Week Two, NaNoWriMo 2009

I’m a little behind.  (Ba-dum-bum.)

Hindered by feeling yucky, and the fact that people need clothes ironed and lunches packed and bathrooms cleaned, yada yada, and the fact that in all this mess, somehow I’m actually expected to go to work, I haven’t been working as hard as I should.

Not to mention that I got mad at one of my characters and didn’t want to write about him at all, and I got bored with the other major character – she was too nicey-nice.  Well, I fixed that all right, mwah ha ha!  She’s going to do a few questionable things, and that’s fun to write about. And I started fleshing out an uninhibited minor character, so that should help too. Tonight, the 18th, I should be at 30K words, and I’m not – I’m sitting on 29,213.  But it’s still doable.  In fact, if I stop blogging right now, I could probably go write another 1000… okay, probably not. 

Scents worn in week two:
Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur – stupid name, lovely scent.  Plum, white flowers, and a milky, ambery base that is sweet and smooth without being sugary. In fact, the drydown reminds me of creme brulee.  One of the few that lasts and lasts on me. Makes my sweaters smell great.

Teo Cabanel Alahine sample – Wow.  This freebie sample is a favorite of Abigail’s – see her review at IsmellthereforeIam blog here.  Smells like, for some reason even I cannot pinpoint, Christmas.  In fact, what it’s reminding me of is the Madrigal Dinners we chorus students produced at college: clove oranges, curried fruit, dusty music books, lit candles, slightly-musty costumes, evergreen branches hiding the Federal style mouldings on the ballroom walls… not that I actually smell all of that, but I think I’m getting olfactory illusion here.  Which is nice, actually.  Mad Dinners were so much fun.

Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea custom blend – I had this huge, head-over-heels emotional reaction to the standard version, only slightly marred by the patchouli it contains.  It’s nice patch, actually – grassy and fresh-smelling, not dusty and not the synthetic-y “clean” patch that seems to inhabit so many mainstream scents lately.  But patchouli has a way of simply hijacking my nose away from the whole composition, so that all I smell is patchouli.  Laurie Erickson was kind enough to make me a few custom samples to choose from: one with no patchouli, one with 50% patchouli, and one with a different grade of patchouli.  I think the 50% patch is winning, at this stage.  I love it.

Just like last week, I highly recommend that you go smell something good, read something good, and hug someone you love.  And I’ll add one more: eat something good.

Image is Butt by Shooting the Kids at flickr.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Perfume Review: Guerlain Shalimar, or The First Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image is Shalimar pure parfum by bhperfume5mor at ebay.


We Won’t Forget

Veterans’ Day, 2009
To my dad, who served in the US Navy in peacetime
To my brother-in-law Bob, who served in the US Army in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and who will soon be serving again
To my friend Army Lt. Terry Plunk, who died clearing landmines in the Gulf War
To all those who gave their lives for their country
To all those who served
To all those who are serving now
To all those who will serve in the future
And to their families
My deep and heartfelt thanks.

 Photo is Arlington National Cemetery, by RuthannOC at flickr


Week One, NaNoWriMo 2009

So, how’s it going?

Pretty good.  At least, I’ve written five of the seven days, and am sitting at 13,912 words with loads more to come and no writer’s block so far.  Also, everyone has eaten this week, including two bottle-fed calves named Davy and Beth, and no one has run out of underwear.  (Must give props to The CEO for doing laundry, though: ten loads.  Eek.  Note to self:  don’t add any more children to the family.) I’m still looking waaay, way up at the top of the hill, but I can see it.

Scents worn this week:
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille sample.  Smells like gingerbread, which is kind of nice if you like that sort of thing, which I do, but it’s ungodly expensive for something that smells like, hello, gingerbread.  Honestly, I’d rather just bake some.
Guerlain Chamade vintage parfum de toilette.  Smells like spring.  Is allllll wrong for this time of year, but one of my characters wears it. 
Coty Ex-clam-a-tion!  Smells like rose+violet+face powder, drenched in syrup.  Was this an advance entry into the “I’m a teenager, I must smell like dessert” running?  Same character wears this one at a different stage of life.  She prefers Chamade, and I must say, so do I.
Guerlain Shalimar Light/Eau Legere, two different versions.  Review may show up this week, if I manage to post it.  Watch this space…

I have instructions for people who want something good to happen to them this week:

Go smell something good, even if it’s just dry leaves outside and some homemade gingerbread inside.  (There, now you won’t owe Tom Ford $170 for the 50ml bottle.  Or you could put a pouch of flavored pipe tobacco next to a bottle of Bath and Body Works’ Ginger Vanilla body wash, and pretty much get the same experience.)

