Here’s today’s collection of reviews of some new-ish mainstream fragrances. (I dunno, is Guerlain mainstream? The only Guerlain you can buy in a department store around here is Shalimar. On the other hand, none of the department stores in my area would carry Prada or Tiffany either.)
Mon Guerlain – This was a freebie tossed in by the eBay seller because she was out of one of the carded samples I had bid on. I wouldn’t have chosen it on my own (as you might remember, I am truly not much of a Guerlie-girl). In any case, without checking the notes, I threw the sample in my gym bag and spritzed a bit on after my shower. Within three minutes I was sporting a massive lavender hangover headache.
And I can barely tell you anything else in there except the flat powdery vanilla (also a note I dislike) and that weird powdery-chalky baby-aspirin orange thing (double-hate), because I scrubbed. Bleargh. I’m sure there are people who love this thing, but the only way I would have hated it more would be if they crammed it full of fig leaf, too.
Tiffany & Co. – I liked the first Tiffany fragrance. It was a 1987 release, and it smelled like an 80’s release: a jam-packed, rich floral, the opposite of “light.” This one was getting some decent reviews so I thought I’d give it a shot. The first sniff was not promising: some screechy Coco-Mademoiselle-type patchouli, a high-pitched citrus, plus the clean and quiet iris-musk familiar to us from Prada Infusion d’Iris, which should surprise no one because Daniela Andrier did the Prada as well. Within a few moments, though, it settled down into a very pleasant blackcurrant-peach-rose floral not all that far from my beloved Ines de la Fressange. Too bad the drydown isn’t nearly as good, but I swear I think there’s real sandalwood in the Fressange. This one eventually subsides into a lighter, sweeter Coco-Mademoiselle-ish drydown, which is still fairly pleasant. I give this one a B-minus because it could have been much worse, and because it is such a no-brainer pleasant thing. The drydown, which is my favorite part, lasts several hours on me and stays pleasant, reminding me just a tad — in feel, not smell — of another no-brainer just-pretty that I love, Carven Le Parfum. I won’t buy this, but I won’t mind smelling it on someone else.
Prada Infusion Amande – This smells like they started with Infusion d’Iris and added a clean, sweet heliotrope. It’s soft, powdery, not quite sweet. Listed notes are almond, heliotrope, tonka bean, musk, and anise, and I smell all of those plus a dry satiny iris, and just mayyyybe a bit of orange blossom. It’s fairly linear in my experience. However, it’s very nice stuff, and for an almond/heliotrope scent, seems to avoid all Play-doh references, which is unusual and refreshing. I don’t need it, but I enjoyed it.
Have you smelled anything mainstream-ish lately that’s good? Tell us about it!
The 1920s was an influential decade for perfume, though striking changes in fashion began in the years immediately after World War I. The dust was settling in Europe after the war which had laid waste not only to infrastructure but also political alliances and the young male population, and everybody was tired of wartime bleakness and deprivation. There was a feeling that the old ways were gone and done with, and young women in particular were ready for a change. Gone were old-fashioned morals as well as those complicated hats, hairdos, and long dresses over rigid wasp-waist corsets.
The modern young lady was wearing tube dresses with little underpinning and tank-style bodices and short skirts, as well as dramatic makeup. She was drinking, not tiny ladylike glasses of sherry but potent cocktails in jazz clubs. She was cutting her hair and smoking! in public, yet! She could vote (as of 1918 in the UK for women over 30, and as of 1920 in the US). She could drive. She could — gasp! — possess her own checkbook.
And she wasn’t wearing her mother’s perfume, either.
She wasn’t wearing a soliflore — lavender toilet water, or a simple floral like Coty’s Jasmin de Corse. She wasn’t wearing a simple floral bouquet like Houbigant Quelques Fleurs, or a soft floral oriental like Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. No, she was wearing a decadent, sensual oriental, a sharp and bold chypre, a sparkling aldehydic floral, or a gender-bending leather or tobacco scent. New directions in scent abounded, and aren’t we glad?
Here are some fragrances that graced many flappers’ wrists and décolletages, and which are still in production today (albeit in changed form). Try one, or a handful of these, and smell history.
Guerlain Mitsouko (1919, fruity chypre) This more elegant take on the chypre is such a classic among perfumistas that it is hard to imagine it being daring, but it is. It has the bold chypre tripod structure of bergamot-oakmoss-labdanum, rounded with peach undecalactone, and it smells not only formidable but also kind of, well, ripe. I’m guessing that those flappers who danced the night through smelled a bit like this on their way home at dawn.
Millot Crêpe de Chine (1925, aldehydic chypre) Crepe de Chine was a mashup of the bold three-part chypre structure and the modern-at-the-time aldehydic floral. It is bold, but in a well-groomed, exquisite-tailoring kind of way. Where Chypre was a little, well, tribal, Crepe de Chine is much more civilized. This is for the flapper who only drinks her cocktails out of proper glasses, rather than resorting to a hip flask.
Guerlain Shalimar (1921, oriental, came into wide release in 1925) It was once said that there were three things a respectable woman did not do: smoke in public, dance the tango, or wear Shalimar. With its almost chiaroscuro contrasts of bright bergamot-lemon top and dark smoky, leathery, vanilla-balsamic base, it is striking… and sexy. Louise Brooks wore Shalimar; ’nuff said.
