One Thousand Scents

Friday, March 31, 2006

Runaway Success: Yohji Homme

In the summer of 1999 I was in Toronto for a day before heading back home, and I had a chance to do a little shopping and see a movie before I had to catch my plane. One of the new fragrances I'd heard about was Yohji Homme, and I had a chance to sample it at Holt Renfrew before the movie started. Uncharacteristically for me, I sprayed some on my skin in the store and kept sniffing it for the next little while as I headed off for the movie. I arrived at the theatre about half an hour before the movie started--nothing unusual for me, because I hate to miss even a second of a movie and I can easily amuse myself with a book. As I was sitting in my seat, I kept sniffing my wrist and realized that I couldn't possibly live without Yohji Homme. Since I knew I wouldn't have time to get back to Holt Renfrew after the movie, I left the cinema and ran all the way to the store, where I bought the fragrance and then ran all the way back in time for the movie, which was Run Lola Run.

This is a true story.

Run Lola Run is an awesome movie and Yohji Homme is an awesome scent. Even the bottle is quietly spectacular--a tall, narrow glass column with no cap, just a little hinged gizmo which snaps under the sprayer to keep it from detonating in your luggage, all wrapped in a black cloth drawstring tube. (The bottle has a bump of glass near the top; its purpose mystified me until I realized by accident that it was an elegant solution to an obvious problem: it's meant to keep the bottle from rolling if you lay it on its side.)

The notes are, apparently, Coriander, Lavender, Bergamot, Anise, Rosewood, Cinnamon, Carnation, Geranium, Cedar, Tonka, Leather, Rum. I can't make out most of the individual notes, which, I think, is as it should be; sometimes it's fun to be able to pick out this or that, but I love a scent that's carefully blended, everything in perfect balance. What I do know is that the whole thing is saturated, top to bottom, with licorice, and it's delicious. The composition is warm and sensuous, gourmand without being heavy or over-sweet--a remarkable feat, because licorice has inspired some near-misses such as Lempicka Au Masculin, which I once loved but tired of when it began to cloy. Yohji Homme never has. It's not the longest-lasting scent I own--it vanishes altogether in less than eight hours--but while it does last, it's one of the most beautiful.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spice Jar: Bulgari Blu pour Homme

Sometimes people describe a scent as being soapy; something that smells clean, fresh, just-showered. Bulgari Blu pour Homme doesn't smell like that, but it has in its spicy top note an extremely peculiar aspect: it smells to my nose like powdered laundry detergent. Not any particular name-brand detergent; it just smells strong and pulverized and alkaline and detersive.

Other than that, what lunges off your skin at first is a mélange of spices, most aggressively ginger, though the other notes are said to include cardamom and galanga, otherwise known as galingale (which I've written about on my other blog).

Casting spices in the role of top note is, of course, a rather odd move, because most spices are fairly long-lived, and so it takes quite a while for the middle notes to become evident. They eventually do; the gingeriness slowly backs away to make room for the dark-green floral notes of the middle (nicotiana, aka tobacco-flower, and juniper), which are never strong enough to completely overpower that tenacious ginger. (Blu pour Homme was released a year or so after the women's version, Blu, which shares the ginger top note, to an entirely different effect, because the rest of the scent is soft and vanillic, with wisteria around the edges.) Eventually the ginger does fade, leaving--unsurprisingly for a men's scent--a small stand of trees, mostly sandalwood.

I like Blu pour Homme well enough, but I don't love it; it's a little too jarring, from that powdered-detergent top note to the pungency of the spices. It never seems to settle down. There are plenty of other spicy scents I prefer: Catalyst for Men most of all, but also Guerlain's Winter Delice and Yves Rocher's Nature Millennaire pour Homme, to name just a couple. Still, sometimes you like to be shaken up a bit.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Surprise, Surprise: Paris Hilton Just Me

I'll always take fragrance samples. I don't care what they are, if they're for men, women, or babies; I'll take 'em. (If there aren't any lying around in the store, I'll ask, because it doesn't hurt to ask.) First, they're free, and free is good. Second, I have to try absolutely everything that comes down the pike; it's not quite a compulsion, but it's close. Third, I might find something I like; you can't tell what something's going to smell like by sniffing at the sprayer in the store, and you only try so many things in one trip before your nose waves the white flag (so to speak), so they give me a chance to wear them in private and think about them. And fourth, I can always give them away. There's no downside.

