Fragrance Throwdown: Coty L’Origan vs. Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

I smelled L’Heure Bleue first, not long after I’d smelled the ethereally beautiful Apres L’Ondee, and not long after I’d rediscovered lovely older versions of Coty Emeraude.  I’d run across a mention of it in a book, and just had to find out what the heroine’s perfume smelled like.  I didn’t know, at the time, any of its history.

I hated it.  I called it “Hell’s Medicine Cabinet.”  Mind you, I tend to like medicinal smells – witness my love of clove and mint, and my utter-swoon immediate love of Serge Lutens’ famously medicinal La Myrrhe, and my toe-curling happiness when I crack open the tin of Porter’s Liniment Salve.  But I thought L’Heure Bleue’s combination of anise, bergamot and coriander was jarring and unpleasant.

It was only later, when a swap friend sent me a sample of L’Heure Bleue that was a much darker color than the sample I’d tried before, that I realized I’d sniffed the Eau de Toilette.  The penny dropped: I frequently have difficulty appreciating EdT concentrations of classic Guerlains.  Not always, of course: the aforementioned Apres L’Ondee comes to mind, and so does Chamade, also Vega – but Mitsouko and Shalimar EdTs are complete disasters for me.

It turned out to be parfum my friend had sent me, and it was a totally different beast: soft, plush, rich, warm, strange, aloof yet friendly, like a stray cat who has deigned to have its chin scratched by a stranger.  It was an eye-opening experience.  “So this is what they’re talking about,” I pondered.  “Not the EdT.”  I went straight to ebay and looked for a bottle of parfum – and found one.  Modern, 1 ounce, slightly-used, missing its paper label, being sold for cheap by a woman who needed cash, post-divorce.  The impression I got was that her ex-husband had given it to her, and now she couldn’t get it out of the house fast enough!

Understandable: L’Heure Bleue is nothing if not memorable, immediately identifiable at the faintest whiff of sillage.  It’s not the kind of fragrance that one could wear casually; as a signature scent, it is both quirky and comforting, melancholy and romantic.   Its name, The Blue Hour, refers to twilight, with more connotations of romance and melancholy.

Even in parfum, the opening is a bit bumpy.  It’s aromatic and medicinal in a way that I remember from visiting hospitals as a kid in the 1970s, and still not very pleasant.  However, in the parfum, the coriander seems to drop out quickly, leaving anise and clove singing a close harmony.  The clove note becomes more floral and carnationlike in just a few moments, and then there’s that orange blossom.  I am not a huge orange blossom fan, as it often has a “milled soap” angle for me.  There is a hint of that in L’HB, but then the rose and heliotrope pop up, and it veers sweet and woody and almost almond-pastry-like.  I do notice that in hot weather, the anise note seems to be prominent throughout the development, and I like that a lot.  In winter, it’s very much Floral Bearclaw, with  lots of orange blossom and almond, and I find it less interesting in the winter.

L’Heure Bleue is the kind of fragrance that, if you loved it, could haunt your memory all your life.  Sadly, I do not love it.  I admire it.

My bottle of L’Origan came from eBay, in a little satin-lined leatherette case.  The packaging seems to be that used by Coty in the 1940s through (possibly) the early 1960s, so I’m not sure how old this bottle is.  The cap is a bit tarnished, and the liquid is definitely darker and more orange than pictured here (probably due to the aging of the jasmine and/or the orange blossom).  But the box, and the rubber (plastic?) stopper under the cap, seem to have protected the fragrance fairly well.

Of course, it is vintage, and although in fairly good shape, it is not very long-lasting (two and a half to three hours, compared to L’Heure Bleue’s five hours on my skin).  There is a slight mustiness in the topnotes, as well, and the woody parts of the base seem very dry, with cedar dominating the sandalwood.  I smell a sharp clove note, as well as some rose and jasmine with the orange blossom.  But where I sniff L’Heure Bleue’s drydown and think, “Eh, almond pastry,” I keep bringing my L’Origan-wearing wrist to my nose.  There is a soft benzoin-tonka-vanilla angle, the same sort of thing I love so much in Mariella Burani, but the woods tend to dominate it, and perhaps I’m picking up on a bit of incense as well.

As others more knowledgeable than I am have pointed out (see Denyse’s review at Grain de Musc here, or Octavian’s at 1000 Fragrances here), Jacques Guerlain seemed to take each one of Francois Coty’s groundbreaking scents and develop the ideas further: adding the rich peach note of Persicol to the structure of Chypre and creating Mitsouko, or adding a brighter citrus note, a more sharply delineated jasmine, and that genius hint of tar to the Emeraude structure to create Shalimar.   Clearly, L’Heure Bleue admits kinship to the older L’Origan, one of the first “soft,” Oriental Florals.  What’s the difference in notes and development?

I’m still not sure.  In fact, LHB seems less descended from L’O than tangentially related.  The anise and heliotrope notes hark back to Guerlain’s own Apres l’Ondee, while much of the structure – orange blossom, eugenol (clove) and ambery vanilla – seems to dovetail with that of L’O.  L’Origan, though, has what seems to me to be a darker cast; it’s less melancholy, more mysterious.  There seems to be more clove in L’O, more aromatic and herbal details, and it seems rather drier to me,  just to mention a few differences.    Halfway through the development, L’O has gone  right to the edge of a mossy kind of bitterness that makes me wonder if there’s vetiver in there, whereas L’HB  has veered toward vanilla and heliotrope.

As Denyse of Grain de Musc points out, the Coty fragrances have a tendency toward crudity, where their Guerlain counterparts are smooth and seamless.  And yet, and yet… I love (vintage) Emeraude with all my heart, while finding Shalimar a little over-the-top.  And L’Heure Bleue has very little emotional impact on me at all, while L’Origan stirs me.  Maybe it’s just me – or perhaps it’s that my L’Origan is vintage and my L’Heure Bleue is not.  The first time I opened that little bottle of L’Origan, I was bowled over by its sheer beauty.  L’HB never did that to me, not even in parfum. L’HB was a stray cat, L’O was a Siberian tiger lounging in the sun: powerful, beautiful, and potentially dangerous.

Notes for each fragrance from Fragrantica.

