Categotry Archives: The scented life


A fragrance that smells like soap and flowers…


Categories: Clean scents, The scented life

I think I may have gotten a little snarky over on Now Smell This recently, where the topic of discussion was Jennifer Aniston’s new perfume, Lolavie.    (Edit: the name “Lolavie” was axed after Marc Jacobs’ PR people threatened to sue Aniston if she didn’t change the name to something less like MJ’s Lola.  I don’t think anybody would have mixed up the two: Lola is a big sweet floral mess in a tacky bottle, IMO.  Lolavie was renamed “Jennifer Aniston” just before its release.)  A number of regular commenters opined that although it doesn’t sound like a fruity or sugary scent, it sounded suspiciously like a non-perfume perfume: “clean but sexy” and “floral but not flowery” sure seems an awful lot like Overpriced Nothing in a Bottle to some of us.  A commenter who’s relatively new to the blog – and hooray for that, I say!  It’s wonderful when new people show up and have a different opinion – commented that clean, floral-soap scents smell terrific to her, and that even if she bathes with scented soap, that light clean fragrance doesn’t last all day, and she’d like her perfume to smell clean and flowery for several hours, thank you. 

I said something like, Yes, that’s a very pleasant effect, but there are tons of things out there already that do that.  She commented that there isn’t a single fragrance genre that isn’t overrepresented, and she’s glad to see a nice, clean, inoffensive scent coming from Ms. Aniston.  She’s probably right on the plethora of everything currently on the market… except there can’t be too many fresh green florals for my taste (go see my ginormous post on green florals if you’re unconvinced).  So I apologize for intimating that we don’t need yet another Clean Floral, and I do hope rbrown (her user name at NST) sticks around and joins the fumeheads in commenting – and of course, she’s very welcome here!  It’s not often that we all agree on something anyway; quite a number of perfumista faves I just hate (Opium, Bandit, Poison, and Aromatics Elixir come to mind), and I’m unrepentant.  You Like What You Like, Period.

So it got me to thinking, how many of us do enjoy scents that smell like you’ve washed with a lovely floral soap?  I admit, there are a few I like, although it’s not a genre I’d call a favorite, and I have to be in the mood for “floral soap” or it just annoys me.  And my mother, She of No. 5, also likes that effect – just about every scent she’s ever worn has had either a soapy or powdery facet (sometimes both!), so that “floral soap” says, definitively, MOM to me.   Mind you, I’m  not “above” smelling like soap and flowers.  Sometimes you just want to smell like you have recently had a shower; there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It’s very pleasant.

I’m putting up a poll: do you like “floral soap” scents or not? 

[polldaddy poll=3069120]

If you do like floral soap scents, I’d love to know which are your favorites.  Here are some fragrances that smell like floral soap to me:

Chanel No. 5  Far more complex than “floral soap,” of course, but it does have elements (the aldehydes, the musks) that remind me of soap. 

Cacharel Anais Anais  Mom wore this one, too, after her old bottle of No. 5 edc ran low.  Sharper and more herbal than No. 5, it nonetheless conjures up a tubful of bubbles for me. 

Coty L’Effleur In the “smells like you just bathed with a nice French soap” category, we have a winner.  This scent created in the early 90’s and discontinued some years ago, is in my opinion an absolute dead ringer for a lovely hard-milled French soap scented with flowers.  Mom wore this for several years, and what she liked about it was precisely that it smelled like good soap. 

 Alfred Sung Shi  Mom recently bought this for my sister, who normally wears Coco Mlle (and who once wore Dune).  My sister liked its clean smell.  When I commented that I thought it smelled like water (I wasn’t being complimentary), A. said, “Oh, yes!  Isn’t that nice? It’s not heavy at all, it’ll be nice for summer.”  I shut up then.

Annick Goutal Eau du Ciel  Recently I discovered this little-known fragrance (my thanks to Abigail at I Smell Therefore I Am), and it smells to me like nothing so much as line-dried bed linens.  This is a smell I absolutely adore.  Nothing smells so downright clean and effortlessly wonderful as sheets dried on the line outdoors, especially if hay is being made nearby as it frequently is on our farm.  Sheets dried on the clothesline smell like grass, flowers, fresh air, and sunshine – even if you pack them away in the linen closet for awhile.  Notes on this fragrance: sweet grasses, hay, linden, violet leaves, rosewood, iris.  It’s not exactly Floral Soap, but it does have the Clean +  Flowers feeling.

