Love or Money


– from the galactic center of WTF

As of this writing, so far as Planet Perfume is concerned, the epicenter of the galaxy right this instant is the Elements Showcase in New York. Here, brands new and established can reach out, show their wares and wheel and deal, here is where you can sniff, meet and greet to your heart’s content, and here is also where the US Fragrance Foundation hands out prizes for the best in perfumery. Let’s not forget, it’s awards season, people, and even the perfume world has its Oscars. Some of my favorite perfumers will be there in person and not a few of my favorite people, too and in not a few cases, they are one and the same.

In an ideal world, I would be there at the drop of a perfume strip. Some day, so I hope, I most assuredly will. Meanwhile, I can watch from the sidelines, wonder about new releases and whether or not we perfume bloggers and writers have anything to get excited about (there’s usually something), and…well, wonder.

Wonder at that fatal WTF moment I had this morning.

You see…once upon a time, those of us who have a deep and abiding love of independent perfumers and their creations had such hopes, that some sunshiney day the rest of Planet Perfume would catch on to the astonishing level of artistry indie perfumers have been been displaying for such a long time. Perfume artistry for the mainstream market may well be a (very nearly) lost art form, but in Europe and in the US, indie perfumers and companies are working themselves and their incredible creativity to the bone to deliver those fragrant epiphanies to an ever-growing and ever more appreciative audience on the hunt for the Next Great Discovery, that next great epiphany that awaited in the storied air above our skin.

I say this because my personal definition of indie perfumery – which might be different from yours – are all those names who in a certain manner of speaking go it alone. They have no corporate bottom lines to serve, no agendas to fulfill and no marketing departments to battle except their own creative vision and inspirations. Maybe it would be better to call them artisanal in the true sense of the word – artists who practice their ancient handicraft just as perfumers did in ancient Athens or Alexandria.

Whether in workrooms, garages, on kitchen tables and in studios, they breathe a little of their own souls into everything they send out into the world. Many of them are not classically trained in perfumery at all, which doesn’t preclude staggering works of perfume art. Some of these names you might now, and some of them – not so much. And the true artisanal perfumers do all of this, not for the fame, not for the glory and certainly not for the money (usually, there is only their own) – but for love of their art.

Last year, a glimmer of hope was sparked when the Fragrance Foundation announced a new initiative – an indie category for precisely those not-so-household names so many of us do care about, wear, and adore – on our persons, in our inboxes or our ears. But it was early days, the whole concept was new, maybe change on this level just took a while, maybe the Foundation needed to rearrange its own olfactory furniture to comprehend the appeal of ‘indie’. Next January was another year. Maybe next time.

January 2013 rolled around – and lo and behold, thirty nominees woke up to find themselves nominated for that prestigious, money-in-the-bank-&-write-ups-guaranteed FiFi award. Many of them have been reviewed on TAG – names like Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Neela Vermeire, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils (nominated no less than three times), JoAnne Bassett, Ineke Rühland, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer …it makes for a long list. Many of us cheered on the sidelines and wished our friends and favorites the very best of luck, for manybe this time, things would be different? Maybe this time, they would get some of the recognition they so richly deserve and work so hard for?

Apparently not, for the five FiFi award finalists were announced and nary a single one was what I would call indie or even artisanal. Niche – OK. Yes. Limited distribution, exclusive, not-mainstream and so on. The five finalists were all brands that had either existed for some time or else launched with a splash of (very expensive, top of the line) PR fanfare (exit all the indie brands I’m personally aware of)  but…indie? Really?

And I am the Queen of Roumania.

Back to that WTF moment this morning. The winner of the 2013 Indie Perfume Award for best Launch of 2012 was…By Kilian’s Amber Oud.

I nearly face-planted on my keyboard, a habit neither my geriatric laptop nor I can afford.

