One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Great Divide

I am slowly ensnaring a co-worker in my heinous web of scent addiction, and I don't feel a bit sorry.

A few months ago I gave her a half-dozen Demeters that I wasn't wearing much any more: at one point I had something on the order of 60 of them (mostly the wee half-ounce bottles), so I figured I could part with a few. Last month she ordered some for herself. It's only a matter of time before I've got her hooked on Serge Lutens* and vintage Hermes and the like; just you watch.

Today for fun I brought in the first two Demeters I ever bought, Gingerale and Graham Cracker. As I had guessed she might, she instantly fell in love with Gingerale: how could you not, with that unbelievable carbonation effect? (And why hasn't Demeter done a whole line of carbonated scents — Sprite, Orange Crush, Hires Root Beer, Coca-Cola? I'd buy every one.)

On the way out the door tonight I let another co-worker smell them both, and while she was surprised at the accuracy of the Gingerale, she didn't get it, or Graham Cracker either. "Why would anyone want to smell like ginger ale?" she asked, and then, "Why would anyone want to smell like a graham cracker?"

Because they smell nice, and are therefore nice things to smell like? Because they're fun? Because they're unexpected?

I've been wearing scents for so long that it is normal for me to smell like a jar of olives in a forest fire or sambuca or the coast of Newfoundland and to expect other people to want to do so as well. I have to remind myself from time to time — because this knowledge does not come naturally to me — that not everybody thinks the same way as I do or has the same experiences as I've had, so to most people, fragrance is aftershave or a fruity floral and not some baffling concoction that makes its wearer smell like a Dadaist hootenanny.

*I have already given her a start down the Lutens road: recently I gave her a couple of spray vials, including Louve, which she likes (although if I can find my sample of Rahät Loukoum I think she will like that better), and a booklet of wax samples including the irresistible Un Bois Vanilla. She's bound to succumb.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Kaboom: Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger

If you wrapped an armload of orange-flowers, a bushel of tuberose, and a tiny mandarin-orange pomander around a stick of dynamite and then detonated it, you would have the approximate effect of what Serge Lutens accomplishes with his Fleurs d'Oranger, a massive white floral which effortlessly and explosively occupies whatever space you care to give it. It's beautifully done if you like massive white florals. Otherwise, beware.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Arms and the Man: Juliette Has A Gun Vengeance Extreme

Rose and patchouli are two of the most important notes in perfumery: it's actually sort of a challenge to find a scent that doesn't have one or the other, there are hundreds upon hundreds that have both, and a fair number are built around the pairing. Tommy Hilfiger did a duo, Loud, based on them (mostly patchouli for the men, mostly rose for the women), Dior's Midnight Poison is hardly anything except fresh clean patchouli and a big clear rose, ELO's Rossy de Palma is the same only dirtier and darker, L'Artisan's Voleur de Rose the same but dirtier and darker still (so much so that I can't wear it), Guerlain's Idylle Duet is an Idylle flanker named for the conjunction of the two notes, and Clinique's Aromatics Elixir, to the extent that its wall of scent can be said to be dominated by anything, is a floral chypre dominated by roses and patchouli.

So I understand why niche house Juliette Has A Gun wanted a rose-patchouli scent of their own, Lady Vengeance, which softens the blow with a hefty dose of vanilla. I am just not sure why they thought they had to do it all over again five years later with Vengeance Extreme.

Okay, that's not quite true: I'm reasonably sure they made Vengeance Extreme because they wanted to make a version of Lady Vengeance for men. Perhaps they didn't want to call it Mister Vengeance because they wanted women to buy it, too, but make no mistake: Vengeance Extreme is a thoroughly masculine rose scent.

Like its ancestor, it's simplicity itself, starting out with a huge wallop of prickly rose and grimy patchouli with a suggestion of men's-cologne citrus atop it. The rose gradually fades, leaving the patchouli which is eventually supplemented with a whisper of vanilla. That's it, really.

To my surprise, the more I wore it, the more I liked it. It's not something I have to own, because it's probably too simple for its own good (I don't see how you wouldn't get bored of it after a while), but if you've been looking for a good men's rose scent and the bottle doesn't scare you off, Vengeance Extreme is probably just the thing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hide and Seek: Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque

One of the nice things about reviewing brand-new scents is that everybody is on the same page: what I'm smelling when I open the bottle is what you're smelling when you do the same. We may interpret the molecules differently, but at least they're the same molecules. Writing about established or vintage scents, though, is problematic: age (of the scent) and reformulation mean that what's in my bottle may be literally nothing like what's in yours.

Cuir Mauresque — the name means "Moorish leather" — was created in 1996. My little decant is probably not of that vintage, but if it was from a bottle sold in 2006, it could still be different from what's being sold today. There's no way to tell.

