Dreaming A Rose

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 – a review of Aftelier Perfumes’ ‘Wild Roses’ 

A rose by any other name, Shakespeare once wrote, would smell just as sweet. And yet…considering that in not a few ways, this year of 2012 was a major Year of the Rose, I marvel at just how many ways those names of a rose can be interpreted, just how many new songs can be sung of this timeless bloom, a symbol of Aphrodite and a universal symbol of love and beauty. How many tall tales and fragrant secrets can be concealed or discovered within the velvet petal folds…of rose?

Quite a few as it happens, all of them different, many of them marvelous, and none more so than the little vial glowing amber on my desk with such a prosaic name holding such decadent, delicious, joyous tales… of rose. For this rose perfume is no mere ‘rose’, no romantic trope or fragrant cliché, this rose is all aglow and very new, this rose in a year that knew so many roses is…an Aftelier, and Mandy Aftel knows well the many secrets of very many roses.

One of the things I love most about Mandy’s perfumes is just how truly unique each and every one of them are, how they are all created to a very different and definitely audacious heartbeat. Every time, I’m delighted to say they are like nothing at all else and so far removed from any fads or trends, they exist in some alternate fragrant multiverse altogether, where everything you think you know is turned upside down and invented anew. Nothing – not the list of notes, which are precisely what you’re getting, not the so-called family, not even the simple word ‘perfume’ seems to do them quite enough justice, certainly not in this case when confronted with a perfume called no more and no less than …Wild Roses.

Do you think you might have some idea of this rose, is there an inkling of an association twirling its fragrant ghosts through your mind as you think of those two prosaic words wild and roses? I mean, really, what else can you possibly say about roses, be they ever so wild?

I’ll tell you.

I tested the extrait, and Wild Roses opens heady and dense, with an unusual dusky note of heliotrope mingling with the piercing bright green of bergamot and geraniol. Shining through it all with a sunbeam all its own is a sweet, decadent rose, the kind of rose you would sometimes wish other roses might be, the rose other roses might aspire to if they’re very, very lucky. You know you are since this rose sings on you, and as it breathes and blooms, it grows and it glows in all its luscious hues, the apricot adding its own sweet sunlit golden chorus to this aria of rose, the pimento berry centering both the apricot and that peerless rose with its earthy, fiery baritone, smoothing a path through these prolific roses, roses everywhere, down to that sudden fragrant epiphany of an anisic tarragon at twilight in tandem with vanilla, patchouli and indole as these roses dance their last on your skin. Have no fear of indole here, it’s been thoroughly tamed and held in check by the patchouli, vanilla and tarragon, and that too is a surprise, of how seamlessly the tarragon folds itself into both the heart and the base and how the indole opens up the heart of this fully blooming, ripe rose.

What can I say to tell this tale of wild and of roses, how can I convey with my words what a joy this perfume is, how audacious, how delicious is – this dream of roses? Mandy Aftel wrote in her press release that this rose perfume was inspired by a walk through a garden of blooming roses, with the scent of sunshine and warm earth, the many dizzying aspects and perfumes of many different roses, that perfect exhalation of a perfect, joyous moment, when body, soul, and heart all come together bound by sun-kissed, piercingly beautiful roses, and there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no worries and fewer cares, only this now and this place and your beating, happy heart, woven of a velvet-hued vision that dreamed such roses – as Aftelier’s Wild Roses, and yet again, rose was dreamed – and created – anew.

 

Aftelier ‘Wild Roses’ is available in extrait and eau de parfum directly from the Aftelier website.

Notes: Top: Rose CO2, heliotropin, bergamot, geraniol, m-methyl anthranilate, damascenone

Heart: Apricot, Turkish rose absolute, pimento berry, p-ethyl alcohol, rose petals attar

Base: Tarragon absolute, vanilla absolute, indole, aged patchouli.

Painting: Chiu Ming Chiang, ‘Wild Rose’, via Abby Daily

Disclosure: A sample of Wild Roses extrait was provided for review by Mandy Aftel.

Orange Blossom Special

-  a getaway vacation into the heart of a favorite flower

Of all the many fragrant memories of my South Florida childhood, one in particular has stuck in my mind and stayed with me even today, as a redolent symbol of all that is …happy.

I was ten or eleven at the time, and it was a day I had forgotten my house keys, so I had to wait in the back yard for my mother to arrive home from work. It must have been late March or early April, for the citrus tree orchard in our back yard was in full bloom. We had grapefruit trees, lemon trees, lime trees, and a stand of orange trees that stood at least twenty feet tall. They all required careful navigating to climb – those trees had spiky thorns – but I had long since found a path up the trunk and onto a favorite branch, and that’s where I chose to wait.

It was a heady late afternoon out there beneath the orange tree canopy, the slanting sunlight beating down upon those trees from that breathless blue Florida sky. Everywhere around me, the no less heady, nearly narcotic fragrance of orange blossom in all its many shades…the soapy floral, the hint of the orange zest behind it, the thick, sensuous, indolic aspect that somehow stupefied me to such an extent I have no memory of how long I sat there, only that as I sat on that branch and waited, I was aware of only one thing – the simple joy of breathing in, of inhaling all that was supremely beautiful and supremely happy, which was precisely how I felt.

