One Thousand Scents

Friday, February 27, 2009

Red-Letter Day: Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge

I usually hear about, and read about, scents before I get a chance to try them, one of the disadvantages of living in the (relative) sticks. Serge Lutens' Chypre Rouge was launched in the middle of 2006, and I'm only just getting around to trying it now, though better late than never. When I originally read the list of notes, I assumed that "fruit gums" meant resins from fruit trees: I didn't know how they would differ from other tree resins, but Christopher Sheldrake, Serge Lutens' perfumer, seems to know what he's doing. (The official list of notes: thyme, pine needles, pecans, fruit gums, honey, beeswax, jasmine, patchouli, amber, vanilla, moss, musk.)

After having worn Chypre Rouge almost obsessively for the last three days, I can tell you that "fruit gums" doesn't mean the gum or resin from any kind of tree. It means fruit gums. Candy. Gumdrops without the sugar coating. I think it smells more like wine gums, actually, because there's a boozy/winy overtone to the whole opening, but it's candy nonetheless.

The composition reads to me as three big, solid objects laid side by side, or three acts of a play; the elements don't really segue into one another, but just start and stop. The first piece is those fruit gums, mixed with red licorice, stewed rhubarb compote, and red wine. It is very strange and yet enormously compelling. Some people find the opening too sweet; I rather like sweet scents and find Chypre Rouge just sweet enough, with the slight harshness of the wine carving through the cooked sugar. (I wore it to work yesterday and found myself wondering if people would be asking me what I'd been eating. Nobody mentioned it, fortunately, so obviously I had been judicious enough; but it is foody, though not in a gourmand way.) It is also very red; the "rouge" in the name is aptly applied.

The second act is rather spiny; the sweetness drops away and exposes a sharpish core, hard to describe but suggestive of acidic fruit and raw spices. I'm not in love with the middle section of the scent; I miss the sugar, frankly.

The base is not at all that of a chypre. There may well be moss of some sort in there, but it's not the usual oakmoss. Instead, the sweetness returns--a neat little trick!--in a red-tinged cloud of honey, patchouli, and amber. It's long-lasting, good for eight hours or more.

The liquid, as you can see from the picture, is a deep, intense red, which is a bit of a shock when you spray it from an opaque sample sprayer and see a scarily red splat of liquid appear on your skin. This is not the sort of scent you want to spray on clothing or bed linens. It belongs on your skin, where, if you are of the Lutens sort of temperament, it will make you very happy.


Thursday, February 26, 2009


I like Bond No. 9's Brooklyn, not consumed by it, but it's nice and I'd wear it. The bottle, though: killer. Really amazing.

But apparently there were some complaints (I guess Brooklyn is not comprised entirely of graffiti artists, just as Chinatown is not completely filled with cherry blossoms, or something), so Bond No. 9 is having a contest: design your own!

The rules:

→ Create your design to fit within the outline of the Bond No. 9 superstar flacon and to include our circular “token” logo.

→ Any style, figurative or abstract, is fine with us.

→ Inspiration can come from anywhere in Brooklyn—DUMBO, Park Slope, Flatbush, Canarsie, Midwood, Bay Ridge, et al.—or from the very idea of Brooklyn.

→ Any medium is okay: oil, acrylic, watercolor, house paint, pastel, crayon, Magic Marker, makeup—even a ballpoint pen or pencil will do.

→ Completed designs should be submitted to or Bond No. 9, 9 Bond Street, New York, NY 10012 by March 31, 2009.

After our two winners are chosen in early April, we’ll put the victorious designs into production, with the winner’s names displayed on the bottles. Each winner will also receive one bottle of Brooklyn per month for a year.

Did you hear that? A bottle a month for a year. Gifts! Ebay! Dousing yourself with expensive fragrance! A show of largesse to a fragrance blogger!

The blank is supposedly at their website (, but I couldn't find the damned thing, so here it is.

