The All-Gifted

– a review of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ ‘Pandora’

I have known so many perfume loves, so many different families of fragrance. I have swooned over incense and amber, spice and fruit. I have breathed in the heady rush of tuberose and swooned over jasmine’s eternal beauties, I have laughed with carnations and I have wept for lily-of-the-valley. I have without question loved and adored them all in all their many wonders in all my many times and moods.

Yet some loves spring eternal, some refuse to wane, and one family above all others I will love until I die.

I can wonder, these many years later, what it was about that family – so imposing, so steely and stately in its perfection, that made me love it above all others and at all times in my life. Was it a chance encounter, one perfumed rite of passage in the Avenue Montaigne as a girl of fourteen, looking for that liquid definition of womanhood and all it meant to be? Was it that heady trail of another family member, wafting behind a woman so chic, she could only live in Paris? That moment on the Pont Neuf, frozen in time and memory – her shining, carefree hair, blowing heedless in a soft May breeze over the Seine, the click-clack of high heels tapping out a tattoo on the cobblestones, the perfume in her wake and the epiphany it caused for one gawky, bookish girl – that was what it meant to be a woman, that attitude, that fearless posture, that impossibly beautiful, impeccably seamless trace…of chypre.

Or was it simply one girl’s determination to mark out her own perfumed turf and stake her own claims on the world, which at fourteen meant one thing…anything her mother wouldn’t wear. So goodbye to Mitsouko, farewell Shalimar, adieu Jolie Madame, au revoir L’Air du Temps, all immortals that you are…one newborn girl-woman swore her undying fealty to the chypre…and there it remains.

It was the second renaissance of chypres in the late Seventies…who had already said hello to Chanel no. 19 and showed no signs of stopping. In those days and for many years thereafter, many famous chypres gave me steel for my spine and an aura of confidence when I needed it. I wore Miss Dior to Clash concerts and Fidji to demonstrations, Dioressence to political rallies and Vent Vert when squatting with my eighty closest friends in closed down museums. I wore Bandit for very close encounters. They defined my life as no other family of perfumes ever has, until that heartbreaking Sleeping Beauty moment I woke up and discovered…they were gone.

Yet hope did not escape that jar – for I also discovered I wasn’t alone in my love for these Green Fiends. And I discovered Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, who blew me completely to dandelion fluff with her Vert pour Madame, and several times since.

Now, with ‘Pandora’, she had done it again. Simply because ‘Pandora’ blows me to fluff and then takes my breath away.

Created to highlight the famous base of so many chypres – the Mousse de Saxe or ‘Saxon Moss’ created by Marie de Laire, ‘Pandora’ – named for a stunning Odilon Redon painting as well as the Eve of Greek mythology – is neither as fiercely green nor as steely-determined oakmoss as some of the great chypres of old. It shares a good deal of its character with its sibling, Vert pour Madame, but Pandora is a shade or two darker, less verdant and more seamlessly floral. The Mousse de Saxe shows itself right from the start, but stealthily and softly, like a sudden silky whisper that takes you by surprise.

It is – as well it should be – rich and rounded from the first breath of ozone and aldehyde that makes it sing to my synapses all the way to the gossamer drydown of that mousse de saxe base. It is bright as an errant sunbeam and later dark as the thunderclouds on a far horizon.

Mousse de Saxe gave a lot of distinction (and basso profondo) in many famous perfume bases. I can’t say it’s happened often that I’ve thought of it as sheer, but in Pandora, it is. She never shouts her presence. Instead, she wraps you in her flawless aura like a shawl made of woven Olympic air, to comfort you and heal all your worldly woes. A thunderstorm rumbles far away outside your window, but it can never touch you here.

In Greek, ‘Pandora’ means ‘the all-gifted’, because all human virtues and skills were bestowed upon her. As a last, vindictive joke, she was also given a jar as a wedding present and told never to open it, ever. (The Gods surely must have suspected this is something you never say to a woman?)

So she did – and so all the evils of the world befell humanity…but also knowledge, truth and the ability to distinguish between truth and lie, and last, but not least…she remembered to slam down the lid before hope was lost, too!

Once upon a time, I, too, felt that hope was lost for perfumery, and lost in particular for all my beloved chypres, never to return thanks to reformulation and IFRA regulations. Once upon a time, I thirsted for knowledge and true artistic vision – a way of saying something I had never heard before, or saying something I had heard before but never quite like this. I wanted perfumed revelations, I wanted journeys to places unknown, and more than anything else I wanted to believe that all hope was not lost. I wanted to believe that somewhere in the world were artists with visions and dreams and that particular elevated effortless sleight-of-hand talent money never buys.

Hope was never lost. It bloomed in a dream and a vision Dawn Spencer Hurwitz conjured up from essence and absolute, aldehyde and ambergris she bottled up and called ‘Pandora’. All I have left is my gratitude and to marvel that such beauty can still be dreamed, created and found right when hope is needed most.

One doesn’t mock the King of the Gods unpunished. Yesterday, when I grabbed my little sample vial for yet another addictive spray, it slipped from my hand and smashed on the floor. I could have swept up and tossed those spiky shards, but instead, I wrapped them up in tissue paper and one last, final, heartbreaking time, I breathed in the perfume of hope.

