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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Life, the Universe, and Babies.

No perfume review today, as I’m anxiously awaiting a call from my brother, announcing the safe arrival of his firstborn.  Today also happens to be the birthday of my youngest child, whose nom de blog will henceforth be Taz, for obvious reasons.  (I considered, and then rejected, Genghis as being a tad too bloodthirsty for this affectionate whirlwind.)  His older brother – whom I’ll be calling Gaze – is a little disappointed that this cousin won’t be arriving on his birthday next week, as we’d been told was a possibility. Their older sister, Bookworm, is torn between wishing for a girl cousin and wanting to be the only granddaughter on that side of the family.

Therefore, of course, as a mother I’ve been dwelling on the miracle of a new baby. (I’m aiming for philosophical rather than sentimental here, but please forgive me if I roll all the way down the hill.)  I don’t mean the miracle of reproduction; every plant, animal, and insect on the planet is set up to make copies of themselves.  And I don’t really mean the miracle of birth, that most of the mammal babies on the planet manage to extricate themselves from the birth canal without damage to themselves or to their mothers.  You see it on Animal Planet all the time (especially if Taz has control of the remote)!  I don’t even mean the miracle that all that complex genetic code gets read correctly, producing perfectly healthy human babies, so often.  How amazing is that?

What’s miraculous, and a little eerie, about a baby being born, is that the baby changes from the Imagined Baby into its real self.  Before it’s born, a baby is UNLIMITED POSSIBILITY

It could be a girl or a boy, or it could look like its father, or its mother, or Great-Aunt Doris… it could have Dad’s eyes, Mom’s chin, and Grandmom’s fingers.  Or Dad’s feet, Granddaddy’s jawline, and Pop’s eyebrows.  Mom’s musical ability, Aunt Amy’s artistic skills, Aunt Ellen’s gift for compromise, Dad’s stubbornness, Bambaw’s talent for making a party out of a cucumber, some pudding, and a cup of apple juice… not to mention some heretofore-undiscovered-among-the-family talent for, I don’t know, synchronized swimming.   The kid in there could be the next great left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, or the scientist who discovers a cure for cancer, or the greatest American novelist of all time… the possibilities are literally endless. 

(I acknowledge that Kid could also be a future Skid Row bum, among other unpleasant things, but we prefer not to entertain those possibilities, and I’ll thank you to not kill my buzz.)

At the moment of birth, when Imagined Baby turns into Real Baby, we parents feel an unexplained sadness for all the things this baby could have been – but isn’t.  The universe shrinks to the size of something that fits in newborn-size jammies, something noisy and rather damp, something that keeps us awake at night.  But very soon, the joy at what this baby is grows much larger than the diaphanous regret for the lost possibilities, and we’re caught up in everyday miracles: the perfect rosebud of this baby’s mouth when she sleeps, or the steady, dreamy, regard of his eyes, or the beautiful hazelnut shape of his head.

God bless this baby, that New Universe in a Diaper.  God bless the New Universe’s parents.

God bless us all.

Top image: Andromeda Galaxy, posted by clownfish33 at flickr
Lower image:  Nace’ un bebe’, nace’ una mama (A baby is born, a mommy is born) by happy-mami (Rebe) at flickr

Update:  New Universe is here, and will be living on Earth under the name of Airin.   Mama and baby are well and healthy, and dad is very happy!  We’re all proud.

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Perfume Review: Feminite de Bois and Dolce Vita

Shiseido Feminite de Bois and Dior Dolce Vita share some DNA; they may as well be sisters.  Both creations of Pierre Bourdon, with Christopher Sheldrake for Fem de Bois and with Maurice Roger for Dolce Vita, both perfumes are woody orientals focusing on cedar, seen through the prisms of fruits, florals, spices and vanilla. 

FdB was created in 1992, and then disappeared about the time that Serge Lutens left Shiseido to found his own perfume house. Partly in order to have a line of fragrances readily available for sale without starting from ground zero every time, Lutens and Sheldrake created several fragrances from the starting point of Feminite du Bois, highlighting different aspects of the original scent: Bois et Fruits, Bois de Violette, Bois et Musc, Un Bois Vanille… are there more? could we go on ad infinitum?? Never mind. FdB has been rereleased through the Lutens house, slightly reformulated.  I tested the Shiseido version, and it is a gorgeous, dark, smooth scent that cascades over the skin like plum liqueur into a glass. It has body, it is opaque, it is startlingly strong and feminine at the same time.

