Perfume Botox

kim-novak-ralph-crane-shoot-1958-1 – When perfumes become holographic

In the life and times of a perfume writer of a certain age in an era where perfumes are launched (and sometimes relaunched) at breakneck speed, it makes a certain kind of sense to stay away from heartbreak.

The heartbreak of venturing into the Brave Old World of vintage perfumes, that is. I leave that to my justly celebrated colleague and friend Barbara Herman of Yesterday’s Perfume, author of the likewise celebrated Scent and Subversion, who has jogged my own memory of perfumed glories past we used to wear more times than I can count, bless her.

But memory and perfume are so intimately entwined and so mutually evocative, even hardnosed post-punk cynics diehard optimist romantics such as I can sometimes be caught unaware. Especially concerning those beauties we wore once upon a storied time when we were less cynical, less heartbroken and perhaps far less inhibited by what we now know of perfumes and their history, never mind the way those perfumes have defined and underlined our own.

This was brought home to me in more ways than one when I received an anonymous package recently. It had no identifying marks or a sender’s address on it, even, and at the time I wasn’t expecting anything from anyone.

As soon as I opened it, however, I knew. The package came from my sister, and inside, to my own huge surprise, was a bottle of the current version of one perfume that really has defined me in ways great and small since the early Eighties – Lancôme’s 1978 Magie Noir.

I first encountered Magie Noir in late 1978 as part of a fashion spread in a Danish women’s magazine. The name alone was enough to get my attention, but at a very naïve fifteen, I was nowhere yet woman enough to wear it, I quickly discovered when I tried it. Those amber colored depths contained some arcane, occult secrets of womanhood I wasn’t mature enough or sophisticated enough to understand.

When it next made an appearance in my life five years later, I still wasn’t sure. My boyfriend at the time presented me with a huge bottle of the eau de toilette as The Perfume He Wanted Me To Wear, so I did, not least for the effect it had on him. Somehow, I still didn’t feel I was quite glamorous enough, beautiful enough, seductive enough, tall enough or even woman enough to wear it, but if it made him happy…

Throughout the Eighties and well beyond, Magie Noir followed me as a permanent part of my collection. It trailed in my wake on nights on the town, alternated with another 1980s witchy brew, Paloma Picasso’s Mon Parfum, it stayed on mornings after, it followed me on those occasions I had definite ulterior motives.

Even today these all too many years later, it remains the single most complimented perfume I have ever owned. I have yet to meet a man it hasn’t swiped sideways in a swoon. I even wore it at my wedding in 2000, a great, whopping cloud of it, because my husband insisted it was his favorite out of the five I owned at the time.

The marriage didn’t last, but Magie Noir did!

When in 2008, I located a bottle of the original formulation at an online discounter at an outrageously cheap price, I wasted no time at all in wishing for a bottle for my birthday. I still have that bottle today, doled out in tiny sprays, because once it’s gone – it’s gone.

Yet my sister remembered when a DK retailer had a nostalgia campaign recently and brought back modern versions of some of the greatest perfume successes of the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, perfumes that usually are nowhere available anywhere here. She even sent a text message to make sure: “Didn’t you used to wear Magie Noir?” “Hell, yes!”

A few days later, I received that current formulation. (Thank you, Sis!) And…

At some point, I caught myself thinking Lancôme should have just given up the ghost of former glory and called it Magie Blanche. Because unlike the original there is nothing in the slightest morally ambiguous about this version.

It’s a lot of things, most of them very good, but it’s emphatically not the original, and in this IFRA-compliant age, how could it be?

If the original is a rosy patchouli-flecked castoreum-laden, mossy witches’ brew with green fangs worthy of the three ladies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, if not Lady Macbeth herself, this modern reformulation is not unlike seeing Lady Macbeth as a holograph of her former, witchy, manipulative, evil self.

She has, as they say, had some work done.

So this rainy, humdrum Sunday afternoon, I sit with the goddess Hecate – the original formulation – on my left wrist and the ‘rejuvenated’ Madame Macbeth on my right. How do they compare?

Well, they don’t.

If Hecate works her witchery best after dark and preferably after midnight with emphatic ulterior man-eating motives, Madame Macbeth much prefers the safety of daylight and the solace of the familiar. She is airier, lighter and infinitely fresher, to appeal to a younger audience, maybe? Certainly, if you were allowed to wear perfume to the office/workplace, no one would be offended by her presence. Her fangs have been replaced with perfectly aligned dazzling movie-star white caps, or to put it another way, more bergamot and less of that ensorcelling, eerie will-o’-the-wisp earthy-green galbanum.

Hecate, whose fangs are long and green with only a tinge of sunny bergamot and a distinct galbanum, makes no such efforts to conform to any other rules than her own. That animal growl that so defines her is present right from the start. Kneel in her presence, you hapless mortals! A goddess walks among you. For the love of all things atavistic and primeval, appreciate her. Or beware the consequences!

Because this goddess on the far side of midnight conceals a rich, deep, burgundy hued rosy heart (Bulgarian rose, if my memory serves me correctly) to lure any all-too willing victims even further into her passion play, down and down and down into the dark fur-lined abyss of castoreum and oakmoss where secrets are revealed and truths are made apparent and skins are peeled away and made irrelevant yet souls may taste immortality if they’re deemed worthy of such transcendent pleasures.

Madame Macbeth’s heart hides nothing more edifying than a dewy, fresh pink rose wrapped in a few casual patchouli leaves and an approximation of oakmoss almost as an afterthought. No feral creature growls down below. If she existed as a woman, you’d stare at her still-beautiful face and wonder:

“What the hell happened to you?”

The perfume equivalent of extensive plastic surgery, that’s what. Hecate’s witchy soul has had her forehead Botoxed, her cheeks and compelling facial lines packed with Restylane and her porcelain skin resurfaced with IPL. That heart of splendid dark has been liposuctioned out of existence. Her character retains just enough of its former beauty to remind you of what she once was and made her into a hologram. You can inhale what she is and sense what she was, yet what she was is now forever gone and far away, and what is left doesn’t stick around for long. I could easily wear – indeed, I have – this Madame for any occasion at all, and it’s still good enough that I will.

Meanwhile, Hecate laughs from the depths of her black abyss. “You had a goddess among you,” she seems to say, “yet you forgot what you had.”

As if.

With thanks to my sister Stephanie for the memories old and new. And also Barbara Herman, for sharing the mutual nostalgia. 

Photo of Kim Novak by Ralph Crane in ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ (1958). In this movie at least, as close as any human can get to being the great goddess Hecate.

