from the same house as well, and I just can’t imagine that something called Chypre is supposed to smell like… well, like powdered marshmallows.”

Because I was so confused, I sprayed some on a bit of paper – which I almost never do, preferring to go straight to skin. (I don’t wear paper, after all.) The top notes were almost chokingly powdery, intense and sweet. I went to Fragrantica to check out reviews there of this fragrance, and there was only one, from someone whose name I did not recognize from the split I participated in. It said something to the effect that the reviewer was puzzled by the name Chypre, since the fragrance was really more an oriental vanilla scent than anything else.

I tentatively decided that I was not, after all, insane.

I’ve now worn Chypre 1942 half a dozen times, in 90F weather and in 70F, at night and during the day, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not a bad fragrance. The choking powder cloud became less pronounced each time I sprayed it (gunk in the atomizer sprayer clearing itself out?), and the sweet vanilla character more prominent. It’s not bad at all.

It’s just not a chypre. There is no oakmoss that I can discern in the formula, and the amber used is the vanillic, powdery stuff familiar to me from, say, Bvlgari Black, rather than the rich and sweet amber in Mitsouko or Alahine, or the labdanum in Coty Chypre or vintage Miss Dior.

 

Nobile 1942 Chypre, from Fragrantica

There are some perfumistas who have a rigid definition of the chypre genre: Bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum must be in the spotlight – and if the fragrance under discussion doesn’t smell like the “Fierce Green” chypres Bandit, Alliage, Mitsouko, or vintage Miss Dior, fuhgeddaboudit. “NOT A CHYPRE!” they thunder on the fragrance forums. “Chypres must have the proper proportions of the three magic ingredients! No fragrance being produced currently can contain the right proportion of oakmoss!  Patchouli does not make this scent a chypre!” And I concur that these touchy people have a point. If Coco Mademoiselle is a chypre, good heavens, almost anything could be called a chypre, our standards having been compromised to a shocking degree.

However, my own definition is a lot looser. Coco Mademoiselle is a woody floral with patchouli, and it is not a chypre. Idylle is not a chypre, either. Its moss is too slight and its amber nonexistent. But in my opinion, if a particular fragrance’s major characteristic is that tangy-bitter, almost dangerous smell common to Miss Dior and Coty Chypre, even if there is something else involved (citrus or florals) as well, it’s a chypre. I don’t even mind if there is proportionately less moss and amber than there used to be in a classic chypre. As long as I immediately perceive that bitter quality, the fragrance is going to be designated a chypre in my mind. Thus to me, L’Arte di Gucci is a rose chypre nonpareil, a big complicated rose fragrance sitting on top of a moss-patchouli-amber-leather-musk structure, bitter and dark green. Likewise, Mary Greenwell Plum is a modern floral chypre in my opinion: it may open with a tangy, fruity citrus, and it may continue with a soft white floral, but underneath it all, coloring the entire experience, is a quiet chypre backbone augmented with a bit of patchouli (and therefore “modern”).

Given that my standards for calling something a chypre are lower than many people would accept, you can believe me when I tell you that this Nobile 1942 fragrance is most definitely Not a Chypre. And I should have known when I saw the list of notes:

Top: bergamot, mandarin, orange blossom

Heart: tuberose, jasmine, damask rose, benzoin

Bottom: vanilla, amber, tonka bean, Mysore sandalwood, patchouli

Chypre 1942, released in 2011, was created by Marie Duchene.

So where’s the oakmoss? Missing in action. The rest of the fragrance sounds nice, to be honest – and I think my eyes saw “Chypre” and just skimmed past the absence of oakmoss. It could have been an omission; notes lists are so often incomplete or misleading. I suppose it’s really my fault for not noticing that this thing could not possibly be a chypre.

Well, then, what is it? I’d call it a vanillic-floral oriental. It does open up with a short prelude of citrus notes, backed by that flat vanilla-amber, and it does a brief impression of Shalimar Light (which I love, by the way). In just a few moments, though, it slides into a sweet rich floral, in which a slightly-powdery rose seems prominent to me. It’s perfectly pretty, as a matter of fact, and my bet is that The CEO will probably like it. After a couple of hours, Chypre 1942 heads straight for the familiar oriental route of amber-vanilla-tonka, with very little sandalwood noticeable. It does last for about five or six hours on me, with modest sillage shrinking down to skin-scent levels as it goes through its development.

As I said, it’s not at all a bad fragrance. I’ll enjoy wearing my small amount in cool weather. It is pretty, it seems to contain a fair amount of natural materials, and its drydown is coherent. That’s a decent combination of assets.

But it’s definitely not a chypre.

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Sexy Cake

Just the other day I baked a cake. Nothing special, nothing fancy, no occasion for celebration – just a plain yellow cake from a boxed mix, frosted with chocolate icing from a can that I kicked up a little with some cocoa powder, vanilla flavoring, and a little confectioner’s sugar, for the stiffer texture I prefer. In deference to Taz’ Homer Simpson-like obsession with sprinkles, I added some of those.