I suspect that, Serge Lutens scents being what they are, Cuir Mauresque may have been typically daring and off-beat, but it sure isn't now. Mind you, I may have been a little hasty when I once called it "possibly the dullest leather I know of", and that's my fault: I had never had it on my skin, but had only sniffed it from blotters a few times. Now that I've had a chance to wear it, I have to upgrade that to "a competent if not thrilling leather."

It's undeniably a Lutens, opening with his usual spiced-fruit notes (in this case a clove-and-orange pomander) before segueing almost immediately into a smooth warm leather, which is where it mostly stays for quite a long time. Eventually it turns into sweet amber musk. It's very warm, very leathery, and very nice. I don't wear Serge Lutens for nice, though: I wear him for things that nobody else is able to do. I wear him for interesting, baffling, visionary, astonishing.

If you want a strange and fascinating leather scent, you are going to have to look elsewhere: there are plenty of decent leather scents out there, but in particular the majestic Knize Ten is well worth searching out. (Mind you, it was launched in 1924 and might not smell anything like it used to, or even anything like what I have. But if they haven't messed with it too much, it's brilliant, and at $70 for 50 mL they're practically giving it away.) For something more refined but still inimitable, you could also try Chanel's Cuir de Russie, also launched in 1924 (apparently a great year for leather scents).

On the other hand, if you don't have a leather scent in your collection, Cuir Mauresque is a good place to start, because it is completely unisex and inoffensive. It's not a fashionable leather jacket that makes you feel daring and stylish: it's a leather key fob that nobody will even notice.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Somebody Explain This To Me

This is a candle. Obviously you're not going to light it, right? So it's a decoration, a sculpture made of just over a pound of wax, which isn't even scented: it just sits there, collecting dust, unless you put it under a bell jar. That base looks a little teetery to me, and if the sculpture falls over, it's going to be damaged, because wax is fragile.

Aedes de Venustas is selling this for A HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS.

If that's not rich enough for your blood, you can get one of Napoleon Bonaparte, looking perhaps a bit more stable and made of just under three pounds of wax, for $175. They're both from a French candle-making company called Cire Trudon, which says they are "wax be collected rather than consumed," in which case why do they have wicks?

I really just don't get this at all. At least perfume them or something.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Getting Things Wrong: Omnia Profumo Oro and Argento

I swear I am not trying to be difficult about this but I cannot understand how Omnia Profumo came by the names of their newest scents, Oro and Argento.

"Oro" means "Gold" and "Argento" means "Silver", and of course you may name your scents after precious metals, and you may do it without any indication of sex. There are lots of women's scents named after gold: Estee Lauder did it, and La Prairie, and Donna Karan, and I bet you can find fifty more if you try. A hundred. Likewise there are men's fragrances with silver in the title or just flat-out named Silver, and I have no problem with that.

If you are going to specifically assign genders to your metals by launching a pair of scents, though, then you don't really have a whole lot of choice: in Western culture (and some others besides), gold is associated with the sun and both are male, and silver is associated with the moon and both are female. Ask anyone. Ask Marge Piercy. Ask Oscar Wilde, whose "Salome" is drenched with references to silver and to the silvern moon, which is likened to a princess with feet like white doves, a dead woman looking for dead things, a virgin who has never defiled herself with men, a madwoman seeking lovers. Ask St. Francis of Assisi. I honestly don't much care what you call your scent and I honestly don't care either who wears it (my collection would be a miserable shadow of itself if I limited myself to the masculine side of the aisle), but if you're going to make a specific point of gendering metals, then the sun is gold and gold is male and the moon is silver and silver is female: they just are.

But no. Omnia Profumo has released two scents, one for women and one for men, but the women's is called Oro and the men's is called Argento, and that is not right.

And neither are the scents, as it turns out.

Oro is amusing in small doses, say a pinpoint on your skin, but when you apply it with abandon you find that you are wearing a big floral, and not really a very pleasant one, dominated by a huge cyclamen note joined by a bunch of lilac, and I have yet to meet a lilac scent that I think works. The base is oriental, and unfortunately rather cloying.

The men's doesn't even have amusement on its side, though. The top is an aquatic-spicy-citrus accord that will recall a hundred other modern men's scents, only not as good. After that it gets very ugly very fast, with more of that spindly, aggressive spice (it doesn't even have the grace to be warm and inviting) and some of the least appealing leather I can imagine. There are a pile of other things in there (you can read the list here if you like), but what you are getting is a slightly orientalized variant on a standard ozonic-fresh-spicy men's scent, and it is really not a pleasant thing.

As I always do, I wore them repeatedly, despite wanting to wash them off, to be sure I wasn't missing anything. I wasn't. I actually started to feel kind of bad for the copywriters at Luckyscent (from whom I got my samples), because they have to make everything sound equally glorious and desirable, and I love the idea of working with scents but if I had to lavish rapturous praise on the likes of Oro and Argento I would probably just quit and find myself a hermitage.

And now I have thrown the remnants of the vials into the trash can, and I am going to try to scrub these off my skin and wear something decent.