Click on it to enlarge it. Print it. Get creative. Colour it. And win something nice!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stoned: Satellite Padparadscha

The first time I put on Padparadscha by Satellite, I thought, "Huh. Cedar and sandalwood."

The second time I put it on, I thought, "Well, big deal. I've smelled this sort of thing before."

The third or fourth time I put it on, I thought, "This reminds me a lot of something I wrote about recently." So I went back over the last couple of months' worth of blog postings, and there it was: Ginestet Le Boisé.

They're not identical, but they're both dominated by cedar and sandalwood. Where Le Boisé feels constructed, Padparadscha, with its monolithic, unapologetic, unadorned wood, is more like a lumber mill in a bottle. It starts out with a bit of a peppery kick, but the wood notes come roaring in almost immediately, and they're big. They completely dominate--obliterate--anything else that might be in the scent: the middle is literally nothing but cedar and sandalwood. No doubt this is positioned as a unisex scent, and it is, but it nevertheless seems rather masculine to me.

Eventually, a little powdery amber peeks out, but by then it's really too late: either despite or because of that huge send-off, the scent has surprisingly little lasting power. Within two hours it's beginning to wane, within four hours it's a skin scent and nothing more, and it's gone entirely in eight. If you like intensely woody scents, though, you seriously ought to try this. Its price is almost ridiculously reasonable ($80 for 100 mL of eau de parfum), and at that price, you can reapply it a couple of times during the day and not give it a second thought.

In case you were wondering, a padparadscha is a gemstone: a red-orange corundum (a family which also includes sapphires and rubies), to be exact. The word means "lotus blossom" in Sinhalese.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gone But Not Forgotten: Dior-Dior

I'll just start off by saying that I probably would not even have heard of Dior-Dior if it had not been for the blogger Helg, whose Perfume Shrine is something you should be reading on a regular basis. Not only did she write about the scent, she offered to share it by sending a sample to one lucky reader, and I was the winner.

Dior-Dior was launched in 1976. It was not a success. It's hard to even find information about it on the Internet: I think it was kept alive for a decade or so and then discontinued in the late 1980s. Not only is it nearly impossible to find information about it, it's nearly impossible to find the perfume itself, no surprise if it hasn't been manufactured in a couple of decades. You can imagine, then, my anticipation as I opened the generous vial and put a few drops on my skin, and oh my god it is so good!

I have next to no experience with vintage scents, but I've often read that the top notes, the first to go as a scent ages, can take on a sort of nail-polish-remover scent, and that's the case here. But if you can ignore that until it disappears--see through it, as it were--you are treated to a fruity floral with the barest intimations of the chypre base; nothing like the modern-day fruity florals with their chemical-ozonic overtones, but something full and rich and appetizing. Alongside the peach and plum note in the top which Mitsouko, Femme, Gem, and the like have conditioned us to expect from a fruity chypre, Dior-Dior surprises with a big slice of cheerful, summery melon, rind and all.

And then the whole scent simply opens out as would a bouquet of paper flowers in a pop-up book: the whole thing springs to life, a huge abstract floral scent: if you pay close attention you can tell yourself you're smelling paperwhites and lilac (other floral notes include jonquil, carnation, jasmine, and lily of the valley), but mostly it's very abstract. And it is enormous in a way that modern scents are not: without being suffocating or room-filling, it announces itself and its wearer to the world. It's the olfactory equivalent of a big Dior gown.

The drydown is chypre, that luscious earthy-dirty scent of oakmoss you can't find any more, made dirtier with civet and rounded off with ambergris.

