Friday, July 25, 2014

I Wore This: Jean Patou Sublime Eau de Parfum

Amber, Vetiver, Orange Blossom. Like Teo Cabanel's Alahine, Sublime is a strange, diffusive toasted amber.

I was telling someone last night my sense of smell isn't particularly robust. I like strong, forceful things that keep reminding me they're with me. Sublime isn't strong or forceful but it's that rare fragrance that stage whispers.

People complain about a hairspray note. I often think, "What's wrong with people?"

Groggy this morning from staying up not so very late but drinking a little too much beer on an empty stomach. The company was so good and the moment so perfect I didn't want to leave. Second story stone balcony of an old quad apartment complex.

We're having what my friend said is called a...polar vortex? So the air was unusually cool, without much if any humidity. There was a little strand of colored Christmas lights strung across the balustrade; just enough illumination. The view was a textured layering of trees, very still. The mood was chatty but pensive in a languid way. There were four of us on the balcony and the sound of the other three talking was a form of lullaby.

This might have had everything or very little to do with picking Sublime this morning, and the place it's taking me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Wore This: Chanel No.5 Eau De Cologne

I was in Berlin recently with Barbara Herman and Miguel Matos, and at some point, trading the smells we'd all brought, Miguel pulled out an atomizer of Chanel No. 5 eau de cologne.

I've never been a big No.5 fan, so the cologne concentration surprised me. It's sweet and ambery and a little leathery, less sharp than its better known siblings, more mellow. It doesn't last long but at least, unlike the edt and edp, it isn't meant to.

I bought this little bottle on Ebay. When I posted this picture on Facebook I was told that the bottle probably dates back to no earlier than the 70s, which is just fine with me. I put it on the back of my hand and enjoyed it most of the day, reapplying when I missed that initial rush of vanillic amber. The bottle is shaped like a flask you'd hide in your pocket to get through a particularly tedious ordeal.

I'd like to smell this on a guy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Selections from Bourbon French Parfums, New Orleans, Lousiana


Originally called Doussan French Perfumery, the perfume house now known as Bourbon French Parfums dates back to 1843, the year perfumer and founder August Doussan arrived in New Orleans from France.

The establishment has since passed through several hands and noses, all of which and whom you can read about on the company's website or hear about, I imagine, if you visit the store in the French Quarter.

The perfumes are, depending on who smells them, either wonderfully old school or old lady, that much-loved term for all things not fairly strictly contemporary. I like or love nearly everything I've smelled, and stand among Bourbon French's many admirers.

It's true the scents recall a different time and probably require some amount of appreciation for perfumes past. It's also true that the history of perfumery is increasingly hard to discern in the changing landscape of modern fragrance, where reformulations have altered the old reliables and prevailing fashion has drastically remapped the rest.

It helps that the pricing is reasonable. It doesn't hurt that you can buy many different sizes and concentrations. The perfumes arrive in velvet drawstring pouches. The labels look like they were printed on a vintage press hidden in the basement of the building. Not much information is provided about the fragrances, which adds to the pleasure of discovering them and enhances their sense of mystery. Several have become personal favorites:

Voodoo Love

One of the house's better known fragrances, Voodoo Love is earthy, floral, and spicy, beginning with an unusually strong dose of vetiver that bursts forth on the skin and is gradually embraced by velvety rose and jasmine. There is probably quite a lot of patchouli in this fragrance, helping to turn the lights down on those florals, and it could be that the patchouli, and the vetiver, neither remotely clean, contribute to the scent's subtle but pervasive animalic quality. It could also be that there's civet in the mix. If so, it's humming faint accompaniment. I sense clove but could be imagining that, a phenomenon that happens for me with many of Bourbon French's perfumes. I would probably classify Voodoo Love as a floriental, and it reminds me of once-popular, now-forgotten Lanvin fragrance which only exists in my mind. It has great persistence and projection, and the extended dry down is worth waiting for. The scent veers back and forth between accepted ideas of masculine and feminine on the way there.

Mon Idée

Imagine carnations steeped in peach nectar. Pour that peach nectar infusion over slightly spiced rose. Mon Idée is the most cheerful Bourbon French scent I've smelled. It doesn't get "carnation" right in the strict sense of the word, and carnation is so ever-present that you might be led to believe that it strives to. What it does get is the feeling of receiving a bouquet of carnations from, say, an admirer, or a loved one - that flush to your cheeks and your senses, the heightened feeling of possibility being noticed or admired can bring, the nearly electric thrum of the colors in the bouquet after this mood filters them to your senses. Mon Idée, for me, is an astonishing fragrance. It's very floral, like another favorite, Perfume of Paradise, but it doesn't have the latter's hothouse vibe, nor its indolic carnality. Mon Idée wafts around in a little pocket of happiness, well being, and radiance which is so foreign to the experience of every day life that smelling the perfume can produce an elated confusion of uplift and heartbreak.

