No Perfume Ennui Here… Not Yet, Anyway

I’ve been reading with interest the posts and commentary at Perfume Posse over the last couple of days: “Taking My Sweet Time” and “Serge Is Not Your B*tch.” March and Patty are true perfumistas, fun and engaging to read, and I try not to miss their blog. (I enjoy reading Lee, Nava, Musette, and other posters there too, but March wrote the first post I’ve listed, and Patty the second. (Link here: http://www.perfumeposse.com/.)
The thrust of these articles is that sometimes, perfume critics/lovers get bored, either with the dreck currently being produced for the mass market, and/or with having to wear and review new things and therefore missing out on the scents they love. Or, with wearing a favorite scent but having to be very cerebral about it and thinking all the time about how one might write a fresh review – spending more time in one’s head than in one’s nerve endings.
Which I can understand, very easily. I like to cook, but some days it’s a struggle to get something edible and nutritious on the table… the only reason I do it is Because I’m the Mom. Because I Have To. And this blog is fun, really fun, but that may be because it’s not my job! I love to write, but I don’t have to do it, so it’s like a vacation.
And I love to sniff perfume, but it’s also true that I don’t have to do that. I’d be sniffing new things anyway, just for me – and since I’m pretty new to this perfume thing, everything smells new to me, whether it’s Lucien LeLong Indiscret (1950’s), Yves Saint Laurent Paris (1980’s), or that new Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles (this month!)… It’s the first time that “behind and needing to catch up” has any sort of benefit for me. And I haven’t smelled a lot of dreck, either, although I have smelled a whooooole lot of “Nice, but not thrillin’ me.” Setting out to smell “the classics” really sorts out the dreck automatically. If some 1950’s aldehydic floral or other didn’t stick around for a decade, it was probably dreck, and therefore would not even hit my radar screen, unlike a lot of the fruity floral calone fresh berry melon patchouli blah that seems to bore so many perfume writers (and who can blame them?).
A quote from a favorite book of mine, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt:

“Well, it’s nine-thirty A.M., said Joe, “and I ain’t bored yet.”
Joe goes on to describe his morning, describing the busload of tourists scheduled to stop by for a tour of his Savannah house and have lunch, the hairdresser friend working in the kitchen, and the naked couple he found in his bed when he woke up.
“Anyhow,” he went on, “my two newest naked friends got dressed. The boy had tattooes on his arms… at this very moment, both he and the girl are in the kitchen helping make shrimp salad for forty polka dancers. Jerry’s in there too, cutting Mandy’s hair, and that’s why I say I ain’t bored yet.”

And I ain’t bored yet either – there’s too much going on. So. There you have my two cents’ worth (I take checks, if you’re wondering) on the matter. Bear in mind that I am still new to perfume interest and new to blogging, and who knows? In five years I may be so sick of perfume that I’ll choose to live the rest of my life with only a bottle of vintage Emeraude for sustenance. But I don’t think so. We’re fresh out of ennui here. If you’re all stocked up, you have my sympathy.


Go pick up Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil at your local library, if you haven’t read it yet, by the way. It’s a fascinating read – an unusual beast of a nonfiction book that reads like a novel, based on the time that the author spent in Savannah, GA in the early 1980’s and focusing on a murder trial that took place during that time.

There also exists a movie based on the book, by the way, in case you haven’t seen it either. I have seen it, and although I do luuuuuv me some John Cusack, I wasn’t impressed. “Midnight” is the kind of book that loses a great deal in adaptation for film, since so much of the book consists of the author’s commentary (or – equally striking – lack of commentary) on the eccentric people inhabiting Savannah, and the bizarre set of events he reports. Cusack does a great job, as usual, with his detached, ironic mien, but odd characters always seem less odd on the screen than they do on the page. I found myself not caring much about the drag queens, disturbed scientists, freeloading musicians, and rich antique dealers running around the set, although I found them rather compelling within the book covers.

Well, it’s Friday afternoon, and I’m about to enjoy another utterly thrilling wet and chilly weekend, jam-packed with housecleaning, laundry, and cooking… but I’ll be wearing Mauboussin and rereading “Midnight” at bedtime. My thanks to Bergere for the Mauboussin!

Top image: “Ennui” by Walter Sickert, at unframedart.com. (Note: Walter Sickert [1860-1942] was a painter of German-English extraction, who was a student of James Whistler and friend of Edgar Degas, and whose Impressionist paintings are sombre and often brooding. This is one of Sickert’s paintings that helped to convince Patricia Cornwell, acclaimed murder-novel author and fellow Virginian, that Sickert was Jack the Ripper. If you’re not easily terrified by suspense, pick up “Portrait of a Killer/Jack the Ripper: Case Closed.” That one scared me for months. I won’t comment on her conclusions, which are derided by many Ripperologists, but her research was extensive.)
Lower image: Jacket art for “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” photo of Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, by Jack Leigh, at amazon.com.

