One Thousand Scents

Friday, April 30, 2010

Scentroulette Day 19: Ormonde Jayne Tolu

I am starting to feel as if I'm just criticizing everything that comes down the pike, that I should just pick something that I know I like and write about that to counteract the non-stop barrage of oh-hell-no or kind-of-but.

Also, I could not find a decent picture of the Tolu bottle--although the Ormonde Jayne bottles are mostly the same, I think (here's one and here's another)--so here, for no particular reason, is a picture of a cat. Cats make everything better.

I love the opening of Tolu. With a little shiver of orange blossom atop a warm oriental base, it smells amazingly like a stripped-down hybrid of Opium and Obsession--Opium without the violent spices, Obsession without the heaving-bosom florals. It is exceptionally good.

And then it turns vaguely awful on me, not horrible but unpleasant-ish: it goes herbal, but not in a good way--grating and prickly--and the oriental base notes turn cloying and a little sour.

A couple of hours later, the awfulness goes away--poof!--and we're back to the comfy balsamic warmth that the opening of the scent promised. Your mileage, as usual, may vary, and a lot of people really seem to like this, but I just can't square the first and third acts, so full of the oriental warm fuzzies that I love, with the unfortunate middle.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scentroulette Day 18: Vanille Sublime by Maison Berdoues

There is an opera website I visit pretty regularly, and sometimes--not always, but sometimes--there's so much ragging and complaining and insulting going on that I start to think these people don't actually like opera. They do, of course: they love it, and they have high standards, and so when they attend an (expensive!) opera, only to be insulted by bad singing or ridiculous staging, naturally they're angry.

I was starting to feel as I were coming across as someone who doesn't love scents, with all the complaining I've been doing recently. Usually when I'm writing about a scent it's something that I've given myself a fair bit of time to think about, but for the last few weeks I've just been writing about whatever randomly comes to hand, and as Theodore Sturgeon said, 90% of everything is crap, so of course I'm going to be less than complimentary a lot of the time.

So today I cheated a little. I fished around for a bag that I figured was sure to contain something I would like, which turned out to be once again a sampler set from The Perfumed Court, this one called Fabulous Vanilla. I love vanilla!

What I ended up with in my paw was something called Vanille Sublime by Maison Berdoues. The company still exists*, though the scent doesn't, and you can't even get it from TPC because their vanilla sampler has changed. I'd wouldn't be surprised, though, if there were still some of this out there somewhere. Even if there isn't, Maison Berdoues still has a number of vanilla scents available: in the Les Petits Plaisirs line there's Vanilla, and then vanilla coupled with Monoi (which is to say gardenia), Mango (I think--the punctuation is suspect), Cherry, Strawberry, Praline, Raspberry, Blackberry, and Amber. Also, there's a Toffee, and you just know that's got a big dose of vanilla in it. If you're determined to have a Maison Berdoues vanilla scent, they've got you covered.

Vanille Sublime starts off as a big, candy-coloured fruity vanilla with floral undertones; it is aggressive and very, very strong. It's a vanillabomb. It verges on the cloying, almost sickening in any quantity: if you are the sort of person who likes huge sweet fragrances, then this would be your sort of thing, though it would only be fair to use it with extreme discretion.

Or you could just wait an hour or so, because that is when the top and middle (they're pretty much the same thing) begin to peel off and reveal the base; a dark, luscious spiced vanilla, much subtler and more sophisticated than what came before. There is still a hint of fruitiness to it, but tempered with overtones of tobacco and chocolate. The base still isn't what you'd call demure or subtle, but it's lovely.

If you can find this stuff, and if you like vanilla scents, and if you can stand the attack mode of the first hour, then have at it. Vanille Sublime is unlikely to be the best vanilla you ever smelled in your life--there are hundreds of them out there!--but the core of it is beautiful.