A Dandy in the Dirt

WilliamBurroughs2

- a review of Jardins d’Ècrivains Junky

For all we prefer to think we live in an age that obsesses about hedonism as an aspirational lifestyle, the fact is nonetheless that as a society, we in the West are really obsessed… with control. Control of our bodies in terms of diet and exercise, endless self-recrimination/neurosis if we don’t measure up to the advertised ideal, control of our runaway minds and impertinent, inopportune thoughts, only now we call it the ultra-hip mindfulness, control of our careers and the circumstances of our very lives as an admonition and precaution in the hopes we may keep the nefarious demons of change and chaos that threaten us on the edges at arms’ length – or else.

Chaos, lack of control, dancing on the knife edge with those demons either figuratively or literally – all these things are best left to trained professionals who know how to embrace them, so we think in our manic panic control freak mode as we whirl through our chaotic times narrowly avoiding demonic roadblocks of yet more chaos.

You know them: the outcasts, the dreamers and dancers, the poets and painters and madcap musicians and artistes and wannabes and maniacal writers who need to make sense of this chaos in any way they can to explain it to the rest of us – or die trying.

If anyone could embody that dance on the knife’s edge, of dueling with Dionysus and divine madness in ways both great and ruinous, it would surely be William Burroughs, the author of the book and the inspiration behind the French company Jardins d’Écrivains latest perfume, Junky.

William Burroughs – prophet of the Beat generation, inspiration for countless imitators, and famous for his no-holds-barred and often harrowing prose – has always seemed a bit of a paradox to me. On the one hand, he was a Social Register aristocrat with a sharp eye for all its failings, and on the other, he personified la vie dans la boue in the best of his brutally honest books, describing the low lives and human detritus that surrounded him with an acerbic pen honed by his acute observations of both their human failings and certainly his own, and nowhere more so than in his first book, Junky.

Reading Junky today reminds me quite a lot of Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater in its exposé of the perils and unearthly pleasures of addiction, but I suspect Burroughs’ intentions were very different from de Quincy’s, even if they both were addicted to two different versions of the same drug, laudanum (which is opium resin in an alcohol solution) and heroin (super-refined opium, super-potent, and one of the most addictive substances known to science). Whereas de Quincy gave us a Gothic Technicolor extravaganza of opiate visions complete with all the literary flourishes of his age, Burroughs gave us a very modern horror story complete with all the trimmings in incredibly spare and brutally honest prose. Personal tragedy, the ravage of its effects, the constant, incessant hustle for the next fix and the one after that, and the next, the agony of being without…

It seems like an odd premise for a perfume of all things, for all that both I and most of my readership are hopelessly addicted to perfume’s countless charms.

Yet Jardins d’Écrivains (the Garden of Writers, a name that had me at hello), a French perfume house which also makes other beautifully composed, luxurious writer-inspired perfumes, candles and bath products, has proven that they don’t take the obvious route with their perfumes. You’ll find no easy shortcuts or clichés in their entire lineup. I first encountered their line at Pitti Fragranze last year, and was certainly more than impressed enough to tell myself to get back to them when I could pay them more attention.

Lo and behold, here is Junky, and for a long time, there was something about it I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around until I realized two things: one, the paradox of William Burroughs himself, and two, the underlying meta-message of his book; that this singular horror could happen to anyone, even a man born at the apex of society with a silver spoon in his mouth – a very radical and highly loaded political premise in the early Fifties when it was first published.

To say that Junky begins green – and I do mean g-r-e-e-n - is an understatement. Green is another way to have me at hello – galbanum lovers, unite! Except that’s nowhere near the whole story, since a distinctive subversive heart beats beneath it – a cannabis accord that is unlike any other I’ve tried in a perfume (a few!). While it won’t get you arrested by either the FBI or the TSA, it’s very much present and unmistakable for anything else.

Yes, I inhaled! And more than once!

Before you know it, a seductive, seamless floral aura begins to bloom on the edges of your awareness. It begins as an indistinct blend, but gradually, it grows and grows and flowers on the skin in a slightly surreal way. Violet, iris and gardenia, says the notes list, yet I’ll wager that that list is missing another, less floral aspect of violet apart from alpha-ionone that accentuates the green theme in Junky – violet leaf, because I detect a lot of violet leaf on my skin. Since violet leaf is one of my favorite notes, this is no bad thing. The iris adds a dab of intellectual distance and irony fragrantly related to Burroughs’ own, whereas the gardenia – just a touch – turns up the volume on all three notes and meanwhile, somewhere in the background that pulse of cannabis beats beneath and betwixt the blooms. As they evolve, it gets harder to tell them apart and harder still not to ask the question: why hasn’t this been done before? And where is it all going, and what does it all mean? Not to mention: why do I feel dizzy?

For one thing, it means green from top to base notes. Those flowers are perceived through a green filter – first by the cannabis hello at the start, followed by those surreal flowers and then by a base that brings it to a final rest of cashmeran – making it soft and fluffy as any opiate dream. I get hints of incense, cedar and juniper, a shot of invigorating moss, a final wave of those intoxicating florals and some 6-7 hours later, a last laugh of that bittersweet cannabis before it vanishes to that Netherworld where such wonders lie in wait for us to discover them.

And the paradox?

The paradox is Burroughs’ own. He is always identified with the Beat Generation he did so much to define, and yet, for all its louche intellectualism and rejection of society’s norms, he also somehow stayed impeccably true to his own upbringing by being meticulous with his appearance to the point of being considered (by Allen Ginsberg not least) something of a dandy and that’s another aspect of this Junky. For all its surprises, Junky is a supremely delineated and exceedingly elegant perfume, just as Burroughs always remained the elegantier of the Beat Generation, somehow transcending the tragic and harrowing circumstances of his life, his unique perspectives, his work and his addictions through his equally meticulous prose.

This Junky, then, is not so much the how of Burroughs’ book, nor even the what, but the why. Why is always the question – and here, it’s a flawless green and perilous floral beauty of an ideal high I’ve found myself craving at different times this past hot summer.

Because anyone can become addicted to Junky’s charms, Even a dandy dwelling in the dirt.

Notes: Cannabis, palisander, rosewood, galbanum, violet, iris, gardenia, cashmeran, cedar, vetiver, incense, juniper, moss, myrtle.

Jardins d’Ècrivains Junky is available from First in Fragrance, Twisted Lily and directly from their website.

With my most profound thanks to Val the Cookie Queen, who does what she can to facilitate my own perfume addiction, bless her subversive heart.

Image of William Burroughs by Harold Chapman, The Beat Hotel, Paris, 1955. Photoshop modification by me.

A Fabulous Four

pink_green_and_blue_floral_cupcakes – some thoughts on a fourth blogoversary and the evolution of a perfume writer.

Around the time my first novel Quantum Demonology was published last winter, I was PMed on Facebook by someone I consider a friend even though we have yet to meet in person. You can bet your perfume budget on some sunshiney day, we certainly will. This is someone many people would consider famous and justly celebrated for that thing he does, so much even I once upon a time completely freaked out he deigned to converse with nobody, nonentity me.

“How does it feel,” he asked me, “to be famous?”