‘Pandora’ is available from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ website

Top: Ruby fruits (botanical accord), bergamot, aldehyde, spice notes, ozone, violet leaf absolute, davana, cassis bud, green and pink pepper
Rose de mai absolute, juhi jasmine, linden blossom absolute, yerba maté absolute, cabreuva wood, orris CO2, green tea absolute
Base: Mousse de Saxe accord (botanical), cyperus, fossilized amber absolute, ambergris tincture, patchouli CO2, vetiver CO2, muhuhu, Australian sandalwood, tonka bean absolute, green oakmoss, vanilla absolute

Disclosure: Sample was sent to me by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for review.

Painting: Odilon Redon, ‘Pandora’
Photo of ‘Pandora’, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Other reviews of Pandora:

❁ Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ own blog, describing her creative process
❁ EauMG
❁ Esscentual Alchemy
❁ Eyeliner On A Cat
❁ Indieperfumes
❁ Oh, true Apothecary!
❁ Perfume Pharmer
❁ ScentHive
❁ This Blog Really Stinks

Did We Evuh!

– Part Two of the story of Opus Oils’ ‘Les Bohemes’ collection – and a swell party…

Behind me stood a dark-haired man wearing a tux and a large, lupine grin on his face. Not tall, not young but nothing old, he had the look of someone who lived carefully but well. Italian ancestry was in the mix somewhere, if his nose were anything to judge by. A pair of flirting brown eyes seemed to be saying “Dessert. Definitely. Something with…chocolate.

“My dance card is empty, I’m afraid.” What made me say that?

“I don’t take no for an answer.” Before I could blink, he swept me out on the floor, among the dancers and into a corte, holding me tight in the Argentine style, and I followed in perfect time and perfect step, no small achievement for someone who back in the twenty-first century had five left feet with one inch left over.

“Countess Giulietta Moovonova, was it?”

“Let me guess,” I flirted right back as he steered a self-assured course among the crowd on the dance floor, one hand on my back. “You must be Romeo.”

“I’m your host.” We turned, dipped, swirled back among the dancers. “Why is your dance card empty?”

“Well, usually, I prefer to simply sway in a dark corner.”

“ My favorite kind of corner. I prefer to do other things there, though,” he laughed back.

“Such as dally with dubious countesses?” Goodness, where did this come from, and how could I have learned to tango so perfectly from riding in a Duesenberg?

One black eyebrow lifted. Whether it was my conversation or the fact that I had just hooked him with a gancho, we both stopped on a dime. “Only when duchesses aren’t available. I have standards.” That lupine grin again, that warm hand on my back, burning through the silk.

A couple across the floor, the woman in a sunset-orange dress, gave us a look. Hers was quite approving. I took that as a good omen.

“’Quel dommage,” I sighed. “So do I.” He was so close. Two glasses of champagne made me feel more than a little reckless. “I’m sorry I’m not a duchess.”

Smooth as silk, we began to float over the tiles again, melody and harmony in motion and a music all our own, and as we turned and dipped and rose, he said after a while, “I’m not.”

Only in Hollywood could moments be so magical and tangos so perfect. I never wanted this one to end.

A long while, more champagne, many tangos and a whoopee-making dark corner later, I located a powder room where those glorious gals from the Packard breezer congregated in front of the mirrors, fixing bobs, reapplying makeup, adjusting stockings. None of them paid me any mind as I walked in.

“So who is that Sheba dancing with our host? The, ya know, Countess something?” asked the yellow dressed blonde as she spat into her mascara. “He must think she’s the cat’s pajamas. Those Europeans. Us American Janes can’t compete with all that. And she’s wearing a Vionnet, the minx. Saw it in Vogue last month.”

“Jealous, Gold Digger?” laughed the redhead. She ran her fingers through her hair. “Shouldn’t think he’d be your type.”

“He’s not.” Gold Digger replied, leaving narcissus and likely a lot of havoc in her wake, dug for a lipstick in her bag. It bore the name ‘Tangee’ in bold red lettering on the side of the tube. “Too demanding, I hear. And twisted with it, too. I like my sugar daddies grateful, ya know? A gal’s gotta look after herself, after all. Right, Jazz?” She turned to the girl in green who had hauled Tiger off to the garden. She emanated jasmine and a lot of promises she might or might not keep.

Jazz removed a bit of lipstick from her teeth. “Oh, I dunno…that fella, Count Vlad, he’s been looking after me all night in high style. I want to know where he found that champagne. That stuff is something else.”

“The bee’s knees,” agreed the beautiful brunette in white and tuberose and a suggestion of coconut. She sat down on a settee, unearthed a cigarette from a case in her purse, arranged it in a tortoiseshell holder, lit up and exhaled in a long, grateful sigh. “What a dancer sheik he is!”

“Li’l Nico, you would say that.” The violet-scented stunner in the beaded dress twirled up errant strands of black hair and readjusted the jeweled combs. “You jump on any swain you find!”