Here's an interesting article about celebrity scents by Theresa Duncan on Most fragrance connoisseurs turn their noses up at celeb scents, thinking they're cheap bandwagon scents, which is sometimes, maybe usually, true, but some of them are good. Why shouldn't they be? They're created by actual perfumers and they have to sell a lot, so even though a fair number of them are strictly lowest-common-denominator scents (the first Britney Spears scent, Curious, really is dreadful), it stands to reason that there may be some good ones out there.

All this is why I'm sitting here with a sample of Paris Hilton's second women's scent, Just Me, on the desk and a big smudge of it on the back of my hand. And guess what? It's...well, not A-list, but surprisingly not-bad.

The notes, according to Basenotes, are as follows:

Top Notes
Frozen Apple, Peach Nectar, Wet Ozone, Muguet

Middle Notes
Freesia, Mimosa, Jasmine, Tuberose

Base Notes
Skin musk, Sandalwood, Ylang-ylang, Oakmoss, Pheromone

I don't know about "frozen apple" and such foolishness, but the opening salvo is a fresh bright-green note with something that pleasantly resembles the warm, solventy smell of a dry cleaner's. The floral notes are unexpectedly subdued; I may have been expecting something extravagantly trashy--bucketloads of tuberose--but I'm not getting it from this.

The whole thing calls to mind Yves Saint Laurent's Champagne/Yvresse, at least a little. It's not a copy, not even close, but it's a chypre in a similar style (fruit replacing citrus in the top notes, a very soft floral middle, and the expected oakmoss finish). You might want to transfer it to a flaçon rather than have anyone know you'd bought it, as Duncan did with Jennifer Lopez' fourth scent, Live, but you wouldn't be ashamed to wear Just Me.

And now I suppose I have to hunt down the men's version....

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reaction: Clinique Chemistry

There's something--a lot, really--to be said for an unadorned, uncomplicated scent. I love dazzle, I love fireworks, but sometimes I just want something simple, and Clinique Chemistry is usually what I reach for.

It's not boring, mind you. It opens with the short-lived sizzle of acetone and a fresh burst of hesperidic notes, which, mystifyingly, stay put for at least half the duration of the scent. Most citrus notes are gone in a quarter-hour or less, sometimes a matter of a few minutes; these hang around for hours, bound to the skin by the prickly, spiced herbaceous middle notes. Very slowly, over the course of hours, the hesperides die away as a soft, woody base with a hint of oakmoss and ambergris rises to the surface, but it never overpowers the enduring middle. (I spritzed some on this morning, just one spray on the back of my hand: now, almost thirteen hours later, I can still detect the middle notes close up.)

There's no question, right from the outset, that this is a man's scent; it's what your father and possibly your grandfather would have called "cologne" and wouldn't have been afraid to splash on. But it's more than that: it's perfectly constructed--subdued, unaggressive, masculine, nearly the quintessence of a man's fragrance. If it were better known, it would be called a classic.

Monday, March 27, 2006

One Bad Apple: DKNY Red Delicious for Men

I don't like to say that a fragrance smells like a commercial product. It's too easy. All too many people say, "It smells like Raid!" (Or, sometimes, "It smells like bug spray!") In my experience, even loathsome scents are a little more complex than that.

However, I tried the new DKNY scent for men, Red Delicious, this weekend, and I can say that the top note smells precisely like Benylin cough syrup.

The rest of it's not much better. There just seems to be too much going on:

Cognac, Rum, Saffron Flower, Cardamom, Bergamot, Mandarin Flower, Coffee Absolute Africa, Juice Apple Liqueur, Vanilla Vodka, Davana Flower, Tiger Orchid, Airy Ozone, Sandalwood, Okoume Wood, Moss, Patchouli, Iris.

Even ignoring Sephora's apparent typos ("juice apple liqueur"?), there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it; it's a jumble. (Four different kinds of booze and coffee?) It doesn't smell like the other fresh men's scents, it's true enough; but couldn't it at least smell good?

In fairness, I didn't have a chance to wear it on my skin, and I smelled it for only about ten minutes, long enough for the Benylin to wear off and the middle notes to emerge: they weren't any better. I'll have to give it another try one of these days, because there have (occasionally) been scents that I didn't like at first and eventually came to love (Hermes' Bel Ami, for one). For all I know, Red Delicious transcends its muddled beginning and evolves into a sexy triumph of the modern perfumer's art. I doubt it, though.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Great Divide

And god have mercy on your soul if you mix them up.

Here's a link (which I cribbed from Now Smell This) to a New York Times article about the increasing genderlessness of scent. (You'll need to register, which is a pain but probably worth it to be able to read the NYT.)