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Knocked Flat on My Sittin’-Place

Very brief post today, ya’ll. Yesterday I tested Sonoma Scent Studio’s Tabac Aurea, and was absolutely knocked flat by my emotional reaction to it. I’d like to review this gorgeous thing, but I’m not sure I can be objective at all. You see, Tabac Aurea smells just like an old boyfriend of mine. I spent all yesterday in a tailspin, and I can’t manage to be coherent about the scent.

Here’s perfumer Laurie Erickson’s description, from the SSS website:
Tabac Aurea has an enticing golden amber drydown and a pipe tobacco note that is gentle enough to be enjoyed by women as well as men. It’s smooth and softly gourmand, with notes of amber, woods, spices, tobacco, leather, tonka, labdanum, patchouli, and vanilla. The amber accord combines earthy, dry notes with some sweet notes and subtle fruity notes to create a beautiful, woodsy, golden aura.

Just for the record, I am happily married (to someone else). I don’t miss this guy; I don’t want him back; I haven’t seen him for twenty+ years and I’m not about to go looking for him. But he smelled amazing – and it was just his natural smell, he never wore cologne.

I burned through my sample already, and I neeeeeed some Tabac Aurea, smelling as it does of autumn and nostalgia. If my heart stops turning over, and I can manage some objectivity at some point in the future, I’ll review it. In the meantime, though, just go visit the SSS website and order a sample: http://www.sonomascentstudio.com/FragranceShop.shtml

Thanks to dear Daisy for the sample.

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Marching Band Got Me Again…

It’s fall. You know how I know? Well, the air is getting crisp; leaves on the maples are turning red and yellow; we have fall calves in the field behind the house; my husband – who, for blogging purposes, I call The CEO – is deeeeeeep into college football. And the biggie: marching band season has started.

My daughter – she needs a nom de blog – is a 9th grader this year. She’s playing alto sax in the marching band, and she loves it. Just loves it, and she’s terrific at it. I’m so proud. What’s really fun about that, of course, is that I get to go to all the competitions and cheer on her band.

And relive my high school experience, too. See, I was in the marching band. I didn’t play an instrument; I was a stalwart member of the choir, and there just wasn’t any way to do both. So I took choir class and marched with the drill squad – the best of both worlds, in my opinion. I got to go to regional, state, and honors choir, and I got to eat lunch daily with the rest of the band geeks!

Recently, some friends posted some pictures of our high school band on Facebook. (Isn’t Facebook great? Fun to see where your friends have wound up and what their lives are like now.) Here’s one of the band the year before I joined it (I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a credit for this photo, except to note that it was an “official” one taken at the VA state marching band competition, West division, held at our high school in 1982. I’ll be happy to add a credit and/or purchase rights if anyone recognizes it.)

Yes, that’s right, your eyes work fine… our colors are orange and maroon. The band uniforms themselves have changed over the years. After I graduated, they moved to white military-style uniforms with lots of orange trim, gold braid, and brass buttons. Ick. Saw the current band yesterday at a competition, and their uniforms are mostly black, which I can’t get used to, with white, orange, and maroon accents. They’re sharp. I’m not in this photo, but I look it over and see so many friends… thanks for the memories, guys. Who are you? BYRD!

Nobody else – and maybe this is a good thing – had anything like our big orange plywood letters. They were great for parades, fun for football games, but difficult to choreograph for competitions. No judge ever knew what to do about our letter squad, except to treat us as a drill squad, and of course we never scored very high. I loved being “a letter,” and hangin’ with the girls. Jackie, Angela, Betty Jo, Stephanie, Nita, Dawn, Laura, and especially Angie, Carlynn and Trudy – you rock. I miss you. 

Here’s another photo, taken at a football game in October 1984 by Angie’s dad. The uniforms have changed – hey, how about those yarn tassels on our boots? Quality items right there! – but there we are, with our big orange letters in all their funky, hard-to-wield glory. (I’m the one carrying the R.) And you can’t see the scoreboard, but I’d be willing to bet we were losing the football game.

Ah, I miss those days. I didn’t realize until yesterday how much I missed cadence… here’s a youtube video, about 2 minutes long, of a really fun high school drumline cadence. (Questions for percussionists: when your high school band director issues you a school-owned percussion instrument, does the Drumline ‘Tude come standard with it? Do you have to pass a test on the proper method of crossing your arms percussion-section style before band camp? I just wondered.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOPq92zoCsA&feature=response_watch

Yep, ol’ Mals has got Band Geek Syndrome again. And she’s got it baaaaad.