As soon as you smell Dior-Dior, you know that this is not something that could have been created in the last ten years, perhaps even twenty. It has a magnificence and a breadth that don't really seem to exist any more, the sort of grande-dame perfume that would nowadays be interpreted as "old-fashioned" or even "old-ladyish". The days of such scents, I think, are gone; they might come back, but they haven't existed since the demise of the eighties. If Dior ever decided to resurrect the name, the scent would smell nothing like it did when it was invented: the top would be freshened, the oakmoss gone entirely (as it is from nearly every scent) and the base cleaned up, the flowers thinner, paler, more "accessible". The whole thing would be very modern and perhaps very likable, but it wouldn't be seventies perfumery and it certainly wouldn't be Dior-Dior. Those days are gone, more's the pity.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Moto Perpetuo: Hermes Ambre Narguilè

"Basso continuo" is the musical term for the harmonic structure, repeated for (more or less) the entire length of a piece, over which the melody floats; it's the structure upon which rests the entire piece. If you've ever heard "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by J.S. Bach, then you've heard a basso continuo. Perfumery is often compared to music, and in the case of Ambre Narguilè, one element acts exactly like a basso continuo: it plays throughout the length of the scent and provides a foundation for everything else you're smelling.

The key to Ambre Narguilè is found in its name. A narguilè is otherwise known as a hookah, and Ambre Narguilè is all about tobacco: the entire scent is laid upon on a carpet of tobacco leaves, a smell familiar to anyone who's ever had a pipe-smoker in the family. The tobacco is astonishingly durable: it's there from the moment you put the scent on until it eventually whispers away twelve or fourteen hours later. The scent just keeps on going, with a slow parade of changes being worked over the basso continuo of unlit tobacco.

The top and middle of the scent suggest a Middle Eastern dessert, the kind of thing you might eat while seating around that hookah with some convivial friends: dates and honey and cinnamon, bathed in vanillic tonka bean and benzoin. Despite this, it's not especially sweet, a gourmand sort of scent that avoids the sugary cliché that makes so many gourmands cloying: the cinnamon provides a little sharpness and a kick.

Regardless of the name, the scent is not particularly amberous. The drydown is warm and inviting, more of those balsams (with dark labdanum added to the mix) dripped over the omnipresent tobacco.

Perfume fanatics online have a couple of jazzy little initialisms, HG and FBW, which stand for, respectively, Holy Grail and Full-Bottle Worthy. A Holy Grail scent means you're looking for the perfect whatever: I love carnations and have several carnation-heavy scents, but the fact is that I'm still looking for my carnation Holy Grail (and may never find it, which is probably the point). I didn't know I had a gap in my collection that could only be filled by a tobacco scent, but Ambre Narguilè is it; it's a true Holy Grail that presented itself to me before I knew I was looking for it. I've been wearing it for a solid week now and I feel as if I could never tire of it. That's probably nonsense: I'm extremely promiscuous and fickle when it comes to scents. But this one is a classic; it's the most perfect thing of its kind.

I have been complaining about the costs of things quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, I see, but this time the cost is entirely justified. There is simply nothing on the market like Ambre Narguilè, and at $190 U.S. for a 100-mL bottle, it is absolutely worth it: the very definition of Full-Bottle Worthy. (You can, as you can see from the picture above, also buy leather sleeves for the full-sized bottles: those are crazily expensive, as befits the Hermes name, and I can't see how it's worth the extra money just to have a square foot of leather wrapped around the thing. I love a clever or beautiful bottle, but I have my limits.)

Ambre Narguilè is part of a line called Hermessences, which is currently up to eight fragrances*: the line started with four, and you could buy a Discovery Set of four 15-mL bottles (one of each, or all four the same) for around $125. I don't know if it's still available or exactly what the price is, because the website is mum: you can only buy Hermessences at the boutiques. Luckily, I'm going to New York in a couple of months, and one of my pit stops is going to be the Hermes store on Madison Avenue. I'll keep you posted, but let's just say that the odds of my coming home with at least some quantity of Ambre Narguilè are very, very high.

