One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Animate Objects

Here's a still from the animated spy spoof "Archer", season 1, episode 4, with a European secret agent in the bathroom of wealthy spy-agency head Mallory Archer preparing to kill it doesn't really matter, does it, because we're here for the perfume bottles:

That's self-evidently Chanel No. 5 there on the marble countertop, and behind it what looks like one of the Guerlain beehive bottles, and what's that tiny squarish black bottle next to them?

Why, it's Nombre Noir,

the legendary and extremely unavailable Shiseido scent that kicked off Serge Lutens' career. You can have a droplet or two for a not insignificant sum of money, if you want,

or you can have a tiny bottle for a whole lot of money, if you're lucky. (And there is only that one bottle available on all of eBay. Compare it to other recent, hard-to-find scents; there are gallons of Le Feu d'Issey and Fendi Theorema and Kingdom by Alexander McQueen, pricey but relatively plentiful still. Nombre Noir isn't the rarest, though: not one single person has any of Clinique's first men's scent, Tailoring, for sale, and The Perfumed Court doesn't, either.)

Nombre Noir is just the kind of thing a woman like Mallory Archer would own, if not actually wear. Whoever was doing the art direction for that scene put a lot of thought into it. Or is just a perfume hound.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Complexity / Simplicity: Guerlain Samsara Eau de Toilette

Samsara was launched in 1989, and I don't know how I failed to include it in the list of things I was wearing that year, because I bought it very shortly after its debut in my part of the world, I liked it a whole lot, and I'm wearing it at this moment, so clearly it has some sort of grip on me.

Now, this is going to be very confusing, because Samsara has been changed, packaging and contents, so often that it's hard to keep track or to know exactly what you're smelling, but I'll try to lay it out as clearly as possible.

I was instantly seduced by the Samsara parfum bottle

which came in this little lacquer-look box

and is that not gorgeous? But for some reason — the cost, I suppose — I didn't buy it. I couldn't really warm up to the eau de parfum bottle

which was, let's face it, rather dreary compared to the parfum, however much I liked the contents. Instead I got the body cream

which seemed like a lot of bang for the buck, and emphasized, as creams will do, the potent base notes (or note, in this case, but I'm getting ahead of myself). The jar was approximately this shape but the lid didn't have that broad gold edge: the whole thing, not just the top, was that solid jewel red, a sort of a mutated version of the parfum box, and I liked it a lot.

When I used it up, I cleaned out the jar and set it atop my dresser to hold change and such. Then I broke down and bought an ounce of the EDP, boring though the bottle was. And I wore it and wore it and eventually got tired of it, like the fickle slut that I am, and traded it away to someone and lived without it for years.

Eventually, someone at the company took notice of the bottle's extreme and unsuitable boringness and reworked it in dark red glass with concave shoulders, essentially turning it into the larger version of the parfum that it should have been all along:

I think the EDP had the gold cap and the EDT had a red cap, as you see here:

But then a couple of weeks ago I noticed that the local hypermart was getting rid of their entire high-end fragrance section; there wasn't really a lot left to it by this point, as they hadn't been replenishing it for at least a year and probably more. They had marked most everything down to $9.94 or $19.94, and so there was not much left but the dregs, though by god there was an ounce of Samsara EDT for less than $10 (there was also a 50-mL of the EDP for $30, not worth it: the only other thing that interested me was a bottle of Eau de Star, Mugler's fascinating attempt to make Angel wearable in the summer by wetting it down with Calone and freshening it up with peppermint). I managed to resist for a few days, but then I thought, well, hell, I really used to like it (the EDP, anyway) and for $10 I can see if I like it again, and if I don't, no great loss, so I'll go see: if it's still there I'll buy it. And it was, and I did (and the Eau de Star as well). For someone who made a New Year's vow to buy nothing in 2011, I am not doing very well.

The Samsara EDT that I bought is in the updated bottle (the bottommost one), but it's in the old box (next one up), so I have absolutely no idea what the vintage might be. Not the very oldest, obviously, but also not the very newest, or it would be in the new box. Why is there not some sort of law dictating that fragrances have to have the year stamped on the bottle, like wines?

