Here is an incomplete list of rose chypres (actually, some are floral chypres with a strong rose component, one is a woody chypre with rose, and at least one has an added oriental facet)
The scents in red I’ve tested. The ones in bold are favorites. The ones in purple I tested and disliked, for one reason or another (Knowing was gorgeous for two hours before deteriorating into the Lauder base that so nauseates me on my skin; Paloma was so fierce she nearly scared me to death). Obviously, I haven’t tried all of these, but I will for darn sure attempt it! Look for more reviews here as time passes. There is a brief review of Victoria under my post on Vintage Perfumes; it is more floral than chypre, with rose and other floral notes as the focus.
Unfortunately, the rose chypre seems to be a style of the past, particularly of the 1970’s – a decade with which I have very little affinity, but which seemed to smell great. Rose chypres can be quite sophisticated, and that’s not fashionable these days, with everyone wanting to smell of cotton candy and fruit… but I digress. Rose for femininity, chypre for backbone: what’s not to love?
Images: A Late Given Rose by kuzeytac at flickr; Mossy Forest Floor by lonejeeper at flickr; Rose d’Anjou II by Ira Tsantekidou.
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.
This is, by and large, a Tuberose Fragrance – not exactly the straight-down-the-gullet tuberose overdose that Fracas does so gloriously, or the richly sweet Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia version, but the tuberose does dominate it, and it is rather effusive in the classic tuberose manner.
Here is where I confess a thing or three:
1) I love tuberose. I used to wear tiny dabs of the original Chloe; I never minded the clouds of Giorgio Beverly Hills that ballooned through the halls of my high school; I used to swoon with jealousy whenever a friend of mine, who wore Sand and Sable, walked by; I adored the original tuberose-and-spice Tatiana perfume; after years of scrimping on perfume and using one bottle at a time of drugstore fragrance, it was Bath and Body Works’ Velvet Tuberose that propelled me headlong into Perfume Love.
2) My mother despises tuberose. I bought a small bottle of Sand and Sable once, after a judicious spritz from the drugstore tester, and my mother made me take it back, claiming that I wasn’t old enough for it (I was 17) and that she didn’t want it in the house anyway. Mom – and by the way, we get along very well! – is queen of powdery florals. She wore No. 5 eau de cologne, Anais Anais, and Coty’s soap-and-baby-powdery L’Effleur.
3) I despise huge, resiny orientals like Opium and Tabu and Youth Dew. Gah. If I were ever to be tortured by SPECTRE or some other nefarious crime ring, there’d be no need for the Chinese water torture or sticking bamboo needles under my fingernails: put me in a small room with a person doused in Opium, and I’ll be begging for release within minutes. Just shoot me now, please! And since those huge, resiny orientals all seem to be Big, Loud Perfumes, with monster sillage, it follows that I hate loud perfumes. I honestly thought that Poison, although not resiny, was one of the worst things I have ever smelled.
It has always seemed crude and socially irresponsible to me that some people seem to bathe in their scent, radiating their favorite smell around them the way Pigpen, in the Peanuts comic strips, raised a cloud of dust everywhere he went. Sure, wear what you want – it’s a free country! – but I resent having someone else’s scent forcibly shoved up my nostrils. Particularly when that scent is as noxious to me as one of the Big, Loud Ones. And doesn’t it seem to happen that the people who are drawn to those SMELL ME! scents are usually the same ones who overapply? I mean, I’ve never smelled someone who seemed to have bathed in, say, Borsari Violetta di Parma, a scent so quiet on me that it utterly disappeared within five minutes.
(I apologize right now to you if you are one of those people who wear Youth Dew or Opium or Coco, or their ilk, in tiny amounts designed to keep the sillage within a two-foot radius of your person. There aren’t a large number of you delicate Poison-appliers.)
Helg at Perfume Shrine has a much more rational review of Michelle here: http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/2009/09/balenciaga-michelle-fragrance-review.html. Thanks to her for pushing me into buying this unsniffed.