<insert discombobulated Elmer Fudd moment here>

I told him I wasn’t entirely there just yet. (True.)

“But when they make it into a movie…” he blithely continued.

And when they do…

You see, as John Lennon once (famously) said, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

On August 2nd, 2010, I was dueling the first draft of the very long, very last chapter of my book to the death – or at least to where I could type THE END. Meanwhile, it was a hot summer night and the household was asleep, except for one insomniac writer wannabe nearing the last of her third glass of wine in her Hemingway search for inspiration.

Ya know, I remember I thought that night, I could start a perfume blog. What was the worst thing that could happen?

Well, I could become a better writer, maybe.

Bashful Beginnings

Four or five years before, I began my own descent into the perfumed maelstrom by lurking in the shadows on those perfume and beauty blogs I found particularly inspiring; Indie Perfumes, Perfume Shrine, Yesterday’s Perfume, the Non Blonde,  and of course Perfume Posse. They all wrote about perfumes I had never heard of from brands I never knew, in compelling, illuminating ways that almost made them tangible for someone who at the time had no perfume at all, but I could almost reach out through the computer screen and sniff them, almost wonder what it must be like to own and enjoy such evocative essences.

It was perfume by proxy – a highly refined form of torture – but it taught me a lot I didn’t know and cemented much I already did. Somehow, it also satisfied an aesthetic itch/need I wasn’t aware I had – a craving for beauty my own quotidian life at the time could never fulfill. Which also explains why I then proceeded to wish for perfume on all birthdays and Christmases so I could find out what all the fuss was about.

And in August of 2010, that’s where I began – with the five bottles in my perfume cabinet. My first ever review was of the vintage version of Balmain’s Ivoire, and I was idiot enough to think I was simply writing in much the same style as all those other bloggers and with some semblance of the same structure I had absorbed by observation and five years of perfume blog reading.

Which was so very wrong in so many ways!

Seismic Shifts

By December that same year, I approached the end of my rope and my undistinguished career as a perfume blogger – I owned no more perfumes to review. Samples in Denmark were unheard of in those days (which still holds true in some places to this day, especially with Estée Lauder), I couldn’t even afford to buy samples and then what would I do? I made stealth undercover visits to local perfume stores and hosed myself down with tester bottles before I rushed back home to review them. (True story!)

Yet by that time, two scented seismic shifts occurred, both of them paramount to the perfume writer I would later become.

The first of these was biting the bullet and sending off an email request for les petits livres, those fragrant booklets full of wax samples of the perfumes of Serge Lutens. I had been reading about/dreaming about Serge Lutens’ perfumes for seven years, and that intensity of curiosity will kill you…

If any one brand paved the way for the epiphanies to come and taught me to recalibrate my nose by several thousand degrees, it would be Serge Lutens. They were the outright weirdest ‘perfumes’ I had ever encountered in my life. Yet I couldn’t stop sniffing no matter how I tried.

Until that ordinary day the penny dropped, and I got them, got what they were trying to say in essence and absolute, understood them to bedrock and bone marrow…

<spoiler alert>

It’s no coincidence all the perfumes the protagonist of Quantum Demonology wears (and even gives away) are Lutens/Sheldrake creations. To this day and until the day I die, I’ll be an acolyte of the diabolical temple to Oncles Serge and Christopher at the Palais Royal in Paris.

The second seismic shift I owe to Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids. Just as les oncles paved the way for niche perfumery, Ellen opened my nose and Jacobsen’s organ to US indie perfumery, and nothing was ever quite the same again.

You see, Ellen’s astonishing perfumes made me without question into the perfume writer I am today.

Something in those sample vials she first sent me caused me to pull out words and descriptions and phrases I never even knew I contained. For this reason and not a few more, Ellen has her own niche in my perfume Pantheon, and there she stays to this day, because she, too, has evolved and grown into a creator of some truly spectacular perfumes. But best and by far greatest of all, we’ve also become friends and mutual fan clubs.

A Seminal Year

In 2011, Scent Less Sensibilities (the first incarnation of my perfume blog) exploded. Literally. Suddenly, a solitary (and rather lonely) voice in the cyberspace void was heard, was read, was getting noticed… all at the same time my personal life was also – literally – falling apart. Perfume reviewing became my refuge and my escape, and never in my life had the mailman been so eagerly anticipated, because in finally stuffing my perpetual self-doubts where they belonged and pouring out my liquid passions on the virtual page, I found a warm welcome into the blogging community. Thanks to the support, encouragement and astonishing generous care packages of Lucy, Carrie, Dee, Suzanne, Olfactoria, Ines of AllIAmARedhead, Joanne, Portia and many more, I wrote about marvels I never knew.

‘Wrote’, I type these three and a half years later, but what was I truly doing besides attempting to capture the intangible, make it breathe and come alive as best I could for the reader? Even then, there were quite a few perfume blogs, and even then, I had an urge to be distinctive, to do things differently, to push my limits and my words as far and as hard as they could go.

So I ordered the few samples of a few niche houses that caught my imagination, and waited to see what transpired.

In Search of Epiphany

If all good things come in threes, then my third fragrant epiphany was plonking down what was then an insane amount of money – 22€ – on two samples of a line I wanted to knock down to size.

To this day, those two samples remain among the best money I’ve ever spent on perfume in my life.

You see, around the time I had that Zinfandel flash of inspiration to write about perfume, I was beginning to despair of the whole business of perfume. Once upon a time, we could be knocked off our feet in department stores by fragrances to inspire us, seduce us, transport us to otherwise and elsewhere. Why wasn’t that happening any more?

On a dismal, gray winter’s day, I sprayed one of those expensive samples. And was instantly so overcome, I had to sit down.

I had not sniffed – never mind sprayed – something so exquisite, so complex, so huge, so refined and so opulent in decades.

I remember I spluttered a few (highly profane) words I can’t repeat on a perfume blog. I had not one idea in Hades how I’d find the words to write about it. That night, I sat down in front of my computer intending to do my best straight-up review.

Instead and to my own complete surprise, I wrote a story, because with certain perfumes and on certain occasions, a story will do so very much to convey the mood, the emotions, the ambience, the transport and the evolution of a perfume far better than a ‘this is what it smells like’ review. Nothing against those reviews in the slightest, but with me, the storyteller overrules the perfume blogger, which was how I began to even write in the first place a long, long time ago.

This was how I began to write about Amouage. By now, I’ve written almost 400 reviews since of brands both great and small, known and less so, and three years on, ten of those story reviews have been Amouages. Few other brands’ creations grasp my imagination quite so tightly and no other brand is so impossible to review, because sweet Saint Mary Magdalene, where in the multiverse do I start to convey those teeming, seething multitudes of meaning?

Almost four years on, that’s a question I still can’t answer. But by Golly, I’ll die trying!