No matter how much my life attempts to drag me down and chew me out, nothing, but nothing makes me happier in an instant like orange blossom.

Orange blossom – and its kissing cousin, neroli, which is the water-distilled extract of the bitter orange and lighter and less indolic – has been used for centuries in perfumes and soaps, so much that an overdose can easily lead you to dismiss an orange-blossom fragrance as ‘soapy’. It adds its own power-packed punch to countless famous perfumes as one of the four boldest white florals – rose, jasmine, tuberose and…orange blossom. Robert Piguet’s Fracas – that reference tuberose – gets a good deal of its divalicious oomph from orange blossom, as does Caron’s classic Narcisse Noir, although in Narcisse Noir’s case, the orange blossom is a dark and dangerously erotic creature of the night. I never have understood why orange blossom is such a symbol of innocence, unless it’s that orange blossom tends to soothe frazzled bridal nerves, since so far as I’m concerned, it’s a very erotic flower…

A while ago, I posed a question on one of the Facebook fragrance groups about orange blossom. We generally agreed on the orange blossom gold standard  – my absolute favorite orange blossom, which is Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. This is the orange blossom I recall from that afternoon that burned itself into my memory, the rose, the jasmine and the tuberose somehow all adding up to all the nuances contained in that one fatally fragrant blossom – and the cumin (a deal-breaker for some) adding its own intimations of carnal intent. This is no blushing ingénue orange blossom, this is an opulently sensuous creature in full bloom beneath the orange trees, just waiting to lure you in…which might explain why I’ve likely ‘wasted’ a good portion of a bell jar spraying it on my pillow before bed. Sweet dreams indeed!

But there are other orange blossom specials, and here they are for your delectation…some famous, some not so much, some innocent and flirty, some of them not quite so innocuous…

Joyous Orange

Mona di Orio ‘Jabu’

Jabu – the Zulu word for ‘joy’ – was created in 2009 by the epically talented niche perfumer Mona di Orio, who tragically died last year. No tragedy lurks within ‘Jabu’, which was made to benefit the Dutch charity ‘Orange Babies’ for African HIV-positive mothers and their babies. Jabu is a glorious, complex, grand, glowing Oriental of an orange blossom, from its laughing beginnings of petitgrain through its honeyed, swirling heart of orange blossom, rose and coconut all the way to the feather-soft drydown of benzoin, myrrh and sandalwood. Coconut can be a deal-breaker for me, but here, I have no complaints – everything works in perfect harmony, and everything spells precisely what it says on the bottle – which is…joy. It is virtually impossible to be blue when wearing this, and if that’s not an accolade, what is?

Jabu – in the ‘main’ collection of Mona di Orio perfumes – will be re-released along with the other perfumes in Mona’s main line in 2013.

Notes for Jabu: Orange blossom, monoi oil, petitgrain, Damascus rose, honey, amyris, plum, myrrh, benzoin

The Drop Dead Elegant Orange

Hermès 24 Faubourg

If every luxury perfume brand needs a Great Big White Floral, then 24 Faubourg is surely Hermès’ contribution. Made by Maurice Roucel in 1995, this is a unique throwback to those elegant, supremely French perfumes of yore when ladies who lunched wore couture, carried Hermès bags, and wore fragrant statements that left an emphatic presence in the room behind them. Make no mistake – this is no ingénue orange blossom, this one is all woman, and she roars even when she whispers! It starts with a seamless fruity-floral effervescent blast – there’s no other way to describe it – and then. And then, it grows. And it glows. And it grows. Blooming into a luscious, lilting blend of thick orange blossom, gardenia and jasmine, with black elder adding its own earthier segue to its chypre-tinged drydown hours and hours later of orris, sandalwood, amber, patchouli and vanilla. I really don’t do it anything near the justice it clearly deserves when I wear it barefaced in my leopard-print pjs – 24 Faubourg somehow demands a flawless maquillage, great hair, grand clothes and high heels – something to accentuate its stunning sillage, outstanding longevity and eternally stylish structure. Wear it for when you want to make a definite impression no one forgets in a hurry! Preferably with Louboutin heels, but Manolos might do in a pinch…

Notes for 24 Faubourg: Orange, peach hyacinth, ylang ylang, bergamot, black elder, iris, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, vanilla.

The Limited Edition Orange

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger

There should be laws against limited editions I only discover after it’s way too late to do anything about procuring them. But on the other hand…what wonders would I miss? L’Artisan Parfumeur’s ’s special edition tribute to an exceptional Tunisian orange blossom harvest is what. L’Artisan puts the orange blossom – one spectacular orange blossom – front and center of this composition by Anne Flipo, and it’s all orange blossom, all the time! Lush, flirty, ripe, borderline naughty orange blossom, neroli, petitgrain – it’s the whole tree and all the flowers, too – and it’s glorious – and gorgeously linear –  stuff. If I have any complaints – apart from being nearly impossible to find any longer – it’s that it doesn’t last nearly long enough to suit me, which only means that one bottle will be too many and two not nearly enough!

