Sniffery in the “Big City”

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.

 

"Cross Creek Mall" from Wikimedia Commons

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:

Beyonce Heat and Heat Wave

Burberry Brit, Touch, and Gold

Bvlgari Omnia, Omnia Green Jade, Omnia Amethyste, and Blv II

Calvin Klein Eternity, Euphoria, Obsession, Beauty, and cKOne

Chanel No. 5 (in edt, edp and parfum as well as body products), Allure, Chance, Chance Eau Fraiche, Chance Eau Tendre, Coco, Coco Mademoiselle

Christian Dior J’Adore and L’eau Cologne Florale

Coach Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum, Coach Poppy

Dolce et Gabbana original Dolce et Gabbana, Light Blue, The One, and Rose The One

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist and Be Delicious

Ed Hardy Hearts and Daggers, Love & Luck, and something else I don’t remember now

Elizabeth Arden 5th Avenue and Mediterranean

Gucci Flora, Guilty, and Gucci Eau de Parfum

Guerlain Shalimar (only the EdT)

Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, L’Eau d’Issey Florale

Jessica Simpson Fancy, Fancy Love, and Fancy Nights, as well as the new I Fancy You

Juicy Couture original Juicy Couture, Viva la Juicy, and Couture Couture

Katy Perry Purr

Lancome Tresor, Tresor in Love, Poeme, Magie Noire, Hypnose, Magnifique, and Miracle

Marc Jacobs Lola 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)

Paloma Picasso

Paris Hilton Siren, Just Me, and CanCan

Prescriptives Calyx

Queen Latifah Queen and Queen of Hearts

Ralph Lauren Romance and Romance Always Yours

Thierry Mugler Angel, Angel Innocent, Alien, and Cologne

YSL Parisienne 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, PWL Pink 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.

 

Macy's from Wikimedia Commons

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.

 

Collection of panterachik at Fragrantica.com

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.

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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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Perfume Review: Lancôme Climat

Tested in three versions: vintage (late 70’s/early 80’s?) parfum and new (2006?) La Collection edt, from my personal collection, as well as a private  sample of the old blue-and-black packaging from the 90’s. 

I wore the La Collection version first, on a blustery Saturday in January, before all the snow came. A story here: my hometown boasts a couple of “historic” hotels, one of which was bought by a university, renovated/enlarged into a hotel-and-conference-center, with its own restaurant and bar, and is now thriving. The other hotel, after the original owners died, was purchased by Doubletree Hotels and partially renovated. It did well for a few years, and it was during this time that The CEO and I were married and spent our first night of conjoined life in the honeymoon suite of the Patrick Henry Hotel. After a few years, Doubletree found it was losing business to the hotel/conference center, and it pulled out. The new owners took long-term residents, and the glamor of the Patrick Henry faded pretty quickly. There have been at least two changes of ownership since then, and there was talk of tearing down the building so as to avoid dealing with asbestos abatement. Most recently, a local businessman, wishing to prevent the loss of the beloved building, bought it, intending to sink several million dollars into renovation. The beautiful carved caryatids will stay and grace Williamson Road.

On that blustery January day, the hotel sold off a large part of the old furnishings. Instead of sending old bedsteads and artwork and lamps to the dump, the new owner sold them and donated the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.  I didn’t manage to pick up any furniture, but I did buy a colonial-frame mirror for $25 (mahogany! Beautiful – and a really heavy sucker, too) aaaaand la piece de resistance, the key to the room we stayed in on our wedding night. Now how cool is that?

Climat was keeping me company that day, and I enjoyed it very much. Having seen several reviews calling it an old-fashioned white floral, I’d predicted I’d like it – but I was surprised at how much so.

