Perfume Review: Teo Cabanel Alahine, or A Joyous Christmas Memory

When I was at college, my university chorus group put on a Madrigal Dinner every year. It was a longstanding tradition that our director would prepare us to sing eight or nine madrigals, and the students would be in charge of everything else.

And I do mean everything else, from arranging to rent the ballroom to organizing costumes, meals, publicity and tickets, from creating an original play to obtaining the services of the medieval-music club for instrumental music and the fencing club for demonstrations, from learning medieval dances and extra pieces of music for serenading guests during the meal to preparing decorations, including fabric wall hangings, fresh evergreen garlands, and clove-orange pomanders, and placing the hangings and garlands in the 14-foot-high ballroom. There are 50 students and twelve weeks in which to get everything done – Ready, Set, GO!

We called it Mad Dinner, and those four evenings were some of the happiest of my life. (They were also some of the most stressful, especially the year I was Costume Co-chair. I think I still have a bald patch on the back of my skull from that experience.) I loved it – every Mad minute of it. Pure joy, from wandering minstrels to cloved oranges to funny hats to candlelight to beautiful music.

For me, Teo Cabanel’s Alahine is Mad Dinner.

Notes for Alahine (from mfr sample):
Top: Lavender, bergamot, ylang-ylang
Middle: Jasmine, Bulgarian rose, orange tree, pepper plant
Base: Iris, cistus, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood, musk

I probably wouldn’t have gone after Alahine on my own – I like amber, but if you’ve read my posts about Opium you know how I feel about resiny Orientals (hint: I’d rather slide down razor blades than spend any time cooped up in a room with them). I’d ordered a sample of Julia and one of Oha, a dark spicy rose chypre that I thought I’d adore, and a sample of Alahine arrived with it in that package from The Posh Peasant. Oha I found very beautiful but eclipsed by the stunning L’Arte di Gucci, with which I had already fallen in love; Julia, a soft floral with tangy fruits in the top, is also beautiful in a wistful, innocent way that feels a little naive for me to wear at this stage of my life. I wasn’t expecting to love Alahine, and in fact upon my first test of it, its opening notes skated close enough to “Citrus-aromatic-masculine” that I almost wrote it off then and there. But by the end of an hour, I found it heavenly. Upon second wearing, I knew I wanted a bottle.

If I am paying attention to the notes – to what I actually smell – Alahine opens with a zesty burst of bergamot, which is highly aromatic and therefore difficult for me. Fragrantica and the label on my manufacturer’s sample say there’s lavender too. It doesn’t smell like the lavender I know, but it is sharp and unpleasant. I am coming to expect this opening, and I know all I have to do is wait ten minutes before a lovely, creamy ylang-ylang will appear and soften the aromatics to a level I enjoy. Shortly after that, the curtain rises to reveal a floral heart so well-blended that I can’t tease out any note except rose, and then only because I’ve become familiar with the deep winey rose in Caron Parfum Sacre’ and Ormonde Jayne Ta’if. Spices swirl around these abstract flowers, spinning down into the ambery labdanum that is weighty and smooth as a heavy gold-colored satin shawl. The scent hovers over this rich amber for hours afterward, caressing it with vanilla and patchouli and benzoin, and wrapping it up with a resiny thread. I don’t actually smell any iris, but there is the effect of something cool there that I think must be due to the iris – it does seem like satin, after all, rather than velvet.

If I don’t pay close attention to what my nose tells me, but lift my head and go through my day only registering my impressions, I smell this: pine branches, curried fruit, flowers, mulled cider, cloved oranges, candle wax, vanilla liqueur, and the very faint mustiness from a costume that has been stored in the basement under Old Cabell Hall for several months. I sense candlelight, and laughter, and the faces of friends, voices raised in song, and the excellent feeling of hard work that has paid off handsomely.

When I wear Alahine, I smell joy.

For a few other reviews of Alahine, click on these links:

Image: Natural Christmas decorating! by LDHumes at flickr.

Madrigal Dinners produced by the University Singers of the University of Virginia are no more. When Dr. Donald “Coach” Loach retired in 1994, they went by the wayside – seen, I think, as being too much work. I raise a glass of mulled cider in honor of Coach, who was pictured recently in the alumni magazine, still looking his natty, mustachioed and spectacled self in a pink polo shirt.

(I hereby remind myself to someday post about the Kamikaze Tenors.)