Notes for L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger: Orange, petitgrain, neroli, orange blossom, almond.

 The Great Escape

Dior Cruise Collection Escale à Portofino

In my fevered imagination – all evidence in my life to the contrary – I have what I’ve come to call ‘perfect moments’ – those fantasies of being somewhere infinitely glamorous, wearing something equally devastating, standing on a balcony overlooking the limitless blue Adriatic with a Bellini in my hand exuding effortless ‘du chien’, a French term that implies something slightly better, cooler and much more fashionable than mere ‘chic’. Chic can be acquired with a little help, ‘du chien’ is something you either have or you don’t. Needless to say, that never happened. Yet if any perfume takes me ‘there’ to that balcony and that fantasy, surely it’s Dior’s Escale à Portofino, created by Francois Demachy in 2008. It was one of the first remotely exclusive perfumes I ever bought for myself, and it is a very unique and uniquely summery vacation-in-a-bottle, with its entire orange tree from leaves to blossoms bottled up and tied around a milky, transparent green almond note so wrong, it’s utterly right, a while before it whispers its twilit song of darkest summery green some hours later. It could last a bit longer, this is true…but isn’t that just another excuse for another hit of fantasy?

Notes for Escale à Portofino: Bergamot, petitgrain, lemon, orange blossom, almond, juniper berries, cedar, cypress, galbanum, caraway and musk

A Vial with a View

Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino

Although I can’t quite put my finger on precisely what causes it, something about the few Tom Ford’s Private Blend of perfumes I’ve tried tend to rub my fragrant fur in a few wrong directions. It isn’t that they’re not meticulously crafted (Neroli Portofino was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux), or truly horrible or cheap-smelling, which they’re not. It could be their prohibitive price tag, or else that I’m just not a Tom Ford kind of woman. For one, I’m too short – and too busty, if not quite blonde enough. But if anything could persuade me otherwise, it just might be Neroli Portofino, tacky, tasteless advertising notwithstanding. Neroli Portofino is neither tacky nor tasteless, but instead, another tribute to the deathless, posh summer cool of Italy’s Amalfi coast, and lo and behold…you are all there with that breathtaking balcony view and all of a damn near flawless orange blossom dream yourself. Strangely enough, neroli isn’t listed as a note at all, but orange blossom – the plush, heady, slightly soapy sort of orange blossom – certainly is. It’s pretty linear from start to ambery finish, but who cares with that picture perfect Portofino view?

Notes for Neroli Portofino: Bergamot, mandarin orange, African orange blossom, amber.

 The British Art of Understatement

Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom

From the overtly stated to the softly sotto voce…Bertrand Duchaufour’s reorchestrated ‘Orange Blossom’ for Penhaligon’s is as soft and as soothing as a down duvet. It’s a light, flirtatious orange blossom that lures you in and surprises you with all the tales that can be told about ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’. It begins clean, cologne-bright and full of light – no intimations of sexpot here, or so you surmise – but that’s nowhere all it is and not at all where it stays as it evolves past those squeaky-clean beginnings into a pas-de-deux of petitgrain and cardamom, tied around an orange blossom that seems more neroli than ‘orange blossom’ to my nose. It’s understated, never obvious, and supremely suited for the mood of summery, flirty and light-hearted laughter that seems to go with long, sunny days and warm, delicious nights. You won’t be knocking anyone over with this, but you won’t overwhelm with your presence either, and that sometimes has its own undeniable appeal. I’ve loved it and worn it when other orange blossom perfumes might seem a bit much in the heat – in other words, when understated is precisely the kind of statement I want to make!

Notes for Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom: Calabrian orange, bergamot, peach, rose, cardamom.

Many fragrant multiverses lie in waiting within that simple term ‘orange blossom’. Some others I wear, adore and have reviewed include Olympic Orchids‘ ‘Golden Cattleya’ and ‘Emergence’, Andy Tauer’s ‘Orange Star’, Opus Oils’ ‘Giggle Water’ and of course, the Gold Standard… Serge Lutens‘Fleurs d’Oranger’.  Coming up on the Genie –  yet another orange blossom-centric perfume, but this one is so special, it deserves its own review!

Do you have your own orange blossom moments, too?

With thanks and love to the Great Facilitators…Ruth, Carlos and Amy, for making this review possible, and the many comments to my question on my favorite FB group! <3

The Surprise at the Top of the Shop

-   a review of Aftelier Perfumes‘Parfum de Maroc’

One of my recent obsessions this past spring has been Moroccan cuisine. This explains why I stood in front of an enormous spice rack on a busy day at one of my favorite local shops in town, a Lebanese market that stocks everything from addictive fresh-baked mahmoul cookies, baklava and orange flower water to nigella seeds, cherimoya fruit and bunches of fresh peppermint for tea. I had just bought not one, but three coffee grinders, one of which I would dedicate as a spice mill, and this Saturday morning, I had a mission: to make my own Ras al Hanout, the spice mixture that jazzes some of my favorite foods.

