Taking Two


- a review of Aftelier Perfume’s ‘Tango’

Dancing, George Bernard Shaw once famously said, is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music. I could embroider on that slightly and add that the sad thing about my own inclinations toward the hairier ends of rock’n’roll means that gosh darn it, I never get to dance!

I was packed off to dancing school age 12, because that was what you did in those days, and so I was pushed around the floor by an eleven-year-old girl who stood half a head taller and loathed me on sight. Somehow, we both came out of that traumatic experience knowing how to two-step and waltz both English and Viennese, cha cha cha, bossa nova and samba. One dance I never did learn, and that was my favorite dance of them all.

The tango.

The perfect embodiment of Bernard Shaw’s statement. Unlike many other dances, tango is not two partners mirroring each other’s steps, but a leader and a follower who improvise as they go. It isn’t the tango of ballrooms, but the down-and-dirty Argentine tango of the streets of Buenos Aires, endlessly evolving and improvised on the fly in on the streets or in milongas, dance clubs where hundreds of people create hundreds of different ways to express social niceties, introduce themselves, or else embody the full range of emotions two vertical people can express. A lot of good can be said about a night you dance away. Like so many other of the best things in life, it takes two.

This is the kind of night Mandy Aftel pays homage to in ‘Tango’, and if ever a great night out could be contained in a bottle, the whirl of the dance floor, slightly too much wine and the 3 AM caffeine kick to keep you going, a delicious, subversive cigarette shared after that dance of passion and tenderness, tension and anticipation…this would surely be it. Corte and sacada, the cut and displacement, the sensuous slide of the gancho, that defining move of tango that hooks the follower’s leg around her partner’s, all of it summed up and encapsulated in a perfume as provocative, as evocative and contradictory as the dance itself.

So indulge me for a moment and pretend it is such a warm, steamy twilight in January under the stars on a leafy Buenos Aires square in La Boca. At a sidewalk café, an orchestra is playing the classics of Gardel and Pugliese, and on the cobblestones, Argentines look across to find a partner, leaders and followers alike, and with a sudden bolt of lightning, I’m caught in the delicious net of the cabeceo, a pair of chestnut brown eyes and a kick to my fancy by that sweet, spicy, fiery jolt of orange and ginger.

This will be good. I can always tell, I can see it in the self-assured way this dashing dancer deftly steers me through the crowd and through the dance, the way we walk in parallel and tandem, floating like a silky, complement of current over cobblestones for an hour, or is it more? There is nothing but the inciting rhythm of 4/4 and our flashing, light as air feet, nothing but this moment that stretches beyond the twilight and before I know it, it’s night beneath the Southern Cross and night in La Boca.

A whisper of coffee wafts from the café, and for a time, we sit over coffee, Juan Brown Eyes and I, and laugh at life in his halting English and my displaced Spanish, displaced like the cortes and sacadas of the dance itself, that erotic push and pull of the dance, the will-you-won’t-you-will-we-maybe?, to catch our breath and breathe in the flowery, coffee-flavored night in La Boca, ah, but Señora, we must have a little wine and maybe a little more, and as the orchestra plays on and the stars whirl above us, the displacements are rather less, the ganchos more elaborate, and surely I’m not so bad at tango as I like to think back home?

Certainly not, for now, as we share a cigarette or two between, the perfume goes darker, the dance more intense, for now, we have it all in the little space between us as we dance, the woody, smoky choya and tobacco-scented air speaking in fluent Spanish with the tonka bean that says…this dance may end, yet it never does. That push and pull, that lead and follow from spice and fruit through coffee, through flower and on to a drydown sometime after midnight…this dance will be another dance, and this moment another kind of time, and this perfume will be all of that, as we turn and glide and swirl over the cobblestones and down the street and look, the sun is rising over the river and we danced the night away!

But I can remember it all in the blink of an eye and one deep breath by opening a vial, remember one unforgettable night on the cobblestones of la Boca and my favorite kind of dance, the kind that always takes two to do…

Tango.

Disclosure: Sample provided for review by Aftelier.

Image: redbubble.com

Notes:
Top: Wild sweet orange, fresh ginger
Heart: Coffee CO2, champaca
Base: Choya, blond tobacco, tonka

Tango is available from the Aftelier website, from Scent and Sensibility for UK customers, and from Sündhaft.

Natural Luxuries


Aftelier Spotlight Week

- a spotlight on Aftelier Perfumes

Last night as I went to collect Spider-Man Jr. from saving the neighborhood from Green Goblins and other hazards, I noticed what had been bubbling away at the back of my consciousness for a few days. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the most heavenly scent. A combination of blooming elderflower and mock-orange wafted its way into my nose, the musky, fruity scent of the elderflowers mingling with the heady aroma of mock-orange, that we here in Denmark call ‘fake jasmine’, perfuming the air with its distinctive, unmistakable scent. Jasmine will only grow in sheltered conditions at this latitude, but mock-orange blooms everywhere here, and when it does, I know that high summer has arrived.

