The classic – some would say cliché – gift to a woman on Valentine’s Day is, of course, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a dozen red roses, and jewelry. (My teenage daughter’s boyfriend brought her a card and six red roses yesterday; she gave him a handmade card and some candy. All together now: awwww, how sweet!) I don’t like chocolate in perfume, and the idea of jeweled perfumes will have to wait for another day, so here’s a look at some rose perfumes that I love. (Also, it’s an excuse to post beautiful pictures of roses.)
I do indeed love, love fragrances in which rose plays a major part, from light and girlish ones all the way through to dark Gothic ones. So many fragrances contain at least a little bit of rose – even if you can’t smell it on its own, it’s there, making everything smell round and full. I’ll admit up front that it is very, very difficult to find a rose fragrance that smells just like a freshly-cut dewy rose, because in order to obtain rose essence, the rose petals have to be treated in some way – from steam distillation to enfleurage (which involves pressing fresh petals in fat), to the modern scientific method called distillation moléculaire – and you always get “cooked” rose, not fresh. I figure if I want fresh roses, I’ll go to the florist.
For rose perfumes, I have a stash! Some of my favorites, starting from the light and girlish end:
By which I mean “the so-called big city,” with exaggerated finger air quotes and nudges and winks and elbows to the ribs, and it’s only big city if you live in Podunksville, as I currently do. This afternoon, I dropped off the rest of my family at the minor league ballpark and headed off for some mall sniffies. I enjoy revisiting the place where I grew up. Roanoke, VA is not big. Nor is it particularly citified, although it does contain several places I wouldn’t dare to drive through at night – especially not in my minivan with its “Virginia – Farming since 1614” license tags. But compared to where I live now, it’s “big city.”
Roanoke is approximately 50 miles from my house, and a good thousand feet lower in elevation. Consequently, it’s on average a good five degrees cooler here. Today, it was 93 F in Roanoke, and humid. The other thing about Roanoke is that it’s a valley surrounded by mountains, and the mountains hold the heat/humidity/air pollution in, so it can get really, really muggy. It was so today, with the mountains blue and hazy, and the air nearly wet enough to wring out.
Roanoke is where The CEO went once a year when he was a kid, to buy school shoes. His mother would bundle him and his sisters into the Plymouth in August, and they’d drive downtown to Thom McAn and buy one pair of leather shoes for each child. (Digression: Remember those days? I do. But I have weird feet, and my mother took me to Julien’s instead because they sold “corrective instep” Stride-Rite shoes. My first pair of school shoes I can see in my mind’s eye right now: dark red leather lace-up shoes, with a leather sunburst applique starting where the laces began and pointing toward the toe. I loved them. In first grade I owned a pair exactly the same, except in dark blue. I wore skirts to school, or corduroy pants, and was probably in third grade before I even owned a pair of jeans… I don’t think any of my children have ever worn anything other than sneakers to school. Ever. EVER.) The Thom McAn store downtown closed seventeen years ago. But Julien’s is still a going concern, catering to people with unusual footwear needs.
And there’s a mall; it contains a Sears, a Belk, a JCPenney, and a Macy’s. Belk and Macy’s have fragrance counters (oddly, Belk has a larger selection of men’s fragrances than Macy’s does). Bath & Body Works, where I’d gone to restock my sister’s bathroom shelves with Aromatherapy Lavender Vanilla body products, is closer to Macy’s. So I went a-merrily sniffing down the aisles at Macy’s.
The revelation: I’ve been spoiled by niche and indie perfumery. I’ve come to expect that the scents I plan to drop cash on be mostly natural-smelling, coherent, free of nasty chemical surprises, and interesting. That combination is difficult to find in many mainstream fragrances.
