One Thousand Scents

Friday, August 30, 2013

Last Words: Three Final Fueguias

You would think, wouldn't you, that I would have gone to the Fueguia 1833 website before writing about any of the scents. I didn't, and one of the reasons is that a company's website is not usually the most reliable source of information: the other is that it just didn't occur to me until a couple of days ago. And when I did, I discovered that their online catalogue is a slightly insane 110 pages, and that they don't just have 18 scents in the line, as I assumed from the Luckyscent offering: they have over a thousand.

Not really! But they do have fifty-some — I think 54, but I may have lost count somewhere along the way, so let's say it's between 50 and 55, not counting the parfums d'ambience which exist only as room sprays and reed diffusers (amusingly called "cold candles") and such. And that is an insupportable number. Even the larger perfume houses took decades to build up anything close to that kind of catalogue: Fueguia 1833 has been in existence for three years. You cannot crank out that number of perfumes in that span of time and have all of them be good. Based on what I've tried from their line, you can't even have all of them be mediocre. The approach seems instead to be, "Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks."

So since Luckyscent isn't carrying the whole line, someone or someones actually chose the 18 scents they're carrying. Since the Luckyscent collection is a mishmash, no theme or consistency to the collection and frankly many of them no good at all, they're clearly not curated in any way: nobody sat down with the fifty-odd scents for a week or two and selected the best ones, that's for sure. I can't really think of any logical reason for the selections. I can think of some illogical ones, though.

1) The Luckyscent buyers didn't have the budget to carry the entire collection, but when they went to choose the scents they wanted to sell, they were overwhelmed by the number of options, so they printed out the catalogue, put it up on the wall, and threw darts at it.

2) When the first brightly coloured iMacs hit the market in 1999, there were five colours, but stores couldn't choose the colours they wanted, the ones they thought might sell better, not even when the initial sales figures were in and they knew that the Blueberry was a top seller and the Tangerine didn't move at all: they had to take the computers in packs of five, one of each colour. Perhaps the Fueguia people similarly told the Luckyscent people, "You get a third of them. This third. Take it or leave it."

3) Opera fans love stories about divas, the more scandalous the better. One of the milder (but still revealing) tales is of Australian opera diva Nellie Melba cynically telling contralto Clara Butt, about to embark on a tour of Australia, "Sing 'em muck! It's all they can understand!" Perhaps someone along the line decided that the Luckyscent approach should be, "Sell 'em muck! It's all they can understand, and they'll buy it anyway!"

Or perhaps realistically the Luckyscent subset is a completely random but otherwise accurate representation of the whole massive collection: half rubbish, a quarter acceptable, a quarter good to excellent. Whatever the actual story, I have three more Fueguias to get through, and here they are.

The list of notes for Lago del Desierto ("musk, lenga wood and coihue wood") doesn't even hint at its horribleness: meant to suggest a frozen lake, it smells largely of that unavoidable modernity, cheap freshness, plus unappealing musk and some indifferent wood, misleadingly not a complete atrocity at first but genuinely wretched after the first ten minutes or so, the kind of scent that you temporarily forget you're wearing until you catch a whiff of something dreadful and realize with a start that it's you.

What I expected from Castillos after reading the notes ("tuberose, jasmine, maté") is a big white floral, the sort of thing I usually hate, but that's not what it is: it opens beautifully as a soft, warm, creamy floral which tricks you into thinking it's going to be a soft, warm, creamy floral, and then suddenly takes a lurch into awfulness, which is presumably is due to the maté tea, a sharp, jangly, discordant note which turns everything very unpleasant. It stays unpleasant for about two hours, after which the base shows itself to be entirely acceptable if undistinguished, but of course by then it's too late. They couldn't just leave it as a pretty floral? There's nothing wrong with those: the world could probably use more of them these days.

A pulperia sounds as if it ought to be an orange-juice factory, but Fueguia already has a citrus scent, Humboldt, so instead Pulperia ("cedar, pepper, elemi") is a tarry, resiny cedar scent with a patchouli base, lingering, masculine, suggestive of other resin-heavy scents such as Eau de Fier. It is absolutely gorgeous; once again, as usual, too simple for its own good and far too expensive for what it is, but really a wonderful, desirable thing nonetheless.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Intermission: Bal à Versailles EDT (vintage)

I'm kind of dreading sampling those last three Fueguia 1833 scents, so I'm taking a breather for a week.