*The website's intro contains a quote by Heinrich Heine: "Perfumes are the flower's feelings", which is the pathetic fallacy writ large but is also rather sweet.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scentroulette Day 17: Sandalo e The by Bois 1920

"Sandalo e The" means "Sandalwood and Tea", and that is pretty much what you get, except that there is a tobacco-ish quality to it that is quite nice, and a bristly, spiny quality that isn't. There is also purportedly a quantity of roses, but they must have missed the curtain call, because I can't spot them anywhere. The scent never smooths out or calms down as I kept hoping it would: it stays pointy and overly aggressive for a long time, because, predictably, the less you like a scent, the longer it is liable to stay on your skin. It isn't horrible or despicable, but it isn't very interesting or pleasant, either.

I did another Bois 1920 a couple of weeks ago and I didn't like that one, either. I have six more floating around that I'm sure I'll get to sooner or later, but I hope these first two aren't the beginning of a trend, especially since some of the other Bois 1920 scents have intriguing names like Sushi Imperiale (nothing to do with raw-fish sushi, apparently, though I don't know for sure) and Vetiver Ambrato ("ambered vetiver", which sounds like it ought to be really nice).


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Scentroulette Day 16: Golden Adler by Erich Zibermann

Well, first things first. "Golden Adler" is German for "golden eagle". It is the name of a famous hotel in Innsbruck, Austria, and it is also the name of a scent by one Erich Zibermann, about whom I can find absolutely nothing worthwhile. Really: do a Google search. Like, six hits. There is also nothing about the fragrance line--apparently there are other scents, including White Adler and Royal Adler, but nothing about those, either--so I'm flying solo here.

Once you get past the smell of a jar of olives in the top--I don't know what it's doing there--you have a smoky birch-tar scent reminiscent of, but not remotely as aggressive as, Eau de Fier by Annick Goutal.

No, seriously: the top of the scent smells exactly like you just opened a jar of green olives.

Like Alfred Kafé, Golden Adler comes to me courtesy of the Perfumed Court not-available-in-North-America men's sampler. Unlike Alfred Kafé, I rather like the beguilingly charred tar fumes of this one.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Scentroulette Day 15: Ananas Fizz by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Ananas Fizz seems to have been constructed to be cheery and fun and likeable, so why don't I like it very much?

The top is a charming, barely sweet concoction of citrus zest and pineapple, which, given the name ("ananas" is French for "pineapple"), is less a star player than I would have expected. And then it fairly quickly goes flat, joined by a cedar note which doesn't seem to fit the rest of the scent, and the pineapple takes on a synthetic quality that didn't appear at the start. It isn't objectionable or hateful, it's not a scrubber; it's just kind of blah. And for the price--currently $95 for a 50-mL spray--it's shamefully short-lived, gone in less than two hours.

Comptoir Sud Pacifique Vanille Pineapple (dense, creamy pineapple plus the usual CSP vanilla) and Demeter Blue Hawaiian (bright, chipper orange-pineapple) are much better pineapple scents, for my money. Over on Makeupalley, Blue Hawaiian, despite being the least expensive of the three, gets the highest rating, and I would have to agree: it has the usual Demeter longevity, which is to say very little, but it lasts just as long as Ananas Fizz and is fresher and cheerier, and at that price ($6 for a half-ounce splash, $20 for a one-ounce spray) you won't mind reapplying every hour or so. If you want one that lasts, and have a taste for that CSP brand of rich sweetness, then try Vanille Pineapple; it goes for hours and hours.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scentroulette Day 14: Alfred Kafé by Carrement Belle

No particular reason you should ever have heard of Carrement Belle, a French niche line (with a dreadful website that looks not to have been updated in well over a year, given that their latest news announces an event to take place in late January of 2009, but at least you can order their products online--no sample service, but apparently if you order one of their scents you'll get samples of all the rest) that isn't sold in North America: I only know of them because I got a sample of one of their scents, Alfred Kafé, from the Perfumed Court International Man About Town Sampler.