L’Origan: Bergamot, orange, coriander, pepper, peach, nutmeg, clove, carnation, violet, jasmine, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, rose, benzoin, incense, cedar, musk, sandalwood, vanilla, coumarin (tonka bean), civet.  Fragrantica reviews here.   See also Victoria’s review at Bois de Jasmin, and this lovely one at Memory and Desire.

L’Heure Bleue: Anise, coriander, neroli, bergamot, lemon, carnation, orchid, jasmine, violet, clove, orange blossom, rose, heliotrope, iris, sandalwood, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver, tonka bean.  Fragrantica reviews here.  See also:  Kevin’s review at Now Smell This, Donna’s review of the parfum at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and The Non-Blonde’s review, as well as this one at For the Love of Perfume.

Photo of wrestlers from Wikimedia Commons.  L’Origan ad from ebay seller adlibrary.  Other photos mine.  (Since my L’HB bottle had lost its sticker before it came to me, I added one.  It’s too big, and probably the wrong color – so sue me! At least you can tell what it is now, in case you’re not familiar with the inverted  heart stopper.)

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Perfume Review: Guerlain Vega

Vega, named for that bright star in the constellation Lyra , was composed by Jacques Guerlain and released in 1936.  It was reorchestrated by Jean-Paul Guerlain and rereleased in 2006.  It is an aldehydic floral with notes of rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, iris, and sandalwood.  I’ll go ahead and say what you’re already thinking: Yes, you’re right.  It is indeed Chanel’s iconic No. 5, done up Guerlain style.

Okay, okay, it isn’t exactly No. 5.  The aldehydes have much less of that brilliant glare of sunshine-on-snow than No. 5’s do; the jasmine is sweeter and more prominent than No.5’s, and the ylang more buttery.  Iris is not the cool, chic Chanel style here, it’s more of the satin ribbon tying the bouquet together, and to be honest I don’t smell a lot of sandalwood in Vega.  The sandalwood is present, but to my nose is utterly eclipsed by that dirty-sweet Guerlinade that I like so much in L’Heure Bleue parfum: woody vanilla, with musk, amber, and tonka, as well as whatever-it-is in Guerlinade that reminds me of cat fur.   The opening is a little soapy, particularly near the skin, but the waft in the air has a juicy, peachy sweetness to it that I like very much.  It’s a happy sort of smell for me – it smells like perfume and it smells like flowers, and after awhile it smells like vanilla.  Gaze gave this one two thumbs up:  “Smells like Nana,” he said.  “Except, you know, it’s sort of fruity.”  The floral blend (rose-jasmine-ylang) is so beautiful that it’s been used in hundreds and hundreds of fragrances, which is why this trio of floral notes is a true classic. 

So, basically… um… fine, I’ll say it again.  Vega is No. 5, Guerlain style.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Vega is a lot like No. 5 with her hair down, lounging on the mussed bed and considering a cigarette; No. 5 sitting on the deck in the sunshine with a lemonade, with her top button undone, laughing and dabbing sweat away from her temples and cleavage; No. 5 at home after she’s wrestled her four kids into bed and read stories and given kisses and fed the dog and collapsed on the couch to have her feet rubbed by her adoring husband.  No high heels, no uncomfortable couture party dress with underwear armor, no diamonds: Vega is beautiful and relaxed and really, really friendly.

Mind you, I think No. 5 is absolutely wonderful, and one of the things I like best about it is that it can be appropriate for all kinds of situations, from fried-chicken picnics to the opera (um, applied discreetly, of course. Dabbed from the parfum bottle is best).  Vega is similarly versatile.  And to me, No. 5 is the comforting, welcome smell of my mother.  Yet for years I found it too cold and a bit harsh, like those TV studio lights that can wash out facial tones.  It’s only within the last year that I’ve begun to appreciate its  bouquet-on-a-marble-stand perfection, and learned that I truly love its sandalwood-iris-musk base.  Had I smelled Vega first, I’d have fallen for it immediately.  Most of the things that people tend to find challenging about No. 5 have been softened in Vega, and I’d bet if No. 5 is hard for you to deal with you might do better with Vega.

Now for the bad news: Vega is hard to find.  Really, really hard to find.  Right now on ebay there are two 4.2 oz tester bottles, being sold at $400 a pop, and one bee bottle of the same size (125ml) for $350.  The Guerlain website lists it in a 60ml bottle in the “exclusive fragrances” line.  I managed to jump in on a bottle split, and I have a 5ml decant that is rapidly disappearing.  That’s the other part of the bad news: Vega is EdT concentration, and it’s got standard EdT lasting power – about three hours on me.  I have recently begun following the “spray until wet” technique for lightweight scents and getting better staying power from them, but I cannot do this with Vega.  Spray Until Wet leads to aldehyde headaches, even though Vega’s aldehydes are fairly gentle for an aldehydic floral.  Therefore, I’m stuck with reapplying every three hours if I want to keep smelling Vega, which I do.

Oddly, nobody seems to be talking about this one in recent days.  Fragrantica doesn’t even list it.  Nobody mentions, “Oh, I’m wearing Vega today,” at the lazy weekend polls at Now Smell This.  Or maybe it isn’t so odd: Vega isn’t new, it’s pricey, it was released four years ago, it’s a boutique exclusive and hard to find.  Also, lovers of aldehydic florals have plenty else to wear: No. 5,  No. 22, Liu, Chamade, Caron Nocturnes, Divine L’Ame Soeur, White Linen and Pure White Linen, L’Interdit, Le Dix, Arpege, My Sin, Climat, L’Aimant, Calandre, Rive Gauche, Je Reviens, Madame Rochas…  the list is long.  I’m finding that with few exceptions (the Lauders, of course, and the sugary disaster of No. 22 on me), I really love aldehydic florals.  You’ll be seeing more reviews of these sparkly gems here as time goes on.   

Other reviews: Bois de Jasmin, Patty at Perfume Posse, Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Victoria’s Own.  Brief but telling description of Vega in Angela’s post at Now Smell This.

Top image of the Vega bottle is from the blog Victoria’s Own.  (Isn’t that gorgeous? The bottle is really beautiful.)  The vintage Vega ad is from Perfume-Smellin’ Things.  It doesn’t really get across the soft, approachable smiling nature of Vega, but the rays of light fit very well.