One more thing about the packaging: the EDP in both the above pictures has a removable cap, as you would expect, but the EDT has a cap that is also a sprayer, that rotates one way to lock it and another to permit it to dispense the contents. I am not sure why companies persist in doing this, but it's not a great idea, because the sprayer/cap invariably looks like a cap/cap, and so there are going to be people who try to pull it off. Most of them will succeed. (How many displays of Bulgari Black did you or I see that had the sprayer wrenched off by people doing the obvious, but unfortunately wrong, thing?) The bottle I bought had a little card-stock hang-tag around its neck showing how to rotate the cap 180° to use the sprayer: it seems to me that if you have to instruct users how to open the bottle, then the fault is not with the users but with the package design.

Now, you can go hunt down a list of the putative notes in Samsara, but it would be a waste of your time, because it won't be telling you the truth: it might be an old list from the origin of the scent, or it might be from one of the various reformulations over the years, but either way it will put ideas in your head that do not belong there. Samsara may have ten ingredients or fifty, but it smells of three things only: a trumpet-blare of bergamot, a load of slightly dirty jasmine, and a big chunk of sandalwood. That's it. These things have been tinkered with to make them surprisingly bright and radiant, but they're still pretty much the sum of Samsara. Oh, there may be some rose in there (there always seems to be rose when there's jasmine), there may be some vanilla or amber at the bottom (who could tell with all that sandalwood?), but really: bergamot jasmine sandalwood. It has always been this way; the proportions are different, as always, but the essential structure is the same. In my bottle, the bergamot is very strong, the jasmine is unpretty, and the sandalwood is potent and solid, so if someone told you that this was Samsara Pour Homme, you wouldn't see any reason in the world to disbelieve them. It's not masculine, specifically, but it's not feminine either: it's just Samsara.

At its inception, Samsara had enormous quantities of Mysore sandalwood, considered the best in the world and said to have comprised nearly a third of the perfume's formula, but these days Mysore is an endangered species — we used it all up by doing things like putting it at 30% concentration in Samsara — so the wood is certainly a cocktail of Australian sandalwood and various synthetics such as Polysantol and Ebanol. Nevertheless: bergamot jasmine sandalwood. If you like these things, then there is every chance you will like Samsara, of whatever vintage, in whatever incarnation. I suggest you go hunt some down.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Both Ends Against The Middle: Gilded Lily by Ineke

Last week on the A.V. Club I read a piece called Didn't like it, would still recommend it, and even after reading the article and the ensuing comments I am utterly baffled by the very idea; how can you recommend something you don't like? Isn't your own taste the benchmark of your recommendations to friends? I can understand "I didn't care for it, but I know you like this sort of thing so I thought you'd enjoy it," or (and all of us scent hounds have done this) "Here: I can't wear this but maybe you can, and if not maybe you know someone else who can," but to just flat-out say "I hated this but I think you should experience it anyway" — how is that possible? Is there an undertone of "I want you to be as unhappy as I was"?

I will give Ineke big points for making what she calls a fruity chypre and meaning it, putting an interesting array of fruit into the top (pineapple, grapefruit, and rhubarb, she says) and oakmoss into the base, but there is a big noxious gorilla in the room and that gorilla is a lily — to be specific, "Goldband Lily of Japan", which is almost immediately evident and comprises the entirety of the middle. I don't know what a goldband lily of Japan is and in all honesty I couldn't even be bothered to look it up, but I don't like it at all, and I don't want it in my chypres.

It is a waste of time to second-guess an artist once their work is completed and unleashed upon the world but all I can think about is what might have been. As ever, the bottle is stunning, and most of the fragrance inside works: the top of the scent is inventive and the base is classic oakmoss-patchouli-labdanum chypre, although it should have been more evident earlier on (which is to say not drowned out by that massive lily). Had she constructed a slightly more conventional middle with a bouquet of flowers instead of that one gigantic cultivar — there is nothing wrong with roses and jasmine! — then this could have been an enormous success and I would be singing its praises, because nobody is making proper chypres any more. Instead, here is what I am left with:

Didn't like it, would still recommend you sample it if you are the kind of person who likes oversized and not especially attractive lily scents, but please don't wear it around me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Memory Lane: Field Notes from Paris by Ineke

"Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."Not Dr. Johnson, apparently

That's the second thing I thought of after smelling Field Notes from Paris, which is not entirely fair of me, because it is actually good. Really good. Certainly the best of the first six, and by a considerable margin.

But the first thing I thought of is that it's mostly a simplified and stripped-down copy of another scent: Escada's Casual Friday. I don't think it's a deliberate copy — there is after all a finite number of possible aromachemicals and combinations, however large that number is — but so many of the elements are the same that it's impossible not to compare them if you know both scents.

