One Thousand Scents

Monday, June 30, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 30, Sandalwood

I think Demeter's Sandalwood might have taught me something about myself that I did not know.

Their version of sandalwood is undeniably beautiful. It has a rather splintery opening which soon gives way to a dark, burnished core. It's wood, through and through. It does not last remotely as long as it ought to--it leaves the room after a couple, maybe three, hours--but it's an attractive scent for that time. It is a very good, very convincing sandalwood.

And yet...I feel as if it's not polished enough, as if not enough has been done to it.

The point of perfumery, and maybe of any figurative art, is not necessarily to improve on nature, but to interpret it. Any company can just dilute sandalwood oil, or some reasonably accurate compound of natural and synthetic versions of sandalwood, and market it. That's not art, that's just vending. To turn it into art means to set it within a larger context, to give it meaning other than "distilled wood chips". Demeter Sandalwood doesn't have context: it's just wood. Beautiful wood, but wood nonetheless.

The thing I think I've discovered is that I don't have much interest in mere ingredients. I want them to be thought about and compounded in such a way that they're more than a mere plant laid bare. There will be exceptions: their Lavender, for instance, is gorgeous though it seems like a pure and unadorned lavender. Mostly, though, I love the contrivance and the work that go into a composed fragrance, all the things that elevate such a scent beyond anything that a mere essential oil (or a synthetic reproduction thereof) can be.

I know there will be people who just want the pure essence of something or other, and there are lots of scents available for them; Demeter seems to have a fair number, and any health-food shop has dozen upon dozens of essential oils for those that want to smell just like patchouli or lemongrass or whatnot. Me, I want my fragrance--like music and writing and any other art form--to show evidence of having been laboured over, to be the result of thought and imagination and intelligence.

Demeter Sandalwood will be very nice layered with some other things that could use a boost of dense, glowing wood; Fendi Life Essence, I think, will be bolstered by it, and so will a number of other citrusy colognes. I intend to start the experiments as soon as possible.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 29, Fiery Curry

I think it's a fair bet that Fiery Curry does not smell anything like what you expect it to.

From the name, I was expecting two things, and no doubt you were, too; fire, or at least spiciness, and curry, either turmeric-laden curry powder or an actual cooked curry. Fiery Curry, instead, is soft and mellow, slightly sweet, mildly spicy, and considerably lovelier than I would have thought from the name. It doesn't smell like food applied to your skin; it's a minimalist but sophisticated composition based on curry.

At first there's a slightly green touch of lemongrass, which floats away to reveal delicate spices and saffron (there's a hint of L'Artisan's Safran Troublant to it). It lasts maybe an hour, and it's wonderfully attractive while it lasts.

I haven't tried layering it, but I think it would make a nice addition to a number of other scents; I'm thinking it would mix well with any of the L'Artisan Epices de la Passion scents, or most any warm scent that could use a spicy boost; it's so simple that it wouldn't have much of a chance of clashing with the other fragrance. In the hands of another company, this would be the core of a more complex and durable (and expensive) scent; but since it's Demeter, we get an hour of gorgeous simplicity for a very reasonable price. Snap it up, I say.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 28, Baby Powder

Demeter Baby Powder smells like baby powder, of course.

And doesn't, exactly. If you smell baby powder, then you know you're smelling baby powder; it's very distinctive. If you smell Demeter Baby Powder, you might think of baby powder, but you are also going to think of a number of other things.

Baby Powder is a floral scent dominated by rose and vanilla, and the first thing it made me think of is FlowerByKenzo. Since, as I wrote, that scent reminded me very much of Johnson's Baby Powder, that means that Demeter Baby Powder does smell somewhat like its namesake. But it also smells like lots of rose-vanilla florals; it calls to mind Tocade by Rochas, Jean-Paul Gaultier Classique, Versace's Baby Rose Jeans, Givenchy's L'Interdit, Ombre Rose by Brossard, and no doubt quite a few others, because the rose-vanilla accord is not a new idea in perfumery. (Guerlain's Nahema is also a rose-vanilla floral, and I've never smelled it, but I bet there are elements of it in Baby Powder too.) And, of course, it smells like Love's Baby Soft, which my sisters wore in the seventies--everybody's sisters wore it in the seventies, I think--and which was meant to smell like a slightly grown up, slightly sexed up version of clean, soft powder.

In fairly short order (since we generally associate Demeters and brevity), maybe fifteen minutes, the stronger floral notes dim and wink out; what's left really is the powder-soft smell of perfumed talc and nothing but.

The lessons here are that things are not always what they appear, and that patience is a virtue, particularly if you want to smell like a freshly powdered baby.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Brew: Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Coffee

I wanted A*Men Pure Coffee without even smelling it. I could just tell. A*Men turned out to be too sweet for me in the long run, and B*Men was an improvement, but this one; well, it smells like coffee. How could it not be great?

Sephora had posted a listing for Pure Coffee, but they never seemed to have it in; the website always said "Temporarily out of stock". They promised to e-mail me when it came in, and they never did, so I figured I'd have to take matters into my own hands, because they were probably never going to have it. There didn't seem to be any online retailers carrying it, so when Jim and I went to Halifax earlier this month, I made a beeline for The Bay in Dartmouth, which carries all the Mugler fragrances, even the limited-edition ones like that insane ink-pen perfume bottle for Alien.

Sure enough, they had a display of Pure Coffee, three bottles of the stuff, and they even had a tester. As soon as the saleswoman sprayed it, I knew two things: first, that it was an A*Men scent, and second, that I had to have it. So I bought it. (When I got back home, I checked Sephora for no particular reason and they'd taken down the listing for Pure Coffee.)

Here's the thing; straight out of the bottle, it smells like A*Men. A little bit. A*Men is very complex, with peppermint, coffee, chocolate, vanilla, caramel, patchouli, and lots of other elements jostling for space. When I first smell Pure Coffee, I can tell it's a relative of A*Men; it seems to be built, initially, to the same floor plan. Nobody else I've read mentions this: the reviews at Scented Salamander and Now Smell This and Chandler Burr's piece on the fragrance mostly just say "coffee coffee coffee". But it doesn't just smell like coffee. At first, it smells like A*Men with the coffee turned up full-blast and all the other elements dialed down or removed entirely (no bergamot); then the coffee just takes over altogether.

It's not a cup of coffee, or rather not a single cup; it seems like varieties of coffee at different times, with notes which slide into view and then recede again. It's dark, but not burnt, or at least not much. It has a creamy quality at times. There's a chocolate-mocha warmth which comes and goes. It's bitter, but sometimes (since this is an A*Men scent) a sweetness comes peeping through. I know how vague this all sounds, but the fact is that it isn't a single monolithic block of coffee fragrance; it shifts and realigns itself. You could smell it without knowing what it is and not even quite realize that it was a coffee scent, it's so protean.

Later on, the coffee fades away, mostly, and is supplanted by a soft sweet woody note. The whole thing is pretty durable, lasting five or six hours.

The packaging is, as usual, clever. I can't find a properly big picture of the carton, but it's meant to be a stylized foil-pack of coffee beans, the kind with the little plastic button in the middle which vents gases (coffee produces carbon dioxide, and you have to let it out so the bag won't burst but not let in any air, which would oxidize and degrade the beans). See that dot in the middle of the carton? You can actually smell the fragrance through it. There's a scent-impregnated pad of dense foam behind the hole; it's the colour of coffee with cream, it's the size of a playing card, and it's embossed with Thierry Mugler's signature. The bottle is the usual Mugler men's house bottle, only this time done in espresso-brown rubberized plastic; the star bulging through the cutout isn't the usual bottleglass (clear or red, as the case may be) but shimmery gold brushed metal. And the bottle's huge, a real handful, since it comes only in a 100-mL size.

There's not much else to say except that if you love coffee, or at least the smell of it, then you can't go far wrong with A*Men Pure Coffee. Hurry, though. It's a limited edition and it's leaving the shelves any day now.


30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 27, Espresso

Since my regular Friday posting is about a coffee scent, it seemed like a good time to talk about Demeter's coffee offering, Espresso. They have a few other coffee-inspired scents, which I'll get to in a bit, but this is the only real, full-blast coffee in their lineup. (Too bad: I'd be glad to wear an accurate Drip Coffee With Cream And Two Sugars.)

Demeter Espresso smells like espresso beans to me, and they're burnt almost black; there is a harsh bitterness to the smell with, frankly, an almost fecal note (which, I hasten to add, I also find in the real article, though I might be alone in that).

