One Thousand Scents

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Lactose Intolerance: Comptoir Sud Pacifique Matin Calin

I wish Comptoir Sud Pacifique hadn't had the bright idea of renaming all their existing scents. I'm not sure what the point was, but they did it anyway, and while I might have bought a bottle of the appealing Coeur de Raisin, I would just feel odd owning it now that it's called Princesse Muscat. I know: I shouldn't care what it's called, and yet in some strange way, I really do.

Matin Calin means some approximation of "morning hug" or "huggy morning" (ick); I'm not quite sure because ordinarily in French the adjective precedes the noun, and neither of those words has an ending or a preposition that would mark it as an adjective. (The French name for "Care Bears" is "Calinours", which more or less means "huggy bears".) Anyway: it was originally called Lait Sucré, which means "sugared milk" and sounds pleasant into the bargain, as opposed to the choppy, consonantal "Matin Calin".

"Lait Sucré" is, as it turns out, a pretty exact description of the scent. You can read all sorts of descriptions of what people think it smells like, and I can see some merit in most of them--maybe not "baby vomit", but most of them anyway.

It's a very linear scent; there isn't much if any development, as far as I can tell. It smells from the outset like warm sugared milk with vanilla stirred in and a pat of salted butter floating on top. Some think it smells of buttered popcorn, and I can see why--there's definitely a light salty tang to it. There's also a very slight soured-dairy note which must be what reminds some people of baby puke. But mostly it smells like what it's supposed to smell like; warm sweet milk. If you have fond childhood memories of condensed milk, or of a glass of hot milk at bedtime, this is going to bring them back in a rush.

Lasting power? Not much, on my skin, which usually hangs on to everything. The fleeting nature of the updated CSP line is legendary; I mostly have the older scents, and they stick around for quite a while on me, but this one doesn't have more than a couple of hours in it. It's pleasant enough, not enough to make me crave it. I think I would rather have the more straightforward Demeter Condensed Milk at half the price.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sail Away: L'Artisan Parfumeur L'Eau du Navigateur

Quite some time ago, probably at least twelve years ago, Consumer Reports magazine reviewed fragrances for their Christmas issue. I thought it was a stupid idea: you can compare all the dishwashers on the market and come up with some sort of composite grade based on a number of factors, but how can you possibly do the same with scents, with over a thousand on the market, when the human nose is so variable and preferences so broad? You might as well try to rank all the paint chips at the hardware store in objective order of niceness.

They did eventually come up with a winner: their team of professional noses, smelling things blind, declared that Gio by Giorgio Armani was the best of all the scents they tried, mostly because it was the best-blended, meaning that no one note stuck out.

And that's all well and good, in its place, but sometimes you want things to stick out: you want Joy to smell like roses, not like some vague bouquet in which roses happen to be a component. I love it when something lunges out at you from time to time: it's fun to catch of a whiff of something specific and recognizable in a scent, to suddenly discover that in the middle of the sweet-vanilla scent of Chopard's Casmir is a little shot of coconut.

On the other hand, he said as he backtracked completely, sometimes you do want fragrances to be blended--to smell like a rich, smooth scent that's all of a piece and greater than the sum of its parts. That, to me, describes L'Artisan Parfumeur's Eau du Navigateur, which evokes a heavy-laden eighteenth-century cargo ship. ("Does it smell like sweaty men?" asked a friend when I described it to him. I suppose it could, if you play your cards right.)

Navigateur smells of wood, coffee, leather, tobacco, smoke, spices, and balsams: as I said, a cargo ship. What I love most about it is that to my nose, no one note really dominates. Some people find that one note or another is overwhelming: some call it a smoky scent, which it isn't compared to L'Artisan's Tea for Two, while others think of it as coffee-heavy. It strikes me as the perfect balance of all those masculine notes without being a leather scent or a tobacco scent or what have you. It's warm without being heavy (I wore it just today, the first day of summer), masculine without being overbearing, and--of course, as it's a L'Artisan scent--not quite like anything else on the market.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Whimsical: In Love Again by Yves Saint Laurent

On a complete and unexpected whim, I bought a bottle of Yves Saint Laurent's In Love Again a couple of nights ago. I'd just finished work (at 9:30ish) and we were poking around in Shoppers Drug Mart, which--have I mentioned this before?--is a Canadian chain that's like a huge drugstore and a small supermarket and a high-end cosmetics store and an odd-lot fragrance store all at once, and they had a bunch of things (like Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui and Perry Ellis and Hummer) for well under $20, and I couldn't see anything I really couldn't live without right at the moment but then I saw a bunch of boxes of ILA and I remembered having read that it was grapefruit-based and fairly unisex and the object of desire for a lot of people who had gone a little crazy when it was discontinued until it was reissued, and I just grabbed a bottle of it and bought it (along with sunscreen and ibuprofen and other things that people actually need).