Those ubiquitous mock-orange bushes with their white, bridal flowers and their heady, heavenly scent are an example of natural perfumery at its finest. So I thought on a warm summer evening, which brings me to the topic of this week’s spotlight and one of the biggest seismic shifts in my own perfumoholic perspectives – Aftelier Perfumes.

Mandy Aftel – writer and perfumer extraordinaire – is rightly considered a pioneer of the natural perfume movement. Perfumes created with all-natural essences and oils, perfumes every bit as luxurious, special and rare as anything we perfume writers know, love and afford as we can. I knew of Mandy since her collaboration last year with Andy Tauer in creating a linden blossom perfume, Tauer’s ‘Zeta’ and Mandy’s ‘Honey Blossom’, but I had until recently never tried them, or indeed any natural perfume at all.

Natural perfumes came to my attention with the Outlaw Perfume Project’s ‘Mystery of Musk’ last year, a defiant stance in the face of IFRA restrictions and an important political perfume statement of its own. In the process, many perfumes were created that were, in a word, staggering for their breadth of scope and execution and to the best of my knowledge, no participant or human test subject broke out in hives because of it.

There it was. There I was, with my hard-wired preconceptions of ‘natural’ perfumes and unfortunate associations of bad patchouli and inferior blended scents, scents I would find in health food shops and artisanal markets that really didn’t impress me much, and certainly not with any associations of ‘luxury’.

So I was rather excited when Lucy of Indie Perfumes introduced my writing to Mandy, and in no time at all it seemed, a small collection of samples arrived. I can still feel my excitement as I looked at that pretty tin with its tiny treasures packed in orange and purple tissue paper, wondering what secrets they held.

Little did I know that the moment I unscrewed the first of those sample vials, my world would change…forever.

The Japanese have a Zen term called ‘satori’ – an instant where your entire perspective shifts and whirls and changes, when your horizon is forever broadened in a heartbeat and you get it, all of it…

That was me the night I opened up ‘Cepes and Tuberose’, and that cold chill of satori, something powerful, numinous and soulful wafted out of the vial and into my consciousness, and ever after, my world has not been the same that it was. It was the rush of something infinitely strange yet hauntingly familiar, some secret I knew but had forgotten.

I have been swiped sideways by perfumes not a few times this past spring and summer. That is nothing new. Never in my life was I blasted to olfactory bits to bedrock as I was by ‘Cepes and Tuberose’. For here was everything I had looked for in natural perfumery but had yet to find. Peerless beauty and the underlying hint of strange that accentuates it, the sleight-of-hand of a true and committed artist, a statement and a unique identity, all contained in a tiny sample vial.

I’ve since reviewed ‘Candide’, equally stunning, and thanks to Mandy’s generosity, more reviews are coming this week, starting with her justly famous ‘Tango’.

Because I’ve come to realize that natural perfumery – not something many of my fellow Danes are much aware of, if at all in this conglomerate-dominated age – is the one thing that gives me hopes for a future of perfume – to remind us all of the beauty that surrounds us every day in everything that grows and lives. When scents are prohibited in the workplace, when natural essences used for thousands of years are banned, ostensibly to protect the allergy-prone but in reality to promote proprietary synthetic blends, in some cases with unknown side effects, when the world we live and breathe in is farther and farther removed from anything truly… ‘natural’ – we need an artist like Mandy Aftel, an artist committed to a vision of what perfume should and could be, a perfumer who believes that ‘natural’ and ‘luxury’ are not mutually exclusive.

Once upon a time, perfume was an attempt to capture that moment in a garden or the woods when we breathed deeper and happier and felt elevated above our humdrum human existence and our everyday selves, out on a summer evening to collect a little boy for bedtime, when suddenly we realized with a shock to our awareness…

The elderflowers are blooming, and the mock-orange, too.

And elsewhere on Planet Earth, an alchemist is hard at work to freeze that moment in a perfume…

Silver and Black


- a review and a story of Amouage ‘Memoir Man’

Sometimes, we choose what to remember. I tried for so long to forget you, forget that last time, that last day, the day you walked away and walked out of my life.

Somehow, I succeeded so well, I nearly convinced myself of that ultimate lie, your parting words, the ones you knew would hurt me most of all:

You and me, baby…we never happened.”

I can still see myself as I was that day, frozen to the steps, looking back over my shoulder at you as you just walked on and didn’t look back, not then, not ever. I remember coming home in a white-hot fury, packing away every reminder of you I could find, vacuum sealing every memory, every word in some padlocked part of my mind until finally, that lie was true. We never happened, baby, and only my ashes remained, as cold and gray as the wind and sky that day you walked away.