This scent is realistically sharp and brittle, and it's almost unbelievably penetrating; it doesn't have a lot of projection--it doesn't fill up the room--but when you're near to it, when you have your wrist near your face when talking on the phone or whatever, Espresso occupies all the available airspace. Do not make the mistake, as I did, of wearing this while you're eating, because you will not be able to smell the food. (I suppose you could wear it if you're going out for coffee.)

There are two other coffee Demeters I've tried. The coffee drink called cappuccino is made from espresso diluted with hot milk and topped with foamed milk. Demeter's Cappuccino is not a convincing version of the drink, in my opinion; it's very sweet, as if it were a version of a coffee-flavoured candy, or a frozen coffee-shop drink. In its milky niceness it resembles, of all things, a coffee-scented incense I owned years ago. It's extremely pleasant, certainly much more likable than Espresso, if sweet blandness with a restrained coffee aroma is what you like; but if it's accuracy you demand, this is not the place to find it. The other coffee Demeter in my collection is Black Russian, which is a cocktail made with vodka and coffee liqueur. This, too, is pleasant, but not commandingly coffee-like; it has a hazelnut overtone which seems very out of place. (If you add milk or cream to a Black Russian, you get a White Russian, logically enough; I haven't tried Demeter's version, but I can imagine it.)


Thursday, June 26, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 26, Sambucca

Yesterday I mentioned a co-worker's first reaction to a Demeter scent. Her second reaction, about fifteen minutes later, was "It's gone. I can't smell it any more at all!"

I could have warned her. The Demeter that lasts more than an hour is a rare beast.

Usually in perfumery, a short lifespan is a liability and a cause for complaint. I choose to think that in Demeters, it's a feature, not a bug (as the computer types say). Yes, they're short-lived, but they're cheap and cheerful, and when one wears off, you can slap another one on and enjoy that for a little while. Proper perfumery is like putting on an outfit and wearing it all day; Demeter is like going into the changing room and trying on a bunch of things.

Demeter's Sambucca is typical of the phenomenon.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I think the spelling "sambucca" is wrong. I'd never seen it before the Demeter label, and while it's not unheard of on the Internet, where nothing is unheard of, the spelling is a distant second to the correct one, "sambuca", which gets over two million hits to the 115 thousand of "sambucca" (lots of which seem to be the names of things such as bloggers or restaurants). And it's not as if Demeter hasn't made mistakes on their labels before: they rendered "dulce de leche" incorrectly as "dulche de leche". (It's been fixed now, sort of; the new bottle has the correct spelling, but my bottle has the error, and so does the title on Demeter's web page.)

Well, that's out of the way. Sambuca is a licorice-flavoured alcoholic drink similar to ouzo or anisette. I've had plenty of the latter in my time and I can tell you that Demeter's Sambucca smells exactly like the real thing; It doesn't smell like licorice (or like Demeter Licorice), it smells like a sugared alcoholic extraction of licorice root.

And it does so for about fifteen seconds. When the alcohol has completely evaporated from the scent, it changes character to become a rooty, very simple licorice-tinged floral scent with a baby-powder undertone. (The website says sambuca is an infusion of licorice and elder flower, which may explain the floral note. I don't know what explains the talc.) This powdery floral then proceeds to vanish over the course of the next half hour or so.

Still, not bad.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 25, Egg Nog

Today's Demeter, like yesterday's, calls to mind a Comptoir Sud Pacifique scent. The difference is that today, the Demeter version, though probably not by design, is better in its way than the CSP.

The first couple of times I tried Demeter Egg Nog, I thought, "There's way too much cinnamon in there." And there is. I've never in my life put cinnamon in egg nog; it's too strong a flavour, and in this case, it overwhelms the nutmeg (which is nonetheless there, at least, because egg nog needs nutmeg). The rest of the scent is a sweet, gorgeous French vanilla, very typical of its namesake; the thick egg-yolk quality dwindles after a time, but the luscious vanilla remains.

The potent cinnamon note and the rich creamy vanilla make Egg Nog an inexpensive substitute for CSP's Vanille Cannelle, "cannelle" being the French word for "cinnamon". As much I like the CSP, I'm surprised to find that I like the Demeter better: it's richer and more complex. It doesn't last as long (Vanille Cannelle lasts on me for a good twelve hours), but even so, it's more durable than most Demeters, going strong for a few hours. Happy hours, you might say.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 24, Orange Cream Pop

Sometimes it's tempting to think that people don't just have different likes and dislikes regarding their sense of smell, but that their noses are wired in completely different ways--that they're practically different organs. Certainly people's brains must be wired in different ways.

A co-worker of mine, nearly as big a perfume fanatic as I am, despises sweet scents, particularly vanilla, which she likes in food, but hates in fragrances. She tends towards austere scents, and often wears unadorned patchouli oil (which smells perversely good on her, where on me it would smell like filth). Yesterday I brought to work Demeter's Incense and Holy Smoke, two variations on a theme, the main difference being that Incense smells like the resins and balsams before they've been ignited, and Holy Smoke, true to its name, smells like them after they've burned for a while.

It was easy to predict her interpretation of the scents. She thought Incense was interesting, but too sweet; her exact word was "girly". (It is sweet, but in a dark and brooding way; nothing girly about it.) She would, of course, never wear it. Holy Smoke, on the other hand, was very much to her taste. Her reaction was a simple, delighted "Oh!" as she brought her nose to her forearm again and again. It smells even more like a bonfire on her than it does on me (if that's even possible), but she didn't perceive the campfire qualities, or they weren't as important to her as the bitter myrrh-and-charcoal quality of Holy Smoke.

I gave it to her, of course. I have so many Demeters, and I probably wasn't going to get much wear out of this one, obviously not as much as she will. It strikes me as more of an academic exercise in converting an idea into a destination than a proper wearing scent, anyway.

I can well imagine her response to Orange Cream Pop: wrinkle up her nose, recoil in disgust, laugh at her own reaction. It is sweet, exactly what she thinks a scent shouldn't be. Of course it's sweet! It's a liquid Creamsicle! (The recipe on the bottle's label lists orange juice, but they're not fooling me. This is pure Creamsicle, all the way.)

All there is to the scent is bright synthetic orange and buckets of creamy-sherbety vanilla, and possibly, as the website promises, a hint of the wooden stick the real thing is wrapped around. The whole thing is very fake, very confected; it won't make you think of real oranges, that's for sure, but isn't that kind of the deal with cheap frozen confectionary anyway? It calls to mind Comptoir Sud Pacifique's long-discontinued Vanille Orange, only (I hate to say it, but it's true) rather less wonderful; but since you probably can't have that, this is not a bad substitute.

It doesn't last long (a faint orange-vanilla haze remains after about an hour), but what the hell--neither does a Creamsicle. At least this one won't make you fat if you overindulge.


Monday, June 23, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 23, Cotton Candy

Luca Turin has repeatedly mentioned the aromatic chemical ethylmaltol, which, he has repeatedly said, smells of cotton candy. It's one of the sweeter elements in Angel, and the dominant accord in Aquolina Pink Sugar. But each of these scents has many other notes as well, so I was curious about just how Demeter Cotton Candy was going to smell. As I've noted before, I once worked in the refreshment stand of a travelling carnival, so I know what cotton candy smells like.

And the Demeter version, alas, isn't it. In fact, the Demeter is basically Pink Sugar, only simplified. I know this because as I write, I'm wearing Demeter Cotton Candy on my left wrist and Pink Sugar on my right, and they're very similar.

There are three likely explanations for this. One, ethylmaltol doesn't actually smell like cotton candy, but instead has a sweet, complex, candylike aroma (basically, like Pink Sugar). Two, the Demeter version isn't a pure version of cotton candy, which has a very distinctive aroma, but a composed scent meant to suggest what cotton candy might smell like (basically, a version of Pink Sugar). Or three, I don't remember what cotton candy smells like, and Demeter Cotton Candy is perfectly accurate.

I think we can discount number three. My nose certainly isn't that far gone, and I have a really good memory for scents. Never having smelled pure ethylmaltol, I can't say whether number one is correct or not. I'm plumping, though, for the second explanation, or the first and the second in parallel. After all, many scents, not just Demeter's, are composed of other elements which give a sense of what the namesake might smell like, because the namesake doesn't exist as a naturally occurring aromachemical (there is no such thing as a watermelon extract extracted from watermelons) or because it's less expensive to do it that way. There's been a flood of green-tea scents on the market since Bulgari started the trend, but nobody thinks that they smell like a cup of green tea, surely. Even Demeter's Green Tea is basically a copy of the Bulgari. Since you can't get an essential oil from a cone of cotton candy, you have to analyze the scent molecules it emits and then duplicate them, and it seems to me that the duplication in this case is not as precise as I had hoped.