Great Collaborations

You might have noticed that generally, the Genie doesn’t guest blog or have guest bloggers. Not because I’m opposed to the idea you understand, but partly because I’m a raging megalomaniac writer who wants to hog all the glory for myself and partly for lack of invitations.

Nevertheless, 2011 was also the year I was offered three chances to collaborate elsewhere: as a guest blogger for Penhaligon’s Adventures in Scent, as a participant in a unique and fertile crossroads of literature and perfume called the Clarimonde Project and as a fellow instigator of a perfume project of my own.

Part of my research for the Penhaligon’s guest blog involved an incredible story of a solo journey down the Nile in 1870, when respectable ladies of a certain class simply didn’t do that sort of scandalous, adventurous thing. Even so, I suspect Penhaligon’s was not quite prepared for having their perfumes turned into characters or an irreverent 1890s story of a runaway bride in two installments.

But dear readers, why should writing about perfume always be so high-minded and serious? Channeling Agatha Christie (although I wasn’t aware of it and didn’t read her at the time) was a lot of fun.

The Clarimonde Project was a very different matter – equally as much fun, not least for indulging in all my inherent Gothic inclinations and minuscule talent for emulating 19th-century violet prose, but more importantly because I really had to up the ante on my words, since those staggering perfumes inspired by Théophile Gautier’s 1837 story of a priest and a vampire were journeys into night and shade compelling in their haunting beauty. And not once, but twice, I was compelled to continue Gautier’s story from two different perspectives – one told by his housekeeper, the other the protagonist’s dying thoughts. Even today, I count those two stories as some of the finest writing I’ve ever done. Anywhere.

Speaking of fun…

At one point in 2011, Ellen Covey threw down the gauntlet and double-dared me into another perfume project – the Devilscent Project. Only this time, the inspiration came from my own twisted mind.

My novel and my perfume blog are forever intertwined. Without one, the other would not exist, and my own existence at least would be much diminished for it. To drum up a little interest in Quantum Demonology, Ellen suggested we create a project around the story, and to create perfumes for the titanic antagonist Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, and even for the Devil himself as they’re both described in the book. I’m still not sure I was or even am entirely worthy of the perfumes and incense that followed by Ellen, by Neil Morris, by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb, Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy, Monica Miller, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils and Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts. The world lacks no end of fragrances marketed as ‘dangerously erotic’ or with a bad-boy, rock’n’roll aesthetic. All too often, none of them truly are.

All the perfumes for the Devilscent Project should be banned by Papal bull, whether you choose to accentuate the d in ‘danger’ or capitalize the e in ‘erotic’.

All Good Things

Once upon a storied time, I heard myself saying that all good things have come into my life because of perfume. Only afterwards did I realize just how true that off-the-cuff statement actually was.

Because it is nothing more nor less than the absolute truth.

All good things have come into my life because of perfume.

Without writing about perfume, I would never have become a published novelist. Without perfume, I would never have decided to throw all caution to the wind and define myself simply as a writer.

Without perfume, I would never have forged the friendships, the fellowship or the connections I cherish every single day. And last, but never least, despite being technically unemployed for the past five years (although I have more or less ‘worked’ full-time in various projects to earn my unemployment stipend) and despite being so destitute I can count the amount of full bottles I’ve been able to afford to buy these past four years on one hand, I’ve never felt richer, happier or smelled more fabulous in my entire life.

At one point in Quantum Demonology, the protagonist states the following:

Why did I become a writer? Simple. I sucked at everything else.

True story, for her and for the woman who created her from bits and pieces of her own self, as artists always do.

Then again, that’s not the whole truth.

Because thanks to perfume, I came to envision a new kind of future for the woman I’ve become these past four years, a future I chose, a future I conjured from the aether and channeled from essence and absolute. As I did, as I sniffed and marveled (and sometimes scrubbed), I sent out a grateful thank you to the wind, for being so incredibly privileged to experience something so beautiful and write about it too, to share my experience with my readers and above all else, to conjure friendships with likeminded souls who share my inclinations and my passion, who read what I write, and whose astonishing generosity I dearly wish I could have reciprocated, but unfortunately still can’t.

Yet for four years, I’ve paid my friends and my readers back the only way I can – with my words.

To be honest, I have no idea where I’ll be four years from now, although I rather doubt it will be here.

But here’s what I do know: it can never happen without you, my friends, my readers and my (dangerous!) facilitators.

Thank YOU for these past four fabulous years.

Are you up for four more?

With special thanks to Lucy, Ellen, Neela, Portia, Val, Maria, Alexis, Maggie, Monica, Kedra, Katlyn, Mandy, Christopher, Vero, Andy, Shelley, Dawn, Neil, Ida, Thomas, Persolaise, Barbara, Elena, Gaia, Carrie, Dee, JoAnne, Suzanne, Ines, Caro, Ruth the Perfume Dragon, Tami and of course, Carlos. And the countless thousands I surely forgot to mention! 

A Sunrise and A Soft Goodbye

shanghaijourney

One Last Sunrise

– a story and a review of Amouage Journey

The Peace Hotel, The Bund, Shanghai, late July 1937

He could never remember afterwards how long he stood at the French doors watching the sky above the Bund and over the China Sea bloom from its dark midnight blue to the paler, opalescent, star-flecked hues of gold and violet of impending sunrise. This would be his final sunrise in Shanghai, the last time he would stand by this balcony with this view of a future he could scarcely have imagined on the mean, narrow alleys of Kowloon where everything began so long ago.

How could he have known in that other life, when all he had been was the second son of a simple woodcarver from an endless line of artisans, Cantonese who came to Kowloon hoping to find better, richer, more prosperous lives than their hallowed ancestors?

Look at me now, Father, he thought to himself as the sky above the Bund grew ever lighter, look at me now with my flawlessly tailored suit and my movie star haircut in Shanghai’s most elegant hotel, watch me walk out the door of this hotel suite with my expensive suitcases, watch me as I walk up the gangplank to the SS Aurora with my first-class passage to Valparaiso and onward to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, see me as I leave this old and tired and uncertain world behind with my new name and my new life shining all its unknown and very modern promise in front of me.

He had come so very far from his old Wong Tai Sin of Kowloon self, today would go farther still, for today would be the day he left his old self and old Shanghai behind. Already, rumors and not so idle talk flowered in the teahouses behind Nanjing Road, already people pointed their fingers and their fears towards the Japanese in Manchuria, and it was time to leave his past and his cares behind him while he still could.

Big Earned Du would kill him as mercilessly as only he knew if he ever discovered how his affable, mild-mannered ‘left-hand-man’ had been skimming a quarter-inch off the books of four of his night clubs on Nanjing Road for over three years. If he knew how Left Hand Man scrubbed his loot and his conscience as sparkling squeaky-clean as any Chinese laundry at the baccarat tables of a very private gambling club in the French concession, a club not even the renowned Du Yuesheng, who ruled all of Shanghai and most of its vices with an iron hand in a silken glove would ever dream existed. He wouldn’t know about the many deposits to an account at the American Express offices or the other accounts at Rothschild’s Bank, have no inkling of the thousands of American dollars sewn into the lining of his steamer trunk as a safety measure.