“She should talk, and you shouldn’t neither, Dapper…I saw you on the dance floor, all right.” The brunette in purple velvet had a distinct Southern drawl. “I don’t know what was in that bottle Bootleg found in that drawing room, but it was…” she swayed ever so slightly on her feet… “somethin’ else…”

“Speakeasy…” The orange blossom blonde sighed. “Have you been at the hooch again? Look at her! She’s absolutely spifflicated!”

“Heck, yes!” The redhead in the gold dress smoothed out an eyebrow and turned around. “She’s been at Bootleg too, can’t you tell?”

“Baloney! You should talk, Sugar, you carrying on that Charleston on the pool with High Hat.” Jazz bent down and straightened her stocking seams.

Orange Blossom pulled at the neckline of her dress. It seemed to have slipped a little lower since her arrival.

“Put a lid on it, ladies. Don’t be such bluenoses, would ya? Just because this is the swankiest party we’ve been to this week is nothing to get goofy about.” As she turned away from the mirror and toward the door, I walked all the way into the room and over to the mirror. The conversation came to a screaming halt.

Orange Blossom – already, I’d determined she was the leader of the pack – sashayed over and gave me her hand. “Hi!” she said brightly. “I’m Giggle Water, and this is…” her arm swept out to the other girls, “is Dapper, Sugar, Li’l Nico, Jazz and Gold Digger. That sauced brunette over there is Speakeasy. Obviously, she’s been doing a bit more than speakin’ easy with Bootleg all night!”

“Hello. I’m …Giulietta.” I turned toward the mirror. My lipstick was all gone, and no wonder. Those dark corners were dangerous. So were short, Italianate Big Cheeses.

“Is it true you’re from Europe?” asked Li’l Nico. “You and that swell Vlad fella?”

“Yes…” I repinned my hair, straightened my stockings.

“Ladies…” I heard a voice I knew at the door. It was Tiger. He sounded like he had intimate knowledge of quite a few bubbles in that enameled bottle. “Are you going to be in there all night?”

Eight women turned in perfect synchronicity to the mirrors and checked themselves one last time. Stocking seams straight? Necklines adjusted? Lipstick, mascara? Hair?

I pinned a rose in my chignon just a little tighter. One slightly spifflicated Sheba. Golly, that was a whole Breathalyzer in itself, I thought. The perfect time to misbehave!

In the foyer, Tiger pulled me away from the gals with a big smile and a slightly breathless “Later, girls!” In no time, I was parked on a sofa in one of the drawing rooms and there was champagne instead of air in my glass. Outside, the jazz band had kicked it up a notch. I could hear whoops and what sounded like Jazz and Speakeasy showing off their Charleston skills to the party crowd. “Where have you been, woman?”

“Misbehaving in a dark corner with the host,” I said and downed a bit more champagne. There wasn’t a lot left in the bottle by now. Soon, I gathered, our Duesenberg would turn into a Dodge. “I hear you made quite the impression on those gals outside, Count Vlad.”

He laughed. “I still have no idea why I picked those names.”

“Don’t tell me. It was the champagne.”

“That’s it! How could you guess?”

“Experience, darling. It’s such a witch.”

Meanwhile, Speakeasy had located eighteen feet of gleaming mahogany in the dining room next door, French doors open to the night outside. Faster than we could blink, Bootleg jumped up on the table and Speakeasy with him, and in no time, another crowd poured into the room like so much free hooch to admire their Charleston skills, up and down the length of the dining table like galvanized, jazzified tarantulas, all flashy silk and flashing eyes, while their audience clapped in time to the syncopated jazz beat. Right as Bootleg slid on his knees from one end to the other to stop adoring by Speakeasy’s feet, we heard a woman scream.

The entire party came to a halt in a heartbeat. Somehow, Tiger and I followed the direction that scream into the library, where a roaring poker game had been happening all night with a very full pot, and in a sofa at the other end of the room was the explanation for the scream. “But I did nothin’!” protested Gold Digger as the unflappable butler hauled an older, florid gentleman off her. “I’m on the level here, right guys?” She threw that statement at the poker players in the corner. “We were just kanoodlin’ on the sofa, see, and suddenly, he just goes all limp on me, see, and I didn’t know what else to do, so I…”

I never knew who it came from. It had to be one of the poker players. “Well, high time that bastard dropped dead. He owed me forty grand!”

It soon transpired that not only was the gentleman a rather important movie producer in big trouble, he was also utterly dead.

The way the butler acted, he was no stranger to dead bodies. He laid out the deceased on the Chesterfield and went in search of his master.
“Sic transit…” mumbled Tiger and poured more champagne. There wasn’t more than a glass total left in the bottle.

While we stood around wondering how to kickstart the party back, the host materialized out of nowhere.

“I’m so sorry, but we’ll have to continue some other time. The ambulance and the police are on their way now.”

In an instant, the poker pot, the chips and all the players evaporated from the room. Soon, a river of partygoers, those dazzling girls included poured out of the front doors and on to their waiting cars. Speakeasy and Bootleg staggered out to the Packard.

“Of course I’ll drive!” I heard Dapper say. “I’m the only one of you sauced bozos who can!”

Looking through the open front door, I was amazed to see the pink clouds of sunrise. Time did fly when you had fun!

“Count Vlad…” Romeo shook his hand. “Thank you for coming tonight. Some other time. Without fatalities, I hope.”