So. Demeter Cotton Candy has a cotton-candy aspect to it; it's very sugary. It also smells like those Japanese perfumed erasers, like cheap jam, and like Jolly Ranchers. If you like Pink Sugar but want to pay a lot less for it, then this ought to do the trick.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 22, Earl Grey Tea

It's a basic principle of perfumery. Fragrance molecules have different molecular weights which govern the rate at which they evaporate, and lightweight molecules are going to fly off the skin quickly, while heavy ones are going to stick around for a long time. Imagine little puddles of butane, lemonade, and mineral oil: one of them is going to be gone in a matter of minutes, one will last maybe a few hours, and one will be there for weeks or more.

In a cup of Earl Grey tea, there are zillions of molecules (no, I'm not going to calculate the exact number), a fair number of which are the aromatic components that give the tea its characteristic scent; even though some of them are evaporating at a rapid pace, there are so many that the tea retains its aroma for quite a while.

In a spritz of an Earl Grey tea fragrance, though, there's only so much room for aromatic molecules, and once they've evaporated, that component of the scent is gone.

All of this is just a preamble to my telling you that Demeter's Earl Grey Tea fragrance is entirely accurate, a marvelous simulacrum of the real thing, for about five seconds, no more. Then the bergamot--the citrus fruit that gives the tea its characteristic brilliant zing--is gone, a victim, like all citrus notes, of light weight and rapid evaporation, and what's left is not unpleasant but certainly nothing like a cup of Earl Grey. Even the black-tea scent is muted; the whole thing turns into a sort of a cologne, with oddments of scents, but nothing coherent and obviously nothing like a cuppa.

If it's worth it to you to smell like Earl Grey tea for a matter of seconds, or if you want a cologne with the top note of the tea, then this is just the thing. If you want to smell like Earl Grey for any length of time, you're out of luck.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 21, Sticky Toffee Pudding

I don't really have a sweet tooth: I enjoy eating some sweet things, sometimes, but if a doctor told me that I could never again have dessert or chocolate or cheesecake or whatnot, I'd shrug and get on with my life.

For some reason, though, I really do love the smell of sweet things, particularly baked goods, and I have a whole lot of Demeters to prove it: Croquembouche and Dulce de Leche, Brownie and Tiramisù, Caramel, Orange Cream Pop, Graham Cracker, Cotton Candy.... They're variable in their accuracy--because surely accuracy is one of the main selling points of a Demeter fragrance--but to date, one of the most precise and evocative that I've smelled is Sticky Toffee Pudding.

It smells just like a baked, flour-based, sugar-sauced pudding. There's a thick, slightly molassesy brown-sugar aura to it, not caramel but toffee, and the scent of freshly baked cake, laden with vanilla. It's preposterously delicious-smelling.

There's an element to it that was naggingly familiar, though I couldn't put my finger on it; whatever it was, it was sweet, deep, and luscious. We went to the supermarket this morning to get our weekly groceries, and in the freezer case there was a Sticky Toffee Pudding--really!--so naturally I checked the ingredient list, and second or third was the missing ingredient: dates. Dates! Of course! The Demeter website says,

The core notes expressed in Demeter’s Sticky Toffee Pudding are the dates and the toffee,

and that's just about right.

If you want to smell like a dessert, and I can't think of a single good reason not to (isn't it nice to make people want to nibble you?), then you could hardly do better than Sticky Toffee Pudding.


Friday, June 20, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 20, Iris

I took a look at the floral Demeters I have and decided, for no good reason, to do them all at once. This is the last of them. I deliberately saved this one for the 20th because the other scent I reviewed today, Terracotta Voile D'Ete, supposedly has iris in the base, but I can't find it there, not if the Demeter version is what an iris smells like.

I've smelled iris in scents, but I've never smelled it by its lonesome, so writing about an iris scent, I guess, is like writing about the colour yellow when you've never seen it but only inferred its existence from the colours orange and green. Therefore, I can't tell you if Demeter Iris is true to its source, or what exactly it's meant to smell like: the iris flower does have a scent, but the root, or rhizome, of the plant it what's mostly used in perfumery, so I don't know if the Demeter is meant to smell like orris butter (as the root extract is known) or the flowers, or a combination of them, or what.

Demeter Iris is complex and has layers which emerge over time. The first is them is just horrible, with a rotting-fruit sweetness married to the smell of a plastic shower curtain newly removed from its packaging. Once that's dissolved into the air, maybe ten minutes in, the scent mutates into a head-scratchingly strange green floral with a sort of cocoa-powder quality, not chocolate but something equally warm and dusty. There is, finally, something rich and creamy lurking underneath, a lush, fatty-earthy-floral scent that defies my attempts to describe it but which is perversely interesting, not quite beautiful but certainly arresting.

It's not completely unpleasant overall. It takes a while to get to the nice part, and I can't say that it's necessarily worth the wait, but it's an experience. There are some elements of perfumery that aren't attractive by themselves, that require combination and adulteration and judicious artistry to make them acceptable, and if Demeter Iris is any indication, then iris is one of those elements. Perhaps the Demeter version requires layering with another scent to make it presentable.


Summer Loving: Guerlain Terracotta Voile D'Ete

At first, Terracotta Voile D'Ete seems like the result of a scientific experiment in human perception, designed to demonstrate how brief a top note can be and still be said to exist. Nerve impulses can travel at up to 120 metres per second. If we assume that the distance from the olfactory epithelium to the olfactory cortex is six inches, leaving room for the occasional detour around bones and hinges and whatnot, then we can calculate that twelve hundred and seventy microseconds is the minimum possible duration for a perfume's top note, which in this case appears to be bergamot and mint.

After this tiny shred of a second has passed and the minty top note has vanished into the ether, the middle of the scent shows up and is a stripped-down version of Old Spice, with the gasoliney herbed-geranium quality of the scent gone but the core intact. I'm not sure why someone would want to make a copy of Old Spice, since the original has been on the market since the 1930s and is available inexpensively just about everywhere, but if you want a costlier yet less complex duplicate, here it is. It smells primarily of carnations and vanilla, and sometimes the vanilla, intriguingly, will simply detach itself from its surroundings and wrap itself around you in an extremely ingratiating way. Since carnations and vanilla are close to being, in my estimation, the two best things that anybody or anything can smell like, this alone makes the scent a winner.

After a couple of hours of this luxury, Terracotta Voile D'Ete descends into a dark pool of langorous warmth, supposedly iris and ylang-ylang, where it remains for the next few hours before vanishing. It is very attractive.

If you expected a typical bright-fresh-clean summer scent--Voile D'Ete means "summer veil"--then you are of course in for a shock. This isn't a scent for summer; this is a scent that's an interpretation of summer, all sunshiny carnation and tropical heat. It isn't original, but it's charming from top to bottom, particularly in the way it expresses warmth without ever being cloying or overpowering. (It is, after all, a veil.) I should also mention for the trepidatious that Terracotta Voile D'Ete is entirely wearable by a man; despite the floral base, it's neither flowery nor florid, and thanks to Old Spice, the carnation-vanilla accord is unimpeachably well-established in masculine perfumery.

The bottle is simple but striking; a sort of torus (twin sister to Byzance, cousin to Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, great-niece of Bijan) with a little gold dunce cap which can be removed and replaced with a sprayer (which does not, unfortunately, accommodate the dunce cap) . The sprayer has a very high output; it gives you a bath. Since the scent is (despite its ingredients) fairly lightweight, and since it comes in a 100-mL bottle, this is not a problem.

Although the scent was launched in 1999 and discontinued not too long afterwards, it's still widely available at many online discounters. I bought mine at Imagination Perfumery for $24.99. It was worth it.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 19, Lavender

I'll keep this simple: Demeter Lavender is gorgeous.

Lavender is a very complex smell, and, to complicate matters even more, there are different lavenders (at least 25) with different collections of aromatic components. The one North Americans are most familiar with is English lavender, which is softer, richer, and somewhat less camphoraceous (camphor is the smell of mothballs and Vicks Vaporub) than the others.

