One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On The Road, Part 3

And now, Things I Liked But Not Enough To Buy.

The biggest surprise was Bijou, the newest scent from Alfred Sung (I think it's a limited edition, in the same bottle as Jewel but in a plum-coloured box). It's not something I could imagine wearing, but the notes sounded so intriguing that I couldn't resist sampling it, and it's delicious, like a big bowl of exotic fruit cocktail--the top note has raspberry and plum and they occupy almost all of the airspace for the first fifteen minutes or so before being joined by coconut, vanilla, and, almost as an afterthought, some gardenias. It's not anything particularly special: it resembles those tropical-fruit girl-drink scents that Escada cranks out year after year. It's really nice, though.

At long last, I got a chance to sample some of the Serge Lutens scents. I limited myself to four, because I didn't want to overwhelm my nose and I had a lot of shopping to do, so I chose the ones that I thought would be the most to my taste. Maybe it's just me, maybe I'm just a philistine, maybe it was the nascent head cold, but none of them particularly wowed me. The nicest, without a doubt, was Ambre Sultan, but the trouble with amber scents is that they have to compete against the king and champion of all ambers, Ambre Précieux, and hardly any of them can. Ambre Sultan certainly couldn't, and at $110 Canadian for a 50-mL bottle, it would have to more than wow me; it would have to sneak up from behind, roundhouse me, drag me away, and leave me bound and gagged by the side of the road.

I also tried Santal Blanc, the enticing Arabie, and the accurately named Douce Amere ("bittersweet"); all nice, all something I'd consider buying at half the price, but otherwise, no.

Estée Lauder's Youth Dew Amber Nude is an improvement on the original, but when all is said and done, it's still basically Youth Dew without the gross top note and with chocolate. Nice enough for what it is (as they say), but no.

I had been expecting, or at least hoping, to be poleaxed by Terre D'Hermès, since they do knockout men's scents (Eau D'Hermès, Rocabar, Équipage, and especially Bel Ami are all genius) and it's been getting such good reviews. The bottle's awesome, and I liked it enough, but I didn't love it; nothing about it said "Buy me or else, damn you!" (The last time that happened, come to think of it, was in 2002 in Montréal: I smelled Yves Saint Laurent's M7, everything went more or less black, and when I came to, I had a bottle of it in a shopping bag.)

FlowerbyKenzo Oriental is not an improvement on the original. Adding an incense note to a flawless powdery-floral scent probably seemed like a good idea to someone, but it's really just a case of painting the lily. It's not terrible, and I'm sure it's appealing to people for whom the original was just too floral, but it isn't everything I would have hoped for.

Dior Homme is another of those scents I wanted to like, but....I can't even put my finger on it. It didn't seem to have any character, any presence (despite that majestic bottle). The contentious iris note wasn't even potent enough to raise an eyebrow. If I wanted to wear iris, I'd wear Hermès Hiris. I'm not ruling it out; it seems, in principle, like an interesting scent, and there have been fragrances over the years that I didn't "get" at first but eventually did, like Bel Ami. But there have also been plenty of others that should have been perfect for me but just weren't (L'Artisan's Mechant Loup!), and I have a feeling that Dior Homme is one of them.

Tomorrow: the things I'd buy, the things I will buy, and the things I should have bought.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On The Road, Part 2

I forgot a Thing No Longer Available the other day; Guerlain's Anisia Bella, an evidently limited-edition scent in their Aqua Allegoria line. I really wanted to try it; I love anise notes, usually, and it sounded nice, but nobody in Montréal or Ottawa had it, not one single store: they all had stupid gift sets containing a bottle of Herba Fresca, Rosa Magnifica, or Pampelune, and some pointless lip gloss. Anisia Bella is discontinued, gone and gone for good. I'm sour-grapesing the situation by remembering that the also nice-sounding Mentafollia was a massive disappointment; it promised to be all about mint (as Herba Fresca is all about grass, and Pampelune is all about grapefruit), and instead was a mere breath of mint followed by a tedious round of floral notes. There are some floral ingredients in Anisia Bella, and I'm guessing, with no proof, that it was the same--a little anise and then some uninspired florals. That way I don't have to feel bad about never having had a chance to try it.


So: on to Chapter 2, Things That Disappointed Me.
Bottle is a yes. Contents are a no.