Romanov

A peach of a very different frequency presides over Romanov. This fruit is slightly turned, an effect enhanced, if not entirely created, by the distinct presence of honey. The peach skin has darkened; its fuzz gone rough. I would say this is primarily peach, rose, and honey, although there is clearly something sturdier going on underneath that core medley; some clove, possibly or even probably some patchouli. Like Voodoo Love, Romanov conjures fragrances that never were but seem to have been. You keep trying to place it. I should add that a common remark about the Bourbon French fragrances is that they are uniformly powdery. With a few exceptions, I don't get the connection. Romanov, Mon Idée, and Voodoo Love could hardly to my nose be called powdery, nor can most of the others, which leads me to believe that I've been right in concluding previously that for many the word powdery is often a stand-in for vintage. That said, while all three of the scents I've mentioned have vintage aspects and at times an overall vintage vibe, they also strike me as better versions of niche scents than the overwhelming majority of niche scents I've smelled in the last few years.

Sans Nom

If you find a better name for a fragrance, do let me know. Sans Nom has to be called something, so why not call a spade a spade? The scent reminds me of everything from Opium to Cinnabar by way of Teatro alla Scala, but Sans Nom feels peerless at the same time. The usual suspects are there: rose, jasmine, patchouli, clove. But somehow Sans Nom feels softer than its comparisons. Again, I could be imagining it, but I smell what seems like a lot of Ylang to me. Of the so called feminine fragrances in the Bourbon French inventory, Sans Nom sits second to Voodoo Love as the most masculine in feel. Or does it? I can't decide. It's the only BF fragrance I've smelled that I might call a straight up oriental. Despite it's powerhouse company and notes, it isn't the most persistent fragrance in the line, nor the loudest. It isn't quiet - not at all - but there's something meditative and whispery about it that I don't usually get in orientals.

Other favorites are Perfume of Paradise, the custom blend formerly known as Dark Gift, Patchouli, Vetiver, Kus Kus, and Oriental Rose. Thanks out to Maria Browning of Bitter Grace Notes for introducing me to this line with a very thoughtful and generous care package of samplers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Barbara Herman in Nashville


Last week, Barbara Herman (author of the blog Yesterday's Perfume and the book Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of provocative Perfume) was in town on her way to a reading in Nashville. When she asked if I might like to head that way with her I said yes, and even though I ended up attending a funeral the morning we were leaving and we plowed carefully and slowly through buckets of rain on the highway to get there, it turned out to be a fantastic trip.

Barbara had a list of things to see in Nashville, but with her reading on the agenda we didn't have much more than a day to tool around. When we walked out of the place we were staying the first morning, the lawn was so green, and the red and white stripes of her shirt looked so good against it, that I asked her to risk grass stains and a morning ritual redo for a picture. She was game and silly about it and that was basically the tone of the trip as a whole.

If you haven't read Barbara's work on the blog or gotten your hands on her book yet, I encourage you to. I'd enjoyed her voice for several years before we met last year at a Scent Bar event in LA, and was surprised at how down to earth she was for a writer, let alone an active blogger. It turns out her actual physical presence is essentially like her writing - good natured, sharp and smart.

Highlights: a rose water-infused iced coffee at a place called Fido; Princess Hot Chicken (where the woman at the counter asked me how hot and I said VERY MILD, Baby steps please, to which she answered, Okay, and come on back when you're ready for the real stuff; smelling selections from Barbara's stash of vintage perfume with Maria Browning (whom I'd met and adore) and Ron Slomowicz (whom I hadn't met, and whose blissful M. Micallef Rose Extreme I smelled before he fully arrived); and staying up late with Barbara to mis-pronounce passages of text in snooty fake accents.

(Photo of Barbara taken by me last Friday morning) 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Diptyque L'Eau de L'Eau


At some point in the last year or two, during their repackaging thrust, Diptyque changed the concentration of their Les Eaux series. Previously colognes, these now became eau de toilette, with better lasting power and slightly different behaviors on the skin. I must have smelled the cologne versions when they first started releasing them; however, until recently, I think the last one I'd paid any attention to was L'eau de Tarocco. It wasn't a memorable experience, and I dutifully ignored all subsequent releases.

Turns out that was a mistake, because even in their cologne concentrations these scents were largely fantastic. My favorites are L'eau de Hesperides and L'eau de L'eau, both of which are reinterpretations, or variations, of earlier Diptyque releases (Oyedo and the line's flagship fragrance, L'eau, respectively). Both are wonderful - the addition of immortelle to Oyedo is a revelation - but L'eau de L'eau distinguishes itself for me through its combination of bitter zest and clove.

It's an unusual take on cologne, spicy yet fresh, tart without a wince. This is effervescence done in a way I can get behind. You might like effervescent. It's never done much for me. Volatility is fine with me as long as something enters left stage for a second and hopefully a third act. I pretty scrupulously avoid one act colognes, of which there are too many, and the recent craze for all things "L'eau de" have made my trips to the department store even more infrequent than they'd already become. L'eau de L'eau lasts well for a "cologne", and though it smells cologne-like in general effect, there are significant twists and tweaks. It isn't at all a skin scent (also, for me, a dread descriptor) and it doesn't race its way off the radar before you have time to register it. People will smell it on you. You'll smell it on yourself.