Corday Toujours Moi (1920, spicy oriental) This one is a kitchen-sinky oriental similar to Tabu (1932) with some green notes, and it is extremely bold. It wafts. It is a Liberated Woman scent very far from, say, the very-Victorian Berdoues Violette. It goes perfectly with its name, “Always Me,” and the attitude “Look, I have my own checkbook! and these great T-strap shoes!”
Caron Tabac Blond (1919, tobacco/leather) There is no tobacco listed in the notes, by the way, but the effect is at least somewhat tobacco-like. This scent seems to me to be an androgynous, “let’s steal all the things that smell like a gentlemen’s club,” appropriation of notes that had been regarded as traditionally masculine, softened by traditionally-feminine florals.
Molinard Habanita (1921, leather oriental) This scent began its life as an additive for cigarettes — you were supposed to dip the glass rod into the oil and stroke it along the length of your cigarette, so that while you smoked, the fragrance filled the air. Leaving aside the reason this was A Thing (you didn’t want Mumsy dear to know you were smoking? I mean, presumably she also knew about the hip flask and the lace step-ins, so you weren’t fooling anybody), Habanita probably smelled good with the tobacco smoke. Here’s Robin’s description at Now Smell This, because it’s pretty perfect: “If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you’ll get the general idea.”
Chanel No. 5 (1925, aldehydic floral) Perfumer Ernest Beaux’ attempt to recreate an Arctic snow field and Coco Chanel’s affinity for the smell of starched linen combined with No. 5’s enormous overdose of aldehydes, the aromachemical that is in smell form big Hollywood klieg lights. (Maybe.) And Chanel’s famous dictum that a woman should not smell of flowers, but like a woman, played into its abstract presentation, too. (Maybe. There are a number of contradictory stories about its genesis.) No. 5 feels like a smooth marble sculpture to me. In its day it was utterly modern, and to its credit, its florals are still lovely.
Lanvin My Sin/Mon Peché (1924, aldehydic floral) Like No. 5, My Sin is an aldehydic floral, but it is dark and carnal in a way that No. 5 has never been and will never be. It’s a complicated perfume: along with the aldehydes and florals are some deep woods and an animalic base just shy of “Are there mating buffaloes somewhere on the premises?” I suspect that it got worn more often by women grabbing a little vicarious sinful pleasure than by women who were actually sinning while wearing it, but there you are. Brilliant marketing. And that cat! Love it.
Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924, leather) Again with the gender-bending for 1920s gals. Leather was previously known as a masculine note, and this leather-for-ladies boasts the enormous and expensive Chanel powdery iris as well as florals and aldehydes. Fans speak of its “good purse” leather, or its “expensive car” leather, both things that flappers seemed to enjoy.
Weil Zibeline (1928, aldehydic floral chypre-oriental) “Zibeline” means “sable” in French, and this fragrance was intended for scenting furs. As you might guess, Zibeline is heavy and rich, and yet dry and aromatic. It smells very much not of this century, but it is a luxurious scent in the best sort of way. One imagines fancy cars and diamonds and satin gowns, and that ne plus ultra sable, for a fancy party.
By 1929, with the stock market crash around the corner, the general prosperity which had allowed so many young women to taste freedom and decadence was about to disappear, and the day of the flapper was drawing toward a sudden twilight.
What the flappers left behind were some glorious abstract perfumes. Like much of the Art Deco of the period, the fragrances are bold yet graceful, natural yet influenced by humans. Chanel No. 5’s beautiful florals are buttressed on either side by the highly-artificial aldehydes and the pillowy strength of (nitro) musks. Shalimar’s combination of lively bergamot and smoky-sexy vanillin makes it round and memorable, unlike anything smelled in nature — but if you smell it on a person, even now, fifty-‘leven reformulations after its release, it has affinity for skin and does not scream I AM SYNTHETIC! the way many modern fragrances do.
There were, of course, several other classic fragrances released during the 1920s which are still favorites today, but I have not included everything here. Caron’s Nuit de Noel (1924), Bellodgia (1925), and Narcisse Noir (1925), for example, were hugely popular and remain extant, but they are not what I think of as bold and daring “flapper perfumes.” Nor are Chanel’s lovely woody Bois des Îles (1925) and satin-smooth Lanvin Arpège (1926). Coty L’Aimant (1927) is likewise a bit too prim, Emeraude (1920) too soft. Jean Patou’s Chaldée (1927), as a perfume recreation of French suntan oil (we can blame Coco Chanel for popularizing the tan!), seems to go with the flapper propensity for displaying bare skin, but it was not as widely worn as the others. Bourjois Evening in Paris (1928) is a gentle floral composition. Patou Joy, released in 1929, in my mind belongs to the Depression era.
Do you have a favorite flapper perfume? Do you love Art Deco and low waistlines? Does Daisy Buchanan make your heart sing? (And did you prefer Mia Farrow or Carey Mulligan?) Do share!
If you’d like to read more about how the social phenomenon of the flapper arose, check out this post at We Heart Vintage.
HOLY MOSES, it’s summer already. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t like summer. It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s boring. I’m not a beach person. Gah. But I do change my seasonal perfume rotation to deal with summer, and here are a few fragrances I really enjoy wearing in hot weather.
