One Thousand Scents

Friday, March 28, 2008

Grove: Fendi Life Essence

Fendi Life Essence is one of those scents that nobody ever seems to have heard of. It's ten years old, and it's still in production, so clearly people are buying it: but has it ever made a top-ten list? Part of the problem has to be the marketing: if you go poking around online, you'll find that lots of places list it as a men's scent, and lots of others list it as a women's scent. What it really is is unisex, one of those things like Eau Sauvage that women wear with pleasure and impunity, though if someone insisted it was for men, you couldn't really disagree; it has a quiet, subtle masculinity to it.

Life Essence opens with a bright lemonade feeling. It isn't lemony, exactly, not like lemon oil (and not like Eau Sauvage, either). But it is exhilarating: cold, fresh, snappy. It always makes me think of a pitcher of homemade lemonade, every time I put it on. You can almost see the beads of condensation trickling down the sides of the bottle. (This is why modern aroma-chemistry has made fragrances so much more interesting in the last century: you couldn't create an effect like this with naturally existing extracts. The brightness, the clarity of the top notes are a testament to the work of chemists as much as perfumers.)

The lemonade is quickly supplemented by a smudge of blunted spices (coriander and cardamom), some random greenery, and the first intimations of the woody heart of the scent. The wood is dry and a bit brittle, mostly cedar (though not that pencil-shavings/hamster-cage cedar of Shiseido's Feminité du Bois) and cypress.

There isn't a lot of progress in the scent, no great complexity, and definitely not a top-middle-base set of stages. One thing merely turns into another: the citrus-green notes are gradually replaced by the woody notes, which are eventually warmed, a little, by sandalwood, labdanum and supposedly oakmoss, though not much of it, certainly not enough to push this scent into the chypre category.

Inside a wood-grain box, the bottle is a model of simplicity: an elongated glass block with an inset for the label, the whole thing capped, naturally, with knurled wood. The packaging is telling you two things about the fragrance inside: it's dominated by wood, and it's rigorously simple, almost minimalist. That minimalism is what makes the scent so pleasant. After the vivid chill of the top notes, what's left is almost subliminal. It's background; it's wallpaper. It's there, but it lets you wear it instead of it wearing you.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wishful Thinking: Miller et Bertaux Green, green, green and green

Yesterday was the first day of spring, but you'd never know it around here. We've been having a brutish winter that will not end; yesterday we were treated to an ice storm, making everything slick and glassy, following by driving rain, which made it all the slipperier. Now it's snowing.

So I took matters into my own hands yesterday, breaking out the spring scents and trying to will spring into appearing. It didn't work, but I felt a little better. A little.

Springtime scents are green and fresh; they evoke the possibility of new life. If there's still snow on the ground, they remind you that it won't last forever, that life will be returning to your barren patch of earth. When I wear them at a time like this, I can actually believe that the ground will be thawing and the crocuses will be showing their heads some time soon.

Naturalist David Rooks called the blue morpho butterfly "the bluest thing in the world"

and if you're stuck inside on a hideous, icy, faux-spring day, then Green, green, green and green by Miller and Bertaux is the greenest thing in the world. It bursts out of the bottle--flings itself out--in a tumult of greenness: a sprightly, bitter gin-and-tonic smell with a big wedge of lime and a camphoraceous leafiness at the same time. There's nothing pretty or understated about it: it's just a full-frontal assault of green.

There's not a whole lot of development; the camphor note dies away eventually and the scent becomes a little less forceful and angular, but it's green to the very end, boosted by herbal notes and a bristly shock of vetiver. You can see why it's the perfect antidote for hateful late-winter weather. (The other day I applied Green, green, green and green to the backs of my hands, as always, and then a few minutes later smooshed on some St. Ives Swiss Vanilla lotion because the winter's taking a toll on the skin, too. I was baffled and then delighted to discover that the combination created a scent not unlike Safran Troublant; the lotion damped down the extreme greenness of the scent and let the spicy-medicinal elements come to the fore, which, combined with that french-vanilla scent, made for an unexpectedly pleasant fragrance. You never know what will happen when you layer scents, even inadvertently.)

The three Miller and Bertaux bottles are, as you can see, the same, but with a different colour-coded sphere bobbing around inside. (Their first scent is called For You, and their second is Spiritus/Land. The three are meant to be mixed and matched, if you like.) Here are the boxes:

and aren't they great? Like little tiny wardrobes!

A few other fragrances that say "springtime" to me, scents that I will be counting on to get me through days like this: Demeter Meyer Lemon, the dark-green Cabochard and Jacomo de Jacomo for those overcast days, Lagerfeld Photo, and of course Yves Rocher Homme Nature, which has been my go-to spring scent for years.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Out of Order

I, alas, have a cold, and while I could (I suppose) (in theory) jabber on about some scent or other based on memory alone, well, that's not really how I operate. I have to have a fragrance in my nose before I can really get up to speed. I was going to write about Lauder for Men, which is really good, but I can only smell it in scraps; it's like looking at a hand-drawn reproduction of a Turner landscape through a screen door.

Back next week, though, assuming nature takes its course. I once had a cold that lasted for five weeks (or maybe it was five different colds; the effect was the same). This one's on Day Six. Wish me luck.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Small Blessings: Polo Explorer

I said recently that a particular scent changes its character when you apply a tiny amount of it, and in fact that's the case with more than a few scents. Sometimes you'll read that a particular fragrance smells a certain way if you dab it on, but you really only get the full effect if you spray it, and I think that's very true, not just because the spray gives you more, but because it opens the scent out--it disperses the notes, particularly the top and topmost middle notes, giving them a much bigger effect.

When I opened my little sample bottle of Polo Explorer (a whole quarter ounce!), I dabbed on a tiny amount, just in case I hated it. The notes are listed as

top notes of mandarin oil and bergamot, middle notes of waterfall accord, coriander spice and rugged leather, and bottom notes of mahogany wood, sandalwood, mate and amber

with the ad writers telling us that the scent

combines the freshness of a Hawaiian waterfall with the smokiness of Australian sandalwood and the warmth of amber from the North Sea

I was prepared not to like it, but a few sniffs had me convinced that, on the contrary, I liked it quite a bit: the obvious-fresh quality that I'm so tired of in modern men's perfumery was offset by a creamy lushness in the middle notes, which I'm guessing was a particular sort of sandalwood that sometimes has a creamy soapiness about it. (It suggests the pudding/spice/soap sandalwood of Molecule 01, and in fact I'm fairly sure that the sandalwood scent in Polo Explorer is just raw Iso E Super, the scent molecule that's the sole component of Molecule 01.) It was a surprising combination, and the fact is that at first, I had to concede that Polo Explorer is kind of nice. There! I said it! It's nice!

In small doses, anyway. Unfortunately, in larger quantities, the subtler aspects of the scent are pretty much drowned in a lagoon of fresh aquatic notes, and that's all I get from it. I tried a bigger dose, and then later in the day I tried even more, really glugging it on, and both times, what I got was a very standard men's fresh fougere, and that's about the most boring thing I can think of. It doesn't age well on the skin in large concentrations, either: it just kind of wears out its welcome. It is emphatically not the sort of thing I would ever wear, or buy.

But instead of tossing the bottle--which is also, alas, pretty boring, a squat variant of the house bottle done up in dark khaki--I'm going to hang onto it and use it sparingly, a drop at a time, not because I need to treasure it but because it's better that way.