Which was precisely when I ran into a friend of mine, who works as a translator of Arabic and English. He cast a glance into my basket. Couscous, peppermint, Italian parsley, cilantro, those addictive mahmoul cookies, lemons, whole allspice, dried chiles, black and green cardamom pods, Ceylon cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, almonds. “Ah!” he said. “You’re making your own Ras al Hanout! Don’t forget the rose petals!” He tossed a packet into my basket and gave me a conspiratorial grin. “That’s the secret, you know. Too many people forget. Do you know what it means?” “The top of the shop,” I answered. “Because that’s where the best spices are kept?” That made him laugh. “Only in Morocco. Everywhere else, it means a mortuary! You know, because they put you…on the top of the shop?” He winked. “But never mind…watch out for those mahmoul cookies. Roast your spices! And remember the rose petals! They make all the difference!” Whereupon he frogmarched me to the cash register and the very amused Lebanese he attacked with a torrent of Arabic and laughter concluding in a thirty percent discount on the contents of my basket.

The very top of the shop is also where you’ll find Aftelier’s equally delicious Parfum de Maroc, inspired by a journey to Morocco and that eponymous, addictive spice blend. No worries…this is most emphatically a perfume, and like all the very best perfumes, the kind of fragrant transport-in-a-bottle that enlightens the mind, enlivens the soul and exhales its own brand of exotic sunshine on your skin.

My own limited experience with Morocco goes no further than Casablanca, and the sensory shock of the market in color, sound and perfume under a blazing August sun I never quite forgot, and just as another perfume took me there in a sniff and a heartbeat, so does this one, although this is nothing like it.

The heat, the whirl and swirl of another culture living at a different, hotter pitch and timbre, all the striking, scorching color and fiery, feisty spice are all there right at the outset of Parfum de Maroc. A heady punch of ginger and its distant cousin galangal zaps your senses awake, followed by an exuberant orange, a mellow pepper and glowing over all like the Moroccan sun, a vibrant saffron smoldering its own kind of fire around the edges, which proves that spice is indeed…very, very nice. But Parfum de Maroc is no gourmand, does not have any edible associations, and as I’ve come to expect with Mandy Aftel’s creations, just as that delectable, spicy top accord fades, a most wondrous thing occurs.

Normally, when rose is immersed in a perfume, I know what to expect. It can be green, spiky, untamed, erotic, musky, lemony…even (here comes that word again!) spicy. Still – a rose is a rose is a…you get the idea.

Until I said that happy hello to Parfum de Maroc, I had never met a rose that hid so well behind its spice and light, flirty teases of jasmine, of nutmeg, a puff or two of dusky, dark cinnamon, and before I know it, the biggest surprise of all. It’s raining…dried rose petals! Nothing like fresh roses, these petals are earthy, warm, slightly dusty, underlining their inspiration and exuding their own kind of heat, glimpsed out of the corner of your olfactory eye in that faraway medina as if falling behind an ornate pierced woody screen of spice and cinnamon, a breath of jasmine caught from far away weaving its own ribbon of heaven into the mix. As those petals fade after a long while, the twilight descends. The blinding light and searing spice, the flowers that catch you by surprise, and the final curtain between night and day, cardamom and myrrh and rich, dark labdanum.

Where do all these fragrant colors begin, what could be said to describe Parfum de Maroc? It’s a tapestry woven to a memory of heat, color, light and perfume, it’s a vacation in a bottle, and it’s an exhilarating, happy aura to wrap around yourself on mundane, rainy days, when life conspires against you and you need that reminder – just like the spice blend, just like this perfume, you, too, belong only…at the top of the shop!

Notes: Bitter orange, fresh ginger, galangal, saffron, black pepper, nutmeg, jasmine, rose, cinnamon, cardamom, myrrh, labdanum.

Parfum de Maroc is available as a 1/4 oz. perfume and as an Eau de Parfum from the Aftelier website.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Mandy Aftel.

Image: Peter Hammer, Redbubble. Used by permission.

A Dialogue in Definition

-  a conversation and a review of Amouage ‘Beloved’

“You know that famous quote:”

What is left after a woman removes her jewels, her clothes and her makeup? Her skin…and her perfume.

“Ah, yes. I love that he said ‘woman’.

“Girls could never carry that off. They don’t know enough, have too much to prove.”

“You mean, like those days I look around on the street and see all those Bright Young Things in their bright, fashionable dresses and catch myself thinking…I don’t envy you.

“Precisely. There’s no reason why you should. You are what you are, all of a piece. You’re not afraid of making an impression.”

“Preferably a good one, but mainly that I make one! So what would such an impression be?”

“Be careful. Impressions are one thing, expressions another. Let’s start with that. You choose your expression, as in, say, you choose…a perfume. One that tells the story of you in that moment in time, your mood, your emotions, how you express yourself to the world, the impression you want to leave behind when you leave the room. Are you still with me?”