Alfred Kafé is....not good. Really not. It starts off with a weird lunge of lavender and what appears to be the start of a fougere scent, with an interestingly masculine petroleum undertone, but then all of a sudden there's coffee, thin and bitter and indigestible. Lavender and coffee sound promising, and they might work in a different context, but this mix is pretty dreadful. (I was sure I had tried or at least heard of a coffee-lavender scent, and sure enough, they're both found in Bond No. 9 New Haarlem and Thierry Mugler A*Men, but Mugler keeps the two elements apart so they can't clash, and I can't smell any lavender in the Bond. There are a few others, too.) I suppose other things happen later on in the scent, and maybe they are good, but I can't say I care. I don't like this one tiny bit, so now I have to scrub it off.

The ad above promises "lavender, coffee, bergamot, mint, a floral heart on a woody-musky base", and that, I suppose, is what you get, but it doesn't smell nice, and what is the point of a scent if it doesn't smell nice?

"Carrement Belle" means "straightforwardly [literally 'squarely'] beautiful." Alfred Kafé isn't, but they have other scents, including a vanilla that is supposedly very nice, so I wouldn't write them off altogether on the basis of a single fragrance. But since I'm most unlikely to ever run across anything else of theirs, it hardly matters. All I know now is, this is one to steer clear of.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Scentroulette Day 13: Comme des Garçons Rose

Two CdG scents in a row! But it really is random, I swear.

A lot of people associate rose scents with old ladies. I don't think there's anything wrong with old ladies smelling of roses: if you have to pick a thing to smell like, a rose is a pretty good one.

Comme des Garçons' take on the flower, though, is clearly meant to be miles away from an old-lady sort of perfume. It is exceedingly simple: a brilliant, velvet-petalled, light-emitting rose, lightly spiced, garnished with fresh wet raspberries. Nothing more. Hardly any development (although it does get a bit warm and sweet at the end). Extraordinarily beautiful.

For different take on the modern rose scent, there's the gothy-dark Rossy de Palma by Etat Libre D'Orange. For my take on two other CdG scents in the Red series, check out Carnation (yum) and Harissa (yuck).


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Scentroulette Day 12: Comme des Garçons Skai

I said a very long time ago that I don't get most Comme des Garçons scents, and that's still true. I get what they're aiming for, I think: I just don't really get why people would wear them.

Skai is a form of artificial or patent leather, so it fits right into the CdG Synthetic line, which is beautifully packaged--industrial typeface stencilled onto a clear plastic bottle that looks as if it should contain a household product, lined with what looks like a tiny trash bag which collapses as it's slowly emptied.

CdG Skai smells kind of a lot like their Dry Clean (also from the Synthetic series) without the hyper-aggressive scouring-powder note, and also something like Odeur 71, which I haven't written about yet but which is sure to come up sooner or later, because I do have a sample of it. Skai starts with a bright bubbly soda-pop note which, I am guessing without any proof, smells kind of like their Soda, also from the Synthetic series. Hot on its heels is a warm, thick plasticky smell which could be leatherette or a steering-wheel cover in bright sunshine. It's certainly synthetic, no doubt about that. Later on, there is some fakey sandalwood. That's just about the extent of it.

If you want to smell like plastic clothing or a seat cover, well, this is the way to do it. I just don't know why you'd want to, even as a joke.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Scentroulette Day 11: Keiko Mecheri Datura Blanche

So I randomly grabbed a little bag of samples and randomly grabbed a vial from it, which is the usual way with Scentroulette (okay, not yesterday, when I happened to have the mini of Rousse at work with me), and the sample today turned out to be Datura Blanche* by Keiko Mecheri. The name, naturally, made me think of Serge Lutens Datura Noir, so although I have never smelled datura by itself, I was expecting some sort of tropical floral.

And how. Datura Blanche is a huge, cloying juggernaut of a tuberose-y white floral with undertones of bitter almond that remind me of Dior Hypnotic Poison (another big sweet scent I can't stand to be around): it's ferociously sweet and utterly overpowering. How can Luckyscent say that the scent features "a watercolor wash of tuberose and heliotrope"? It's not a watercolour: it's a wrecking ball.

I thought about wearing Datura Blanche on one hand and Datura Noir on the other so I could compare them, but then I realized that if I smelled them both at the same time, I would die.