Go read something good.  Comic books are fun, but they do NOT count.  Sorry. You only get a pass on this one if you have a newborn baby at home.

Go hug someone you love.

You have your instructions.

Image is Montsant, climbing up hill, by Monique vd Hoeven at flickr.


You Win Some, You Lose Some

You know who holds the record for the most losses by a major league pitcher?

Denton True “Cy” Young.

Yeah, that guy.  The one they named the award for, the one that honors the best major league pitcher each year.  The guy that pitched 21 seasons, the one who still – even close to a hundred years after he retired, in 1911 – holds the record for the most wins by a major league pitcher.

Total losses: 316.
Total wins: 511.

A lesson for us all.

Especially for me.  This is my second attempt at NaNoWriMo.  I failed last year, only racking up 47,000 words (“winning” means you wrote 50K during the month of November).  But that was last year.  Ol’ Cy lost a bunch of games, too, and it didn’t stop him.

So it can’t stop me.

I probably won’t post full-blown articles here for awhile, just brief notes on how things are going, with the occasional Scent of the Day comment, or something short like that.  I’ll be back in full swing in December.

Image is from wikipedia.  Click on the link to read more about Cy Young at baseballhalloffame.org.


Perfume Review: Magie Noire (vintage)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Random Thoughts

My nose is stopped up.  This is rotten.  Not only can I not smell anything, I wake up at night because I can’t breade drough by dose.

Watched The Outsiders recently with Bookworm.  The DVD she has is the more recent 20th anniversary release, with scenes that were deleted from the 1983 theater release.  Still a great movie, still a terrific book.  When the movie came out, only a year or two after I read the book as an 8th grader, I spent my babysitting money to go see it at the theater – twice!  Partly because it’s a great story, filmed well, and partly because it is an ensemble cast of, let’s be honest here, really cute guys.  Seriously: C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, and Leif Garrett.  At the time, I was a Tommy Howell kind of girl; I had a poster of him up on my corkboard in my room.  Ralph was too sweet for me, Matt too edgy, and Rob too pretty.  Now, 25 years later, what I notice about the boys in the movie (who were all in their late teens while filming, except for Patrick, who was 30, and Ralph, who was 20) is different.
  • Tom Cruise has a gap between his front teeth, and really great biceps. The less said about his acting skills, the better.
  • Emilio is, actually, a pretty good character actor. Too bad Charlie got the looks in that family!
  • Ralph looks like a middle-schooler.  Or maybe a human puppy.  Also, I cannot believe Casting bothered to audition anyone else for the role of Johnny; Ralph is perfect.
  • Rob is seriously gorgeous.  Apparently it is possible for a human being to approach physical perfection.  And I had no idea that the guy actually could act.  Sadly, a lot of his work wound up on the cutting room floor in ’83, but his scenes as middle brother Soda have emotional punch.
  • Patrick cannot act.  I knew this already, but I still don’t care.  Fab abs.  And that jaw…
  • Leif makes me think of Justin Timberlake.  Same frizzy blond hair, same cheesy acting skills.
  • Tommy Howell is a little out of his depth, but he has beautiful eyes.
  • I dissed Matt Dillon for years as having no reason to be in front of a camera other than his bad-boy good looks, which I claimed were overrated anyway.  Matt, I wronged you.  I apologize.  Now I know why all my friends had posters of you in their lockers: it was your mouth.  Or maybe those cheekbones.  Or perhaps the “provoking charm of [Matt] altogether.”  And your intensity dominated the whole film.  Every scene you were in, Matt, wound up slipped into your back pocket.  You rule, baby.

Sigh.  Well, I suppose I wouldn’t go back to being 15 again, but I can watch The Outsiders and pretend that it was a lot better than real life.

Fisher-Price has released a new toy: Elmo Live.  This animatronic wonder sings, laughs, stands, sits, tells jokes, and plays games. Holy cow, what’s the world coming to?  I hereby confess that I always hated Elmo.  Kermit was cool, Big Bird was dumb but sweet, and Oscar said what I always wished I had the guts to say.  Elmo is a toddler in red fur.  What’s so great about that?

NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday.  I’m getting ready.  Squee! 

And, most importantly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to The CEO!  Lots of love to my favorite husband (yes, I know you’re the only one), and many years of happy life ahead.  Mwah.

* Apologies to Sir John Suckling, for cribbing/messing with his poem “The Constant Lover.”  Image is from moviestore.com.


Perfume Review: Rochas Tocade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it really deserved a better bottle.


Five for Fall, 2009

Inspired by the Fall Picks posts on many perfume blogs this week, I’m doing my own. And I was going to make it Ten Picks, but since I’m hoping to be doing this again next year, I’ll keep the list short so I can explore different scents in 2010.