I'm not altogether sure I agree with the main thesis of the article, which is that men are becoming more fearless about buying and wearing scents labelled as women's. Most men--the huge majority, I'm sure--would never wear something called Miss Dior or Femme, and wouldn't dare go out in public smelling of the rosy-sherbety Gaultier Classique or the intensely floral Pleasures.

The fact is that with a couple of minor exceptions such as lavender, florals are considered to be the province of women in Western culture. This wasn't always so, and it isn't true worldwide--look at gardenias in Oceania or roses in the MIddle East--but it's true here and now. Any fragrance that smells strongly and mainly of flowers is immediately marked as a woman's scent, and a man wearing it might as well be wearing an evening gown.

This may be changing, a little, but I think it's going to be a while before we see a wholesale change in the way scents are marketed and worn. Just look at this list, which is supposed to feature "three masculine scents, three unisex, and three feminine options". If you read the lists of notes--not, I concede, the best way to conceive of how a scent will smell--you'll see at once that there's nothing in any of them which specifically marks them as masculine or feminine. In fact, the opposite is true: one of the women's scents features "a strong concentration of oriental notes, with animal intonations of civet and castoreum", which could as easily be a men's scent, and one of the men's scents starts with rose. Why couldn't the manufacturers simply have produced nine unisex scents? Or, better, nine scents, period?

Maybe half the scents I own are purportedly women's scents; most of them are orientals and chypres, which, unless they're also drenched in flowers, are inherently neutral. (There aren't enough men's oriental and chypre scents, but there are some good ones out there: Boucheron Pour Homme is a stunningly good chypre, classically constructed and irresistible.) Plenty of chypres, such as Estee Lauder's Knowing, don't have much in the way of gender markers; it supposedly contains floral notes such as pittosporum and jasmine, but the main thrust of the scent is that dark, honey-drenched oakmoss smell I can't get enough of. Lauder's Spellbound is likewise an oriental which, although it supposedly is flower-laden with such notes as rose, lily of the valley, and narcissus, smells on me like I've been lying next to the fireplace, that hot-skin scent that ambergris can confer: it's terrifically sexy, and could easily, I think, have been marketed as a unisex scent.

Something the article does mention is that some perfumers, mostly higher-end niche companies, are declining to make gendered scents, and good for them. For the most part--with the exception, that is, of strongly or purely floral scents--it isn't the scent itself which governs who's going to wear it, but the marketing. If men are going to wear a scent, it had better not be packaged in pink.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Back to Basics: Calvin Klein Truth Oil Essences

Some years ago--maybe six, maybe ten--Calvin Klein released a limited-edition set of the women's version of Obsession plus four little roll-on vials, probably 10 mL each, containing the scent broken down into four categories, the theory being that you could augment Obsession with whatever it was about that fragrance that you particularly liked or felt like wearing that day. Though I can't even remember what the categories were (probably something like Florals, Amber, Woods, and Vanilla), to this day I can't believe I didn't buy it; it's doubtless because I wouldn't have known what to do with a 50-mL bottle of Obsession. But breaking it down into its components, although arguably contrary to the very idea of perfumery, was a sort of genius. I bet it was awesome.

Six years ago, the company did the same thing with their then-new Truth; a little boxed set of five oils that you could use to augment Truth, or use on their own as scents or bath oils. I didn't and still don't think much of the scent, but I could tell that there were elements to it that I'd love, particularly the luscious vanilla I could smell around the perfume counter, so when I spotted the set of five vials, I snapped it up. I figured I could make use of the things I liked and give away or chuck the things I didn't.

One of the things that I don't like about Truth was the lilac note, which has never, in my experience, been adequately captured in a composed scent. The luminous, hypnotic scent of lilac is one of the true harbingers of summer in this part of the world, and I'm physically incapable of walking past a lilac tree without grabbing a cluster of blooms for a sniff. Anything in a bottle invariably turns out to be a sad imitation of that.

Calvin Klein Truth was divided into its component parts: Citrus, Lilac, Bamboo, Sapling, and Vanilla. As I imagined, the lilac was fairly horrible, and I gave it away to someone who disagreed with that assessment. I tried to like the sapling, but it had a raspy, synthetic edge that I couldn't tolerate, so after a few attempts I just tossed it. (Actually, I emptied it down the drain and cleaned out the bottle for re-use.) The other three, though; they're really something.