Notes for Climat:

Top: violet, peach, aldehydes, bergamot, rosemary

Heart: lily of the valley, rose, narcissus, tuberose

Base: sandalwood, amber, tonka bean, musk, civet, bamboo, vetiver

The first thing I smelled were the aldehydes, of course. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth repeating: I like aldehydes; they say “Proper perfume!” to me. It’s not that everything I wear is an aldehydic floral, but I tend to feel comfortable and at home in them. (Early exposure to Mom’s No. 5 is my explanation for that. And also that I have an uncomplicated relationship with her, so that the smell of her perfume is pleasant to me.) Immediately under the aldehydes, I smelled what I call “aromatics” – bergamot and herbs, somewhat similar to the beginning of Alahine, where it’s bergamot and lavender. This is a very juicy, green note that carries on for some time.  Under that, though, before I even got to any florals, I noticed the civet. Yeah, civet… I was able to pinpoint it pretty easily, since I’d worn both Ubar and Parfum Sacré within the previous week. I tend to like civet, too, in small amounts where it gives a gravity and depth to florals that might be somewhat lightweight without at least some ballast. Here the civet is very quiet and makes me think of one of the favorite smells of many perfumistas – cat fur. I wouldn’t say cat butt – just warm, dusty fur. But please be aware that your mileage may vary (YMMV), and you should have a working relationship with civet before purchasing any Climat!

From that point, Climat settles into a beautiful, well-blended floral scent. It’s still wearing that hat with a veil (the aldehydes), and some lacy undies (the civet), but Climat is a New Look dress scent if there ever were one. It’s a 1967 creation in white gloves and a fitted bodice, all buttoned and prim in roses and lily of the valley. There may be some tuberose in there, but it’s like black-and-white photos of a tropical vacation. I’m actually a little surprised not to see iris in the notes; Climat can be a little powdery, particularly in vintage parfum, and it reminds me a little bit of the powdery-smooth iris in Goutal’s Heure Exquise.

The base is lovely and very quiet, primarily sandalwood and vetiver, with just a hint of vanilla, and the warm cat-fur accent of civet. Climat lasts about 5-6 hours on me, about average for eau de parfum on my skin; the vintage parfum I have is probably age-damaged, because it doesn’t last that long. If I had to come up with just a few words to describe it, I think I’d have to pick “smooth” and “ladylike.”

I’ll warn you now: if the idea of yourself being described as “ladylike” made you spew coffee, Climat is not for you. If Cuir de Lancôme seemed too Donna Reed for your taste, you won’t do any better with Climat. (Try Sikkim or Magie Noire – even the current version – for a Lancôme fragrance that doesn’t wear pantyhose and heels. Incidentally, Sikkim is a lot like a spicier version of Stetson, and I think it would be terrific on a man.)

Here’s Luca Turin on Climat:  Created in 1967, Climat was born old, a laggard latecomer to the Ma Griffe tweedy-floral category… The Collection version of Climat is excellent… and makes an ideal grown-up fragrance for someone who clearly isn’t.

Well. Dr. Turin’s always right, except when he clearly isn’t. (I will forbear to mention the Insolence debacle, the Missoni schizophrenia, and the Giorgio insanity.) I’ll respectfully disagree with him in regards to two points. First off, “tweedy floral”? Nope. No tweed. No Katharine Hepburn or Miss Moneypenny in Climat, it’s too soft. It’s a full-skirted silk gabardine dress, not dressy enough to wear out for cocktails but too dressy for business attire. Secondly, “a grown-up scent for someone who isn’t?” Did he not notice the civet? Is he seriously recommending this scent for teenagers?

Look. I’m 42. Climat doesn’t do anything to my mental age (and Bookworm took one sniff and said, “Old lady talcum powder – you know, it smells nice, but sort of grandmotherly,” so I honestly don’t see any teenagers wearing it for aspirational aging, as Turin seems to imply). Maybe I feel like I’ve finally matured into “ladylike,” when the occasion warrants; I find that concept fairly attractive. I wear my cultured pearls. I just bought my first “good” handbag, without worrying about spending the money on a nice leather purse that ought to last me years. I like the sense of poise and posture that I have when I wear Climat; it gives me a sense of confidence.

I’ll admit that it really doesn’t appeal to me on days when I’m wearing jeans, nor would I reach for it when dressed up for a Hot Date. But if I’m in my favorite contour-waist micro-denier polyester trousers and a nice sweater, I’m happy in Climat. It also goes well with my ¾ sleeve teal wrap dress.