Until today. The day I found that beautiful black and silver bottle, half-full of that haunting, provocative scent, the one you always wore and liked so much, you bought me its counterpart, Woman, sparkling like some willful, black secret in the dark behind it, and in that heady, perfumed cocoon that set us apart from the rest of the world, we were both of us blinding dark and dazzling light, heavy and heated as molten lead and lighter than air, every love and all the passion every man and every woman ever felt and ever lived.

I had to sit down, to sink to the carpet in a swoon when I sprayed the air with your scent, as it blew that padlock in my mind to pieces and everything, everything poured out, memory and madness, magic and the music that played that night I saw you across a crowded room and caught you staring back.

That bittersweet opening kick of herb and darkest green, mint and absinth took me there in a single sniff, a room full of posturing and pretense, beautiful people talking beautiful things. I was never one of them, I was the wormwood, the outsider in the mix, brought in to add a little offbeat color, a spicy-green counterpoint of my own. So I thought as I stood apart, so I felt until something made me look up to where you stood. In the eternity between one heartbeat and the next, my world fell apart, the room fell away, I walked away from all my old life and all I knew…toward you.

Remember how we stood, not saying a word in a room full of words? Remember how we simply breathed each other’s reality in, how you wrapped me in that breathless aura of incense and lavender bouncing back and forth? Now incense with all its sacred air, next lavender with its earthy, dark secrets, and peeking behind like a promise, a silky black-red ribbon of rose, a hint of things to come, sensations I never knew and sights I never saw except with you.

“Let’s go”, you said that night, and so we walked off into our tempestuous future, wrapped in that cocoon of endless light and blazing dark. Laughing debates at 4 AM and books we read and things we did and places we went, everywhere wrapped in that invisible cloak of all lovers throughout all time, and what happened underneath that perfumed aura of light and deepening dark, no one knew and no one guessed.

I knew…I knew I needed you to take me there, I knew your need to go there, even when you raged, even when all the world never understood you, even when that fury included me, pushing all your red-alert buttons.

It was part of the thrill, part of our mutual electric charge, that challenge we kept throwing in each other’s face like a gauntlet, that tension that broke plates and smashed boundaries and ripped our pretenses apart.

All the sandalwood, all the vetiver, the amber, the musk and oakmoss, the vanilla and tobacco…all the potent, drydown promise of you could not, would not make me submit. I would not give you the upper hand, not give you the submission you craved, not give you anything but the one thing not even you dared demand. You knew what it would cost you, you knew what it would mean, you knew that if you and I took our story there, there could be no turning back. You were a man nothing could frighten, but the finality of that mutual surrender scared you, spooked you so badly you could only walk away because it was the only conclusion we could draw, the only place we had left to go.

Instead of that electric heat, all I felt was burning cold. The perfumed cocoon was ripped away and I stood shivering in the wind, trembling at your fury, shaking like the winter trees at your final, parting words, hissed between clenched teeth and flung into the wind the instant before you walked away.

So I thought and so I sat for most of an afternoon on my floor, holding these two black and silver beauties in my hands, telling me what I had wanted so badly to forget and obliterate, the haunting scented history of you and me, of the man unlike any, of that story I always knew and always will…

I can breathe us in any time I choose, feel your aura wrapped around me like a cloak in these two peerless bottles that read ‘Memoir Man’ and ‘Memoir Woman’.

You and me, baby…we happened.

Notes for Amouage ‘Memoir Man’:
Top: Absinth, wormwood, basil, mint
Middle: Rose, frankincense, lavender absolute
Base notes: Sandalwood, vetiver, gaiac wood, amber, vanilla, musk, oakmoss, light blonde tobacco

Disclosure: Sample provided by Amouage for review.

‘Memoir Man’ is available at Luckyscent, First in Fragrance, Alla Violetta Boutique, Les Senteurs and from the Amouage website.

Image: missyatieya.blogspot.com

For The Man who inspired it.

All in One

AMOUAGE WEEK June 20th-26th


A review – and a story – of Amouage ‘Memoir Woman’

Rumors had persisted for months in the publishing world in Paris, a persistent whisper that Madame’s memoirs would be published, that this or that publisher already had a copy of the manuscript and was preparing it in secrecy in time for her centennial birthday, and what those memoirs contained was anyone’s guess. It became a favorite dinner party game of the literati in Paris to conjure up stories of her fabled past, to wonder what she would say of this or that lover who would after go on to his fame and fortune in the arts. Would she be specific, give details, tell the stories no one knew and everyone wanted to hear?

He wasn’t old enough to care. All he could do on that chilly October day of rain and wind was to hurry toward the Rue des Grands Augustins and curse the fate that made his editor choose him to interview her, the only interview she had ever granted.