So the sniffery goes like this: I walk into Macy’s, right past the big display of Thierry Mugler Angel, the fancy lopsided star bottles. There’s no “fragrance counter” here, rather a little stand for the register and miscellaneous stuff the SA’s need, and several tall freestanding shelves, upon which are placed the stock of the fragrance department. These are the fragrances I see on the shelves:
BeyonceHeat and Heat Wave
BurberryBrit, Touch, and Gold
BvlgariOmnia, Omnia Green Jade, Omnia Amethyste, and Blv II
Calvin KleinEternity, Euphoria, Obsession, Beauty, and cKOne
ChanelNo. 5 (in edt, edp and parfum as well as body products), Allure, Chance, Chance EauFraiche, Chance Eau Tendre, Coco, Coco Mademoiselle
Christian DiorJ’Adore and L’eau Cologne Florale
CoachEau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum, Coach Poppy
Dolce et Gabbanaoriginal Dolce et Gabbana, Light Blue, The One, and Rose The One
Donna KaranCashmere Mist and Be Delicious
Ed HardyHearts and Daggers, Love & Luck, and something else I don’t remember now
Elizabeth Arden5th Avenue and Mediterranean
GucciFlora, Guilty, and Gucci Eau de Parfum
Guerlain Shalimar (only the EdT)
Issey MiyakeL’Eau d’Issey, L’Eau d’Issey Florale
Jessica SimpsonFancy, Fancy Love, and Fancy Nights, as well as the new I Fancy You
Juicy Coutureoriginal Juicy Couture, Viva la Juicy, and Couture Couture
Katy Perry Purr
LancomeTresor, Tresor in Love,Poeme, Magie Noire, Hypnose, Magnifique, and Miracle
Marc JacobsLola and Daisy, and Daisy Eau So Fresh (gag me with a plastic SPOON, words cannot possibly express how much I hate that name, even though I still have a fondness for Daisy)
Paris Hilton Siren, Just Me, and CanCan
Queen LatifahQueen and Queen of Hearts
Ralph Lauren Romance and Romance Always Yours
Thierry MuglerAngel, Angel Innocent, Alien, and Cologne
YSLParisienne and Opium
It’s been, oh, ten months or so since the last time I was in Macy’s fragrance department, and it was surprising to see what was missing: L’Air du Temps, Poison, Dior Addict, and Be Delicious Fresh Blossom, all of which I’d seen on my last visit.
The Clinique fragrances are an aisle or two over: Happy, Happy Heart, Happy for Men, and Aromatics Elixir.
Also, there’s a whoooooollle long counter full of Estee Lauder, with testers for every single flankered thing: Estee. Beyond Paradise, BP Blue, BP Men. Pleasures, Pleasures Sheer, Pleasures Intense, Pleasures Exotic. White Linen, Pure White Linen, PWL Light Breeze, PWLPink Coral. Beautiful, Beautiful Sheer, Beautiful Love. Cinnabar. Youth Dew. Knowing. Azuree. Bronze Goddess, BG Soleil. Private Collection, the original only. Tuscany per Donna. Intuition. Spellbound. Dazzling Silver. Sensuous and Sensuous Noir. (No Dazzling Gold or Youth Dew Amber Nude or Alliage or PC Tuberose Gardenia, though.) I had a nice conversation with the older lady staffing the Lauder counter: she was surprised that I knew what the bottle for Cinnabar looked like, even as I mentioned that I was smelling it because I wanted to know if I still hated it. She likes Estee and Beyond Paradise, herself.
The young man who was so enthusiastic about perfume and helpful to me on two prior visits to Macy’s wasn’t working this afternoon, but there were several SA’s floating around, with offers of help. “Are you looking for anything in particular, ma’am?” And when I said no thanks, I was just browsing and smelling, each one smiled and told me things like, “Oh, enjoy!” or “Feel free to sniff, and if I can get you anything or answer any questions, please just wave at me.” Maybe it’s just in Really Big Cities that the SA’s are snobby… The Belk SA’s are clueless but very pleasant. (I know nobody trains those poor people adequately. I spent a summer and two Christmas breaks from college running a cash register at Sears, and nobody ever told me a dang thing about what I was selling, whether it was lingerie, women’s wear, or children’s wear. Or belts. I once had a customer scream at me because I asked her in which department she had found a belt which had no tag, so I could find out how much to charge for it.)
I sniffed nearly everything. I’ve already smelled the Juicy Couture things, and I think they’re hideous. Ditto Cashmere Mist, ugh. The Ed Hardy packaging just annoys me, so I didn’t pick up any of those, either. I was shocked that there were a lot of testers missing. I didn’t ask about them, so I suppose it’s possible that the SA’s had hidden them, but the testers were AWOL for several things I’d have loved to have smelled: the original Dolce et Gabbana, Paloma Picasso (do I hate it as much as I used to?), Mugler Cologne (does it really smell like steam?), and that new Justin Bieber thingy. Actually, I’m not surprised that the tester for the Bieb’s fragrance was under wraps; they ought to have one chained to the counter.