Before I roast my goose any further than it already is, let me state a few things. First of all, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Kilian Hennesey and his brand. He has done an amazing job in not very many years of putting By Kilian on the world map of Planet Perfume. I can say this in all honesty, since I am completely without bias or preference. Every By Kilian I have ever tried has without one exception loathed my vegetarian, strawberry blonde Viking skin chemistry with an intensity that borders on pathological. The line has legions of dedicated fans, so I’m fairly certain they’ll manage quite well without me. My beef in this instance is not with the perfumes themselves, nor with the brand. My beef is this:

What rock did the Fragrance Foundation crawl out from under, if By Kilian is an indie brand? Not only that – what happened to those twenty-five nominees who truly are indie, artisanal brands?

I don’t know how these things are judged, or what criteria even apply, but I do have to marvel at the double standard even a complete outsider with no affiliations whatsoever such as myself can see.

On the one hand, the august institution of the Fragrance Foundation are seen as doing the ‘right’, politically correct thing – acknowledging that burgeoning undergrowth of artistry that floats just outside the public awareness by at least nominating it. Fair’s fair – that’s free PR, too.

On the other, it looks to this D-list blogger as if they’re simply paying lip service to the idea, and not to either the nominated perfumers and Creative Directors, or the creativity they manage to display in spite of being tiny, artisanal businesses in a Big, Bad, Corporate world. If I take By Kilian in niche terms, it is a hugely successful brand. In other words, a brand that successfully bridges the artistic gap between the mainstream brands everyone knows, and those countless hundreds of artisanal companies no one has ever heard of, who make perfumes that might not necessarily have the same commercial appeal.

So there we have it – does it all come down to commercial, mass market appeal, that ubiquitous ten-second top note sell? And if it does, why bother with an indie category at all, if the real indies don’t stand a chance anyway? Artisanal perfumes take time to unfold their stories from top to base. (Once upon a fabled time, all perfumes did this.) They might be shape-shifting, ever-evolving chimerae that start with a bright burst of light, only to haul you along on a ride towards the dark, dark, base – several hours later. Which is no small part of their appeal to the growing hordes of perfume connoisseurs of Planet Perfume, many of who are trawling the Elements NY Showcase as I type.

Sadly, however, it looks as if I’m forced to acknowledge – not for the last time – that in a world that constantly claims all for love, bottom lines – and not true art – will always, always win. All we dedicated perfume lovers can do is shake our heads in bewilderment – and breathe it in.

Everything boils down to love – or money.

Image: Nadja Auermann in Richard Avedon’s 1995 series ‘Mr. & Mrs Comfort’.

An Embarrassment of Riches


– A review of Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin

Sometimes on gray ordinary days, those days you expect nothing more scintillating than more of the same gray, the same mundane, the same quotidian wonders of simply being alive and able to breathe, lightning will strike out of nothing and nowhere. Subterranean rumbles shake the bedrock of your soul and new, untold tales will take you unaware.

Any perfumoholic will tell you… these are the moments we breathe for, the revelations we seek, even as we all know one irrefutable fact.

You don’t find revelations so much as they find you.

This happened to me recently on a completely humdrum day, a day of few expectations and less anticipation, rooting around my perfume cabinet looking for the backlog pile, and MDCI’s Chypre Palatin fell into my hand as if planted there by the Fates themselves.

At the time I received it from a perfume fairy, I couldn’t quite decide what I thought about it. All my usual phrases came to mind – decadent, delirious, a throwback, opulent bordering on over-the-top and maybe just a bit… too much for a D-list blogger buried in the Z-list boondocks of northern Europe.

Mind you, as a devoted (if not definitively debauched) Amouage fan, that says something. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure whether I had enough chest hair for this one. My initial impressions were of shaving soap – of a kind sold in 18 karat gold cans with dead-exclusive distribution and three-figure euro price tags – but I felt this needed two glands and one appendage I certainly don’t have even on temporary loan, so back it went into the cabinet and off I moved to other preoccupations.

Yet something tugged insistent at the back of my mind about Chypre Palatin, as if it held a secret that was just beyond my reach at the time. When this happens, it also happens that a perfume I can’t quite grasp will return to haunt me later, and just as with those epiphanies, when I least expect it.