The top image is from the website devoted to my daughter’s band. For safety reasons, I’m not identifying it, but will be happy to provide a link; just email me. Thanks to Rick Lawhorn, Trumpet Extraordinaire, for posting the second image. And thanks to Angie Chaszar for the photo of the Letter Girls. You sparkle, girl.

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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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Rose Chypre, the Womanly Scent

The first chypre I ever met was, of course, the masterpiece Mitsouko.
She didn’t like me.
And, to be honest, I don’t like her. Oh, I tried. I tried edt and edp (I gave up on finding the parfum version, since a .5ml sample at The Perfumed Court is, what, $14? anyway, too pricey for something I’m not ever gonna love). I tried it in different weathers and different moods… no dice. And I tried other chypres, too, green ones like Jacomo Silences and Niki de Saint Phalle. Shall we just say, not good?! I think I’ll leave it there, with the words EPIC FAIL ringing in the silence.

So while I was complaining busily that there was absolutely nothing shameful in smelling girly in rose-violet and powder, or voluptuous in big white florals – while I snarked that I hated chypres, I found them too demanding, too evil-tempered, too nasty, too witchy… the rose chypres were stalking me from my blind side.
As practically everyone with half an eye on the perfume world knows, the classic chypre accord is a tripod of bergamot, oakmoss, and amber (from labdanum/cistus/rockrose). It is aromatic, bitter, and bracing; it smells of the Wild World; it feels sharp and dangerous. The addition of floral notes to the chypre accord softens this uncompromising sharpness, teaching it manners and softness. Rose seems to have a special affinity for chypres, creating a feminine strength, a beautiful power, out of what was once something of a bully.
Rose chypres seem, to me, to be the way a woman – a strong, secure, beautiful woman – should smell. She should be confident; she should not be naive; she should wear whatever she wants, whether that means red lipstick with her rubber barn boots, or ripped jeans and a girly white lace blouse. She should be curious and creative and willing to take care of herself as well as the other people in her life. And she should smell of both her soft side and her independent side, as rose chypres do.

Here is an incomplete list of rose chypres (actually, some are floral chypres with a strong rose component, one is a woody chypre with rose, and at least one has an added oriental facet)

  • L’Arte di Gucci
  • Parfum d’Empire Eau Suave
  • Ungaro Diva
  • Ralph Lauren Safari
  • Estee Lauder Knowing
  • Tauer Une Rose Chypree (Floral chypre oriental)
  • Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit
  • Parfums de Rosine Une Folie de Rose
  • Frederic Malle Une Rose
  • Montana Parfum de Peau
  • L’Artisan Voleur de Roses
  • By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses
  • Agent Provocateur
  • Agent Provocateur DD Diamond Dust, a limited edition
  • Jean Couturier Coriandre
  • Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum
  • Lancome Magie Noire (Woody chypre, with rose-floral heart)
  • Deneuve (Floral chypre)
  • Victoria’s Secret Victoria (Floral chypre)
  • Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance
  • Gres Cabaret (Floral woody chypre)
  • Sisley Soir de Lune
  • Sinan Lune
  • Teo Cabanel Oha
  • YSL Rive Gauche (Aldehydic floral chypre)
  • Perles de Lalique
  • Olympic Orchids Ballets Rouges
  • Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire
  • Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady
  • Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Chypree
  • DSH Rose Vert

The scents in red I’ve tested. The ones in bold are favorites. The ones in purple I tested and disliked, for one reason or another (Knowing was gorgeous for two hours before deteriorating into the Lauder base that so nauseates me on my skin; Paloma was so fierce she nearly scared me to death). Obviously, I haven’t tried all of these, but I will for darn sure attempt it! Look for more reviews here as time passes. There is a brief review of Victoria under my post on Vintage Perfumes; it is more floral than chypre, with rose and other floral notes as the focus.

Unfortunately, the rose chypre seems to be a style of the past, particularly of the 1970’s – a decade with which I have very little affinity, but which seemed to smell great. Rose chypres can be quite sophisticated, and that’s not fashionable these days, with everyone wanting to smell of cotton candy and fruit… but I digress. Rose for femininity, chypre for backbone: what’s not to love?
Images: A Late Given Rose by kuzeytac at flickr; Mossy Forest Floor by lonejeeper at flickr; Rose d’Anjou II by Ira Tsantekidou.

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Perfume Review: Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, Or, Healing in a Bottle

Serge Lutens’ La Myrrhe was one of the handful of fragrances given five stars in the book Perfumes: The Guide (Turin/Sanchez), so I decided to wangle a sample of it from The Perfumed Court and at least give it a sniff.