He knew of her. How could he not? Nothing in all of the arts of twentieth century Paris had occurred without her name in the mix somewhere, usually in an undertone that implied something slightly salacious and scandalous. A courtesan some said dismissively, a muse, a woman who had inspired painters and writers, playwrights and musicians and composers, a mistress of this or that household name. Always as the inspiration, never as a creator in her own right. So she had done everyone. Who cared? Men were so grateful, that couldn’t have been too hard.

Ah, there it was, the building with the Mariage Frères teashop on the corner, just as her housekeeper had said.

His first surprise was her housekeeper, a tiny Somali woman who eyed him and his leather jacket with a suspicious eye and an indifferent shrug. “You have come to speak with Madame,” she said. “She is expecting you. You are late.” Another look that took him in from top to toe, his wind-blown hair, the raindrops on his jacket that dripped on the carpet in the foyer.

He knew Madame had lived for nearly a hundred years, so he expected an overcluttered, over-furnished space full of porcelain figurines and lace doilies, all the detritus of a very long life very well-collected. There were none.

Instead, the foyer was painted in a luscious sienna tone, the furniture dark, polished woods that gleamed in the gray light of a Paris afternoon reflected in a Moroccan mirror on the wall, a bouquet of Casablanca lilies perfuming the room. There must have been over a hundred photos in all sizes, hung in symmetrical patterns on the walls, a large glamorous portrait of Madame as she must have looked in her heydey, a face to rival Garbo’s, yet there was no tragedy in these eyes, only a steely glint of intelligence. And something else. He peered closer. This young face had, so his mother would have said, the Devil in her eyes, a thousand laughs hiding in one dimple in her cheek.

Over there on his left, another photo, this one a long-gone day at the beach, laughing at the camera with a little boy wrapped in a towel, above it and all around it, impromptu snapshots of sun-drenched lunches, there was Picasso and Dora Maar, Hemingway smoking a cigar, Jean Cocteau with a bottle of wine and an impish grin on his face, goodness, was that Henry Miller, with that ecstatic grin that implied this was another free lunch?

The housekeeper snapped him out of his reverie. “Madame is waiting in the library.” She poked him in the back and pointed down the hall. “You are late.”

The library, the housekeeper had said, but this was like no library he had ever seen. As he crossed the threshold, he was assaulted – there could be no other word – by a perfume at once midnight-black and blinding white, and the room, goodness, the room. Overflowing bookcases from floor to ceiling and books stacked up on side tables, paintings, ornate Balinese shadow puppets and Dahomey masks, a lacquered Chinese screen and Japanese woodcut prints, a terrifying, lifelike wooden statue of Kali, jade sculptures and paintings by Braque, Picasso and Dali, a small white marble sculpture on the simple wooden desk that could only have been Brancusi in its exquisite purity of line, a leather sofa stuffed with silk brocade and velvet pillows and throws in every hue from scarlet to persimmon, Persian carpets piled three deep over each other and by the window, an armchair turned to the light beside a small table set with tea things and a cake plate on plain, white china.

“My library surprises you?” said a voice at once ancient and young. “Sit in this chair.” He saw a finger point. “You are late.”

“I am sorry, Madame,” he stammered as he moved across the room and those plush, thick rugs, “The rain…” A chair. Sit. Yes. He turned slightly in his seat to look, and there was Madame.

That disturbing perfume surrounded her like a veil and sent his senses reeling. He wasn’t used to women this old with this degree of notoriety, so he had not known what to expect, but this woman, wrapped in a paisley-embroidered shawl, was not what he expected. She looked simultaneously as ancient as some of her own books in their dilapidated leather covers and as young as he himself. She could have been a Sibyl in a Cumae temple, and she could have been an acolyte of nineteen. These were the eyes of a woman for whom life no longer held any secrets, yet life still made her laugh. That spark of mischief he had seen in that old portrait shot was still very much alive.

“So. You want to know. About my memoirs.”

“Well, Madame,” he stammered, “all of Paris is talking…” All his carefully thought-out questions slid out of his mind and scattered on the rug beneath his feet.

“All of Paris…all that Paris always does is talk and gossip. That will never change! What stories will I tell, what yarns will I spin of when Paris was another city and life was so very different? Who did I love, who did I disgrace, whose fortunes did I steal and whose lives have I ruined? You want to know?” She leaned forward, and again, he was caught helpless in that heady, haunting, spicy cloud of incense and leather, blinding black and dazzling white.

Instead of answering his question, she poured tea and pushed the cup across the table toward him. “Drink. You need to warm up. It is a cold day today.”

He was far too discombobulated to disobey. The tea was Lapsang Souchong, not his favorite kind.

“You want to know?” She sat back and gave him an appraising look. “All of them. I ruined …all of them. Do you want to know why?”

“Of course!” The answer was out of his mouth before he could think.