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Perfume Review: Penhaligon’s Amaranthine, or Amaranthigh, or Amaranthingy


Amaranthine by Penhaligon’s London, New for Fall 2009
Amaranthine is a corrupted floral oriental for those private moments when everything is anticipation. It opens with a dramatic flourish of spices and tropical green. This unsettling lick of drama is beautifully ambushed by an unctuous accord of jasmine and ylang-ylang, a heady bloom renowned for its aphrodisiac properties, and clove swathed in spices, tea, musk and the rounded beauty of tonka bean absolute.  The perfume is reportedly “reminiscent of the scent of the inside of a woman’s thigh”. *

Head notes – Green Tea, White Freesia, Banana Tree Leaf, Coriander Seed Oil, Cardamom Absolute  Heart – Rose, Carnation, Clove Oil, Orange Blossom, Ylang Ylang Oil, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute   Base  – Musk, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Condensed Milk, Tonka Bean Absolute

You know what? For once, the ad copy is pretty accurate, although perhaps it overstates the “drama” and “aphrodisiac properties.”  * The hilarious quote about thighs is purportedly from composer Bertrand Duchaufour, from cosmeticsinternational.  It alone made me want to smell this thing, and people seem to be associating the scent with the word “thigh” now.  Maybe it’s just that “thigh” is a funny word, which it is.  Say it six times in a row: thigh thigh thigh thigh thigh thigh.  Kudos to you if you said it without snickering; I couldn’t.

And look at those notes, too – does that sound anything like thighs to you??  The notes say “tropical floral with oriental base” to me, and that’s a category I like in general.  So here it is the beginning of winter, and I’ve spritzed Amaranthine four days in a row, to make sure the experience isn’t a freak occurrence.  I think, honestly, it would be better in warmer weather.  It’s a bit light when one is wearing sweaters and shivering in a cold rain.  But even though it’s been less satisfying in early December than, say, Alahine (about which, more coming next week), I say this:  Amaranthine is beautiful.

It starts out with fresh, dewy florals only lightly dusted with spices.  I get very little tea from it, although other reviewers find it more prominent; I get more general “green” notes.  And yes, there’s a banana hit to it, probably from the ylang, although it’s a green banana thing, not an overripe squishy vibe.  I can’t identify rose in there, but the carnation is prominent, as well as the orange blossom. The jasmine is grassy and fresh, as opposed to that indolic heavy Joy-type jasmine that makes me think of dirty panties, and it doesn’t stand out. 

Eventually I get down to the base, which is soft and clings to the skin, and still retains a veil of freesia and orange blossom.  I was a bit worried about that “condensed milk” note, but although Amaranthine is a little sweet, it reads as floral sweetness to me rather than gourmand.  At this stage, it smells a bit like skin smells if the weather is warm and it’s been most of a day since it’s been showered: not squeaky-clean, but not smelly-sweaty either.  Like, you know, skin, warm and slightly moist.

It may be my nose, but I’m not getting of the weirdness some other reviewers have discovered.  Nor do I get the smuttiness that some people have described.  Is it just too cold and/or dry? Is my brain twisted? I’m not sure.  All I get out of Amaranthine is tropical, relaxed, fresh beauty.  I’ll be putting my decant away for a few months, at least, and wearing things more appropriate to this chilly weather.  When the time is right, I’ll know.

On a related subject (THIGHS!), I’m going to talk about body image.  I have a daughter in her early teens.  She’s healthy and fit; she’s petite; she’s still wearing a few things from the girls’ department, particularly dresses, as she finds the juniors’ department offerings immodest.  (I’m not complaining.)

But she said to me the other day after track practice, “You know, Mom, I have big thighs.” I looked at them and raised my eyebrows.  “They’ve got muscles.  I mean, you can actually see my thigh muscles. They’re runner’s thighs.”  I nodded.  “I think that’s the reason I have trouble finding jeans that fit.”  (Yeah, tell me about it.)  But I’m not going to apologize to my kid for giving her the thunder thighs genes, because – honestly? – she’s got great legs.  She complains that her broad shoulders make her shirts fit funny, and her muscly thighs make her jeans tight, and how her jeans are always too big in the waist if they fit her hips.    

And she’s looking around her high school at all the girls with thin thighs and thinking, How come I don’t look like them?, while I’m looking at her and thinking, Hey, that is my basic body shape, just younger and shorter and much, much thinner, and it’s beautiful.  It’s a swimmer’s body (okay, a short swimmer’s body!), and it’s healthy and athletic and beautiful. 

And I think I want it back.  I’ve been avoiding exercise for way too long.  Time to remedy that.