Cool and refreshing: Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl. Go ahead and roll your eyes, perfumistas. I’ll wait.
You done? Okay then. There is something so unmussable about Tommy Girl, which survives heat and humidity with aplomb. Her hair doesn’t go limp (or frizzy) in the heat; her clothes don’t wilt. She goes on radiating relaxation and freshness for a long, long time, and that effect of drinking iced lemon tea on the porch near the flower beds is very welcome to me when I’m outside in our muggy summer weather. Don’t shoot the messenger, but Luca Turin was right about this one.
So Pretty: Carven Le Parfum. I know a lot of perfume people found this one underwhelming, but most of them have less interest in the Just Pretty than I do. I love a just-pretty, and this one is wonderful if you like that kind of thing. I like that kind of thing. It’s basically mandarin, sweet pea, jasmine, rose and a very cleaned-up patchouli/quiet woody base that lasts fairly well.
Green and composed: Jacomo Silences, the original. My bottle is the old 80s parfum de toilette, which has aged very well, probably due to its black bottle. It’s an air-conditioned blast of galbanum and the restrained elegance of iris and moss, with florals, particularly rose, in between. I have the reissued Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime, and it’s nice, but it lacks the bold eerie calm of the original, which has just been discontinued. Go buy some now, before it disappears from the discounters.
Zingy floral: Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune. Grapefruit, blackcurrant bud, petitgrain, something floral that I swear smells like rose to me, neroli, clean herbal patchouli and woody notes. Yeah, sure, it’s got that almost sulfurous thing going on up top, but I love it, and this citrus/floral thing is really refreshing in the heat. I’m less happy about the patchouli in the drydown, but I don’t like patchouli in general. It’s saying something that I don’t want to scrub this off when the patch floats up; instead I just want to reapply.
Most people love citrus fragrances. I usually don’t – the only traditional citrus/herbal/floral cologne I own is a small decant of 4711, and I don’t use it all that often. But I love a citrusy floral, and Pamplelune hits the spot. I’ve gone through a couple of minis so far, and I keep waffling on whether to buy a real bottle. Perhaps I will, when my Moschino Funny! is all gone.
And of course, I have to have a BWF. Always need a Big White Floral. Doesn’t really matter which one I pick, because they’re all good in the heat. Maybe not so great if you’re trying to get work done, because they can eat your head and monopolize your senses. But there’s nothing more swoony. Suggestions: Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums Carnal Flower or Le Galion Tubereuse (the rerelease), if you like your BWFs joyful and lighthearted. Escada Margaretha Ley(discontinued. #sorrynotsorry) or Honore des Pres Vamp a NY (bonus: all-natural) if you like them coconutty and tropical.
(Heh. I just crammed four perfumes into a one-perfume slot – how about me?)
So – what’s for summer wear in your neck of the woods?
Yee-haw!!! A mini-review roundup again, after, like, months.
Guerlain Vol de Nuit (modern EdT, from Surrender to Chance) – after a brief hit of galbanum, this smells like… um… nothing, really. Musty nothing. I keep spraying it multiple times, trying to find it, but it is so pale it’s like it doesn’t WANT to be found. The notes list and descriptions I’ve read say that this is supposed to be a woody oriental. The only thing I can call it is confusing. I’ve heard that the current version isn’t good (see Victoria’s comparisons of vintage and current Guerlains at Bois de Jasmin), but I assumed it was another one of those “compared to the old stuff it’s terrible.” Boy, they weren’t kidding. It’s awful. Doesn’t even smell like a Guerlain to me, whatever that means. (Notes: bergamot, galbanum, petit grain, jasmine, daffodil, spices, iris, vanilla, amber and woody notes.)
Carven Ma Griffe (vintage EdT, again from Surrender to Chance). Another big hit of galbanum to start, but also a blast of decaying aldehydes, followed by moldering whitish floralish stuff and then a ton of vetiver and musk. Vetiver/musk/aldehydes seems to pop up a lot in fragrances that had their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s (Madame Rochas, Rive Gauche, Prince Matchabelli Cachet – and even in the wonderfulChanel No. 19), but I don’t like it. It bores the crap out of me. The reason I love No. 19 and like Annick Goutal Heure Exquise is the galbanum-iris-rose stuff, not the vetiver-musk. Borrrrring. I thought I’d love this. Nope. (Notes: aldehydes, gardenia, green notes, asafoetida, clary sage, lemon, iris, orange blossom, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, rose, labdanum, sandalwood, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, vetiver and styrax.)
Also, I hear that Carven has reorchestrated and rereleased this one with a “soft” rollout, no heavy advertising, but I can’t find a sample of the current version anywhere. Guess you have to live in Europe to get it, even though their recent Le Parfum is available in the US.
Speaking of which, I really enjoyed my carded spray sample of Carven Le Parfum. So pretty. So, so, SO pretty. I am often just as thrilled with a just-so-pretty floral fragrance as I would be if you came up and thrust a dewy bouquet right into my arms. I’m not ashamed.