What I made an effort to smell were largely scents I’ve not intentionally sniffed before: Angel Innocent (chemical custard), Fancy Nights (which would have been better with less restraint – it should have been a big trashy thing, I’d have liked it more), I Fancy You (glorified shampoo), Beauty (rather nice, an inoffensive lily scent with a nice woody cast), and Euphoria (berry-candy-vanilla, somehow not as good as the superbly-trashy Dark Kiss at Bath and Body Works). Also, I laid nostrils on some Lauders I’d not tried, and even that thing that Musette over at the Posse calls Aromatics of Dooooooom (yes, I find Aromatics Elixir hideous). Azuree is just ashtray-nasty, and Spellbound is not as sweet (“cloying” as PTG calls it) as I’d thought, but still it’s fairly synthetic-icky. I also smelled Poeme, which I was unfamiliar with – and I have to say that I was happier not knowing what it smelled like. Tresor in Love was not dreadful, but not interesting either.
And I sniffed some old enemies as well: Opium, Obsession, Youth Dew, White Linen. Obsession seems lighter, and so does Opium, but I still hate them. White Linen still smells to me as if it should have been named Mildewed Laundry: sour, squinty-eyed, suspicious. (Mind you, I like aldehydes!) I resmelled Private Collection, and actually sprayed it on skin. It is wonderful for all of an hour, and then it tries to kill me with that Lauder base. Surprisingly, Cinnabar smells rather nice to me now, very cinnamon-spicy and sweet and warm, but that Lauder balsamic thing is in there so it was also a complete bust.
Youth Dew I still despise to the depths of my being, so I suppose the world can go on turning. If I ever mention on the blog that I like Youth Dew, somebody is going to have to come down here and check my body for signs of alien invasion.
There is very little available at the mall that is rich, distinctive, and wonderful-smelling. It’s depressing as heck. Aside from Shalimar and Chanel No. 5 (and okaaaaay, fiiiine, toss some of the Estee Lauders in there too if you like), it’s kind of a desert. Way too many fragrances smell like other fragrances: Gucci Guilty smells an awful lot like Coco Mademoiselle; Coach EdP smells sort of like Calvin Klein Beauty. Worse, too many fragrances simply do not smell good.
I came home and put on some vintage Caron Parfum Sacre, and I felt better. I sniffed my Mary Greenwell Plum, and my Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete, and felt better still. I sniffed my DSH Oeillets Rouges and felt positively euphoric.
Perfumery is not dead, no matter the state of the mall.
I blame Left Coast Nose for this one. She mentioned a scent she liked in a comment, and then helpfully pointed out that it’s discontinued. Which got me to thinking… how much of the stuff I actually own and wear is no longer being produced and sold at retail? A bunch of it, that’s how much. Edit: I should explain, I bought nearly all of the following at online discounters, where most of them are indeed still available at the time of writing. Exception Shalimar Light, which is getting scarce as alligator feathers.
I had titled this post “Love’s Retail Lost,” and then when I went looking for a photo to accompany it, I found this:
which, although not precisely on topic, was too good not to share.
I checked my Excel file, where I keep notes on what I’ve tested, what I’d like to test, and what I’ve bought, to find out. To be fair, I excluded my (extensive) collection of vintage miniatures, which I bought primarily because they were vintage/discontinued/hard-to-find.
Mariella Burani edt. I think Mariella Burani is still making some kind of fragrance, but the eponymous one is no longer produced. When you find it at the discounters, it’s likely to be very cheap because stocks have been dumped. This does not reflect its quality.
YSL Paris Pont des Amours Printemps Edition 2008 Again, another LE. I can’t really complain about limited editions not sticking around, however much I’d like to (I’m still mourning over the L’Artisan Jacinthe de Bois I never got to smell).
Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur I have seen Black Orchid recently in a retail store, but not VdF, and I can’t find an online listing for it at a retail establishment.
Balenciaga Rumba. Another “let’s just dump it at cost” scent because it’s been discontinued and there’s tons of old stock sitting around. It’s a very 80’s style fragrance, big and rich and vampy, and that is quite unfashionable these days.
Donna Karan Gold. Recently discontinued, along with a slew of other Karans. I am saddened to report that they are still making the (hideous, IMO) Be Delicious and all its sugary little flankers.
This one’s in question: I can’t find GivenchyOrganza Indecence, whether the original or the Les Mythiques version, anywhere. But March says in her comments to me on this postshe was told it’s not discontinued, just really hard to find. Givenchy should get its act together – this one was a both a big seller and hugely popular among perfumistas.