Speaking of anise, I sampled Kenzoair Intense in Montréal, and it wasn't any better than the original, a boring outdoor-fresh scent with hardly any of the promised anise. The bottle's spectacular, but the scent is blah at best. I want a licorice-y scent that isn't cloying like Lempicka Au Masculin or Rochas Man: I do have Yohji Homme, but I want something with much more licorice in it. I want something that's all about licorice without being confectionery. I'll have to keep looking.

I tried one of the Armani Privé scents, Eau de Jade, at Holt Renfrew in Montréal, and I couldn't imagine why anyone would pay $240+ for what amounts to nothing more than a clean fresh citrus scent.

I wanted to love Gaultier2, because it's an amber scent and I lovelovelove ambergris, plus the bottle is very clever--a pair of identical bottles that clank together with magnets on the back, as if they can't bear to be apart. How romantic! The scent is nice enough, but it's not a whole lot more than ambergris and vanilla, and frankly it's been done before (many times before) only better. Even the bottle, on reflection, is wrong; it would work if both halves of a couple who travelled a lot each took a bottle with them, but otherwise, why do you need to have two bottles of the stuff? A much smarter tack would have been to follow the lead of Must de Cartier, which had a perfume (a dark, sexy oriental scent) and an eau de toilette (a lighter floral) which were meant to be worn separately or together. If Gaultier2 had two completely different, but complementary and unisex, scents in that great bottle, it would be something special. In theory.

I got to try a few new things at the L'Artisan Parfumeur counter at Ogilvy in Montréal, but absolutely nothing grabbed me. Ananas Fizz was pleasant enough, but it's a pretty expensive pleasant-enough, and I don't know that I want to smell that much like pineapple. There was a set of 15-mL bottles of Timbuktu and Ambre Extreme that I might have been persuaded to buy, but I knew that Ambre Extreme was fairly close to MPG's Ambre Précieux--I believe they were created by the same person--and Timbuktu underwhelmed me entirely. (I didn't even bother trying Mandarine Tout Simplement: I knew I'd never buy it at that price, $180 or so, and my nose was starting to rebel at that point anyway.)

Flowerbomb by Viktor and Rolf was just a floral. Délices de Cartier was just a fruity-floral. Starwalker was yet another boring scent from Mont Blanc.

Beyond a doubt the biggest letdown of my sampling was Bulgari Blu Notte pour Homme. I sort of like Blu pour Homme, but that detergent note is just strange. I was expecting, from the list of notes, an entirely different scent in Blu Notte, something wonderful:

Top note: Galanga, Bergamote, Cardamome 
Middle note: Fleur de Tabac, Néroli 
Base note: Bois de Wengué, Chocolat Noir 

Chocolate! Tobacco-flower!

There is a dark chocolate note which is luscious, but right from the start, it resembles Blu pour Homme so much, right down to that corrosive laundry-detergent note, that I could feel my shoulders sagging in disappointment. Perhaps if I had worn it on my skin and let it live through its life cycle I'd have changed my tune, but it's a pretty good bet that it wouldn't be anything I'd want to buy.

But enough about awful things! Tomorrow: things I liked but would never, ever buy.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

On The Road, Part 1

The source of my happiness, and unease.

Last year, according to my other blog, the lilacs were at the height of their flowering on June 9th. This year they were just starting to appear as we left for Montréal on May 21st and today, on our return, are just getting over the hill (fully flowered, with maybe 10% starting to rot), which means they're two weeks early. Global warming or natural variation? All I know is that when I was a young'un, the lilacs were the first harbingers of summer, just as the crocuses meant spring was well and truly underway, and if the lilacs think that May 25th or so is summer, I'm just a little worried.

When we arrived in Montreal, the lilacs were already over the hill; their smell had faded and they were about half rotted, which means they flowered a week earlier than here, which is also strange and worrisome. But at least here I have a day or two here to enjoy them, by which I mean "walk past a lilac bush, grab a handful of flowers and shove them into my face, inhale, sigh blissfully". Oh, they are wonderful.


Total number of scents sniffed in the last week: 50? 75? 100?
Total number of samples bagged: 2.
Total number of scents bought: 0.