In any case, Carven Le Parfum starts off with citrus and a tart apricot note, and then quickly eases into a gentle mixed-white-floral. It is clearly a Francis Kurkdjian fragrance, which is generally a good thing from my viewpoint – I like FK’s stuff, generally. There’s some clean patchouli in it, which absolutely ruined Elie Saab Le Parfum (also composed by Kurkdjian) for me, but here it isn’t too hijacky, it’s just a support for the lovely florals to rest on. I’d say that it skews a bit younger and more innocent than the Elie Saab, and despite the apricot, less sweet to my nose. The hyacinth is prominent to my nose, but it does also actually smell like sweet peas, which my mother used to grow up against the wood fence in our yard when I was a child. The only other sweet pea fragrance I can recollect trying was Lolita Lempicka’s Si Lolita, which was also jam-packed with pink and black peppers, but ended with a lightweight amber. That one was sweeter, and spicier, less floral in character.
I like it. If I owned this, I’d wear it. So what if it’s not groundbreaking or dramatic? It’s pretty. Fragranticans are calling it “sweet,” but it’s real fruit as opposed to the fakey-fakey stuff I call “froot,” and as I say, not particularly what I would call sweet. No cotton candy here, though if you’re a fan of dry, woody, incensey stuff you’ll probably hate it. (Notes: mandarin blossom, apricot, white hyacinth, sweet pea, jasmine, ylang, sandalwood, osmanthus, and Indonesian patchouli.)
Historiae Jardin De Le Notre – apparently this was an exclusive fragrance created for sale for the Domain of Chantilly at the Le Notre Gardens, and it’s no longer available. But it’s a pretty, gardeny floral that came my way as a carded sample, and I enjoyed it so I’m discussing it. It starts out with a green-leaves accord, which slides into an attractive mixed-floral bouquet (rose, hyacinth, lily of the valley). The notes list on the card also includes gardenia, but that’s clearly delusional; I get a lot of clean jasmine out of this. It eventually goes a little screechy, but not more so than my 2006 Diorissimo; I just have less tolerance for that these days, and after three or four hours, I’m ready for something else.
DSH Perfumes Peony – this is, well, peony. Plus a bit of rose and a good bit of greenness, and it is another bundle of pretty flowers atop a tiny bit of musk to extend the florals. I like it a lot, though not quite as much as the delicate, lovely peony/fresh-rose MDCI Rose de Siwa. But I can’t afford Rose de Siwa, so if you loved that you might want to check out DSH Peony. (Notes: peony, grass, green leaves, rose.)
Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire California Reverie – OOOOOH, I said to myself upon smelling it for the first time. Citrus floral! So pretty! That lasted a fairly long time for this sort of light floral thing, at least about three hours, before I started getting tired of the jasmine. (Notes: mandarin orange, neroli, jasmine sambac and frangipani, beeswax and vanilla.) If I owned this, I’d respray every two hours for the addictively beautiful citrus-floral opening. And then I’d kick myself for literally blowing, like, $2 a spritz.
Parfums d’Empire Corsica Furiosa – not “furiosa” at all. Nope. It’s a pleasant herb-garden fantasy with grass and plenty of tomato leaf, and something that smells like juniper to me, as well as some light woody notes. Stays green all the way through, but it is quite light and fleeting, with minimal sillage to me. Reading Kafkaesque’s review of it has me wondering if I *am* anosmic to ISO E Super after all, because I’m not picking up rubbing alcohol or pepper at all, and Corsica Furiosa is so light! There and gone. (Notes: mastic, lime, grass, hay, honey, moss, labdanum, mint, tomato leaf, pepper.)
I’ve also recently tested Piguet Douglas Hannant, which reminded several people (including me) of a lightened-up Fracas. Then I reacquainted myself with Fracas. I’m planning on a Throwdown for those two soon.
Enjoy the weekend! Our high school football team travels about 75 miles away for tonight’s game (WHAT were they thinking, scheduling that? Driving right past a dozen other schools? Silly), so the band isn’t going. I get a rare band-mom night off. 🙂
Ever see those polls on perfume blogs that go, “Guerlain or Chanel? And no fair not picking”? I pick Chanel ever. dang. time. (And yes, the Secret Redneck in me is cackling away at the idea of using “Chanel” and “dang” in the same sentence, not to mention throwing the colloquial Appalachian “ever” instead of “every” in there as well.) And do you wonder why the word “Guerlainophile” exists, while nobody ever says “Chanelophile?” There’s even a perfume aficionado who has been known to refer to herself as a “Guerlie Girl.”
But not me.
I was reading Blacknall Allen’s recent post on how few green Guerlain fragrances there are, and she suggested that I might not be a Guerlie-girl for that simple reason, that Guerlain does very few greens.
And I am quite sure that the fact that the offerings of House Guerlain are largely weighted toward the sensual oriental does play pretty heavily into my preference for the elegance of Chanel – well, that and the childhood history of a No. 5-wearing mother. But I was thinking about how many Guerlains I love, and they’re pretty thin on the ground, especially compared to the vaaaaast catalog of fragrances, including limited editions, ever released by this old and prolific house.
So what Guerlains do I love? I checked with Fragrantica’s list of Guerlains, currently numbering 204, to make sure I didn’t leave out one inadvertently.
Shalimar Light – which I love because it’s basically vintage Emeraude with a twist of lemon, even more so than Shalimar (which everybody knows is so similar to Emeraude in structure that it’s suspected Francois Coty sold the formula to Jacques Guerlain). I have this one stockpiled, but if I run out I will just go buy every bottle of vintage Emeraude parfum de toilette I can find on eBay.