L’Arte di Gucci. It doesn’t surprise me that this one’s kaput, to be honest. It’s too… too big, too lush, too animalic, too shrieking, too everything for current tastes. (Except marshmallowy and fruity. It’s not fruit-flavored-candy enough for current tastes. And now I’ll stop snarling about the fruity gourmand fad, at least for now. I admit to liking Hanae Mori.)
Stetson Rich Suede, which was probably an LE to begin with. Oh, well.
Ines de la Fressange 1999, the Calice Becker fruity floral – there’s a newer version in a tall bottle with gold leaves, a gourmandish thing by Alberto Morillas, but I think it too has been discontinued. I know I snark about fruity florals from time to time, but this one is done just right: light-hearted, tangy, a bellini in a bottle.
Okay, okay, fine, I’ll cop to this one: Victoria’s Secret Pink. This would be the original Pink, not Pink Beach or Pink Angel or Pink Panties or whatever the heck those ever-sluttier Victoria’s Secret execs are coming up with these days, an airy green peony-freesia floral that is still pleasant to me, and which I bought another mini of this past year, to replace the old one that was getting really low. My excuse? The CEO likes it.
Victoria’s Secret Victoria. The very first fragrance VS released, waaaay back in the… late 80’s, I think, a beautiful floral chypre that nonetheless has a difficult opening due to age. I’ve now smelled three different bottles of this, and all three are off in the topnotes – decayed bergamot, or something. I never owned this when it was new – I couldn’t afford it. But it’s lovely, when the weird top burns off. VS used to carry really beautiful, elegant nightwear – I had a gorgeous teal satin spaghetti-strap nightie that I wore for years – heavy satin, with four-inch-deep soft ivory lace. Victoria smells like that thing felt – elegant, luxurious, pretty.
Crown Perfumery Crown Bouquet. I hereby curse Clive Christian to live, without diamonds and Lexuses and cash, sleeping in a tent and eating local food, in a miserably poor place for three months. Perhaps he’d give up this ludicrous “most expensive perfume in the world” nonsense, and all the teddibly posh trappings of his current perfume business, which just annoys the %#** out of me.
Cuir de Lancome. A perfume with brains and beauty and a backbone? Of course it’s discontinued, because no one under the age of 21 bought it. Look, I’m not being ageist. I think young women should wear what they like, even if I happen to find the popular fruity-sweet style ditzy and unpleasant. It just burns my shorts that Lancome should decide not to continue producing a beautiful scent and selling it to “mature women” because they’d rather concentrate their efforts on selling things like Miracle So Magic and Tresor In Love. Which I doubt very much will sell better than Cuir – they’ll just sell to the right demographic.
Shalimar Light. News Flash: Eau de Shalimar is not an acceptable substitute. Whose bright idea was it to bottle the smell of lemon baby wipes?
Guerlain Terracotta Voile d’Ete. This may have been intended as limited edition as well, but I can’t find anything that says so definitively. (Note to self: Aha! This is what Agent Provocateur Strip was reminding me of! Not an exact match, of course – this is spicier – but similar in the floral-amber category.)
I’m not even including reformulated things like Ralph Lauren Lauren – the reformulation of that one was like taking Sigourney Weaver and turning her into, oh, Blake Lively* – and Kenzo Parfum d’Ete – which has been changed into a different, but still pleasant, scent. (*Please don’t hate on me for the Blake Lively comment. Blake’s fine as she is, but in my opinion, Sigourney is Too Much Woman to be turned into someone young, blonde, and… hmm, how to say it? Naive. Blake should aspire to be Sigourney, not the other way round. RL Lauren used to be kind, interesting, beautiful, classic and strong. Now it’s merely pretty. )
So if I count up the discontinued scents, ignoring the reformulateds and the vintages, that’s, like… (frantic scrambling to get the calculator) a whopping 28.6% of my full bottle wardrobe. This is a little scary. You think so? On the other hand, it might tie in to the fact that I am a Total Sucker for stories of lost love. This is probably even more scary when you consider that I bought all of these bottles knowing that these fragrances had been discontinued.
Anybody else as crazy as me?
Image is I’d rather be a perfect sinner by theilr at flickr.com.
L’Arte di Gucci is gorgeous, a lushly sensuous and rich-smelling rose chypre. It is bottled elegance, all cheekbones and red lipstick and swan neck, a sophisticate in a fitted suit, with naughty black satin-and-lace undies. Which is very much not my personal style – but I adore L’Arte nevertheless.