One of the reasons the Fueguia scents generally aren't working well for me is that they're too simple: most of them have no body. They're generally thin, bloodless things with but a single thought on their minds. But it didn't used to be like that. Once upon a time (and not even that long ago, as late as the nineties), nearly every fragrance worthy of the name, with the usual exception of colognes and deliberately simple eaux de toilette, was constructed according to a framework, the olfactory pyramid, in which multiple elements, often a great many of them, were balanced and layered to create a perpetually evolving whole greater than the sum of its parts. Nowadays, all too many perfumes are based on a much simpler template, still nominally a pyramid but more like three Lego blocks: synthetic fruit that lasts a few minutes, a vague floral that lasts two hours, woody vanilla musk that lasts a few more, each a discrete object with no development, no complexity or shape.

Even if you don't consciously experience all the notes in a classically constructed fragrance (and you won't), they matter. They add overtones and complexities: they fill out the composition. This is yet another way in which perfumery is like music. Each individual instrument in an orchestra has its own set of overtones: no instrument makes a pure tone. When you mass them all together, you get an effect that is much larger and more multifarious than any single instrument (or even a grouping of the same instrument) could be by itself.

Bal à Versailles by Jean Desprez was launched in 1962, but it feels like something out of the thirties, in good company with 1932's Tabu, 1937's Shocking, and other gorgeously raunchy fragrances.

As Bal à Versailles shows, sexy-times perfumes didn't end in the thirties: even in the mid to late eighties, perfumers were still creating such amazing odes to carnal delight as Montana Parfum de Peau in 1986. The late eighties through the early nineties were a struggle between 1980s power scents and the new watery perfumes such as Calvin Klein Escape in 1991, L'Eau D'Issey in 1992, and Bulgari Eau Parfumée in 1993, and we all know which side won. If Angel in 1992 wasn't the last of the oversized kaboom orientals, it was the sign of a genre on its way out, not that Angel had anything to do with the sexy orientals of earlier decades: it was about as desexualized as an oriental perfume can be, meant to evoke the comforts of childhood rather than the pleasures of the boudoir. Big complex orientals and chypres weren't quite dead, but they were increasingly relegated to the back of the shelf (or drastically reformulated, as Opium was, to fit modern tastes), and I think that's the point at which the zeitgeist shifted and there was no looking back.

As a consequence, Bal à Versailles is going to smell hopelessly perfumey and old-fashioned to anybody born after about 1980, 'cause it's built — holy cow, is it ever built, like a Maserati. Civet may be a base note, but it has a way of making its presence known right at the beginning of a scent — there's no way to hide it — and so in addition to the herbal (slightly minty, to my surprise) and hesperidic opening, there's already the intimation of smutty sex, which continues throughout the life of the scent. The middle is a great mass of flowers, all the usual suspects such as rose, jasmine, orange-flower, and ylang, and still wonderfully thrumming with more and more of that dangerous, dirty civet. Eventually comes the climax: plush vanilla and suggestive leather tussling with that dense animalic base, for hours and hours. It's beautiful, but never for an instant is it just beautiful: from its first moments on your skin it's enticingly corrupt.

I wish I could be more certain of the date, but I think my little half-ounce bottle dates from some time in the late seventies to mid eighties, which means that it might have lost some of its top notes (I can't find any evidence it ever had aldehydes, though I feel as if it ought to have, for some reason) but is otherwise intact and probably very close to the original 1960s formulation. Bal à Versailles is still in production, but as usual, I have no idea what changes might have been made to it in the last sixty years: probably it's been madly tinkered with to appeal to today's tastes, but perhaps, contrarily, it's exactly what it used to be, a celebration of the animal in all of us.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

It Never Ends: Three More Fueguia 1833 Scents

And after last week's wonderful surprise, we're back to awfulness.

Agua Magnoliana: Boring white floral.

Metafora: Incomprehensible desserty ginger-ale thing.

Malena: Horrifying floral musk. Horrifying.

Three more to go. Dare I hope for greatness from one of them?

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Friday, August 09, 2013

The Naked Truth: Biblioteca de Babel by Fueguia 1833 (with a brief deviation to talk about smut)

Almost two years ago (how time flies) I mentioned that I had received an e-mail from Google AdSense letting me know that the tiny ads I had allowed them to place at the top of my blog had accrued $100 worth of clicks, and could they have my banking information so they could deposit that money in my account? And I (ever suspicious when someone wants my banking information) said no, just cut me a cheque, please.