*The original four were Poivre Samarcande, Rose Ikebana, Vetiver Tonka, and Ambre Narguilè, launched in 2004. Hermes has been launching about one a year since then, with Osmanthe Yunnan in 2005, Paprika Brasil in 2006, Brin de Reglisse in 2007, and the brand-new Vanille Galante. Maybe there are two Discovery Sets containing between them all eight scents? I can hope. And buy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Good Taste: Guerlain Gourmand Coquin

A partial list of things that Gourmand Coquin (the bottle in the middle up there) smells like would include L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia, Gendarme Excess, Aquolina Pink Sugar, Demeter Black Pepper and Demeter Caramel, CSP Amour de Cacao, any of the five Maison de la Vanille scents singly or in combination, and, well, basically every sweet-vanilla gourmand that's ever come down the pike. It's staggeringly unoriginal.

It's nice, though. Don't get me wrong. It starts out with a little burst of black pepper atop a caramelized-sugar crust, proceeds through an increasingly vanillic bakery scent, and stays saturated with vanilla until the very end. (There's rose in here? Yes, according to the company, but not according to my nose.) It's a straight-up gourmand, and very appealing.

But it would be more impressive if so many other gourmands hadn't preceded it, making it feel like an afterthought, a bandwagon scent. All the scents I mentioned above are pleasant enough in their way, and some of them achieve greatness; by copying them in sundry ways, Gourmand Coquin copies their attractive qualities. But the price! The line of Guerlain's Elixirs Charnels ("carnal elixirs"), which also includes Chypre Fatal and Oriental Brûlant, costs 165 Euros each, which is (right now) $264 Cdn, $212 U.S., and in the case of Gourmand Coquin that is an insane amount of money for something which is a duplicate of many other scents. (Excess has been discontinued, but you'd have a hard time distinguishing it from Gourmand Coquin, and it cost about $20 for a one-ounce bottle.)

Here's what it boils down to, I think. Guerlain has spent a lot of money on high-quality ingredients which give an effect of cheapness, creating a very expensive perfume to be worn by people who want to spend a lot of money smelling cheap. I don't really understand it, but it's probably a workable strategy. Someone who would never be caught dead wearing something as downmarket as Pink Sugar can spend eight times the money to achieve exactly the same effect.

Over on my other blog I have an explanation of the name "Gourmand Coquin", if you're interested. It's very interesting.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Reader Joel has a question:

I re-read your original vanilla post, and I may need to buy Lempicka's Au Masculin. It sounds nifty. The only thing keeping me from doing so: I have too many vanillas, whether spiced, food-ed or wooded. My next purchase was to be a dirty animalic, of which I have none. Suggestions?

First off, you can never have too many vanillas, if they smell good on you. I must have at least thirty.

Now, as far as I can tell, there are not as many truly animalic scents out there as there used to be. The four main animal components of perfumery are ambergris (from whales), civet, musk (from the musk deer), and castoreum (from beavers), to which some people would add leather. Really big-time animalic scents fell out of favour in the early nineties and haven't come back, at least not in North America, though every niche house seems to have at least one.

There are lots of amber scents on the market, but they tend to be rather clean and tidy rather than animalic and dirty. (Anyway, amber isn't ambergris: the category of amber was invented to evoke the warmth of ambergris.) There are also lots of leather scents, and they range from fairly restrained (Stetson) to dirtied (Lonestar Memories) to completely grungy (Caron Yatagan).

The Perfumed Court has a couple of animalic samplers, but I have to say that of the scents that I've tried, a lot of them don't strike me as particularly dirty. (I haven't tried Serge Lutens' Muscs Khoublai Khan; apparently that one's a killer.) If you want a really dirty animalic scent and you want it now and you are not squeamish, then head down to the local drugstore and get some Tabu, which is cheap as hell and completely raunchy for a good two hours. After that, in its most recent incarnation, it turns rather nice and warm, vanilla-y benzoin and a bit of musk. But until then, it's just pure filth, a huge bucketful of patchouli (the dirty kind, not the polite modern version) and raunchy civet, plus some carnation to let you know it's not messing around.