Above and beyond all things else, Big Eared Du would never, ever know about his left hand man’s reasons or rhyme, or just how much the favorite torch singer of Ciro’s nightclub had been responsible for it all. She was the one who cooked up the plan along with her friend, she showed him how to cover his tracks, she taught him to feign Eastern inscrutability as his weapon to hide what his own, darker netherworld of Shanghai should never, ever know.

Or was it rather… that even an woodcarver’s son from Kowloon could leap free of all conventions and expectations, could come at the world roaring like the dragon of his birth year with all his Oriental fire, spice and essence?

Was it that a man like himself, so underestimated, overlooked and unappreciated could throw all tradition, convention and propriety to the wind for a woman who would have made his prim and proper family recoil in horror?

She was a thoroughly modern, audacious blonde South American contralto who sang Cole Porter and George Gershwin for the smart set at Ciro’s. She was the toast of Shanghai and a favorite of his boss, and yet – in a town that knew every secret and every vice everyone wanted to conceal, not even the boss suspected she belonged to his left-hand-man, although it would be far truer to say this: Big Eared Du’s left-hand-man belonged to her.

He had seen enough Hollywood movies to know that a man such as he, a woodcarver’s son from the wrong part of Hong Kong, Chinese to his core despite the Western clothes and his Clark Gable hair cut, would never be a hero, would never get the girl, never be anything else but a cardboard villain in a celluloid cliché of a Shanghai that was its own kind of outrageous fiction everywhere else but here.

Today, he was about to disprove all of them. He got the girl. He had the getaway. He had the promise of a new life ahead under the new name printed on his impeccably British passport, a passport that opened all the doors not even Big Eared Du could knock down.

He stepped out into the first rays of the rising sun. As he breathed in the morning, he breathed in his old self, the Bund and even Shanghai deep into his lungs and pores one last time in this one last sunrise, to say his bold goodbye to all he had been and a bolder hello to all he would become.

The bold, green bite of bergamot and a hint of the orange blossom perfumes she so loved all wrapped up tight within a dim sum totality of Shanghai spice and fire, the waft of burning incense and juniper berries from a passing temple on his way, the rich scent of tobacco from his cigarette case, a faraway musky bitter smell of leather as a portent of what lay ahead on another side of the world where Du would never think to look.

It was too late for regrets and second thoughts. He breathed everything in with all it promised this one last sunrise, held it deep within his heart, his senses and his lungs before he exhaled it back out over the Bund and the city, right before he made a wish on his birth dragon that whatever his future in a faraway land might hold, it would be a journey and a new beginning to a life the left-hand-man would never have dared imagine.

Yet a life the John Lee of his new passport – audacious, modern, a cosmopolitan man of the future – in his Uruguayan exile would never once have a single cause to regret.

TheBund1935

Notes for Amouage Journey Man: Bergamot, Szechuan pepper, cardamom, neroli, juniper, incense, geraniol, tobacco leaves, tonka bean, cypriol, leather, musk.

 

hudie

A Soft Goodbye

The French Concession, later that morning

“Are you sure you’ve packed everything you want to bring?”

She turned away from her view of the tree-lined boulevard toward the voice and the question.

One of China’s most illustrious faces laughed back at her as she indicated all the self-evident chaos of impending departure.

“Well, my clothes, obviously, jewelry, silks, presents for my brother and his wife, a few mementos… I’ve arranged with Lin to have the opium bed, the screen and the cabinet shipped tomorrow, but of course, I’ll be gone by then.”

It was time to close the chapter on her five years in Shanghai.

Five years as a runaway bride from an arranged marriage and a daring escape with her dowry to keep her, only in Shanghai, a purloined dowry and a pretty face was never enough for anything she ever wanted to do.

In Shanghai, what you were and what you had mattered far less than who you knew.

Yet luck had surely been on her side that night four years ago when China’s reigning celluloid Butterfly paid a visit to Ciro’s and introduced herself simply as Hu. That night, a burgeoning friendship was born between the chanteuse with her broken, halting Shanghainese and the celebrated movie star, a friendship that weathered all the storms two women with such vastly different backgrounds could create between them.

Even so, before the movie star, before the nightclub singer, before their respective histories even, they were simply two women and two instant friends, no more and never less.

She came to Hu and poured out her heart when she found herself eyeing the dashing stranger at Ciro’s who came every night with Du and eyed her right back, she told her friend everything there was to tell of seeming chance meetings on Nanjing Road and later clandestine dinners on her Sundays off in humble Nanshi restaurants where Du was never welcomed and she was not known, where no one would think to look and fewer would care to question the presence of the courteous, immaculate Chinese gentleman and the laughing blonde chanteuse.

She had never been one to give her heart away lightly, always kept her distance with a smile when those audaciously modern Shanghai dandies tried to dazzle her with promises as florid and enticing as their extravagant backstage bouquets.

Her left hand man was far more bold for being so discreet, for surprising her with the other, secret Shanghai she had come to know and to love through him.

One hot August night he presented her with a small, delicate sprig of blooming osmanthus and told her to breathe it in, all the way in, when somehow, all she loved about this mythical, mad city of contradictions and mysteries and sins both real and imagined came wrapped around this glowing little flower the hue of a Shanghai sunset.

This was their secret, this sweetly scented flower that laughed its fruity, honeyed path through the teeming streets of Nanshi, past the spice merchants shops and the unexpected surprise of a jasmine bursting out of its pot on an apothecary’s counter and sharp, sunshine puffs of mimosa, when the whispers of a lacquered cedarwood cigarette box told her sotto voce what depths he contained, when that little sprig of osmanthus stole her last objections and her heart away and never gave them back.

She told Hu everything, told her own celluloid story of a romance that could never happen, should never happen, and Hu, as all true time-honored friends would do, began with her help to weave a story of how to make it possible, how to make it happen, how to make her own love-struck movie so infinitely much more real than any flickering black and white dream in the dark.

Away from all of this, away from Shanghai, over the oceans and far away back home to Montevideo, away from her best friend and an uncertain future that loomed like a storm cloud over the western horizon in Manchuria, but how uncertain could her future ever be going home with the man she loved, a man who gave her his priceless gift of a sprig of Shanghai osmanthus?

“Oh, Hu…” she turned away from the balcony with a pang in her heart, knowing this would be a farewell, and who knew when they would see each other again in these precarious times?

“Do you think?”

Hu laughed outright, a laugh that all of China loved, laughed to see the question in her best friend’s face.