They're both spicy, masculine floral orientals. Their similarity is obvious from the first instant: they both start with a big shock wave of bergamot and coriander, though Casual Friday ups the ante with cardamom and anise as well. They diverge in the middle, with the bite of Casual Friday's clovey carnation replaced by a creamy orange blossom, but reconverge an hour or so later, sharing a base of soft, woody patchouli, vanilla, and tonka bean with plenty of the earlier spice still evident.

Since Casual Friday is long discontinued, if you've been looking for a replacement, here you have it. I prefer the snarl of carnation to the refinement of orange blossom, and I much prefer the complexity of the Escada scent (modern fragrances on the whole are just too minimalist for my taste), but Field Notes from Paris is beautiful for all that, and I think it finally shows what Ineke Ruhland is capable of.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Almost Worth The Wait: Evening Edged in Gold by Ineke

Well, finally.

A commenter from my entry on the fourth Ineke, Derring-Do, said,

I have the same issues you do with Ineke.... Relieved to hear you call it like you smelled it, though sorry you wasted your money on the set.

I was starting to feel like I'd wasted my money, too, and wondering who I could foist the batch off on, when I tried Evening Edged in Gold, the fifth in the line, and my instant impression was a loud and simple "Yes!"

The opening of Evening Edged in Gold is glorious, a huge, rich, fruity osmanthus with a complexity I found lacking in the previous Ineke offerings. It briefly made me think of those yummy, oversized eighties floral orientals with hundreds of ingredients. There's a spiciness to it which is presumably saffron and cinnamon, although it doesn't smell exactly like either of these: it's mostly just a little halo of crispness and bite around the big plummy-fruity osmanthus.

It doesn't last: the middle of the scent is not as good as it ought to be, with that very same synthetic quality that I perceive in all the others coming to the surface yet again. After the osmanthus in the top, the main floral notes in Evening Edged in Gold are angel's trumpet and midnight candy, which, in a clever choice by the perfumer, are flowers which bloom and release their perfume in the night. (I have always been a sucker for these perverse night-blooming flowers, and used to grow night-scented stock, which can handle the cold of eastern Canada.) I couldn't tell you what either of these flowers are supposed to smell like, but I'm guessing that those notes are created in the lab: there's nothing wrong with that, but I wish it didn't smell so laboratorial, because it makes me think of a scented product like garbage-bin liners or deodorizing room spray rather than a high-end niche perfume. I want to stress that it's not terrible; it's just not as good as it ought to have been. The base, which starts making its appearance early on (as is fairly usual with orientals), is a lot of leather and a bit of creamy wood to ground it, and it's very pleasant. If only the middle were up to the same standards as the top and bottom!

Once again I have to mention the packaging. I mean, just look at it. Dazzling. If you weren't completely convinced by Evening Edged in Gold, that box and bottle might be enough to push you over the edge into buying it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don't: Derring-Do by Ineke

I am trying to like these, I swear I am, but the best I can say about the line so far is that each scent is better than the last, as if the perfumer, Ineke Ruhland, is improving over time. But I still don't think Derring-Do is particularly special.

As you can tell from the packaging, this is meant to be a masculine scent, and it is, I guess; a fresh fougere with a neutral floral heart. (The notes: citrus blend, rain notes, cyclamen; magnolia, fougere notes; guaiacwood, cedarwood, musk.) It smells just as synthetic as the rest of her scents do to me, and in fact all four of them that I've tried so far have the same palmprint, so perhaps she's concocted a mostly synthetic accord that she uses in all her scents as a sort of not-very-good Guerlinade. Derring-Do isn't terrible; it's just not something that I would even consider wearing. It just is, that's all, and that's not good enough.

Were you perhaps wondering where the term "derring-do" came from? Wonder no more.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Not My Cuppa: Chemical Bonding by Ineke

I want to like the Ineke series but I'm trying them in order and I'm still waiting for the big revelation, the fantastic scent: Chemical Bonding, the third in the series, is not it. Part of the problem is my nose, I guess: the scent just doesn't smell uniform, but presents itself in an unpredictable way. Sometimes it smells like a lot of synthetic peonies with a faint overlay of citrus tea, which is not for me, and other times it's a cup of citrus tea with a few peony petals in it, which is nice enough although not really unusual or special: tea scents are a dime a dozen, alas.

Some people dislike the name but I think it's clever: it doesn't make me think of synthetic chemistry (though it wouldn't bother me if it did, because everything is chemicals, water's a chemical), but of the mysterious attraction that fragrance can generate between two people.