I'm not entirely sure why it was the subject of so much obsession when it was discontinued, but it sure is nice. (So's the amusing bottle, which seems like an oddly-shaped block of glass until you look at it from above and realize it's a charmingly lopsided heart.) It opens with the zing of grapefruit (one of my favourite notes), though not the crisp, startling grapefruit of Photo: this is something milder and subtler, but it's grapefruit nonetheless. After a while, and not much of a while, the grapefruit is overshadowed and subdued by a whole lot of summery things; it smells, to be honest, as if it were composed of parts of a bunch of other scents--it calls to mind Calyx and CK One, White Linen and Cotton White (an old Body Shop scent), Eau Sauvage and 4711. It makes you think of soap and freshly laundered clothing in a sunshiny backyard with some extremely ill-defined flowers--nothing "flowery" or "floral", just summery--and lots of leaves. (This definitely could be worn by a man.)

About an hour and a half in, I smelled the back of my hand and damned if the grapefruit hadn't somehow magically returned! I don't know if it was there all along or if the scent has actually been engineered to present the same note twice, but it was a pleasant surprise. I wondered if the whole thing was going to start all over again, but it didn't; backing up the grapefruit this time was a soft, luscious musk, nothing strong or animalic: this is the sort of musk that is always described as "skin musk" or "crystal musk" or "white musk". It doesn't usually have an effect on me, but in this scent, the musk is definitely there and exceedingly attractive.

In Love Again is subtle; it's the quintessence of the office scent, because I can't imagine that it would offend anyone. If you'd applied it at least half an hour earlier, they probably wouldn't even know you were wearing it. But you'd know.

Friday, June 16, 2006

All of Them: Comme des Garçons Carnation

You have to listen to him: he's the principal.

Principal Cinnamon J. Scudworth, in the short-lived animated series "Clone High", said, "If life hands you lemons, clone them and make super-lemons."

William Poundstone, in his book "Big Secrets", said that Patou's Joy "smell[s] more like a rose ought to smell than a rose does."

I, in the last week, said that I don't really get most Comme des Garçons scents, and I don't. The lone exception is Carnation from their Red series, which smells as if they'd cloned the carnation and made super-carnations: it smells more like a carnation ought to smell than the carnation itself. It smells like every carnation in the world, all at once.

The carnation has a divided personality: it's a bold, swoony floral scent and at the same time a biting spice scent. (This spiciness, which is mostly eugenol, the same aromatic that makes cloves smell as they do, is why carnations were once called "clove-pinks".) CdG has amplified both of these elements, the first with the judicious addition of those mainstays of perfumery, rose and jasmine, and the second with cinnamon, red pepper, and even more clove.

There isn't really any development in this scent. What you get out of the bottle is that heady jolt of hyper-carnation, and that's what it remains: it simply fades away over a few hours. It's not the most long-lasting of scents, but since it stays so true, that's just another excuse for a re-application.

I've always felt that the carnation, with its strikingly spicy character, was a particularly masculine floral, and CdG Carnation is the perfect illustration of that: it isn't softened or prettified, isn't rounded off with balsams or sunk in a dainty white bouquet. It's a whack in the face with a big bunch of flowers, and sometimes that's just what you need.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Heavy-Handed: Comme des Garçons White

My first exposure to any of the Comme des Garçons scents was their very first fragrance, a few years after it had been launched in 1994. That was enough time for some buzz to have built up, but my anticipation turned to horror upon trying it on: it was dreadful--coarse, medicinal, overwhelming. I couldn't imagine how it had any adherents at all, despite its undeniably fascinating packaging.

I first tried Comme des Garçons White, their second scent, a few years ago, and my instant impression of it was that I had made a mistake, or they had, and that it was the same scent: it starts out identically, with a blast of spices. (It turns out that White is a re-imagining of the original scent, with fruit and floral notes added and the spices dialed down, at least a little.) From underneath that shock of spices, however, comes a sweet pomegranate note, and for a good half hour the whole thing smells amazingly like hot, spicy stewed fruit--overspiced, in fact; in this regard it hews a little too closely to the original. (I don't know where the name comes from: as I said yesterday, some scents smell like colours, but this one is resolutely un-white.)

Underneath this hot compote is the unexpected smell of flowers, mostly roses and some lily of the valley, still garlanded with spice notes, with the whole finally drying down into a warm oriental base--cedar and storax, plus yet more of those intrusive spices. It would be nice if CdG White were my long-sought-after masculine rose scent, but, the line's being what it is, the whole composition is too oddball to really work for me.