The citrus is a brisk, indefinable blend of hesperidic notes with the sharper edges buffed away; it isn't so much citrus--no furniture polish here--as a colouring-book idea of citrus, but very pleasant for all that. The bamboo is an equally indistinct blend of green notes, the sort of thing that's usually found in green-tea scents such as Bulgari Eau Parfumée de Thé Vert. The vanilla--my favourite, unsurprisingly, since it's the reason I bought the set--is luscious without being cloying.

Each of the three on its own is a pleasant enough fragrance, and after wearing them for a while singly and in various combinations, I played alchemist and divided them among two bottles; one a nimbus of vanilla with just enough citrus and bamboo to make sure it wasn't overwhelming, the other the opposite, a little explosion of yellow and green notes with a discreet vanilla base. Calvin Klein should do this sort of thing a lot more often.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How To

I know some people love to do it, but I don't think I'll ever get the whole "spray it into the air and walk through it" thing. It seems really wasteful, for starters. It's going to get little droplets of scent all over the furniture and the carpet, and over time that's going to make everything smell like, as a friend of mine would put it, a whore's handbag. And aren't you going to breathe a bunch of it in?

Some women apply scent to their hair, and I would imagine this is a particularly nice way to wear it, since your hair's in motion when you are and that would send little cascades of the scent into the air. Since I don't have much hair to talk about--and if I did, it would be cut extra-short anyway--that's not really an option for me.

I'm not going to put it on my clothing. First, staining. Second, I'm not going to go around smelling my clothing, and I wear scents for me; if anyone else notices and enjoys them, that's a bonus, but nothing more.

When I put on a fragrance, I invariably apply it to the backs of my hands. Without fail. It gives you all sorts of opportunities throughout the day to take a discreet whiff. If you don't do this, you'd be surprised how often you bring your hands up to your face: to adjust your glasses, rearrange a stray eyebrow, answer the phone, stroke your goatee or your chin, blow your nose, or tap your pen against your teeth. Every time you do it, you deliver another little scrap of scent to your nose: it's unexpected and cheering. The wrist is, in my opinion, a pale second place to the back of your hands and fingers, which just have more surface area.

If I'm wearing something that isn't especially strong, I'm going to put on a second spritz, and it's going on my chest. There's something surprising and pleasant about moving or leaning just so, pumping your shirt like a billows and sending a little puff of scent up to your nose. But the hands: they're crucial.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

No Hippie: Michael for Men

Most men's scents nowadays are carbon copies of one another, minor variations on a few well-worn themes. (How can they keep cranking out the same fresh-ozonic scent over and over again?) Sometimes, though, I smell something that's so different that my reaction is instantaneous: I have to own this right now! That's what happened with Michael Kors' Michael for Men a few years ago: I bought it on the spot and I still love it, even though I'm generally very fickle. I've been wearing it since it was launched--it's available at all the discount retailers, and I could buy a 125-mL bottle for $19.99 if I needed more of it.

The odd thing is that I really don't much like patchouli as a dominant note. I wanted to love L'Artisan Parfumeur's Voleur de Rose ("Thief of Roses"), which is primarily rose, patchouli, and plum, because I'd love to wear a really masculine rose scent, but the patchouli note was so strong and coarse that I found it almost nauseating. Ditto with their Patchouli Patch, Etro's Patchouly, Salvador Dali Pour Homme--well, pretty much anything that really focuses on the scent. But Michael for Men is built around the note, and yet I can't get enough of it. (Perhaps the addition of leather is what it takes: Chanel's Antaeus is also heavy on the patchouli, but it too works beautifully on me.)

There isn't much in Michael for Men that's unusual:

Top Notes
Bergamot, Elemi, Cardamom, Tarragon, Star Anise, Thyme, Coriander
Middle Notes
Pipe Tobacco, Suede, Incence
Base Notes
Patchouli, Dark Plum, Sandalwood, Dried Fruits

(Elemi is a tropical-tree resin with a fresh citrusy-spicy scent.) Patchouli scents have been done before, leather's been done and done again, and ditto for the incense, the tobacco, the fresh herbs in the top. Something about the balance of the whole thing, the precision of the composition, is what makes it work for me. That wave of herbs in the top--particularly tarragon, which I adore--quickly gives way to the lush tobacco-suede notes with an earthy but subdued patchouli lurking just underneath, a note which becomes dominant over time. (It's actually reminiscent of DK Men, as if someone had taken that scent, subtracted the gasoline note, and rounded off all the edges. I loved DK Men, but Michael for Men is just a better scent.)