Demeter Lavender begins with a spike of brilliant greenery, which rapidly gives way to lavender's familiar clean, fresh scent, floral but not flowery. There's a somewhat medicinal component to it (the camphor) and a subtle spicy warmth, which becomes a little more pronounced as the scent dries down. (You can easily see why lavender is considered an indispensable bedrock of men's perfumery.) Not much in the way of lasting power, as usual, but while it hangs around, it's sensational.

By the way, if you were one of those people who was told that the word "lavender" comes from the same word as "lavatory", which is to say Latin "lavere", "to wash" (also the root of French "laver", with the same meaning), then you have been grievously misinformed. (Instead, it's related to "livid".)

(Also by the way, if you're mad about lavender, Yves Rocher has an excellent lavender bath oil which doubles as a perfume and a massage oil. I prefer the Demeter, because it's more complex--not as "clean"--and not oily, but if you have dry skin, I can recommend the Yves Rocher wholeheartedly; great smell, great price.)


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 18, Bulgarian Rose

You'd think I'd have learned by now that what you expect from a scent and what you get are not necessarily the same thing, wouldn't you?

I knew Bulgarian Rose probably wouldn't smell like a rose on the stem, but I assumed it would smell more or less like a rose. It doesn't. It smells like rose-scented soap, heavy on the soap; the rose component is very blurry and amorphous, and it is very soapy. Bathroom-soap soapy.

For all I know, this is what an actual Bulgarian rose smells like. There are quite a few different varieties of roses, and I've smelled a number of them, but not, as far as I know, that specific kind, so perhaps I have nothing to base my opinion on. I can't imagine, though, that any rose in the world smells like this perfume; it feels entirely manufactured. You can tell it's rose (in the same way that you can tell artificial strawberry flavour is meant to be a representation of strawberry), but it definitely isn't what you'd think of when you think of a rose perfume. Roses, and good rose soliflores, have a crispness and brightness to them, a vibrancy which can't be masked, something which is entirely missing from this.

Bulgarian Rose is a nice enough scent, if you like soapy fragrances (which can be very pleasant), but if you want a true-life rose, this isn't going to do the trick, and you're going to have to spend some money to get a proper rose fragrance. Joy would do the trick nicely, or Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 17, Croquembouche

I wrote about Angel Food yesterday because it seems to me that it's the basis for a number of Demeter's other bakery scents. Some of them, as I noted recently, seem to have a distinct coconut undertone that doesn't belong there. Maybe it's just my faulty nose, but Croquembouche is one of them.

A croquembouche is a French pastry made of tiny cream puffs dipped in caramelized sugar as a kind of glue and piled into a pyramidal heap. (The name is from "croque en bouche", "crunches in the mouth".) A scent called Croquembouche should smell mostly of bland cream-filled pastry and caramelized sugar, right?

But Croquembouche smells strongly of coconut cake. That can mean whatever you like: a white cake with white frosting covered in coconut, or a cake with toasted coconut baked into it, or just a cake with coconut extract in addition to the vanilla. Either way, it smells sweet and cakey and coconut-laden and vanillic and overall very pleasant. (I would like to stress here that I could be wrong about this, and maybe it really does smell just like the real thing. Your nose may vary.)

Knowing what it ought to smell like, I keep looking for that caramel-pastry-vanilla scent and not finding it. Last night I put on a splash of the scent, and thought, "Oh, wait--is that the caramel?" But it wasn't, not really. I can convince myself, a little, that it sort of smells kind of like caramel (or Caramel) pastry, what with the vanilla and the sugar and the bakery quality, but it still smells like sweet coconut cake to me.

Still, you know, if you have to smell like something, you could do a whole lot worse than coconut cake. Just so you're not expecting to smell like a glazed French cream puff.


Monday, June 16, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 16, Angel Food

I see that two thirds of my Demeter postings so far this month have been about edibles, which may tell you something about me, or about Demeter (the huge majority of their scents are based on food and drink), or merely about the fact that the things we eat and drink smell good.

Angel food cake doesn't have a particularly penetrating aroma or flavour. (Naturally, it smells terrific while it's baking, but after it cools, it doesn't smell like much more than a block of sugared styrofoam.) It has no fat whatever: its leavening is the air trapped in beaten egg whites, with just enough flour and sugar to hold the whole thing together while it bakes and give it some taste. Since fat is one of the primary carriers of flavour, angel food cake is fairly bland. It's mostly about the texture, which is unlike any other kind of cake, and its blandness means it's often used as a base for something else with a little more punch; sugared macerated berries, ice cream, or pastry cream.

You'd think that this lack of aromatic character would make it difficult to turn it into a scent, but that's never stopped Demeter before: they have one called Holy Water, which by rights ought to have no fragrance at all but which according to them (I haven't tried it) smells of "the porcelain font, ozone scented water, oak scented pew...all mingled."

So their Angel Food might be expected to smell like a bakery at a hundred yards, and it sort of does, but what it mostly smells like is coconut at twenty paces. I'd never heard of a coconut angel food cake, but you can add most any kind of flavouring extract to the recipe to make it a little more interesting, so why not coconut extract? (Vanilla is usual, and I've seen recipes with almond, orange, maple, and even peppermint; there's also a chocolate version that uses cocoa powder.) According to the website, the coconut flavouring is "from a generations-old Pennsylvania recipe".

Angel Food changes its character ten or fifteen minutes in; the lightness and coconut fade out, and what remains is darker, not quite burnt but certainly baked. To me, it's actually more interesting at this point. The whole thing is gone altogether in under an hour, as you might expect.

If you want to smell like an ordinary angel food cake, I don't know where to point you. If you want to smell a bit like coconut baked goods, Demeter Angel Food is the place to go; it's very pleasant. If you want to smell quite a lot like a coconut can find out tomorrow (and it's not what you expect).


Sunday, June 15, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 15, Junior Mints

Recently, Demeter launched a collection of three scents based on candy made by the Tootsie people: Tootsie Roll, Junior Mints, and Tropical Dots. The last one sounded like something I would never want to smell like (artificial-tropical-fruit candy?), but the other two showed some promise, and lived up to it.

Junior Mints smells precisely like its namesake, with two simultaneous notes, creamy peppermint and chocolate and nothing more. The mint is silky and rounded, plush, in no way strong or harsh; it's smoother and sweeter than some other peppermint-chocolate candies such as York Peppermint Patties or After Eight Mints. The chocolate is that typical American semi-sweet chocolate, with lots of sugar and vanilla, but it's darker than milk chocolate, with just the barest hint of bitterness. There's a bit of crispness to the whole scent: you can practically smell the shiny glaze the candies are polished with. The lasting power is good for a Demeter: the mint fades very slowly, over the course of an hour or so, and leaves a soft vanillic chocolate for another hour. It is enchanting.

I don't know what more there is to be said about it, to be honest. If you think Junior Mints smell good (they do!) and want to smell like them (you should!), well, now you can.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 14, Tootsie Roll

Today's review, by an unfortunate coincidence, sounds kind of like yesterday's review. Both candy; neither smelling like its namesake. But at least this one smells awesome.

Tootsie Rolls are evil. They're made with hydrogenated fat, which, as you know, will coagulate in your coronary arteries and kill you within days, if you believe the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which famously and stupidly called fettuccine Alfredo a "heart attack on a plate", which makes me wonder why I'm not dead a few hundred times over. (I used to subscribe to their newsletter until I got good and tired of their panicky attitude--"Everything is going to kill you!"--and sometimes terrible writing.)

Tootsie Rolls taste pretty good, though (it's been a few years, but they used to taste good, for whatever that's worth). In flavour they're a cross between chocolate fudge and caramels, with a fairly tough bite that softens as the heat of your mouth makes short work of the hydrogenated fat (solid at room temperature, creamy-smooth at body temperature).

The trouble with Demeter's Tootsie Roll is that it smells too much like chocolate; the scent is more intense than the candy, which is actually a bit muted, as I recall it. The Demeter website says their scent is a "luscious and delectable combination of fudge, caramel, chocolate and vanilla", but it doesn't smell at all like caramel. What it smells exactly like instead is chocolate buttercream frosting: the slight bitterness of the chocolate or cocoa powder, overmatched by huge quantities of icing sugar; the creaminess of the butter; and a halo of vanilla. Tootsie Roll hangs around, too; after an hour, it's not strong, but it's still there, and completely unchanged. Smelling like unadorned chocolate frosting is extremely pleasant.