If you like big sweet white florals, then hell, give it a try, why not. It isn't crazy expensive, $115 for a 75-mL bottle, not out of line for a niche scent. But if you're going to wear it, just please keep well away from me.

* Since French nouns are gendered and the accompanying adjectives have to match that gender, it's pretty clear that either Lutens or Mecheri has titled their perfume wrong, because "Noir" is a masculine adjective (the feminine version would be "Noire") and "Blanche" is feminine (the masculine form is "Blanc"). My money was on Lutens getting it right, since he is, after all, French, and that turns out to be the case: datura is a masculine noun, and Mecheri's perfume ought to be "Datura Blanc".

I think. I mean, I'm not French. Maybe there's a subtlety here that I'm not getting.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Scentroulette Day 10: Serge Lutens Rousse

There may, in fact, be a Serge Lutens scent out there that is just plain beautiful without a hint of the truly strange or offbeat, but I have not smelled it yet (and I think I would be disappointed if I did). His fragrances span a wide range, from gorgeous-with-just-a-hint-of-weirdness (Un Bois Vanille) and gorgeous-but-overwhelming (Sa Majeste La Rose) through various ravishing oddities (Douce Amere, Muscs Khoublai Khan) right down to things that some people think are unwearable, though someone must be wearing them (Miel de Bois, which I do wear, and Louve, which I certainly don't).

Rousse, one of the house's 2007 offerings (along with Louve and Sarrasins), ranks high-to-middling on the weirdness scale: It's not freakish, but it's unmistakably Lutens.

I should say at the outset that my Rousse is a little roll-on bottle, and as a consequence the contents are not simply an eau de parfum, which is too wet for such a delivery mechanism (it would leak badly), but oil-based, probably some sort of silicone oil, as a result of which the top notes are likely damped down somewhat. There are top notes, but they're subdued--submerged, really. Instead of Lutens' frequent opening act, stewed red fruits, there is a hint of citrus that I expect is bigger in the EDP, after which a storm of spicy, dry wood comes flying at you, and that spice, that wood--for the two are the same thing--is cinnamon. Cinnamon is the theme of Rousse, as the image above will suggest; Rousse means "redhead" in French, and the scent is an essay in redness, as was the previous year's Chypre Rouge, though this one is a dark, brownish-orange red. The cinnamon is not some powdered grocery-store product--not cinnamon-sugar toast!--but something big and potent and vibrant.

It's not absolutely dry, either: there is a sweetness lurking under the dry-wood surface that occasionally calls to mind cinnamon candy or, as bizarre as it sounds, Coca-Cola syrup, since cola consists mostly of lemon, lime, and cassia oils on a base of vanilla, and cassia bark is commonly used as a substitute for cinnamon.

Despite the repeated suggestions of candy and cola, it isn't overwhelmingly sugary. because other elements won't let it become that. Alongside the inherently harsh loveliness of cinnamon there is an odd breath of menthol, and perhaps a stem or two of vetiver; sometimes I catch intimations of Yves Saint Laurent's cruelly medicinal agarwood-drenched M7. It's grown-up and a bit severe until the soothing drydown (soft ambery sandalwood, mostly, with a tiny hint of vanilla), and while it took me a while to warm to it, I suddenly feel as if I want to wear it all the time. I suspect it will be a bit much for the heat of summer, but it's still spring, and a cold, rainy one, too, and I am going to be wearing this for a while to come.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Scentroulette Day 9: Serge Lutens Chergui

I was trying to avoid my usual trap of thinking and rethinking and overthinking, and as you can see, I failed: I had two days off, two whole days in which I could have quickly reviewed two, maybe even three scents, and I spent them contemplating Chergui, and even now I'm hardly any closer to knowing what to think about it, because it seems to be a different scent every time I wear it.

My first impression was that I liked it a lot, that it was very much in the Serge Lutens mold, which usually appeals to me: darkish, smoky, laden with tobacco. But as time passed it began to seem overly sweetened, not usually a problem for me; but this time it was a sweetness that was pervasive and even cloying. I put some more on a couple of hours later to get a second opinion, and now it seemed rather coarse and obvious, definitely a second-rate Lutens; where my first thought had been that it was something I might like to own, the second wearing turned me away from it entirely.