The cologne version was punchier and didn't last all too poorly itself. There were things I liked about it - its brightness, its overload of spice - that the eau de toilette has adjusted. When you sprayed on the cologne it was like puncturing an orange rind with a clove bud. The spice in the eau de toilette is still there, but the rose has been boosted, bringing L'eau de L'eau closer to its inspiration, the wonderful L'eau. This makes the clove a little less startling, and the overall fragrance that much richer and deeper. Ginger, lavender, pimento and geranium give the scent a piquancy its inspiration didn't have, but all are held in balance to the rose. The patchouli is hard to put a finger on, in case patchouli frightens you.

L'eau was pomander in a bottle. I first wore it at a film festival in Philadelphia, shocking my festival-appointed escort as I stepped into the car. It's a wondrous fragrance - one you don't miss - and still in production, though harder to find at stores which carry Diptyque. It's a go-to favorite of mine and its relation to L'eau de L'eau is unmistakable, yet L'eau de L'eau is very much its own fragrance as well, and each comes in handy for different moods. If you've tried L'eau and found it a bit much, you might find L'eau de L'eau more to your liking or speed.

The perfumer of L'eau de L'eau is Olivier Pescheux. The notes are listed as green mandarin, grapefruit, petitgrain, lemon, ginger, orange blossom, cinnamon, lavender, pimento, cloves, geranium, tonka bean, patchouli and benzoin. The fragrance comes in 100ml.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Best of 2013: Perfume and Otherwise

2013 was eventful for me - a little more eventful than I tend to like - and it had less to do with perfume than I'd prefer. Still, there were highlights. Precious few, but they peppered the disappointments enough to keep me engaged, if barely.


- In November, Andy Tauer and I released the third fragrance in our ongoing collaboration between the characters and stories of the Woman's Picture film series and the line of companion fragrances we created, Tableau de Parfums. It was a summation for us of what we've done the last several years, and an anniversary in many ways - celebrating a creative partnership, a cycle of stories, and a love of perfume and film in general. A step forward, too, where we asked ourselves 'What now?' Selfishly, Ingrid is one of my favorite fragrances of 2013 - not just because it's beautiful, rich, and evocative, but because it relates very personally to my own experience and inner life, as the character and story it comes from do. I could pretend to be impartial and leave it off my list - I've done so in the past - but starting this post I realized that every blogger's/lover's list has hidden partialities and priorities, and pretending otherwise is more disingenuous than embracing and declaring those biases. I didn't start this collaboration, nor do I spend so much time working on it, because I wanted to pretend it doesn't matter much to me.


 - The event celebrating Ingrid was shared with author Barbara Herman, whose blog Yesterday's Perfume had long been a favorite of mine and whose book, Scent and Subversion, had just come out. It was wonderful to meet Herman, after several years corresponding with her online. Even better to discover that the book is as fantastic as I'd hoped. Full of vintage illustrations and informed by Herman's unique voice, witty without being snarky, generous in terms of sharing its influences rather than pretending all perfume knowledge springs forth from a single mind, the book is brain and eye candy, the kind of thing you read and realize you've been wishing for without knowing it. I've read many books on perfume - all of them, I think, at this point. Scent and Subversion is one of my favorites, detailing classic fragrances - high end and low - by decade.


 - Let's face it, 2013 was no peak point, and I doubt very much that any of us will look back from, say, 2016, let alone '14, and regard it as anything like a pivotal moment in time. Rounding up the mainstream releases is a depressing enough proposition (Calvin Klein Downtown, Marc Jacobs Honey, Balenciaga Rosabotanica and L'eau Rose, Polo Red, Versace Eros, Givenchy Gentleman Only, Estee Lauder Modern Muse). Even Thierry Mugler, whose annual variations on Angel, Alien and Womanity I look forward to, was a letdown, recycling old recycling (Liqueur redux). But even the niche offerings were, for me, largely uninspired. I had high hopes for Parfums de Nicolai Rose Oud and Amber Oud, for example, despite their cashing in on a dispiriting trend, but I should have known better. Both are perfectly lovely, but that's about it. I single these out because for the most part Nicolai has represented a certain kind of benchmark for me - I might not like what the house puts out, but it will always be interesting.