I love fall. Love it, love it. The temperature’s generally comfortable. The sunshine (when we get it) is a golden shade we never see in any other season. The wind is bracing rather than icy. The trees change colors; hickory nuts and black walnuts drop onto the drive. Squirrels and chipmunks are busybusybusy. Woodsmoke begins to fill the crisp air, and there’s frost on the ground in the mornings. More than that, autumn has always been for me a time of new beginnings. Feelings rise up in me and can’t be quashed – or forgotten.

For those warm golden days when the sun pours warm cider over distant tweed hills: Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea. To me, it smells of dry leaves, pipe tobacco, fresh hay, a worn leather bomber jacket, and the warm skin of one’s sweetheart, and an aromatic mossy forest floor, with spiced cider wafting by from somewhere in the distance.

For cold rainy days when you just want a sweater (and a good raincoat!), I want Givenchy Organza Indecence. This is spice cake eaten near a bonfire, so that you smell the spice and vanilla just as much as you smell the smoke and the wood. Cozy, it sticks fairly close to my skin and only wafts gently when I move. I like that.

For romantic evenings, Ormonde Jayne Ta’if casts a spell, with its peppery rose and saffron creaminess. It is delightful, sensual, and a bit dreamy, as if it can’t quite keep the memory of stars out of its head.

For dreary days, when the sun is slow to wake and the sky remains gray, I love Lanvin Arpege. I have a small bottle of the reformulated EdP, and also a tiny bottle of vintage extrait. I really, really wish there were some way to merge the top and heart notes of the reformulation with the drydown of the vintage – the new stuff just disappears when it gets past its harmonic floral heart, but the basenotes of the old are symphonic and jaw-droppingly gorgeous, with creamy sandalwood and crisp vetiver. The middle stage of development in the original is so rich it feels almost decayed. Of course, that effect still seems to fit with leaf mould on the ground and the richness of fruit that ripens in the fall.

For anytime I need a close-to-the-skin veil of loveliness, I would want to wear Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. I still haven’t smelled the original Black Orchid, but VdF has plenty of personality, and I think the original would, um, scare me. VdF races through plum and very smooth florals (ylang and gardenia, prominently) through cinnamon and woods to a very creamy, luxuriously feminine ending. It’s like a bowl of Feminite du Bois with milk poured over, and it doesn’t disappear on me like Feminite du Bois.

Others I’m enjoying: Lancome Magie Noire, Chanel 31 Rue Cambon, Amouage Lyric, Gres Cabaret, and Shalimar Light.  It might soon be cold enough to break out the Bal a Versailles, too.

Image is Fall in Forest from nancymeowdrew at flickr; it was taken in Virginia in 1991.  This is very much what fall looks like around here.


A Few Swoony Rose Scents

I feel like going off the deep end with some luxuriant, voluptuous, carmined, velvety Dark Rose scents.  SOTD is Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur (did anybody think a name that long was a good idea?), and while it is lovely, I’m waiting for it to wear off. 

I simply want Take No Prisoners Rose at the moment.  I want to reread Philippa Gregory’s sensual and frightening Wideacre; I want rose petals in my bath; I want a cashmere sweater in the richest deep red.  I am longing to sniff a couple of new ones – the Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire PourFemme (you can read Helg’s voluptuously-written review here– she’s clearly smitten!), and DS&Durga for Anthropologie East MidEast (Kevin’s more straightforward review is here).

I’m not sure what to wear next, but here are a few of my options.  Most of these are decants, the full bottles being a little out of my price range, which is why I’m careful with dosage – something in my brain goes cha-ching! every time I spray.  Not to mention that most of these are also Grande Dame Perfumes with corresponding sillage…

Amouage Lyric Woman – deep wine-y rose and dry, smoky, astringent incense.  Piercingly beautiful, Leontyne Price singing Vissi d’Arte.  Quite expensive, but in this case, price indicates quality.
Ormonde Jayne Ta’if – a rose of the desert, sweet and deep, dusted with pepper and saffron, standing barefoot under the stars.
Caron Parfum Sacre’ – lemon-spice-pepper and rose, flowing into warm vanilla-woods and cool myrrh.  This is the mother that tenderly kisses her sleeping children before becoming a lover again in the bed of her marriage.
Gres Cabaret – rose curled atop a down comforter before the fire, letting its smoke twine through her hair.  Wonderful fragrance, ugly bottle, unbelievably great price.  I think I said something about “toasted marshmallow” before, but it’s not sweet – what I was getting at was that cushy, pillowy musk.
Juliet Has a Gun Citizen Queen – rose dolled up for the nightlife, in a violet bustier, fishnets and leather stilettos – and a killer-diller red lipstick.  Very, very sexy.