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The Shaving Cream Conundrum, Part II – and a mini-review of Guerlain Rose Barbare

It’s me.

Isn’t it?

I mean, it has to be. No one else is complaining.

It’s me.

There is either something about my skin, or something about my nose, that turns perfectly nice fragrances into the smell of shaving cream. I ranted about this phenomenon way back in the fall, and I’m not going to rant again, but I just don’t get it.

It happened again today.

You might already know of my love for rose chypres, given how I natter on about L’Arte di Gucci and PdE Eau Suave and Ungaro Diva and how wonderful Knowing parfum was for two hours before the Evil Lauder Base sent its throttling tendrils up to nauseate me. I even liked Rose de Nuit pretty well, although its weird chewy texture sort of freaked me out. You know how certain types of cheeses and dried-up marshmallows (don’t ask me how I know this) just squeak in your teeth when you bite them? Rose de Nuit squeaks.

So I was thrilled to receive a swap parcel with a sample vial of Guerlain Rose Barbare, from the niche-y L’Art et la Matiere line (as always, please ‘scuse the lack of diacriticals). Word on this one went like this: “ambery rose,” “dark thorny rose,” “modern chypre with rose,” “Mitsouko with rose instead of peach.” And I thought, “Ooooh, a rose Mitsouko, maybe I’d like that. And look, it’s composed by Francis Kurkdjian, he of the stunning, sexy, modern rose chypre Lumiere Noire Pour Femme!”

Guerlain’s description of Rose Barbare: “a heady, incisive Ottoman rose (aldehydes) over a modern structure of honey-chypree notes”.  You’d think they’d be more forthcoming, instead of insulting potential customers by not bothering to tell them what’s in it, but no. That’s all you get in the way of notes: rose, aldehydes, honey, and chypre (bergamot, labdanum, patchouli and something mossy-ish, I’m guessing, in the manner of modern chypres).

I dabbed Rose Barbare onto my wrists Tuesday afternoon and went to pick up Bookworm from track practice, a twenty-minute trip. And things started out well: clearly a beautiful high quality rose ingredient here, framed in some nice green stuff that seems to be mostly patchouli of the kind I tolerate well, all grassy and herbal. But within fifteen minutes, I was getting shaving cream. And it stayed shaving cream for the next five hours, too.

There’s no getting around it: it’s shaving cream. I stuck my wrist under Gaze’s nose and asked what he smelled.  Separately, I asked Bookworm.  They both identified it immediately, without any hints.  And let me be perfectly honest here, I think shaving cream smells great. It’s a smell I find extremely pleasant on a man. Fougeres tend to remind me of shaving cream – I assume that’s a trickle-down effect, by the way: a body care product picking up the smell of fine fragrance. And I don’t want to belabor the point here when other scent bloggers have addressed the issue of gender in fragrance so well and thoroughly,1 but I don’t want to smell like shaving cream! It’s a smell so clearly identified with men in my mind that wearing it on my person feels like wearing men’s underwear when I’m not one: clearly it doesn’t fit me. It chafes.

There are other accords that bother me: the cloying yet dusty Coco-Opium-Cinnabar-Youth Dew-Stetson-Tabu tolu balsam + patchouli accord; the depressing soapiness of orange blossom; the flat, chemical cleaning-products accord I sometimes get from linden and/or muguet notes; the musty-basement thing I can’t quite pin down, but seems related to carrot seed, or iris, or powdery violet; and whatever it is in that dang Lauder base, and in SSS Vintage Rose, that makes me want to toss my cookies. It’s only ToluPatch and Lauder that are bad enough to force me to scrub – the others I struggle through rather than washing off.

I’m not a big fan of citrus, classical colognes, or what Robin at NST calls “wood pudding scents,” (search there for more info) either, but that’s a boredom issue, not a sanity issue.

It’s only the dreaded shaving cream accord that rouses my righteous ire this way, and I think that’s because I tend to avoid the other accords, which is pretty easy. It says “Lauder” right there on the bottle. Ergo, avoid. No prob. The scent description says “balsamic oriental”? I know it’s not for me. The fragrance is focused on OB or linden or iris? Probably not gonna be my bag, I won’t bother with it. There are too many other scents I want to try anyway, I’m probably not missing much.

But shaving cream accord? There’s no warning for that. It always strikes out of flippin’ nowhere. In so-called feminine scents. There I am, all happy in a green garden full of rose bushes, and then suddenly I’m trapped in the enormous stadium-size nightmare barbershop maze. Grrrrrrrr. Before testing, I read five perfume blog reviews of Rose Barbare, with comments, as well as about 40 brief reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes, and nowhere was there a complete list of the notes (I guess Guerlain didn’t release them) or a description of RB as being even vaguely fougere-y.

The short list of suspects for Shaving Cream Accord (hereafter, SCA) are as follows: lavender, coumarin, and/or opoponax. I think further testing is in order – but if you happen to have any insights to share, I’d be ever so grateful.

A few other reviews of Rose Barbare:  Now Smell This, Bois de Jasmin, Aromascope, Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and Perfume Shrine.  See? Nobody says “shaving cream.”  Curses.  It’s me.

Top image is Barbershop pole from felixtcat at flickr; lower image is Rose Barbare from fragrantica.

1See this post and comments, and the follow-up post, at Grain de Musc and this one at Left Coast Nose, at minimum, for serious discussion on the subject that I frankly don’t have the cojones to address here. (Ha ha. Little gender humor there… of course, it’s a pun, which some people call the lowest form of humor.)

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Discontinued Saints

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 Givenchy Organza Indecence, whether the original or the Les Mythiques version, anywhere.  But March says in her comments to me on this post she 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.

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Fragrance Throwdown: Guerlain Chamade versus Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete

 (I know, I know, I keep promising a throwdown between Ysatis and Divine edp… to be honest, I haven’t settled that one to my satisfaction, and to be further honest, I haven’t worn either in recent days since I’ve been craving green scents. The issue is tabled1 for now, to be revisited in the future when my interest in those two fragrances returns.)