Luca Turin once described a scent as "hairy-chested", and he meant it as a dismissal, but Michael for Men is hairy-chested in the best possible way: it's purely, unapologetically male. (Some women could wear this, of course; there aren't many scents a woman couldn't, in just the way that a woman can wear men's clothing. But make no mistake: there's something indelibly masculine about this scent.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Inside the Lines: Alfred Sung Homme

Fragrances are often--nearly always--compared to music, with their notes and their development over time, but sometimes they're more like paintings. Some fragrances are like big, complex canvases, and some are crayon doodles using two or three colours. Sung Homme by Alfred Sung falls into the latter category.

By reading the notes, you'd think it ought to be thrillingly complex, but the fact is that you can't ever tell what a fragrance is going to smell like just by looking at the notes. Check this out:

Top Notes
Lemon, Tangerine, Petitgrain, Laurel Nobile, Galbanum

Middle Notes
Thyme, Sage, Pepper, Lavender, Geranium, Fir

Base Notes
Vetiver, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Musk.

It sounds as if it should be sexy as hell, what with all those manly outdoorsy notes and those basso notes of oakmoss and sandalwood at the end, but what it smells like, in the final analysis, is a scent that was deliberately designed to be as neutrally masculine and unremarkable as possible, the sort of thing that makes people say, "Oh, you smell nice" without any further comment being needed or expected. A subdued sparkle of citrus notes at the beginning, an aromatic middle, a warm, barely-there drydown with a bit of vetivert's crispness to it; it's as if someone had combined the lessons of men's perfumery from the last hundred years and turned them into a single scent.

Despite this criticism, I actually like Sung Homme quite a bit; it's subdued and, well, nice. Not everything has to be dazzling and cerebral or dramatically sexual; sometimes a scent can be simple and work beautifully. My real problem with Sung Homme, I suppose, is that it doesn't smell like anyone's artistry; it smells like something that was created by a committee.

Friday, March 17, 2006


You've probably never seen "The Oblongs", a short-lived, twisted, and very funny animated TV series, but yesterday I was reminded of a scene in which the boozy, chain-smoking mom, Pickles Oblong, gives up smoking and suddenly regains her sense of smell. Her family finds her on the living-room floor, sniffing at it, and saying, "I just discovered that everything has a smell--and I don't like it!"

Jim brought home some daffodils the other day; he'd bought a dozen or so stems as part of an office fund-raiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. What could be more beautiful or spring-like than daffodils? (Crocuses, maybe.) We put them in sugar-water and within sixteen hours they had all bloomed. I'd always thought that daffodils, like tulips, had little or no scent--certainly not the sort of lush scent you'd associate with, say, lilacs, that harbinger of summer. Nevertheless, I stuck my nose into one and took a big whiff, because I am constitutionally incapable of not doing so, and that's when I discovered why you never see daffodils listed among the notes of a fragrance: they're not pleasant at all.

They smell floral, to be sure, but laced throughout that floralcy are some harsh, horrible things: a shrill, spiky greenness and some notes that I can only describe as chemical and resinous. My living room smells--not strongly, thank god--like someone spilled cheap perfume in a plastic-wrap factory.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Parallel Universe

I just now discovered--seriously, just a minute ago--that there's another Blogspot blog called 1000fragrances which has been on the go for almost a year now. Not that anyone would think I'm coat-tailing, but I really didn't know it existed; I was actually planning a pair of blogs, the other called One Thousand Experiments that this one was meant to be a companion to. I scrapped the other one for its complete lack of feasibility, so the name's up for grabs if anyone wants it.

Dreamscape: MPG Ambre Précieux

What you are about to read is a true story.

Last night I dreamed that I was wandering around in some pricey parfumerie. There were boxes of samples lying around, and no salespeople in evidence, so I was naturally helping myself to ones and twos from the boxes, not particularly caring what they were, because free is free and I could always give them away. Eventually, when both hands were full, a saleswoman asked me, in French, if she could help me with anything. Nonchalantly shoving my hands into my pockets, I asked, in French (I'm taking lessons), if they had either Poivre or Coup de Fouet by Caron; they're essentially the same thing, with Coup de Fouet being the EDT version of Poivre. The saleswoman responded in rapid-fire French; I asked her to speak more slowly, and she told me that they didn't have it at the moment, but I should check back some other time. And then I woke up.

So yes, I even dream of fragrance.

We're going to Montréal and Ottawa in a couple of months, so I'll have to see if my dream comes true. I've never smelled either Poivre ("pepper") or Coup de Fouet ("crack of the whip"), but since they're oriental scents which smell strongly of carnation and black pepper, it's a near certainty that 1) I'll like them and 2) they'll smell good on me. And then I suppose I'll have to buy.