I have about two thirds of a bottle of Au Masculin. Want to swap?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And The Giant Peach: MDCI Péché Cardinal

Ordinarily, as I have said before, I need to live with a scent for a while before I feel like I have anything coherent to say about it. I have to experience it repeatedly, get inside it, explore it. Péché Cardinal, on the other hand, tells you everything you need to know almost immediately, no bad thing.

It opens with a huge peach scent, big and juicy and fresh, the most realistic peach I've ever smelled in perfumery. There's nothing subtle about it, not like the warm peach-skin of Mitsouko: it's not the jammy peach-plum compote of Van Cleef & Arpels Gem or the rather synthetic (but still lovely) CSP Vanille Peach. It's a big wooden basket of freshly picked peaches, still warm from the morning sun.

And then two things happen in fairly quick succession. Someone cracks open a coconut (you can smell the fibrous husk before the creamy coconut pulp takes over), and shortly thereafter, someone brings in a huge basket of tuberose blossoms. And I mean HUGE.

I do not love tuberose scents. I find them aggressive and hostile, with a jagged, spiny quality: many of my most hated scents, such as Versace Blonde, Piguet's Fracas, and the original Carolina Herrera, are based on the tuberose. If you wanted to make an argument against the existence of a loving god, the tuberose would be a good place to start. You can imagine, then, what a leap it is for me to say that Péché Cardinal actually manages to make the flower not only bearable but beautiful. The slowly dwindling peach and coconut notes give the whole scent a heady, luscious tropical quality, taking some of the sharpness off the flowers, and underneath is a greenness that give the impression of a living flower rather than something manufactured.

The end of the scent is a little sweet, with the creamy cedar and sandalwood that seem to be everywhere these days (here, for instance).

I wrote in my other blog about the name, which is a sort of pun: "péché" means "sin", which means the name translates as "cardinal sin", the look-alike "pêche" means "peach", and the sound-alike "pêcher" means "peach-tree".

The bottle is really something, isn't it? A little Romanesque sculpture atop a glass column: gorgeous, and beautifully conceived. The company's men's scents are packaged just as compellingly: here's the bottle for Invasion Barbare.

However, the prices are on the horrifying side: a 60-mL (two-ounce) bottle of any MDCI scent is $610. American dollars, at that. You can buy a refill, which I assume is the spray bottle minus the statuary, for $235, which means that you are actually paying $375 for a little piece of porcelain. Either way, too rich for my blood! (I can't believe that just a week ago I was complaining that a 100-mL bottle of Brooklyn cost $220. A bargain compared to even the refill: you get sixty per cent more, and you get the whole bottle rather than just the bottom half of it.)

Even if a full bottle is crazily expensive, if you love tuberose, or white florals, or peaches, then you really should get a sample of Péché Cardinal. You can buy one at Luckyscent for a very reasonable $4. If you fall in love with it, well, don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Vanilla Extracted

Joel writes of my recent vanilla-heavy suggestions to another reader:

Two very elegant and unsentimental perfumes, each with a pronounced vanilla note are Bulgari Black and Estee Lauder Sensuous. The Bulgari is a weird animal, with topnotes of rubber and a vanilla base, and Sensuous is woods, leaves, a trickle of water, and a very dry vanilla. I compared the two a bit on my blog,

Good catch on the Bulgari, which I wrote about last August. Lots of vanilla there, wrapped up in a truly strange scent.