“Because they wanted me to. You…you are so naïve, you think as every generation does that the rules will not apply to you, that you will invent the world anew, and you always fail. History repeats itself. The patterns may change, but the colors never do. You are the ones with the right to know and demand passion, to reinvent love as you see fit. Once, I thought the same. Before I learned that secret all men who love women never want them to know, never trust them enough to tell them.”

“What secret, Madame?”

“All men…all the men I’ve loved and ruined in my day, all the ones I’ve known all my life…they all want to suffer, for having the luck and temerity to be male, for daring to rule the world. The truth is, they – even you – are helpless without us. Women give you life, women keep you in life, and if she plays her cards right, as surely I have, a woman can rule the world and anyone she desires, just from knowing that little secret.”

“Then why is it you have never married any of your lovers?” He added a lump of sugar and stirred his tea.

“Simple. Life is too short and too interesting to live from a cage. And I like my solitude, the order I created, the routines I have lived by. I have had…an interesting life. I have seen the wonders of the world, I have breathed the air of faraway places, and I have certainly not been bored. In a cage, I would have been bored to tears.” She shrugged, a very Parisian shrug of her shoulders that belied her age.

“Your name has been associated with so many artists, writers and creators, Madame. Have you always been the muse?”

“Is that what they are saying about me in Paris these days?” She laughed, a bawdy, carefree laugh that sounded all of eighteen and full of possibilities and hopes. It was such a contrast to that ancient and young, profound and profane face. “Young man…” She lifted an imperious eyebrow. “To inspire, I’ll have you know, means to breathe in. To transmute into thought and concept one gossamer idea. Trust me, I had many ideas. They simply found a fertile field where they could grow.”

“And many lovers.” He buried his burning face in his tea cup. It was her perfume, that haunting, heady scent of spice and power, fire and earth, light and dark that made him so bold. It had to be. It was like nothing he knew, like no one else. So rich and heady, so unapologetic and bold, so powerful, it was all he could do to even think.

“Yes. I enjoyed them all, you know. Not because of their fame, not because of their talent or what they could do for me. But because of who they were – as men. Unique. Some of them, I did love…for a time. Some…” Again, that bawdy laugh. “Not so much. I liked their money better.”

As she spoke, her face became softer, younger, it seemed to lose the years writ over her skin and he could see, or thought he could, the allure she once had held, the allure she had never lost, even now. For a moment, she seemed lost in a memory of a different time and space. Then she looked him right in the eyes, and again, he was struck by that blend of ancient wisdom and youthful laughter. They were separated by nearly three quarters of a century, yet behind those all-seeing eyes laughed a girl his own age.

“You are so young and so impatient.” Again that shrug, that potent perfumed waft of power, incense and earth, endless dark and blinding light. “You want to know my secret? I can give it away, since they are all long dead and gone. The perfect woman, the perfect dream of any man who ever loves, is to find that one who is all in one, all women in one woman, all of her darkness and all of that light…” he voice trailed off to a whisper and he had to lean forward to hear her. “ ‘She who dazzles like the dawn, she who comforts in the night…To hear the music of her breathing, and the perfume of her speech.’ No fool, Baudelaire. He knew.”

For a long and breathless moment, as the rain slid down the windowpanes, he could not even hear her breathe. All he could breathe in the quiet room, the low hum of Paris just outside her windows, was that perfume he knew now he would never, ever forget. Darkness and light, shadow and spice, flower and earth, it was both a remembrance and a visitation, a haunting and a redemption, power and passion, a passion that knew no time but its own.

She waved her hand toward the door. “You have your interview, I think. You can go. Tell the world. I doubt the world will care, as if it ever did. But once in another time and place, I cared as you do, and once as I burned, so do you. And as I am now…so every woman becomes.”

“But Madame, your memoirs…is it true that they will be published?”

As he waited by the door for her answer, he saw nothing but that twinkle in her eye. “Ah…you shall find out, soon enough.” She pointed and called out. “Anab! Show my guest out.”

“You never answered my questions!” he remembered to say.

“You never thought to ask!” she snapped. “ I answered all the questions you never dared to ask, the ones you really wanted answered. Now go. Anab!” She called again.

As he turned down the hall toward the foyer, he caught a last glimpse of her, a frail figure wrapped against the October chill in her paisley shawl, looking out the window at a past that only she could see, or was that a future only she could know?

He was writing his impressions down when the editor stopped by his desk with a parcel in his hands. “Have you heard it?”

He was confused to be snapped out of his train of thought, still breathing in that dizzying palimpsest of a perfume. “Heard what?”

“I just received a call. Madame died. It must have been right after you left. And strangely enough…He unwrapped the parcel. “I just received this…” he tore open the paper.

It was a book, a thick hardcover book, with Madame’s name on the cover, that same arresting photo he had seen in her foyer. Beneath that photo was one simple word, but it was enough.