Vega – which I love because it’s basically Chanel No. 5 with a Guerlinade base. I have a treasured decant. If it were reasonably priced I’d probably own a bottle.
Metallica (or the tweaked-and-renamed Metalys, I suppose, but I only have a decant of the original Metallica) – which I really only just like a lot, because it is basically carnations, ylang, and vanilla, and we alllll know what a complete Carnation ‘Ho I am.
Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune – which I do like, a lot. It’s basically cat-pee blackcurrant bud, grapefruit, and a mixed floral bouquet so pink that it makes me smile. It’s like rosy pink lemonade. I have three minis, but when they’re gone I will just go back to my similar-but-inexpensive Moschino Funny!, which is built on a like structure except with tea.
Chamade – of course. The lone green floral Guerlain makes, in my opinion. Sure, they make various vetivers and citruses and chypres, but only Chamade is galbanummy, a surefire green that shades into the most gorgeous creamy gold. It is lovely. I have a bottle of vintage EdT and a decant of parfum de toilette, as well as a micromini of parfum; all are wonderful.
Apres l’Ondee – Degas and Monet and Debussy in a bottle; the most perfect example of perfumery impressionism there is, all fuzzy around the edges and shot full of shimmer. It is not something I want to wear very often, but it is stunning and beautiful and there are times when nothing else will do. Nobody else has ever made anything like it, and in my opinion it is unparalleled for dreaminess. I have a decant.
Attrape-Coeur (Guet-Apens) – which I only like very much. It is basically the gorgeous classic Ambre 18 base overlaid with as much YSL Paris plus extra violet and lashings of liqueur as it can support. I killed a 5ml decant, and because it’s discontinued and crazy-spendy when found, I won’t be getting any more.
Idylle eau de toilette – which again, I only like very much. It is basically “Guerlain does Coco Mademoiselle,” except easier to wear and it doesn’t get screechy (whereas the edp is completely unwearable for me due to the double shot of patchouli). I’m a little embarrassed to say that I like it, but I’ve been using up my decant.
Elixir Charnel Floral Romantique – okay, this one I really like, without any good reason, except that it smells like a nice-girl department-store fragrance, except done right. The CEO once commented to me, “I like that because it smells like your skin, only better.” It is, simply, pretty. Not unusual, waaaaaay overpriced, but very very pretty. My two tiny samples are gone gone gone. (sob)
I sort of like Jardins de Bagatelle and Samsara and L’Heure Bleue and Cruel Gardenia, but my affection for them doesn’t go any farther than a polite social sort of “Hi, nice to see you.” I love the first half of Terracotta Voile d’Ete, which is a sort of girly-wirly Old Spice blown up to silver screen proportions, but then it collapses right down to the skin and you can’t smell it any farther away than two inches, and I do NOT know what the point of that development is. It makes me cranky.
That’s only four True Loves, five Really-Likes, and five Indifferents, which I have to say is really poor coverage of my sweet spots, Guerlain.
And some of those Guerlain classics? Shalimar, Jicky, Mitsouko, Sous le Vent? I don’t like them. I absolutely despise Insolence.
So: are you a Guerlainophile, a Guerlie Girl? A fille who loves her Guerlain parfums? Do tell.
Let’s get this straight, right up front: I have tried. I mean, she’s the Empress. Ruler of all she surveys, epitome of style and grace and the Art of Perfume, often-cited as “the best fragrance ever.” Oh, the shame I have felt at failing to adore her! It’s me, isn’t it? It must be my fault. I have given the Empress plenty of skin time, plenty of chances to make her case with me, multiple trials in varying weathers, various concentrations and ages. All in all, I have worn Mitsouko in five different versions now, probably up over twenty trials now…
And… FAIL. Failfailfail. Only one of these concentrations has worked for me, and even that one was not love, so I hereby put the Empress back on her pedestal, bow low, and step away. Y’all go ahead and worship, I’ll not stop you. I’ve seen the greatness now, but not the love.
I tried modern Eau de Toilette first, early in my Fumehead Forays, back in 2009. I liked the ambery basenotes, but that was all: Mitsouko was shrill and musty, dusty and unpleasant, good bone structure in a really ugly dress. I swapped my decant.
Then at some point I realized that I typically do very badly with classic Guerlains in EdT formulation. They often seem harsh, sharp, un-blended. Stabby, even. Shalimar EdT? Hideous lemon-patchouli-dirty ashtray-powder bomb. L’Heure Bleue EdT? Hell’s Medicine Cabinet. Yuck. I made peace with Shalimar in PdT, a beautiful lamplight glow in a rainy evening with woodsmoke in the air. L’Heure Bleue in parfum smelled full and complete in a way that the EdT does not, all deliciously-medicinal pastry.
(I did love my small decant of Apres L’Ondee from the minute I bought it, though. And Chamade, which I first tried in vintage parfum de toilette, has been lovely in every version I’ve tried. But those are strongly floral; make of that what you will.)
So then I sampled Mitsouko EdP, and it was, well, not as awful. Again, I really liked that nice ambery thing in the base, but the rest of it seemed so… just wrong. Just wrong. Ditto for the sample of vintage EdT a kind friend sent me. People wear this on purpose? Gah.