Ad copy from Penhaligon’s.  Top image: Amaranthine in the limited edition crystal flacon, from Penhaligon’s.
Center image: Shield Bug on Globe Amaranth by innermt at flickr.
Bottom image: 2008 Cross Country by nmhschool at flickr.  No, it’s not Bookworm, but she runs cross-country and distance track.  I’m so proud of her.

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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: 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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Perfume Review: Rochas Tocade

In 1994, Rochas released this honkin’ ugly bottle of wonderful stuff, created by Maurice Roucel.  Thank goodness I read a positive review of it before ever seeing the bottle, which is one of the cheesiest things I have seen in my life.  The bottom part of it reminds me of the pretty shape of the Femme bottle, but it’s topped with a cylinder and a coolie hat in plastic Made In China colors.  It’s a shame, really, about that cap.  It’s too tall.  It’s pointy.  It’s plaaaaaaastic.

Ahem.  Muses in Wooden Shoes never, ever, buy perfume for the bottle.  And isn’t that lucky for us?  Tocade – which means “Infatuation” in French – is just lovely, and a genuine bargain at $25-30 for a large 100ml bottle. 

Here are the notes for Tocade:
T: green notes, bergamot, freesia, geranium
H: magnolia, iris, orchid, jasmine, lily of the valley, rose
B: patchouli, amber, musk, cedar, vanilla

Tocade is primarily a rose-vanilla-patchouli fragrance, and like Organza Indecence, it’s right at the edge of my low patchouli tolerance.  Other people might not find it very patch-forward, but I do.  Tocade opens with a breath of galbanum and a whisper of something my brain calls “fresh” – it’s probably the freesia – before heading full tilt for that rose-vanilla combo.  It’s a lovely rose, neither the fresh lemony rose you smell in, say Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose, nor the winey rose of Parfum Sacre or Voleur de Roses, but, rather, a glowing deep pink rose, smooth as painted china.  I do smell the magnolia and lily of the valley, and although I can’t pinpoint the orchid, there’s a smooth floral quality to the heart that seems to be common to orchid scents.  And although the base skates toward the sweet side, it’s not the marshmallow variety of vanilla/amber – there’s enough backbone in the cedar and patchouli, and enough dirt in the musk, to keep it honest.  Although it doesn’t smell like Shalimar, it does have that dirty, smoky vanilla vibe in the drydown.

This is one of my sexier perfume options, I confide.  It’s a casual, comfortable, party-girl kind of sexiness, a white tee shirt and jeans sort of sexiness, not the femme fatale variety.  It’s so friendly and affectionate that one imagines Tocade to be unable not to flirt outrageously with everyone (yes, everyone) she meets.  In fact, I usually refer to it as That Slut Tocade.

Which is probably unfair, but since it amuses the heck out of me while expressing that “friendly sexiness” that is Tocade, I’m going to keep using it.  That Slut Tocade.  Heh.  Beavis and Butthead would be so proud.  (By the way, according to a French-speaking friend, it’s pronounced toe-COD.  Just in case that might be helpful.) 

True story:  I bought Tocade this past spring, just about the time the weather was getting too warm for it.  I promptly put it in my closet, inside a box with a few other cold-weather scents.  Two months later, I opened the closet, and a big waft of Tocade stumbled out and threw her arms around my neck, slurring, “Hiiiiiiii!  I’m Tocade.  I’m a little druunnnk (hiccup) and I’ve somehow (giggle) lost my panties, will you take me ho-ome?” Whew.  I promptly made sure the (ugly) top was on firmly, and then put the bottle inside a plastic bag inside the box.  That was three months ago, and I continue to get hints of Tocade when I open the closet.

(So be careful with this stuff, willya? Don’t, you know, spill it on your closet floor or anything.)

I’ve used the phrase That Slut Tocade often enough now that I think I’d better clarify: I like it.  I really, really like it.  It’s comfortable without being a real wallpaper scent, and my husband likes it too.

But it really deserved a better bottle.

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Perfume Review: Bath & Body Works Moonlight Path, Clone No. 3

Okay, today we’re going way downmarket for the review of our next Chanel No. 5 clone: Bath and Body Works Moonlight Path. I’ve long been a customer of B&BW – largely because if I want anything fancier than drugstore body products, they’re it. I do have a few favorites among their offerings: I dearly love their Aromatherapy Orange Ginger lotion, their Velvet Tuberose is a terrific, low-budget Fracas Lite, and I wore the Freesia bath products all during my honeymoon.