 - Mentioning what didn't inspire me much first could be seen as pessimistic, but it seems like a useful reference point in discussing what I did like, because for the most part, most of what I liked in 2013 might not have interested me much in years past, when more was consistently surprising me. Le Labo Ylang 49, for instance, was a favorite this year - but isn't it really very similar to Diane Von Furstenburg and La Perla and too many patch-bomb chypre concoctions past? Tom Ford Sahara Noir continues to please me, and yet considered in an overview extending beyond just the last year it's...frankincense retread, pure and simple, however pleasing. I did very much like Atelier Cologne's Silver Iris and Mistral Patchouli. Both felt simple and fresh and their own somehow, perhaps by not pretending to be the latest, most-est thing. Comme des Garcon's Black and its Bleu Series were very nice - and yet part of their niceness was a sense that however good they were on their own terms, they were first and foremost a welcome return to interesting for the line. Malle's Dries Van Noten, while thrilling to some, seemed a whisper in the wrong direction for me.

 - In the thick of all this, Viktoria Minya's Hedonist was the sincerest of high points. This fragrance was as close as I got to pure happiness and satisfaction in a scent this year. Its honeyed tobacco tones and just right floral underpinnings did what too many other failed to do - it sent my mind off on some kind of narrative journey.

 - Naomi Goodsir's Cuir Velours, similarly, took hold of my imagination in the best possible way. I can't wear this scent without wondering just how it does what it does - to my nose, my mind, the people who smell it on me. Burnt caramel leather isn't something I would have imagined cottoning to, which is exactly the kind of unexpected pleasure the year was mostly short on.


 - I loved Byredo's 1996. Vanilla, iris, patchouli, amber, hitting familiar notes but hitting them harder than I've smelled before, tapping right into my pleasure pulse points. If only I could afford it.

Bloggers participating in this round up of personal 2013 favorites:

Perfume Shrine

Ayala Moriel's Smelly Blog

The Fragrant Man

Olfactoria's Travels

The Candy Perfume Boy

Eyeliner on a Cat

Persolaise

Thanks out to Perfume Shrine for inviting me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bond No.9: The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly (or, Just What Is It That Makes Today's Bond No.9 So Hit and Miss?)


Is there a more derided niche house than Bond No. 9? I'm tempted to say no. The brand's infamously aggressive tactics - with consumers, with retailers, with critics - have earned it a special place in the hearts and minds of people who write about, talk about, and sniff perfume: first there was criticism, then, more recently, silence. The increasingly outrageous pricing hasn't helped, nor have the endless series of flankers in all but name, a long line of perfumes which share the basic DNA of drugstore shampoo.

It's hard to see, at this point, what's any good, as opposed to what is merely mediocre, in the line. Some tell you it's all mediocre. I'd say a lot of it is. But there are some good, even great, perfumes to be found there. And none of this probably hurts the company anyway, judging by a recent trip to Nordstrom, where even the least interesting Bond fragrances seemed infinitely more compelling than the majority of the department store's increasingly narrowed down inventory.

Here's a list of my highly biased picks for good, bad, and otherwise:

The good...

H.O.T. Always 2003

A just right combination of patchouli, cinnamon, and civet, with the balls out feel of pre reformulation Givenchy Gentleman and Giorgio for Men. Some have commented that you might as well pay a fraction of the price for still-in-production Gentleman or Giorgio, but in my experience they aren't half as rich or satisfying, however superficially similar. H.O.T. Always was composed by Maurice Roucel, as were a number of other earlier Bonds, such as the also good Riverside Drive and New Haarlem, and the fantastic...

Broadway Nite 2003

Probably my pick for favorite, Broadway is, like H.O.T., quintessentially American in its cheeky, verging on overkill attitude. Amber, rose, vanilla and violet create the general outlines of the fragrance. It's a good time gal of a scent, not overly preoccupied with sophistication, if by sophistication you mean something like understatement. Broadway is radiant and strangely succulent, as if all its ingredients were set on impersonating berries they'd only ever actually seen in movies.

Manhattan 2012

Unlike the more recent I Love New York for Holidays, Manhattan feels like something created with this time of year in mind. Too much for some, it seems just right to me. Gingerbread and honeyed chocolate could go very wrong, but something in the mix (jasmine, patchouli, plum?) puts them in check. In my favorite Bond's, there is often a "just so" quality - the sense that with one more minor tweak, everything might have gone horribly awry. There's an audacity to that high wire act that I really like, and Manhattan is one of the only recent Bond's that revives that spirit of risk.

New York Oud 2011

It's on the expensive side, even for Bond, but New York Oud is hands down my favorite oud fragrance, and given that most of them are ridiculously overpriced, even compared to this, Bond's entry is a steal by comparison. When I tell you it's my favorite I imagine you will say to yourself, yeah, but has he smelled...(fill in the blank)? It might be hard for you to imagine this is the favorite of anyone who's smelled all the wonderful offerings that are OUD. So I should tell you I'm pretty sure I've smelled most of these now, and while some impress me, and some have even persuaded me to the point of purchase, none come close to New York Oud in my affections. Having worn it for over a year, I can also tell you I think it's worth every penny in terms of projection, tenacity, and likability. To say it's nothing more than rose, oud (or what, more likely, passes for it in most of these scents), and patchouli is like saying A sunset is basically the sun and the sky. Bond No.9 Signature is very similar in certain respects but not nearly as fantastic.