Vintage Lauren by Ralph Lauren.  (Don’t bother with the currently-available-at-retail, it’s a bottleful of nothingness.)  This scent, in its ruby-colored cube bottle, brings back a lot of memories of college for me, as it was a scent worn by a friend.  Notes include: green notes, rose, violet, and oakmoss, and the effect is exactly that of floral-herbal soap.  Lovely.  I bought a partially-used bottle on ebay for less than $10, and the scent is worth far more than that.

Ivoire de Balmain.  I hesitate about including this one, because it’s such a shape-shifter.  Starts out with a galbanum blast (not exactly a “floral soap” element) and then moves into a beautiful soap smell.  Pretty soon the moss comes to join the soap, and this stage is a bit iffy on me – it only seems to work if the weather’s humid and warm.  Eventually, the drydown gets rich and honeyed – back to the floral soap, but with some amber and woods too.  The “soap” is dead on, but there’s so much else going on in there that I’m not sure this one really belongs.

(Edit alert!  I remembered a couple more soapies.)

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist   A heckuva lotta people love this one; it’s a perennial seller, but it’s my personal definition of boooooooring.  It’s the epitome of just-out-of-the-bubble-bath, where you poured in a ton of Ivory body wash (which, I admit, I really like, especially Fresh Snow, which I can’t find anymore, sad sad face) and then after drying off, smoothed six layers of really rich body lotion on and spent three hours rubbing it in.  Ivory body wash + creamy lotion.  I mean, nice, but… gosh. Dull.

Cacharel Noa  I once owned a mini bottle of this, which I kept wearing to work before I realized that it might possibly be the reason I kept getting sleepy halfway through the morning.  The list of notes is extraordinarily long for a fragrance that smells like a post-bath nap, and I never got the cilantro or coffee that P:TG raved about.  TS rhapsodizes in her review that although Noa is quiet, it always seems to have something new to say.  To me, it was as if the “something new” was simply the next name in the phone book.

(Subsequent edit, April 4, 2011: ran across another soapy fragrance.)

Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Flora Nymphea   Ran across this in an airport Duty Free shop, spritzed it on a whim, and immediately decided I was getting my mother a miniature bottle.  It’s an orange-blossom soapy thing, quite pleasant.  I’m not the only one finding it soapy, either – I’ve seen at least four blog reviews saying the same thing. 

Here are a few more that have been recommended by various people as smelling like Floral Soap (I haven’t smelled them myself, and can’t comment on how closely they resemble soap):

Floris Seringa

Lacoste Pour Femme

Dolce & Gabbana original for women

Philosophy Pure Grace

Bvlgari Petits et Mamans

ByRedo Blanche

What do you say?

Image is Lovely green soap and dish from sunshinesyrie at



Beautiful Smells in Beautiful Bottles


Categories: Packaging, The scented life

To the despair of my art-historian sister, I’m not much of a visual person.  She keeps walking me through the modern-art sections of various museums, explaining things to me and suffering through my “Okay, okay, I get the idea, but that’s just freaky!” comments.  Like your average art philistine, though, I “know what I like.”  Also, I do tend to be interested in the tactile experience of the objects I handle: I love the shapes of my treenware coffee-measuring spoon and my ancient Blue Willow teapot, as well as the texture of line-dried sheets and the insides of my fuzzy pink socks.  I’d never buy a perfume just for the bottle, although a pretty bottle is a bonus.  But I do love a bottle that feels nice in my hands.

As a companion to my “ugly bottles” post, here’s a rundown of the fragrances I own that are housed in aesthetically-pleasing packages, whether they’re a pleasure to handle or just pretty to look at:

Mariella Burani (edt).  The resin rose bouquets in orange-red on the cap might give you pause, but I think they’re kitschy fab.  And I really enjoy handling the substantial, squarish glass bottle. 