And of course the packaging is stellar, with periodic-table symbols etched into the bottle (they spell the word BONDING*) and echoed on the box.

When the packaging is better than the scent, though; isn't that a problem?

*The pedantically precise and the science geeks (how much overlap there is between those categories of people) will have noticed that it is not possible to spell the word BONDING using elements from the periodic table. You can start with boron, oxygen, neodymium, iodine, and nitrogen, but there is no way to get that terminal "g", unless you are willing to put up with an extra letter; germanium will give you BONdINGe, sort of like Monty Python's "Ministry of Housinge".

Thursday, August 11, 2011

'Til You Drop

Tomorrow, as it happens, is my birthday. Today, as it happens, Jim had to go to Dartmouth to teach a seminar, so I went along to keep him company during the drive (about two and a half hours each way). At nineish, Jim dropped me off at the Mic Mac Mall and headed to his gig. I wasn't going to buy myself any birthday presents, but I'm sure you can guess what happened when I was set loose in a mall with a credit card and a couple of hours on my hands: I spent hardly anything, really, and came away with a whole bunch of stuff.

First stop was The Bay, because they carry the Mugler scents and I was wondering if they might perchance have A*Men Pure Havane, which I had not had the opportunity to smell. I own Pure Coffee and Pure Malt: I wasn't seriously considering buying the third one, but if it was tobacco-heavy as I thought it could be, it might have been able to seduce me. They didn't have it, so I snagged a few samples (nothing really compelling) and ducked out.

At some point after that — it's kind of a blur — was Lush, which, I had heard, had an interesting line of scents called Gorilla. I usually steer well clear of Lush, because they emit a nearly visible cloud of stink: Jim wonders how you could possibly focus on smelling a fragrance in there when there are so many competing aromas battling it out in your nostrils, like trying to hear a particular song when forty people are singing different ones at the same time, and he's got a point. I didn't really try very hard to smell anything once I had discovered that there was boxed set of eight two-mL vials of the current Gorilla scents (the seven you see above plus Breath of God), so I got that ($19.95) and got out. You can't tell from the picture, but the vials, or rather their closures, are most clever: the cap comes off to reveal an insert with five tiny, tiny pinpricks in it which dispense just a film of the liquid inside, the perfect dose. I tried on some Vanillary once I was safely outside and it is just my thing: rich, luscious vanilla with a sharp spike of jasmine.

After some to-ing and fro-ing which is not relevant to the topic at hand, I made for the bus stop to head into Halifax but was distracted by a Winners, which is Canada's version of T.J. Maxx if you're American, T.K. Maxx if you're British, and I don't know what if you live anywhere else. They usually have fragrances, and I'm not usually that interested in them, because we're talking mostly celebrity stenches and other mass-market dreck (although the one near my workplace did have several of the D&G tarot series and a whole bunch of Laliques, including Encre Noir, none of which was priced low enough to tempt me.) This one had two things in the clearance section that piqued my interest, though. The first was a 100-mL bottle of Black Pearls by Elizabeth Taylor

for $11, which I remembered reading about a couple of months ago on Now Smell This; it wouldn't seem like my kind of thing except that the review made much of its heavy dose of leather. But I put the box down and moved on to something I had never seen before, two scents from a line called Odori.

(In order those are Leather, Lavender, Tobacco, Saffron, Iris, and The Odours, which is not really a very good name for a scent; even Italian can't mask that.) They seemed kind of cheaply boxed, and the unpromisingly titled Gli Odori did nothing to attract me, but the other was Tabacco,

and hadn't I just been looking for a tobacco scent not an hour before? One of the boxes was open — it really was — and so I took out the bottle, a heavy glass thing in what appeared to be a hand-made wooden frame. I gave it a spritz into the air and it was really, really nice, dark and luscious without being heavy or sweet. I don't yet know how it will smell on skin, but in the air it's pretty spectacular.

And then you know what I did? I said to myself, "I don't need any more scents, and I'm not buying this," and I walked away.

And then I said, "But you know, it's only $12*, and it's really nice, and my birthday is tomorrow," so I turned around and walked back and picked it up. And then I figured, hey, if I'm going through the checkout, I might as well get the Black Pearls as well, so I picked that up, too.

So: ten new scents, $42.95 plus tax. Can't beat that.