Of all the categories of fragrance, orientals are my favourite, with chypres a fairly close second: there's just something irresistible about that dark, sexy cloud of base notes in both categories. And of all the oriental scents I love (I have at least a dozen favourites), the winner by a mile is Maître Parfumeur et Gantier's Ambre Précieux. The first time I smelled it was when I received a sample in a swap; I knew nothing about it, but I put a drop on my skin, breathed it in, and said, "Oh, my god" aloud, though I was alone in the room. I was intoxicated by it, possessed, consumed. I used up the vial as slowly as I dared over the next few weeks, and then I bought some. I didn't have any choice. It was more than I'd ever spent for a fragrance and I could barely afford it but I would gladly have gone without food just to own it.

Ambre Précieux has a brief flash of something fresh at the outset--just the barest nod to the understanding that a classically constructed scent must have top notes of some sort. That freshness doesn't last: it's almost immediately swallowed up by the middle and base notes: vanilla, peru and tolu balsams (both of them sweet, woody and vanillic), and a little sandalwood, but most of all, ambergris. It surrounds you like a hazy cloud of warmth, a reverie. It is comforting and sexual at the same time.

It's lucky that Ambre Précieux smells so irresistibly good, because it's tenacious. (It should be; it's almost all base notes, which are meant to stick around.) Even a single drop on the back of my hand will last all day, survive numerous hand-washings, and still be discernible the next morning. I put a few drops on my wrists and the backs of my hands a month or so ago and kept smelling it for two weeks afterward because a small amount had rubbed off onto the cuffs of my winter jacket.

Spring is almost here and I'll have to retire Ambre Précieux for a couple of seasons in favour of lighter, fresher scents, but it will be waiting for me, ready to enslave me again.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Not the Perfume but the Box

A comment by Luca Turin has stuck with me for quite a while:

Dzing! is a scent of superlative oddness. For the first twenty minutes, it simply smells of cardboard.

Really? For twenty whole minutes? And nothing but cardboard? Because it doesn't smell that way to me at all. I almost immediately get a leather-and-sawdust effect (it's meant to suggest a three-ring circus), along with a note which evidently is supposed to be cotton candy (that circus theme again) but which smells deliciously of caramel to me.

I know Luca Turin has a much better nose than I do, and I know that cardboard has a woody smell to it, but the smell of Dzing! is really sawdusty, not like cardboard at all.

On the other hand, there is a fragrance that does smell dramatically of cardboard: Piguet's Bandit. A few years back someone sent me a sample, and I put a little dab on to make sure it was acceptable (I was heading out for the day and didn't want to bother anyone or embarrass myself), and then enough to really get a sense of it. I immediately recognized that it was strange, but I didn't understand how strange until I had experienced it for a couple of hours.

I didn't get much of anything that the list of notes promised, to wit:

Scent Type: Chypre - Floral Animalic
Top Notes: Neroli, orange, ylang-ylang, galbanum
Heart Notes: Jasmine, rose, tuberose, leather
Base Notes: Patchouli, mousse de chene, vetiver, musk

Florals? Not to my nose. Honeyed oakmoss, earthy patchouli, spiky vetiver? No, no, and no, at least not as individual or recognizable notes. What I mostly smelled in Bandit was that leather, and quite a lot of it, combined with an unsettling amount of cardboard and a strange mustiness, almost a dankness, that reminded me strongly of a basement (the combination of all those base notes, I guess). As a construction it was fascinating, no doubt about it, but was it wearable? Not by me, but definitely by some men; though it's classified as a women's fragrance, it's dry and leathery enough to work. I kept sniffing it and thinking about it, and finally I got it:

No wonder some women are so devoted to this scent: it smells exactly, precisely like a warehouse full of new shoes!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Warm and Soothing: CSP Vanille Abricot

Comptoir Sud Pacifique has been getting some bad ink among the cognoscenti these days; since they revamped their line, some people are unhappy with the complexity and the staying power of the scents, neither of which is, apparently, what it used to be. I haven't tried any of their really new scents, not since 2000 or so (though I have samples of Vanille Coco and Vanille Cannelle that I'm saving), but I have a bunch of older ones, all vanilla-based, that I love. (I don't love the company's new trend, mixing French and English in the names: why should they have stupidly named two of their most recent releases Vanille Peach and Vanille Pineapple when the French versions, Pêche and Ananas, would have served at least as well?)