Due to a rather-too-literal reading of Perfumes: The Guide, and a cursory examination of the notes, I had it in my head that these two fragrances were similar. I even posted a query once on fragrantica.com as to how similar they were, having smelled Chamade from a decant obtained via eBay (vintage pdt, if you care) but not having smelled Le Temps d’une Fete2.

Here’s the passage, from the Luca Turin’s P:TG review of Le Temps d’une Fete:

***** green narcissus … Le Temps d’une Fete is irresistibly lovely. Futhermore, it fills a gap in my heart I didn’t know existed. I have always been impressed by the structure of Lancome’s Poeme but dismayed by its cheap, angular execution. Conversely, I have always loved Guerlain’s Chamade but deplored a slight lack of bone structure, particularly in the latest version. Le Temps d’une Fete marries the two and achieves something close to perfection, rich, radiant, solid, with the unique complexity of expensive narcissus absolute braced by olfactory bookends of green-floral notes and woods. Very classical, and truly wonderful.

Somehow I seemed to have entirely skipped over Poeme there (I have never smelled that one, either) and glommed onto the Chamade:LTdF comparison. I checked out the lists of notes and thought, “Hey, those are similar. I should try some Parfums de Nicolai stuff.”

Notes for Chamade: aldehydes, galbanum, bergamot, hyacinth, lilac, jasmine, rose, muguet, cloves, narcissus, sandalwood, amber, benzoin, vetiver, vanilla, tolu balsam, peru balsam.

Notes for Le Temps d’une Fete: galbanum, hyacinth, narcissus, sandalwood, opoponax, patchouli, cedarwood.

Was I crazy? Probably. I look at the lists of notes now and notice that the only ones in common are galbanum, hyacinth, narcissus and sandalwood, and while those are distinctive notes, they’re buttressed by very different accents. I’m months more sophisticated now than I was back then (HA!), and if I was looking at the two scents now I wouldn’t make assumptions that they were similar. However, because I keep seeing questions from people who were misled, as I was, by the P:TG comments, here’s my take on these two beautiful, dissimilar green florals.

Because I smelled Chamade first, I’ll review it first. I swapped for a decant of vintage parfum de toilette with Queen Enabler Daisy, who’d bought it and then found it old-fashioned and a bit stuffy. (I think since then she’s acknowledged this step a mistake, and hosted a humongous split of vintage Chamade edt; more jewels in her crown…) Chamade was released in 1969, named for the French novel of that name (La Chamade, by Francoise Sagan), which was made into a film starring, of course, Catherine Deneuve. The title refers to the drumbeat which was used in the French army to signal Retreat; it also refers to the quick beating of the heart in the throes of romantic surrender. The bottle, too, is interestingly-shaped and beautiful, hinting at a heart turned upside down by love.

Upon first smelling Chamade pdt, I was ready to dismiss the idea of romance in connection with it: it was full of aldehydes and galbanum, two notes that can go very powdery and which make up a lot of the current idea of Old Lady Perfume. Even experienced perfumistas can have difficulty with one or the other of those notes. Up top, Chamade is cold and dry; the aldehyde-galbanum combo is fairly bitter and unpromising, even to me, and I like both of those notes. After the aldehydes burn off, however, the galbanum relaxes a little but lingers on my skin for nearly an hour – the longest opening of any galbanum scent I’ve tried (there have been plenty).

Only gradually does the galbanum capitulate, rolling through a hyacinth note that is floral but lacks the typical spiciness of that element, and then ushering in a golden, classical rose-jasmine heart. There is a freshness to the middle portion, thanks to a breath of lilac and muguet, but it’s primarily rose and jasmine, a shimmering elixir that really does seem like liquid gold, with the lovely accent of haylike narcissus. Two and a half to three hours after application, the golden heart begins to soften and melt into a beautiful, smooth, carefree drydown that is somehow both rich and light. Look at all the materials in the base: vetiver, vanilla, benzoin, sandalwood, and amber, plus the balsams that I typically dread. They never bother me here – either the proportion is small, or I’m so captivated by this drydown that I never notice the balsams. Chamade’s base is as much texture as it is actual smell, smooth and creamy and gliding. Luca Turin’s review in P:TG says, “… a strange, moist, powdery yellow narcissus accord that had the oily feel of pollen rubbed between finger and thumb.” There’s enough vanilla that you’d peg it as a Guerlain, but it is in no way foody or sweet. Nor is it slightly-naughty in the fashion of many of the classic Guerlains, with their common rich Guerlinade base; in fact, it smells clean even well into the rich creamy base.

Chamade gradually progresses from that stiff, prim, almost unfriendly opening, to that relaxed, caressing, helplessly-in-love base, and I’ve come to feel that it’s a very romantic scent. It blossoms so completely that it’s hard not to find it suggestive of fully-opened petals and sensual delight. I think of it in terms of green and gold, and it is beautiful.

A brief word on concentrations, with the caveat that I am most familiar with Chamade that was described as vintage: the 1980’s pdt is probably the powderiest version. One edt I tested was probably 1990’s, and so was the tiny bottle of parfum. The parfum is very creamy and morphs from galbanum to floral slightly faster than the pdt, but not as quickly as the more-sparkling edt, which has the least powder and a drydown slightly less deep than the pdt or parfum. I haven’t smelled a version I haven’t liked, but I do hear from longtime lovers of Chamade that it’s a bit less rich in the base these days, post-reformulation, while still smelling largely like itself and therefore still worth buying in the current version.  Edit: I’ve now tried modern Chamade edt, and it is very close to the ’90’s sample I have, albeit a teeny-tiny bit thinner in the base.   

(Other reviews of Chamade: Bois de Jasmin, Angela at Now Smell This, Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am, The Non-Blonde, Sweet Diva, Yesterday’s Perfume.)

Le Temps d’une Fete, on the other hand, was released in 2007 by Parfums de Nicolai. The (silly) name had been used before by PdN for a different scent, which was revamped and rereleased. Unlike Chamade, there is no interesting ad campaign, no connection with a beautiful French actress, no lovely bottle shaped like an upside-down heart.  In fact, the bottle is downright ugly, in my opinion.