Frequently I am perplexed by the scents that Turin and Sanchez rate as outstanding. There are several Estee Lauder fragrances that received five stars, and I don’t like any of them. I don’t like them, as in, “If you’re TRYING to kill me, go ahead and put Beyond Paradise on my skin!” There seems to be a common base to the Lauder scents – Lauderade? – as there is to many of the classic Guerlains and Carons, and to Ormonde Jayne and Tauer perfumes, and the Lauder base absolutely nauseates me. More on P:TG and the Lauder scents in another post, but I will point out that often Turin and Sanchez are absolutely on the money with their ratings. This is such a case, in my opinion.

La Myrrhe is, to put it plainly, beautiful. It seems rather simple to me in terms of structure: aldehydes, mandarin, anise, and myrrh. That’s all, although the list of notes is considerably longer. But simplicity and quality materials can add up to pure gorgeousness, when all the pieces dovetail. And they do dovetail here, at the crossroads where the clean klieg lights of aldehydes, the angularity of anise, and the medicinal spiciness of myrrh overlap, a Venn diagram of weird loveliness. The fragrance seems all of a piece, cool and smooth as a worry stone, and I found myself at peace when wearing it.

Victoria, of Bois de Jasmin, has a lovely review of La Myrrhe here: http://boisdejasmin.typepad.com/_/2005/11/fragrance_revie_18.html

I agree with much of her analysis, including her observation that La Myrrhe may be difficult to wear. I certainly would not reach for it often. However, there is a very specific, very personal reason for me to love it, and that’s why the subtitle of this post is “Healing in a Bottle.” What La Myrrhe reminds me most of is that homely, sticky yellow stuff that came in the green-and white tin: Porter’s Liniment Salve.


I have a mostly-full 2-ounce tin in my bathroom cabinet – it’s twelve years old, minimum, and seems not to lose any efficacy with age, at least going by results. This magic stuff predates antibiotic ointment (the formula was patented in 1912), and, in my experience as an active child and as the mother of active children, actually works better. Listen to what’s in this stuff: “Chlorobutanol, cresylic acid, zinc oxide, camphor, ammonia and oils of cajeput, clove, sassafras and myrrh in a base of petrolatum, beeswax and lanolin.” Cajeput is tea tree, or melaleuca, oil, which is antiseptic and analgesic; cresylic acid is synthesized from coal tar, chemically related to creosote, with antifungal action; chlorobutanol sounds nasty but is a mild anesthetic with antifungal and antibacterial properties. Caution: the salve is rather greasy – it sticks to skin well, without stinging – and can stain clothing yellow.

I repeat the list of odorous ingredients: camphor, creosote, ammonia, cajeput, clove, sassafras, myrrh, beeswax and lanolin. These are not exactly quiet smells. They proclaim loudly that they are about their medicinal business, fighting the good fight against bacteria and disease.

The combination was one of the most distinctive smells of my childhood – and one frequently smelled, too. (I fell down a lot.) Mom often anointed me with Porter’s, topping it with a Band-Aid and a kiss before proclaiming me Good As New. Smelling Porter’s makes me feel loved, tended, and healed, a deeply emotional experience.

I may therefore be one of the few people in the world who can actually enjoy wearing La Myrrhe. Commenters at other perfume blogs and forums often point out that it is a cold fragrance, with no warm amber or fuzzy fruit to set off its marbled perfection, that to many of them it smells painfully medicinal, and also that it seems more an artistic exercise than a full, rounded perfume with its own story. They may be right. But to me, La Myrrhe has such a striking resemblance to the “good parts” of Porter’s Liniment Salve that I begin to think I need a decant, for days when I feel bruised and scraped by the world, and in need of a mother’s kiss.
Notes for La Myrrhe: aldehydes, mandarin, myrrh, lotus, anise, bitter almond, sandalwood, honey, jasmine, amber, musk, various spices, pimento (Yes, it does actually contain amber, but it is a rather dry type as opposed to a sweet, warm type.)

Photo of myrrh from flickr, some rights reserved; photo of Porter’s Liniment Salve from lehmans.com.

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Perfume Review: Balenciaga Michelle, Or, I Begin to Understand Loud Perfume

Today’s review: Michelle by Balenciaga. Created in 1979 and discontinued some time in the 90’s, so far as I can tell, this oomphy floral carries some of the weight of 80’s-era perfumery, when everything was BIG and LOUD. Remember Opium? Poison? Obsession? YSL Paris? Giorgio Beverly Hills? If you don’t, you probably weren’t born yet. (Although I admit that I never smelled Paris until a few months ago, or at least I don’t remember smelling it before. It must simply not have been popular where I live.)

This is, by and large, a Tuberose Fragrance – not exactly the straight-down-the-gullet tuberose overdose that Fracas does so gloriously, or the richly sweet Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia version, but the tuberose does dominate it, and it is rather effusive in the classic tuberose manner.