Before Angel in 1992, did it even occur to anyone that people might want to smell like chocolate? Comptoir Sud Pacifique's 1993 Amour de Cacao was next in the docket, as far as I know, and it raised the stakes with a scent that was hardly anything except chocolate (whereas in Angel it was just a part of the whole candy-shop buffet). Now there are plenty of chocolate-based scents: Demeter has seven that I know of (I might have missed one or two), and Bulgari put white chocolate into Omnia. Basenotes lists 31 scents containing chocolate and another 11 with cocoa, and they're missing a bunch. But if what you want is inexpensive but pleasurable chocolate scent, then Demeter has two I can recommend, Brownie and Tootsie Roll. Oh, and maybe tomorrow's, which you'll just have to wait for.

It only just occurred to me that Brownie plus Tootsie Roll ought to smell like chocolate-frosted chocolate brownies. A new experiment to try!


Friday, June 13, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 13, Marshmallow

Homemade marshmallows don't seem too hard to make: the usual base for any candy, a boiled-sugar solution, is poured over gelatin and beaten until foamy, then allowed to set. I've made all kinds of candy, but never marshmallows: I've never even eaten any but the store-bought kind.

I have, however, walked past the marshmallow section in the supermarket a thousand times, and it's always the same reaction: a deep inhale, a blissful sigh. The smell of commercial marshmallows is a child's idea of heaven, a huge plume of thick sugary vanilla with a pleasantly dusty overtone (the smell, or at least the presence, of cornstarch, I guess).

That's not, unfortunately, what Demeter Marshmallow smells like. It has a generic cooked-sugar aroma and the barest hint of something slightly burnt, maybe a toasted marshmallow (but there's no campfire to it). I'm willing to concede that commercial marshmallows may not smell like the homemade version, and that Marshmallow is the homemade kind (as I said, I've never had them and therefore don't know what they smell like), but the smell is so blah that I would have preferred the store variety.

It's not terrible, and in fact is mild and pleasant; it's just not what I expected to be in the bottle, because it doesn't have any character, unlike its namesake. If you held a bag of the candy under someone's nose, they'd recognize it instantly--it's an extremely specific and well-defined scent--but if you sprayed the scent on your skin and offered that to them, I'm pretty certain they wouldn't be able to guess what it was. Nothing about it says "Marshmallow!"; it says "Um...candy?"

The website says, "Demeter has captured the essence of the Marshmallow in a scent so light it borders on transparent", and while I'm not too sure about the first half of the statement, I can heartily agree with the second. It has very little staying power; it begins to recede from view within five minutes, is a little drift of vanilla in fifteen, and is all but gone in half an hour.

I don't know if it's such a good idea to be printing the recipe on the bottle. It works fine with the cocktail Demeters, because you just have to throw those together, but the instructions for the recipe say "Boil it up, pour in pan, let stand for 12 hours, cut into squares." Nope. If you boil gelatin, bad things are going to happen, and if you don't beat the mixture, I don't know what you'll get, but it definitely isn't marshmallow. I'm sure it's tongue-in-cheek, but still; misleading and not a good idea.

Labels: ,

Solid: Lush Potion

When I wrote about Coup de Fouet, I was baffled that Susan Irvine had called it "vicious", and, though I didn't mention it at the time, equally puzzled by her description of the scent as "unbelievably strong clove carnation", because the scent isn't really that strong at all. It has some force, because the carnation is not a shy, wispy flower, but it certainly isn't unbelievable.

The answer to this mystery came in Tania Sanchez' reviews of Coup de Fouet and Poivre (the extract, or perfume, version) in "Perfumes: The Guide":

Coup de Fouet: This, the eau de toilette version of Poivre, used to be lighter and more floral, but now that Poivre is itself lighter and more floral, Coup de Fouet feels redundant.

Poivre: Poivre was once a terrific spicy oriental, with a nose-tickling smell of cinnamon red hots plus carnation and a good, rich amber to anchor it. Now less picante, more rosy, it's middling and pointless.

So there's that, then. Poivre has been reformulated downwards (as Sanchez and her co-author Luca Turin think is the case with nearly all Caron scents) to fill the space once occupied by CdF, and I'd guess that CDF has also been downgraded, and neither is as potent as it used to be. (Since I never smelled either back in their glory days, I have nothing to refer back to, but CdF, whatever the folks at Caron might have done with it, is extraordinarily beautiful.)

However, last weekend on a trip to Halifax I bought a scent that really can be described as "unbelievably strong clove carnation": a solid fragrance called Potion.

For what it's worth, here's Sanchez' opinion of Potion:

The first thing that strikes you when you unscrew the container is a wallop of clove. The rest is a carnation, straightforward and unambitious.

Not quite, I'd say. There's a rosy touch to the scent, and I think a thread of patchouli running through it. (The ingredients list mentions eugenol, the molecule that gives cloves and carnations their spiciness; rose and carnation absolutes; and tangerine oil. However, none of these is likely to be a major component of the aroma, because the second ingredient, after the carrier wax, is "perfume", which could be anything and is certain to be mostly or entirely synthetic. The natural essential oils, I expect, are primarily window-dressing, in the same way that "fruit drinks" contain "5% real juice". I could be wrong, but at that price, I doubt it.)

Still and all, it is mostly carnation, and that suits me just fine. Sanchez and Turin don't seem to think much of soliflores--single-note fragrances, usually florals--and prefer great complexity in their scents, but a good fragrance is a good fragrance, and a carnation is as beautiful a thing to smell like as anything else I can think of. A carnation doesn't need to be ambitious: it just needs to be itself, and Potion does that very well. It's not pure carnation; it's got a certain attack-dog quality (that clovey eugenol) and an earthiness to cut through the potential prettiness. But it's very nice.

The texture isn't all I would have hoped for: it's much too solid. I wouldn't want a creamy, gloppy mess, but what's in the tin is scarcely any softer than a pillar candle, and melts onto your fingertip only grudgingly. A little more cocoa butter and jojoba oil and a little less Japan wax would have been nice. I'm half-tempted to melt it down and stir in a little oil to give it the yielding texture I really want, and at that price, $11.95, I guess I could afford to try the experiment.

There are a half-dozen Lush solid perfumes, but none of them grabbed me. Honey I Washed The Kids supposedly smells like honey toffee, and maybe it does on the skin, but out of the tin it seemed somehow vile. (Perhaps it was just the store itself, which is practically radioactive with strong aromas.) Karma seems as if it might be nice, a blend of patchouli and orange, but since I'd already bought something that day in Halifax, it didn't seem right to go crazy. I had intended to buy two scents on that trip, and I bought them both (I'll get to the other in a week or two), and that was enough (although is it ever enough?).

Since many Lush products have nothing in the way of preservatives, and in fact some of them are meant to be kept in the fridge, they generally have an expiration date on them, which is fine in the case of, say, hair conditioner (which can separate and spoil), but is rather ridiculous when you're talking about a solid perfume, which ought to last for a decade or two. The label on the bottom of my tin says

Made on 15 OCT 07
Use by 15 DEC 08

which seems to mean that the Lush people have somehow decided that this product will last exactly 14 months and not a day more, a ludicrous notion. If it suddenly detonates or liquefies in the tin on December 16th, I'll let you know, but until you hear from me, you can assume that it's holding on as it ought to.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 12, Vetiver

Fragrance is often compared to music, and I won't bore you with recounting why; either you already know or you can easily look it up just about anywhere (here, for instance.) When I smelled Demeter's Vetiver for the first time, it struck me as being musical in a way I had never experienced before, something wholly new to me.

At first, Vetiver has a lemony, cologney feel to it, but this boils away pretty quickly and what you're left with is that rooty, green-grass smell of classic vetiver. It may be partly or wholly synthetic--at that price, it surely must be--but it's still splendid.

What makes Vetiver remarkable is that it has two qualities at odds with one another which carry through the scent for most of its life. There's a bright, fresh, live element to it, the smell of leaves and green things, and also a deep earthiness. the smell of roots and humus with a suggestion of licorice. What's amazing is that these two qualities are polar opposities--life and death, bright and dark, aboveground and subterranean--and yet somehow in Vetiver they are the same thing.

The effect is stunning. It's as if someone is singing soprano and baritone simultaneously. Not a duet: one person, one voice, singing in two registers. It's obviously the same scent, and yet it's pitched very high and very low at the same time. If Vetiver were an object, smelling it would be like looking at it and yet seeing two different things at once--the olfactory version of the Necker cube

or that young-woman/old-woman illusion

except that rather that seeing the two things alternately, you're seeing them both at one time.