It read: Memoir.

Notes of Amouage Memoir Woman, according to Basenotes:
Top: Mandarin, Cardamom, Absinth, Pink Pepper
Middle: Pepper, Clove, Opulent White blossoms, Rose, Jasmine, Precious Dark Woods, Frankincense
Base: Styrax, Oakmoss, Castoreum, Leather, Labdanum, Fenugreek, Musk

Disclosure: Sample provided for review by Amouage.

Photo of Gabrielle Sidonie Colette (used for illustrative purposes) by Irving Penn.
Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Tout entière’ by George Dillon, NY, 1936

Coming Attractions


- The thrills, spills and chills ahead!

Ladies, gentlemen and sentient lifeforms, it has been…an amazing spring and early summer for Scent Less Sensibilities. I have tried things I never would have thought, loved what I never would have thought I could, expanded my own olfactory universe in ever-larger quantum leaps, and more than anything, I’ve been completely flabbergasted by the responses, comments and support I’ve received. Thanks to some Great Facilitators – you know who you are and that I adore you, right? – and some equally fantabulous ‘fumes, SLS, which started as a sort of joke almost a year ago, has taken off in ways both great and small and all of them appreciated, but the fun just never stops, does it? I’ve come to realize that a little (well, make that a lot!) of discipline is in order, so now I’ve begun to map out my reviews in the weeks to come. If I don’t, I’ll surely go down in flames…

Here’s a sneak peak at some of those coming attractions:

Once upon a time, I was an Amouage ignoramus, and willfully so. One look at those price tags, and …no. Just no. Nothing could ever be that good. I have never been so thrilled at having to eat my own words. Well, as some of you know, not a few of them…are. That. Good. The one that made me cry, the one I was helpless to resist, the one I loved but couldn’t wear, and the collection that surprised me so much, I’m still wondering how to find the hooks to describe them. Next week is Amouage Week. Tomorrow morning I have a heavy date with ‘Memoir Woman’, to be followed throughout next week by Memoir Man, the Library Collection of Opus I – V, and the much anticipated Honour Man and Woman. You might be surprised. I know I was.

The brave new world of natural perfumes has been a revelation in all the best and most luminous, numinous ways. I can thank Lucy of Indieperfumes for introducing me to these new marvels, and for introducing me to Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes, for which I can never, ever thank her enough. I’ve reviewed Mandy’s astonishing ‘Cepes and Tuberose’ and ‘Candide’, and you can expect to read more of her breathtaking, faint-making perfumes in the weeks to come. If you haven’t read it yet, beg, buy or borrow a copy of her book ‘Essence and Alchemy’. Suddenly, everything perfumery makes sense – and scents, too!

Another prodigious talent will also receive her own spotlight – the prolific Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. I had read so many things about her, I didn’t know what to think, but it had to be good. It was better. When your favorite perfume genre is resurrected from the cold, dead IFRA ashes and is as gorgeous as Vert Pour Madame, you know it’s all good. Dawn has recently collaborated with the Denver Art Museum on their ‘Cities of Splendor’ exhibition of the Italian Renaissance, and I get to try her recreations of Renaissance perfumery. And…

Liz Zorn of Soivohle is another natural perfumer and undiscovered talent here in Europe, but that won’t last if I can do anything about it. Likewise, JoAnne Bassett, whose ‘Sensual Embrace’ convinced even this anti-musk rat that maybe I was…wrong? What have I been missing all these years?

One toothache that won’t go away is my leaden guilt over not yet reviewing several from a line I’ve loved with a fury all spring: Ormonde Jayne. Something must be done! So it will. Read all about it!

In the eleven months of SLS, I have to the best of my knowledge only reviewed one perfume that left me completely cold. Just to stir up a little trouble (a favorite occupation!), I have plans to review one I absolutely hate. You might be surprised!

I have a busy summer ahead of me. So perhaps I had better clam up and start writing…:)

Mother of All Dilemmas


- Or…Too Much To Wear!

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…life was so much easier. These were the days of landline phone calls and conversations that ran something like this:

“Hey, dumbass! Get out your glad rags and put on your party face, because (X, Y, or Z and Not-To-Be-Missed Really Obscure Band About To Be HUGE) is in town tomorrow! Barbue. We’re on the list. 8 PM. Be there!”

End of conversation. The list – these were the days before laminates – being that all-important super-duper envy-making freebie VIP list.

So assuming I did indeed remember (which usually happened), it would be about 6:30 PM before I recalled the ‘glad rags’ and ‘party face’ bits, and instantly hit manic panic mode. After thirty minutes of highly profane language yelled above a very loud stereo, I would pull whatever I found out of my wardrobe, curse myself for not having the time to iron it, and slap something remotely resembling makeup on my face and….go. Thankfully, after the third or fourth shot of tequila, selective amnesia would set in and I no longer cared what I looked like.