Luckily, LTdF doesn’t need any extras. It is simply wonderful on its own, overcoming its puerile name and ungainly bottle. Like Chamade, it starts out with galbanum and rolls through hyacinth into a heart composed primarily of narcissus. I don’t know how much narcissus is in there, but I think it must be a high percentage, because it’s so clear and to the forefront that after becoming familiar with this scent, it’s very easy for me to pick narcissus out of most compositions. The drydown is a deepening of the heart notes, as the woody basenotes come up under the gradually-fading narcissus. The woods are well-blended with a lightweight, grassy patchouli that never bothers me, as patch can frequently do, and with the smooth deep resiny presence of the opoponax. I continue to smell narcissus plus the base for a long time, and although some reviewers have found it to be rather dirty and earthy, I don’t perceive it that way at all. I find it graceful, confident, and optimistic.

It is only an edt, but two sprays will last about 6-7 hours on me with light sillage. I can usually smell my arm without bringing it to my nose, but you won’t smell me coming around the corner. This is my preferred distance to waft fragrance.

I have read complaints from a few perfume fans that LTdF smells too much like the standard PdN base to be really spectacular, and since more than one of them is saying it, I think this has to be taken into consideration. I’ll also point out that I’ve tested twelve PdN fragrances, and I didn’t notice a “PdN base” as consistent and identifiable as such, the way that most Estee Lauder scents seem to share DNA. Perhaps this shared base, if there is one, is really only noticeable if there is something in the base that a tester finds objectionable. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a common PdN base, but I didn’t perceive it myself. Of the twelve PdNs I tested, I adored two (this one and Vanille Tonka), and liked four others very much (Odalisque, Maharanih, Balkis and Juste une Reve). The others did not impress me.

It’s very difficult for me to review Le Temps d’une Fete, as I find myself unwilling to pick apart the components of its smell because it is such magic to me. I perceive it as a happy scent, as peaceful as sunlight dappling the surface of a small pond in a green glen. It is one of the few mood-brightening scents I’ve encountered, and I treasure it for that.

(Other reviews for LTdF: Pere de Pierre, Patty at Perfume Posse – brief, The Scented Salamander, Nathan Branch, and I’d swear that I read someone’s review that called this scent “witchy” but I can’t find it now.)  

So. Chamade and Le Temps d’une Fete, head to head? The two share similar notes in their respective openings. Chamade is mutable, developing into full-blown rich vanillic florals; Le Temps, while not linear, has a far narrower range of development, with narcissus dominating its character. Chamade is romantic; Le Temps is magic. Chamade is complex and possibly demonstrates a higher level of mastery of the art of perfumery; Le Temps has simpler aims but manages to be both beautiful and distinctive.

(Do I have to choose? Can’t I have both? Actually, I do own two decants of Chamade pdt, a tiny bottle of Chamade parfum, and two small bottles of Le Temps d’une Fete, one of which I bought myself and one I swapped some L’Arte di Gucci to get.)

I’ll take the opportunity to observe that in this era when some fragrance fans call $100 a bottle “the new free,” both of these scents are relatively reasonably priced. An ounce of LTdF edt runs $42; the big 100ml bottle is $120. 100ml of Chamade in edt will set you back about $100. Kudos, again, to PdN for making their scents available in small bottles, and also for making those small bottles comparable in per-ml price to their large bottles. Then, too, since Chamade’s been around for awhile, it’s often available more inexpensively on ebay or at online discounters.

You say I have to choose? Well, then, purely on happiness points, I pick Le Temps d’une Fete for myself. But I don’t think you could go wrong with either one of them. Judging on this one is strictly subjective.

Top image is from Wikimedia Commons.  Perfume images are from fragrantica.com.

1That is, “tabled” in the American sense: the matter is set aside for further discussion at a later date. I understand that in the British sense, “tabled” means the issue is brought up for debate at the present time, which usage actually makes more sense to me.

2Please excuse the lack of diacritical marks. This drives me nuts, actually, that I have to go look for the correct spelling complete with mark, then look up and insert the special character. Consistently. I tend to be a nitpicky person, but the truth is that I don’t know my proverbial elbow from my proverbial derriere, at least in French (although I think derriere should have an accent mark over the first e… but which way does it angle?) and I simply can’t be bothered. If it ain’t on my keyboard, I’m probably not gonna type it. So sue me. And I apologize for the snarkiness. There are a couple of commenters on NST that get their knickers in a twist over lack of diacritical marks, but THEIR keyboards probably have the darn things readily available…

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In Which I Revisit the Loud Perfume Issue

This has got to be the single weirdest perfume neurosis I have: if it’s got monstah sillage, I’m going to hate it.  Period. 

Every so often, I’ll run across comments from other perfume aficionados saying that they love scents that leave a trail, or that their very favorite perfumes enter the room before they do, or that they simply adore being surrounded by a cloud of good-smelling stuff.  Someone on fragrantica just posted this query last week: “I must confess I adore tail-y fragrances. I love to leave a lingering hint of my presence in the room or when I walk by. Which perfumes in your opinion have the best sillage? Merci!”

That’s when I start feeling like an alien, because I have the opposite perspective.  (Interestingly, I just came across a post by Abigail at I Smell Therefore I Am, visiting this same issue, where she talks about not understanding perfumistas who don’t like sillage.  Maybe we notice the view that’s not our own first.  Maybe I’m not as alone as I thought.)

It’s not that I adore the quiet, “please ignore me i’m not wearing perfume” e.e. cummings-type scents.  I don’t.  (My sister, who typically wears gentle applications of Coco Mlle.* and smells lovely in it, was gifted with Alfred Sung Shi for Christmas.  She encouraged me to smell it and asked what I thought.  Aquatic Calone-y synthetic mess was what I thought, but what I said was, “It smells like water to me.”  She smiled with triumph, saying, “Yes, exactly!  It’s so nice and light.  And look, the bottle looks like a drop of water.”  I was wearing two three-hours-old spritzes of Bois des Iles, the Les Exclusifs version, which smells a bit thin to me compared to the old stuff, and which at that stage was little more than a faint spicy woodiness; she found it “heavy.”  Good grief, woman, I was thinking, it’s twenty degrees Fahrenheit outside.  Why would you want “light”?)