 Dior Dolce Vita.  Probably the prettiest bottle I own, with its globe shape dotted with concavities.  Sometimes it reflects pieces of light like a disco ball – I’m sad not to display it.  Unmistakable, fun to spritz, and architecturally interesting.


Shalimar Light.  It’s a variation on the familiar Shalimar bottle, in palest blue.  Distinctive, beautiful, luxurious.   A lovely shape for the hands to explore.



Caron Aimez-Moi.  I have a small bottle from the original release – it looks like a cut-glass version of a tasseled pillow.  Way cute.  Here I will digress and comment on the standard Caron non-urn bottles (see my “Ugly Bottles” post for more ranting): they are Butt-ugly.  ‘Nuff said.  Caron seems determined to do itself out of business these days.


Teo Cabanel Alahine.  It’s hard to see in this photo, but the back of the bottle has a dark red tracery of flowers and leaves on it, which shows through to the front.  (Click on the pic and you’ll get a better idea of what I mean.)  Also, the bottle has beautifully-rounded edges and a sprayer that delivers a finely-directed mist of fragrance – especially good for applying orientals – as well as that pretty string-and-seal on the side. 


Donna Karan Gold.  If I could have changed anything about this bottle, I’d have wanted a smooth cap, preferably in metal, but at least in heavy plastic.  The texture of the wooden cap is in conflict with the graceful proportions of the rectangular bottle and the smoothness of the gilded sides.  Cap aside, this one’s a pleasure to hold and spray.


Guerlain Chamade, in parfum.  It’s meant to evoke a heart turned upside down with love, and the stopper makes me think of a candle flame.  (I like the classic Mitsouko and L’Heure Bleue bottles, too – Guerlain does a good job at designing distinctive bottles.)  I actually bought an empty 1/4-oz Chamade parfum bottle and emptied a decant of pdt into it, so I could hold it and play with it and and run my fingers over the ridges and look at the sun through it… I even wrote Chamade into my NaNoWriMo novel, bottle and all. 


Any Lancome La Collection fragrance, from the larger spray bottle to the smaller dabber bottles with ground-glass stoppers.  The shapes are attractive, they feel nice in the hands, and I adore dabbing with a stopper anyway, it’s so deliciously retro.  The sprayer on my bottle of Cuir delivers a nice mist, too.


Any Chanel parfum bottle.  Absolutely classic, from its square bottle with slightly-rounded corners, to its ground-glass stopper that’s a delight to hold, to the iconic black-and-white label.  There is no element of this bottle that isn’t simply perfect.  I have two bottles of No. 5 extrait in different sizes, and a tiny 4ml bottle of No. 19 extrait.  They’re all a joy to use.

I’d love to hear about the most beautiful bottle(s) you own.

All photos are from (because mine never come out right).



Beautiful Smells in Ugly Bottles


Categories: Packaging, The scented life

Everybody owns at least one, don’t they?  A scent you just love, in a bottle you just hate?  I recently took some pictures of my ‘fume stash (eek, I have too much) and noticed that I own a relatively high percentage of ugly bottles – not bottles that are just plain, boring, el-cheapo glass containers, but bottles that were deliberately designed to look the way they do. 

I’m not even going to get into the matter of packaging, with its cultural weight, its Is-it-art? freight, its gender issues, its psychology, its… Thesis Material nature.  If you’d like to get into it, however, feel free to comment. I probably won’t have anything helpful to say, given that a) I have officially been dubbed The Art Philistine by my art-historian sister, and b) I avoided grad school so I wouldn’t be forced to write a thesis.

Jusferfun, here’s the list of Ugly Bottles I Actually Own, complete with pictures, and please feel free to comment on the bottles, because I’m sure gonna talk trash about ’em.  (Trash I can manage; sensible thesis not.  Unless I get paid to.)