Runners up: Chinatown, Nuits de Noho, Saks Fifth Avenue for Her, Bleecker Street, Great Jones, Fire Island, and the now discontinued Andy Warhol.

The bad...

Cooper Square 2010

There are worse things, even at this price, but Cooper Square gives them a run for their money in terms of disappointment. A pronounced juniper note never really goes away - not a bad thing in itself, but everything just feels at odds in this fragrance for me, and bombastic juniper, devoid of mediating skills, struggles to keep the peace by drowning all else out. It feels like every masculine known to man, just in case whoever comes to pick it up from the airport might mistake it for anything else and leave it stranded with its considerable baggage.

Madison Soiree 2003

A dead ringer for the milky chypre Madame Rochas, for a time, Soiree is the life of the party for all of five minutes, before it buttons down and sulks into its overcoat on a low chair in the very far corner of the room, a very sour look on its face.

Fashion Avenue 2003

Great, if you could wash your hair with it, and you lived on a planet where 3 ounces of shampoo at this price made anything close to sense. Fashion Avenue is one of too many shampoo Bond's to count. Count them yourself if you like. I get them all confused.

New York Patchouli 2013

Maybe Le Labo can get away with a patchouli scent which is anything but patchouli, but Bond has its reputation working against it, and Le Labo is often at least giving you a new way to think about the note in question. NY Patchouli is part of Bond's more recent line of even higher priced fragrances. A few of these (New York Amber and New York Oud, specifically) are good enough to let pass. New York Patchouli is a sticking point. It's so generic it doesn't even smell like much of a fragrance to speak of.

The fugly...

New York Amber

If not for the price, I would put this under Good. I actually really like this take on Amber, and it has good projection and longevity. At first glance, it was foul. It grew on me until I found myself carrying it around throughout the day. Not that it takes much re-applying. I file Amber under Fugly because for me it represents a downward trend with Bond. To single Bond out for it's over-production and outrageous pricing is a bit disingenuous, as these are industry wide practices. But Bond seems particularly egregious to me. They release far more than they should, too many to keep track of, and escalate their pricing so frequently and seemingly arbitrarily that it strikes me as transparently hostile toward their consumer. Amber is a useful case in point because I believe that, were Bond not conducting itself this way, and actually took the time to focus on a fragrance like Amber properly and realistically, more people would know about it and recognize it as a good, maybe very good, fragrance. Instead, it's lost in the shuffle Bond itself initiated and continues to cultivate.

Montauk 2010 (repackaged in 2013)

Where to begin? I'll not and say we did.

The Scent of Peace for Him (2013)

The Scent of Peace, like Nuits de Noho, is by all accounts a good seller for Bond. When I meet someone who doesn't know much about Bond, they do tend to know about this one, and they want it. Peace for Him, aside from being totally unnecessary (what, for instance, makes the original particularly feminine?), manages to call its predecessor into question, prompting reevaluation. Will the guys buy it? Probably not, but I think their girlfriends will. Something in this fragrance sticks out like a sore thumb, screaming half finished and rushed for rushing's sake.

Washington Square

The ingredients: lavender, powder, and a neon sign that reads My Parents Went to Bond No.9 and All I Got Was This Poor Excuse For a Fragrance.

Runners up: Almost everything else.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fall Playlist


Summer is a real dry spell for me. I can't seem to smell anything, and my skin can't seem to absorb anything fast enough, so I end up wearing a few old reliables, things that will stand their ground against the heat and humidity. Every time Fall rolls around, it's like I'm discovering scent all over again. Everything smells so much...more than it seems to have up until then. Having restricted my diet for months, my own collection suddenly seems like someone else's - everything's new again.

Recently I was in L.A., trying to get excited about things I don't own and hadn't smelled yet. I did find some winners, but precious few. I could rant about the industry and the dearth of originality, but it's slowly dawning on me that my own experience is part of the problem. I've smelled too much at this point. What perfumer, what perfume, can compete with my whorish appetites?

No list can really represent my rotation at any given point. I wear too much to narrow it all down, and I'm not one for favorites, or not for long. I have so much, and like so much, that it's all competing for my affections and interest on a minute to minute basis. But this Fall there were a handful I was more excited than ever to pull back into rotation, or add to my list.

Dior Leather Oud (2010)

Around the time this came out, Abigail sent me a sample. I liked it but didn't think the world of it until about a year later. Maybe the word oud turned me off, which is silly but at the time and even now is probably an unavoidable reaction against such an ubiquitous trend (i.e. a shorthand for nothing new). Leather Oud is exactly the kind of thing I go for - dash of civet, tanned leather, spices, backbone of oud. It lasts like nobody's business, and does what very few fragrances do for me or on me: as it wears down, it melds with my own chemistry, and anyone smelling it or me by then would assume it's simply the way I smell. This probably contributes to its reputation among some as a B.O. scent. My feeling is that if this is what B.O. smells like, I'm all about B.O. Leather Oud joins Eau Noire as a contemporary Dior highlight for me, hitting a spot that nothing else I own can.