“Of course.” Tiger glanced down the hill, where the Packard disappeared in a cloud of dust and a roar of engine. Who knew what trouble those girls could get themselves into?

“Countess.” Romeo snapped me out of my reverie. It was past five AM, after all. “It’s been a pleasure.”

“It has,” I concurred. I tried not to think too hard about those brown eyes broadcasting right into my own. “Chocolate. Lots. Of. Chocolate.”

“Until the next time!” he reached out and kissed the palm of my hand. Before I could blush as pink as the dawn, Tiger hauled me off to our waiting Duesenberg, and before I could protest, we were heading down the hills toward Hollywood Boulevard and the Jitterbug Perfume Parlor.

“What a night!” Tiger split the last champagne between us. “Did we have fun? Did your wish come true?”

“Did we evuh!” I sighed happily. They would never believe me back home. Who cared? This was Hollywood. Where anything could happen, and last night just did.

A thick blanket of fog rolled down over the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific as we ate up the boulevard, so thick, the driver had to slow down as he went. All too soon, the Duesenberg came to a halt outside a building we could recognize, but the sign over the door said ‘Madame Movonova. Fortunes told, card readings. Satisfaction guaranteed.’

It was so strange. One moment, we stepped outside on the street in all our party finery, the next, I woke up on that chaise to Kedra peering down on me. A very empty bottle of Belle Epoque stood on the table. “You two…” she sighed.

Tiger stirred next to me. “Did we have fun last night?” he mumbled and sat up, looking slightly the worse for wear.

“Did we evuh!” I sang to my own surprise. My head throbbed in agreement.

We gave each other a look, a look Kedra couldn’t quite figure out. The instant before we both sang out in unison:

“What a swell party that was!”

The soliflore collection of Les Bohemes is available at Opus Oils, in Dapper (violet), Heavy Sugar (amber), Giggle Water (orange blossom), Li’l Nico (tuberose), High Hat (green tea), Speakeasy (wisteria), Jazz (jasmine), Gold Digger (narcissus) and Bootleg (vetiver). Guaranteed to kickstart any party. Take my word for that!

With thanks to all the inspirations…Kedra Hart, Tiger Powers, a Cole Porter song, a Duesenberg and a Madeleine Vionnet dress.

Image: From the 1928 MGM movie ‘Our Dancing Daughters’ starring Joan Crawford and Anita Page, taken from mothgirlwings.

A Swell Party

– Part One of a story of Opus Oils’ ‘Les Bohemes’, starring Tiger Powers and a certain bottle of champagne..

It was late at the Jitterbug Perfume Parlor on Hollywood Boulevard after yet another roaring launch, and the only ones left at this hour were Tiger Powers and yours truly, parked upon a chaise with our feet up on the table.

“We should do something,” said Tiger. “You’ll be going home soon, and we do want to make sure you don’t forget us in a hurry.”

“I could never do that,” I answered. “Haven’t had such a blast in years.” True story. Whatever occurred could never be too bad. I was in Hollywood. Where anything could happen and all too often did.

“Fun! How could I forget?” he exclaimed. “It so happens I have just the thing…” He walked off toward the back and returned a few minutes later brandishing a very distinctive champagne bottle by the neck as jauntily as any Stratocaster.

“Perrier Jouët Belle Epoque!” I was floored he remembered. “My favorite champagne! How sweet.”

“Not at all!” His grin was as wide as Sunset Boulevard. “This was sold to me by a gypsy on Sunset who claimed it was magic and should be saved for something really special. Or someone. You. Let’s open it, I say.”

“Such a flatterer you are,” I sighed happily. Did I tell you the man was devastating?

He was certainly devastating the foil on that champagne bottle. “Flattery gets you everywhere in this town, sweet!” The cork popped off with a small, expensive sigh. Out of nowhere, two champagne flutes materialized. He poured. “Now.” He pulled me to my feet and turned me around to face the mirror. I saw the Parlor with its velvet, fringe and flocked wallpaper, and right in front of me, the reflections of our Friday night Hollywood selves. “Before you drink, I want you to make a wish. Think of what you would like to happen – anything at all.”

“Should I click my heels together three times first?”

“Wrong movie, sweetheart. You’re not in Kansas any more.” He bent down and whispered in my ear. “Close your eyes. Make a wish.”

“Bottoms up?” I winked at his reflection in the mirror.

“Absoeffinglutely!” He laughed back at me.

I could think of a lot of things to wish for, but finally, I made a wish, drank down that glass of delicious bubbles and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I was utterly amazed to see that Tiger was now wearing a tux, and I was wearing a 20s dress of rose devoré silk with a tulle neckline and sleeves, cut on the bias so I felt about eight inches taller and at least sixteen times more fabulous than before. My hair, usually loose over my shoulders, was now elegantly twisted into a marcelled, loose chignon accented with roses at the nape in the same sunrise shade as the dress. Even my makeup had that same 1920s look, with a shade of dark red lipstick I hadn’t worn since my Gothadelic glory days.

“Fess up, Tiger. What did you put in that champagne?” He winked at me in the mirror. That man could wear anything and make it his own.

“Bubbles, sweetheart! Nothing but bubbles and all my most dishonorable intentions!”