Mitsy parfum (from a sample labeled “vintage” at Surrender to Chance) was peach and mustiness. Musty musty musty. HORRible. Beyond horrible. I mentioned the fact that I was Officially Giving Up on Mitsouko on a Facebook perfume group, and a longtime fan of it suggested that the oakmoss has gone off in this parfum. Someone who’s only recently come around to liking Mitsy swears that a vintage Eau de Cologne version is the only one she can possibly do; “no screaming,” she said, and “the peach is in the background.” Someone else recommended the EdC too, but the only way I know of to get it is to buy a whooooole bottle of it on eBay, and I just don’t think it’s going to work for me, so there I’d be, with a whoooooole 100ml bottle of Mitsouko EdC that I’d have to get rid of somehow…
And then, I went trolling eBay, Just in Case, and bought this beyond-cute micro-mini parfum of Mitsouko in this very-cute li’l box, just to try. The famous Louise says it’s generally a good iteration, from the early-to-mid-1990s, and she owns two of them. (You don’t know Louise? She’s good friends with March of Perfume Posse, the instigator of a whole slew of PP posts labeled “Blame Louise,” and the wearer of all kinds of things that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot dabber vial top, like Angel, but also of Datura Noir, which I like, and she’s BFFs with Mitsy. Also, she teaches middle school, which just leaves me gasping in awe.)
I could wear this. There’s no Mean Girl in this bottle. Everything is there: the bergamot, the milky peach, the jasmine. The labdanum and iris. The oakmoss. Well, let’s be honest here: the oooooooakmosssssss. This thing is All About the Oakmoss. Which, okay, if you are an Oakmoss Ho, I can see how Mitsy would be the ne plus ultra of fragrances for you. And clearly it is for a lot of people.
Also, it is symphonic in a way that makes me finally get why people swoon over it. I geddit now, okay? I geddit. Everything works together and swirls in the same direction and has this distinctive personality, and yes, it is autumnal, and rich and nostalgic and tapestried and masterpiece-y.
Yet I remain a Mitsouko Philistine.
It still does not speak to me in the way that its predecessor Coty Chypre does.
I’m still not absolutely convinced that there isn’t some sort of mental placebo effect going on when I test old Cotys versus classic Guerlains (particularly the old Guerlains that seem based on their Coty counterparts – like Shalimar and Emeraude, L’Heure Bleue and L’Origan), because the Guerlains are very good. Is it that all the old amazing Cotys are gone, either discontinued or crippled through ever-cheapened reformulations, and I’m such a sucker for The Love That Can Never Be? Or is it that I’m annoyed with everybody’s saying that Jacques Guerlain improved all of Francois Coty’s ham-handed creations, that Coty was after the shopgirls’ trade while Guerlain, more artful, pursued the deeper purses and discerning noses of sophisticated women?
Could be any or all of those. Or, I think again as I resmell my sample of gen-u-wine vintage Coty Chypre parfum from the vial, it’s simpler and more personal: M. Coty knew what would clutch at my heart, and he bottled it.
I don’t think it’s going to happen, Mitsy and me. I just don’t. I’m just going to let her go. I just heard this song on the radio last night, Taylor Swift in a semi-humorous vein, singing, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” and it seemed so appropriate I had to laugh. Mitsy and me? Never getting back together. I’m never trying her again. I mean, like, EVER.
Because, finally, I appreciate her. But we don’t love each other. And I am, finally, okay with that.
(Meanwhile, Coty Chypre? All those tiny parfum bottles of you languishing in Great-Aunt Mary’s girdle drawer in the highboy or Cousin Mildred’s attic? I know you’re out there somewhere. Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe…)
NB: My gen-u-wine sample of vintage Coty Chypre parfum came from Surrender to Chance, where it is ridiculously expensive but still cheaper than airfare to Paris to visit the Osmotheque. Just so you know. And the stuff is pristine, too: the bergamot’s a little faded, but there isn’t any nailpolishy weird topnote as I’ve come to expect from really-vintage perfume. Review coming soon.
BTW, I have no idea why some text is dark here and some is lighter gray. I wrote this all in one piece on my laptop. I keep trying to fix it, but so far no dice.
My scent wardrobe is, like the climate in which I live, very seasonal. We have weather distinct from one season to the next, and it can range from below 0F in winter, with snow and wind and hail, to 98F in summer, hot and practically humid enough to grow mushrooms on your skin. The most comfortable seasons in this area tend to be spring and fall, with moderate temperatures and cool breezes and sunshine, though we certainly get plenty of rain (the average annual rainfall in my county is approximately 38 inches).
There are certain fragrances I wear at just about any time of the year, perennial go-tos. There are other fragrances I associate with certain seasons or weathers, and I never think of wearing them at other times. I love changing my fragrance with the season – I bring them out of the perfume cabinet and place them in the decorative hatbox on my dresser for easy access, and tenderly stow away the out-of-season back in the cabinet. I try to wear my seasonal fragrances when they are in season, appreciating each one like a beautiful day, though choosing among them is often a challenge.
Winter is easy: Alahine. Ubar, Lyric, Memoir. Tiny dribble of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant, if the weather is cold and damp. Carnal Flower or La Myrrhe, if the air is so cold it turns to crystal. Dolce Vita parfum. Parfum Sacre. Vanille Tonka.