It ought to go without saying that taste in fragrance is intensely personal, and if you don't care for vetiver, then you will hate Vetiver, which is pungent and piercing. It will not be ignored. It is not the sort of thing you should wear, unadorned and in quantity, in public.

However, Vetiver makes a great layering scent: it can do a lot to improve a lacklustre men's scent (though why would you be wearing a lacklustre scent to begin with?). I'm guessing, though I haven't had a chance to try this yet, that it would also play well with some of the darker Demeter fragrances such as This Is Not A Pipe, Incense, and some of the leathers. Time to play alchemist!


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 11, Waffle Cone

The real pleasure of Demeter is twofold: a scent that smells exactly like its real-world counterpart, and that also smells like something you'd never expect to find in a bottle. A cologne that smells of lemons or roses or even a piña colada is pleasant, but not startling: but spraying a liquid on your skin and discovering that it's an exact replica of gingerbread, a barn, or a recently smoked pipe? That's magic. Even if you know a little bit about how the aroma-chemicals are researched and created, it's still magic.

If you clamp your nose to your skin just a second or two after spraying, before the alcohol has had a chance to dissipate, Waffle Cone smells a lot like amaretto, though there are no almonds in the composition: this almond-liqueur smell vanishes almost immediately, and what you're left with is the most delightful aroma--the exact scent of waffle cones freshly baked in an ice-cream shop, dark and sugary and vanilla-drenched. It's fantastically accurate.

Surprisingly, Waffle Cone has very little lasting power: you'd think something so sweet and vanillic would hang around for a few hours, but it starts to change character within ten or fifteen minutes and is for the most part gone in less than an hour. But whatever, right? Spray on some more. I can't imagine anyone complaining.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 10, Fuzzy Navel

"Hey, barkeep. I'll have a Fuzzy Navel and she'll have the girliest drink in the house."
"Two fuzzy navels coming up!"

That's from Futurama, a lamentably cancelled show that lasted five seasons and is still on the air in a lot of places.

A Fuzzy Navel, a cocktail made of vodka, peach schnapps, and orange juice, might be girly, but it isn't the girliest drink in the house, not by a long shot. What about the Pink Flamingo (vanilla schnapps, grenadine, orange juice, and cream)? What about anything served in a coconut shell? Anything with a tiny paper umbrella? The rule seems to be that anything that tastes pleasant or sweet, that doesn't require a breaking-in period (does anybody like their first taste of beer or whiskey?), is a girl drink. Frankly, I don't much care what people drink, as long as they don't get sloppy-drunk and obnoxious.

Although I'm a gin-and-tonic drinker (when I drink, which is really rarely), I actually have tasted a Fuzzy Navel, because I like peaches so much. However, probably the first thing that you're going to notice about Demeter Fuzzy Navel is that it doesn't smell like fresh peach juice. The peach in peach schnapps doesn't smell quite real, either: not a cheap peach-candy smell, but not like peach nectar or the freshly peeled fruit, either.

Peaches smell fantastic on the skin; two of the great classics of perfumery, Rochas Femme and Mitsouko by Guerlain, have a dominant peach note, as well as Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Vanille Peach and the long-gone Gem by Van Cleef and Arpels, and many other scents have used it more subtly. (Joy by Patou supposedly has peach in the top, but I've never noticed it.)

Fuzzy Navel smells good on the skin, too. There's no alcohol smell (except for the carrier, obviously, which burns away in seconds), just the smell of oranges and peaches, both a little, predictably, synthetic. (There's no such thing as a natural peach essential oil; pulpy fruits do not give up their scents to the artifices of perfumery.) The orange, as we might expect, is gone in a matter of minutes, five or ten at the most. The surprise is that the peach component of the scent is reasonably durable for a Demeter, at least an hour, and more if you apply the scent with a generous touch. It is also unexpectedly intense: while managing to avoid being overwhelming or cloying (it's not too sweet), the peach note is rich and strong.

But most of all, Fuzzy Navel is very silly and very fun, the whole point of a Demeter scent.


Monday, June 09, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 9, Incense

When I placed my most recent order with Demeter, really a shameful number of the half-ounce bottles, I couldn't decide which I was likely to prefer, Holy Smoke or Incense, so I ordered them both. They seemed as if they were two sides of the same coin, but I figured I was likely to love at least one of them. It's the sort of chance I'm always willing to take, particularly at $5 a pop.

They're not as similar as I thought they would be, and Incense, as it turns out, is the one that stole my heart. At first it has a biting edge: it is strongly reminiscent of the frankincense in Incense Rosé, dark, sultry, a bit spiteful. Slowly, over time, the angles melt away to curves and reveal a slightly woody, slightly fruity core of softer incense. Give it more time, and the scent becomes sweet and deep and luminous; it smells of tolu balsam and ambery resins and mystery, with occasional intimations of the earlier bite, just a bare hint to remind you that you're not smelling something innocuous, but a scent born of fire. There's no smoke here, nothing burning, just glowing embers.

Unlike most Demeters, Incense grabs your skin and hangs on for dear life. A vigorous workout and a hot shower and a sinkful of dishes won't compel it to dislodge itself. It's going to last for hours--at least on me it does.

Demeter Incense is extraordinarily beautiful, complex in a way that you wouldn't expect such a bargain-priced scent to be. It is making me so happy these days. I own about a zillion scents, but I can see that am going to use this half-ounce up and then buy a big bottle, and maybe so should you. I can't recommend it highly enough.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 8, Holy Smoke

The other morning I went back to bed (after having gotten up at the unreasonable hour of 4:30: I didn't work that day, so I could get away with it). I was wearing Demeter Holy Smoke, and I dreamed of cooking meat. I don't know if the two things are related, but they could be.

Holy Smoke doesn't smell quite like something is burning right now and leaving a cloud of smoke; it probably won't send anyone into a panic thinking that something in the kitchen is on fire. It's more like you're sniffing a garment that was in the room yesterday when something was burning. And that garment would be an alb, and the room would be the nave of a cathedral, because Holy Smoke, as its name suggests, is a churchy incense scent.

My religious upbringing wasn't in the Catholic church, so I have no experience of incense during a religious service, but I have burned a fair quantity of incense in my time, and Holy Smoke is a very good reproduction of the smell: earthy-woody, resinous, singed. It calls to mind other experiences of burning things as well. There's a bit of a bonfire to it, and it has an overlay of a freshly lit barbecue, too, the ashy smell of glowing charcoal and maybe hot metal, but mostly it's resin smoke.

I like it, but maybe because it's so specific to a particular setting, it doesn't stir up any strong emotions in me. Demeter has another, related scent that I'll get to tomorrow; that one's a real killer.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 7, Cinnamon Toast

I should have done this one right after Raspberry Jam and Orange Juice, for a sort of breakfast combo. Too late for that now. As you can see, I didn't really plan this; I'm just sort of winging it, one day at a time.

Some scents, as I have mentioned before and as you may have noticed, smell very different in small dabs than they do in concentration. Demeter Cinnamon Toast is one of them. If you put on just a small amount, it smells, disappointingly, like a bit of cinnamon--a single red-hot candy--and not much else. It's a very pleasant smell, but it isn't what you signed on for. If you glug some on, though (and you can, because it's not overwhelmingly strong), it actually does smell rather like cinnamon toast: that sharp, edgy, woody sourness of cinnamon, sweetened a bit, smoothed and enriched by butter (or in this case, I think, margarine), with a little, not really enough, of the hot-grain smell of toast. It's pretty good, but not laugh-out-loud delightful; it's mostly cinnamon, and somewhat synthetic (cinnamaldehyde, probably). It would have to be: nobody is steam-distilling stacks of cinnamon toast.

I wonder if Demeter is taking requests. They really need to make a French Toast, because that's a delicious smell, and I know it can be done, because there's a cereal called French Toast Crunch--I buy a box about once a year--that smells deliriously like the real thing: hot bread, egg custard, and maple syrup. (The same company makes Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which is not as convincing: though tasty, it's not even as good as Demeter Cinnamon Toast.)

While I'm at it: if anyone from the company is reading, you need to make a Carnation (you have many florals already, so why not this one?) and a Tarragon (you have Basil, and leafy-anisic tarragon is a much better herb to smell like). Please?