“My kind of guy!” I breathed into the mirror. A shimmer of light near the floor made me look down, and I saw the distinctive flash of sunrise pink Mary Janes and, ohmygawd, silk stockings! This could not be happening, but it was. Roll with it, I thought, just for one night. Roll with it!

Perfume! How could I forget! I had been wearing Absinthia all night. I reached for another spray with the words “Et in Absinthia ego.”

“Et in absentia ego,” he quipped back. “Come on, Cinderella. Your pumpkin awaits outside!” And he whirled me around and away, through the room and out the door.

On the street, nothing was the same. It wasn’t even night any longer, but a long, slow burn of a sunset over the Pacific in the distance. I saw orange groves towards Santa Monica, and I saw…a dark green Duesenberg parked right outside, a uniformed driver standing to attention by the back door. A Duesenberg. I turned to Tiger, but he was already whispering something in the driver’s ear.

“Whatever you do,” he murmured as I slid across a few acres of glove soft leather in the backseat, “just remember a few things. One, so long as there’s still champagne in this bottle, tonight will never end. Two…you’re not in Kansas any more.” He refilled my glass. “We’ve fallen down a rabbit hole! And three…” he lowered his voice and looked me right in the eyes as the Duesenberg slithered in all its awesome glory up Hollywood Boulevard toward the Hollywood Hills to the east, “whatever else you do, don’t call me dude! Got that?”

“And champagne, even!” I lifted my glass. “So where are we going?” So long as I had champagne, everything could happen. And perfume. Et in Absinthia ego. I drank those bubbles down.

“A party of course. Invitation only. You’ll see.” He winked again, and as I sat back and wondered. What kind of night would it be? What misadventures could happen? With Tiger, who the hell knew?

Twenty minutes later, the Duesenberg rolled though the gates of a long driveway on a steep, wooded street and finally came to a stop just as a valet jumped forward and opened the door. Tiger jumped out first, and took great care not a drop of champagne was spilt in his glass or his bottle, and I hastily grabbed a velvet wrap and beaded evening bag I found on the seat beside me. He kissed my hand and winked again as I got out. “Leave the introductions to me,” he whispered.

What had I got myself into? “Whyever not?” I took a deep, deep breath, a breath full of all my hopes and dreams and all the fun I had yet to have. Might as well start it here.

“Who may I announce has arrived?” asked a very grand, very chilly British butler at the top of the steps of an opulent Mediterranean-style house at least the size of my ambitions.

Tiger rose to his full and very imposing height and stated grandly, “Count Vlad Izmir and Countess Giulietta Moovonova.”

After two glasses of champagne and that build up, it was all I could do to keep a straight face. I glared at the butler. Haughtily, I could hope.

At that precise moment, a Packard convertible roadster came roaring up the graveled driveway and to a screeching halt a few inches behind our Duesenberg. Seven lovelies and two dashing youngbloods with slicked-back hair in white tie and tails poured out of the car like nine sparkling champagne bubbles.

“Darlings!” exclaimed a vivacious, saucy blonde all in white with an orange blossom corsage. “Have you missed us, since the last time?” She ran up the stairs as if she had done it a thousand times before. “Well, come on you slowpokes! The party won’t start without us!” She giggled, an infectious, musical laugh that made everyone laugh with her, even me.

In they went, these bright young things all in a laughing conga line, a dark, devastating beauty in a beaded violet dress, a sultry redhead in gold, another brunette all in white, an exotic beauty in purple velvet, a glorious girl all in green, a blonde in yellow who seemed to redefine the very word, and the two young men, one a prototype California blond who cleaned up very well, the other a dead ringer for Valentino, with those same smoldering eyes.

Inside was a grand, tiled foyer full of potted palms and party people in party clothes, draped over the stairs in conversations, milling in and out of the rooms opening off the foyer with glasses in their hands. There must have been quite a crowd at this party. Off on our left was a ballroom with a dance floor and a tango orchestra, up ahead was another room, and beyond, a glimpse of a garden with a boarded over area and yet another orchestra playing jazz tunes. Already, couples were jitterbugging in the twilight outside, glimpses of silk and satin flashing under the lights strung up in the trees around it. On my right was a library, where a roaring game of poker must have been in progress, because I heard a voice that could only come from Brooklyn exclaiming “Whaddaya mean, the pot has a limit of five hundred dollars? That’s pocket money where I come from!”

“So, mister,” Tiger turned around and saw the girl in green beside him, a breath of jasmine in her wake, “did you bring your big sister with you or what?”

“Certainly not!” I heard myself saying. “He’s with me to ensure I get into the maximum amount of trouble…”

“With the minimum amount of fuss…” Tiger continued. “So I heard you were a count…” She grabbed his arm and hauled him off in a cloud of heady tuberose toward the dance floor in the garden to show off his jitterbug skills. “So what are you counting?” They walked off and away.

“Where’s Flapper?” I heard a voice say behind me as the giggly blonde took her own glass of champagne from a passing waiter. She drank it down, reached for another, and gave a contagious giggle. “Can you believe it?” she exclaimed, “Flapper had a date tonight at the Roosevelt, some producer fella who said she should be in movies…Wonder if he’ll survive the night?”