Confession: I troll ebay. Unlike some of my favorite swap-partners, I haven’t become buddies with the lovely Naz at Canada’s The Perfume Shoppe, I haven’t maxed out the credit cards at luckyscent.com, I haven’t asked relatives making a trip to Paris to bring me Serge Lutens bell jars from the non-export line, and I don’t have the Washington, DC Chanel boutique’s phone number on speed dial… (you know who you are!) No, me, I’m an ebay shark… I have a constant search going for “Vintage perfume,” and – not to toot my own horn – have snagged some real, rare bargains over the summer.
I like used bottles. I don’t mind if someone has opened the bottle and used the juice inside; I don’t care if the seller picked up a battered bottle at a thrift store or estate sale, or made a lucky discovery of Aunt Sadie’s Stash of Vintage and Discontinued Perfumes. I don’t care, particularly, if a scent is no longer in production and cannot ever be replaced with a backup bottle. I find that vintage perfumes have a presence. They open doors into a magic past, in which I can be that Film Noir Dame, or that Perfect Lady in Chanel, or that red-lipsticked Femme Fatale, or even my younger self…
Some of them I love. For example, I might sell my soul for some vintage, perfectly-kept, Emeraude parfum. In fact, if I had to downsize my perfume collection to one scent (the thought hurts my head!), it would be vintage Emeraude. And I have two bottles of vintage Chanel No. 5 parfum, one more beautiful than the other, that make it easy to see why it’s sold so well over the years: this stuff is stunning. And I have a teeny-tiny bottle of Jolie Madame parfum that is so gorgeous that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
Some of the vintage scents are interesting, but not really to my taste. Balenciaga Le Dix was much like Chanel No. 19 in feel, if not in actual smell – cool and businesslike, but lacking the boot-stomping oomph that makes me love No. 19. Patou Adieu Sagesse was pretty for an hour, with a fresh carnation that made me smile, followed by a fast fadeout. Lucien LeLong Indiscret was a richly peach-citrus floral that felt like Real Perfume – and then it degenerated into a Youth Dew mess (as you can guess, I’m not a fan of the big resiny orientals; more on that tomorrow.) Coty L’Origan parfum was, yes, a near twin of Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, but without the angel’s wings that lifts L’HB into the air. Vintage Arpege is so rich that wearing it feels like eating way too much dinner.
And some of these vintage scents are just awful! I cannot always tell whether the scent has suffered from age or problematic storage, or whether my tastes are sufficiently modern that I find these scents unattractive. Or, of course, whether I Just Don’t Like Them, which happens with even well-received modern niche scents like L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer (Pine-Sol shaving cream!) or Iris Pallida (sweaty old man wearing faded cologne). Lanvin Via was a big ol’ chunk of galbanum that never eased into the promised florals; so was Estee Lauder Private Collection parfum. Caron Infini confirmed for me that I must really dislike lactones.
Then, too, I’ve gone through the looking glass, searching for perfumes from my own scented past. Sometimes I think to myself, Wonder what the original Chloe, or Aspen for Women, would smell like to me now? or Sure wish I could remember what the original Victoria by Victoria’s Secret smelled like, and I really wish I’d had the money to buy some way back when. Or, Boy, I really loved Emeraude and Tatiana back in the day; I’d love to wear them again. And then off I go to ebay, fishing in somebody else’s closet for a piece of my past. These are the difficult ones to open and smell again. Am I the same person? Clearly not. My nose knows somewhat better than it used to know, and I’m older/presumably wiser/different.
WINNERS IN THE RECAPTURING-MY-PAST CATEGORY:
Or the desk chair. Yes, summer is over and school has started. (Yippee!) I’m shaking small people awake every weekday morning now, packing lunchboxes full of nutritious goodies like applesauce cups and peanut-butter sandwiches, and ferrying my children to school on my way to work. And my husband has gone back to his school-year job, teaching agriculture at the university down the road; he’ll be farming on weekends until next summer.