The funny thing about the Sensuous is that I don't smell any vanilla in it at all. Not a molecule. Not any of those other balsams with a vanillic component like tonka or benzoin, either. Nothing. Not that you're imagining it, because lots of other people consider it a vanilla scent at heart, but I just didn't get that, which is odd, because I have a lot of vanilla scents (which should have been obvious from the original post) and they uniformly smell good, and vanillic, on me. Sensuous smelled good, but where's that vanilla? Drowned in the molten wood? Smothered by the honey?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Piercing: Ed Hardy Love & Luck

In the first ten seconds or so after I first tried the new Ed Hardy scent, Love & Luck, my thoughts ran more or less as follows, though possibly not quite as organized:

"That's it. I give up. I can't do this any more. I can't keep trying all these new men's scents, because they're all the same and they're all horrible. Why do I keep putting myself through this? They're not even aimed at me, but at eighteen-year-olds who don't know anything about scent except what they've seen on TV commercials for Axe. I'll just stick to niche scents, where at least there's a chance of something original and interesting."

I got over it, after a while.


The chemists behind Love & Luck have managed to steam-distill a factory whistle, which, while it might be a very clever feat of engineering, does nothing to advance the art of perfumery. The scent opens extraordinarily loud; it's high, sharp, metallic, and insistent. It stays that way for quite some time, too, much longer than you'd expect the top notes to last--again, a testament to the chemical prowess of the scent's creators, for better or worse. I managed to keep from scrubbing it off, because I wanted to experience the whole scent from start to finish, but it was a chore and a torment.

The top is one of those chromium-plated aquatic scents we've been plagued with for the last twenty years or so, with a green-orange overtone. It supposedly is based on absinthe, which I've never smelled or tasted, but if it smells like this, I'll stick to gin and tonic, thanks.

After a long while, though, the shattering din diminishes, and the middle of the scent emerges: to my great surprise, it's very nice, soft and woody, with the noticeable scents of violet and vetiver alongside cypress. (The sharpness of the opening doesn't disappear altogether, but it's modulated enough to be tolerable.) Love & Luck isn't particularly original--it calls to mind in one way or another a lot of men's scents of the last generation or so, starting with Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel--but young men could do a lot worse, as long as they refrain from applying too much, and they stay away from living things until that top note burns off.

The bottle certainly is striking (Ed Hardy is a tattoo artist); I would imagine quite a lot of this is going to sell on the strength of the packaging alone.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Vanilla Extracts

I have a reader who needs help! Let's see if I can't supply some. And if I can't, maybe someone else out there can.

I'm looking for something super vanilla smelling (it's the note my husband likes--if I'm wearing for my own nose, I like Bulgari Green Tea or Joe Malone orange flower blossom). Vanilla scents I've tried that my husband likes include Hanae Mori, Just Cavalli, and Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb.

I do feel a bit weird wearing such girly perfumes (being in my mid-forties), but I figure that my biggest motive for wearing perfume is to be pleasing to other people and my husband is the person I'm happiest to please, so...

If you can think of some other scents that are equally unsubtle in their vanillaness, I'd be most appreciative (I've tried some of the combo vanilla scents and they haven't been a hit).

First of all, you get to wear girly perfumes at any age if you're a girl. It's not like you hit forty and suddenly you have to put your hair up in a snood and wear nothing but fusty old violet water as penance. If you're eighty and you like the latest teenagery Britney Spears and Kimora Simmons scents, well, goddammit, wear them! (Just not too much, please.)

The three scents that you listed aren't heavy-duty vanilla, are they? I mean, there's a lot of other stuff going on in there. I am taking you at your word that you want unsubtle: here are thirty or so scents with vanilla in a starring role, which I've ranked in approximate order of price.

Demeter has a number of vanilla scents, even though it isn't necessarily evident from the names. Egg Nog sounds like it might be gross, but it's actually a delicious French vanilla dusted with cinnamon sugar. Sticky Toffee Pudding is a dense, thickly vanillic bakery scent with dates in it. Waffle Cone is exactly that, with lots and lots of vanilla. You might also like to try Hawaiian Vanilla, Tootsie Roll (chocolate-vanilla), Vanilla Ice Cream, Vanilla Cake Batter, and actually most of the baked-goods scents, pretty much all of which have at least some vanilla in them. You can order half-ounce bottles for $6 each, a steal.