I tried just about everything while I was away, and found that everything I had been interested in trying could be divided into four categories:

Things That Are No Longer Available
Things I Anticipated And Was Sorely Disappointed By
Things That Were Pleasant But Not Enough To Compel Me To Buy
Things I Will Probably Consider In The Future When The Trip Is Paid For

I'll get to the second through fourth in the next few days, but let's look at that vaguely Borgesian first category of things that weren't there. Montréal used to be a top-notch scent-shopping city, and I don't know what happened, but the variety and quantity has dropped appallingly. Simons used to carry some terrific scents, including Comme des Garçons and Demeter, and now either they don't have a fragrance department at all or I just couldn't find it; we gave up after ten minutes of wading through the crowds. (It looks like a Woolworths but has really high-end stuff; I looked at the price tag for a Costume National jacket that was a mind-bending $1000. Mind-bending for me, anyway.) I had hoped to try, and probably pick up a couple of, the CdG Series scents--definitely Carnation, possibly one of the Incense or Sweet scents. Ogilvy used to have a Comptoir Sud Pacifique boutique: gone, and I had so wanted to sample the new Vanille Citrus. (They still carry L'Artisan Parfumeur, but didn't have the much-anticipated Fou d'Absinthe, which isn't out until June.) They don't carry any Caron any more, either, and I was dying to try Poivre. Holt Renfrew was another colossal disappointment: their fragrance department in Toronto is huge and they'd always had a really big selection in Montréal, too, but now it's pitifully diminished. (The Holt Renfrew in Ottawa is even worse.)

So I guess I have three options. One, buy things unsmelled, which is always dicey at best. Two, try to get more samples and decants by mail, which is expensive (though not as expensive as buying unknown scents). Or three, travel only to cities with decent shopping.

There is a fourth option: be happy with what I've already got or can get locally. That's never going to happen, though.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lovelorn: Cacharel Amor Pour Homme

I would have voted for more of this, less of everything else.

A few days ago I got a sample of Cacharel's newest scent, Amor Pour Homme. (I'm baffled as to why the first part of the name is in Spanish and the rest is in French: I know French is the universal language of perfumery, and Cacharel is a French company, and the women's version is called Amor Amor, but wouldn't Amour pour Homme or Amor para Hombre have made more sense? Or aren't these things meant to make any sense? Stupid question, I suppose.)

The advertising copy inside the sample's jacket reads, "A man and the power of love. A scent of spiced rose built around purple wood and vetiver." I was delighted, because I've been looking for a decent men's rose scent pretty much forever; L'Artisan's Voleur de Rose just doesn't do it for me (the overdose of patchouli makes it smell, for lack of a better word, filthy). Finally, I thought: roses!

I should have known better.

The opening is black tea and lemon peel; it's very authentic-smelling, but wrapped around it is a fairly standard bright-fresh-synthetic smell that's common to fragrances aimed at younger men. Unfortunately, it's also fairly unpleasant, at least to my nose. This, I thought, doesn't bode well.

As we enter the heart of the fragrance, that synthetic freshness, thank goodness, boils away--but where are the roses? Damned if I know. There's a floral aspect to the scent, but it doesn't smell like any rose I've ever encountered. Mostly what I smell is a woody and, again, rather synthetic smell that I suppose must be the "purple wood", otherwise known as palisander, otherwise known as Brazilian rosewood.

Except for that brief fun moment at the top when a wave of lemony tea hits the nose, there's nothing about Amor pour Homme that remotely interests me. It may do well in the 18-to-25-year-old market; there's just not that much to distinguish it from many other youth-oriented scents out there, so someone might as well wear this as the latest Tommy Hilfiger or Azzaro.


I'm taking a week off for some R&R and, if I can't control myself, scent-shopping. Back next Sunday.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hot Stuff: Gendarme Rage

And finally we come to Rage, the most interesting of the three Gendarme Seven Sinful Scents that I've tried. (Excess is probably the most conventionally attractive, if you like gourmand orientals, but this one is simultaneously off-kilter and wearable, a nice combination.)

A bright, pungent flash of citrus and pimento is the first thing out of the bottle, with a noticeably bitter accent from Seville orange. Something that brilliant can't help but flare up and burn out quickly, and it's gone in a matter of minutes. Ordinarily I find that warm middle notes present themselves almost immediately, side by side with the top notes, but Rage is different--the fresh, zingy top note provides no hint as to what lies underneath. (Perhaps the bitterness masks everything else, or perhaps this scent has been constructed with considerable care.)