I could wear CdG White, and I do, occasionally, but it has that deliberate strangeness which I almost invariably associate with CdG scents. (Odeur 53 and Odeur 71 are less strange than silly, given that the former is supposed to smell of such things as "freshness of oxygen, flash of metal, fire energy, washing drying in the wind, mineral intensity of carbon, sand dunes, nail polish, cellulosic smell, pure air of the high mountains, ultimate fusion, burnt rubber, flaming rock" and the latter of "electricity, metal, office, mineral, dust on a hot light bulb, photocopier toner, hot metal, toaster, fountain pen ink, pencil shavings, the salty taste of a battery, incense, wood, moss, willow, elm, birch, bamboo, hyacinth and lettuce juice", which is Dadaism of a very high order indeed.)


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Seeing Red: Comme des Garçons Harissa

Isn't it odd what gets stuck in your head? I remember from years and years and years ago a "Family Circle" cartoon (uck) with the boy (Jeffy?) slurping on a lollipop just out of view of the girl (Dolly?), and her saying, "I smell something PURPLE!"

And really, doesn't a grape lollipop smell purple? Sometimes things smell like a colour--there's an entire family of fragrance called "green"--which is the rationale behind the Comme des Garçons series Red. Each of the scents is not only composed of something red (the line consists of Carnation, Harissa, Palisander, Rose, and Sequoia), but is meant to smell red. I mean, if that makes any sense; it does to me. (The Comptoir Sud Pacifique scent Fruits Sauvages, now known as Mora Bella, contains pomegranates, raspberries, and blackberries, and it smells brilliantly red.)

But red isn't always a good thing, unfortunately. CdG's Harissa ought to be a sure-fire winner; it's named after a fiery pepper sauce used in Moroccan cuisine, and is composed of chili pepper, tomato, blood orange, and some spices--red all around.

But it smells like bad Moroccan food. The tomato and chili-pepper notes drown out everything else. (Luckyscent calls it s citrus scent: not on me it isn't!) There's a strange, vinegary note in the top, and then just tomatoes and harissa, and it does not smell like something that should be on my skin; it smells like something that should be in a bowl.

I don't know why I dislike it so much, because the smell of spicy food is always enticing and there are many spicy scents I love. Something about this, though: it's as if they'd made a scent called "Delicatessen" or "Kimchi". Some people love it, but on me it's what they call a scrubber: after smelling it on my skin, I just want to scrub it off.


Monday, June 12, 2006

False Advertising: Sticky Cake by Comme des Garçons

I'll be the first to admit that I really don't get Comme des Garçons' fragrances. I've tried only seven or eight of them, but with only one exception, they all strike me, for the most part, as deliberately strange. There's nothing at all wrong with this. Not everything can, or should, be immediately accessible. In any art form, there are going to be compositions that strike the majority of people as beautiful, and there are going to be others that require thought, deep consideration, and a rejection of previously held notions; difficult art. That's true of perfumery, as well, and I think most CdG scents fall into this category. (There's one exception, but you'll have to wait until the end of the week to find out what it is.)

If you knew that a scent was called Sticky Cake, what would you think it smells like? Sugar, vanilla, butter, honey, maybe almonds or cinnamon? Sweet is the most recent of the CdG Series scents (there are seven established series--Leaves, Red, Incense, Cologne, Sherbet, Synthetic, and Sweet--with an eighth now being released), and it contains scents that are, at least nominally, meant to evoke memories of childhood sugar-rushes.

Sticky Cake, however, confounds my expectations by being a strange, hermaphroditic floral scent, certainly not like anything from my childhood. Luckyscent lists the notes as "almond, honey, dates, pistachio, iris, milk and brown sugar infusion, ambrette seeds, cereal notes, myrrh". There's a sweet almond-honey note at the top, but it's rapidly swamped by a hard-edged and cologney, rather masculine iris note that dominates the scent for hours. Little sweet notes do bob in and out; it's not one of those bone-dry irises like Hermès Hiris. But what are irises doing in my cake? And why are there so many of them? As a grace note I could have accepted it, but this is dominated, entirely controlled, by the iris note.

It's not a terrible scent (though I don't like it), but it's so misleadingly named, so wildly out of touch with what it purports to be, that I don't know how to react to it. Sticky cake? If someone handed me a sticky cake that tastes like this smells, I'd never forgive them.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Nothing and Everything

Great bottle: couldn't they have put something decent in it?