*Side note re Coco Mad: I’m not fond of it in a bottle; I don’t like it on my skin; it’s fairly ubiquitous; even if it weren’t my sister’s favorite, I wouldn’t wear it if a bottle fell from the sky.  But she smells great in it; it’s very floral on her with none of the gender-bending harshness it usually offers.  Actually, on her it smells like a day-old application of one of the vintage classic tailored florals: Eau de Arpege, maybe, or an old version of Jolie Madame: sternly beautiful. 

And I do have wonderful experiences in “loud” tuberose scents — that’s probably the one note I really want to luxuriate in — like Balenciaga Michelle, but I like to wear them when I’m going to be alone all day.   Tatiana parfum is beautiful. Fracas does not eat my head if I dab it.  Carnal Flower is ethereal, not carnal, and I might love it best of all the tuberose scents I’ve tried.

I think I’ll just have to admit I’m a freak.  All the classic big-sillage perfumes, to be honest, sort of terrify me.  Opium-Cinnabar-Obsession, known to me as the Axis of Evil, head the list.  YSL Paris I can take, but only if it’s applied lightly.  Youth Dew? KILL ME NOW. Insolence edp almost did kill me (see below).  Amarige, LouLou, Paloma Picasso, Narciso Rodriguez for her, Samsara, Angel…

I absolutely hate walking around trailing fumes like some noxious walking toxic waste dump. Hate it hate it – it’s as if I’ve got toilet paper stuck to my shoe: embarrassing and socially inept.  Worse, for me big sillage is like those I’m-naked-in-public dreams — way too personal for words. People across the room do not need to know what sort of mood I’m in.

I like to be smellable within a three-foot radius, as a wisp of “Mmm, something smells good,” if I move.  I like for my husband to tuck his nose into my neck in order to smell me.  I like to be, well, polite, having had way too many movies/concerts/journeys ruined by someone else’s perfume mugging me via my nostrils.  Probably, too, my years ‘n years of choral singing has inhibited me with regard to putting on large doses of scent.

Perfumes: The Guide called Insolence edp “monumentally skillful” and reminiscent of L’Heure Bleue, which I like very much, so I had to try it.  Can I just say, MISTAKE?  I spritzed one measly little spritz, my usual practice when sampling, and immediately wanted to cut my hand off at the wrist.  Immediately.  It was Loud.  It was Extremely Loud.  I kept walking about the house turning lights and electronics off, just to get some peace.  I mean, I actually experienced it as being auditory hell.  I put earplugs in.  I suffered for about half an hour before deciding to be kind to myself by getting out the unscented deodorant and the Tide.  In the meantime, more and more analogies came to mind:

  • When I was in college, I had a friend who shared an apartment with four other guys.  Cisco the Architecture Student was a workaholic who frequently slept at the A-School while working on a project.  Unfortunately, his door would be locked when his alarm clock went off at six a.m. — loud and nonstop.  BEEP  BEEP  BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP, into infinity, or until Cisco came home at four p.m. and turned it off.  You could not be in the apartment and not hear that cursed alarm.  Insolence!
  • I have a nightmare of being lost in a huge parking lot, unable to find my own car.  Then suddenly, every single car alarm in the entire parking lot begins to shriek, over and over and over.  Insolence!
  • If you ever read one of those companion books to the Harry Potter series — Bookworm is a fan — called Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, purportedly one of Harry’s textbooks, you will come across the description of a magical tropical bird called a Fwooper, which has brightly colored feathers and which is not recommended as a pet, as its incessant singing causes insanity.  Insolence!

On the other hand, one of the loveliest scented experiences I’ve ever had was when I put on two healthy dabs of what I thought was No. 5 cologne.  It was actually vintage parfum, with much of its aldehydic oomph muted, probably by age (which is what fooled me into thinking it must be cologne) — and when the florals came out to play, I felt as if I were trailing a gorgeously-scented cloud.

And for that vintage Magie Noire edt, one drop is plenty.  Two drops is Gloriously Too Much, and I’d never wear that in company.  Magie Noire is best outside in chilly fall weather, anyway, in my opinion.

31 Rue Cambon can put out some lovely, refined sillage; the one time anyone ever complimented my perfume at work I was wearing it.  It might have been because usually people can’t smell me.  (The compliment?  “That’s nice perfume. Sort of flowery, isn’t it?”)

So, okay, I like some sillage.  But I think my optimum sillage level is probably lower than that of many perfume fans.  Please weigh in with your opinion: am I totally off my nut?  Just a little too sensitive?  The soul of sensible? 

The image is Incandescent Fumes by Debmalya Mukherjee at flickr.

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Perfume Reviews: Guerlain Shalimar Light/Eau Legere, or The Story I Really Wanted to Tell You

By the time I came to The Kingdom of Perfumistas, Queen Shalimar had an acclaimed flanker, which was widely praised and subsequently discontinued. This modernized version was known variously as “Shalimar Light,” or “Shalimar Eau Legere Parfumee.” Even more confusing is the fact that the version concocted by Mathilde Laurent was later tweaked by Jean-Paul Gaultier, after Ms. Laurent had a falling-out with her boss and went to work for Cartier.

I have done some research on this phenomenon, which I’ll share briefly with you.  Also, I highly recommend reading yet another one of Helg’s terrific posts on the subject, here.  (One of these days I’ll stop pointing you in the direction of Perfume Shrine, but she’ll have to stop writing so beautifully and thoroughly first.  Like that’s going to happen.)

Shalimar Eau Legere, composed by Mathilde Laurent, was a pale straw-colored liquid, presented in a pale blue bottle with dark blue lettering that brought that distinctive Shalimar bottle to mind, pictured at left. The sprayer mechanism was located in the fluted ventaille top, which does not come off.  This is the version that most perfume-lovers call the better iteration. It’s nearly impossible to find these days.

The second version is generally known as Shalimar Light, although all bottles of SL/SEP bear the same two descriptions (Shalimar Eau Legere Parfumee/Light Fragrance). The second version, with notes similar to the first, is light blue liquid in a clear bottle with gold lettering. This bottle has a removable cap, with spray mechanism underneath.  This version is slightly easier to find, although it’s getting scarce too.  I have a photo of the two bottles side by side, but am experiencing camera problems at the moment.  I’ll post the photo when I can.