Once those top notes are gone, the middle notes, mostly patchouli and vetivert, present themselves. Patchouli scents are very hit-or-miss with me; if the patchouli has been laid on with too heavy a hand, or if there aren't enough other notes to ameliorate it, I find it disgusting. In this scent, it works remarkably well. There's nothing smooth about the middle; it's warm, but the two main notes give it a jangly, unsettled feel that I like.

The eventual drydown--this is a long-lasting, though at the end subtle, scent--sands down all those rough edges with warm benzoin, myrrh, and a hint of ambergris.

If the truth be told, I would like for Rage to have been even hotter and angrier: a dose of sharp red pepper in the top, perhaps, and a few hard-edged spices like cinnamon and galingale. But I like it; it's consistently interesting from start to finish.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Too Much: Gendarme Excess

There isn't much to be said about Excess that isn't said in the description "gourmand oriental"; almost entirely dark sweet edible notes with some patchouli to roughen things up just a bit.

Some of the scents it resembles are Todd Oldham (Excess' top notes smell very much like Todd Oldham's middle notes), Rochas Man (the jasmine and the vanilla), Claiborne Spark for Men and Lempicka Au Masculin (sweetened rum), Angel and A*Men (patchouli, chocolate, and vanilla)--and those are just off the top of my head. I know; it just sounds like a list of recent gourmand scents, but Excess really is reminiscent of all of these.

I suppose that's just another way of saying that it doesn't have much character of its own, or that it's a complete rip-off. These things are probably true, but I still like it. If I had smelled it beforehand, I probably wouldn't have bought it, since I have so many scents that are similar, but I do like the handy little spray vial and, well, you can never have too many pleasant, inoffensive gourmand scents.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gimme: Gendarme Greed

About a month ago I placed an online order with Sephora--the closest one to me is in Toronto, and I won't be going there any time soon--and I felt like ordering a few little things to tuck in around the edges of the main reason I was placing an order (more on that in a week or two). Gendarme has a line called Seven Sinful Scents, each named after one of the seven deadly sins, more or less. (They couldn't call one of them Envy, because that's already taken by Gucci, so they called it Envious instead. Gluttony would be a bad name for a scent, so they called that one Excess. Pride became Vanity, really a better name for a scent, Avarice was renamed Greed, and Wrath became the trendier Rage, which has a double meaning.)

So anyway, I thought some of these sounded like just my cup of tea, so I ordered three of them, Excess, Greed, and Rage. (Vanity sounded not particularly interesting, Envious has lilac so no dice, Lust just sounded too girly with water lily and lily of the valley, and Sloth sounded kind of boring, which is probably the whole point.)

I'm not in the habit of buying scents unsniffed, but for the price--$10 each!--I figured what the hell. Plus, I got free shipping, so it seemed like it was probably worth it.

Today: Greed. Admittedly, it's a very abstract concept compared to wrath or gluttony, so the perfumer played an amusing little game to connote greed: Sephora lists the notes as

Banana Extract, Black Pepper, Mexican Lime, Vodka Accord, Guaiac wood, Aldehydes, Cedarwood, Cashmere Wood

but there's much more to it than that, because Greed is primarily a green fragrance, and in the U.S., green invariably connotes money, since until recently all American money was the same muddy, unappetizing shade of green. Greed = green notes, get it?

The banana note, thank goodness, is not intrusive; it's really just a whiff of aldehydes in the midst of a storm of green. I was surprised to find that the vodka accord really does resemble vodka, which doesn't have much of an odor except for the smell of alcohol, but it confers a odd sharpness to the scent. In fact, "odd" and "sharp" are probably the two best words to describe Greed.

The pepper, lime, and vodka--like some perverse margarita--burn off in ten or fifteen minutes, and what follows is a very green scent; angular, piercing, and unplaceable. It doesn't smell like quite like leaves, or greenery; it's blatantly synthetic, what's called in the industry a fantasia fragrance. (It suggests a few things: rhubarb leaves, I think, and something that reminds me of mowing a lawn with a power mower when the lawn is mostly dandelions.) The drydown is a collocation of warm woods with traces of that synthetic greenness to keep it from being too pleasant and usual.

Greed is my least favourite of the Seven Sinful Scents that I've tried, but that doesn't mean I dislike it; it's just strange (and it's growing on me). I'll wear it from time to time: some days you feel like strange.