It's hard to pick a favourite CSP, but if someone forced me into it, I'd have to say Vanille Abricot. It's sweet, no doubt about it, but something about that sweetness agrees with my skin: it isn't cloying or heavy. (It certainly isn't as sweet as, say, the original Lagerfeld.) The first impression is not of fresh apricots, but of dried apricots drizzled with honey and caramelized sugar--no, not just caramelized, but thoroughly cooked, almost burnt; it smells very dark and heady. (It's often referred to as feminine, but it doesn't read that way to my nose at all; either it's my chemistry or people tend to think that anything except citrus can't be masculine. Vanille Abricot is, at the least, unisex to me, though it's almost too assertive for that rather wishy-washy term. CSP's Fruits Sauvages is the same on my skin.) The scent is tenacious and very linear; four, five, six hours later, the cooked-sugar and dried-apricot notes are still there, but now obscured under a veil of warm patisserie vanilla.

I own scents that aren't attractive, exactly, but which I love because they make me think YSL's M7 is a good example): they're like difficult art or music, and M7 is for me the Lulu of men's perfumery. But it's hard not to unrestrainedly love a scent which is comforting and flat-out beautiful, which makes you smile every time you smell it, and Vanille Abricot has just that effect on me.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: L'Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two

About ten years ago I ordered a bunch of scents from a company called smell THIS!, which specialized, as Demeter still does, in unexpected real-world single-note scents: the company still exists, but their line is disappointingly attenuated. Back then, I ordered seven of their fragrances, and I can't believe I can still remember all of them: Popcorn (convincingly salty-buttery), Leather Jacket, Wet Laundry (remarkably wet-smelling), Mocha, Cake Batter (vanilla-laden yellow cake), Fresh Towels (after that wet laundry has been put through the dryer, I guess), and Campfire. The last was the only one I couldn't wear: it did smell like a smoky campfire, but one that someone had thrown a tire or some glossy magazines on--it was sickeningly resinous.

But a fragrance can be built around a smoky note and still work; it just can't be all about the smoke. L'Artisan Parfumeur's Tea for Two is, as the name tells you right off, based on tea, in this case Lapsang Souchong and smoked teas; but where tea scents (at least the ones I've tried) tend to be light and fresh, Tea for Two is dark and mysterious, adrift in curlicues of autumnal smoke. Everything else in the top and middle of the scent--whispers of spices such as cinnamon and ginger, a flash of citrus in the top--is just an adornment for the smokiness and the bristly warmth of the tea. Hours later--this is a very long-lasting scent which stays close to the skin--the smoke dissipates and leaves behind a haze of warm, woody vanilla. I expect there are people for whom the smell of smoke means only one thing ("FIRE!"), but for anyone with fond memories of a fireside pot of tea, Tea for Two is comfort in a bottle.


Friday, March 10, 2006

A Handful of Dust: Yves Rocher Cocoon

In the 1980s, an entirely new aesthetic came to the fore in perfumery: the linear fragrance. Most classically-constructed scents have a top note made of evanescent notes such as citrus, meant to last only minutes; a middle note of florals and aromatics which can remain for a few hours; and a long-lasting base note of heavy, slow-evaporating elements such as vanilla, sandalwood, and oakmoss. (Some of these notes, such as sandalwood and particularly ambergris, are so tenacious you can still smell them the next day.) A linear fragrance dispenses with the top notes entirely: the first thing you smell is what you're going to be smelling for quite a while. Linear scents got a bad reputation because when perfumers were dispensing with the top notes, they also eliminated subtlety: the infamous Giorgio Beverly Hills and Poison, über-eighties scents, were exemplars of the linear style.

Yves Rocher's Cocoon is linear with a vengeance. The website lists the notes as "cocoa, vanilla, patchouli" (all heavy base notes) and in fact there's hardly anything else to the fragrance: some subtle, blurry spices and woods, but that's about it. No top notes and not really any middle notes, either, just a shot of cocoa and then a rapid dive for the depths of the base notes.

What makes it fascinating, and not just a copy of Angel or Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Amour de Cacao, is that the first thing you smell, that cocoa note, isn't a chocolate note: it's cocoa-powder, dry, dusty, slightly salty. It's exactly like opening a tin of Cadbury's, a startling revelation. The note gradually softens: the dust and the salt recede as the vanilla takes over, but the dry chocolatiness never vanishes entirely. Hours later, you can still smell Cocoon on your skin, and it still smells much as it did when you first put it on--slightly, but not significantly, altered.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Laugh Out Loud: Thierry Mugler Angel

Yesterday I wrote about a friend whose response to a fragrance was giddy laughter. I've had that response only once--at least only once in public.