One night over the holidays while buried in a book by Edith Wharton, I dug in the cabinet for something to wear as I read. The Fates decreed it Chypre Palatin, and made the penny drop at some point in the story where I was riveted by the dastardly deeds of the British upper crust. I settled down to read, Hairy Krishna purring on my lap, and…what was that?  That minute-long burst of hyper-expensive shaving soap morphed into something so utterly beautiful, it was like hearing a three-chord death metal guitarist suddenly flip during a soundcheck and break out the first movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale and play it – exquisitely. (True story.)

All associations of shaving soap and lavender machismo were gone, and in their place was a thickly embroidered, three-dimensional tapestry of chypre, the kind of chypre you rarely find any longer, a chypre to live and breathe for.

One distinguishing characteristic of chypres, or should I say, the best ones, is their stubborn refusal to be taken apart, especially in the heart notes. Those who can are better noses and writers than yours truly, but the very best of them are so peerlessly constructed, so seamless and gravity-defying, they exist more as an evolving aura than as an easily decoded mélange of notes that progress from one stage to the next. With the best chypres, there is no linear time travel from point A to point B – they can spiral, circle and even dance around and through their notes, and all you can do is enjoy the scenery  and the story as it unfolds upon your skin.

Chypre Palatin is no exception. After that initial barbershop blast which lasts less time than it takes to tell, this marvel opens wide into a limitless horizon of plush, posh elegance with a surprising fruity-green pulse, a pulse that slowly deepens into a sweetly leathered, mossy animal throb, the kind that would spell danger were it only slightly less refined, and even then, I’m not convinced it doesn’t.

This is not your usual gender-bending masculine-leaning perfume, nothing like those run-of-the-mill ‘chypres’ that pass through the needle of the IFRA these days. This is a defiantly green and definite challenge to all of them. Chypre Palatin has a vintage heritage and a classical structure yet nothing like a vintage feel. It walks an improbable tightrope walk between opaque and translucent from its surprisingly dark opening through that blooming, fruity-floral heart all the way to its rich, brocade-leather-vanilla-moss drydown many, many hours later, and just like Beethoven’s Pastorale, with not one note, one refined phrase, one phase out of place.

On a man of discernment, it would be devastating. On a woman, it is a sublimely elegant revelation. (At least on this woman.) As a perfume, it is, for lack of a better term, as much an embarrassment of riches as the rose petals in Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s painting above, like a moment you look up or around you – and all you can see, all you can sense is beauty everywhere you look and every time you breathe.


Top: Lavender, labdanum, hyacinth, galbanum, sage, clementine, aldehydes

Heart: Iris, jasmine, gardenia, rose, plum

Base: Styrax, benzoin, tolu balsam, vanilla, castoreum, leather, costus, oakmoss and immortelle

Chypre Palatin was made by Bertrand Duchaufour in collaboration with the Creative Director of Parfums MDCI – Claude Marchal. Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin is available directly from the Parfums MDCI website by email request, at First in Fragrance and Luckyscent. Parfums MDCI also has an exquisite sample program of 5 12 ml samples redeemable with any full-bottle purchase.

With deep gratitude to Diane for providing this window of opportunity! For the review of Chypre Palatin I wish I could have written, I recommend Suzanne of the Perfume Journal.

Image: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888).

The Most Beautiful Love Stories


– a review of DSH Perfumes’ YSL Retrospective Collection

If you ask me, the phrase ‘fashion designer’ has today lost much of the cachet it once carried. In a day and age when virtually anyone with a certain bent, a publicist and financial backing can write ‘fashion designer’ on their resumé, fashion has been diminished to fad, and all fads are as fleeting as a passing mood.

Yet once in a very different time, one fashion designer more than any other changed how we perceive fashion and style even today, even as so many modern fashion designers pillage his very heritage…one fashion designer changed the world, the clothes, and the lives of the countless millions of women who loved, worshiped and adored his work.

Yves Saint Laurent.

No other designer was quite so in tune with his times (sorry, Karl!), and no other designer has had such a definitive impact on how we even perceive those two words ‘fashion’ and ‘designer’. He was arguably the first couturier to conceive of that heretical notion ‘prêt-à-porter/ready-to-wear’ with Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the first designer to claim that style was an individual statement rather than a sartorial dictate and the first to celebrate women of every ethnicity both on the catwalk and many diverse cultures in his designs. In terms of fashion, Saint Laurent is responsible for a very long list of firsts.