FdB starts out with a honeyed, spiced plum note that never really leaves. From there, it moves into a deep, rich floral-spice heart that feels like a heavy satin robe the color of blackberries. I begin to smell the cedar at this point, and it is sweetly aromatic, highlighted by rose and violet and spice. Unfortunately, two hours in, the scent all but disappears from my skin. I suspect that perhaps a musk is at fault. Five hours from application, I can smell it again – very close to the skin, but present – and it is glorious. I’m always a fan of a good rich benzoin-vanilla-woody drydown, and this one is rich and robust. I cannot wear FdB without thinking of a shadowy paneled room in the evening, with a fire that has gone to coals in the fireplace.

Dolce Vita, on the other hand, was released by Dior in 1994. Bourdon won the brief for a new Dior fragrance, having submitted an early draft of Feminite du Bois. (I somehow wonder if that was embarrassing, or whether it might have been vindication that Here Is a Great Smell.) Dolce Vita was at one time unavailable in the US, but is apparently available again. Perfumista friends say that it has been reformulated and is much thinner; my own bottle of edp is older. I also own a tiny bottle of parfum, which is amazingly rich.  Please ignore the fruity floral Eau de Dolce Vita – I’m sure it’s nice enough, but it’s a totally different scent.

Dolce Vita, in contrast to the soft deep texture of FdB, sparkles off the skin with bright tangy fruit and the heady spiciness of lily. Instead of curried stewed fruit, I experience the fizz and sweetness of a bellini. DV’s heart is a floral-spice as well, and I seem to smell carnation as well as the lily and magnolia notes listed.   I begin to smell cedar and sandalwood (a bright, almost floral woody note – perhaps it is Australian sandalwood?) along with the florals. I do not smell the listed coconut, but the drydown is sweeter and less rich than in FdB, with heliotrope softly lingering on my skin with the woods. The texture here is not the satin-smoothness of FdB, but a rather pleasing irregularity, possibly like shantung. I cannot wear DV without thinking of a sunlit autumn afternoon, and I find that I prefer its golden, sunny disposition to the melancholy of Feminite du Bois.

Notes for Shiseido Feminite de Bois, from fragrantica.com:
Top: honey, carnation, ginger, cinnamon, cedar, rose
Heart: orange blossom, plum, peach, violet, beeswax, cloves, cardamom
Base: sandalwood, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, vanilla, atlas cedar


Notes for Dior Dolce Vita, also from fragrantica:
Top: lily, peach, bergamot, grapefruit, rose, cardamom
Heart: apricot, magnolia, lily, cinnamon, heliotrope
Base: sandalwood, vanilla, coconut, atlas cedar

Images, from top to bottom: forest shadows by AsAutumnDies; golden light by ..Peter…is back; both from flickr.
Shiseido Feminite du Bois and Dior Dolce Vita photos from fragrantica.

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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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National Novel Writing Month Is Coming Up Fast

Holy cow, it’s nearly the end of September, and you know what that means – October.  And once October is over, then that means it’s November.  (Duh.)  And you know what that means…
NaNoWriMo!

If you have somehow been living under a rock… oh, no condemnation here!  I barely know the roster of the  Virginia Tech football team, which amazes my husband and children; they think I live under that rock… here’s the scoop, straight from the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.
 
Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
 
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Now… what am I gonna do this year? Write that romance story that’s been in my head for, oh, 13 years? Sounds like a plan. I didn’t finish last year. I got to 45K words and just had to stop and Deal With Life. It’s terribly sad for my poor characters; Sara and Mariella and Tony and Colin and William all languish somewhere on a floppy disc. Which is bad, because I now have a new computer that has no floppy drive. And I never finished the thing because I lost my momentum, trying to keep a house clean and people fed and the like. How on earth do they expect a mother to take the time to do this sort of thing?
 
I hereby direct myself to cease and desist the whining.  If I’m going to do it, I’m just going to have to do it.  I mean, the world will be just fine without the story of Deena and Troy, but if I write them down, maybe they’ll get out of my head and leave me alone… 
To visit the NaNoWriMo home page:  http://www.nanowrimo.org/   (If you set up your own account, you can look me up – I’m Mals86.) 
Top image is keyboard- blur by striatic at flickr.   NaNoWriMo web badge is available to participants and kindly provided by nanowrimo.org.
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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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