Here is where I confess a thing or three:
1) I love tuberose. I used to wear tiny dabs of the original Chloe; I never minded the clouds of Giorgio Beverly Hills that ballooned through the halls of my high school; I used to swoon with jealousy whenever a friend of mine, who wore Sand and Sable, walked by; I adored the original tuberose-and-spice Tatiana perfume; after years of scrimping on perfume and using one bottle at a time of drugstore fragrance, it was Bath and Body Works’ Velvet Tuberose that propelled me headlong into Perfume Love.

2) My mother despises tuberose. I bought a small bottle of Sand and Sable once, after a judicious spritz from the drugstore tester, and my mother made me take it back, claiming that I wasn’t old enough for it (I was 17) and that she didn’t want it in the house anyway. Mom – and by the way, we get along very well! – is queen of powdery florals. She wore No. 5 eau de cologne, Anais Anais, and Coty’s soap-and-baby-powdery L’Effleur.

3) I despise huge, resiny orientals like Opium and Tabu and Youth Dew. Gah. If I were ever to be tortured by SPECTRE or some other nefarious crime ring, there’d be no need for the Chinese water torture or sticking bamboo needles under my fingernails: put me in a small room with a person doused in Opium, and I’ll be begging for release within minutes. Just shoot me now, please! And since those huge, resiny orientals all seem to be Big, Loud Perfumes, with monster sillage, it follows that I hate loud perfumes. I honestly thought that Poison, although not resiny, was one of the worst things I have ever smelled.

It has always seemed crude and socially irresponsible to me that some people seem to bathe in their scent, radiating their favorite smell around them the way Pigpen, in the Peanuts comic strips, raised a cloud of dust everywhere he went. Sure, wear what you want – it’s a free country! – but I resent having someone else’s scent forcibly shoved up my nostrils. Particularly when that scent is as noxious to me as one of the Big, Loud Ones. And doesn’t it seem to happen that the people who are drawn to those SMELL ME! scents are usually the same ones who overapply? I mean, I’ve never smelled someone who seemed to have bathed in, say, Borsari Violetta di Parma, a scent so quiet on me that it utterly disappeared within five minutes.

(I apologize right now to you if you are one of those people who wear Youth Dew or Opium or Coco, or their ilk, in tiny amounts designed to keep the sillage within a two-foot radius of your person. There aren’t a large number of you delicate Poison-appliers.)

Opium is the reason I feel this way, obviously, and just as obviously, there’s a story: It is 1980. I am twelve years old, and I have been saving my piggy-bank money to go see the summer’s blockbuster movie, The Empire Strikes Back. I’ll be in the company of some friends, and Kelley’s mom will drop us off at the Tanglewood Mall Theater and then pick us up afterward. I’m so excited. I’ve only got enough cash for the movie, but Kelley and Beth get buttered popcorn and sodas. As we’re standing there choosing seats in the nearly-full theater, and Kelley’s offering me a sip of her Dr. Pepper out of the “spare straw,” we get a faint whiff of perfume. It disappears. We sit down; the theater is filling up rapidly. Just before the movie starts, an older woman with husband in tow sits down next to me, in the last unclaimed seats. She has bathed in Opium. It rolls off her in waves. My stomach turns over. I trade seats with Beth, but I can still smell Opium Lady, in nauseating detail. Halfway through the movie, I have a pounding headache and a roiling stomach; I have to spend most of the rest of the time sitting on the lobby carpet, breathing deeply and trying not to cry over missing the movie.

You see? Do you SEE why I hate loud perfume?

Sorry for shouting. Loud perfume gets me exercised… which brings me back to Michelle. Yes, my rant notwithstanding, this is actually a perfume review.

I bought a small bottle, for less than $7!!! on ebay, of vintage parfum spray recently. (Parfum spray! Drastically luxuriant!) I had liked both Rumba and Le Dix from the house of Balenciaga, and for seven bucks, I thought it would be worth trying Michelle. Then I read a review (see the bottom of this post) of Michelle that mentioned its “ginormous heart of tuberose and rose,” and I was hitting the “Bid now” button faster than you can say, “Ginormous tuberose.”