I was out at a drugstore this evening and tried three new scents: Instinct by David Beckham, Guess Man, and Nautica Blue. I like the Instinct bottle: there's a magnet in the cap or the neck which pretty much grabs the cap from your hand and slams it into place, and I'm just a sucker for interesting closing mechanisms (Le Feu D'Issey, 212 Men, Bulgari Black, and Yohji Homme all spring to mind). But otherwise, what's the point? The three scents are all pretty much interchangeable, three more entries in the never-ending assembly-line production of fresh-cool-outdoorsy men's scents.

I don't get it. This article about trends in men's fragrance starts with the sentence "Cool is out, warm is in". Oh yeah? You wouldn't know it from looking at the most recent batch of releases. And just look at this Now Smell This article: there's a new L'Eau Bleue d'Issey subtitled Eau Frâiche, as if the original weren't fresh enough, Old Spice is launching something called Signature with "ozonic marine accord", and Brut has a brand extension called Revolution with "aqueous wood mist". So where the hell are all the vaunted warm scents?

It's just as well, though, that most of the scents that are launched are things I don't like. Because then, well, I'd want to own all of them instead of just way too many of them, and we can't have that, can we?

I do, it's true, own way too many scents. Even if I never bought another one--or got another sample--I'd have enough to last me for the rest of my life. (Assuming, that is, that time magically declined to work its dark alchemy on them. Scents, like everything else, have a life span, and theirs is usually measured in years, or at best a couple of decades.)

But I refuse to feel guilty about it. I don't have many bad habits: don't smoke, don't drink, don't do drugs. My only real addictions are reading material, food, and scents. A wide array of scents gives me inestimable pleasure: I love looking through my medicine cabinet for just the perfect scent for the day, I love pulling out something new or interesting from my hidden stash, and I love sampling all the new releases, thinking about them, dreaming about them, occasionally buying. Even if the huge majority of them are dreck.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Click: Lagerfeld Photo

This morning before I showered for work, I wanted a quick hit of something cheerful, so I grabbed a spritz of Todd Oldham--too oriental for early summer but I couldn't resist--and returned to my computer. It was a warm, or warmish, morning, so we had all the windows open, and as I sat typing or reading or whatever I was doing, a wasp appeared at the window screen. Insects bumble by all the time, of course, but this was different; it was determined to get inside. It took me a minute or two before I realized: Oh, shit: it wants the Todd Oldham! Of course it did: the top note of kiwi, mango and cucumber is fresh and enticing. Thank goodness for screens. Now I must remind myself never, ever to wear this outside during insect season.


What I put on after showering was something a lot more congenial to warm weather: Lagerfeld Photo, a brilliant, classic men's scent.

It starts with a bang: a jolt of hesperidic notes dominated by grapefruit, which the perfumer said was meant to suggest the flash of a camera. I never can resist the smell of grapefruit, and here it's striking, almost dizzying. Gone in a heartbeat, of course, as grapefruit has a way of doing; but it's a gorgeous opener.

After all those citrus notes have mostly burned away, the core of the scent makes itself known; it's a crisp fougere, mostly lavender and green leaves (and, I think, geranium) with some flashy hints of spice. The citrus notes never leave entirely: there's always a small charge of them to keep the scent from becoming boring. I love this sort of alchemy; citrus notes are volatile and evanescent, and when a perfumer can rein them in so that they last throughout the life of the scent, I'm impressed. The hesperides remain, increasingly dimmed and veiled, right up until the very end, which is soft and woody, with the faint glow of vanillic benzoin.

Photo is one of those scents which, for some reason, you can find just about anywhere for very little money: I paid less than $20 for mine, and it was money well spent. It's a modest classic.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Calm Before The Storm: Jacomo de Jacomo

When I was 18, in 1981, which seems like a long time ago, I went to Europe for a couple of months. I wasn't the fully fledged scent addict I became--I had bought only two scents in my entire life--but even then deep down I knew something I didn't know. I went on a tour of the Fragonard perfumery in Grasse and bought a bottle of their Vetyver (which I still remember vividly, with its oddball celery note), and in Paris I bought, on an impulse and the strength of a single sniff, a bottle of Jacomo de Jacomo, which I could hardly afford but understood dimly that I had to have.

The bottle lasted me a good few years, but all good things must end, and eventually it died--it was a pour, not a spray, bottle--and was given a dignified burial. I had thought about it from time to time but assumed that something so venerable must have been discontinued. Imagine, then, my astonishment when, a couple of months ago, I spotted a single bottle of the stuff in a pharmacy here in Moncton! I had tried telling myself I wasn't buying anything else for the time being, but once again, just as I had done in Paris a quarter of a century ago, I helplessly bought it.