Autumn is easier: Tabac Aurea, always. Champagne de Bois, Organza Indecence. Shalimar Light. Vintage Magie Noire, if the weather is just right: cold, rainy, windy. Smell Bent One.
Summer is easiest, with the fewest season-devoted scents: Fleur de Matin, Hanae Mori Haute Couture. Ines de la Fressange first edition. Moschino Funny!, Rose d’Ete.
But spring? Spring is hard. I hate choosing in spring. Green scents? Violets? Lily of the valley? Green florals, floral chypres, straight-up florals? There are so many, and I love them all, and they all say “spring” to me in some way.
What to choose? And how to make sure nothing gets left out? I still don’t know. I have no real plan, I just get up and pick something to delight in. Some favorites for spring:
Crown Perfumery Crown Bouquet – “the greenest of all flower gardens.” A big green juicy smack of galbanum and marigold gives way to very, very tender white flowers, from a wisp of tuberose to a hint of lily of the valley.
Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete – a shifting green-and-gold symphony like sunlight dripping through green leaves. Galbanum, green notes, narcissus, hyacinth, patchouli, moss and woods combine to create the essence of happiness for me.
Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve – this long-discontinued, much-coveted floral chypre gem gleams like good pearls. Very elegant yet gentle, with a powdery softness due to aldehydes and oakmoss, it is a reserved and quiet pleasure.
Jacomo Silences – cool, silver-green perfection. Contemplative, streamlined, nothing extraneous at all. Satin ribbons of galbanum, iris, rose, oakmoss.
Penhaligon’s Violetta – simplicity itself: green leaves, purple flowers, a whisper of sandalwood. Shy but lovely.
DSH Perfumes White Lilac – the true delight of lilac sweetness, garnished only with a handful of leaves and a sprinkling of spice. A joyful scent.
Guerlain Chamade – the essence of romance, it slowly blooms from chilly green opening to the budding jasmine-ylang-rose heart and on to the full-blown warmth of mimosa and vanilla in the drydown. A perfume for surrender.
Balmain Jolie Madame, in vintage parfum – a gorgeous juxtaposition of green notes, violet and gardenia against smooth leather. Bittersweet in the best sense.
Chanel No. 19 – the Seven-League Boots of pure beauty and empowerment. Galbanum, iris, oakmoss, and a whiff of leather, elegance with a riding crop.
Parfums DelRae Amoureuse – Languorous and vibrant all at once, with green notes, richly sensuous white florals, spicy notes, and honey set against a slightly-mossy sandalwood background.
Christian Dior Diorissimo – the essence of spring, in the form of lilies of the valley. That is all. And it is spectacular.
As I write, spring has budded outside. The daffodils came up a week ago; the hyacinths popped out shortly after. The grass has begun to grow tall and green up from its drab winter state, and I see the tall spiky leaves of wild onions growing up through it on roadsides. The cherry trees – from wild to domesticated fruit-bearing to Japanese ornamental – are blooming in froths of white and pink lace.
When I went outside this morning to take the boys to school, no fewer than six male robins were singing their heads off from different trees, claiming their territory.
Spring has really come. And so it is time to wear one of the loveliest spring fragrances in my collection, or in anyone’s collection: Après l’Ondée. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1906, it is the softest and most wistful scent I have ever smelled. Contemporary with the Impressionist movements in painting and in music, it is a perfect expression of the soft-focus dreaminess of both Monet and Debussy, an indistinct swirl of violet and heliotrope gauzy as a silk chiffon scarf. Continue reading Perfume Review: Guerlain Après l’Ondée
Pamplelune was composed in 1999 by then-in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent (also responsible for one of my favorite comfort fragrances, Shalimar Light), as part of the simple and lovely first round of Aqua Allegoria fragrances. Pamplelune and Herba Fresca are the only fragrances that remain in production from that first release of these Guerlains With Training Wheels, both deservedly so. Pamplelune, despite having lost that first blush of newness, is still getting press – and wear – among fragrance fans.
Here, in part, is what Luca Turin of Perfumes: The Guide had to say about it:
“… without question the best grapefruit fragrance ever, and has that magical quality, typical of perfectly conceived and executed fragrances, of being much more than the sum of its parts… Laurent married grapefruit… with an intensely pink floral accord and somehow gave it durability and that elusive quality of radiance: the ability to project an accurate image of itself at a distance. A sunny masterpiece.”
I ran across this description in P:TG and promptly dismissed it. I don’t really care for citrus scents. They smell fine, but they tend to bore me to tears, and the phrase “a good citrus,” strikes me as having the same appeal as “a good car chase film.” Sure, there are people that like that sort of thing, but I am not one of them. It turns out, though, that grapefruit might be an exception for me, as in Pamplelune and in Moschino Funny!
I first smelled Pamplelune at the Duty Free shop in the Rome airport. I was already covered in Lolita Lempicka Si Lolita and Chanel No. 19 EdP, so I figured that if it bored me I’d still have other things to smell. However, Pamplelune surprised me: I was pleased that, first, I’d found a citrus fragrance that didn’t for once bore me silly, and second, that didn’t disappear at Minute 34. I had already bought a set of four Aqua Allegoria minis in Malta intending to bring them back home as souvenirs for various relatives: Flora Nymphea to my mother, who likes soapy-clean scents; Bouquet Numero 1, a citrus-fresh floral, to The CEO’s mother; Herba Fresca to The CEO’s sister J who loves fresh gardeny unisex smells, and Pamplelune to his other sister E, who used to wear Dune and had been looking for some lighter summer fragrances. E reported to me later that she really enjoys the happy, light-hearted cast of Pamplelune.