Or…as Dianne Brill once famously said, there was the How To Leave The House In Six Hours Or Less version. These were my favorites. One long, luxurious afternoon to contemplate the Unbearable Rightness of Black, a glass of wine, the very loud stereo, the scenario of my Flawless, Unforgettable Entrance running through my mind as I applied my party face with perfect equinamity.

Come that Unforgettable Entrance, with yours truly for once feeling as fabulous as I surely looked, there was usually a cable lying right across the entrance to the green room door that I would somehow miss in my excitement and my four-inch heels, whereupon I would promptly fall flat on my flawless face.

Well, it was one way to get noticed. A few years later, at another backstage event, I was greeted by a very New York sounding “Yo! It’s Nosebleed!” It was the icon who cured it for me. Ladies and gents, Rob Zombie.

Good times, people, good times!

Of course, this was many years before I became a perfume blogger. Back then, it was whichever of my seven or eight bottles caught my attention at the time. Spray after bath and again before leaving. Cabochard always, always worked.

Now, I don’t have too many wardrobe dilemmas for the simple reason that a) I know what looks good, b) Wearing something red will always be lucky, and c) I don’t have much of a wardrobe to wear.

These days, the above scenario runs like this:

Research discloses that if I’m not at a certain location on a certain date for a certain show, I will regret it to the end of my days. If I don’t go, I’ll regret it when I’m ninety, it’s so bad.

Furthermore, since the music venue business in DK is a small world, the head of booking at the venue is one (quite fondly remembered) former boss. I know the guy. Really, I’m not bragging. After some days of agonizing, I write a supremely arrogant email and send it off on the assumption that of course I’ll get a freebie!

Lo and behold…I do. ‘Can’t wait to see YOU again,’ says the reply email.

(Insert epithet of choice here)!!!

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it!

Once my heart stops racing, on to …snap decision. Wardrobe. Got it. All of it, and I don’t have to iron a thing! Next headache.

Oh, no! What perfume do I wear???

I want to…make indelible impressions, I want to be unforgettable, I’ll do whatever it takes…

And meanwhile, at least eighty different samples, decants and bottles are having hysterics in my perfume cabinet.

Weather plays a part here. It could be hot, it could be chilly, and trust me, you don’t want to wear Spiritueuse Double Vanille on a ninety degree day. Or Iris Ganache, gorgeous though it is.

Fracas? Are you kidding? That’s laying it on a little…thick. Ubar? Only if it’s cool enough. Epic? No. Not that kind of night. Gold Woman? Not that kind of night, either.

Tabac Blond? Sex appeal in a bottle! There’s a thought. Ambre Sultan would make the list, except I wore it in a fit of pique the other day and have nothing left.

Orange Star went supernova…and is gone. Damn it.

Odin NY 04-Petrana then. It’s unusual, dark and yet sheer. Maybe.

Or Orris Noir? Or should that be Tolu?

Boxeuses has a certain rock’n’roll vibe – all that leather – but I’m not sure. Bandit? Don’t have enough. Argh!

Fleurs d’Oranger is a no-brainer. It could well be I should just go with this perpetual standby, but that would be…safe. This Night To Remember, I want a little edge.

I’d soak my clothes in a vat of Cepes & Tuberose, but I don’t have enough. (Insert epithet of choice!)

I knew I should have forked out for the Knize Ten when I could. Damn it.

So there it stands, ladies and gents. One upcoming Night To Remember, and I’ll even be sober this time. It’s the start of this leg of the tour, which usually means a good mood all around, it’s a Wednesday in July, I have the day off and even the day after. I have my co-conspirator, the real-life ‘Diarmait’, who landed a photo pass for his brand-new state of the art Nikon. I even have the clothes. Meeting my former boss after all these years fazes me not at all.

I have the laminate. I don’t have wrinkle filler, a steam iron for my face or spackle, but neither does my reason for being there to begin with, and he’s eight years older. I’ll just have to do. Nervous? No. Well, yes. Nothing I can’t handle.

But what, oh what perfume should I wear?

Life was once so easy. Before I became a perfume blogger.

Help!

;)

Image: Vintage Ad, PZR Services

The Best of All Possible Worlds


– a review of Aftelier Perfumes ‘Candide’

We humans have an unsettling propensity to never quite…be here now. Here in this moment in time, in this company, in this place. We always seem to have one foot, one half or one important part of our minds in either the past or the future, preoccupied with what we have done, should have done, should be doing, would be doing if only, if not…Or else we fret about a future that has yet to arrive – a deadline, a project, an event to come that may or may not turn out to be what we expect, a meeting with someone who may surprise us.