That Slut Tocade is little too flirty and shallow for the current mood, L’Arte di Gucci a little too imperious.  I’ll take my roses rolling in passion today.

Come slowly, Eden
Lips unused to thee.
Bashful, sip thy jasmines,
As the fainting bee,
Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums,
Counts his nectars – alights,
And is lost in balms!
                                   – Emily Dickenson


At Home in Orientals

When I was young, Opium was the Hot Ticket in Fragrance. And not just Opium, but Cinnabar, Coco, LouLou, Poison, Obsession, Tabu, Youth Dew, and Shalimar. Seems like everyone was just drenched in resiny, spicy, heavy Orientals that, to my young nose, were related to Chemical Spills, Nuclear Power Plant Accidents (anyone remember Three Mile Island? Or worse, Chernobyl?), and Industrial Waste. Opium ruined more cultural gatherings than I could shake a stick at, and all I really knew about it was that it was, duh, an Oriental.

I had a friend at college who seemed to be going through the same things that I was – we suffered through first year together. We conferred, discussed, and giggled over all manner of issues. And we sighed, in tandem and at a distance, over Smoky Charles, who had stunning smoky gray eyes, and Gorgeous John from the Basement, who was as Cary Grant as a college freshman could be. We liked performing in musicals; we both played the piano (she far better than I); we both sang in the chorus; we loved novels and poetry and romantic English love stories. Suzanne and I dithered over whether or not to ditch our long-distance boyfriends, and rolled our eyes at our mothers’ ridiculous worries. We haunted the thrift store for elegant vintage night wear and cashmere shrug sweaters – which, at the time, were long out of style – and diamante’ brooches. Occasionally she let me borrow that thrift-store black velvet dressing gown with ivory crocheted lace. Together we counseled our friend Beth on how best to flirt with a fun, handsome boy we all knew: Mark ImpossibleLastName.

Three years later, Mark and Suzanne would marry, a few months before the end of college, telling her worried mother that they “just couldn’t wait to live together.” Gasp! How shocking! Getting married in order to have, you know, S-E-X!!

Suzanne had long wavy strawberry-blonde hair, loved Asian décor, and enjoyed making toast over the bulb in her desk lamp. She could make waiting for a bus fun. Her faults? 1) She simply could not manage to arrive anywhere on time. 2) She could be oblivious to other people’s moods. 3) And she wore Cinnabar.
She wore it discreetly, instead of bathing in it as so many Opium-lovers seemed to do, but it was the one most frustrating thing about her. I remember saying to her once, when I was having a supremely bad day (it involved a calculus test, among other things), “I could never wear those Oriental perfumes. They’re so heavy and dusty and strong.”

She serenely told me, “I know you couldn’t, but they’re very Suzanne.” She shook back her hair, releasing a wave of Cinnabar (ugh), and then smiled at me. “Let’s go find something for you.” The Something turned out to be a very, very small bottle of Coty Ex’clam-a’tion!, a straight-up sweet rose floral that I eventually ditched along with that boyfriend (um, yes, the one that SSS Tabac Aurea reminded me of). I don’t regret saying goodbye to either one.

I spent years afterward saying to people, “I like perfume, but no Orientals please. I don’t like them at all.” I had no idea what, exactly, an Oriental was, but I thought it meant, “nasty thing that smells like Dust of the Crypt.”

Fast forward fifteen to twenty years, and I’ve gotten interested in perfume again, now that the bombastic 80’s and the soap-and-clean laundry smells of the 90’s have fallen out of fashion. I rediscover an old love, Coty Emeraude… and am utterly stunned to find out that my Darling Emeraude is, yes, an Oriental.

Oh, yes, it is. And it turns out that many of the scents that I love, that I just adore and feel the most “me” when wearing, are Orientals too. Shalimar Light comes to mind, as does Natori, Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, Amouage Lyric Woman, Ormonde Jayne Ta’if, Bal a Versailles, Parfum Sacre’, Citizen Queen, L’Heure Bleue, Organza Indecence, Bvlgari Black, Rumba, Bois des Iles, Dolce Vita, La Myrrhe, and Tocade.  Whew. And I don’t even own all of those – but all of them feel comfortable and warm and lovely, and in some way like a second, beautifully-scented, skin. They’re weighty and smooth – ornate and lushly detailed – luxurious and beautiful.

Suzanne and Mark did finish college; they’ve been married now for nearly twenty years and have four lovely children. I haven’t seen her since 1999, when Gaze was a baby and Suz was pregnant with her third. We’ve only been corresponding through Christmas cards for years, but I have recently found Suzanne’s email address and will be contacting her soon. I’m hoping for more news than will fit on a Christmas card. I can’t wait to find out what perfume she’s wearing these days, and I can’t wait to tell her how wrong I was about Orientals!