Perfume Review: Lancôme Climat

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

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

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

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

Notes for Climat:

Top: violet, peach, aldehydes, bergamot, rosemary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

Tuberose Series Bonus: Giorgio by Giorgio Beverly Hills

I should NOT have tested this.  This is not going to be a serious, formal review because I just can’t stand to do it.  Also, with this review, you’re going to get pointless digressions and some disturbing emotional reactions.  You have been warned.

Perfume Review: Giorgio Beverly Hills
Date Released: 1981
Perfumer: Bob Aliano
Sample provenance: miniature bottle bought retail 2010

Subcategory: Loud dressed-up party tuberose composition

I wasn’t going to bother with this.  I blame Luca Turin yet again, for reviewing it in the downloadable updates to the original Perfumes: The Guide.  I should have known better from that stupid Insolence experience, but nooooooooo.  Also I was blinded by nostalgia and a fuzzy memory of what Giorgio actually smells like (which is, actually, not Turin’s fault).  He does make the excellent point that “many people harbor a sneaking fondness for the bad old days” of the excessive eighties, pointing out that outrageous and surprising perfumes like Angel are still succeeding, in these times of post-post-decadence.  Here are portions of his review (go read it in its entirety if you can, it’s an interesting and informed take):
                       **** Giorgio.  Fruity tuberose…  The secret of Giorgio was the discovery of an accord that could stand up to a monstrously powerful tuberose while extending it in interesting directions. Two heroically strong aromachemicals were drafted: one being… reminiscent of pineapple, and the second a… base made between… a fresh-almondy-marine material and… the Concord grape smell… The result was a cute, twelve-foot-tall singing canary, at first impossible to ignore, and at length too big to love.  But if any composition embodies what makes… classical perfumery great, it is Giorgio.

Okay, first off I’m going to say yet again that it is definitely not fair to give four stars to something that doesn’t smell good.  I do not give a flying flip whether it “advances the art of perfumery,” got me?  I only want to wear scents that smell good.  Secretions Magnifiques four stars, anyone?  Didn’t think so.  Now, I’ll wade through some difficult opening notes to get to something beautiful, or at least to something interesting.  And granted, people’s opinions on What Smells Good tend to, duh, differ.  I love tuberose and hate balsamic resins.  I think vetiver is boring.  I like rose and aldehydes.  You may think I’m nuts.  But for a reviewer that keeps dissing tuberose he calls “synthetic,” it was downright immoral of LT to praise this *&#^%^@(*@ mess.

Disclaimer:  I went to high school in the 80’s, all right?  And while I was wearing polite applications of Chloe from my dabber bottle, big spray bottles of Giorgio were all the rage.  Black rubber bracelets, banana hairclips, leggings and big tunics, Swatches and enormous abstract-art earrings in pink and aqua… and Giorgio.  Which I kind of liked then – I had a friend who seemed to have all the disposable income a girl could want, and she wore it in discreet quantities.  At the time I thought she smelled fine.

There comes a time in your sober years when you appreciate your parents’ chintzy refusal to buy your teenage self trendy stuff.  I never had a yellow-and-aqua paint-splatter swimsuit to wear to the pool.  I never had a pair of Candies sandals, or even those fat-soled flipflops everybody wore.  And sure, I suffered when the cheerleaders went down the hall in a gang, snickering about my not-even-close-to-designer jeans and reeking of Giorgio, but now I feel better about the whole thing.  I recently showed my high school yearbook to my children, and they laughed at my hair but admitted that my clothes were “not as weird as what those girls are wearing, eww.”  Take that, Two Christies!  Take that, Charlene and Amanda!  Your trendy clothes were weird!  Also, your Giorgio smelled baaaad.

I freely admit I couldn’t afford it back then anyway.  And never mind all the science-chat about anthrancilates and whatnot, descriptions of Big Bird and grape popsicles, what Giorgio smells like to me now is money, humiliation, chlorine, and bad taste.

If I was going to attempt to wear Giorgio, this was the day to do it: The CEO just left on a trip to the Farm Bureau National Convention, Bookworm’s gone for the day to an indoor track meet, and the boys are supposedly cleaning up their rooms but they keep sneaking down to the laundry room to visit Sara the ailing calf.  Here’s a transcript of our conversations about Giorgio:

Me: I’m trying this out.  What do you think?
Taz (who never sniffs me if he can help it):  Eww.  It makes my throat hurt.
Gaze (trying to be diplomatic, but failing): I don’t like that one.  It smells like… really bad Halloween candy. The hard kind in weird flavors, like you get from the people who don’t like kids but they don’t want people to think they don’t like kids.  So they give you stuff, but it’s nasty.
Me (secretly pleased):  Really?
Gaze:  And the pool.  It smells like the pool. You know, on really crowded days, when they put too much chlorine in there?
Me:  Ha ha ha ha ha!
Taz: Mom, I think Sara’s better, she’s eating that hay now.
Me:  Ha ha ha ha ha!
Taz:  Hey, Mom… Mom, why are you laughing?
Gaze:  I don’t know.  She’s acting weird.  Maybe that perfume is making her sick.
Me: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… (maniacal giggling)
Taz: Mom, will you stop laughing and make us dinner now?  Mom?  Mom! Stop laughing.  This is important.  Please go wash your hands, I don’t want my hot dogs to smell like that.

It would probably be pretentious of me to repeat that old saying about the mills of God grinding slowly, so I won’t.  But I will say that the taste of vindication is sweet. 

I have a nasty headache now that I didn’t have when I put on this dab of Giorgio edt.  Thank the Lord, I can go take a shower now.  Maybe now I can cease the maniacal laughter.  Sample of Giorgio Beverly ILLS is going out with the trash as soon as possible.

And I’m sorry, I really am.  I should have known better.  But, see, this is why I love perfume.  Two drops of yellow gunk (which have consequently contaminated the air around me for seven hours) suddenly returned me to the horrors of being fifteen.  What else could do that so quickly?  What else could go straight for the jugular like that?  Nothing else taps so elegantly, so directly, so brutally, into the emotional center as perfume.

Top image from fragrantica.  Lower image from paper_antiquary on ebay.

Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I wear Alahine, I smell joy.

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

Image: Natural Christmas decorating! by LDHumes at flickr.

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

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

Share

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!

Share

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.)

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share