I never followed up on it in my blog, but they did in fact send me a cheque for $100. My grand money-making scheme had paid off! To the tune of approximately $2 a month!

Recently I received another e-mail from Google AdSense telling me, in effect, "You've got a dirty mind and you're cut off."

I instantly knew which blog posting they were talking about: my review of YSL M7, which featured this ad:

Imagine: showing an internationally published fragrance ad on a fragrance blog! How dare I!

These are the terms that I had violated (and which violation it took Google five and a half years to discover):

Google ads may not be placed on adult or mature content. This includes any site which contains:

full nudity
pornographic images, videos, or games
pornographic cartoons or anime (hentai/ecchi)

For more information about keeping your content family-safe, please review our program guidelines and these tips from the policy team.

"Full nudity". That presumably means "no pee-pees", and possibly "no exposed tids* on the ladies". Because a naked human being is PORNOGRAPHIC and NOT FAMILY-SAFE because FAMILIES DON'T HAVE PEE-PEES AND TIDS and DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT.

But all is not lost!

[W]e suggest that you take the time to review the rest of your sites to ensure that they’re in compliance with our policies, and to monitor your sites accordingly to reduce the likelihood of future policy emails from us.

Fat chance of that happening. And just to make sure:

The Dying Gaul, aka The Dying Shameless Naked Guy

and here's a callipygian view because why not,

and some equally shameless old dude,

and to keep it modern the uncommonly beautiful model Andy Honda

and for good measure a lady.

That ought to do it.


I couldn't have been clearer that I was losing my patience with Fueguia 1833, which consists of far too many scents far too quickly composed and rushed to market: you can't launch eighteen decent scents all at once, but surely you can make six good ones or two great ones and the economies of scale be damned (unless you're not interested in art but in commerce, and the mere fact that I even suggest art might be involved shows how naïve I am). The fact is that most of them are rubbish. To find two that I loved, Mbucuruya and Xocoatl, out of eighteen was par for the course; to find a third is a surprise and a pleasure.

Biblioteca de Babel is unexpectedly complex: a gentle whoosh of thick tuberose, deliciously sweet dates, a faint breath of spice, a few curls of blonde tobacco, a large quantity of multifaceted wood. It isn't gendered at all: it's its own thing, and you wouldn't mind smelling it on anyone, any time, anywhere. It lacks greatness because isn't a classically structured fragrance: it doesn't develop at all, and all the elements are just kind of sitting there. But they're so attractive and so perfectly balanced that they can sit there all day and never wear out their welcome.

Oh, this stuff is glorious. I want a full bottle of it.

* A friend once told me the story of the young daughter of a friend of hers who heard the word "tits", misconstrued it as "tids", and called them that ever after. And really, isn't "tids" sweet and charming in a way that "tits" can never be?

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Soldiering On: Three More by Fueguia 1833

Acacia ("mimosa, iris, acacia caven"): Genuinely weird floral, and not in a good way. Baffling cucumbery top, then too much iris. I am not a fan of iris but this one is particularly awful to my nose. 

Naranjo en Flor ("neroli, mimosa, petitgrain"): Angular green top, then cheap shampoo. I am not a fan of orange blossom (there are exceptions) but this one is particularly awful to my nose.

Humboldt ("bergamot, passionfruit, tangerine"): Synthetic fruit-scented air freshener.

My God, I can hear you saying, don't you like anything? Well, yeah, I liked Mbucuruya a whole lot, and if someone gave me a bottle I'd wear it all the time. But it is increasingly obvious that as a whole, the Fueguia 1833 collection is just not for me, at all. However many elements each scent actually does contain, the nucleus-plus-two-electrons focus makes most of them smell underdeveloped and thin, because there aren't enough other components to add complexity and draw attention away from anything that might not be quite working. And most of them just smell like knockoffs of established ideas: there's hardly anything that's new. (Of the 10 that I've tried so far, only El Mono de la Tinta smells novel to me. Even Mbucuruya calls to mind a vanilla-plus-fruit Comptoir Sud Pacifique scent — albeit a really sublimely good CSP.)

Only seven left to go. There's got to be at least one more winner in the bunch. I live in hope.

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