One Thousand Scents

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Florabunda: Guerlain Bouquet No. 1 and Flora Nymphea

The idea of human cloning seems to terrify people, or at least science-fiction readers and audiences, but even a moment's thought would demonstrate that a clone of you wouldn't be you, not even a little bit (and, more to the point, I suppose, a clone of Hitler wouldn't be anything like Hitler). You grew up in a specific place and time, surrounded by a specific family and friends, with a specific set of social conditions; I don't know about you, but when I was growing up, there were no such things as home computers or cell phones or AIDS, though there was a Berlin Wall, and anybody growing up starting today is going to be living in a drastically different world than I did, and so is going to be a drastically different person. Any little clone of me is probably going to inherit my gene for baldness and, if I have anything to say about it, my taste in music, but that's about it.

Besides, there are already plenty of clones walking among us. You might even be a clone, if you're an identical twin. A fertilized egg divides in two, and then each of those halves continues dividing independently into a human being; clones. Nothing scary about twins, is there?

Well, maybe.

Anyway. The two newest Aqua Allegorias are not clones of each other, but they're clones--or immediate family members--of other scents, unfortunately, and it's sad to see Guerlain reduced to something like this.

I stupidly assumed the travel exclusive Bouquet Numero 1 would be different or interesting; after all, it's an exclusive, so I figured it would have to do something to carve through the massive barrage of scents that hits you in a typical airport duty-free shop. But no, it's just a white floral, typically thick and creamy with tuberose and ylang-ylang. There is a suggestion at the top of the minty grass of Herba Fresca, and a bit of sweet fruit, but it is in the end just another white floral, not drastically dissimilar to a great many other big dense white florals you could name: Serge Lutens Datura Noir comes to mind, as do such tuberose monsters as Versace Blonde and Carolina Herrera and Fracas.

The other new Aqua Allegoria is a floral, too, but a completely different creature; it's very bright and sharp at the beginning, a laser-guided orange blossom of a scent, and then it turns into soap, floral soap--Camay, I think, or Cashmere Bouquet--so basically it's a cousin to Sicily by Dolce and Gabbana, only less complex and therefore not really as interesting.

If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to wear one of them repeatedly, it would be Flora Nymphea, not because I love it or even really because it's the better scent--neither of them is particularly memorable--but because I really, really do not like white florals.

Do you suppose it's genetic? That some of us have smell receptors that simply respond better to some things than others, and that I love warm dense orientals because I have a particular combination of receptors and someone else loves high-pitched florals because of their particular combination? Or do you suppose it's my upbringing, that maybe I was nearly asphyxiated by a White Shoulders-wearing aunt at the age of five and have ever since had a distaste for tuberose-gardenia perfumes? In other words, nature or nurture?

And would a clone of me like white florals?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Go Away: Voyage d'Hermes

My usual plan of action when I want to write about a scent is to wear it, think about it, make some notes, and repeat the process until I have enough (theoretically) cohesive ideas to make it worth writing about.

When I put on Voyage d'Hermes a few days ago, though, that all went out the window, because my reaction was so immediate and visceral that I still remember it, and I can't even stand to put the scent on a second time, knowing that I will hate it just as much as I did the first time (and that it will stay on my skin an ungodly long time), so I'm not going on notes and repeated consideration here, I'm just going on memory.

I know that's probably not fair to the scent, so all right, I just sniffed the sprayer of the sample vial to remind myself.

Voyage d'Hermes starts out with a stinging blast of citrus and black pepper, with a strong undercurrent of the standard bright/fresh scent it will rapidly turn into. And it does. Lots of brilliant-white laundry musk, some pale vague undefined wood, maybe a slosh of vetiver. That's about it. There are doubtless a great many things in there, aromatics and synthetics and essential oils, but they don't particularly stand out; they just contribute to the feeling of a big white bedsheet, freshly washed in too much strong laundry detergent and still wet, hanging on the clothesline, flapping in the breeze, slapping you in the face over and over again.

Some people love this (Robin over on Now Smell This did). Maybe you will, too. The bottle's really great, with a cover that pivots around the bottle to hide or expose the sprayer, making it a good travel package. But it's the sort of thing you have smelled over and over again in the last fifteen years, and it hasn't gotten any better despite having been through the hands of the storied Jean-Claude Ellena. I like some of his things (though his pale and vapourous aesthetic is antithetical to my own love of chypres and heady orientals); Ambre Narguile is genius. But Voyage d'Hermes? Horrible.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

All Write

When we were in Oxford a couple of weeks ago we stumbled across a tiny shop called Scriptum, magnificently crowded with merchandise. The website barely hints at the sheer gorgeousness of the contents: high-quality paper, wonderful pens and inks, beautifully bound blank books. Oh, and Venetian masks, for some reason.

According to the website, the shop surrounds you with "the smell of leather and the sound of Italian Opera", and ain't that the truth; the smell is gorgeous, not just leather but paper and ink, which have their own smells, and I'm pretty sure that was Maria Callas singing Traviata when I was in. (Jim waited outside; pens are not the sort of thing that interests him.)