The admiring throng that surrounded this orange blossom special roared their approval and carried her away.

I walked into the ballroom, where a whole florists’ bouquet of couples were tangoing across the tiles. The room was so large and so beautifully appointed, it had the feel of a movie set, with a crowd of dress extras showing off how well they could dance the night away to the latest Buenos Aires Pugliese tunes. There was that devastating girl in violet with a sultry swing in her hips as she followed a beau around the other dancers, I caught glimpses of the redhead and the California blond on the floor, and on my right the blonde in yellow chatted up an older man who seemed quite taken with her charms. Right when I was about to move through the crush to look for Tiger and that third glass of Belle Epoque that would really get me in trouble, I heard a voice behind me.

“Care to dance?” it said.

(To be continued…)

Image: We Know What You Did Last Night

With profound thanks to Kedra Hart and a certain Twitter conversation that planted the seed of this idea…

Keyboard Karma

– Or…the problem with perfume bloggers…

The day, the day, the wonderful day arrived when The Perfume Magazine hit the pixels and went live last Saturday, and legions of perfumoholics – and perfumoholic bloggers – dropped all weekend plans to read it.

Well, I did. In so doing, I came across an op-ed by Raymond Matts entitled ‘Perfume Bloggers – You Have To Love Them!’

If you haven’t read it already, please do.

Now, op-eds are supposed to be provocative. But this one was a bit more than that…this one pushed several buttons (to state it politely), and I stewed for a few days wondering whether I should look the writer up and respond. On the one hand, it was rather nice to be noticed as a group. But on another level, something rubbed this cat’s fur in all the wrong directions.

I’d be damned if I were intimidated! So I wrote him back as follows:

Raymond, congratulations on becoming a commenter/contributor for The Perfume Magazine (something many of us are thoroughly stoked about), and thank you for your commentary about perfume bloggers! It’s always nice to know that someone besides perfumers and other perfume bloggers acknowledges our existence.
However, as a perfume blogger myself, I feel compelled to comment back to you. There are, I agree, far too many bloggers too entrenched in the pyramid mindset, determined to fit their descriptions of perfumes into them if it kills them – or their writing skills! I also wholeheartedly agree with your statement that there’s far too many perfumes and not nearly enough imagination – mostly!
Where I do take umbrage with your commentary is where you mention that you want to read what we smell – in other words, you want the perfume blogger to communicate that sense of transport only a perfume can give you. With all due respect, there are those among us who try very hard to do just that – and as I’m sure you know, this is a writing challenge of no small order! When I became a perfume blogger, I realized that I could never do what so many of the most distinguished among them do so well – take a perfume apart by the seams, so to say.
Instead, I attempt within that constricting corset of verbiage to convey a sense of the genie in the bottle – in other words, the story the perfumer is seeking to tell – to the best of my abilities to communicate what is essentially a non-verbal art form.
Isn’t that what you say is lacking in the perfume blogosphere?
Tarleisio of Scent Less Sensibilities

Lo and behold, a few hours later, this ticked into my inbox:

Thank you for your email. Please don’t take umbrage with the commentary. It really was meant to get blogger’s thinking about what they write. Writing about liquid emotion, something that is not tangible is extremely difficult. It is one of the hardest aspects of what I do. There is a lot to our industry behind the scenes that many do not know about and we get upset at times reading the nasty remarks from those trying to feel self-important.

A good blogger will not be offended and instead will agree with me that there are many who bring down the image of bloggers and the good they can do. I’m equally as harsh with magazines and their rote way of writing.
I’ve struggled in this industry to bring newness and have lost much because I’m one of the few holding on to bringing signature. I’m labeled too creative and this is a bad thing. If we are to become better at what we do.. then criticism of all kinds is and should be welcomed. Only, and I stress “only” when there is substance and knowledge from the source. There is way too much second and third hand information being regurgitated. This I don’t appreciate!
Sadly, I can tell you that many perfumers today do not have a story with their creations. Many fragrances even in the niche market are not really creative in structure and character. The “newness” is more in the story than the actual creation of what we smell. Many fragrances don’t have a story, and if they do they are contrived.
None of this is directed towards you, I merely am sharing some of my thoughts. For the record, as I was labeled a “Pompous Ass” by one blogger for the commentary… I can only say, I’m not a writer nor do I pretend to be. My piece was to get those who critique to not always chastise our creations. In many instances the fragrance we do are not what we want to either. It is the reason I will launch my own line. Trust me, many people will not like as it will rid a structure of heaviness and notes overused in our industry.
I can be honest in saying I don’t like many of the fragrances on the market. I find them old and antiquated and lacking in signature and substance. I find them offensive and invading my personal space to enjoy. However, I can appreciate at times the artistic talent and that someone out there loves the style. For this reason I do not write or critique fragrances, yet I’ve every right to as I understand formulas, balance, strength and character.
My real point was to have knowledge before one critiques… and make one dream.