And yet I couldn't get it out of my head, and so I wore and re-wore it, kept applying it for two days, and it was another one of those mysterious scents that I just couldn't pin down. When I wear, say, Miel de Bois, I know what I'm getting, a complex scent that nevertheless always smells of itself, developing and evolving over time as most constructed scents do, but still true to itself. Chergui, though, never did settle down to become one thing; the overall feel of it was there, but the core identity seemed to be flickering, ever-changing. Perhaps this is deliberate, more of Lutens' wizardry; the name refers to a hot, dry Moroccan desert wind, and maybe the scent is somehow meant to emulate a wind that carries other unpredictable scents on itself. Or maybe it's just me.

I think it took me this long to come to terms with the fact that this scent is not going to be pigeonholed. It barely allows itself to be described. It is fascinating because of that, or maybe despite it. I am fascinated by Chergui. I have a tiny amount left, just a few droplets, and when that little bit runs out, well, what then?


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Scentroulette Day 8: Montale Chocolate Greedy

Luckyscent has a Comptoir Sud Pacifique scent called Amour de Cacao, composed mostly of chocolate and vanilla, with a dab of orange. The chocolate is unexpectedly salty. It is currently $49 for a 50-mL aluminum spray canister. It is exceedingly nice.

Luckyscent has a Montale scent called Chocolate Greedy, composed mostly of chocolate and vanilla, with a dab of orange. The chocolate is unexpectedly salty. It is currently $95 for a 50-mL aluminum spray canister. It is, for all intents and purposes, precisely identical to Amour de Cacao.

Your call.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Scentroulette Day 7: Caron Nuit de Noel

It is a cool, clear, sunny April day. "Nuit de Noel" means "Christmas Eve". Such is the mystery of Scentroulette.

I've worn Nuit de Noel eau de toilette (the perfume is apparently rather different) three times today, trying to get a handle on it, but it is evasive and inscrutable. It smells potently aldehydic-floral and a bit old-fashioned for a while, but in a good way. No, it's clearly a floral chypre, with a smudge of moss and a dollop of patchouli under a centrepiece of deep-red roses. Yet it's obviously a dark spicy oriental with a sandalwood-amber base. It's a bit dusty-musty in places, a touch acidic in others. Is there a bit of incense in there? That's vetiver, right? Or is it?

What on Earth is this thing?

I don't know that it speaks of Christmas to me, but it is bizarrely lovely, a half-dozen different composed scents fighting to occupy the same olfactory space. If you accept it on its own terms--it is dark, complicated, and frankly argumentative--then I don't see how you can fail to appreciate it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Scentroulette Day 6: Sugarwood by Costamor

Sugarwood by Costamor starts off with extraordinary unpleasantness, a thin, greenish sweetness which is claimed to be sugar cane and fig but which conjures up a melted vinyl record and burnt sugar, ladled over with the sort of sweet generic fruitiness that is the curse of modern mass-market perfumery. It is less awful as the top notes eventually skitter away, but still nothing I'd ever care to put on my skin, a sweet floral, not particularly noteworthy. The base notes may be delightful, but I'm not sticking around long enough to find out. This one's a scrubber if ever there were one (and like all scrubbers, it lasted through a shower and will require extra attention to remove).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Scentroulette Day 5: Shocking by Schiaparelli

Yesterday when I was talking about the reasons you can't trust the lists of notes you so often see, I left one out, perhaps deliberately in a subconscious way, and it's really the most important reason of all these days: because scents are being reformulated all the time, and the list of notes might refer to a version you happen not to have in (or all over) your hands.

Some scents are reconstructed because an element in them is no longer made, because it is illegal, or prohibitively expensive. Some are done purely for reasons of fashion--because a name is well-known but the scent itself is no longer in style, so an entirely new scent is put into the same bottle. And sometimes--well, who knows why perfume houses and manufacturers do what they do, other than to make as much money as possible, and art be damned?