The Body Shop has a nice chocolate-vanilla scent called Amorito. Not exactly earth-shaking stuff, but really not bad, and quite inexpensive. Yves Rocher has a similar scent called Cocoon: it's vanilla, cocoa powder, and patchouli, and again, very good for what it is.

Let's move on to Comptoir Sud Pacifique, a line with which I am extremely well acquainted, since I have nearly a dozen of them. You won't go too far wrong with any of the vanilla scents, in my experience. You can start with Vanille Passion and Vanille Extreme and move on to the pairings: I didn't much care for Vanille Banane and Vanille Coco (coconut), though lots of people love them, but I am very fond of Amour de Cacao (vanilla-chocolate), Vanille Cannelle (cinnamon), Vanille Abricot (apricot), Vanille Pineapple, and Vanille Moka (coffee). Beautyhabit has the entire line, but you can find most or all of them at online discounters; you'll need to do some hunting, but you can save a lot of money.

Lolita Lempicka is a vanilla-licorice scent that's very sweet and dreamy. There's a men's version, Au Masculin, which is similar but less sweet; many people, including many women, prefer it for this reason. Her second scent, L, is also vanilla-based, but instead of the licorice it features immortelle, a flower which many people find has a maple-syrup overtone.

A lot of people like Tocade by Rochas, a rose-vanilla scent. I don't, but it might be worth hunting down.

La Maison de la Vanille is a line of five scents, each based on a particular kind of vanilla from a different part of the world. Luckyscent used to have a sampler set of five half-ounce bottles, but the packaging changed and the price went up, and the set is no more. You can order samples: I would, because it's now $60 a bottle. (It used to be $32 or so, I think.)

Some people consider Guerlain's Shalimar to have a sort of old-lady quality to it, but it's really amazingly good, and it's hugely overdosed with vanilla. Don't judge it until you've tried both the eau de toilette and eau de parfum versions: better yet, try the perfume itself, too, if you can find it to sample. There's also Shalimar Light if the original is too dense. You might also want to cross the aisle and try Guerlain's Habit Rouge, which is essentially Shalimar for Men.

L'Artisan Parfumeur has a couple of vanilla scents. Safran Troublant is a blend of saffron and vanilla with a splash of rose, and it is delicious. But Vanilia is my favourite vanilla scent of all time. You really, seriously must try it. Not particularly sweet, not at all bakery or confectionary, it's dark and spicy and redolent of the vanilla orchid which is its source. It's spectacular, and not cheap, but worth every penny.

I think that ought to get you going.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Whore's Breakfast

In case you were wondering, a whore's breakfast is coffee and a cigarette.

I don't smoke and I don't drink coffee, but this morning I was in the mood for a coffee scent, so I put on some Demeter Espresso. Big mistake! I forgot how extraordinarily dark and almost-burnt its coffee-bean smell is. So I grabbed the bottle of A*Men Pure Coffee that also happened to be sitting on my dresser and put on a quick spritz of that, and what do you know? Coffee magic! The Espresso amps up the Pure Coffee, which mutes the harshness of the Espresso, and the two together are more than the sum of their parts. Just something you might want to consider if you happen to have a bottle of each lying around.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Written Word: Bond No. 9 Brooklyn

There are three main ways to write about a fragrance.

First is the Fashion Magazine approach, which is to condense the press release, rearrange it a little, use all the important buzzwords, make sure it conforms to the stylebook. Maybe you smell it first, but that isn't really necessary. After all, you're busy: you have a lot of other things to write about, and there's space to be filled in your publication.

Second is the Day Trip technique, which is to wear it once (maybe twice), compare it to other things you've smelled, jot down some notes, maybe do a little research, compose a few paragraphs, and move on to the next one. After all, there are a lot of scents out there, and you just don't have time to live with all of them before writing about them.