Rochas Tocade.  You know, the bottle itself isn’t all that bad – it’s an elongated version of the lovely shape of the Femme bottle, and feels solid in the hand – but that cap just shrieks CHEAP GARISH PLASTIC CRAP MADE IN TAIWAN FOR PENNIES!!!  It gives me flashbacks to the flea markets my grandmother haunted when I was a kid in the 70’s.  I’d take the cap off, but That Slut Tocade broadcasts, frightening the ladylike Chanels…

N.B.   Asian countries producing the ubiquitous Cheap Plastic Crap get a bad rap for being associated with it, when in actual fact the art and culture of those countries (China, Taiwan, Korea, to name a few) is beautiful, thoughtful, and worlds away from Cheap Plastic Crap.  Which, I remind you, is mostly bought by Americans.  Please see Ann YM’s comment below for more discussion of the issue.  It would have been easy to just remove “Made in Taiwan” from the post and have done with it, but somehow I think it’s more valuable to actually talk about the issue of unconscious prejudice. 

Givenchy Organza Indecence.  Somebody on NST referred to “Bene Gesserit headdresses” when commenting on the cap, and that’s precisely right.  Goofy thing.  I think the bottle, with its mix of clear and frosted glass, shaped to hint at a woman’s body in a billowing dress, is rather attractive if a bit awkward (it falls over a lot, even though it’s only a 15ml).  But Bookworm insists on turning it on its side and likening it to a fish, so now I always think of it as “that fish bottle.”

L’Arte di Gucci (edp).  It’s a nice opaque black glass bottle, with a slight curved concavity not immediately obvious in pictures.  But it’s heavy, and awkward to spray (I always decant L’Arte into a rollerball – I get much less of that weird vinyl note in the top when I dab it).  And that textural gold squiggle on the cap is beyond tacky.  Makes me think of mob bosses and their molls, wearing flashy gold jewelry to the casino… 

Balmain Jolie Madame (edt).  This isn’t the current  packaging, which I find a lot nicer (and more suitable to the smell inside, with its uncompromising clean edges).  This round-shouldered bottle with its gilded plastic parts is all wrong for the invisible-armor Jolie Madame.  I have this in vintage parfum, too, and that packaging is terrific: the small square bottles with their catercorner-applied labels are quirky and distinctive.

Kenzo Parfum d’Ete’ (the old one, with muguet).  The bottle is attractive, with its frosted glass veined leaf shape.  But it’s awkward to spray; you really need three hands.  Also, I always attempt to put the cap back on backwards before turning it around so it’ll fit.  You’d think I’d learn, but I haven’t managed it yet.  In the pic at left, it looks like a little kid’s hands are  holding the bottle – but it really is that large and awkward.

Jacomo Silences.  This is another heavy black glass one that’s awkward to spray.  It’s not ugly, precisely (I like the shape), but extremely inconvenient.  My bottle of vintage pdt is slightly different than this photo – it has a cap that you take off in order to spray, as opposed to the integrated sprayer on the one pictured.

Ivoire de Balmain.  Okay, this is actually one that straddles the “Ugly” and “So Basic-Boring It’s Ridiculous” categories.  The old parfum bottles are really pretty – reminiscent of the classic Chanel parfum bottles, with ivory caps and/or surrounds.  But the edt bottle?  Dulllllll.

Any standard non-urn Caron feminine.  Basically, if you can find it at a discounter, it’ll be in one of those enormous, polka-dotted bottles with the cheesy gold plastic tops.  The Carons I like – Parfum Sacre and Aimez-Moi – are easily available, and cheap, and I can’t help but think that the idiotic packaging has something to do with that.  Is Caron trying to go downmarket?  are they stupid?  Sigh.  I admit that I have a special hatred for polka dots, which doesn’t help Caron’s cause.  I blame… my mother.  Yes, my mother and her insistence on putting toddler-age me in blanket sleepers which had non-skid plastic polka dots on the soles of the feet, and which were so uncomfortable that I kept waking up and complaining of “the bumps  under my feet!”

And here are some fragrances which I only own decants of, but which generally arrive in honkin’ ugly bottles:

Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka.  I love this stuff, but the larger PdN bottles are so ugly.  They remind me of those bottles of hair tonic the local barber (think Floyd the Barber, of Mayberry – sometimes I think this town is Mayberry, ca. 1971…) keeps on the back shelf.  I so wish PdN would do something different with their packaging.

Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete.  Again, I absolutely loooove this, and own it in the small rectangular bottle – which feels pleasant in the hand.  But if I ever wanted more, I think I’d just buy a gazillion of the small bottles instead of one big one.  (Luckily, PdN sells 30ml bottles, and they tend to be priced at close to the same reasonable per-ml cost as the big ones.  Brava, Ms. de Nicolai!)