What I have on my skin right now is Shocking by Schiaparelli, and what I am going to describe is what I am smelling on my skin, official notes of any sort be damned. When I put it on, I smell civet, just a little bit, and powdery carnation, which means it immediately calls to mind Tabu (which, as it turns out, was made by Jean Carles, who also devised Shocking). There are other flowers in there, mostly white things like, I think, gardenia; the sweetness and heaviness are unexpectedly restrained, although there is also a whiff of Miel de Bois-style honey. The base is a bit sweeter, vanillic without being dramatically so. It is yummy and very obviously sexual.

Shocking was launched in 1937 and was on the market for a very long time; exactly sixty years later, it was reinvented with a very different formula and relaunched in a similar bottle, the one you see at the top, both based on a dressmaker's dummy, obviously the inspiration for Jean-Paul Gaultier's Le Classique.

Which version do I have on my skin? Over on Now Smell This, there is a review of both the vintage and the reformulation, and based on this side-by-side comparison, it seems likely to me that what I'm smelling is the vintage, or something like it. And this points up the problem with trusting the lists of notes when a scent has been thoroughly reformulated. Basenotes lists only the 1937 incarnation of Shocking, and lists its notes as Bergamot, Aldehydes, Tarragon: Honey, Rose, Narcissus: Clove, Civet, Chypre accord. Rei Rien sells the reformulation, and warns purchasers that the scent "has since been reformulated, but we're sure you already guessed that much", but lists the same notes as Basenotes' 1937. The Perfumed Court also mentions only the 1937, but lists the notes as bergamot, tarragon, raspberry, aldehydes, honey, narcissus, rose oriental, carnation, civet, patchouli, vetiver and vanilla, which sounds kind of modern and only sort of matches the Basenotes list: but TPC is where I got my sample from, so what they're selling is what I'm smelling. Probably. Maybe they sold me the vintage (I think it was a couple of years ago), ran out, got some of the newer stuff, and are vending that now. Or maybe it was reformulated multiple times, and I have some undescribed in-between.

There is a lesson in all this kerfuffle, and the lesson is that there is always a measure of uncertainty in perfumery; even if you are absolutely sure of the provenance, it's not like any other artwork--there could have been changes made that you don't know about, things added or subtracted or replaced altogether, or even just the changes that naturally take place over time with a perfume. You are going to have to take chances, smell pretty much everything that comes down the pike, and ultimately trust your nose. I have no definitive idea what the Shocking that I'm smelling is, but it sure is nice.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Scentroulette Day 4: Real Patchouly by Bois 1920

You know you can't trust the lists of notes you get, right?

First of all, they could be completely invented: the company, if it is telling you anything at all, is telling you what it thinks you would like to hear, which is why you get so much trendy balderdash these days about "frozen peach margarita accord" and "toasted meringue". Second, they could be wrong: if some blogger or perfume writer declared that a particular scent was composed of bergamot, strawberry leaves, wisteria, black rose, sandalwood, and patchouli (entirely plausible, by the way), and a few people copied that and posted it to their blogs, it could become established as the "list of notes" for that scent, regardless of its connection to reality. And third, they could be more or less accurate, but since they tell you nothing of proportion or composition, they could tell you nothing useful, or lead you completely astray.

Luckyscent lists the notes for Real Patchouly as

Texas citron, Indian sandalwood, vanilla, amber

which is nonsense, because there's no patchouli listed. Fragrantica lists the base notes thusly:

Top notes are lemon, mandarin orange, celery seeds, caraway, cedar, thyme and artemisia; middle notes are patchouli, sandalwood, eucalyptus and french labdanum; base notes are tobacco, vanilla, benzoin and musk.

All well and good, and probably much closer to the mark. But here is what I am smelling: little bit of herbal something BIG BLAST OF AMBER some patchouli but not really that much for a scent that calls itself "Real Patchouly" MORE AMBER AND SOME VANILLA OR POSSIBLY BENZOIN AND IS THAT LABDANUM I THINK IT IS. Oh, and AMBER AMBER AMBER.