On the Late & Lamented List: Freesia is gone. It’s been replaced with Sheer Freesia, which is simple and pretty but lacks the crisp greenness I remember smelling in the old one; I think there may have been some aspect of lily of the valley along with the freesia in the old version. Sigh. Well, I still have some Diorissimo.

My husband’s sister and her husband once gave me some really rich hand cream scented with Moonlight Path for a birthday. I opened it, sniffed and exclaimed, “Chanel No. 5!” My brother-in-law gave me the fish eye, and I hastened to explain that it wasn’t exact, of course – it just reminded me of my mother’s scent. And then I had to explain that I liked No. 5 but didn’t wear it because, well, it was my mother’s scent, “and you know how that is, right?” And then I shut up, because I was Just Making It Worse. (Sorry, K. It was a nice gift you and E. picked out – I used it all up with pleasure, and it smelled nice, and you have good taste. And I love you both. Which you know. Grin.)

So when I began seriously sniffing No. 5 Smell-Alikes, I remembered Moonlight Path, and went back to the Bath and Body Works store at the mall to retest it. It’s not as close to the icon as Mariella Burani is, and even farther away than Eau Premiere, but it does echo some of the facets of No. 5, particularly the powdery aspects.

Here are the notes for Moonlight Path:
Top: Bergamot, lavender, mandarin, coriander
Heart: Rose, jasmine, violet, tuberose, ylang, lily of the valley
Base: Sandalwood, vetiver, oakmoss, vanilla, amber, musk, patchouli

I never smell the lavender in Moonlight Path, which is probably a good thing, lavender being an un-favorite of mine. The congruencies of notes between the two scents include bergamot, rose, jasmine, ylang, lily of the valley, and all the base notes. Indeed, it’s the drydown of MP that reminds me most of No. 5, and since MP is fairly light, it’s the drydown that I spend the most time in while wearing it. I do smell that rose-jasmine-ylang-LotV combo that is such a pleasant part of No. 5 for me, and that’s enjoyable in Moonlight Path, but sadly, it doesn’t last very long here. It is powdery.  Very powdery.  Intensely powdery, even – and I’m not all that big a fan of powder. The list of basenotes sounds more complex than it actually is in Moonlight Path, contrasted directly with No. 5’s rich and shimmery sandalwood and musk base.

It’s perfectly nice. But powdery, you know… and if you like that kind of thing, the body products might layer very nicely (and, um, cheaply, if you care) with No. 5.

Top image: Moonlight Path body butter at B&BW; bottom image is Fillable Puff Patter with Powder at ebay, which my late grandmother would have absolutely adored.  She’d have bought one for every woman she knew, bless her heart.

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Perfume Review: Mariella Burani, Clone No. 2

This is one of several posts in which I’ll be reviewing perfumes that are similar to, or are based on, or that remind me of, Chanel No. 5. Today we’ve got Mariella Burani, which I have in EdT. I first heard of it through Abigail’s review on I Smell Therefore I Am, which you can read here, and when ScentScelf (of Notes From the Ledge) approved, I had to try it. People, this stuff is dirt-cheap and lovely, which is a combination that always sacks me for a loss. I bought my bottle on ebay, slightly used, for $15.50.

This is one of the prettiest bottles I own. If I didn’t worry about light damage, I’d leave it out for decoration – I adore the hefty glass rectangle topped with the red-orange resin roses that should be tacky, but instead are kitschy fab.

Mariella Burani starts out with the sunniest, happiest citrus ever, with a sheer fizz of aldehydes. The aldehydes don’t give the impression of soapiness here; they sparkle briefly and evanesce. This citrus is miles away from furniture polish, and although the notes don’t list orange, I infer it. In fact, MB reminds me of childhood Florida vacations and the tangerine sherbet we’d eat at Baskin Robbins at the beach. It seems soft, rather than bracing. This citrusy veil seems to cling to the perfume as it develops. But as the scent moves into its floral heart, it begins to smell reminiscent of No. 5. When I look at the list of notes, it’s clear why: ylang, rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, and iris are listed for both fragrances. MB’s floral heart is blended very well, and the effect is smooth, voluptuous, and Just Plain Pretty.

I should explain that I am a sucker for Just Plain Pretty. I’m never put off by such girly articles of clothing as cotton sundresses trimmed in eyelet, or by fluffy blue sweaters, and Mariella Burani is no exception. It’s not that I never want something complicated or interesting or tough – it’s just that a pretty, feminine, fragrance always makes me smile.