A word on formulations: the vintage parfum I have is rather overwhelmingly powdery. I do wonder if it’s suffering from age and poor storage – the top notes are that nail-polish-y acetone of decayed aldehydes + bergamot.  It’s less sparkly than the “La Collection” version. Oddly, Lancôme does not list concentration on any of the La Collection scents. I’m making an assumption that they’re edp’s, based on their longevity on my skin. The old version of Climat in the blue-and-black packaging is inferior, synthetic dreck. Avoid it.

La Collection sets can still be found in limited quantities at online discounters, and of course on ebay. I bought my set for under $40, including shipping, for four 15ml splash bottles. The other bottles in my set are Magie, Sikkim and Mille et une Roses; some sets offer Sagamore instead of the rose one. I do wish that I could have found Climat in a bottle bigger than the half-ounce I have now.  It’s beautiful, and I find myself thinking about it often when I’m testing some crappy modern heartless floral.

Review Report: Bois de Jasmin, Perfume Posse, Basenotes.  Top image is vintage Climat ad from lmajot at ebay; lower one is Patrick Henry Hotel by mattames at flickr.

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Perfume Review: Cuir de Lancôme (La Collection)

Transcript of conversation conducted while watching Men’s Moguls Skiing and Pairs Skating (Short Program) on Valentine’s Day Night:    

The CEO: Hey, you smell really nice.    

Me: Oh, thanks!    

The CEO: Is that what I gave you for Valentine’s Day?    

Me: Yes, it is.    

The CEO: Well, good for me then. I have excellent taste.    

It was rather sweet of him – and he even let me pick out my own gift!    

Cuir, composed by Celine Becker and Pauline Zanoni and released as part of La Collection in 2007, is a floral leather scent. There was another scent by this name, released first under the name Révolte and later as Cuir – one of those vintage things that smell like cold stone and Rappacini’s garden and grave dirt, for you freaksters out there who love vintage leathers. Um, I mean freakster in the nicest possible way, of course.   

Cuir (La Collection) was a disappointment to those who were expecting a re-release of the original. Probably the disappointed horde were all fans of vintage Bandit and Tabac Blond and Knize Ten and Cabochard, looking for The Leather Chypre to Rule Them All and In the Darkness Bind Them… Ahem. Sorry. We did a LoTR marathon recently, while stuck in the house due to snow… the days are starting to run together, actually.    

Cuir LC is not that fragrance. Which is good for the rest of us who are leather-shy. I must admit that while some of my favorite scents have leather accents (SSS Tabac Aurea, JhaG Citizen Queen, vintage Chanel No. 19), there are few leather scents that I really, really like. I suppose to be honest, there’s just one other: Jolie Madame – and even she is at least half “armful of violets,” with the remaining half being “lady’s handbag.” Technically, Cuir does not even list leather as a note; presumably the role of Leather is being played by Saffron and Birch.     

Here are the notes for Cuir:    

Topnotes: mandarin, saffron, bergamot    

Heart notes: patchouli, hawthorne, jasmine, ylang    

Basenotes: orris root, birch, styrax    

It is difficult to imagine what Cuir really smells like when simply looking at that list of notes. It’s not a misleading list, exactly, but you don’t get a sense of its character by reading the notes. On me, Cuir is quite smoky, with a dry woodsy character that surprised me. I would have sworn that I smell a lot of vetiver under that birch tar. I am making the assumption here that it’s the birch tar accounting for the smokiness, and of course I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.    

Here’s Luca Turin in P:TG, on Cuir:    

“…this is a very unusual and beautiful leather, devoid of the weight of ambery, smoky, and animalic notes that make most others sink on drydown. Instead, this one maintains a light, airy, woody, almost vetiver-like translucency all the way through and feels… like rich suede… feels as comfortable as the real thing. Excellent.”     

Well, I do agree with Dr. Turin that Cuir is beautiful, but I disagree on the “devoid of smoke” definition, since I get a lot of smoke from Cuir, the lovely smell of an outdoor fire juuuust about to catch – that smokiness that tells you that the wood is about to burst into flame. I find this surprisingly pleasant. In fact, Cuir often seems to me like two fragrances in one: the sillage, and the air a good foot from perfumed skin, is very smoky-woody, while close to the skin, Cuir is primarily a cool, powdery floral. I keep thinking I’m smelling a dry vetiver – I’m not generally a big vetiver fan, but when it’s right, it’s right – combined with a very restrained jasmine and a good slug of powdery iris. I hear that hawthorne can smell like sweaty feet, but I’m not getting any of that – just a soft, blended floral with a smoked-woods and well-processed leather goods background. Unusually for me, I do not actually smell any patchouli, when usually I can pick that note up at ppm levels. The effect of Cuir is rather like opening one’s mother’s good leather handbag, and getting a whiff of her face powder and/or her perfumed handkerchief. This description probably doesn’t mean anything to you unless you’re at least forty years old and your mother wore Chanel, but such is the case for me.    