An upcoming post will be devoted to beautiful bottles, of which there are many.  But please share: what is the ugliest bottle you have in your collection?

All  images are from, largely because I’m too lazy to take my own photos and upload them to the ‘puter… and because fragrantica’s so nice about permissions.



To Sleep, Perchance to Dream (of perfume…)


Categories: The scented life

Before I started this scented journey, I would never have imagined that I would wear two or more different fragrances in a day, much less that I would wear perfume to bed. To sleep, I mean. That would have been stunningly wasteful, extravagant, ridiculous.

But these days I frequently find myself spritzing on something comforting and soft in the evenings, with the intention of relaxing into a pleasant cloud of scent. I’m not having any recent trouble sleeping, although I have had at times in the past, but sometimes I do wake up and find it difficult to resettle. It’s very nice to be able to sniff my wrist and relax all over again. A nice warm bath, a nice warm cup of tea with honey, a backrub if The CEO is feeling magnanimous, some lotion rubbed in, a fan running or other white noise… those are excellent sleep aids as well.

I don’t always put on a fragrance specifically for bedtime. Sometimes I’ve still got whatever I was wearing earlier on my wrists, and sometimes the idea just doesn’t occur to me. But sometimes I just want a nice smell on my skin as I go to sleep.

In winter, I want warm scents, in summer light florals. I notice that the fragrances I seek out at bedtime have commonalities: they tend to be comforting, they tend to be florals or vanillics – nothing complicated or intellectual – and they tend to be the kind of thing that can be spritzed liberally, without the agony of thinking, “Well, there goes $$$.” I want the cheapies at bedtime; if I’m going to by design miss some part of the experience (by being asleep!), I want to be wearing the inexpensive scents. Maybe that’s just me. I find, for example, Lutens’ La Myrrhe extremely comforting, but I’d never use it as a bedtime scent because it’s too special.

Here’s my roster of Sleep Agents:

Winter Team

Balenciaga Rumba (vtg edt). Rumba is one of those perfumes you would just despise and resent in the heat (or if you were pregnant, for that matter). Its fruits are the kind of thing our grandmothers used to put up in glass Mason jars in the summer, swimming in sugar syrup: peaches, plums, pears, apricots, stone fruits translucent with cooking and soft in texture. Rumba’s florals are heady, rich and tropical: magnolia, tuberose, jasmine, gardenia, orchid, carnation, heliotrope. All of this stuff makes Rumba a little tough for me to take, at times. It’s like wearing Carnival in Rio, right there on your skin, holy moly. But if you can hang in there awhile, you’ll be rewarded with one of the richest, strangest, loveliest drydowns ever. The base of Rumba is one of those that I find difficult to classify as either oriental or chypre, as it contains elements of both genres and nothing seems to stand out. Patchouli, oakmoss, amber? Chypre. Vanilla, styrax (benzoin), tonka, musk? Oriental. All of the above? Heaven knows how to classify it. In any case, the drydown of Rumba smells primarily of hot dust and honey and beeswax. It is gorgeous and warm.

Rochas Tocade (edt). I reviewed Tocade here in the fall. For sleeping, I like it because of its combination of dusty patchouli and vanilla, overlaid with that deep rose. Patchouli is very difficult for me in general, but somehow when it’s combined with vanilla it just makes the vanilla deep and smoky instead of smelling musty-earthy-dirty.

Shalimar Light (blue juice, the J-P Guerlain version). Reviewed here. Actually, I pretty much love SL at all times except summer. I’ve come to understand that if a scent contains the vanilla-benzoin-tonka combo, especially if it’s also got florals, I’m almost guaranteed to like it, unless it also contains a tolu balsam-patchouli combo, AKA The Kiss of Death. Smooth, creamy, comforting.

Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles, in pretty much any concentration. Reviewed here. Another rich, busy scent that dries down to a gloriously warm, incensey-musky base. Smells like a warm bed, which is perfect.

Caron Parfum Sacré (edp). Rose, woods, incense. Reviewed here. I find it intensely comforting and at the same time quite sensuous.