“Oh, yes! And very intrigued.”

“Good! So then…confident. Complex. Very modern, independent-minded, very aware of what goes on around you, very secure in your skin. Which is to say, as secure as any woman gets with age and the kind of acquired wisdom only an idiot wouldn’t appreciate as it deserves.”

“I like it! Keep talking.”

“Now for the challenge. How to say all that without words…Rose, of course. Every woman worth knowing contains a rose of a singular hue. You’re a feisty, fiery female, so we need something to capture that – a hint of spice, some opening intimations of your depths, but nothing loud, nothing obvious. A touch of jasmine, maybe, something as soft as a swans down powder puff, maybe a breath of chamomile and clary sage?”

“You’re only just starting and it sounds so complicated already!”

“You mean you’re not? Knock me down with a powder puff…I’m just trying to capture the …idea, the concept, the hello! moment.”

“But it should shift and move and change, or it becomes too one-dimensional, when we all know I have at least four. Or was that six?”

“Hush. I’m not finished. Where was I?”

“A breath of chamomile and clary sage…”

“That’s right. It would have to be seamless, no jarring edges, no discordancies, no taking you apart at the seams. Just this…shifting, kaleidoscopic, complexity of evolution…You’ve said hello. They’re taking notice. Next, we need to hint at those fathomless depths…the unexplainable you, the parts that can’t be dissembled, or the intricacies come tumbling down. This will not do. All of a piece, remember?”

“Like that famous line… ‘Men can be analyzed. Women simply adored.’

“I love a woman who understands what I’m trying to say. So…depth. Layers of meaning unfolding through time like a thousand-petaled rose, every petal a different meaning, another idea, another …kind of definition. Something elegant yet restrained, classical yet not boring, and again…seamless. Plush, luxurious and rich, that goes without saying. The olfactory equivalent of velvet that changes in the candlelight…”

“You’ve missed your calling. You should have been a poet. I’m swooning already, and we’re just into the heart notes.”

“You’re too classy, too cool to swoon. But a little…dizzy is fine. Remember…impressions! Ylang-ylang, maybe…violet, certainly, but not overly sweet, a little cistus, whispers of benzoin with those thick vanillic tones, a sotto voce ribbon of frankincense and patchouli smoldering beneath the floral, I think. Yes, that would be perfect. So long as it’s kept ethereal. Make them wonder, make them dream, never give all your secrets away, that’s the idea – and that’s your idea, too.”

“You know me too well.”

“Not at all. You’re a woman, there’s no such thing as ever knowing everything there is to know about a woman like you. That’s half the thrill.”

“What’s the other half?”

“Ah, now, it’s late…you’re home, you’re taking off your public self, that carefully crafted image, you step out of your shoes, you remove your earrings, you are ready to reveal that private, sensuous self, the one the world suspects but never sees, and that, too, is part of your endless intrigue. This is the woman who smolders, who glows like pearl after midnight. For those words, we need that suggestion of moonlight, those endless depths that reveal something of that secret self, that part that is all woman, that part that is skin – and perfume.”

“You had me at the ‘night is yet young’ part.”

“Excellent! A little cedar and sandalwood says midnight, the leather and the musk sing ‘skin’, the castoreum and the civet say…the private you the world will never know and never see, but can only guess, only wish they knew. We can say it just a little louder, that depth and that breadth and that scope and that passion that defines everything you do, that passion that only glows after midnight.”

“Do you know, it sounds to me as if you’re defining all women, or all that women should aspire to be…the kind of woman who would inspire such a perfume.”

“Not at all. I’d only do it for the truly deserving. Few women are. I’d do for the extraordinary woman, the woman most women aspire to be but they have to work at it. The best ones never do. They have nothing to prove, so they’re free to explore, free to act, free to express themselves according to their rules, their definitions.”

“I should be flattered. Actually, I’m a lot more than that. I’m amazed.”

“Don’t be. You’re amazing. Tell the world!”

“I don’t see how I can’t, with a perfume like that. And if anyone should ask, what name should I give them?”

“You mean you don’t know? Can you keep a secret?”

“As if you had to ask. You already know so many of mine.”

“I’d call it…Beloved.”

“You don’t think that’s too…démodé, too old-fashioned?”

“No. It’s nothing more and nothing less…than what every woman should be.”

Beloved. What every woman should be.

__________________________________________________

With a thank you for the Really Big Inspiration, who knows…

Notes: (from Basenotes)

Top: Jasmine, rose, clary sage, clove bud, chamomile, cardamom

Heart: Ylang-ylang, violet, everlasting flower, cistus, benzoin, olibanum, patchouli

Base: Cedar, sandalwood, castoreum, civet, leather, musk, vanilla, maltol and amber

Amouage Beloved is available as a 100 ml Eau de Parfum exclusively at Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Tsum and Amouage boutiques.

Disclosure: A sample was made available for review by Amouage

Calorification or…All buttered up and no pain to go!