Recently, a bottle of SEL (first one) came into my possession, so now I have both it and SL , as well as some vintage Shalimar proper, in the rich parfum de toilette concentration. Of course, I had to test them simultaneously. The review of the newest version, Eau de Shalimar, in the quarterly updates to Perfumes: The Guide seems to indicate that only the top notes were slightly changed for the J-PG version, but I would disagree. These two are definitely versions of the same fragrance, but I smell differences throughout. (Be aware that my bottle of Eau Legere came from someone who had bought it in a duty-free shop several years ago, and I have no idea in what conditions it has been kept in the meantime. My bottle of Shalimar Light, blue juice, came from an online discounter.)

Up top, SEL (Laurent) has a ton of citrusy bergamot. It’s very elegant citrus. But right away I smell the familiar Shalimar TarNilla base, much gentler than in the original, but there in its recognizable ice-cream-on-the-asphalt glory. This glowing bergamot slowly slides into a blended floral heart, a lovely creamy jasmine and ylang mixture that seems augmented by something herbal (rosemary? sage?), and to be honest, this is the very first time I’ve gotten the reference to the Shalimar Gardens. It does make me think of gardens, albeit not fresh dewy gardens. This is a woody garden, with stuff like rosemary and sandalwood underscoring the florals. Eventually this subsides into that smoky-tarry-vanilla base I mentioned. However, the base isn’t strictly vanilla – it’s at least as much about benzoin and tonka bean as it is vanilla. And although it’s very much like original Shalimar, I get no patchouli sticking out to my nose; it’s very smooth. There’s just that hint of tar…

As for the Jean-Paul Guerlain version of Shalimar Light, pictured at right, it’s subtly different. The first five minutes are strongly reminiscent not of bergamot, but of lemon oil furniture polish, intense and inedible. I love the smell of lemon oil, but I’m not enthused about smelling like the maid, so I turn my attention elsewhere for the first five minutes.* After that the strength of the bitter lemon note softens and becomes very enjoyable. This citrusy facet seems to stick around longer than it does in SEL, and is still faintly apparent in the drydown. The florals are less apparent in this version; I do smell jasmine and ylang, but this iteration of Shalimar Light seems more focused on the citrus and vanilla, without the floral focus the first version seems to have. The drydown is far less smoky, but the vanilla is smooth and unsweetened, and augmented by the rich creaminess that tonka bean and benzoin provide. This one is pretty much lemon-vanilla-tonka all the way, delicately garnished with a single jasmine flower. It’s somewhat less complex than the Laurent version, and bears less of a resemblance to classic Shalimar.

I think the first Eau Legere, the Mathilde Laurent composition, is a better fragrance. It’s as detailed as tapestry; it takes the wearer on a scent journey; it keeps surprising with things one might not expect (the 3D florals, the herbs, the smokiness).

BUT. (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?) I actually prefer Shalimar Light, the version tweaked by Jean-Paul Gaultier, or as I like to call it, SL 2.0. I think there are a couple of reasons informing my preference. One, I smelled the blue juice first, and liked it. I didn’t compare it to anything, I just enjoyed it, unburdened by any idea of trying to identify which I liked better. Two, SL 2.0 has become a comfort scent for me in all seasons except summer, when I find it too heavy. It’s one of those wonderful perfumes that just plain smells nice; I don’t have to think about it, or process it emotionally – I just put it on and feel like myself. Three (and Three is actually related to Two), it reminds me somewhat of My Darling Emeraude in feel. It’s a “me” scent. Shalimar Light shares that velvety benzoin-tonka-vanilla base with Emeraude, and with Mariella Burani, another one I feel very comfortable in.

Notes for Shalimar Eau Legere/Shalimar Light:
Orange flower, lemon, bergamot, jasmine, rose de mai, iris, opoponax, tonka bean, vanilla, ambergris, incense
Notes are quite similar to Shalimar (well, duh), but the basenotes have been pared down considerably – no vetiver, no leather, no sandalwood, no civet, no patchouli. No musk is listed, but Shalimar Light can smell fairly “dirty” on me at times, and I think there’s some musk in there.

If you went and checked out the Perfume Shrine post, you probably read that comment from Guerlain’s PR rep stating that Eau de Shalimar is the same as the Jean-Paul Guerlain version of Shalimar Light.  I’d disagree.  I tested a sample vial, and assuming it’s representative, Guerlain has thinned down the Blue Juice even further.  The opening smells like lemon baby wipes, not even as assertive as the lemon oil furniture polish in Shalimar Light v. 2.0.  The florals are thinner, and the base smells more straight-up vanilla than that creamy, deep benzoin-tonka-vanilla thing that I love.  This one’s all watered-down lemon cream soda, too sweet and thin to be worth something.  There’s a good reason it’s clear liquid in clear glass, seems to me, and in my opinion, Eau de Shalimar is a mess to be avoided.

Images are all from ebay and fragrantica.com.  Like I said, I’ll try to post that one I took myself sometime soon.
*And I AM the maid around here. 

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Perfume Review: Guerlain Shalimar, or The First Story

My father-in-law is a storyteller. What he especially likes to do is tell you a story, and then say, “I told you that story in order to tell you this one…”  The second one is always better, but it would not make any sense unless you’ve heard the first one.

This is sometimes true of perfumes, and of perfume reviews.  In this case it’s true: I’ve been wanting to review Shalimar Light for some time, but have thought that it was pointless to do so without reviewing Shalimar first.  Shalimar is one of the oldest extant Orientals, along with Emeraude.  (Emeraude’s been mangled so many times by reformulation that the current version is utterly unwearable.  But we won’t discuss it.)

Officially released in 1925 by the house of Guerlain, home of several of iconic classics – Jicky, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue – and named after the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore, it’s been called the “reference Oriental,” and is famed for its combination of bright citrus underscored by creamy, yet smoky, vanilla. It’s also been known for decades as the scent of indecent, sensuous women… if you want more information, check out Perfume Shrine’s review here.

But you know all this. Let’s dive right into the shallow pool of my own opinions about it.