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know how I feel about Cuir de Russie: to me, it smells like mummy dust and cattle working pens, instead of the “pink suede” or “leather luxury” or “the seats of a very fancy automobile” that some of you describe it as. (You lucky chumps. Someday I’ll get even.) But this! Cuir is cool and elegant and warmly smiling, both reserved and friendly. It’s actually, I find, far more wearable than Jolie Madame, which is one of my Do NOT Mess With Me invisible-armor scents.     

I spritz Cuir with a bit more abandon than my usual careful wrist-and-throat application. With one spritz on each wrist, one on the cleavage (under my sweater – it is darn cold outside, you think I’m going about with cleavage on display? Nuh-UH), one on throat, and possibly a spritz to the back of my neck, it lasts several hours. The sillage is rather quiet; even with 4-5 spritzes, it doesn’t violate my three-foot rule.    

I think a man could wear Cuir; it’s very woody, the florals are quiet and dry, and it’s not radiant enough to scare the guy in the next cubicle. In fact, I’m going to attempt to lure The CEO to wear it at some point. I’ll report how that goes. (Don’t hold your breath, though.)    

Cuir seems to have gone straight to the discounters after a brief tenure at Lancôme counters, where the SA’s seemingly hid all the La Collection scents while pushing Miracle and Magnifique. I could make disparaging, what’s-the-world-coming-to comments, but you’ve heard them before, so I won’t. I doubt it’ll be back in production because it actually has brains, unlike a myriad of mainstream scents currently being flogged in, say, Macy’s. My 1.7-oz bottle cost about $35, so there is absolutely no excuse for not buying a bottle if you love it. (Samples are available at The Perfumed Court and The Posh Peasant, and I’m not affiliated with either one.)    

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Perfume Review: Magie Noire (vintage)

 

All Hallows’ Eve approaches. I’ve been waiting to review this perfume for months, and so I suppose I’ve had months to think about it but had not yet written a post before today. I first heard of Magie Noire last spring, from a commenter on one of the perfume blogs. I no longer remember which one. In any case, the comment was something like, “Magie Noire is the most sensual potion I’ve ever smelled, I’m so sad they’ve reformulated it.” I didn’t know much about what to expect from a list of notes at the time, and I thought it would be a good idea to find a home for vintage Magie Noire, so I trolled ebay for it. What luck! A mini bottle of vintage edt for something like $12 including shipping. The seller had several on hand, having inherited her parents’ pharmacy. She was attempting to clear the back room of old fragrances they had bought in the 80’s and stored.

I bought it. On the day it was delivered, the weather here was warm and characteristic of early spring. Daffodils were out; I was wearing a spring green blouse. I came home from work and found my package in the mailbox. The box was ugly – black, with russet, orange and gold curving stripes and zodiacal symbols on it. I rolled my eyes (those crazy mystical types! The things they’ll buy!) and opened it, expecting the tones of the spicy floral oriental of Fragrantica.com’s listing. The top was a bit tight, so I had to work it loose, getting a drop on my fingers in the process.

This is what went through my head: What the heck? This is NOT an Oriental! I jerked my hand away from my nose. What the heck IS thi – wait a second, I want to smell that again. I did smell it again. And again and again. I sat at the computer desk in the basement for what seemed like hours, just sniffing. I didn’t have to bring my hand to my nose; the sillage was tremendous.