I wasn’t too worried about the “bug spray accord” Michelle is reputed to have in its top notes. I’ve tested enough vintage perfume by now to ignore the first five minutes, which frequently contains less-than-pleasant “bug-spray”-like notes, which I had assumed to be stale aldehydes. In any case, the aldehydes are gone quickly, and there is a hint of watery, tropical coconut-and-flowers that says “Hawaii” to me. And then we’re down into the heart of Michelle, which is a glorious tuberose-and-carnation party. There seem to be other florals swirling around the walls at this party – the rose is lovely, the ylang and orchid creamy – but the tuberose and carnation are doing the samba in the middle of the room, with the music turned up LOUD. I mean, LOUD. I applied the perfume about twenty minutes before getting into my minivan to drive the kids to school, and the whole vehicle smelled of it by the time I dropped them off, fifteen minutes after leaving home. I radiated tuberose for hours! If Michelle reminds me of any other perfume, it is Diane Von Furstenberg’s rich tuberose-and-spice Tatiana, which I wore in my late teens. However, Michelle seems more complex and has a lovely drydown of some depth, which Tatiana lacks. The base has an interesting twirl of moss, vanilla, and sandalwood, but compared to the three hours’ worth of tuberose, it is very quiet. The tuberose seems to persist through the drydown, trailing loveliness whenever I move.

And here is my revelation: People wear loud perfume because they love it, and they don’t care what anybody else thinks. (If you’re thinking, Well, DUH!, I wonder how many people you’ve smothered in your past.) I just did not give a flip that some people hate tuberose, because I was swooning in its voluptuous embrace, and it was beautiful. Sometimes you just have to make yourself happy. But I’ll play nice, and not wear Michelle to the theater.

Notes for Balenciaga Michelle (from Perfume Shrine):
Top: Aldehydes, gardenia, green notes, coconut, peach
Heart: Carnation, tuberose, iris, orchid, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose
Base: Sandalwood, oakmoss, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver

Helg at Perfume Shrine has a much more rational review of Michelle here: http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/2009/09/balenciaga-michelle-fragrance-review.html. Thanks to her for pushing me into buying this unsniffed.

photos from flickr, some rights reserved
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Vintage perfumes

Confession: I troll ebay. Unlike some of my favorite swap-partners, I haven’t become buddies with the lovely Naz at Canada’s The Perfume Shoppe, I haven’t maxed out the credit cards at luckyscent.com, I haven’t asked relatives making a trip to Paris to bring me Serge Lutens bell jars from the non-export line, and I don’t have the Washington, DC Chanel boutique’s phone number on speed dial… (you know who you are!) No, me, I’m an ebay shark… I have a constant search going for “Vintage perfume,” and – not to toot my own horn – have snagged some real, rare bargains over the summer.

I like used bottles. I don’t mind if someone has opened the bottle and used the juice inside; I don’t care if the seller picked up a battered bottle at a thrift store or estate sale, or made a lucky discovery of Aunt Sadie’s Stash of Vintage and Discontinued Perfumes. I don’t care, particularly, if a scent is no longer in production and cannot ever be replaced with a backup bottle. I find that vintage perfumes have a presence. They open doors into a magic past, in which I can be that Film Noir Dame, or that Perfect Lady in Chanel, or that red-lipsticked Femme Fatale, or even my younger self…

Some of them I love. For example, I might sell my soul for some vintage, perfectly-kept, Emeraude parfum. In fact, if I had to downsize my perfume collection to one scent (the thought hurts my head!), it would be vintage Emeraude. And I have two bottles of vintage Chanel No. 5 parfum, one more beautiful than the other, that make it easy to see why it’s sold so well over the years: this stuff is stunning. And I have a teeny-tiny bottle of Jolie Madame parfum that is so gorgeous that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Some of the vintage scents are interesting, but not really to my taste. Balenciaga Le Dix was much like Chanel No. 19 in feel, if not in actual smell – cool and businesslike, but lacking the boot-stomping oomph that makes me love No. 19. Patou Adieu Sagesse was pretty for an hour, with a fresh carnation that made me smile, followed by a fast fadeout. Lucien LeLong Indiscret was a richly peach-citrus floral that felt like Real Perfume – and then it degenerated into a Youth Dew mess (as you can guess, I’m not a fan of the big resiny orientals; more on that tomorrow.) Coty L’Origan parfum was, yes, a near twin of Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, but without the angel’s wings that lifts L’HB into the air. Vintage Arpege is so rich that wearing it feels like eating way too much dinner.

And some of these vintage scents are just awful! I cannot always tell whether the scent has suffered from age or problematic storage, or whether my tastes are sufficiently modern that I find these scents unattractive. Or, of course, whether I Just Don’t Like Them, which happens with even well-received modern niche scents like L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer (Pine-Sol shaving cream!) or Iris Pallida (sweaty old man wearing faded cologne). Lanvin Via was a big ol’ chunk of galbanum that never eased into the promised florals; so was Estee Lauder Private Collection parfum. Caron Infini confirmed for me that I must really dislike lactones.