Friday, June 06, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 6, Tiramisù

Some of Demeter's bake-shop scents are really, strangely off the mark: their Scottish Shortbread doesn't smell like anything I'd ever want to put in my mouth. I keep trying it to see if maybe I'm doing it wrong, but every time, it smells weird: not spoiled or off, but peculiar, most definitely artificial, nearly petrochemical, and not at all like the real thing, which smells only of its ingredients, baked: wheat flour, cornstarch, butter, and sugar. (The cornstarch is heretical to some, sacrosanct to others. I think it's not really shortbread if it doesn't have the cornstarch to give it that fragile, crumbly texture.) It's a very distinctive smell, and it would be a nice thing to smell like, but this isn't it. (Demeter has a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee, but I haven't bothered to even try to send this back, because it's just the one bottle, and it's not worth the cost of shipping it. I figure even if I get one or two duds, at that price--$5 a pop--I'm still getting a great deal.) Scottish Shortbread smells like no food on Earth, though it has some foody qualities, one of which is a bizarre sort of fake-coconut undertone that's also present in some of their other food scents.

One of them is their Tiramisù, which nevertheless is probably the second-best of the bakery scents I've tried so far (let's see: Angel Food Cake, Sugar Cookie, Croquembouche, Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookie, and Graham Cracker, though I might be missing a couple). If you ignore that faux-coconutty element, which doesn't belong in tiramisù and isn't strong anyway, you have something really delicious: sweet pastry saturated with coffee.

Tiramisù the dessert is ladyfingers dunked in espresso, then layered with a pastry cream made with zabaglione (an egg-yolk custard) and mascarpone cheese, all topped with cocoa powder. (The name sounds, I don't know, Japanese or something, but it's Italian for "pick me up". With all those Italian ingredients, it had better be Italian.) Tiramisù the Demeter scent is sweet and thick, with the baked-goods quality that's missing from Scottish Shortbread, and an enormous quantity of strong coffee, the bitterness of which cuts through the sweetness in an extremely agreeable way.

As it evolves, the coffee fades pretty quickly, leaving a vanilla-flecked cookie/cake smell of indefinable origin. This lasts quite a while, much longer than most Demeters: I can still detect it, though lightly, three to four hours later. For a Demeter scent, that's heroically long-lasting.


Any Other Name: Paul Smith Rose

A couple of nights ago I came home from work, and as I stepped into the parking lot of my apartment building, I was swamped with the blissful scent of fresh lilacs. There are three lilac trees within ten yards of the small lot, one of them right on its edge, and they'd finally bloomed! It had rained earlier, and though it wasn't hot enough yet to be oppressive, the air was pleasantly humid and weighty. Lilacs are not a flower we usually consider lush or heady--they're not gardenias or tuberoses--but in that night air, they were dense, thick, and enveloping as a scented fur coat. There may be pleasures on Earth greater than smelling ribbons of fresh lilac perfume twining through the air, but there are not many of them.


One of the things I like about "Perfumes: The Guide" is its snarky, brusque tone: Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are people who take perfumery seriously and are sick of the nonsense, the mediocrity, and the repetition endemic to the art form. But they employ a sort of Gatling gun of snarkiness that they fire blindly at most any target, and it can get out of hand. This is their entire review of Paul Smith Rose:

Amusingly, this competent but dull tea rose soliflore claims to contain the extract of a varietal named Sir Paul Smith. Vanitas....

Honestly. How does that qualify as vanity? There are lots of reasons to dislike a fragrance, and competent dullness is one of them, but Smith didn't make up a rose, name it after himself, and then pretentiously advertise the fact. Many new roses are named after famous people* (or not-famous ones such as presumably yourself, but it'll cost you), and Smith's wife had a rose named after him as a birthday gift, which, if you love scented flowers, seems like a pretty damned great birthday gift. Who could blame him, if the flower had a beautiful scent, for using the rose as the base for a new perfume? It's going to have his name on it anyway, so he might as well use the Paul Smith Rose in Paul Smith Rose.

The scent, unfortunately, is dull. Not at first, because the scent is top-loaded to be enchanting straight out of the bottle, as many commercial scents are nowadays; a lot of people decide they like a scent after smelling it for a few seconds or minutes, so the manufacturers make sure that the opening is spectacular. It's only when you wear them for a while that you discover all the perfumery's energy was employed in the first few minutes, and what remains after that is something you've smelled a hundred times before.

I am naive enough to think that this couldn't have been done deliberately. I refuse to believe that some bean-counter said, "Just make sure the first few minutes are pretty enough to get the suckers to buy it, and then throw in any old crap." (For all I know, this actually did happen, but as I said, I am disquietingly naive about such things, or at least imbued with a fatal Candide-like optimism.) I think it's just an unfortunate byproduct of the insane glut of fragrances on the market today. A department-store scent can't cost too much (niche brands have more leeway as to pricing--it's part of the niche), so there's a ceiling to the cost of the raw ingredients, and the scent has to make a strong impression straight out of the bottle; it has to be instantly gorgeous, or the customer is just going to move on to the next bottle. I don't think the scent was cynically constructed to grab the buyer and then leave her stranded: no doubt perfumer Antoine Maisondieu simply had to work within certain limitations of cost, and most of the effort and money did end up going into the opening.

The top of Paul Smith Rose, though, really is joyous, a fresh rose-violet scent with fruity touches and a sugar-candy sparkle. It's nothing particularly novel but it's so very pretty; it suggests the recent reformulation of Givenchy's L'Interdit with a young and modern twist. It's easy to imagine some young woman falling in love with the scent after spraying it on her wrist and sniffing it a few times. The trouble is that it doesn't develop very much after that; it just turns into a rather flat, tired rose scent without very much at all to recommend itself. The addition to the middle of magnolia and a very obvious green-tea note (or what passes for the smell of green tea in the long shadow of Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert) isn't enough to lift the scent out of the ordinary. I wish it were better than it turned out to be; after that enchanting opening, it's a real disappointment.

*Eleanor Roosevelt supposedly said,

“I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: ‘No good in a bed, but fine up against a wall’”,

and maybe she did, but the joke has been attributed to others as well--it's told about a Lady Hillingdon, and Jim tells me that Jean Marsh, a British actress, told the story as well, but perhaps she was quoting Roosevelt. I can't even find any proof that Jean Marsh actually had a rose named after her, but if she didn't, she should have: she played the character of Rose in "Upstairs, Downstairs".


Thursday, June 05, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 5, Raspberry Jam

A great many women's scents nowadays have fruit notes in them: the fruity-floral fragrance dominates the perfume counter these days. Nobody thinks--do they?--that fragrance companies have big vats of fruit from which they extract the essential oils that are combined into scents. When you read from the list of notes that some fragrance or other contains lichee, green apple, and mango--a perfectly plausible set of notes, by the way--there's no chance that any of these things is anything but a laboratory concoction. A rose or a chunk of sandalwood will yield its fragrant heart to the techniques of perfumery, but a honeydew won't, so if something is going to smell like honeydew, that scent will have to be devised by clever chemists with a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer at hand. (There are, of course, plenty of synthetic rose and sandalwood oils out there, too; just because something occurs naturally doesn't mean a reconstructed version doesn't have its uses, too.)

Synthetic flavourings and scents are a part of everyday life. How many kids in North America in the last fifty years or more didn't grow up with drink mixes and candy that supposedly taste like grape, orange, strawberry, and nowadays sour green apple and the like? Those synthetic flavours have inevitably shaped what we think such things ought to smell and taste like. Cherry-flavoured anything (cough syrup, candy, ice cream, even maraschino cherries) doesn't taste like cherries, but like something else altogether--a sort of cultural consensus of what such things are allowed to taste like. I have on my desk by coincidence a package of Sour Blue Raspberry gum (the "blue" part is because there are already too many red fruits in the candy world, I think), and it doesn't smell or taste like any true raspberry: it smells like "raspberry". You can recognize it and name it, but if you compared it to a real raspberry you'd immediately know which is which, that's for sure.

Demeter Raspberry Jam doesn't smell exactly like the real thing: there's a certain fakeness about the raspberry-ness of it. It smells not quite like sticking your nose in a jar of jam, but of someone's idea of what that ought to be like, due, no doubt, to the inherent limitations of aromachemistry and also to the forbidding cost of creating a really precise likeness, if that's even possible. Still, when I put it on for the first time, I had that reaction that unexpected scents always elicit: I laughed out loud in delight and wonder. It doesn't smell precisely like its namesake, but it nevertheless triggers every association--the musky-tart-sweet smell of a raspberry, the cooked quality of preserves. If someone sprayed it on you and didn't tell you what it was, I think you'd recognize it immediately; not fresh raspberries, certainly not "raspberry" candy, not even raspberry juice, but jam. It may be synthetic raspberry, but it's excellent synthetic raspberry, and cleverly constructed or tinkered with so that it has its freshness tamped down, bearing instead a stewed-fruit thickness.