My favorite part of the scent story is the part where the floral heart begins to fade, and the orientalesque base begins to turn up. There is, as Abigail mentions, a creaminess about it that makes me think of pearl necklaces. The effect may be due to the benzoin-tonka bean-vanilla combination. Geek alert here: I checked my Excel perfume file for the notes on some of my very favorite perfumes – Emeraude and Shalimar Light – and bingo! Benzoin, tonka, and vanilla.

Another attractive aspect of MB is that it seems weightless – neither a light, refreshing cologne for summer, nor a richly gourmand oriental for winter. In this, too, it is reminiscent of No. 5’s uncanny knack of being Appropriate For All Occasions. Also like No. 5, it seems ageless to me as well – my teenage daughter and my mother could both wear it as well as I can.

If Mariella Burani has any flaws, they are that a) it doesn’t last very long on me, and b) I don’t get much sillage. It zips through its development, from sunny orange through pretty-lady-florals to creamy base, in about three hours. This is, of course, normal for my skin experience with EdTs, and my bottle was so inexpensive that I don’t mind spritzing with abandon. Our weather has been what I call comfortable (60-70 degrees F), which may not be warm enough to show off MB. On two successive nights, I sprayed my wrists and neck one time each, and woke up warm and cosy the next morning, smelling the most gorgeous creamy floral scent; I was actually sad that it was time for my shower. Perhaps warmer weather would encourage the scent to bloom into the air a little more. And I think the EdP might suit me better; one would hope that the longevity would be better than the EdT’s lasting power.

This scent is lovely on its own; it’s an excellent alternative for those who find classic No. 5 difficult to wear. If the edp comes within my reach, I will snap it up.

Notes for Mariella Burani:
Top: tarragon, bergamot, rosewood, lemon
Heart: ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, iris
Base: amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver

Top image: my bottle, purchased at ebay.
Bottom image: 50’s cotton sundress at syriekovitz.com

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Perfume Review: Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere

This is the first of several posts in which I’ll be reviewing perfumes that are similar to, or are based on, or that remind me of, Chanel No. 5. First up is Chanel’s own flanker, No. 5 Eau Premiere, created in 2007 to modernize No. 5 for the current taste.

Opinions have been rather divided on Eau Premiere, with perfumistas typically taking one of two positions:
1) It’s No. 5, slimmed down and warmed up, palatable to modern consumers and quite wearable.
2) It took all the glory of No. 5 and sold it out, dumbed it down, ruined the perfection.

I take Position 1. Bear in mind, though, a few facts: I like aldehydic florals. I have generally found No. 5 to be a little on the cold-and-powdery side, at least until I discovered that vintage parfum I wrote about in the last post. Slight differences from classic No. 5 actually make me happy, because I can wear the scent without smelling exactly like my mother. And lastly, I tested Eau Premiere before I found that vintage parfum.

The listed notes for both No. 5 and Eau Premiere are, duh, pretty much the same:
T: aldehydes, neroli, bergamot, lemon, ylang-ylang
H: rose, jasmine, LotV, iris
B: vetiver, sandal, patchouli, vanilla, amber

I suspect that the differences in smell come from changes in the proportions of the notes. Eau Premiere, which is an eau de toilette, starts off with a burst of juicy citrus, only lightly veiled with aldehydes. I never smell citrus in the original, and I’m guessing that the aldehydes simply overpower the citrus – or maybe the citrus is only there in light proportions, to keep the aldehydes from smelling too soapy. From that pleasant, smiling citrusy start, EP moves fluidly into its floral heart. This is the point at which it tends to smell most like its famous ancestress – that creamy ylang, the floaty jasmine, the cool powdery iris. The rose is more prominent to my nose in EP than in the original, and that seems to make EP more friendly, more romantic, and, possibly, less whip-smart, as if the EP girl has taken off her reading glasses to entice her chem lab partner into asking her for a date.

(No. 5 wouldn’t have bothered. She’d have stared him down through those lenses, model-beautiful nonetheless.) This floral stage lasts about two hours on my skin – by and large, Eau Premiere seems to develop less than No. 5, with stages flowing into each other instead of the striking changes of No. 5.