Yves Saint Laurent’s work was exhibited last year in a comprehensive retrospective at the Denver Art Museum – one of only two such exhibits in the US, and as she has before with their Secrets of Egypt and Cities of Splendor exhibits, indie perfumer par excellence Dawn Spencer Hurwitz offers her own olfactory tributes to six pivotal moments in Yves Saint Laurent’s career.

I’ll venture that in terms of paying homage to perfume history, no one does it better than Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Whether consulting ancient Egyptian papyri for the recipes for her ‘Kyphi’, ‘Samsuchinon’ or ‘Susinon’ (favorites of mine to this day) or conjuring the celebrated cities of the Italian Renaissance, she has shown not only a true dedication to the culture behind it, but also an in-depth understanding of the olfactory philosophies of the times and places she chose to evoke.

I was excited to receive these six odes to Yves Saint Laurent, both for the compliment Dawn paid me in sending them, but also for personal reasons. First, because one major personal perfume satori moment at age fourteen involved an Yves Saint Laurent perfume (and likely his clothes as well) on the Pont Neuf in Paris in the spring of 1977, and second because my mother loved his work to such an extent, she’s buried in an Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche dress. For the longest time, the only designer I could afford was an Yves Saint Laurent perfume or lipstick and sometimes both at once, but with that kind of armor on my person, the rest of it, as the saying goes…was immaterial!


Ligne Trapêze

When Saint Laurent succeeded Christian Dior after Dior’s sudden death in 1957, he did it with all of France watching his every move intently. The house of Dior was, as one newspaper reporter stated at the time, a matter of national importance. At the tender age of twenty-one, Saint Laurent gave Dior La Ligne Trapêze, a move away from the strictly tailored and corseted designs of his predecessor into a looser, freer, A-form and altogether younger style. Dawn’s Ligne Trapêze is likewise a loose, free adaptation of the classic perfumes of the era such as the great Diorissimo. It begins with a bright, fruity, aldehydic champagne fizz. The peach listed in the notes is quite prominent along with the lemon, but then – just as perfumes used to, just as they rightly should if you ask me – it blooms. The whole opens up wider into a seamless, airborne bouquet of floral fantasy. I can detect lily-of-the-valley, the rose and the jasmine, certainly, and even a hint of heliotrope. I could tell you the notes, but if you love the great chypres of yore, with their endlessly fascinating twists and turns and surprises, Ligne Trapêze will be no exception, not even into the deliciously decadent drydown hours later when the civet and the castoreum growl their sweetly seductive, animal purrs before they, too fade away and leave a whisper of silky suede in their wake, as surely you will, too.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, ambrette seed, animalia, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Brazilian vetiver, castoreum, Centifolia rose absolute, grandiflorum jasmine, heliotrope, jonquil, lemon, muguet, orris concrete, peach, rosewood, Siam benzoin, suede accord, violet.


The Beat Look

For his next collection for Dior, Saint Laurent sought his inspiration in the beatniks of the Left Bank, with their penchant for black turtlenecks and leather jackets, but fashioned by Dior in the most luxe way imaginable, in silks, cashmeres and… Crocodile leather motorcycle jacket, anyone? It must surely be a testament to the furore this collection provoked that I couldn’t locate a single image to illustrate it. (The above illustration was taken from Dior’s Winter 1958 collection) Dawn was inspired by YSL’s first eponymous perfume, ‘Y’, but whereas my memory of ‘Y’ was a rather fearsome chypre bête verte, Dawn’s is altogether softer and not nearly so demanding. Here is another aldehyde wake-up call, but in The Beat Look, the plummy, fruity top yields to more prominent florals. On me, the gardenia, hyacinth and the honeysuckle sing their cool, perfect arias quite clearly, before giving way with a grin to a superb leather base, and if that’s not a reference to that jacket (Heaven help me if I ever locate one!), I don’t know what is. I wore The Beat Look to work one day when I was sequestered for a few hours with some colleagues into what amounted to a large walk-in closet, and left The Beat Look behind me. The next day, one of my superiors came up and asked me what I’d worn, before she added plaintively, “Why don’t they make perfumes like that any more?” Luckily for us, Dawn does.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, animalic, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Brazilian vetiver, Bulgarian rose absolute, centifolia rose absolute, civet, East Indian patchouli, gardenia, grandiflorum jasmine, green oakmoss, honeysuckle, hyacinth, leather, mirabelle plum, musk, neroli, orris, peach.