“Do I think you will escape, do I think our mad plan will succeed, do I think you’ll get away with it?” and four years of secrets shared laughed their own champagne bubbles beneath her words, “In Shanghai, everything is possible!” Hu walked to the balcony and reached out. She plucked a small sprig of osmanthus from the bush that bloomed in its porcelain pot on the balcony and tucked it firmly into her friend’s lapel beneath a jade brooch.

“I don’t believe. I know! It’s time to go – your ship sails in an hour!”

They hugged with all their history between them, hugged as hard as best friends would, before Hu marched her to the door and said:

“Now go with the Gods, darling. Go home – and say your soft goodbye to Shanghai.”

AmouageJourney

Notes for Amouage Journey Woman: Apricot, osmanthus, nutmeg, cardamom, jasmine sambac, mimosa, honey, cedar, tobacco, saffron, vanilla, cypriol, musk.

Created by Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin in collaboration with Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong. .

Amouage Journey Man and Woman is available from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage e-store.

Image of Amouage Journey courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission.

Much invaluable research came via The Chinese Mirror and the Ling Long Magazine archives of Columbia University.

Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Amouage. I thank the Very August Personage from the bottom of my storyteller’s heart for making this review so incredibly hard to write yet such an endless joy to research.

Also thanks to Ms. Hare, who kicked/shamed/double-dared me to finish it. Or else.

Lemon Aid

Lemon-Slices

–  a review of Tauer PerfumesCologne du Maghreb

Certain things are a given in summertime. You can reasonably expect to survive the heat of July with a) a few mosquito bites, b) by moving from one shady spot to the next if you’re anything as fair-skinned as I and c) last but never least, by rejecting most of the contents of your perfume cabinet in favor of lighter, flirtier scents, unless of course you’re also like me and suffer a fit of heatwave-induced contrariness and roll out what my friend Ms. Hare calls ‘bombs’; those take-no-prisoners odes to opulence that do wonders for your mood if not for your 12+ hour sillage trail.

Today, dear readers, will not be one of those days. For today in my garret in Niflheim, it is an already warm, blue summer day with the promise of more heat on the way. It won’t be long before I turn on the fan and place it on the floor to the delight of Hairy Krishna and Janice Divacat. All my windows are as open as they can be with two cats under a rooftop, the blinds are down to keep out most of the heat and as I type these words, my hair is up in a clip and my iPig is blaring a favorite baritone. I am wearing precisely one item of textile since it’s far too hot for anything more – a tissue-thin A-line rayon dress that won’t make the mailman blush too hard should he arrive, but it’s the coolest item of clothing I own and I have no air conditioning apart from my fan.

Today is also the day I reach for a small vial I’ve been meaning to review for quite some time – Andy Tauer’s recently re-released Cologne du Maghreb, which was originally a 2010 limited edition he has now made part of his permanent collection.

You could argue that the European perfume industry as it exists today owes everything to the cologne – that refreshing if fleeting blend of citrus, flowers and herbs that has been applied to everything from skin to hair to babies, and even used as a mouthwash since Giovanni Maria Farina hit upon a lucky blend in 1709 and named it for his new hometown of Cologne in Germany, an homage also to the local belief that the waters of Cologne cured everything that ailed you, bubonic plague included!

If this eau de cologne by the great Andy Tauer (one of my Primeval Forces of Perfume) is another panacea for all things heat-related that plague me, then it can’t possibly hurt to try.

Famous last words!

If colognes – at least, the ‘classic’ variety embodied by brands such as Roger & Gallet or 4711 – strike you as uncomplicated, somewhat linear fragrances to mindlessly revive your melting self beneath a molten sun, then I have news for you.

Cologne de Maghreb is not one of those. Surely, we perfume diehards hoped for no less from the august Andy Tauer?

And just as we hoped, dear Andy delivered. For his Cologne du Maghreb is neither simple, uncomplicated nor linear in the slightest, yet it is very much a cologne, meaning it is as invigorating as a dip in a cool swimming pool (I can dream!) yet also every drop as sophisticated as all his perfumes.

It begins, like so many great perfume tales, with a blinding bright sunshine burst of lemon and bergamot. And I do mean… lemon. Lemon with a capital L, lemon with all its zest and juice and joie de vivre intact, a lemon that must be a close relation to one of my own heatwave standbys, namely homemade lemonade.

But under that citrus-y sunshine lies a verdant bite of herbs and an earthy, shady vibe from the Atlas cedar that on my skin is apparent from first to last. As it softens and fades, I detect a seamless aura of neroli and orange blossom (never, ever a bad thing in my book), a whiff of background rose and a whisper of lavender, but they’re very hard to tease apart unless I close my eyes and concentrate.

As it evolves and moves forward, the lemon stays in the background like a heartbeat in tandem with that luscious cedar, and it becomes greener and earthier when the vetiver and labdanum arrive treading softly, adding a touch of sunset amber to the greenery.

Unlike most Tauers I’ve been lucky enough to try, Cologne du Maghreb doesn’t last much more on me than approximately three hours or so, which is still quite impressive for a cologne.

I have generally speaking – apart from a vintage bottle of 4711 I acquired in a thrift store for reference – tended to avoid true colognes (as opposed to eau de cologne concentrations of certain perfumes) precisely because they’ve seemed a bit too simplistic, fleeting and linear for my personal tastes. In some hard to articulate way, they’ve failed to scratch my perpetual itch for Slaying Them With Sophisticated Sillage.

Now, with Cologne du Maghreb, Andy Tauer has upended all my preconceptions of what a true cologne can be, by making a cologne for the rest of us perfumista diehards. It is not boring, not simple, not clichéd or trite in the slightest.

Instead, it is the closest thing to bottled air conditioning I’ve tried all summer. While I very much doubt Cologne du Maghreb will cure bubonic plague like those famous waters of Köln, it certainly cures any summertime heat blues I might have. I’ll be buying a bottle as soon as I possibly can.

Perhaps I should just call it…

Lemon Aid.

Notes: Lemon, bergamot, clary sage, rosemary, orange blossom, lavender, neroli, rose, Atlas cedar, labdanum, vetiver and amber.

Cologne du Maghreb is available from First in Fragrance and Luckyscent.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Andy Tauer, for which I can’t thank him enough. Also special thanks to Jeffrey Dame and to Andrew Millar, who suggested a cure for my long and debilitating case of writer’s block.

A Fool’s Paradise

fool-tarot-card-osho-deck

- on IFRA rules and new EU regulations

My original plan for a blog post was a perfume review. My backlog is not getting smaller, and I have all sorts of fragrant epiphanies dying for a touch of superheated prose. But life, as John Lennon once famously said, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Then two things prodded me with a lance and set off my inner Doña Quixota.

The first was a post on a Facebook perfume group concerning the possibilities opened up by new, non-allergenic fragrances and fragrance technologies. I’ll be getting back to that one later.

The second was a blog post by Kafkaesque concerning the new EU regulations on cosmetics and – a pivotal point – perfumes that may take effect by January of next year.