Jovan Woman (1976)

It gets no cheaper than this, yet Jovan Woman is one of my favorites. It's a clean, musky smell with great projection and longevity. For the longest time I was anti musk, mainly because I couldn't smell it. Even the allegedly stinkiest musks failed to persist on me. That changed with Parfum d'Empire Musc Tonkin, one of the best things I smelled last year. Jovan Woman has none of Tonkin's feral stealth. But Tonkin opened my mind to musks in general as fragrances which were worth my attention. I like Jovan Man as well, though it has a synthetic edge that puts it firmly in second place. Many I suspect would find Jovan Woman too soapy at the very least, and old fashioned at best. I keep going to it. For whatever reason, it instantly lifts my mood. No one calls this musk. Fragrantica classifies it as an oriental spicy. Maybe I'm imaging things. Maybe it's the supposed nutmeg and coriander that gets me every time. Regardless, I smell it and think "musk".

Le Labo Oud 27 (2009)

I like many a Montale, and as much as I roll my eyes at the mention of Oud, I'm drawn to more than a few practitioners. Oud 27 is for me in a class of its own. I don't know of any oud that smells quite like it, or that gets anything close to the reaction I have spraying this on. I first smelled it on a friend. I walked by her and the smell stopped me in my tracks and forced me into an about face. Like Musc Tonkin it has a decidedly feral bent, and musky underpinnings. Like Leather Oud, it's robust. Think Civet City. But the comparisons stop there. Oud 27 doesn't always last as long as I'd like, but I have no complaints, because while it does stick around it bares its teeth so hard nothing much else can come close.

Charlie Oriental (1988)

Now that Opium is no longer Opium, and Cinnabar is slightly less than it once was, I turn to Charlie Oriental, a short lived oriental which for me arguably smells as good as either ever did. There's a fruity aspect to Charlie Oriental that even the vague peachy facets of Cinnabar don't approach in terms of pushing the right buttons. It adds to the Opium/Cinnabar format a unique juiciness. The jade bottles I bought off Ebay are sticky, their weird rubbery coating gone bad, and application is by mist rather than spray. These are small things but annoying enough to count out a lesser fragrance. Charlie Oriental is rare online but you can find it at fairly affordable prices. I hesitate to mention this, lest the prices go up. But I've never heard anyone talk about this hidden gem and it deserves more attention. No relation whatsoever to the original, iconic Charlie.

Smell Bent Hungry Hungry Hippies (2009?)

I'm a fan of the line and have three or four I'd gladly own, but if I could have only one Smell Bent fragrance (hands down, though closely tied with Prairie Nymph) this would be it. Chocolate, cassis, patchouli, and I have to believe a whole lot of cinnamon, though I don't see it listed. Supposedly, a cannabis component, making this a sort of abstract pot brownie. The stuff is amazing, with so many things I admire going for it: longevity, just the right amount of complexity, projection, tenacity, all presided over by a healthy sense of humor. A bit much for some, probably, but not for anyone I'd expect to have much fun with.

Jean Patou Sublime (1992)

Call it a chypre. Say that the recently re-issued version is a ghost of what it was. I have three bottles of the stuff, from way back when, not so way back when, and just the other day. It's true, to my nose anyway, that it's gotten a little paler, but I'd wear any of those versions, happily. They all last on me, though the most recent version has less of the fragrance's former ambery warmth. To me, Sublime is all about amber and orange blossom, and take any version you like: there's nothing else quite like it. The most common complaint is that there's some kind of hairspray thing going on in there. Never smelled it myself.

Loree Rodkin Gothic II (2013)

Belinda Carlisle, knowing apparently next to nothing about niche fragrance, walks into Scent Bar and after scanning the shelves, sees Gothic II. "Oh, you have Loree Rodkin?" she says, instantly at attention. Loree Rodkin is well known in name dropping circles closed off to me, but among people who love perfume she holds no real sway. In theory, Gothic II is cutting no new ground: amber, patchouli, vanilla, repeat. In practice it's kind of its own ball of wax - or can of worms, depending on your tastes and aversions. After wearing it for a few weeks I decided I would list it, if asked, as Headshop Gourmand. You have to like Nag Champa, and you have to like patchouli. I more than like both, so I've got no complaints. I would fight someone for the last bottle on the shelf.

Slumberhouse Norne (2012)

Vikt competes with this one for my affections. Both persist like nobody's business. Vikt to me is something like licorice oud. Every time I smell it I think, no thanks. Then I spray it on and the whole story changes. I can't get enough. But my soft spot is for Norne, which is, apparently, fir, spice, and incense but might as well simply list fir. That's not an underhanded compliment. For years I wanted the perfect fir fragrance. Many scents featured something "along those lines." Only Norne seemed extracted directly from the sap of the biggest fir tree known to man. Strangely, on me, while not subtle, it's nowhere near bombastic. It's brooding and insular in ways I appreciate, and the closest to a comfort scent something extracted from the bark of a tree could get.