Thierry Mugler Alien (edp).  I have three samples, which are rapidly disappearing.  This one swings wildly between rich woods and sugared jasmine; I think it’s actually a little too sweet, but somehow that doesn’t bother me at bedtime.

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Another creamy one, reviewed here. So smooth that you glide along the dream river. Could be worn year-round, except in very hot weather.

Mariella Burani edt. No. 5’s cheerful Italian cousin, with cream in her coffee. Reviewed here, and another one that could be worn in all but the hottest weather.

Summer rotation (oddly, it looks as if I haven’t reviewed any of these yet)

Ivoire de Balmain (edt). Galbanum, citrus, floral soap, moss, and (eventually) rose and benzoin. A breath of fresh air at the start, with the clean smell of soap. When I wake up I will smell utterly delicious. Ivoire had to grow on me, and I like it better in humid weather when the soap and moss aren’t duking it out.

Kenzo Parfum d’Ete. I have the first version of this (1992), which is full of muguet and light, clean florals, mixed with very fresh green notes. Beautiful. The current reformulation is actually very lovely as well – less floral and more green, a lot like Calyx but without the sour fruity topnotes that go all garbagey on me.

YSL Paris Pont des Amours (LE, one of the many springtime flankers that soften the shrieking edge of original Paris). Paris is beautiful, but it can be a bit… much, you know, especially in the heat. I tend to like those Printemps LE versions for summer because they reduce the noise level to a manageable degree. How can you sleep with Paris screaming in your ear? I like the lightly powdery aspect of the Printemps flankers as well – powder is cool in the heat.

Annick Goutal Petite Cherie (edt). Yes, I know that a lot of people hate that pear topnote, and/or think it smells like wet dog. Yes, I know that pear topnote tends to deteriorate quickly (PC is the only bottle I keep in the fridge). Yes, I know that most of the rest of you think it’s silly for a grown woman to wear a fragrance meant for a little girl. I don’t care. Petite Cherie is a guilty pleasure and I love it. It is enormously comforting to me: fruit, grass, and roses are the elements of a childhood memory of peace, of weightlessness of the soul.

If there are any scents or bedtime rituals you rely on to usher you into Dreamland, please share.

(Image is baby liam sleeps by phitar at flickr.)



In Which I Revisit the Loud Perfume Issue


Categories: Guerlain, Rant, The scented life, Tags: ,

This has got to be the single weirdest perfume neurosis I have: if it’s got monstah sillage, I’m going to hate it.  Period. 

Every so often, I’ll run across comments from other perfume aficionados saying that they love scents that leave a trail, or that their very favorite perfumes enter the room before they do, or that they simply adore being surrounded by a cloud of good-smelling stuff.  Someone on fragrantica just posted this query last week: “I must confess I adore tail-y fragrances. I love to leave a lingering hint of my presence in the room or when I walk by. Which perfumes in your opinion have the best sillage? Merci!”

That’s when I start feeling like an alien, because I have the opposite perspective.  (Interestingly, I just came across a post by Abigail at I Smell Therefore I Am, visiting this same issue, where she talks about not understanding perfumistas who don’t like sillage.  Maybe we notice the view that’s not our own first.  Maybe I’m not as alone as I thought.)

It’s not that I adore the quiet, “please ignore me i’m not wearing perfume” e.e. cummings-type scents.  I don’t.  (My sister, who typically wears gentle applications of Coco Mlle.* and smells lovely in it, was gifted with Alfred Sung Shi for Christmas.  She encouraged me to smell it and asked what I thought.  Aquatic Calone-y synthetic mess was what I thought, but what I said was, “It smells like water to me.”  She smiled with triumph, saying, “Yes, exactly!  It’s so nice and light.  And look, the bottle looks like a drop of water.”  I was wearing two three-hours-old spritzes of Bois des Iles, the Les Exclusifs version, which smells a bit thin to me compared to the old stuff, and which at that stage was little more than a faint spicy woodiness; she found it “heavy.”  Good grief, woman, I was thinking, it’s twenty degrees Fahrenheit outside.  Why would you want “light”?)