As of today, a petition to protest these proposed regulations and restrictions has gathered over 3400 signatures to protest the upcoming regulations and been given to the EU, along with an alternative to the proposed restrictions and bans.

So you don’t have to slog through a massive amount of turgid, brain-numbing prose, I should say that so far as perfume is concerned, the following three issues are first and foremost at stake:

–       A complete ban on oakmoss, tree moss and HICC, also known as Lyral, an aromachemical used to emulate lily-of-the-valley

–       Deliberating restrictions on citral (for all citrus-based perfumes and anything containing bergamot, which is at least 90% of everything, coumarin/tonka bean and eugenol, present in rose absolutes, concretes and essential oils

–       Deliberating labels on perfumes listing the substances they contain

The EU has also been considering severely limiting over 200 natural essences, oils and absolutes, all of which are (literally) essential to the production of perfumery as we know it today, whether mainstream, prestige, niche or indie perfumery.

Speaking of which…

They have also considered limitations on the sale and distribution of indie perfumes whose manufacture is based elsewhere – for instance, indie perfume houses based outside the EU. A requirement has been suggested that in order to distribute and sell indie perfumery, an EU-based business address will be required by law, which might be the death knell of those wonderful indie perfumes that aren’t IFRA-compliant (which is voluntary to a degree), meaning they contain ‘contraband’ substances, or lucky enough to have EU distributors or retailers.

This is the funeral bell of all perfumery. Or is it?

The Background

<sarcasm>We EU citizens should consider ourselves lucky to live under the aegis of a government so concerned with our personal health and welfare. </sarcasm>

Consider the indisputable fact that many of the potentially restricted raw materials have a proven cultural heritage that dates back at least 5000 years. Yet I don’t see any demonstrators or political activists waving placards near the famous frankincense trees of Dhofar or the fabled roses of Kazaniak in Bulgaria.

All of these proposed regulations and restrictions have been suggested solely for the benefit of potential allergenic effects, potential effects that down the road could mean litigation for perfumers and perfume houses.

Enter the tabloid headline: DIOR SELLS DEATH JUICE – CALLS IT “PERFUME”.

I’m certainly not arguing that perfume allergies don’t exist, nor do I want to disrespect the plight of those unfortunate people who suffer from them – sometimes excruciatingly so. I find it appalling that even unscented body products are often scented to mask the stench of the ingredients they contain.

But here’s the punch line: People who suffer from perfume allergies don’t buy or wear perfume.

The fragrant tachyderm in the room is what no one is saying. Not the EU and their hordes of political lobbyists representing the more sinister aspects of international politics, not the IFRA, certainly not the roaring, screaming silence of the perfume industry as a whole and with the exception of a few brave souls, not even the blogosphere, where most of us like to pretend that all is well, grand and divinely scented business as usual.

Because allergies and potential allergenic compounds are not the issue at all.

The Agenda

More fragrant food for thought – the IFRA, the industry regulator and watchdog that enforces (voluntary) regulations meant to ensure the safety of consumers, is not an independent entity – it is financed by Givaudan, Symrise and US-based International Flavors and Fragrances, in other words, the very perfumery companies it is supposed to regulate.

Let that sink in for a moment.

No matter what the label on the perfume bottle might lead you to believe, many times a perfume – whether mainstream, prestige or niche – originates with one of these companies. We perfumistas often kid ourselves that perfumes are discontinued due to IFRA regulations, but it is just as often due not to restrictions or the cost-effectiveness of materials, but to expiring patents of perfume formulae owned not by, say, a LVMH company (who own an appalling number of mainstream designer lines), but by – you guessed it – Givaudan, Symrise, Mane or IFF.

It’s interesting that LVMH or even Chanel have been so silent lately in this recent outrage, considering how much they protested when these proposed regulations and restrictions were made public. Then again, the perfume industry’s notorious conspiracy of silence is a public fact…

The plot thickens further.

Say the bill is passed in all its hideous, heritage-murdering glory. Will we all be doomed to a future of horrific sugar-sweet bubblegum fruitchoulis containing nary a single metaphorical rose petal?

Maybe not, since the rise of synthetic aromachemicals in the twentieth century have revolutionized perfumes and often, these materials are entire perfumes in and of themselves. If so many natural absolutes and oils are severely restricted, then they would be substituted with synthetic and/or nature-identical aromachemicals. Meanwhile, no one really knows the long-term effects of using these synthetics.

Synthetics provided by Givaudan, Symrise, IFF. Who naturally – such being the supply and demand of market economics – stand to make an absolute killing, and not just of a cultural heritage. In other words, it’s not about potential allergies or allergenic reactions to known perfume components at all. It’s about the money, sadly, just like so much else in the world.

Hi-Tech Magic

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no such thing as a natural perfume, unless you place a fragrant flower behind your ear and call it a day. I will also say that so far as I am personally concerned, I have no particular bias one way or the other. I have natural – which is to say, containing no synthetics – perfumes in my cabinet that rival any stellar perfumes I could mention in complexity and depth.

Likewise, I’m well aware that many, if not most of the other fragrant wonders in my red IKEA cabinet of doom are known as ‘mixed-media’ perfumes, because synthetic aromachemicals can provide lift, body and longevity to truly make a perfume bloom. I’ve even encountered all-synthetic perfumes that have been interesting adventures on their own.

What really fascinates me are the technologies of headspace and fractionation, since they open up entirely new vocabularies for perfumers to work with.

Natural materials have an astonishingly complex olfactory profile. For instance, roses contain upwards of 10,000 different fragrant components, all of which give rose perfumes their spicy, earthy, fruity, fiery and musky profiles. Fractionation allows extraction of singular aspects of natural materials. If eugenol – one of the hotly contested components – is the issue, you can simply ‘weed’ it out of the rose. This has been one of the suggested remedies for banning oakmoss – simply remove the allergenic component, and voilà! Mitsouko is restored to all its former glory. (We can dream!)

Headspace technology is another new thrill for perfumers, since it allows for chemical analysis of aromachemical profiles from plants and flowers that are usually reconstructed, since they can’t be extracted from the plant. Gardenia and lily of the valley are two examples of using headspace technology for perfumery. This means that perfumers will still have a vast range of new materials to combine to infinity in any number of ways for new, exciting perfumes.

Having said that, any perfumer – or perfume aficionado – will tell you in no uncertain terms: there is no synthetic substitute no matter how well-made for the complexity, the richness and the depth of natural essences and absolutes. For all of them provide a perfume with its soul, its terroir, that one core component that elevates a fragrant concoction from simply smelling good (or bad!) to transcendental in a way no synthetics can.

Murder They Wrote

The cultural history of humankind has been scented since the dawn of civilization. Whether for reasons of devotion or seduction, trade routes sprang up to supply the temples of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China and history was made, agriculture bloomed to provide raw materials, statues of gods and goddesses were adorned with garlands of fragrant flowers, and perfumes and incenses were used to impart divinity and power. Indeed, in some cultures it is required to meet the divine appropriately perfumed, whether with the sandalwood paste of Hindu temples of India, or the oud blends so beloved in the Middle East.