(In case this is the sort of thing that interests you: classically, each of the seven deadly sins has been associated with a colour, and I give kudos to the folks at Gendarme for following through on the theme by tinting each of the scents in its appropriate colour. Rage is red, Excess is orange, and Greed is yellow, and judging from the pictures on Sephora, the others are also correct. Nice touch!)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Coco Not: CSP Vanille Coco

Sometimes a coconut scent has a sharp, green, astringent note that I find unspeakable. Someone at a workplace used to wear The Body Shop's Coconut perfume oil, and I couldn't bear to be in the same room with her.

That may well be how a fresh coconut smells in the real world. Usually, though, when we think of coconut in fragrances and fragranced products, we think of a rich, creamy, tropical scent, and that's just what's in Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Vanille Coco. It's very pleasant, almost edible. The sad fact, though, is that there's nothing particularly special about it; it smells more or less like every other sweet coconut scent on the market. There isn't anything to set it apart, to make it a worthy addition to the CSP line, and to make it worth what they're charging.

Someone somewhere suggested mixing Vanille Banane and Vanille Coco, and it's true; they go together wonderfully, with the coconut taking the preposterous edge off the banana scent. The trouble with both scents and with the combination of them is that after an hour's gone by, there's nothing left but the standard CSP vanilla--nothing at all. It's a very pleasant vanilla, of course, but it shouldn't have been that hard to strap down the other scent notes with some longer-lived base notes (even with vanilla itself) so they'd have a bit more staying power. CSP did it with Vanille Orange, after all, and citrus notes are among the most evanescent in all of perfumery, so you'd think they'd have been able to manage it with banana and coconut.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Big: Diva by Ungaro

In my experience, the fragrance family with the greatest family resemblance is the chypres. Florals can be shy and retiring (Anaïs Anaïs) or strident and hectic (Versace Blonde); orientals can be potent and spicy (Opium Pour Homme) or soft and luminous (Anne Klein II). But all chypres have the same warm loaminess, because they're all based on the same note: oakmoss, with its dark, honeyed, woody-earthy scent.

The original Chypre scent played on the contrast between bright citrus top notes and the mystery of oakmoss. Most chypres are based on these very notes, though some dispense with the citrus top, sometimes replacing it with some other fruit, aldehydes, or other bright notes. Most chypres have, in addition to the invariable oakmoss in the base, earthy or woody notes; patchouli and/or vetivert are usual components, and sandalwood or oriental components such as ambergris and vanilla are also employed.

When Ungaro launched Diva in 1983, it fit perfectly in with the early-eighties style aesthetic--"Bigger, brasher, more!"--launched by Giorgio Beverly Hills in 1981, continuing with Paloma Picasso's Mon Parfum in 1984, and culminating in Calvin Klein's Obsession and Dior's Poison, both 1985. (Strong no-nonsense scents didn't suddenly vanish in the mid-eighties: Cacharel's big, sultry floral-vanilla LouLou was launched in 1987 and Boucheron's massive eponymous scent a year later. But by that time, the fad for big brassy shoulder-pad scents was on the wane, the new fashion for fresher, lighter scents being ushered in by Dior's Fahrenheit and Calvin Klein's Eternity, among others.)

Diva is a floral chypre, with a big fat emphasis on the floral notes. It hurls itself from the skin with a sparkle of aldehydes and a fresh green note backed with honey, announcing itself a chypre from the start. Floral notes, particularly rose (but also jasmine, ylang, and carnation), make up the middle of scent, but they're swimming in that warm-honey oakmoss smell, which slowly wells up to overcome the flowers. The base is the warm sultry notes invariably associated with a chypre--in this case, sandalwood and patchouli, civet and musk, and, to keep the composition from becoming cloying, the spikiness of vetivert.

When I discovered Diva in the mid-1980s, I bought a bottle for a drag-queen friend; something about it, the draped-fabric glass bottle, the scent, the brazenness of it all, seemed pretty obviously destined to be worn by the unafraid--by bold women and by the men who wanted to be them for an evening.

Friday, May 12, 2006

L'Eau Profile: Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules

I think it's fair to say that Molecule 01 is entirely unique in the world of perfumery: it's not just a single-note scent, it consists entirely of a single molecule, a complex aromatic chemical called Iso E Super. (Even a putatively single-note scent such as rose oil has a large number of aromatic constituents which give it its complex character; Molecule 01 is just this one aroma-chemical.)