*Side note re Coco Mad: I’m not fond of it in a bottle; I don’t like it on my skin; it’s fairly ubiquitous; even if it weren’t my sister’s favorite, I wouldn’t wear it if a bottle fell from the sky.  But she smells great in it; it’s very floral on her with none of the gender-bending harshness it usually offers.  Actually, on her it smells like a day-old application of one of the vintage classic tailored florals: Eau de Arpege, maybe, or an old version of Jolie Madame: sternly beautiful. 

And I do have wonderful experiences in “loud” tuberose scents — that’s probably the one note I really want to luxuriate in — like Balenciaga Michelle, but I like to wear them when I’m going to be alone all day.   Tatiana parfum is beautiful. Fracas does not eat my head if I dab it.  Carnal Flower is ethereal, not carnal, and I might love it best of all the tuberose scents I’ve tried.

I think I’ll just have to admit I’m a freak.  All the classic big-sillage perfumes, to be honest, sort of terrify me.  Opium-Cinnabar-Obsession, known to me as the Axis of Evil, head the list.  YSL Paris I can take, but only if it’s applied lightly.  Youth Dew? KILL ME NOW. Insolence edp almost did kill me (see below).  Amarige, LouLou, Paloma Picasso, Narciso Rodriguez for her, Samsara, Angel…

I absolutely hate walking around trailing fumes like some noxious walking toxic waste dump. Hate it hate it – it’s as if I’ve got toilet paper stuck to my shoe: embarrassing and socially inept.  Worse, for me big sillage is like those I’m-naked-in-public dreams — way too personal for words. People across the room do not need to know what sort of mood I’m in.

I like to be smellable within a three-foot radius, as a wisp of “Mmm, something smells good,” if I move.  I like for my husband to tuck his nose into my neck in order to smell me.  I like to be, well, polite, having had way too many movies/concerts/journeys ruined by someone else’s perfume mugging me via my nostrils.  Probably, too, my years ‘n years of choral singing has inhibited me with regard to putting on large doses of scent.

Perfumes: The Guide called Insolence edp “monumentally skillful” and reminiscent of L’Heure Bleue, which I like very much, so I had to try it.  Can I just say, MISTAKE?  I spritzed one measly little spritz, my usual practice when sampling, and immediately wanted to cut my hand off at the wrist.  Immediately.  It was Loud.  It was Extremely Loud.  I kept walking about the house turning lights and electronics off, just to get some peace.  I mean, I actually experienced it as being auditory hell.  I put earplugs in.  I suffered for about half an hour before deciding to be kind to myself by getting out the unscented deodorant and the Tide.  In the meantime, more and more analogies came to mind:

  • When I was in college, I had a friend who shared an apartment with four other guys.  Cisco the Architecture Student was a workaholic who frequently slept at the A-School while working on a project.  Unfortunately, his door would be locked when his alarm clock went off at six a.m. — loud and nonstop.  BEEP  BEEP  BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP, into infinity, or until Cisco came home at four p.m. and turned it off.  You could not be in the apartment and not hear that cursed alarm.  Insolence!
  • I have a nightmare of being lost in a huge parking lot, unable to find my own car.  Then suddenly, every single car alarm in the entire parking lot begins to shriek, over and over and over.  Insolence!
  • If you ever read one of those companion books to the Harry Potter series — Bookworm is a fan — called Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, purportedly one of Harry’s textbooks, you will come across the description of a magical tropical bird called a Fwooper, which has brightly colored feathers and which is not recommended as a pet, as its incessant singing causes insanity.  Insolence!

On the other hand, one of the loveliest scented experiences I’ve ever had was when I put on two healthy dabs of what I thought was No. 5 cologne.  It was actually vintage parfum, with much of its aldehydic oomph muted, probably by age (which is what fooled me into thinking it must be cologne) — and when the florals came out to play, I felt as if I were trailing a gorgeously-scented cloud.

And for that vintage Magie Noire edt, one drop is plenty.  Two drops is Gloriously Too Much, and I’d never wear that in company.  Magie Noire is best outside in chilly fall weather, anyway, in my opinion.

31 Rue Cambon can put out some lovely, refined sillage; the one time anyone ever complimented my perfume at work I was wearing it.  It might have been because usually people can’t smell me.  (The compliment?  “That’s nice perfume. Sort of flowery, isn’t it?”)