It's the most ambery scent I've smelled since my beloved Ambre Précieux, and that's saying something. It is very reminiscent of that scent, but rougher, earthier. It's nice enough, but it gets on my nerves after a while, because it doesn't really develop past that first huge hit of amber, and it all seems a bit much. (I can't believe I'm saying that, because Ambre Précieux is pretty much definitionally "too much", but somehow it seems comforting and cozy, while Real Patchouly reads as aggressive.)

The bottle, though. Isn't that killer? The packaging of the Bois 1920 scents is uniformly gorgeous: see?


Friday, April 09, 2010

Scentroulette Day 3: Eclix by La Perla

What you see:

A bottle that looks disturbingly like an alien eye, with a strange, meaningless name.

What they say:

Bergamot, blackcurrant leaves, osmanthus, waterlily, may rose, almond blossom, exotic woods, cocoa and white musk.

What you expect:

Ought to be a floral oriental, don't you think?

What you smell:

Lemon meringue pie. Seriously. Lots of sweet bakery vanilla, lots of lemon, an odd but pleasant drift of fruity osmanthus, as if someone had dropped a flower on top of the pie as decoration.

After a while, the pie-ness fades away to reveal a base of creamy-sweet but slightly sharp wood.

That is all.

It's discontinued, but you can still find it at the online discounters, if this is the sort of thing you feel you need to own. It's really very pleasant, in an offbeat way.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Scentroulette Day 2: Malabah by Penhaligon's

I very nearly had to resort to a thesaurus to find enough synonyms for "light" when considering Malabah by Penhaligon's, a light, soft, pale, gauzy, and ultimately rather confused scent. It feels like an oriental, but you don't know what kind of oriental it is: floral? spicy? woody? What exactly is it?

The first thing you smell is a cup of tea in a dry-cleaner's shop. Then a small pile of pulverized spices is added to the mix--nothing assertive or hostile, mostly ginger and nutmeg, kept very discreet. And then some roses show up. And then sandalwood, and a wisp of amber, which is where that oriental feeling must come from. And then musk? Malabah doesn't seem to follow the usual rules of perfumery, in which scent elements and accords follow in some kind of progression: more and more scents just keep showing up, and pretty soon the thing is as crowded as the room in Duck Soup. (Eventually the upper notes do get to leave: they can't hang around forever.)

It has a rather eighties feel (despite having been launched in 2003), but with the volume turned way, way down: it is pretty much guaranteed to offend nobody, because most people won't be able to smell it on you unless you bucket yourself with the stuff or they lean in really, really closely.

If you are a man who is not scared away by the pink carton--and that isn't a girly pink, anyway, it's a bold Indian hot pink--then you will find this scent absolutely unisex and absolutely wearable. Despite what must seem like nothing but criticism (it's too light, it's ill-defined, it's an oddly constructed muddle), I like it a lot.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Scentroulette Day 1: Divin'Enfant by Etat Libre D'Orange

Every now and then you need something to jar you out of your routine. My routine is to pick a scent I'd like to write about, wear it, think about it, write down some thoughts, wear it some more, think about it some more, look up the official list of notes, think about it some more, and finally sit down to write about it. This gets me about one review a week, which is fine, I suppose, but I look enviously at other scent bloggers and ask myself, How do they do it? How do they write about something every day or two?

I have easily a hundred scents in my possession--mostly samples, fortunately--that I haven't written about yet. At that rate, and at the rate that I acquire new things, it's obvious that I'm going to keep falling further behind. Something must be done!

So for the next little while--let's say a month--I am going to try an experiment. Here are the rules:

1) Every morning, randomly (using a very loose definition of the word) grab a box, randomly select a zip-bag or other container from it, and randomly select a sample from that container.

2) If I've already written about it (which is possible, because my filing system is less than optimal, but at least I have a good memory), keep going until I find one I haven't. If it seems like something I can't wear (say I'm heading off to work or the gym soon and it's strong/girly/whatever), make a second random pick: then choose one of the two. No thirds!

3) Wear it. Make a few notes. Write about it, fast. That day.