- a review of Serge Lutens’ Jeux de Peau

In an ideal world, there would be no such emotion as…guilt. And no such thing as calories, either. Just run with that thought for a moment…Fancy all the chocolate you could possibly eat, and you would never see it on your thighs. Fancy every sinful thing to stuff in your mouth…every dessert, every bit of patisserie item, every napoleon, every Sacher torte and cheesecake and whipped-cream indulgence you can find room for – and it would never, ever show! No frantic calculations on the treadmill, no panting, gasping, red-faced run up That Hill And That Vertical Stairway– the one that nearly kills you, it’s so steep – as you pay your penance for indulging all your lowest sugar-laden cravings the day before.

What a concept! What a world! As we all know and only too well, that’s just not how it happens, alas.

Or is it? Because now the Great Punster himself, Serge Lutens, has unleashed ‘Jeux de Peau” upon a suspicious-minded perfumed planet, and because I strongly suspect an imp hiding in that elegant French gentleman, I rather suspect the joke is on…us!

We Who Would Dare To Indulge…If Only.

‘Jeux de Peau’ is itself a pun…a ‘play on skin’ that is a play on the French expression ‘jeux de mots’ – a play on words. In other words…a pun. When my sample arrived, it also arrived with an elegant beige and black card, and the enigmatic quote:

“A first response to solitude: hot bread.”

I’ve done my penitence in a bakery – literally – and during one of the hottest summers on record, so I know a thing or two about “hot bread”. I know about things like the acrid scent of fresh-milled flour and the smell of sugar burned borderline black, and pastries pulled out of ovens not two minutes before, oozing their buttery, flaky secrets, singing in their cinnamon-perfumed soprano voices:

“Eat us. You know you want to!”

So…is this pastry in a bottle? All the indulgence and none of the calories, less of the guilt? Toast or pain perdu on a solitary bed on a Sunday morning when you finally kicked him out and you’re left alone in splendid bliss to crunch toast all over the bed as you read the Sunday papers and drip jam and butter on the duvet?

No.

Remember, Monsieur Lutens loves his puns. This was very much not what I expected, but quite a bit more.

Right out of the bottle, that burnt note leaps forward, the genie in the bottle, and it is dark and it is gorgeous and when was the last time I ate toast, even? Burnt, buttery…and smoky sandalwood, and I can’t believe it, but is that coffee?
Yes. With loads of sugar, or is that caramel? It is! Burnt, sandalwood, caramel, coffee and I’m thinking this is a very sexy breakfast (he wasn’t kicked out!), and then comes the moment I have to laugh. Laugh at my overheated imagination, and laugh at this perfume, and that doesn’t happen often!

On stealthy feet, a luscious, sweet, cinnamon-tinged osmanthus exudes its honeyed apricot and begins to bloom. It grows lusher and sweeter, the epitome of Apricot, before it cedes center stage after a long while to the sandalwood – hello, lover, where have you been? – and cinnamon drydown, a touch of musk and maybe myrrh that lasts and lasts. And lasts. This is a Lutens, after all.

Whee! What a rush! And that’s just breakfast, baby!

Not very overpowering or even particularly sweet, ‘Jeux de Peau’ has dessert in its soul, but not in its heart. It’s the whole breakfast tray and that devastating sandalwood too, and therein lies yet another pun on the name itself. ‘A Play On Skin’.

It will take days to wipe this lascivious grin off my face. Days, I tell you!

This is a gourmand, an Oriental gourmand, but it is not your usual gourmand. It is unexpected, unisex, elegant, and like so many Serge Lutens creations, a journey, a story, a vignette or tableau in a bottle.

I was expecting the boulangerie. Instead, I got the morning after. With a laughing osmanthus thrown in.

Uncle Serge did not let me down. And although I know the joke is all on me (and the duvet, and the breakfast tray, and…), I forgive him everything!

Think about it – how many puns have you met contained in bottles? ;)

Wicked Pussycat


Once upon a time, I was the sort of woman who had…adventures, shall we say. They did not involve anything so daring as climbing Mount Everest, white-water rafting in Brazil or rappelling off sheer cliff faces straight into the Atlantic, but they were sometimes very nearly as dangerous! There are many ways to have adventures, as I’m sure you know! Since I had a background in the netherworld, it would follow that my adventures were of a more cerebral and, well…netherwordly kind.

In the course of those adventures, a friend gifted me with a bottle of perfume suitable for that kind of adventure. It was nothing available in Copenhagen, nothing I had come across before, and it was – perfect. Perfect for the headspace that came with it, perfect for the part I had to dress for this kind of adventure, cerebral, complex, complicated – just plain…perfect.

That was Robert Piguet’s “Bandit”, and there was, in those heady, single days of living dangerously in the early Nineties, no perfume more perfect for dotting the is and crossing the ts of donning the whole domme mindset, the final accessory to the leather, the six-inch spikes and fishnets, the occasional latex outfit that involved things like extra help and a serious dose of unscented baby powder. It was leathery but not entirely, it was ashy yet not completely, it was strange and rubbery and compelling in a way not many perfumes had the ovaries to be in those days, and not many women had the ovaries to wear it.