See, if he had only said so much in the op-ed….and said it quite so well! Since we had now established a dialogue, and since I’m that kind of blithering idiot Joan of Arc, back I waded into the fray, and in half an hour, no kidding, I knocked out…

I’m very pleased to meet you and even happier you took the time and the trouble to write me back so quickly – so thank you for that, too! Dialogue is a wonderful thing – for one, it gets people talking, exchanging opinions and information – and if it’s done with mutual respect and consideration, how can that possibly be bad?
I’ve worked in the media industry myself (although from a different perspective as an art director), so I know all about the uninspired and regurgitated PR that gets hurled around and passed off for original copy. Too often it’s heavily prompted by the big advertisers, and simply becomes covert ad copy that most readers will never even realize, alas.
With bloggers, however, the scenario is rather different. As bloggers, we are always, before anything else, opinionators in the sense that we’re shilling our opinions, exhibiting our writing skills or lack thereof and our ability to critique an art form that might just be the hardest of all to critique – nothing is more subjective than our sense of smell, simply for bypassing our abilities to articulate and head straight for the jugular of our emotions and memories in our amygdalas.
I agree with you completely that there is an appalling lack of vision in perfume today – which is to say, most mainstream perfumes and even a few hotly touted niche lines. Reformulations and target demographics have all but killed ‘perfume’…to an extent where I can hardly take any new mainstream releases seriously any more – no genies lurk in those bottles, waiting to come out and share their stories, and very, very few perfumers are willing to even dare tell them – although there are definite exceptions to that rule. You wonder what would have happened to the Ernest Daltroffs, the Jacques Guerlains, the Edmund Roudnitskas, the Jean Carles and Guy Roberts of the world if there were around today – creating to marketing briefs aimed only at the 15-25 age demographic…It makes me sad, but on the other hand, we still have those exceptions – people who believe in what they do, who believe in their customers, who have that vision, that fire and that inspiration where the exceptional can happen. That could be you and your creative vision, too!
Since becoming a perfume blogger myself, I’ve stuck my nose in an awful lot of…awful! Uninspired, poorly constructed, contrived messes without one remarkable idea or inspiration. But I’ve also had my nose blown to smithereens by the kind of originality, creativity and vision that does give me a little hope for the future – a future I look forward to following and exploring further. I can only hope I’m able to find the words to do them justice – and even if I don’t always feel I succeed, it’s not for lack of care or application. I wish this applied to the perfume blogging community as a whole, but you and I know too well – that’s not the case!
Anyone can write anything – right or wrong, with knowledge and insight or without – on a blog and pass it off as something other than it is – opinion. Once, I tried to pass off my opinions as nothing more or less – only to discover that there were stories that wanted to be told, genies that waited in those bottles and vials, dreams that wanted to manifest. As time went on, my tastes evolved and my horizons expanded, the storyteller I’ve always been overran the opinionator, which is the only way I’m able to enjoy the process of what I do – to find those bottled dreams and breathe them alive – first for myself and by extension for my readers.

OK. Here’s the postulate he claimed: That most perfume bloggers have an appalling lack of imagination – no surprise, given that so many releases are so uninspiring – and try to impale their prose down upon that often obsolete architectural perfume construct called …a scent pyramid. They also more or less sit at their keyboards armed with their rapier words ready to tear apart anything that isn’t up to some impossible standards of perfection – or torn to shreds on that infamous scent pyramid.

Gosh. I’ve so been reading all the wrong blogs – because I don’t read any blogs that do! Or if I do, it’s never for long…snark for its own sake is so off-putting. Once upon a time, I was so down on my luck that reading perfume blogs was the only perfume I could afford apart from Dove Body Cream. (No joke!) When I think back on that incredible mass of talent that taught me so much – Helg of PerfumeShrine, Carmencanada of Grain de Musc, the gorgeous gals of the Perfume Posse, to name but three Major Inspirations – all I could do was to sit back, enjoy that fragrant prose and dream impossible dreams of the day I got to smell all those wonders. If that’s not a manifestation of imagination, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what I believe, heart, nose, head and soul: Anyone can learn to write about anything at all in a coherent, readable manner – even those who choose that notoriously tough subject of perfume. Some of those who do will be more…entertaining, evocative, provocative or readable than others, but that applies to anything on the NY Times bestseller list – or the blogosphere. Have soapbox. Will foam at keyboard.

Talent is talent – some writers cultivate what they have – this applies to all the blogs I personally read, listed on the right – and some choose the easy road of snark and snide superiority to make up for their own lack thereof. Their choice. Some of us perfume bloggers are factual, and some of us are not. Some of us write about other things than perfume – some of us don’t.

But we are all of us…communicators, trying to communicate our passion for our subject matter as well as our talent, skills and our vocabularies will allow, bearing in mind that we are essentially trying to describe the indescribable…that rollercoaster ride in a bottle called…perfume, and make it possible for our readers – if we have them – to gain a sense of that perfume, of that story the perfumer was trying to tell.

In other words, precisely what the esteemed Raymond Matts is searching for in the blogosphere. He’s just been looking in all the wrong places!

What do YOU think? Do you think he has a point – or is he seriously misguided? Did that op-ed piece upset you, make you think, want to tear that guy a new one?

Or was it just a case of keyboard karma coming back to bite the bloggers? Let me know!

Come To Me Running!

– a review of Neil Morris’ Vault Collection – ‘Rumi’.