Third is the Deep Thought method, which is to wear a scent repeatedly, think about it, analyze it, read about it, wear it some more, write, rewrite, wear it some more, rewrite, and finally declare yourself done. After all, fragrance is an art form, and it deserves to be given the same consideration as any other.

There are, of course, gradations between the second and third ways: some people will spend time with a scent and get to know it without completely obsessing over it. But, for better or for worse, the third is my approach. I have to feel I'm doing it justice, and I really need to live with a scent before I can judge it. It's the main reason that, although I'd love to post five or six times a week, I don't. (The other reasons are that I don't have infinite access to samples and would either run out of things to write about or bankrupt myself, and that I have some semblance of a life apart from scent.)


The press pack for the new Bond No. 9 scent, Brooklyn, contains the following sentence:

On the cutting edge of perfumery, Brooklyn also has what's known in the trade as sillage, which is to say it doesn't cling to the skin, but rather diffuses, leaving a trail behind it.

I thought this was a slightly odd sentence, because it sounds as if the idea of sillage was cutting-edge, which it definitely isn't: it's an old French word for a very old idea, that of a perfume which leaves a little of itself behind. Most oriental scents will do that, among others.

I didn't find Brooklyn particularly sillage-y, at least not any more so than most scents of its kind. But:

Today I put some on before I went to work, just a little, because I intended to finish and publish this review when I got home and I wanted to make sure I could form any last-minute impressions. At work a couple of hours later I was serving a customer, and I had to move from one part of the counter to another, after which she said with surprising intensity, "Oh, you smell really good!" And then she continued: "I wasn't sure it was you at first, but then you left a trail when you walked and I knew that's what it was."

So there you have it: a walking, talking example of sillage in action, and a most definite vote for Brooklyn.


Cardamom is the new It Girl of notes in men's perfumery. Four of the ten newest scents on have it (Penhaligon's Elixir, Ed Hardy Love and Luck for Men, Avon's Patrick Dempsey Unscripted, and Davidoff's Silver Shadow Private).

It's how Brooklyn starts out, too: a big, splashy nose-clearing blast of grapefruit and cardamom, each easily identifiable but fused together, and extraordinarily cheerful.

The middle of the scent doesn't particularly grab me, I'm forced to say (though it grabbed my customer, and she spent almost $400, though I don't want to speculate on cause and effect). It's composed of, according to the official notes, cypress, juniper berries (the main flavourant in gin), and geranium leaves. It doesn't smell different enough from any number of other men's scents. (Brooklyn is officially unisex, but it definitely reads as masculine.) What I'm used to from Bond No. 9 is scents with a twist, and there isn't one in the middle of Brooklyn. However, the finale, which lasts for quite a few hours, is charming: creamy-woody, as if wood were edible, with a little hint of smoke, something I often find in cedar.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the most-loved of Bond No. 9's iconic bottles is the cherry-blossom design for Chinatown (you can see it here, along with all the others), but for me, Brooklyn is at the top of the list. There were complaints about the graffiti, as if that were the only thing that defined the borough, but what better way is there to instantly denote the sort of big-city energy that Brooklyn is meant to symbolize? I think it's fantastic: it's just the sort of thing you'd want to see on your dresser every morning--it would immediately put you in a good mood, those big jagged letters and bright primary colours.

However, I can't help but think that the price point, $145 for a 50-mL bottle and $220 for 100 mL, is just a little on the crazy side. I don't have a huge amount of money to spend on fragrance, and for $145 U.S., just a hair under $180 Canadian, a scent would have to fall into the Miraculous category instead of the Really Good. (I've never spent nearly that much on any one scent: the closest I ever came was the current equivalent of about $110 U.S., and I had to take a deep breath before I could do that.) But there will be people who can't live without it (particularly if it garners them the sort of reaction I got this afternoon), and, more to the point, there will be people who can't live without that bottle. I can see why.