Molecule 01 supposedly has a sandalwood/cedar overtone to it. It does smell like sandalwood, but just a bit, at first. The first thing I thought was that it smelled puddingy--not like any specific flavour of pudding, but like a sweet, cooked-dairy scent. Then the sandalwood-like note made itself evident, which smelled a bit spicy, but again, not like any particular spice: just a generic sort of soft spiciness. The whole thing had a sort of generic soapiness, though for all I know that's the soap I used when I showered. And really, that's about all there is to it, as far as I can tell. After an hour or so it still smelled mostly the same, mostly that hazy sandalwood; the fragrance clearly can't be developing in the traditional sense, because there's nothing in it to develop, no lighter and heavier molecules to depart at different times. It's tenacious, but for a lot less money I could be wearing a much better sandalwood scent such as Jacques Fath Pour L'Homme.

Molecule 01 is reasonably attractive, but it's hardly even there. I thought, well, maybe it's just me, maybe it's just my nose, it's allergy season and that could be screwing things up a bit, but other people have had the same reaction to it, so I think it's just the nature of the molecule itself: it's not strong or obvious, it doesn't have any throw (I can't smell it at all unless I put my nose a couple of inches from my skin), so it probably works best as part of a composition, like aldehydes, something add glow and interest to a scent. All by itself? I can't really see the point, except as a novelty--a very expensive novelty.

I had ordered a sample vial from, and today seemed like a pretty good day to try it. I ended up applying half the vial before the scent really registered (if that's the correct term). I can't even imagine paying $135 (U.S.!) for something that hardly even makes its presence known. If I adored it--if it were instantly irresistible--I might well think it was worth every penny, as was my beloved Ambre Precieux, but it doesn't seem like anything more than a gimmick. (I also got a vial of Escentric 01, which I haven't tried yet; it joins Iso E Super (at 65%) with more usual perfumery notes such as pepper, lime, orris-root, and incense, so that's got to be at least a little more interesting, while the other notes last, anyway. Now Smell This, in a true coincidence, posted a review of Escentric 01 just today.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Orient Express: Yves Saint Laurent Opium

Estee Lauder rather sniffily called Opium "my Youth Dew with tassels", and there's a family resemblance, for sure, but Youth Dew starts out with a certain unshakeable horribleness that I can't quite put my finger on; I think the blend of top notes is just too highly citric and too aldehydic--it seems like an unpleasant contrast with the spicy-floral-balsamic notes underneath--whereas Opium gets it right, tempering the citrus notes with plum and pepper. (Estee Lauder released Cinnabar, a near duplicate of Opium, a year later, trying to capitalize on Opium's brash Orientalism with their copy of a copy--as if Youth Dew hadn't been a copy of Tabu to begin with!)

Jan Moran lists the composition of Opium thusly:

Top Notes: Plum, hesperides, clove, coriander, pepper, bay leaf
Heart Notes: Jasmine, rose, carnation, lily of the valley, cinnamon, peach, orris
Base Notes: Sandalwood, vetiver, myrrh, opopanax, labdanum, benzoin, benjamin, castoreum, amber, incense, musk, patchouli, tolu

The top notes are immediately distinctive--they're like no other scent; a brash, almost shocking blend of citrus and spice notes. A shot of rose leaps out almost immediately afterwards (I always smell this when I smell Opium) and is rapidly subdued by the other floral and balsamic notes, which blend to form an indistinct floralcy: you can't really single out any of the floral elements. Flowers or no, there's nothing especially feminine about Opium, to my nose: the floral notes are just something else floating around in the warm, spicy oriental bath.

What's really astonishing about Opium is that list of base notes; it's practically a catalogue of all available base notes--the only thing missing is civet (one of the four animal-derived base notes; the other three are castoreum, ambergris, and musk). They combine (and combine flawlessly) to make a scent that's nothing short of a sexual invitation, panting and sweaty-browed with lust.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Monkey's Uncle: CSP Vanille Banane

A while back I wrote about how Angel made me laugh out loud--in public! repeatedly!--and I said I'd only ever had that response once. And now it's happened again.

Last month I ordered some stuff from Luckyscent and got a bunch of samples: I bought a sample of CSP Vanille Coco, since I love coconut, and they sent me gratis a sample of Vanille Banane, which I never would have thought of even trying because it sounds so crazy on the surface; who wants to smell like a chimpanzee's fingers?