Because we do, we also tend to grow ever more disillusioned and stressed out, and as that happens, pessimism, that dreaded slayer of hopes and possibilities, kicks in and takes over, and so life becomes an ever-perpetuating cycle of doom, gloom and a whole lot of headache full of more stress, more down, more… regret. Before we know it, the corners of our mouths descend all the way to our shoulders, and our shoulders and our very attitudes droop too.

OK. Stop right there. Sit down. Here, take the most comfortable chair in the house. Put your feet up. Now, close your eyes. I have the anodyne for those blahs, I have the cure for those indigo blues and I tell you from the bottom of my inky, witchy heart that this will work, this will change you, this will shift your perspective, your outlook, and your entire life around if you let it. Are you up for that?

Good. First, you have to…breathe as deep as you can. All the way through to your fingertips, all the way down to your toes. Keep your eyes closed. No cheating!

Let me just unscrew this little vial for you and dab a little on your skin. Breathe this in. All the way to your toes! Uh, uh…don’t open your eyes just yet! There’s no rush, nowhere you have to be except n-o-w.

Heavenly, isn’t it? That bright burst of sunshine citrus, that little kick of pepper that wakes you up, that furry raspberry current dancing underneath it.

I knew it! You’re smiling already! See? We’re getting somewhere. We’re not there just yet. You’ve been through a lot lately, and there’s still a way to go.

I can tell, you can already sense the cushions at your back, the throw over the armrest, the lingering traces of the cinnamon incense I burned last night. Give it a few minutes, and even Hairy Krishna will be curious enough to jump up and settle on your lap. Be warned. He has a very loud purr.

What’s this? You’re breathing easier, you say? The stresses of your life aren’t quite so acute? It’s that astounding jasmine, puncturing all your lead balloons. Work got you down? Bang! What work? Work was so four hours ago. It will return tomorrow, and Scarlett O’ Hara said it all – tomorrow is another day. Is life too short for bossy little boys? Poof! He’s asleep, lulled into dreamland with Looli the Tiger and a whisper of rose saying…sleep, little one.

Strange, isn’t it? You don’t feel sleepy in the slightest. Open your eyes.

You feel awake, aware, watching the candle move in the breeze from the open window.

Happiness is a blooming jasmine, ethereal in the moonlight. But before you float on those gossamer jasmine wings right out the window, frankincense makes its entrance – yes, I know it’s one of your favorite notes, and so do oppoponax and myrrh, soft and sweet and haunting as the moon outside, two days from the full.

You can feel the chair beneath you, feel the memory of that happy citrus-pepper kick to your senses, feel the lift of all your cares and worries, feel the atavistic, primal surge of a summer night on your skin, in your bones, in that indigo fog in your mind that has strangely vanished without a trace, leaving only moonbeams behind.

Where did all the worries go? Who knows? Who cares? That was then. This is you and this is now, a blissful moment of solitude and quiet on a moonlit night in June when all possibilities can happen, where dreams can come true, where you can do anything, achieve anything you desire.

Go ahead. Ask for what you need. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Surely it won’t! Assume they will say yes. And if they don’t, there’s always a Plan B that also assumes only good things and good times.

Did you know that optimists live longer? Did you know that if you do radiate positive vibes that is precisely what you will attract? You might as well, you know. Lead balloons are so overrated.

Live a little. Love a lot, and laugh no less! Dare to be a little silly, dare to have a lot of fun. What have you got to lose? This moment won’t return, so you might as well.

As you stand in that moonbeam, with a smile on your face and a hope in your mind that jasmine brought to bloom, you are all of a piece, you are completely at peace, and you can entirely believe, from your bone marrow all the way to the attitude you project…

This is the best of all possible worlds, and you are the best of all possible yous.

Don’t thank me. Thank the alchemist and quantum mage who is Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes. She created this perfume, named for Voltaire’s famous novel, as an ode to eternal optimism and an aria to hope, and even you will confess you were not what you were two hours before. You will not be that shade of blue again, and all you have to do is breathe all of it in, the sunshine citrus, that luscious berry tone, that whisper of rose , the glorious, gleaming jasmine and the frankincense that lifts those lead balloons and says…

You are the best of all your possible selves in the best of all possible worlds, and everything you dare to dream can happen, so long as you can hope!

Notes according to the Aftelier website: Pink grapefruit, blood orange, black pepper, jasmine grandiflorum, Moroccan rose absolute, frankincense, oppoponax absolute, myrrh.

Disclosure: Sample provided for review by Mandy Aftel. I am a changed woman now…;)

Aftelier Perfumes ‘Candide’, ‘Lumiere’ and ‘Honey Blossom’ were all nominated for the 2011 Fifi Awards in the category ‘Best Indie Brand’.

Aftelier ‘Candide’ is available through the Aftelier website, at Scents & Sensibility (for UK customers only), and at Sündhaft, who will ship to anywhere in Europe.