Wearing “Bandit”, I became a completely different woman. Not my Pollyanna usual self, not my other absent-minded self, but this other…woman, who liked the dark and the darkly erotic, who liked to push buttons, take control and walk on the wild side and see where it would take her – often into territory a good deal more dangerous and thrilling than any sheer cliff face by the Atlantic.

Oh, yes.

Somewhere along the line, I gave “Bandit” away to a girlfriend who would appreciate its take-no-prisoners qualities, who could carry it off with aplomb and èlan, and life got in the way, as it sometimes does.

Lo and behold, these many years later, “Bandit” arrived in a sample set from First in Fragrance, and lo and behold, it is not ruined by reformulation.

There is something about certain green, galbanum-laden chypres that appeal in a good many ways to my inner fearless female – the one who never takes no for an answer, the one who is in perfect control of every situation, the one who always knows what to say, what to wear, and what to do once the door closes and there’s no turning back, he’s toast and he knows it and he wouldn’t want it any other way. Tomorrow, he’ll be breakfast, and he knows that, too!

My inner bitch, my inner domme, l-o-v-e-s chypres. Dee of Beauty on the Outside talks about another chypre that brings out her inner Maleficent, and I’m sure it’s glorious on her. Me – I’ll happily take Bandit. For the memories, for the sheer, compelling, complex strangeness of it, and for being created by Germaine Cellier – who surely put the B in Butch, Bitch and Bandit and not by accident.

Right out of the bottle, it has that smoky, dirty-ashtray vibe that should be utterly repellant, and yet is not. Bandit is not just smokin’, she smokes, too. So? You have a problem with that? Then you might have a problem with the rubbery, green facets of Bandit as well, and with the leather, because of course, Bandit is into leather…big time. Not exactly an overdose so much as just enough to unhinge you and unnerve you, the violet notes just soft enough to whisper in that low, sexy smoker’s voice. Bandit never raises her voice. She doesn’t have to. She walks into the room and you will automatically sit up straighter, pay very close attention and only just refrain from mentally pulling up your socks. Shut up. Did she give you permission to have an opinion, too?

I get the floral aspects, but Bandit is so dry teetering on bitter that it’s hard to tease out the flowers from the floorshow. They soften the leathery, ashy edges all the way through the drydown, still all about glove-soft black leather, warm above some very dangerous curves suggested by a touch of vetiver, myrrh and what smells like oakmoss. Can it be? Oakmoss? In this day and age? I don’t know how it can possibly be much else.

The reformulated eau de parfum, which is what I tested, is softer and not quite so butch as the original I remember. I seem to recall something nearly feral, but since my memories of Bandit are tied up, literally, with other memories, I could be wrong!

What I do know is this – holy (dead) COW, this is sexy. It plays in a slightly lower key than it used to, and that’s not a bad thing. I wore this to the office today (OMG, yes I did!), just to gauge the reactions I got, and Bandit is my new favorite chypre. The response was very gratifying. Those poor guys will have their heads spinning the rest of this week! It’s not quite so obvious as it used to be, and I don’t mind. I’m at the age where I don’t like to give too much away at the outset…;) First you have to lure them in…

So, as Bandit ‘walks her catgirls on leashes in leather’, to paraphrase one slightly cheesy video that captures its vibe perfectly, I do hereby solemnly declare…Bandit will very likely be one of my next two full-bottle purchases. It’s that good!

Because sometimes, I want to be that kind of woman, just for the thrill. Because I like those boots. And because…a little danger never hurt…too much! ;-)

Robert Piguet “Bandit” is available at many online retailers and sometimes at perfume discounters, too.

The Courtesan, the Conjuror and the Cynic


– a review (and a tale) of Amouage “Ubar”

She would always come to his shop on the perfumer’s row in the late afternoon, when the worst heat of the day had dissipated to a shimmering golden haze above the streets and the ships in the harbor, when every sensation, every sound and every scent seemed to linger just a little longer than usual, when fine black lines delineated the shapes around the tools of his trade – the mortars, the oils and flasks and jars, the smaller boxes that held his secret treasures; resins and woods, precious myrrh and the white-gold tears of frankincense he hoarded and kept only for those trusted customers who paid promptly and in cash.

Like most everyone here in Alexandria, she obviously came from somewhere else. Her name he never learned, although he knew enough to see her for what she was, with her expensive shawls, the gleaming silks and linens dyed deep and vibrant colors, all the better to set off her remarkable amber-gold hair and that pale, milky skin that told tales of another, colder climate on the far northern edge of the sunlit world he knew.

She came accompanied only by a girl, so like her she could only be her daughter, and in all the many months he spent with her, the daughter would simply sit with a bit of embroidery in her lap listening, or else observing every item close by, the tiny cauldrons bubbling over the fire, his chopping boards and knives, the flower essences and bunches of herbs hanging in profusion on the walls, so heady in the summer heat customers had been known to grow dizzy and faint.