Yesterday I was in the mood for something new so I swiped on a little Vanille Banane and spontaneously burst into laughter, which I hadn't expected at all. The thing is ludicrous, and yet so delicious and inviting at the same time, that my brain was pulled in two directions at once: "This is stupid!" and "This is wonderful!" That taffylike stretching of the brain trigged the only response it was capable of; hilarity.

I put some more on just now, with the same result. The top note is simply a burst of amyl acetate, that instantly recognizable banana note. (Some people compare it to that artificially-flavoured banana candy you used to get at Hallowe'en; it doesn't, it's true, smell quite like a fresh banana--the complexity isn't there.) A hint of spicy clove and a little orange peel keep it from being cloying, but there's very little there except for that slightly synthetic banana-ness. A creamy-rich vanilla note soon wells up underneath it, and the overall effect is of a banana cream pie and nothing more. There's nothing wrong with smelling like a pie, of course: Demeter has proven that, and I'm surprised they don't market a Banana Cream Pie to go with Apple and Pumpkin.

I can't imagine ever buying this stuff, but the fact is that I'm glad it exists. The world could always use more unexpected laughter.


Friday, May 05, 2006

The Nose Knows

The vial said this...

...but my brain smelled this.

I have a pretty big collection of scents in current rotation, but I also have, for some unexplained psychic reason, a big collection of things I haven't even opened yet. A lot of them are samples, probably eighty or ninety, but some of them are miniatures (a couple dozen, I guess) or even full-sized bottles (another dozen, dozen and a half) that I ordered or bought, usually on sale, that are tucked away. Honest: I'm not some compulsive shopper like the unfortunate protagonist of Ruth Rendell's unsettling short story "Clothes". It's just that every now and then I just have to have something new, and I like having a batch of things I can choose from. (Some of the samples are duplicates: I think I have six vials of the stunning Givenchy pour Homme, which I'm obviously never going to have to buy a full bottle of.)

I also have a big collection of scents in my head. I hardly ever forget a fragrance once I've spent time with it, really gotten to know it, and what's more, I can usually call up a scent--as if I'm actually smelling it--just by thinking about it.

So you need to know both of these things to understand how this morning I was just in that kind of mood, so I pulled out a sample I received in a swap a year or two ago, Bond No. 9's Nuits de Noho. After applying a splash of it, I took a deep breath and was shocked to realize that I already knew it intimately. I had smelled it before--had, in fact, spent a fair bit of time with it--and just had to figure out how. It resembled Todd Oldham, but not a lot. After five minutes of sniffing it and racking my brains--it's not Scherrer's Nuits Indiennes, it's not any of the Dalis--I realized that Nuits de Noho, at least in the top notes, was an exact copy of Lalique's 1995 fruity-floral scent Nilang (which I described to someone once as a brighter, fresher, more floral version of Todd Oldham).

As NdN begins its descent into the middle notes, about half an hour in, the differences between it and Nilang become more and more obvious, but the fact remains that, as far as I know, the two are simply identical in the top notes; cheerfully fruit-laden, bright with aldehydes and yet suffused with a caramelly warmth.

How can this be? I can think of four possibilities:
1) Some swapper put some Nilang in the NdN vial.
2) My memory isn't as good as I think it is.
3) Some perfumer deliberately imitated the top of Nilang.
4) Some perfumer accidentally imitated the top of Nilang.

I'm betting on #4. There is, after all, a finite though large number of combinations for a scent once you've settled on a category (don't most citrus colognes have a great deal in common?), and it's entirely possible that, like George Harrison's accidentally rewriting "He's So Fine", some perfumer composed a gorgeous top note based on some half-remembered, eight-year-old combination of notes.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Creamsicle: Comptoir Sud Pacifique Vanille Orange

I'm one of those people who finds Comptoir Sud Pacifique scents just about irresistible. I have five of them and have tried eight or ten more: with the lone exception of Safranier, which takes the medicinal smell of saffron just a little too far, they've all been winners.

One of their limited-edition, now-discontinued scents, Vanille Orange, is one of my favourites: even though once it's gone I'll never have it again, I use it with some abandon. It opens with a radiant burst of orange peel. The brilliance, which I suspect is bolstered with aldehydes, vanishes fairly quickly, and what comes after is not orange peel or even orange juice, but the pulpy smell of an orange itself, pith and all, mixed with a trace of spice and--unfortunately--with a somewhat artificial scent that resembles orange Kool-Aid. (In recent years, many agree, the company's scents have changed somewhat; they once had a reputation for natural scents, but now some people complain of the synthetic nature of some of their fragrances.)