If you go to Basenotes or Makeup Alley or Fragrantica and read what’s written about Pamplelune, you will find widely divergent reviews. Some of them are as enthusiastic as the encomium written by Luca Turin in P:TG, and some of them condemn Pamplelune as being quite possibly the worst thing the reviewer has ever smelled, ever. The aromachemical making the difference seems to be the sulfur compound in grapefruit: to some people it smells quite strongly of sweaty body odor, and to some it smells unmistakeably of cat urine.
I had warned E about Pamplelune before she put it on. “Try it before you take the bottle with you,” I said. “Some people say it smells unpleasant, and if you don’t like it I’ll give you something else. I like it, but your nose might perceive it quite differently.” To her it smells of lemons, oranges and flowers. No locker room, and no incontinent cats.
I have lived with a cat in my house for most of my 43 years, excluding only my college years and the year I lived in my own apartment. Mr. Deedee, an orange cat, was succeeded by Smoky, the gray one. Then Midnight, who was exceedingly grouchy with everyone except my mom (who fed him) and my sister (who was a baby). Then Mittens, a tall tabby cat, came to live with us, and he was mostly my sister’s cat – she could hold him and ask for a kiss, and he’d lick her cheek. I found Callie, the stray calico, when I was a teenager and brought her home. Mittens and Callie were still with my parents when I moved out, Mittens living to the age of 14 before developing a brain tumor and Callie finally succumbing to old age when she was 17. Meanwhile, my brother brought home Buju, a chunky gray girl; when my grandmother’s beloved dog died, I brought her Herschel, a white-and-gray kitten from the litter that was born in the backseat of our neighbor’s car. Later, my parents took in Rosie, an enormous calico that I like to call “Meatloaf,” when her owner had to move into an apartment. And during the year that E lived with The CEO and me after we were married, her cat Tiger lived with us too.
The CEO, who had grown up with cats like Smoky and Morris and Dwayne (so named because he’d been found as a kitten in, yes, a dwainpipe), brought home two kittens he’d found starving and crying their heads off in a barn, with no sign of a mama cat anywhere. The black one he called Lucky, as a sort of joke that turned out not to be so funny when she crossed the street unwisely and was hit by a car. The small fluffy tabby with a bottlebrush tail we named Silvia, after a delicately feminine character in a Scott Turow novel. Silvia would place one tiny white paw on the side of the bowl of kitten chow and eat one kibble at a time, while Lucky planted both front feet right in the bowl and plowed in. Silvia, now old enough to vote and rather thin, is still with us.
So. I know the smell of cat pee, yes? Yes, indeed. I do. And despite the fact that an open cup of peach-flavored yogurt abandoned on the kitchen table often causes me to sniff suspiciously and check the litter box, I don’t smell any cat pee in Pamplelune.
What I smell in Pamplelune is bright citruses, mostly grapefruit but also an intense orange peel, followed by a floral note that I thought at first was orange blossom but now think must be neroli, because it does not go soapy and flat on me the way orange blossom usually does. Rather, it’s sparkling and has a happy feeling to it. The citrus phase by itself lasts almost twenty minutes on me, which is remarkably long for citrus, in my experience. The citrus+floral phase lasts a much longer time, perhaps an hour, before the citrus drops out altogether and the florals take over. I smell quite a lot of rose in Pamplelune along with the neroli (orange blossom?), and it is a classic, perfumey scent at this stage. Eventually, I smell the quiet woody base, which includes a faint, unsweetened hint of vanilla as well as a dry, herbal patchouli that does not send me screaming the way patchouli can. The whole fragrance is attractive and pleasant, shifting gears without a hitch throughout. My mini bottle is a dabber, and when I dab, the scent lasts about three and a half to four hours – extraordinarily long for an eau de toilette on my skin – while sprayed, it lasts about five or five and a half hours. It is not particularly loud, but it does have rather a nice gentle waft, well within my three-foot radius preferred wafting distance.
The notes for Pamplelune, according to Fragrantica, include lemon, orange, bergamot, blackcurrant, petitgrain, sandalwood, patchouli, and vanilla. There is no orange blossom or neroli listed, nor rose, but neither is grapefruit specifically listed. (I’d swear there’s rose.) Also, I think there might be just a little bit of musk, as a longevity extender. The entire fragrance has a cheerful, smiling face without that relentlessly perky clenched-teeth airline hostess perma-grin, and I find it both uplifting and easy to relax in.
It might be that the blackcurrant+citrus combination creates the grapefruit effect, and since these are topnotes that might be affected by skin acidity, I do recommend that anyone interested in Pamplelune try it before buying it. But do try it, won’t you? If it works on you, you won’t regret it.
Bottle image and notes list from Fragrantica. I note that Fragrantica also claims Jean-Paul Guerlain to be the nose for this fragrance, but I don’t think I’m buying that. Cat image is from cat-lovers-only.com (because Silvia is camera-shy!) Grapefruit image from Wikipedia.
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.
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.