Then, too, I’ve gone through the looking glass, searching for perfumes from my own scented past. Sometimes I think to myself, Wonder what the original Chloe, or Aspen for Women, would smell like to me now? or Sure wish I could remember what the original Victoria by Victoria’s Secret smelled like, and I really wish I’d had the money to buy some way back when. Or, Boy, I really loved Emeraude and Tatiana back in the day; I’d love to wear them again. And then off I go to ebay, fishing in somebody else’s closet for a piece of my past. These are the difficult ones to open and smell again. Am I the same person? Clearly not. My nose knows somewhat better than it used to know, and I’m older/presumably wiser/different.

WINNERS IN THE RECAPTURING-MY-PAST CATEGORY:

My 70’s-era Coty Emeraude Parfum de Toilette is, unquestionably, Queen of the Drugstore Perfumes. It smells better than I remember, and I love it more than I ever did as a teenager in the 80’s.

I had some Diane Von Furstenburg Tatiana eau de toilette in the late 80’s – which I remember as being the scent that my mother, the White Floral Hater and wearer of No. 5, thought was the worst thing ever; that 70’s bottle of parfum is beautifully spicy tuberose, and brought back memories of college.

I also own an early-90’s bottle of Victoria’s Secret Victoria – fairly easy to find on ebay, and usually cheap, because Victoria’s Secret’s marketing department was dumb enough not to put any sort of identifying label on that pretty glass laydown bottle, making it difficult to identify by people who don’t remember what it looked like. Luckily (for me!), the bottle is distinctive by shape and by the deep periwinkle-blue cap. Anyway, the top notes have suffered greatly, and it doesn’t seem to be just my own bottle – I have two other friends with bottles of this truly lovely chypre floral, and they both say the top notes are frightening, with various hints of Hairspray, Pool Chlorine, and Maple Syrup! However, patience is rewarded – ladies* used to smell like this airy concoction. Official notes are impossible to find (trust me, I’ve searched), but I can definitely discern rose, violet, a hint of muguet, a wisp of tuberose, and possibly peony, followed by a lovely drydown of what seems to be sandalwood, vetiver, gentle oakmoss, and a cool, dry amber.
* We won’t even discuss the enormous changes in Victoria’s Secret’s inventory and attitude since I first became aware of the brand, mid-1980’s, except to say that the idea of “pretty lingerie for women who want to feel feminine” seems to have been usurped by the idea of “garish undies for teenagers who want to show off said undies.” Enough said.

My most recent vintage find? Balenciaga’s Michelle. Created in 1979 and discontinued some time in the 90’s, it was sold in parfum and in EdT. A review should be posted tomorrow – because testing it caused a seismic shift in my attitude toward perfume.
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Back in the Saddle

Or the desk chair. Yes, summer is over and school has started. (Yippee!) I’m shaking small people awake every weekday morning now, packing lunchboxes full of nutritious goodies like applesauce cups and peanut-butter sandwiches, and ferrying my children to school on my way to work. And my husband has gone back to his school-year job, teaching agriculture at the university down the road; he’ll be farming on weekends until next summer.

The house is empty in the afternoons after I come home from my part-time job, and there is time to write! Now I’ve only to go collect up the notes I made regarding perfume testing over the summer, which ought to be no help really, because my usual meticulous notes degenerated into 10-word descriptions. Oh, heck, I’ll just start over with the reviewing!

I hope to be back on a three-to-four posts a week basis as of now. Well, it’s Thursday, and we’ve got a family trip planned for the weekend, so if I get a review finished I’ll post tomorrow and that will hit the average – for this week, anyway.

While testing a vintage perfume today, I had a revelation. Those of you who know me know that I don’t like to wear my perfume so thickly that I can be smelled from ten feet away. I’m a delicate applier, and only people close enough to hug me are the ones to smell my perfume. In the past I have ranted about those who love loud perfumes and apply them heavily, forcing others to share their chosen scent to a degree that verges on invasion. But today – ah, today… I began to understand those people. At least to a degree…

Back tomorrow with a review of Balenciaga’s lovely, discontinued early-80’s Michelle.

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Why perfume?

I’ve been asked that question several times by my husband, usually in a borderline-suspicious tone of voice: “Why are you so interested in perfume all of a sudden?” I’ll have a shot at explaining, because it is a relatively new interest of mine.