And in Halifax I went to Biscuit General Store but they didn't have anything that interested me (they stock some Tokyo Milk, I think, and also L'Aromarine and a few other lines, not that you can tell from their unfortunately useless website), so I went to Mills Brothers, which when I first lived in Halifax in the eighties was THE place to buy scents, and it's turned into just a colossal disappointment. They have a very few L'Artisan scents, none of the new ones as far as I can tell, which means it's probably old stock that just keeps hanging around, and they have L'Occitane and not really anything else that you can't get most other places.

By that time, Jim was done with his seminar and heading into Halifax for lunch with me, so that was the end of my sniffing and shopping for the day.

And here is the punchline. When I got home I looked up Odori Tabacco online to see what I could find out about it, and the first link to come up was Luckyscent, whom I trust, so I went there: they sell it, for TWO HUNDRED AND TEN DOLLARS.

So listen to me and listen closely: if you live in Halifax or Dartmouth or anywhere within driving distance and you like tobacco scents, go to that mall and go to that store and buy yourself one of the three remaining bottles of this stuff. DO IT.

* The original price sticker says that it sold elsewhere at $225 but was available at Winners for $59.99. Then there are five markdown stickers layered one on top of the other, and they're called stickers because they are SUPER sticky and tore apart into all kinds of pieces as I did my best to pry them apart to sate your curiosity, but nearly as I can tell they read $51, $36, $25, $20, and finally $12.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Driver: Balmy Days and Sundays by Ineke

It is as true of the second Ineke fragrance as it was of the first that the packaging is fantastic, devised and executed with considerable imagination. And it is likewise as true of the second as of the first that the scent inside is not particularly good. Balmy Days and Sundays is pleasant enough, and better than After My Own Heart, but it still appears to be composed largely of synthetics which smell synthetic — grassy greenness and freesia dominate — and in fact it smells precisely like a small and carefully selected batch of automotive air fresheners.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

But Not Mine: After My Own Heart by Ineke

As I mentioned when I was discussing my last trip to New York, I bought a set of seven Ineke samples because "the packaging is so ludicrously beautiful and thought-through that I couldn't resist." And it is.

Here's the sample box I got:

A little slide-out drawer has the seven tiny slide boxes nestled in a black foam liner, along with a an attractive leaflet describing the scents and listing their notes. The little boxes, as you can see, have their names printed on the top, and Ineke is naming them in alphabetical order: After My Own Heart, Balmy Days and Sundays, Chemical Bonding, Derring-Do, Evening Edged in Gold, Field Notes From Paris, and Gilded Lily. On the right side of each boxlet is a little sliver of artwork: on the left is a description of the scent. And there's more!

When you slide out the liner, you see that the sides of the box are decorated in some apropos pattern: clusters of doodled lilacs for the lilac-based After My Own Heart, dotted pinstripes for the masculine Derring-Do. And the vial is wrapped in a tiny square of beautiful textury paper in a coordinating colour: grassy green for Balmy Days and Sundays, copper for Field Notes From Paris. Some graphic designer, or perhaps Ineke Ruhland herself, put a lot of work into devising the look for this line.

The packaging is gorgeously conceived and executed and I'm sure Ineke is charming and well-educated in perfumery, so I feel like kind of a churl when I say that I just don't think After My Own Heart is very good.

The official notes:

Top: Bergamot, Raspberry, Crisp Green Foliage.
Middle: Lilac.
Base: Sandalwood, Heliotrope, Musk.

The raspberry-and-greenery top note just doesn't fit with the lilac that follows. I tried convincing myself that it could work if I thought of it as, say, sitting in a summery garden among the lilac bushes eating raspberry granita, but I couldn't lie that thoroughly to myself. The raspberry is, of course, synthetic — virtually all berry notes in perfumery are — but this one feels particularly so, like melted gummi bears. I have never been a great fan of lilac soliflores: I don't think lilac translates especially well to composed perfumes, because it never smells like the real thing, bright and creamy at the same time. (It can be done: Demeter's Lilac is for a little while a nicely convincing lilac soliflore.) The lilac in After My Own Heart is recognizable, but it's not authentic: you could never mistake it for a gust of the real flower. When composing a perfume as simple as this one is, I think, you have to take one of two tacks: either the scent must be perfectly realistic, or it must be completely abstract. If you're going for realism, as Ineke is here (and, I would guess, the entire line, based on the descriptive text), that sense of reality is paramount, because there's nothing to hide the seams: but After My Own Heart is all pieces that don't come together.