I was immediately transported to an evening from my first year at college, when I was walking back to my dorm after a choral dress rehearsal that had gone late. It was not raining, but it had rained earlier in the day, so that the dead leaves, oak and maple, felt like just-made papier mache’ under my feet. A huge harvest moon sailed overhead, shining pale orange as clouds scudded behind it. The wind blew in swirls. I remember being stunned by beauty. I didn’t stop at my dorm; I kept walking in this windy November night: through the little cemetery, through the Dell, up Observatory Hill. It grew chilly. I walked back to my dorm. I barely slept, for the moonlight and the drama and the silence, for the romance and the longing.

Coming back from the past on that spring afternoon, I realized that the weather had changed. It had been sunny and pleasant, but while I was dreaming the clouds had come in and covered the sun. It had begun to rain. I had the eerie feeling that Magie Noire had effected the change all on its own.

Notes for MN: Created by Gerard Goupy, released by Lancome in 1978. I keep seeing it classified on perfume forums like fragrantica and basenotes as a floral oriental. This is crazy talk (at least for the vintage version). It is clearly a woody chypre with floral elements, and a Big, Honkin’, I Mean Business Chypre to boot. A man could wear this, if he had enough confidence and a very, very light hand on the applicator.
Top: Blackcurrant buds, galbanum, raspberry, hyacinth, bergamot.
Heart: honey, tuberose, orris root, jasmine, ylang, lily of the valley, cedar, narcissus, Bulgarian rose.
Base: spices, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, musk, civet, oakmoss, vetiver.

Some fragrances are far, far more than the sum of their notes. This is one of those fragrances. I could not tease out individual notes at all the first few times I wore it. I still cannot identify more than a few: the cassis buds stand out as always. Narcissus has become a favorite, and after falling in love with PdN Le Temps d’une Fete, I can pick it out now. There is a ton of oakmoss and vetiver in this, too. And although it’s not listed, I seem to smell something quite herbal, like coriander, in the top notes. Everything else is a blur, even tuberose and rose, two more favorites of mine. I freely admit that my bottle may not have been stored properly. In fact, I can’t imagine that it was kept properly in a warehouse in California for 25+ years. It doesn’t matter to me whether it smells the way it did when it was created, because it smells amazing.

I cannot wear Magie Noire frequently – I have only worn it a handful of times, and only in very small doses. For one thing, it seems to call for cool weather, and particularly weather in which one might wear a sweater and boots. For another, the sillage is so enormous that it seems wrong to subject other people to it. Lastly, Magie Noire hijacks my thought processes. If I wear it, I can think of nothing else, but am lost in the sensuality, the elemental earthy quality of it. It makes me think of people who worshiped the Earth and its powers, its changing seasons, in centuries past and – who knows? Even now. I am not comfortable in it, but when I wear it I do not want comfort. I am like Bilbo Baggins, unceremoniously yanked from his cozy burrow and set on a quest for treasure.

Magie Noire turns. It turns like the turning of the seasons – it cartwheels, rotates, opens doors ponderous on their hinges. The wind blows in with a blast when the door is opened into November forest, floor damp and spongy with leaf mould, glowing rose at the heart like shafts of sunlight through treetops. It is the death of many leaves and the life of trees, the heart of the earth beating under a blanket of dead leaves and moss. It is warm under the blanket, when the night air is chilly. There now, don’t cry at the loss of the summer: we will make our own. It will be fecund and humid with exhalations from our mouths, and this will be our own summer. It is a kind of magic, do you see?

One of the songs we’d been rehearsing that November night was a piece by Samuel Barber, with text by James Stephens: The Coolin (The Fair Haired One). Here is the poem, and following it is a link to a beautiful rendition I found on youtube.

Come with me, under my coat,
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat,
Or wine if it be thy will.
 
Reincarnations: The Coolin (Barber/Stephens), about 3:45 minutes long.

And we will talk, until
Talk is a trouble, too,
Out on the side of the hill;
And nothing is left to do,

But an eye to look into an eye;
And a hand in a hand to slip;
And a sigh to answer a sigh;
And a lip to find out a lip!

What if the night be black!
Or the air on the mountain chill!
Where the goat lies down in her track,
And all but the fern is still!

Stay with me, under my coat!
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat,
Out on the side of the hill!

I have no info on the top image, having found it on a free image site – but I can’t remember where or when.  If you know, please tell me and I’ll credit it properly.  Bottom image is my own bottle of Magie Noire, bought off ebay.

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