I think the bottle is one of the most distinctive and beautiful ones ever. It’s hard to mistake a Shalimar bottle for anything else, with its shield-shaped flacon and blue fluted top. Yes, I know Shalimar has been presented in a number of different shapes over the years. My own miniature bottle of vintage parfum de toilette is not the classic shape. My point is that, as far as I can tell, no other scent has been released in the classic Shalimar bottle, thus making it distinctively identifiable as Shalimar.  It may also be Guerlain’s biggest seller. Devotees seem to stick with it – and indeed, nothing else smells quite like it. It’s not like my replacing a worn-out bottle of Revlon Xia Xi’ang with one of Elizabeth Arden’s True Love… no, for Shalimar wearers, only Shalimar seems to do.

I’ll list the notes here, not so much because they matter, but because these notes are the pattern for later development, and also because I am something of a geek who likes to compare lists of notes both to what I smell in the fragrance, and what I smell in fragrances that are similar.
Notes for Shalimar: bergamot, lemon, mandarin, rose de mai, jasmine, orris, vetiver, heliotrope, opoponax, vanilla, civet, Peru balsam, benzoin, tonka bean, patchouli, leather, sandalwood.

Before I “fell down the rabbit hole,” as they say, I used to pick up the lovely tester bottle from the department store counter, sniff longingly, and then quickly put it down. All I could smell was bergamot and patchouli. Ick. Now I know that I seem to be extremely sensitive to patchouli, picking it up in quantities unsmellable to the general public. And now that I have smelled many other Orientals, the patchouli doesn’t stand out to me as it used to; now what presents itself to my nose is the small amount of birch tar added to the vanilla to replicate the smell of the original composition, which had a particular impurity that caused it to seem smoky. I like to call Shalimar The TarNilla Godzilla – it’s tar, it’s vanilla, it’s loud, and it’s one of the few scents that seems to last for days on my skin.

I like that bottle of parfum de toilette a lot more than I ever liked the EDT in the tester, which just proves my belief that classic Guerlains (the ones I mentioned above) are difficult for me in the lesser concentrations, but more easily wearable in parfum or PDT form. You don’t want to know what I had to say about L’Heure Bleue in EDT – but the parfum is probably my favorite classic Guerlain. (I leave aside the gauzy silk chiffon of Apres l’Ondee. I suppose you could call it a classic Guerlain, since it’s old and it’s still in production, but it’s so light that people never seem to hate it. They might not find it compelling, but nobody is wishing it out of existence. Or at least not to my knowledge.)

A drop of Shalimar is lovely when it’s chilly outside, and particularly when there’s woodsmoke in the air.  What I like better, though, is a drop of Shalimar followed by a spritz of Shalimar Light 2.0… and now we come to that second story I was talking about.  To be continued…

Image is Shalimar pure parfum by bhperfume5mor at ebay.

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Perfume Review: Mauboussin

Over the weekend I wore Mauboussin. A Swap Friend sent me a mini bottle of it to test, and it warmed me considerably in the chilly rain-bucket weather we had these past few days.

I have to comment on the bottle: it looks like some futuristic paperweight, doesn’t it? Weird cropped pyramidal shape, iridescent glass… yet this mini bottle (splash type, no spray mechanism) feels nice in the hand. I feel certain that the large spray bottle would feel similarly substantial, but that it might require two hands in order to spray successfully.

Mauboussin is a fruity oriental, and if I had to describe it in one word, I’d say: fruitcake! Please don’t run away… no, really, it’s nice. I happen to like fruitcake, particularly when it’s dark with molasses and rum flavoring. Yummy. Mauboussin opens with a burst of juicy, plummy goodness, and is almost boozy in its richness. (I’m dabbing from the bottle, not spraying, which may make a difference here. It has the potential to be overwhelming, at least for a few minutes.) There is a strange note apparent in the transition from top to heart; it smells rather artificial in some unidentifiable way – a reviewer on fragrantica.com calls it “blueberry bubble gum,” which I don’t get, exactly, but it’s weird in the way that very artificial candy-type flavors are. It may be a component of the “white peach” note. After ten minutes or so, that neon note tones down, and I begin to smell a honeyed peach overlaying the florals, which include a winy rose, a ripe and creamy ylang-ylang, and a wisp of jasmine. It’s rare for me to smell all the listed notes, and there may actually be other stuff in there, of course, but I can actually tease out all three floral components here.



My favorite part of Mauboussin is the drydown, which is deep with woods, benzoin, and vanilla, and like really good cream cheese icing, has a dense, smooth, almost-tangy sweetness. This stage, upon first wearing, reminded me both of Shalimar Light (a favorite) and Fendi Theorema. However, with repeated wear and comparison to both of these other fragrances, Mauboussin is clearly different. Fruitier than Shalimar Light’s fluffy lemon-custard, richer and less dry than Theorema’s spiced woods, Mauboussin retains its not-quite-gourmand dried-fruit mantle throughout. Although amber and patchouli – both aromas that tend to stand out to me – are listed in the notes, I don’t find them to be prominent here.  The florals and woods do keep it from being entirely edible, but it is still fruitcake-y, and would be lovely in sweater weather.

During my Theorema-Shalimar Light-Mauboussin comparison experiment, one thing became quite clear to me: I love Shalimar Light (I don’t mean Eau de Shalimar, which is the updated and ruinous successor to Shalimar Light/Shalimar Eau Legere) better than either of the other two.  I didn’t mean to pull a bait-and-switch on you with my “I review one fragrance and then comment I like something else better” bit, but looks like that’s what happened.  Sorry ’bout that.  Hey, Shalimar Light is getting really tough to find, by the way.  It’s been discontinued for a few years, but I bought my bottle in May from a discounter. It now seems that SL has disappeared from all the usual discounter sites.  Curses!  I did find it, though, at bayho.com, for approximately $41, including shipping, for the 2.5 oz bottle – but just got a message from bayho that it’s “backordered.”  Which means, I’m guessing, gone.

Notes for Mauboussin, from fragrantica.com:
Top: yellow plum, bergamot, red tangerine
Heart: white peach, Indian jasmine, ylang-ylang, Turkish rose
Base: amber, patchouli, sandalwood, cedar, benzoin, vanilla

Top image: Mauboussin for Women, from 99perfume.com.
Lower image: Free Range Fruitcake from gnuf at flickr.

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