A bit of history: I always liked perfume. As a child, I was abetted by my grandmother, who was fascinated with Avon and their quirky fragrance packaging. (At left, Willie the Worm Solid Perfume Compact, ca. 1974. Bambaw bought this one for me. I don’t remember how it smelled.) Growing up, I wore Avon’s Sweet Honesty, which I seem to remember being packaged in a Rapunzel’s Tower roll-on bottle. As a young teenager, I was given bottles of Cachet and Chloe, which I wore but never loved. Later on, I fell in love with Coty’s Emeraude and used up a bottle of eau de cologne. As years passed, I wore Tatiana, Aspen for Women, Navy, Xia Xiang, and The Healing Garden In Bloom. My husband bought me Elizabeth Arden True Love, and when that bottle began to smell spoiled, I bought the bright floral Victoria’s Secret Pink.
My fragrance choices were nearly always drugstore scents – because I believed that perfume should not be expensive. And if it was expensive, I didn’t need it. I laughed at the L’Oreal haircolor commercial that stated, “I’m worth it.” After all, perfume was a luxury item. Totally unnecessary. I could live with the cheap scents. Mom had always made do with her birthday-present Chanel No. 5 eau de cologne, or Anais Anais, or Coty L’Effleur. I didn’t need the designer stuff.
I was slightly envious of my sister’s perfumes: Christian Dior Dune. Chanel Coco Mademoiselle. Although they didn’t seem like me, they were clearly classier than anything I’d ever worn.
And then came Velvet Tuberose. I was in Bath and Body Works late last summer, picking up some Aromatherapy Lavender and Vanilla lotion for the aforementioned sister’s birthday, and I was wandering around sniffing things. I picked up Chocolate Amber – bleah. I sniffed Black Amethyst – not me. I picked up Velvet Tuberose and sniffed. Sniffed again. And in a daze, I carried that bottle of Velvet Tuberose ($17, on sale) up to the register to buy it, only remembering the Lavender and Vanilla when it was time to pull out my wallet.
I wore it all autumn, and it garnered compliments as well as making me feel wonderful. But I thought, you know, this is not going to be good for summer. There must be more than BBW and drugstore fragrances. There must be something out there that I will just love…
Futzing around on the ‘net, I found perfume review sites like Now Smell This (http://www.nstperfume.com/) and Perfume Smellin’ Things (http://perfumesmellinthings.blogspot.com/) and Perfume Posse (http://perfumeposse.com/). And a whole new world opened up… I wear perfume for myself. I like the way I feel when I wear it. I might occasionally wear something my husband likes, just because he likes it – but mostly it’s all about me.
I like the way perfume changes the way I think: it brings up memories, or suggests new ideas, or invites comparisons to music, to images, to stories and novels and poems. It opens up windows in my head. Wearing it is no longer an automatic “wear pantyhose, put on perfume” act, or an attempt to attract masculine attention (actually, it never was that for me). It’s become a form of art that I appreciate more and more each day.
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Perfume Review: Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka

I’m jumping into perfume reviews with a favorite: Vanille Tonka. I read the notes for this one on a perfume blog: lime, mandarin, cinnamon, carnation, vanilla, tonka bean, and frankincense – and immediately went looking for a sample. It’s rare that I guess correctly whether or not I’m going to like a fragrance, just considering the listed notes, but guess what? I was right. That doesn’t happen often enough in general, so just the fact that I was right (once!) is cause for celebration.

The other cause for celebration is that this thing makes me giddy. Every time I spray it, I get happy. It seems perfect for chilly weather. I haven’t worn it in warm weather yet, and I’m not sure I’m going to, but the happiness factor guarantees that I’ll at least try it once. It starts out with a burst of tangy lime, and a hit of cinnamon oil. Remember those cinnamon-oil toothpicks the boys used to bring to middle school and pass around, before school authorities figured out how dangerous each and every thing brought onto school grounds can be? Those toothpicks smelled great, and if you chewed on one, it burned your tongue and cleared your sinuses. The cinnamon in Vanille Tonka isn’t quite that strong, but it’s not very foody. Likewise, the vanilla is not your average sweet marshmallow/custard/ice cream vanilla; it’s smoky and restrained. The carnation is present, only vaguely floral, underneath the vanilla and tonka base, and the whole thing is covered in a veil of frankincense, with its dry, lime-y, smoky depth.

VT is not universally loved – March over at Perfume Posse said she’d rather stick a fork in her hand than ever smell it again, and Luca Turin, in Perfumes: The Guide, calls it dull next to Patricia de Nicolai’s first perfume, Number One. (I’ll comment that VT reminds me more of Sacrebleu than it does Number One, which has a vaguely chypre-ish groove.) But it does have its fans: Robin at Now Smell This, despite not being a vanilla fan, calls it “lovely,” and Victoria at Bois de Jasmin comments that it is “sophisticated” and “comforting.”

For me, though, Vanille Tonka is all about lime and vanilla, and I always get this mental picture: tipsy limes staggering around, dancing through the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick forest, laughing their heads off every time they bounce into a giant carnation. Sophisticated? Well, maybe next to a vanilla fragrance like Jessica Simpson’s Fancy. When I wear Vanille Tonka, it’s because I want a little fun.

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