Jacomo de Jacomo is structured like an impending thunderstorm. It opens in a damp garden with a sparkle of lavender, citrus, and bright-green galbanum, but already the storm clouds are gathering; something dark is looming over the greenery, and though you can't quite make it out, you know it's coming. As the top begins to fade away, spicy notes appear; caraway seeds and cumin, cinnamon and clove, tempered with sage and basil. But they're just grace notes for what's coming.

The scent is dominated by two deep, thunderous notes: rosewood and patchouli. (The brightness never fades away altogether; there are always flashes of it to illuminate the darkness, but darkness it is nonetheless.) What's fascinating about Jacomo de Jacomo is that these two notes seem to exist independently of one another; they're not blended in any meaningful sense. Out of nowhere I suddenly catch a whiff of rosewood so strong and pure that I'm startled by it; later, a gust of patchouli--cleaned up but not quite clean, grimy around the edges but not dirty--appears. It's dazzling, tempestuous.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

On The Road: The Grand Finale

As I said a few days ago, I managed to get two samples while I was in Montréal and Ottawa: they're just getting harder and harder to come by, or the salespeople are more reluctant to hand them out, or something. One of the samples was Arpege pour Homme, which I'll be talking about in a bit; the other was the new Dunhill Pure. I knew just by looking at the bottle that it wouldn't be to my taste: pale-blue juice plus frosted glass equals yet another tedious fresh fragrance. And that is exactly what it turned out to be. Can nobody, from manufacturers to purchasers, have noticed that virtually all of these scents are interchangeable? (It is an attractive bottle, mind you, and an attractive sample vial, too; Dunhill at least makes good bottles, if not good scents.)

The scent I came closest to buying while I was away was the new Thierry Mugler, Alien. The packaging is spectacular; it's meant to suggest some strange gemstone held in the grip of an alien claw.

Unfortunately, someone on Now Smell This, after seeing this picture of all the bottles in different sizes, realized that it looked like a family of penguins, and once you've seen that it's all you can see. The scent itself is extremely pleasant, a warm, ambered, jasminey oriental, and after smelling it for a while I realized I could definitely wear it. Unfortunately, shortly after that, I also realized that, fickle monster that I am, I would also likely get tired of it in a matter of months, and so it wasn't worth my $70. Too bad, because it's a great bottle and a nice scent, and I could reconsider in the future.

The new Perry Ellis 360, Black, had just been released when I was in Ottawa, and I was so very very tempted to buy. I have a half-dozen PE scents, including 3 of the 360s; the original, 360 Red, and 360 Blue. This new one is very nice, masculine and sensual with a hint of licorice and lots of spices and tobacco. It was exceedingly tempting and is a definite possibility for a future purchase.

I had, amazingly, never smelled Kenzo Jungle Homme before, though it's been out for eight years, and it's gorgeous: a warm, sexy, vanillic oriental with tons of round, burly cedar. (The bottle is also a killer, with zebra stripes painted on the back and a little tufted zebra mohawk on the cap.) I would have bought it in a smaller size, but all Ogilvy had was a 100-mL bottle, and I hate to buy anything that big, because I'll never use it up, never. (It's why I haven't bought a bottle of Bel Ami in years; all anyone ever seems to have is the 100-mL bottle.) But this one definitely goes on the list of things I'd buy if I had the chance.

The trouble with all the scents I tried while on vacation, of course, is that I didn't get to wear any of them on my skin, because Jim is hyper-sensitive to scents and hates most all of them, so the impressions that I got from these fragrances aren't complete. This is why samples are so crucial. Luckily, I did get a sample of Arpege pour Homme, and my first impression of it in the store wasn't anywhere near close to the whole story. The scent starts with a bright, peppery note laced with sweet peachy nectarine, soon waylaid by a swoony middle note of jasmine and iris. Even as the middle note is coming to the fore, it's obvious that this scent contains a lot of sandalwood; it's strongly reminiscent of Jacques Fath Pour Homme, but softer and creamier.

The lush, buttery base of vanilla and tonka bean, plus all that gorgeous sandalwood, lasts for hours and is flat-out seductive; in fact, as I kept obsessively smelling my skin yesterday, the word that kept coming to mind was "suave", not a greasy lounge-lizard suave but something refined and gentlemanly. And oh, so sexy! I never would have thought that Lanvin would bother making a men's version of a famous floral that's eighty years old, and the two scents don't have anything to do with one another (though the men's bottle is a clever nod to the classic black orb of the women's), but if this is what they came out with, I'm glad they did. This one's a must-buy. If I ever get back to Montréal, I mean.