So, okay, I like some sillage.  But I think my optimum sillage level is probably lower than that of many perfume fans.  Please weigh in with your opinion: am I totally off my nut?  Just a little too sensitive?  The soul of sensible? 

The image is Incandescent Fumes by Debmalya Mukherjee at flickr.



Oasis in the Desert


Categories: The scented life

This is going to seem ridiculously familiar to some of my perfumista friends: The American Mall – at least in bucolic suburbia – is a perfume wasteland.

I had the rare chance to go to the mall yesterday. The CEO insists that all errands be combined as much as possible, so I don’t often go to the small city/big town in which the mall is located. It’s twenty miles away, a good half-hour’s drive – but I had a dentist’s appointment today, and afterward hit the mall. Our mall has four anchor stores: Sears, JC Penney, Belk, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Only one of those, Belk, has sniffies available. They’ve got a big sale going on at the moment, so I went in.

I should explain that it always sort of depresses me to read a blog entry about some new commercial release, because I know that I’ll maybe possibly someday get to sniff it – but only if it’s at Belk, which is mainstream all the way, baby. I won’t get to stroll into Aedes and smell the new L’Artisan, but things like Marc Jacobs Lola, Idole d’Armani, and Lancome Hypnoses Senses are available.

There were testers for all three at Belk. I sprayed each on a card, and they were either “Bleah, too sweet” or “Meh, boring.” What a waste of aisle space. Belk has all the Estee Lauders, except the new Private Collections – which does me absolutely no good because of that Horrible Lauder Base. They’ve also got some Escadas, the Jessica Simpsons, Queen, Juicy Couture, Ed Hardy, a few Lancomes (Tresor, Hypnose, Magnifique, and Hypnose Senses – no La Collection here), and Ralph Laurens. Oh, and of course they have Chanel (no Les Exclusifs, obviously).

The SA who came over to talk to me about Chanels… doesn’t like them. Oh, except for Chance Eau Fraiche. Which she pronounced Aw Fresh. I mean, I grew up here and I’m used to the local accent, but really. I told her that I liked Eau Premiere and got a blank look, like “what’s that?” I pointed. “Oh. I don’t like No. 5, it’s too heavy and old fashioned. But try this, it’s nice and soft.” She sprayed Allure on a card for me. This SA, at a guess, is at least 40, judging by her skin (and yes, I know that’s not nice of me). Hey, I’m 40… ish… too!

I asked to sniff Coco, having heard from a longtime wearer that it smells softer these days. “No, it hasn’t been changed,” the saleslady says. “You like that? That’s an old one.” She sprayed it for me anyway. I was hoping it would be less Opium-ish than it used to be. I don’t hate it as much as I used to, but… still NO. Dear God, NO.

So now I get why people are always complaining about the arid landscape of mainstream, and why they hate that SA’s are so uninformed about what they’re selling. True, all true. Recently over on Now Smell This, Angela reviewed vintage Millot Crepe de Chine as something of an antidote to an unsuccessful sniffing trip; the comments about perfume SA’s are interesting to read. You can access it here. I just hadn’t realized how bad it is – gosh, if you’re going to sell something as luxurious as perfume, perhaps you should find out something about it, hm?

Lost in the scented desert, trying to find my way out, I finally saw an oasis: Shalimar. At the bottom of the case, lovely blue-and gold tester bottle locked up, the only Guerlain in the place sat on a shelf and glowed at me from amid the dreck. I don’t even wear it – it goes pretty tarry on me and can scare the horses, if you know what I mean – but boy, did it look good! Shalimar is still the Grand Old Diva – and to quote Luca Turin, “God bless Guerlain for still doing this stuff.”

I went home and put on a drop of vintage Shalimar parfum de toilette, and then topped it with a little spritz of Shalimar Light.  It was lovely; the Shalimar TarNilla was just right in the woodsmoke-laced rainy evening.  Ahhhh.
Top image: Sahar (Kavir) by Hamed Saber at flickr; Shalimar extrait at ebay.



No Perfume Ennui Here… Not Yet, Anyway

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Categories: Literature review, The scented life

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:
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 (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



Why perfume?

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Categories: The scented life

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

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