Weekends are dicey, because Jim doesn't work them and doesn't like scents (to say the least). If he heads off to the gym before I do, I might be able to sneak one in. But five days a week for the next month or so? Doable. So let's do!


"Enfant divin" is the usual French way to refer to the baby Jesus, so Etat Libre D'Orange is employing their usual shock tactics in calling their scent "Divin'Enfant".

It opens with a big wad of orange blossom, which, frankly, I am not a giant fan of. But immediately underneath is an equally outsized cloud of baby powder, with all its charming associations, and so it's obvious what ELO means to do: give us a standard recitation of the agreeable scents of babyhood, which turn out to be vanilla, orange-flower, a little peekaboo of rose, and the candy-powdery smell of marshmallow. It is charming.

But charming is not what ELO is about: perversity is. Creeping up from under the baby perfume is.... Coffee? Chocolate? Leather? Tobacco? This isn't a baby: it's a grownup, a leather-jacketed reporter on a caffeine-fueled, smoke-wreathed bender. The only thing missing is bourbon (which presumably you can supply yourself).

The disconnect between the two halves of the scent is mesmerizing. Equally so is the fact that you can't tell that any of the underlying scents are there at first; they're completely veiled by the top and middle notes. It hardly seems possible, but there it is: the magic of perfumery.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

His Turn: Ormonde Man by Ormonde Jayne

When I first smelled Calvin Klein Obsession in 1985, I was entranced by its heavily ambered orientalia: I'd never smelled anything remotely like it, and I was hooked for life. (I've owned the soap, the perfume, and the EDP over the years, and I still have a little bottle of it in my collection.) I was delighted when they announced a men's version, and extremely disappointed when they launched Obsession for Men in 1986, because my innocent assumption was that it would actually be a version of the women's, and it wasn't, at all; it was gigantic mass of lavender and spice, huge in a bad way (as opposed to Obsession, huge in a good way), an attack fragrance. I still ended up owning the soap (which usually manages to tone down a scent) and a little bottle of the EDT, which I wore from time to time in little tentative dabs, knowing that a full-on splash was going to bowl people over.

What I didn't know then, but certainly know now, is that as a rule, X For Men is not going to have anything to do with the original women's version of X; it;s going to be a standard men's scent piggybacking on the name (and possibly the packaging) of the women's, meant to be bought by women for their men.

Every now and then, though, a manufacturer will actually refer back to the women's scent--which nearly always precedes the men's by a year or two--and either base the men's on the women's, or construct a men's scent that is meant to be worn alongside the women's and complement it in some way.

I described Ormonde Woman by Ormonde Jayne as variously "dark and mysterious", "a monolith", and "unisex", and it is all of those things. But now that I have smelled Ormonde Man, I see what the perfumer was getting at in the bigger scheme of things. Ormonde Woman is not particularly gendered on its own, but if you are wearing Woman on one hand and Man on the other, as I am right now, you perceive that the two scents have the same basic structure--a woody oriental based on black hemlock--but are decorated differently, with the woman's version being adorned with (dark, subtle) flowers, and the men's having a big chunk of pungent, medicinal oudh stacked atop it. (There is a little oudh in the women's, too, as a further reference.) There is no doubt that the two scents are closely related, while each is its own creation; if you smelled two people each wearing one, you might think they were wearing the same scent and attribute the differences to body chemistry.

Ormonde Man starts, as so many men's scents do, with a little splash of citrus and a slight soapiness that resembles that masculine standby, shave cream. This doesn't last, being pushed aside quickly by an almost dizzying quantity of smooth, polished wood. The overwhelming quality that oudh can have (as attested to by oudhmonster YSL M7) has been damped down, somewhat; its usual aggressiveness has been tempered, controlled, corralled. As the scent ages on your skin, the wood becomes ever softer and rounder, the oudh being replaced by warm, almost creamy sandalwood. It is extraordinarily appealing and well-constructed.

Just as Ormonde Woman is absolutely wearable by a man (one who isn't afraid of wearing a scent with "woman" in the name), Ormonde Man is entirely wearable by women. Why not? It's just another side of the same fascinating coin.