Today, we consider Paris the epicenter of the perfumery world, but in fact, the olfactory heritage of France did not originate there but in Italy, when Catherine de Medici set out for France and her future husband with a band of Florentine perfumers in tow.

The court of Louis XIV was known as the Perfumed Court, and in those days before indoor plumbing and regular baths, everything aristocratic and prestigious was scented and perfumed; clothes, gloves (to mask the stench of tanned leather), wigs, letter paper, wallpaper, surroundings.

The demand for perfumery with all its associations of luxury led to an industry that gave us the jasmines and roses of Grasse, the lavenders of Provence and the storied, world-renowned perfumeries of Paris. Colonization gave perfumers other and more exotic materials to work with, such as tolu and Peru balsam, ylang ylang and agarwood.

It gave us Paul Parquet of Houbigant, Aimé, Jacques and Jean Paul Guerlain, Ernest Daltroff of Caron, François Coty, Germaine Cellier (one of my own personal favorite renegade perfumers), Edmond Roudnitska, Ernest Beaux. It gave the world a quintessential pride in a shared scented history, and an even greater pride in the artisanal craft and alchemy of its perfumers. On perfume bottles the words ‘in honor of my art’ were engraved in invisible, fragrant ink in essence and absolute.

Along the way, we also had Paul Poiret, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Robert Piguet, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, all fashion designers and visionaries who were quick to realize that even if a customer could never afford haute couture, he or she could afford that essential stamp of luxury, style and Parisian èlan by association; through a perfume.

Each and every one of these companies and their countless imitators milked the fragrant heritage of Paris and Parisian chic, luxury and seduction for all it was worth, and ever since, the rest of the world has been buying right into it, even as we knew we’d never in a million years be as fabulous as Jerry Hall in an Opium perfume ad or Marilyn Monroe between her sheets dressed only in Chanel no. 5, we could at least feel that way for as long as a perfume breathed on our skins and defined us.

But some time in the mid-1990s, shark fins appeared over the fragrant horizon in the wake of ubiquitous calone and aquatic perfumes. Perfume aficionados, myself included, began to notice that our long-beloved liquid definitions were no longer quite what they were. Some were discontinued, some were reformulated, but one thing became increasingly clear – the world of perfume was changing, and not necessarily for the better. Multinational conglomerate companies such as LVMH ate up renowned brands such as Guerlain, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, and then proceeded to brutally murder everything that made those perfumes special without even the common decency to give them a proper burial.

Yet even as the Naughties gave us the rise of the dreaded Angel clones, fruitchoulis and celebufumes, times were changing. With the advent of sites such as Makeupalley, fabulously scented nobodies ventured forth and began to review perfumes for a burgeoning audience eager to learn, and with perfume blogging – fortuitously timed with the rise of indie and niche perfumery in the public awareness – the fragrant landscape changed yet again, and the international perfume community wafted dangerously expensive temptations in its wake.

My own descent in the maelstrom can be pinpointed to the late summer of 2003 and a post on Makeupalley that told of the bottled emotions of a certain Serge Lutens. I let my curiosity literally kill me, lurking on perfume blogs I read religiously for over six years before I found out for myself just how true that evocative description was.

Within three years, we would have perfume blogs to edify and educate us – and meanwhile, niche and indie perfumery rustled in the underground and took off, starting the trends and creating the perfumes and the brands both my readers and myself love and adore to this day.

The blogosphere I became a minuscule but proud part of in 2010 celebrated not only those immortal classics of the twentieth century, but independent perfumery and perfumers. Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, Neela Vermeire, Ormonde Jayne, the meteoric rise of Amouage as a global brand, the blooming advent of breathtaking indie perfumers based in the US such as Aftelier, aroma M, DSH Perfumes, Neil Morris, Olympic Orchids, Envoyage, even Tommi Sooni in Australia, the perfumer as rock star…

As we say in my native Denmark… our enthusiasm would never, ever end.

And if not for the wretched EU, the lobbyists in Brussels or the heavily vested interests of the IFRA, we might have remained blithely, blissfully unaware of those shark fins on the horizon.

Truth and Consequences

As it was written, the truth of the EU proposal would basically mean the death of perfumery as we define it today. Perfumes would by necessity have to be reformulated to the point of redundancy, growers in Bulgaria, Egypt, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia would have to find other, more profitable crops, hundreds of thousands of people would have to locate other employment in an inhospitable economic climate, and every single brand you’ve ever heard of would have to close its doors – forever.

Yet strangely enough, very few brand owners and perfumers rose to the occasion and decried their impending doom and demise. One of the few who put his passions right up front was Frédéric Malle of Editions de Parfums, who came right out and said what very few dared, least of all global players such as LVMH and Chanel, both selling perfumes on a scale where you’d expect them to have a definite opinion and with the kind of industry clout to put some political muscle behind it.

There we were, even I, yesterday, wrestling with the research and my own definite emotional response to this potential horror, when Michel Roudnitska – son of Edmond and a fabled former perfumer himself – posted a link to an article in French about the coming regulations and some new considerations the EU is taking into account, in part because of the protests of perfume consumers and concerned EU citizens.

It seems that the EU will, among other things, revise its testing methodology to also include non-allergic people, to allow the use of certain aromachemicals and problematic natural materials if the allergenic compounds are removed before use, and at least listened to some of the arguments from both the industry, such as they were, and consumers themselves. Then again, it’s hard to argue with a 19 billion € industry…

As I type these words, I’m wearing a perfume, one of my recent fragrant obsessions I have yet to write about. It has haunted and taunted me in ways all the best perfumes always do, defying my attempts to decline it and pin down its inherent mysteries. It shouldn’t work, shouldn’t exist, and yet it does, and as it does, I am taken out of myself and away from my woes and cares in a manner only literature and music can compete with, and even so, this perfume needs no words to explicate it. It simply is – no more and no less.

As I wonder, as I think about its marvels and its majesty, I wonder if we, the passionate perfumistas, bloggers and perfume writers of the world, haven’t been living in a kind of fool’s paradise, breathing in the flowers and essences of this perfumed Eden, and forgetting about the crumbling ledge beneath our feet.

The results of the EU consultation will be made public in July.

Stay tuned.

The Winners Are…

And-the-Winner-Is-CP-Confetti

Random.org has spoken, and the winners of The Alembicated Genie’s giveaway draw are…

10 ml of Mohur extrait and a ceramic perfume disk:

Sara

Samples of Mohur Extrait:

Gisela & Silverlily

Please email me before May 28th at thealembicatedgenie@gmail.com with your contact information and address, so I can pass it on to Neela.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the draw for your comments and for enjoying this story/review!