I couldn't justify buying anything, partly because it was late in the trip and I had already spent kind of lot of money, and even more because I just don't write that much by hand any more, particularly with a dip pen--who does?--but mostly because I already have a bunch of pens and inks at home.

But you know how it is when you're on vacation, and you spot something that you don't really need in any meaningful sense, but you're really drawn to it, and you tell yourself that you'll probably never get back to wherever it is you are, and so you should buy it because you'll regret it later if you don't?

That didn't happen. Didn't buy a thing. I figure I probably will get back to Oxford and therefore to Scriptum, and if I don't, well, there are other suppliers of pens and inks. You know, Internet and all. (But oh, it was wonderful, and if you are ever in Oxford, you ought to go. 3 Turl Street.)


So naturally, since I am such an olfactory person, and since I had already dragged out my pens and inks to play with, I began to interest myself in the idea of scented inks. You can buy some online, of course: if a thing can exist, then someone will make it and sell it on the Internet.

You can also use the Internet to look up how to make some: the instructions consist mostly of putting essential oil into ink, but that technique seemed kind of dubious to me, since essentials oils are not soluble in water, whereas inks are water-based, so I had this image of the oil floating on top of the ink in the bottle, separating out even if you shook it, and making greasy little haloes around your inked letters. I don't know that this would happen, but the idea worried me.

It seemed to me that a better idea might be to put an existing perfume--in which the aromatics are already dissolved into alcohol and water--into ink. So that is what I did.

I didn't want to pump a sprayer a zillion times into a bottle, so I settled on a Serge Lutens, which come packaged with a separate screw-on spray; that way, I could get into the bottle with a dropper or a pipette.

I thought Chypre Rouge would be a good choice for a first attempt, since it suggests an ink colour: red, of course, a deep, burnished red. I figured I didn't want to be writing with scented red ink--too redolent of moody teenaged girls writing bad poetry in their journals--so I would make a blackened red.

I started by filling an empty half-ounce ink bottle about a half full of black ink--Windsor and Newton India Ink, if you're curious; about seven droppersful (since a dropperful seems to be more or less a millilitre). Then I added another four of red (Windsor and Newton Scarlet drawing ink), and then three of Chypre Rouge. I had no idea how this was going to turn out, but it was a first experiment, so I figured what the hell; if it doesn't work, tip it down the sink and start afresh. (I began the experiment by counting drops and writing down the numbers, but it was clear that that was going to take a LONG time, so I abandoned the scientific method and just eyeballed it.)

The result isn't an unqualified success: I used way too much black ink, so it completely overwhelms the scarlet, which is transparent on its own. I think I probably should have used about one mL of black to eleven of red, or started with the bottle half-full of red and titrated more of each colour alternately until I ended up with something I liked. Next time.

In addition the new ink is wetter; it soaks through the paper a little more readily than the plain black ink (I tried both for comparison, of course), which I expected because of the alcohol. Nevertheless, the scented ink doesn't spread any more than the plain: its letters are just as crisp.

In one regard the compounded ink is perfectly successful: it smells like Chypre Rouge, subtly but deliciously. If you withdrew a letter written in this ink from an envelope, there would be no doubt in your mind that it was scented. I think that because of the dilution of the fragrance, you would do well to use a strong scent: Muscs Khoublai Khan is probably going to be a better choice than Bulgari Eau Parfumee.

So there you have it. If you are determined to romantically write perfumed letters, all you have to do is get yourself a nice pen and some appealingly coloured ink (in an attractive bottle or an inkwell--you might as well do it right), mix the ink with your favourite scent in a ratio of about three to one, shake gently, and have at it.

Monday, June 07, 2010


I feel as if I am very late to this particular bandwagon--according to a commenter to a recent Consumerist story, they're going to be where cupcakes are now, trendy and overexposed--but they're new to me, and so I'm sorry, but I am going to talk about macarons some more. There are pretty pictures! Well, pictures. (And you can click on them to see much, much larger versions, and should.)

These are the Laduree macarons in their charming traceried and garlanded gold-and-violet-and-black box. The sad fact is, though, that the macarons themselves are not really all that pretty: the edges are kind of munged up, and the cookies and fillings both are widely varied in thickness. And, as I said before, the aroma is minimal, and the texture and taste are not all that could be hoped for.

Here is the box of Hevin macarons. My god, is it ever lovely! Anyone who thinks blue and brown don't go together* just needs to look at this package.

And here are the glorious Hevin macarons themselves. Shiny, uniform in thickness, loaded with lovely filling. They are aesthetically pleasing to an almost unbelievable degree (after, it needs to be said, banging around in a knapsack in violent Parisian heat for a couple of hours) before you even set your teeth to them. And the aroma when you open the box! And the texture, sequentially crisp and yielding and chewy and tender! It's almost enough to make you believe in a deity.

If you ever go to Paris, you must go to Galeries Lafayette and buy some of these. Trust me.

*Since brown is generally a member of the orange colour family, and blue and orange are complementary colours, it stands to reason that blue and brown could work beautifully together, as they do here.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Je suis de retour

Which is French for "I have returned."