“I have an assignment for you,” the woman said that first afternoon. “I want you to make me a perfume. I will pay you well.” A fat and heavy purse of coins clanked on his counter top. “Consider this an advance.” She stood back and assessed him, as if to judge whether this were a task he were worthy of.

“Lady, I have many perfumes in my shop…the Susinon of one thousand lilies that Cleopatra herself perfumed her sails with these two hundred years ago, the Megaleion, I have the finest items from Callimarchos’ shop in Athens, I have Panathenaean, I have Royal Parthian perfumes, even, straight from the courts of the Parthian king…”

She did not let him finish. “No.” Such finality, such determination in that small and simple word. “I said,” she lifted an elegant hand and the gold of her bangles gleamed and flashed in an errant sunbeam from the door. “I want you to make me a perfume. For me. Not to sell to your customers or to smell on the whores in the harbor brothels…” her nose wrinkled in fastidious distaste. “A perfume just for me.”

“Then, dear lady, I shall need to know something of you first. What scents you like and dislike, where you might be challenged,, and what…”

Again, she did not let him finish. “I will come to your shop in the afternoons and tell you…stories. And when I am done, you will make a perfume just for me.” She inclined her head, and the pale and silent girl preceded her out into the street, already bustling after the afternoon’s siesta.
For years after, he would remember how he had stood that moment, transfixed in the sunbeams off the floor, wondering where to start. A perfume, just for her.

True to her word, she would come in the afternoons and tell of her adventures, of dancing for the Emperor at his palace in Rome so far away, of sunlit mornings on a rose-covered terrace in Rhodes, of the dust and heat of a faraway fabled city that grew rich off the trade in frankincense and the long and perilous journey she had undertaken once to India with a merchant who could not bear to be without her company. She told of the unexpected pleasure of finding patches of those tiny, bell-shaped flowers that she loved on cool, misty mornings in a shady forest. She told him of heartbreak and unexpected joy, tragedy and laughter, all the pains and pleasures of a life lived to the fullest extent of all her many passions.

For almost a year he toiled with her perfume, conjuring the memory of her life in his essences and oils, the animal hints of sensuality, the flowers and the fruity bite of the lemons that grew in his secret garden in the Delta. He chopped and brewed, he macerated and stored and applied every trick of this ancient land that he knew. He tried to capture the jeweled gleam of her hair, a double-spiraled errant curl at the base of her neck, the glint of a rosy ruby in a comb, the flash of wit he saw in her eyes. No question but she knew to enchant, and as she enthralled him with her stories, he enchanted the brew in his cauldron, committing the formula to memory and a secret, buried scroll.

Until the day came when he was done, and could do no more. He dreaded her visit, knowing he would now never see her again, or her silent, smiling daughter. He had been paid handsomely for his toil, and yet no payment was enough for the simple song of her voice, a silver tinkle of laughter as she remembered a detail, a place or a caress. This creation was his masterpiece. There was nothing throughout the Empire or far beyond even remotely like it.

“It is finished,” he forced himself to say when she came that afternoon. “There is nothing more I can do, nothing more I can add.”

She pulled at the stopper and inhaled deeply. Her eyes closed and for an instant, she seemed to swoon on her feet. Then, in a sudden shocking movement, she unfastened a brooch on her shoulder and pricked a fingertip. Two crimson drops, a dark, rosy red against the pallor of her skin, glistened in a sunbeam before they vanished into the vial.

“Now,” she said with that same stubborn finality he had heard that first afternoon, “now it is finished.” As she said the words, she fell to the floor as if she had fainted, and her daughter grabbed her and held her. She was dead.

He was speechless. “One thing only she left me,” her daughter said after a while. She took the golden vial from her mother and lifted it up. “She left me this.”

It was his masterpiece, his perfume, the memory of this storyteller in a bottle.

Down through the centuries swirled the memory of that woman and that perfume, through her daughter and her many descendants after her, until a damp and foggy day in a town on the edge of the old world found it again, the world the perfumer had known so many centuries ago.

This long-descended daughter was also a storyteller. In the warp and weft of her tales, she twisted yarns and fables, passions and music, and sometimes her memories of scents and sensations. She was convinced she had heard it all and tried it all, she had broken hearts on two continents and many countries, and there was little left to surprise her, not much to take her breath, her speech or even her words away.

Until a tiny bottle was opened, a tiny spray applied to her skin, and a ruby drop of blood-red rose, of a lemon grove in the Delta and a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley, of a memory of a woman and a life well-lived and well loved, a woman like herself, wrenched at her heart and made her cry that such a surfeit of beauty could exist and such powerful emotions could be felt.

Even by the cynic she thought she was.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Notes: Bergamot, lemon, lily-of-the-valley, rose Damascena, jasmine, civet, vanilla.

Amouage Ubar can be bought in many locations, including Luckyscent and First In Fragrance and Alla Violetta Boutique, although you might be required to take out a second mortgage on your house, take a second job or pawn your children if all else fails. Trust me, I’m thinking about it.

Image: Sir Frederik Leighton, Solitude (1901)