Tucked inside the bright halo of orange is the classic CSP vanilla, but less sweet and assertive than one ordinarily expects; the balance is skewed very much towards the orange notes. (Anyone who knows Vanille Amande, say, or the salty-chocolate Amour de Cacao knows how intense the vanilla usually is, which is why Vanille Orange is such a surprise.)

Even for a CSP scent, this has remarkable longevity; sixteen hours after applying it, I can still smell it clearly, and what's more amazing, it hasn't died down to a mere whiff of vanilla--the orange note, though dimmed, is still clearly evident, something extremely rare for a citrus scent. I'm amazed that this didn't make it into their line: it was released in a 50-mL spray as part of a Christmas set (I can't remember what the other two scents were, and Google is no help, but I'm pretty sure at least one of them went into regular production), and despite the artificiality of that Kool-Aid note, it makes a terrifically bright and fresh summer scent.

Come to think of it, maybe it's the childhood memory of Kool-Aid and Creamsicles that makes the scent so great for summer.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Soft Focus: Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert

I wonder how perfumers feel about launching an entirely new and thereafter heavily imitated kind of scent. Wouldn't you think they'd be kind of pissed off that they're being so frequently and unabashedly ripped off? Or would they be delighted that something they created has created such a storm of approval?

Jean Claude Ellena's Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert was the first of its kind: light, transparent, genderless, and based on green tea. There have been a number of similar scents since then--most based on tea, such as Yves Rocher's Thé Vert and Paco Rabanne's Paco, others unisex and fruit-and-musk based, such as CK One by Calvin Klein--but they all clearly owe a debt to the original Bulgari. (There have, of course, been colognes for hundreds of years, all light and citrusy, but the new wave of unisex scents in the last decade has generally been more complex than a classic EDC: brainier, I think.)

Eau Parfumée starts out cold and refreshing, a compilation of citrus oils (mostly bergamot and orange) with a slightly bitter green accent. As the middle of the scent opens up, the green-tea note becomes more evident, but it's never strong: nothing at all about this scent is strong. It's like a freshly painted watercolour, no hard edges or bold strokes anywhere. A pale floralcy (blurry rose, jasmine, and lily of the valley) occupies most of the middle, alongside the tea, although nothing ever really takes centre stage. (Some men, perhaps a touch fearfully, think of this scent as "androgynous" or "too feminine"; after the fresh citrus notes of the opening, there's nothing to mark the scent as definitively masculine.) It doesn't smell like flowers, particularly, or tea, or anything, as much as it smells clean and lightly soapy. The base is, as expected, very muted and close to the skin; hints of sandalwood and beeswax are mostly what remains with me, although according to the manufacturer there's also tonka bean, oakmoss, and musk.

The whole thing is sublimely light; it's easy to see why some people think of it as weak, but just as easy to see why others are so devoted to it. It's just about the perfect scent for a summer's day.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Instant Chemistry: Halston Catalyst for Men

On Thursday I mentioned Halston's Catalyst for Men in passing, and I figured now's as good a time as any to write about it.

You can't talk about the scent without talking about the packaging, which is sheer genius, because what man doesn't have fond boyhood memories of his chemistry set? The 50-mL eau de toilette spray (shown above) is encased in a test tube which comes with a metal-plated plastic rack; when Catalyst for Men was launched, the samples were packaged in tiny little versions of the test tube, really just standard 1.2-mL vials with the bottoms rounded off, but still. The 100-mL EDT is in an Erlenmeyer flask (the conical kind), and the after shave is in a Florence flask (the round kind), as is the shower gel. Once, buying the shower gel, I got a gift-with-purchase set that had three one-ounce test tubes, one each of spray EDT, shower gel, and biphasic after shave, with their own little rack. I had to have it. Just seeing the packaging makes you want to own it.

So does just smelling it. It's a spicy oriental scent which has inspired some imitations (Coty's Wild Spice is one), but it's the best in its class. The top note is a flash--just a flicker--of citrus and lavender before the main event: cloves, and lots of them. But not cloves-in-a-bottle; they've been shaded and softened, tempered with other spices and rounded out with sandalwood. The overall effect isn't of a pomander, but of something more abstract; it is the scent of quiet masculine confidence. Just wearing it makes me stand a little taller, push my shoulders back a little more, smile a little more.