EP finally moves into a sandalwood-vetiver-vanilla-and-musk drydown. It is nicely balanced between dry and sweet, between the vetiver and vanilla, but it is quite light, and does not amaze like the cool-warm/dry-rich base of vintage No. 5. The sandalwood is, sadly, not the full-bodied and gorgeous thing one finds in the vintage No. 5 – but then, what is these days? I don’t even smell the same sandalwood in modern No. 5 parfum – it’s nice, but not jaw-droppingly beautiful as it is in the vintage. I have read several complaints that Eau Premiere’s drydown seems to just disappear, but that hasn’t been my experience. Scents, especially edts, don’t last very long on my skin: usually I can expect three hours from an edt, four tops. Eau Premiere, on the other hand, lasts 6 hours + on me, with the last half of it emanating a decidedly citrus-musk blend. I think – I am not entirely sure, but I think that I’ve read that there exists a particular musk that has citrus overtones, and my guess is that this musk is present in EP. Toward the end of the story, it is all I can smell – a light, clean musk, with a hint of citrus.

As promised, the skin difference anecdote: I bought a small bottle of EP for my mother, the No. 5 girl, for her birthday. While I was visiting her, she gave me one spritz on my neck and one on my wrists, then spritzed her own. An hour later, we were in the kitchen peeling potatoes and I leaned over to sniff her neck. Hmm. I sniffed again. Mom smelled like your average ditzy fruity-floral mall frag. I sniffed my own wrists: Hmm. No. 5. Mom again: peachy floral mish-mash. Me: No. 5 (except less powdery). No peach. Three hours later, she smelled like No. 5 (more powdery than I had smelled), and I smelled like citrus musk. Weird. Of course, this may all be simply my perception, but it is odd that it doesn’t smell the same on me as it does on her.

I find Eau Premiere very lovely, and like its famous precursor appropriate to any number of occasions. It is more citrusy, more rosy, more friendly, more linear, while being less aldehydic, less cold, less complex, less powdery. In short, it is designed to suit the modern taste. I think it does so admirably.

Images are Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere at fragrantica.com and glasses model 0072 by gwg_fan at flickr.

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My Mother Wore Chanel No. 5

I came to the investigation of perfume with emotional baggage (don’t we all?): Chanel No. 5 is the scent of my mother. I cannot smell it without thinking of her – the person who is my mother, and my mother who is a person, by which I suppose I mean both the individual and the role.

Sometime in my teens, it began to feel odd to me to call my mother “Mama,” since all my friends said “Mom” instead. So I changed. But in my early childhood, “Mama” she was, and Mama wore Chanel No. 5 eau de cologne. She’d grown up in a very frugal household, and my father was also quite a frugal person, and like many others of her generation, perfume was only for special occasions, and if she was wearing pantyhose, the perfume would follow. I remember watching her get ready for some social event – a concert, probably, or perhaps a Christmas dinner for my dad’s office – and as soon as she’d gotten dressed and put on her shoes, it was time for perfume. She’d dab some from the bottle onto the base of her neck, her wrists, and behind each ear. I always asked to sniff the bottle, and I always recoiled from the bright-lights and bug spray smell that came from it. It was hard for me to understand that that nasty smell would turn into a floral, intensely powdery, very feminine scent on Mama’s skin.

Eventually that bottle of No. 5 ran dry. It was replaced, briefly and unsatisfyingly, by Anais Anais, and then later by Coty L’Effleur, and still later by Elizabeth Arden’s 5th Avenue, all of which are strongly floral and containing at least some element of bathtime, either soap and/or powder.

As a young woman looking for a scent to call mine, I automatically crossed No. 5 off my list. I’d pick up a bottle in a department store from time to time, sniff, and think, “Nope, too powdery and cold. And anyway, that’s Mom’s perfume.” As recently as last year, I was still thinking, “Oh, I can’t wear No. 5. It’s too powdery. It smells like my mother.” And that was my mindset: Chanel No. 5 is a classic, an icon, a lovely scent that resembles the cold marble perfection of a Michelangelo statue, giving off Don’t Touch Me vibes. Uh-uh, not for me, not this girl, no way no how.

And then… dum dum DUM… the ebay auction. I was looking for a bottle of parfum to give Mom, since the miniature bottle of Eau Premiere I had found for her was perfectly pleasant, but somehow not as nice on Mom as it was on me (more on that in a few days.) Then, too, the perfume blogs were full of outrage over the IFRA restrictions on fragrance ingredients like jasmine and oakmoss (both of which are components of No. 5), and how awful it was that many classics were going to be reformulated, if they hadn’t been already, and how it might be time to go hunt up vintage bottles of this and that on ebay…

So I bit. I started watching auctions for “vintage No. 5 parfum.” Bid on a few and lost. Bid on a few and got horrified at the prices. Read many many blog comments saying, “Watch out for fake Chanel perfume on ebay!” and “Beware of ebay sellers filling an old parfum bottle with new cologne!” Checked on the price of a new bottle (eek! $155 for half an ounce). Bid on an old, opened-and-slightly-used 1-ounce bottle of parfum… watched over the auction like a mother hen her chicks… and it was mine, for $33 including shipping.