Do you have your own perfume Kryptonite – a note that makes you turn green in all the worst ways to the point of feeling physically debilitated? Something you just can’t stand no matter how hard you try and no matter what you do – a note or an accord that won’t work for love, money or threats of asphyxiation?

Until recently, I had two. Two notes, two accords on the bass lines of perfume, but no matter how hard I tried to expand my olfactory vocabulary and horizons, my nose and amygdala just weren’t feeling it.

I hated…amber. That smoky, boozy blend of labdanum, tonka, benzoin, vanilla and other components was complete anathema to my nose. It was just too… animal, too obvious, too…much for this cerebrally inclined chypre fan, so I would just pass them by and leave them to the brunettes of this world to appreciate, thank you very much.

Labdanum in its unadulterated state was another story. Labdanum with all its intimations of goatish animal got my motor running for many suspect reasons, which is why I made it a component of the Devil’s scent.

So it was until I came across an article in the UK Guardian around Christmas last year about that elusive Holy Grail called Sex in a Bottle. One way to grab my attention, so off I went to locate a sample of this fabled ‘fume, and by golly, it was…Sex in a Bottle. It was everything I hated and detested, and it was unlike anything I had ever encountered before and rarely since. It was – indeed, is – one of the most celebrated amber-centric perfumes on Planet Earth. It was Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens. To this day and to this amber-phobic, it is the Khadine of ambers. A decant made its way into my hot little hands before long, and over the course of this winter, I killed it to the very last, über-precious golden droplet.

Maybe I just hated bad ambers? On I went to Olympic Orchids’ Olympic Amber, and learned to appreciate the amber-based drydowns of other perfumes since. Olfactoria may claim to her heart’s content there is no such thing as too many ambers, but I wasn’t entirely convinced of the truth in that statement.

Enter another devious Great Facilitator, JoannElaine of Redolent of Spices and a care package she sent with much love. Nestled among the storied glories of that prosaic cardboard box was a small vial containing an amber fluid and the label ‘Rumi Neil Morris Fragrances.

My curiosity will surely do me in some day. Even though there were other stellar contents in that box, that little vial was the first one I reached for, unpacked, and sniffed. Yum. I sprayed. Next I knew, I swooned, which is the polite way of saying that a large amount of unprintable language ensued and I had to sit down.

Neil Morris is one of the inside secrets of the perfume world so hyper-cool, no one you know has ever heard of him, unless you know a few dozen perfumistas. I read about him and a few of his fragrances on the Perfume Posse first in connection with a New York Sniffapalooza, I believe it was. The extent of my knowledge was…he’s a Boston-based perfumer, he makes really good stuff, he’s a big, burly, adorable teddy bear. He’s made perfumes for the now much-mourned Takashimaya department store in New York, bespoke creations and a collection of about forty perfumes known as the Vault Collection along with his main line of fragrances.

Oh. Yes. The utterly swoon-worthy contents of that little vial that gave me a rate of about 50 cps and revving. (Cows Per Second. For the SLS definition of having a cow, read this.) He made that, too.

Rumi – Neil’s perfume tribute to the famous Sufi mystic, teacher and poet of Konya – is an amber like the Khadine, closely related but sweeter and rosier, not so intimidating to look at but every bit as saucy. It is heady, rich and opulent like all the very best ambers and then again, not all ambers have made me swoon quite so much. I can tell you the notes – see below – and still, I won’t have managed to convey the overall impact of this.

Just as Rumi the teacher, the poet, the mystic was a proponent of transcendence as a path to divine love – this perfume is nothing more nor less than…a transcendent amber. It starts with a punch in the senses of deep rose and plush ylang ylang, but that glow in the dark, velvety aspect of benzoin, patchouli and amber is never far behind and there it stays and it pulses like the living, beating aura of some otherworldly, sacred creature. It stays, finally glowing down to embers of spice, patchouli, myrrh and frankincense, says my nose, and I never, ever want it to leave.

You may come to ‘Rumi’ as simply a spectacular amber. Meanwhile, I sit here in my perfumed cloud and for the first time all day, I feel centered, peaceful, I feel as if I’ve surpassed and suspended my own petty limitations, silly wants and desires to somewhere…elsewhere, a space where only the moment exists and this moment is enough and more than enough, a space I never knew until this deep, deep breath of heart and soul, faith and laughter combined. In one word, it would be…joy. The joy of the moment, the joy of the soul, the joy that comes from feeling yourself connect from the grass beneath your feet all the way to the stars whirling their own celestial devotion above your head – you are all of you all of it and all of it is…one.

If anyone could understand such a feeling, it would certainly be Rumi, if any perfume could evoke it, it would be the one named for him.

Come to me running, Rumi, and let us whirl with our joy out beyond the stars!

Neil Morris, you blew me to dandelion fluff! Thank you for that! Now I can only wonder what other wonders have you made?
For JoannElaine, thank you is far too small a word for the epiphany that you sent, devious facilitator that you are!

‘Rumi’ is in Neil Morris’ Vault Collection of perfumes, available from Neil Morris Fragrances.

Notes: Ylang ylang, rose, benzoin, patchouli, amber

Illustration: the Paris-based artist Hassan Massoudy’s calligraphy portrait of Rumi.