The house is empty in the afternoons after I come home from my part-time job, and there is time to write! Now I’ve only to go collect up the notes I made regarding perfume testing over the summer, which ought to be no help really, because my usual meticulous notes degenerated into 10-word descriptions. Oh, heck, I’ll just start over with the reviewing!
I hope to be back on a three-to-four posts a week basis as of now. Well, it’s Thursday, and we’ve got a family trip planned for the weekend, so if I get a review finished I’ll post tomorrow and that will hit the average – for this week, anyway.
While testing a vintage perfume today, I had a revelation. Those of you who know me know that I don’t like to wear my perfume so thickly that I can be smelled from ten feet away. I’m a delicate applier, and only people close enough to hug me are the ones to smell my perfume. In the past I have ranted about those who love loud perfumes and apply them heavily, forcing others to share their chosen scent to a degree that verges on invasion. But today – ah, today… I began to understand those people. At least to a degree…
Back tomorrow with a review of Balenciaga’s lovely, discontinued early-80’s Michelle.
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.
The other cause for celebration is that this thing makes me giddy. Every time I spray it, I get happy. It seems perfect for chilly weather. I haven’t worn it in warm weather yet, and I’m not sure I’m going to, but the happiness factor guarantees that I’ll at least try it once. It starts out with a burst of tangy lime, and a hit of cinnamon oil. Remember those cinnamon-oil toothpicks the boys used to bring to middle school and pass around, before school authorities figured out how dangerous each and every thing brought onto school grounds can be? Those toothpicks smelled great, and if you chewed on one, it burned your tongue and cleared your sinuses. The cinnamon in Vanille Tonka isn’t quite that strong, but it’s not very foody. Likewise, the vanilla is not your average sweet marshmallow/custard/ice cream vanilla; it’s smoky and restrained. The carnation is present, only vaguely floral, underneath the vanilla and tonka base, and the whole thing is covered in a veil of frankincense, with its dry, lime-y, smoky depth.
VT is not universally loved – March over at Perfume Posse said she’d rather stick a fork in her hand than ever smell it again, and Luca Turin, in Perfumes: The Guide, calls it dull next to Patricia de Nicolai’s first perfume, Number One. (I’ll comment that VT reminds me more of Sacrebleu than it does Number One, which has a vaguely chypre-ish groove.) But it does have its fans: Robin at Now Smell This, despite not being a vanilla fan, calls it “lovely,” and Victoria at Bois de Jasmin comments that it is “sophisticated” and “comforting.”
For me, though, Vanille Tonka is all about lime and vanilla, and I always get this mental picture: tipsy limes staggering around, dancing through the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick forest, laughing their heads off every time they bounce into a giant carnation. Sophisticated? Well, maybe next to a vanilla fragrance like Jessica Simpson’s Fancy. When I wear Vanille Tonka, it’s because I want a little fun.
I live in a newfangled farmhouse on the edge of a cattle farm in the mountains of Virginia. Like most farmhouses, it’s designed more for comfort than for impressing the neighbors, and contains more than its share of dirt and chaos. When we were building this house, my husband commented that he didn’t want a fancy-looking house. “It should be homey,” I said. “Yes,” he replied. “The house should appear to be saying, ‘Come in and have some soup.'”
Blogging is new to me. And since this is the inaugural post for Muses in Wooden Shoes, it would make sense to lay out my expectations for this blog — its floorplan, if you will. The plan is that I’ll post three blogs a week, with the possibility of more, on subjects that interest me: novels, poetry, perfume, memories, the senses, music, God… Comments will be welcome. (Please, come in and have some soup!) I just ask that you keep your language such that your mother could read the blog without embarrassment.
On the top floor of this Homey Farmhouse is my so-called Sewing Room. It’s a small room which contains a twin bed, a nightstand with a lamp, a table with a sewing machine on it, and a chair. It’s crowded. It’s messy. But on the walls are three plaques with vital messages:
These vital messages are all expressed as verbs, and that fact in itself is a vital message. If one wants to BE, one must DO. That’s my hope for this blog: that as I Dream, Create, and Believe, I become more myself than I’ve ever been. Here’s to the journey.