The bottle arrived. I opened it, deeply suspicious – how could it be such a pale color, when we know that jasmine scents tend to go orange with age, and the box was clearly so 1950’s? – and was surprised not to be knocked over by the aldehydes. They were there, but quite muted. “Cologne,” I sighed out loud. “Cheaters.” Ah, well – it was recognizably No. 5, and even if it was cologne, it was worth something, right? I smeared two healthy dabs onto my wrists and went to eat lunch, musing that aldehydes are weird molecules, smelling as they do of soap, candle wax, and glacier ice.

Half an hour later, I became aware that I was moving in a cloud of gorgeousness, and my mouth dropped open. This wasn’t cologne, this was No. 5 parfum, the Grand Dame of Classic Perfumery. This was No. 5 as I had never smelled it: intensely floral, seamlessly blended, with a sort of golden glow that made me think of angels. I wandered about the house kicking myself because I could have been smelling like this, instead of all those drugstore fragrances, all my life! Still later, as the florals began to subside into a base dominated by real sandalwood and a glowing musk, I was astonished at the way the scent seemed dry and cool, yet at the same time rich and smooth. This was a drydown in the grand old-fashioned style, seemingly composed of nearly every base note in the perfumer’s lexicon. Amazing. Amazingly beautiful. Women should indeed smell like this, I thought.

I have now worn No. 5 extrait de parfum from five different bottles, four vintage and one modern (thanks to Daisy and Belle de Sud, my swapper friends), and every one of these bottles is different, although clearly recognizable as No. 5. I’m sure that most of the differences can be attributable to age and storage conditions, but it’s so strange that the scents are now so divergent from each other. One has loads of aldehydes and a musky drydown; one has wonky topnotes that smell a bit of floor polish and a heart that seems heavy on rose; one is mostly jasmine, iris, and sandalwood, very powdery; one is the bottle I just described – glorious – and one is a modern bottle, which seems to be all there, in the proper proportions, and is crisply edged as a brand-new hundred-dollar bill.

What I like best about No. 5 is its versatility. It seems weightless and ageless; it is unaffected by weather or by events of the day. It could be worn as easily to a fried-chicken picnic as to a symphony concert, and as easily in winter as in summer. Then, too, it seems to smell of money and class: both expensive and beautiful. I even like the fact that it’s fairly ubiquitous among a certain age group, and nearly everyone has smelled it enough to identify it, therefore making it an ideal mask of sorts. If I feel the need to hide my vulnerable, emotional self behind a competent costume, No. 5 is perfect for that. I’m not saying it’s absolutely perfection, mind you, or even that it is the pinnacle of the perfumer’s art. But for what it is – cool, elegantly lovely, and aloof – it is wonderful.

And I’m struck again by the fact that my mother, who’s always preferred tailored to frilly, classic to trendy, plain to fancy, has great taste in scent. I still can’t smell No. 5, in whatever incarnation, without thinking of her. I always smile. For early scent memories, for hugs and kisses, for peanut butter and apple sandwiches, for not killing me outright after I walked nonchalantly across the top bar of the swingset, for homemade dresses and baths and haircuts, for teaching me manners and for the millions of things you’ve done for me… many thanks, Mom. I love you.

Listed notes for No. 5:
Top: aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, neroli, ylang-ylang
Heart: jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, iris
Base: vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, patchouli, oakmoss, musk


No.5 was composed in 1921 by Ernest Beaux, the fifth of nine options created for Coco Chanel to choose from.  It may be an apocryphal story, but M. Beaux commented that he was inspired by the smell of snow.  (Indeed, having been close to an actual glacier in New Zealand, I can understand the reference.) 

Images, from top to bottom: Chanel No. 5 parfum, from chanel.com
1973 Catherine Deneuve photo Chanel No. 5 pefume ad #2 by 237 at ebay
1959 Elegant Woman Chanel No. 5 perfume ad, from magicelectron at ebay
Mom at my sister’s wedding in 2002

For Christmas, Mom will be getting part of my favorite vintage bottle – I can’t bear to give it up entirely! – and perhaps a bottle of her own. (Sssh, don’t tell her.)

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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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Perfume Review: L’Arte di Gucci

L’Arte di Gucci is gorgeous, a lushly sensuous and rich-smelling rose chypre. It is bottled elegance, all cheekbones and red lipstick and swan neck, a sophisticate in a fitted suit, with naughty black satin-and-lace undies. Which is very much not my personal style – but I adore L’Arte nevertheless.