This morning as I got back from the gym, I was transfixed by the smell in the parking lot: wet, not quite humid but the wetness that follows a warm spring rain, laced with new greenery and of course the intoxication of lilacs. I had worried that I would miss them, that my trip would take me back home just as they had finished their decomposition--it would not have been a tragedy, because they were blooming in Edinburgh a few weeks ago when I was there--but the lilac blossoms were just barely past their peak when we arrived home on Friday night, and this morning there was some rot but still enough living blooms to saturate the air with perfume, and for that I am grateful.

We got bumped from our flight, or rather a representative from the airline talked us into giving up our flight for another the next day. Pros: we received £50 in cash for meals, almost $1000 in travel vouchers, and a free hotel stay (an extremely nice one at Gatwick Airport, the Sofitel), in addition to which our flight the next day would land us in Moncton (where we live) instead of Halifax. Cons: the next day was very long, stretching from fiveish in the morning (because we can never sleep the night before a flight), though a draining seven-and-a-half-hour flight to Toronto, where we endured a hideously jet-lagged five-plus hour wait at the airport for the next flight, finally arriving home at 11:40 p.m. local time, 3:40 a.m. brain time.

But at least I got to shop at the Gatwick Duty-Free!

I didn't make the same mistake I made last time, of assuming that I had bought enough scents and therefore of leaving the shop without anything. (I still regret not having bought that Eau Sauvage Cuir Fraicheur two and a half years ago.) And so I got myself:

A set of Guerlain Aqua Allegoria miniatures, quite cleverly composed of the first two scents, Herba Fresca and Pampelune, and the latest two, Flora Nymphea and Bouquet No. 1 (a travel exclusive, available nowhere but at duty-free shops). I mostly bought it for the first two, which I used to own and which I miss, plus I was curious about the Bouquet No. 1. (The minis are all 7.5 mL, each in its own undeniably beautiful box, but each box is in all honesty big enough to hold all four bottles, so it's kind of deceptive. But I knew what I was getting.)

A set of Kenzo miniatures, "Kenzo Kaleidoscope", containing Amour, Flower, Jungle Elephant, Parfum d'Ete, and L'Eau Par Kenzo, in a smart little box that opens like a book.

A gorgeous black faux-leather storage box containing 10-mL minis of Dior Homme and Dior Homme Sport, Eau Sauvage (which should be in every man's wardrobe and which shamefully was not in mine), and Fahrenheit and Fahrenheit 32. I already have a full bottle of the last, but I'm sure I can palm the mini off on someone.

There was a lot of other stuff I wanted, almost all of it miniatures: a set of 20-mL bottles of the D&G tarot scents (the first five in the series, anyway), various Mugler sets I couldn't justify at all, as if that's ever stopped me before, some really spectacular Dior and Chanel and Guerlain sets, and no doubt a whole lot of other things I can't remember right that I deeply wanted at the time. But after having bought four (!) Lutens scents and some other non-olfactory stuff (yeah, I know, really?), I was getting perilously close to my $750 limit for the trip, so I had to stop. But there will be other trips.

Especially now that we have almost $1000 in vouchers!

Friday, June 04, 2010


Before I forget:

When in York, we went to an outlet mall--long story which I might tell upon my return--and there was a Penhaligon's there. Lots of low-priced things, but what really interested me was the fact that they also had quite a bit of L'Artisan Parfumeur; mostly room sprays, which are of no use to me, but also some scents: the short-lived Mandarine Tout Simplement, the huge 250-mL bulb spray, for only £21, which I knew I would never get home in one piece, and Vanilia, which I already have, alas. Oh, and that crazy-expensive home scenting machine for I think £50 or so. And more. It would break your heart.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Tour of the Facilities

In case it has not been obvious in the last three weeks: a short blog post means I've been writing with my iPod, a long one means I got to an Internet cafe.

After we were more or less done with London, we went to York for a few days, which turned out to be a mistake, but more on that in the near future. The B&B at which we stayed used very nice brand of shower gel and hand soap called something like Deb....Aromatherapy (not quite sure about the number of dots in that ellipsis): the hand soap was pleasantly rosy and the showel gel a wake-up citrus.

We spent, or planned to spend, one last night in London, at the Grosvenor Hotel, just about exactly as old and hidebound as it sounds. The bahroom was huge, but the toiletries were dreadful--that gross fresh-ozonic watery floral scent that contaminates the department store shelves.

And now we have been bumped from our flight and have been put up for one last night in the Sofitel at Gatwick Airport. It's really nice, and the toiletry supplies would make you wet yourself (so it's lucky you're in the bathroom when you see them): curvy little bottles of marine-themed shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner, the last a gorgeously marbled and mottled creamy-blue substance, all smelling fresh and wide-eyed but at the same time intoxicatingly spicy, plus a square little bar of soap in a lidded box like a piece of jewellery or a truffle. In addition, there's a white ceramic box containing beautiful little grey envelopes holding cotton swabs, cotton pads for I guess makeup removal, and emery boards. I'm taking the lot. (Well, not the box, obviously.) If they had included a razor and a toothbrush I would just move in here permenantly.