C’mon… give a girl a break, willya? My days of making cakes from scratch1 ended at about the time Bookworm was born. Too busy. My copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible, pages once stained with my efforts, languishes unused on the cookbook shelf, and every so often I give it a longing glance. Chocolate Domingo Cake… White Lilac Nostalgia… Chocolate Truffle Cake with Intense Raspberry Jewel Sauce (okay, fine, I admit to making the raspberry sauce every couple of years or so, but it’s very time-consuming to get all of those little seeds out of the sieve)… Perfect Pound Cake… dacquoise, Italian meringue icing, chocolate leaves, crème anglaise, spun sugar threads…

Maybe someday. Every one of those recipes is delicious and exquisite, and every one of them takes forever to make. Which is why I’m making cakes from mixes these days, and thus the plain cake from the box. Its humble origins notwithstanding, it filled the whole house with the gorgeous smell of vanilla, sugar, and baked goods.

Which made me think of my sister. This is the girl who used to wear Vanilla Fields and Brown Sugar & Fig, and still loves the Aromatherapy Lavender-Vanilla line of body products at Bath & Body Works. She told me once that she enjoys wearing vanilla scents because the smell inspires her husband to hug her, saying, “You smell like cake! Um, I mean… uh, sexy cake, honey!” She’d rather wear Coco Mademoiselle for herself, but her hubby likes the vanilla ones.

If gentlemen prefer blondes2, do they also prefer vanilla? There are probably hundreds of discussion threads on the fragrance forums (Perfume of Life, Basenotes, Makeup Alley, Fragrantica) nattering on about which perfumes men find attractive on women. Having read a fair number of these discussions, I can tell you that – at least among men of Generation X and younger – vanilla is, apparently, a huge draw for straight men. Women (and men) mention everything from Aquolina Pink Sugar to Angel to Shalimar, with side excursions into Jessica Simpson’s Fancy, B&BW Warm Brown Sugar, and a whole slew of Comptoir Sud Pacifique fragrances.

They might be wrong about vanilla’s man-pulling abilities. But it does make me give fervent thanks that I’m not actively looking for a may-yinn 3 at the moment (got one, thanks for asking, although I might sell him cheap4 if he doesn’t stop leaving the toilet seat up), because I’ve never been all that interested in smelling like cake. Even, um, I mean, sexy cake.

Mind you, I really like vanilla. Give me a choice between vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and I’ll take vanilla every time. Plain doughnut versus chocolate, or raspberry-filled? I’ll thumb-wrestle you for the plain!

It’s just that most of my “vanilla” fragrances are really “vanilla-and-something inedible” fragrances: Shalimar Light is vanilla, lemon, and a hint of asphalt. That Slut Tocade is vanilla, rose, and nightclub smoke. Vanille Tonka is vanilla, carnations, limes, Dr. Pepper, and frankincense, a giggly Cuba Libre party in a bottle. Organza Indecence is probably the closest to “sexy cake” that I own – but along with its vanilla, orange, and spice, it contains some woods and a dusty patchouli that takes it right out of the bakery case. Havana Vanille is tobacco, rum, spice, and vanilla liqueur so clear and sweet and boozy that you think of pirates in tropical waters, not of Mom’s coffee cake.

There’s no sexy cake in my fragrance wardrobe, and I’m okay with that. To each her own.

How about you? Do you:

A) believe that men are attracted to the smell of vanilla cupcakes on women, assuming that you care about such matters?

B) own any Sexy Cake or other vanilla scents? Which ones?

As always, please feel free to tell me I’m a nutcase.

Images from top to bottom are: Vanilla cake vanilla buttercream from ladybugluggage; 3 vanilla cupcakes with vanilla sea salt from chockylit; and Vanilla beans from kendiala, all at Flickr. Image of my sister and her glorious hair from my sister’s collection. My sister has a small child of her own, so for safety reasons I’m not naming her.

1 When The CEO was a kid, he misheard his mother saying she’d made a cake “from scratch” as “from scraps.” They fed the dog table scraps, so for at least a couple of years, he was unduly impressed by what he thought was his mother’s magical ability to turn refuse into dessert.

2 Clearly, my brother-in-law is indifferent to blondes. My sister is blessed with the most glorious wavy red hair – in fact, it’s not red, it’s more a coppery bronze. It’s stunning hair. But no one will ever mistake her for Marilyn Monroe.

3 If this doesn’t make sense to you, try saying it the way Ru-Paul would. You know, not just a man, but a manly man who has bedroom potential.

4 He does laundry, windows, and the occasional decent backrub. But he snores, and he’s obsessed with Republicans and geography. Make me an offer good enough to induce me to discount 18 pretty good years, and we’ll talk…

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