Or perhaps I love it the more for being what I’m not but would like to be. There’s very little room in my life for expensive naughty undies; I gave up fitted suits aaaages ago, before I got pregnant with the first of three children; I’ve never had a swan neck or long legs. I look horrified (and horrifying!) when I wear black, particularly the sort of slinky black thing that seems to just go with L’Arte di Gucci. Think evening gowns in black lace, hats with veils, stiletto heels, Singapore Slings and cigarettes in holders. Think Alexis Carrington, from Dynasty. Think everything that says Expensive and Haughty Heart-breaking Female Here; if you fall in love with her, it’s your own stupid fault for not resisting.

And let’s have a word about that bottle at this point, shall we? Can you say UGLY? Can you say Tacky, boys and girls? Somebody done hit it with the Ugly Stick, as we used to say when I was growing up. (We also said, “Ugly as homemade sin,” but clearly the word “homemade” has no discernible relation to the bottle of L’Arte, as tarted up as it is in black and gilt.) Holy cow, is that thing ever a bottleful of Boogie Nights! On the other hand, it is opaque black* glass – super for keeping the fragrance safe from exposure to light – and quite satisfyingly heavy, with a subtle curve not apparent from the photo. *I refer to the edp version; the edt has the same shape and hideous gold squiggle, but its glass is clear. This is my bottle:

L’Arte di Gucci was released in 1991 – but smells very retro to me, with the saucy backbone one expected of fragrance in the late seventies. If you have smelled Ungaro Diva, another Big Rose Chypre which was released in 1983, L’Arte di Gucci will smell familiar to you, although L’Arte seems more focused on the rose, more forceful, and less symphonic.

From Fragrantica.com, here are the notes for L’Arte di Gucci:
Top notes are aldehydes, coriander, fruity notes, green notes and bergamot.  Middle notes are mimosa, tuberose, orris root, jasmine, muguet, rose, geranium and narcissus.  Base notes are leather, amber, patchouli, musk, oakmoss and vetiver.

I do not smell much in the way of aldehydes here, but bergamot and green notes are prominent. The unspecified “fruity notes” undoubtedly include cassis bud, with its intense, shocking-pink tartness. I notice that spraying the scent makes the cassis – which can read as “cat pee” to some – far more noticeable and bitter, and I also typically smell a plasticky note when I spray that I do not notice when I decant and dab instead. I very much prefer to dab this one.  When I read the back of the bottle, and (ahem, attempt to) translate the French, I see that tagete (marigold) and cassis bud are both listed, but aldehydes and “green notes” are not.


The heart is nearly all rose-geranium, with the other florals very much in the background, simply adding some roundness. I do smell the cool iris here, and the deep haylike nuance of narcissus serves as a bridge into the drydown, rich with the bitter edge of moss and patchouli and sweet with amber and musk. I do not smell leather, nor much vetiver, but I do often smell a fuzzy, skinlike note that I believe to be the costus (listed on the bottle, not on fragrantica).  I like it.

Once the Joan Collins/Disco Era/Big Hair Glam effect of the opening is over, my general impression is that of a wildly overgrown garden, roses and thorns, exotic flowers and bizarre Gothic vines snaking about the cast-iron seating, with late afternoon sun shafting down through the clouds and creating an intense pink-and-green light and shadows effect. I’d say chiaroscuro, but in my mind at least, that refers to black, white, and graytone, and L’Arte is decidedly colorful.

L’Arte di Gucci was discontinued in 2007, probably done in by the one-two knockout punches of 1) the general taste tending toward the sweet and gourmand, and 2) the IFRA regulation of oakmoss. A sad situation. I’d hoard the bottle I have, but I love it too much. It can still be found, particularly in the edt version (which I have not smelled), on the odd online discounter, or at ebay. The 5ml bottles of edp seem readily available at ebay, however, at the time of writing. Try to pick one up if you can.

Top image is of Joan Collins as the superbly nasty Alexis Carrington, from flickr. Second image is of Bianca Todd, a photographic portrait made by Peter A Juley & Son, from Smithsonian Institution at flickr. (Ms. Todd was a painter in the 1880’s; I’ve never seen her work but I’d like to. She certainly looks as though she was really having fun, and not simply showing off her opera costume. I’ll bet she was a fireball.) Third image is from the author’s collection. Fourth image is Hottest Pink Rose by julev69 at flickr.

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