Or perhaps I love it the more for being what I’m not but would like to be. There’s very little room in my life for expensive naughty undies; I gave up fitted suits aaaages ago, before I got pregnant with the first of three children; I’ve never had a swan neck or long legs. I look horrified (and horrifying!) when I wear black, particularly the sort of slinky black thing that seems to just go with L’Arte di Gucci. Think evening gowns in black lace, hats with veils, stiletto heels, Singapore Slings and cigarettes in holders. Think Alexis Carrington, from Dynasty. Think everything that says Expensive and Haughty Heart-breaking Female Here; if you fall in love with her, it’s your own stupid fault for not resisting.
And let’s have a word about that bottle at this point, shall we? Can you say UGLY? Can you say Tacky, boys and girls? Somebody done hit it with the Ugly Stick, as we used to say when I was growing up. (We also said, “Ugly as homemade sin,” but clearly the word “homemade” has no discernible relation to the bottle of L’Arte, as tarted up as it is in black and gilt.) Holy cow, is that thing ever a bottleful of Boogie Nights! On the other hand, it is opaque black* glass – super for keeping the fragrance safe from exposure to light – and quite satisfyingly heavy, with a subtle curve not apparent from the photo. *I refer to the edp version; the edt has the same shape and hideous gold squiggle, but its glass is clear. This is my bottle:
L’Arte di Gucci was released in 1991 – but smells very retro to me, with the saucy backbone one expected of fragrance in the late seventies. If you have smelled Ungaro Diva, another Big Rose Chypre which was released in 1983, L’Arte di Gucci will smell familiar to you, although L’Arte seems more focused on the rose, more forceful, and less symphonic.
From Fragrantica.com, here are the notes for L’Arte di Gucci: Top notes are aldehydes, coriander, fruity notes, green notes and bergamot. Middle notes are mimosa, tuberose, orris root, jasmine, muguet, rose, geranium and narcissus. Base notes are leather, amber, patchouli, musk, oakmoss and vetiver.
I do not smell much in the way of aldehydes here, but bergamot and green notes are prominent. The unspecified “fruity notes” undoubtedly include cassis bud, with its intense, shocking-pink tartness. I notice that spraying the scent makes the cassis – which can read as “cat pee” to some – far more noticeable and bitter, and I also typically smell a plasticky note when I spray that I do not notice when I decant and dab instead. I very much prefer to dab this one. When I read the back of the bottle, and (ahem, attempt to) translate the French, I see that tagete (marigold) and cassis bud are both listed, but aldehydes and “green notes” are not.
The heart is nearly all rose-geranium, with the other florals very much in the background, simply adding some roundness. I do smell the cool iris here, and the deep haylike nuance of narcissus serves as a bridge into the drydown, rich with the bitter edge of moss and patchouli and sweet with amber and musk. I do not smell leather, nor much vetiver, but I do often smell a fuzzy, skinlike note that I believe to be the costus (listed on the bottle, not on fragrantica). I like it.
Once the Joan Collins/Disco Era/Big Hair Glam effect of the opening is over, my general impression is that of a wildly overgrown garden, roses and thorns, exotic flowers and bizarre Gothic vines snaking about the cast-iron seating, with late afternoon sun shafting down through the clouds and creating an intense pink-and-green light and shadows effect. I’d say chiaroscuro, but in my mind at least, that refers to black, white, and graytone, and L’Arte is decidedly colorful.
L’Arte di Gucci was discontinued in 2007, probably done in by the one-two knockout punches of 1) the general taste tending toward the sweet and gourmand, and 2) the IFRA regulation of oakmoss. A sad situation. I’d hoard the bottle I have, but I love it too much. It can still be found, particularly in the edt version (which I have not smelled), on the odd online discounter, or at ebay. The 5ml bottles of edp seem readily available at ebay, however, at the time of writing. Try to pick one up if you can.
Top image is of Joan Collins as the superbly nasty Alexis Carrington, from flickr. Second image is of Bianca Todd, a photographic portrait made by Peter A Juley & Son, from Smithsonian Institution at flickr. (Ms. Todd was a painter in the 1880’s; I’ve never seen her work but I’d like to. She certainly looks as though she was really having fun, and not simply showing off her opera costume. I’ll bet she was a fireball.) Third image is from the author’s collection. Fourth image is Hottest Pink Rose by julev69 at flickr.