Etat Libre d'Orange Bijou Romantique (2012)

For a while - too long, if you're asking me - bread or rice notes were all the rage in their tiny but tedious way. Maybe they still are, and they're a just tiny enough distraction for me to put out of my head. Great, a rice note. Let's move on, to paper, or computer screen, or bottom of my shoe. Achieving a rice note seems a little like winning fourth place in a cornbread competition to me, so my attention wanes at incoming reports of the latest 'winner'. First place might be the only place that counts when it comes to cornbread. The rest is simply good cornbread, and everyone moves on to the chili. There was a time Etat could do no wrong with me. Then came Like This, which was like, meh, to my nose but won over many people. Then comes the rice note, and I'm thinking of cornbread. I wasn't prepared, in the midst of all this, to think much of Bijou Romantique, and very few people will probably tell you it's the best thing ever, I suspect, in that it reminds of many other scents past. I love it, and when I smell it, all is forgiven. Like Sublime, it's mostly about amber for me, but in a very different way. I've heard people praise the beginning and bemoan the finish. It never disappoints me.

Estee Lauder Private Collection (1973)

I can guarantee you I think that this fragrance will always feel new and important to me - and by that I don't mean to say the weakened version Lauder is now selling but the stockpile I have from several years prior. I will probably always consider this, when forming a list, no matter what season, and will open the box like a well-considered gift sent to me by someone I'd given up on who finally managed to surprise me.

Photo: smelling at Scent Bar, September 2013, snapped by Steven Gontarski

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Packing the Perfect Hunch: Perfume to Go


Almost every day I pack a bag the way a parent might prepare a lunch pail for a student. Theirs are full of baloney. Mine is full of perfume. Sometimes, a perfume from this rotating mobile cabinet carries over into the next day. Occasionally, it carries over into three.

I have a sturdy plastic bag - ironically, about the size and shape of a classic square lunchbox - and in this plastic bag I can fit usually eight to ten fragrances, depending on whether or not I keep them in their boxes. I make sure to include at least three boxed perfumes to give the bag some structure and padding.

On some days, I go without actually wearing any of them. That has to do with how busy I am and whose company I'm keeping. Am I in the presence of a sneezer? (You know the type. You pull out a bottle of perfume, uncap it, and already this guy's squinting his eyes) Do I have any time to spray something on my wrist and go off into a private pocket of space in my imagination? Will I have trouble skipping back and forth across the inside my head/outside my head continuum?

I don't always wear anything at all from the bag but it's rare I don't bring at least a few bottles out at some point to sniff from the atomizers. After having done this for several years now, I've come to understand that I'm essentially curating space, making an abstract to concrete art gallery of my day. Maybe at the beginning of the day you choose those pink pants in your closet because they can be relied on to influence your mood and govern your interactions in reliable, or predictably surprising, ways. Perfume, for me, is a different kind of plan, full of a lot more alchemy. How will this grouping of perfume transform my day? You can SEE the pink pants. What happens when you can't see something which is strongly influencing your mood and the moment?

To that end, I put some amount of time each morning into the selection process. I can't tell you exactly what the thinking is there. Some days, I'm rushed, and I worry, obsessively, that I'm making the wrong choices. Three Guerlains in one bag? What the hell was I thinking? That makes for a pretty myopic afternoon. Too many fruity florals? Feeling a little claustrophobic. Extending the lunch box analogy, I try to make sure all the major food groups are represented, there's some effort toward a healthy, edifying, nutritional balance. But I like the sugar, so I make sure to throw in a good desert.

Is this all just strictly OCD? Maybe. I decided a long time ago not to worry too much about it. If you're washing your hands obsessively, what's the difference, as long as you're not hurting anyone and your skin hasn't started peeling off?

In yesterday's bag, I packed the following. Don't ask me why:

Guerlain Samsara (older bottle, which has a quality approaching licorice)
Gloria Vanderbilt V (cherry almond on the cheap; okay, so it's always pretty cheap, that combo)
Lush Icon (Sassafras incense: Hey can you quiet the God stuff down in here? I'm drinking my tea.)
Mona Di Orio Cuir (suddenly the plastic bag goes leather satchel)
Avon Patterns (woody petrol floral)
Basile edp (spicy rose oriental)
Dana Emir (OMG: Have you tried this? I'm on a mission. Everyone must.)
Montale Black Aoud (Wee! Look at me! I'm on trend.)

When I do carry a fragrance over into double or triple days, it's often because I feel sorry for it. I didn't smell you at all yesterday, buddy. You know what? I'm giving you another day. Tomorrow is your day. Tomorrow it's all about you. Then, like a deadbeat dad I forget it all over again, passing it by for more exciting momentary pleasures. The record so far is Diptyque Jardin Clos, which struggled vainly for attention over the course of an entire week, before I finally removed it, quietly. It's a hard knock life for the calone cabal.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tom Ford Sahara Noir: Just Desert


Leave it to Tom Ford to bring frankincense back to basics.