No lasting power, as usual. After ten or fifteen minutes, the jammy sweetness, unexpectedly, has burned away and left behind mostly a sour-fruit aroma (not unpleasant in itself, but not raspberry jam) that smells decidedly more synthetic than the original impression of the scent.

Still, the first thing out of the bottle, that great whack of raspberry jam, is entirely delightful. It's worth the cost of admission.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 4, Orange Juice

Different scent molecules evaporate from the skin at different rates: their molecular weights make them more or less prone to flying away, which is why citrus notes appear at the top of a scent and vanish quickly, floral notes lie underneath this and hang around for an hour or two, and wood notes grab on and stick around for hours, even a day or more. It is these qualities that give composed scents their top-middle-bottom structure. But Demeter scents are different; since they're intended to smell like a single thing, they don't generally have a structure. What you smell at the outset is usually all you're going to smell. If that scent's odor molecules are large and heavy, then you get a scent that can stick around for a while, but if they're tiny and flighty, then you don't have much time to smell the scent before it disappears.

Straight off the skin, Demeter Orange Juice smells very much like the real thing: wet, brightly acidic, with that incomparable smell of the orange oil that explodes into the air when you peel an orange, and even some of the bitterness of the white pith. It's as accurate a reproduction as you could hope for.

The trouble is that the molecules involved are tiny and highly evaporative. If you repeatedly smell a glass of orange juice, you have a lot of molecules; the tenth snootful will smell just like the first. But when you've sprayed or dabbed some perfume onto your skin, once those fugitive molecules are gone, they're gone. There has to be something to fill out the scent, to bolster it and make it more complex (and help it stick around more than thirty seconds), and that something is decidedly synthetic. Not even five minutes after applying Orange Juice, the freshness is a distant memory and your skin smells rather like artificial orange flavouring, like Kool-Aid or a Popsicle. (I found the same problem with CSP Vanille Orange, which attempts to fasten the orange-oil molecules in place with larger, heavier, sturdier vanilla; the creamy orange eventually turns synthetic.)

It's impossible to blame Demeter for this state of affairs, because it's impossible--as far as I know--to concoct something that will smell like a freshly peeled and squeezed orange and have it smell like that for any length of time; the molecules are bound by the laws of physics to take flight. For its one brief moment, though, Orange Juice is so faithful to the source that it's pure delight.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 3, Brownie

I've said before--and it's not the most original observation in the world--that the point of fragrance is to establish a sexual persona. Your own reason for wearing a particular scent may be one of many (you like how it smells; it makes you feel confident or happy; your other half likes it on you; it was a gift), but the reason perfumery exists is to present a face to the world; it is the literal distillation of the natural world onto ourselves, with all the associations that the smells of the natural world imply. You smell like a flower, so you are beautiful and delicate; I smell like castoreum, so I am strong and animal-like. Sophisticated scents, constructions, combine many of these scent ideas into a single unit with a complex sexual message.

Part of the genius of Demeter is that many of its fragrances are divorced from this ancient idea. Their very simplicity means that they can deliver a message unshackled from any sexual overtones. If you smell like ginger ale, you can't really be said to be usurping the sexual power of the natural world, because ginger ale isn't natural; the chain of associations is broken (unless someone has a ginger-ale fetish I've never heard of before, maybe the result of a torrid affair in a bottling plant). As a result, many Demeter scents are really about pure joy--the delight of smelling something, and smelling like something, that you wouldn't expect to find in a bottle.

That's the story of Brownie, which smells exactly like its namesake. A pan of brownies bears a batch of pleasurable associations; maybe your mom made them for you as a child, maybe you make them for your own children, or just for yourself--but it's one of those things that seems pretty thoroughly divorced from sexual connotations. That makes it the archetypal Demeter scent; a thing that exists because it can.

As usual, it has no lasting power: in fifteen minutes, it's an extremely low-key smudge of chocolate, and in half an hour, it's not even recognizable as that any more, just a dark, slightly vanillic scent with the bare suggestion of the bakery to it. I don't even think of this evanescence as a negative any more; it's just the way Demeters are. If you accept that as a given, then the only thing that could make Brownie any better is if it smelled like hot brownies, fresh from the oven. That would probably be too good to stand.


Monday, June 02, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 2, Grass

Once upon a time, a clothing company called The Gap bought some fragrances. That is, they licensed four existing fragrances from a smaller company called Mottura: Grass, Earth, Day, and Heaven (a green scent, a dark dry earthy scent, a brilliant citrus, and an ucky floral, respectively).

They were discontinued, of course, in favour of many, many other Gap scents. Grass, however, became legendary: it still has a cult of adoration, and was apparently re-launched last year, although in limited availability, and now I think it's been discontinued a second time, so I never got to buy another bottle of the stuff, and I'm not going the eBay route; I have trust issues. (My first bottle turned, and as literally as possible: it turned a brownish, murky colour. You can just imagine how it smelled. It spoiled: rotted, almost.) Gap Grass was a wonderful thing; green and fresh, grasslike but not a slavish imitation, with a zingy, almost citrusy overtone.

Demeter Grass promises to have "captured the freshness and sweetness of a lush green grass pasture," and I wish I could say they succeeded, but while many Demeters are charmingly accurate reproductions of their namesakes, this one misses the mark; not completely, but enough. It's a pleasant sort of scent, not terrible, but it's not Gap Grass, and it's not grass grass either.

It doesn't smell as much like grass as I think it ought to. It does smell green and leafy, but not quite like any leaves I've ever smelled face-on, and it has a sort of a gimlet overtone, the smell of gin and lime juice and sugar, because this version of grass is sweeter than anything I've experienced in nature. In fact, yesterday--it was sort of hot--I drank a lemon-lime slush, and the smell of it, of artificial lime flavouring, was more than a little like Grass.

What I really wanted it to smell like was that quintessence of the smell of summer, that scent that hangs in the air after someone has just finished mowing the lawn; fresh and green with the smell of butchered chlorophyll, just a whiff of gasoline exhaust, maybe a barbecue in the distance but mostly just huge quantities of fresh moist grass. I am telling you, if Demeter, or anybody else, ever perfects and properly markets "Freshly Mown Lawn", they are going to make a lot of money.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 1, Myrrh

I have a bunch of Demeter fragrances. I won't even tell you how many: it's embarrassing. They have a lot going for them: they're inexpensive, just $5 US for a half-ounce bottle; there's a completely insane number of them, well over 200, so you're certain to find at least a dozen that you like; they're fun, not meant to be taken seriously at all. Even the fact that they're famously not very long-lasting can be considered a kind of plus: after enjoying one for an hour or so, you can put on a different one.

I've already reviewed some of their scents: Leather and This Is Not A Pipe, Honey, Caramel, and Black Pepper, Licorice, Gin & Tonic, Lilac, and Meyer Lemon, Blue Hawaiian, Dirt and Pink Lemonade, and Graham Cracker (in passing) and Gingerale. For the month of June, I'm going to try to write about 30 more, one a day (and I have more than enough to do it, too).

Demeter scents can be divided into four general categories: Food, Drink, Plants, and Things. I'm not quite sure which of the latter two categories Myrrh falls into; it's a plant resin, but it's burned as incense and used in perfumery.

Demeter's Myrrh is not pretty. I wrote about I Coloniali's Mirra & Mirra, which is myrrh lovelied up with vanilla and balsams, but the Demeter version has nothing to take away from its raw, earthy, slightly animalic crudity.

Here are some of the notes I took while I was relentlessly sniffing Myrrh over the course of a few days:

car exhaust? exhaust from a NEW car (vinyl upholstery)
mildew? sour old books. basement
birch tar, pine tar, campfire
licorice root: woody
ruined leather jacket
oil refinery! petrochemical
smells like dimenhydrinate tastes

This last thing means that Myrrh is indecently bitter (dimenhydrinate is sold as Gravol, and if you've ever accidentally tasted one, you know). You may rightly ask why anyone would want to smell like anything on that list, and the answer is that it's fascinating. It makes you think. It generates all kinds of associations. Myrrh isn't something you'd wear to appeal to someone; it's just about the epitome of the private perfume, the kind of thing you wear for yourself alone.