In 1992, the fragrance that everyone was talking about was Angel. Naturally, I was desperate to sample it, and on a trip to Toronto, I got my chance. I sprayed some on a blotter strip, took a whiff, and immediately begin to laugh (not too loudly, I hope). Every time I took another sniff, I had to laugh again, at the sheer audacity of the thing. I was delighted that someone would dare to make something so strange and inventive; of course I had to buy it immediately.

Resolutely flowerless, Angel consists almost entirely of food notes: designer Thierry Mugler had been looking for a scent that reminded him of childhood smells, and the fragrance is saturated with chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and honey, with a dose of patchouli to keep it from smelling like a candy store (and to provide, according to perfumer Olivier Cresp, a note reminiscent of the sawdust at the circus).

It may be easy to forget just how absolutely novel Angel was when it was new. A hundred clones followed in its path (and most of them, like Todd Oldham's delightful eponymous scent, vanished), but at the time it was unique and polarizing. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on it, and everyone seemed to either love it or hate it. It's potent stuff, and hard to wear discreetly: I took to mixing small amounts with unscented shower gel so I could have a dose of the stuff (a dose! like some strange medicine) without choking everyone in the vicinity. Eventually even that got to be too much for me; I'm fickle and I tire of most scents in a year or three. I gave the remainder of the bottle to a friend who has the brassy, outsized personality to wear it with impunity, and she still loves and wears the scent. (Years later I also gave her my part-bottle of the men's version, A*Men: but that is a story for another day.)

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Happy Talk: Demeter Gingerale

I had a couple friends over yesterday and the talk turned, as it might well when I'm in the room, to scent. Neither of them had any experience with anything except department-store and drugstore scents, not that that's any blot on their characters: you have to be passionate about fragrance to research uncommon scents and hunt them down. So I decided they ought to sample, at the very least, a couple of Demeter scents.

Demeter is something special: a huge library of 200+ scents, each of which smells like one specific thing. A great many of the scents smell like a food or beverage, leading to such (one would think) unwearable, unsellable things as Lobster and Prune alongside straightforward Green Tea, Tangerine, and Gin and Tonic. The world of work is also well represented, with such scents as Leather, Sawdust, Dirt (think warm, freshly-spaded earth), and Funeral Home.

Demeter scents are very light: they're not meant to last more than an hour or two on the skin. I can't really justify buying a whole lot of them at $22-$26 each, but I have a few can't-live-withouts. I knew my guests would get a kick out of Graham Cracker and Gingerale: there's something irresistible about holding a little bottle up to your nose and getting a whiff of something that couldn't possibly be in a little bottle.

Graham Cracker was a hit, with its warm, vanilla-laced bakery notes, but Gingerale was a runaway sensation. One of my guests couldn't stop laughing with delight. And it is astonishing: it not only captures that light, airy sugared-ginger scent, it actually smells carbonated, as if thousands of tiny bubbles of fizz were flying off your skin. I don't know how this magnificent trick is accomplished, but I've smelled it before: in the seventies, my sisters had a Bonne Bell Lip Smacker that smelled just like 7-Up, and the doomed Cher fragrance Uninhibited in the late 1980s had that same fizzing top note.

Someone actually found an aroma-chemical that exactly duplicates the sensation--because it isn't a smell--of carbonation. Now that's enough to make you laugh with joy.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Deep Breath

My very first blog somehow survived a year, and by way of celebrating, I'm starting another. Presumably if I live to be eightyish I'll have time to do nothing but sleep and write for my forty-odd blogs.

One of my consuming passions, as any reader of my other blog, Cephalogenic, knows, is the English language. Another one is perfumery and, by extension, the sense of smell, and that's what I'll be talking about. I'm not an expert (any more than I'm expert in the English language), but I'm a passionate amateur, which will have to do.

I live in a pretty small city, which means I don't have easy access to the newest and most interesting scents: unlike the writers of my favourite scent-blog, Now Smell This, I won't be able to write about the latest Serge Lutens or Comme des Garçons on a regular basis, unless I manage to hook up with some people who can swap decants, which is always a possibility. But I have a sizeable collection of fragrances--150 or so, maybe more, if you count samples--and I'm just as happy to experience, and write about, the new Ralph Lauren mass-market scent or the new Yves Rocher as I am to have a go at the latest L'Artisan Parfumeur or Escentric Molecules offering (all of which I do have, and will write about). I'll make do with what I've got; luckily, that ought to keep me going for quite a while. A year, say?