It isn't just the name of his latest fragrance, which retraces ancient trade routes, pointing farther east than the Catholic church, where westerners seem to have consigned frankincense.

It isn't just the "Noir" part, which turns the lights down on all that far east mystique, reminding us that when we think of other cultures we should probably think dark, which is to say illicit.

It's certainly more than a little to do with the price. At 150 bucks a bottle, 50 ml a pop, Sahara Noir isn't exactly sacrilege. It's more affordable - if only just - than many niche fragrances its size. But it's not so comparable to most of what it will sit alongside at the mall. As always, Mr. Ford is determined to up the aspirational ante in the mainstream marketplace.

More than anything, it's that gold bottle, which reminds you that, yeah, okay, so all that church stuff - all that holy temple hoo-ha - but let's not forget: this is the substance "more valuable than the gift of gold." Before there was a baby Jesus to give it to, Sahara Noir says, there was frankincense. Frankincense is strictly, in Tom Ford world, B.C.

I'm making it sound like I don't think much of Sahara Noir, and if anything, I think it's getting some awfully careful praise, the whole backhanded thing we've fallen into. We're in kind of a backhanded period, I guess. The needle on our bullshit detector flutters wildly at the stinky stuff, detecting it everywhere we point our noses.

Thus, Sahara Noir is "just" a frankincense fragrance - too one dimensional, not enough something else at some point. It's too heavy. It's not heavy enough. It's nice but suffocating. It's led to water but can't be made to drink. It doesn't open the door for you. Granted, Tom Ford probably asks for this and has it all coming.

The incense fragrances we remember introduce a subtle twist. It's tricky, because we want incense, but better than incense, otherwise one incense would be every other incense. I find it hard to imagine our ancient ancestors splitting these hairs. Surely, there were grades high and low, but just as surely it was enough that the stuff was burning, and smelled like the money spent on it.

Not so with the contemporary sniffer. Our favorite incense perfumes see just how far they can go before you consider them something else entirely, so for instance you get Wazamba, by Parfums d'Empire, which throws a faint but uncanny whiff of apple into the mix. Even Tauer's superficially straightforward Incense Extreme has a little inexplicable something to it, a thing you can't quite put your finger on, ever so slightly...tart?

For me, a good incense fragrance merely need be very good to win my praise, if not my utter devotion, so while I roll my eyes closer to God at the silliness that is the Ford persona,  I'm relieved I don't have to picture, let alone see, Tom Ford's ass playing nice with the asses of others in a communal shower, and I really like Sahara Noir.

My favorite frankincense is the discontinued Norma Kamali Incense. Nary a twist to that one. Norma Kamali is full frontal brute force. You understand, smelling it, why frankincense was used to mask the smell of decay after death, and how it could do this while pleasing rather than offending the powers that be in the afterlife.

Sahara Noir isn't nearly as heavy as I was led to believe - though I admit nothing ever is - but it has a quality I don't remember smelling in anything else, not even in the standard bearing Incense Series from Comme des Garcons, and it's an interesting counterpart to Norma Kamali's Incense, a basic frankincense fragrance which is good enough at being good to get away with not being the best thing ever in the history of all things historically documented. It takes the Norma Kamali approach, straight on, with addition of bottom line wearability.

Somehow, it's got a very open aired feel to it - not the open air of the cavernous temple but of the great outdoors. I'll even go with "desert", which might make it seem smarter than it is. I guess I'm trying to say that while this will be nothing new to the demographic whose mystique it mines, it's something a society lady like Barbara Hutton would consider correspondent to her waspy misunderstandings about the great Other out there, the Other she would view from behind the safety of her car window and consider herself sufficiently immersed. There's a slight sense of safe remove to Sahara Noir - but isn't that true of all mainstream fragrances? And we are nothing if not aspirational in our tastes, so we're more likely, as a whole, to follow Hutton's lead than the source.

Sahara Noir isn't a refreshing fragrance if you expect it to be something unlike anything ever done before. But it's certainly not being done much in the mainstream sectors of society. I appreciate that, and I appreciate the fact that it smells wonderful, lasts well, and takes pains not to insult my intelligence the way so many high priced "luxury items" do. For the record, I like it as well if not better than anything in the CDG Incense Series. It won't surpass Wazamba for me, but I don't need it to.

The notes list honey, jasmine, rose, and papyrus, none of which I smell even the slightest suggestion of. I do smell the cinnamon, which is twist enough for me. Like Ford's other mainstream bids, Black Orchid, White Patchouli, and Violet Blonde, Sahara Noir wears with presence.

(Pictured: Poor Little Rich Girl Barbara Hutton, doing as the Romans do, in Tangiers)