Le Smoking

It’s hard to understand today the impact Saint Laurent’s justly famous Le Smoking had on womankind as a whole, not simply the lucky ones (Catherine Deneuve included) who could afford it. A woman highlighting her femininity in men’s clothing was nothing new – George Sand in the 19th century, Marlene Dietrich in Morocco in 1930 – but in Le Smoking – or a knockoff – and heels, any woman had the impact of a pulse bomb. The ever-stylish Lauren Bacall – a longtime Saint Laurent fan – was once refused entry to a fancy restaurant  for wearing it.  It is just as timeless, as empowering and as relevant today as in 1966. For Le Smoking, Dawn bottled up the sum entire of female subversion and an era, too. As a green chypre, it had me, no question, at ‘Hello!’ Green, bitter, and not compromising in the slightest, it is as smoky, as sensuous, as intriguing and as perfectly sexy as anything can be in black wool crepe and stiletto heels. From that initial galbanum glow until that buttery, leathery, mischievous, delicious smoke ring of Mary Jane and tobacco, this is an instant time travel and an instant and still relevant aspiration – that classics will always endure, and as surely as M. Saint Laurent knew and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz certainly does, sexy is not so much the clothes and accoutrements of femininity, but an attitude, and Le Smoking – both the outfit and the perfume alike – has both in spades and to spare!

Notes: Bergamot, blackberry, brown oakmoss, Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, castoreum, Chinese geranium, clary sage, galbanum, grandiflorum jasmine, honey, hyacinth, incense, leather, marijuana accord, neroli, orris, Peru balsam, tobacco absolute.


Euphorisme d’Opium

In the late 1970s, overt drug references were simply just not done. The scandal of Opium – both its name, its tagline (‘For women addicted to Yves Saint Laurent’), its opulent world launch in a Chinese junk in New York harbor, even its Japanese-inspired bottle, were an instant, worldwide sensation and an instant sellout, despite being banned for import in many countries, even in the US. (They simply shipped it in non-descript packaging, repackaged it, and voilà!) If ever a perfume embodied the Studio 54 era of decadent excess and drop-dead disco glamour, surely it would be Opium? If people know nothing else of Yves Saint Laurent, they know Opium, for you had to live under a rock in the Gobi desert to avoid it in the late Seventies, or the countless imitations that followed it. (Cinnabar, anyone?) I had girlfriends who swore by it and wore it by the bucket in every permutation. My mother wore it for a time, before she moved back to her beloved Shalimar. As Oriental perfumes go, Opium was another gold standard of feisty, fierce spice-and-fire, and in Dawn’s version, it is nothing more nor one whit less spectacular than its inspiration. The carnation-clove-orange and cinnamon beginnings – a large part of what made the original so distinctive – are here dampened a bit compared to the Opium I remember, and since I recall Opium sillage trails so thick you could taste them (those were the days, people!), this is no bad thing. Instead, it’s Opium without quite so much of a perfume hangover the next day, brighter and lighter and altogether a glorious twist on a perfume so iconic, I don’t even have to locate my mini of the original. I close my eyes, and in a twinkling of that spice and that fire, in the benzoin, myrrh-laden, vanilla embers that spark and flame long, long hours later, I’m all there and still happily caught in that moment, singing “Hot Stuff” along with Donna Summer.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, Atlas cedarwood, bay leaves, bitter orange, Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, cinnamon bark, civet, clove bud, East Indian patchouli, Eastern lily, grandiflorum jasmine, honey, incense, mandarin, musk, myrrh gum, peach, pimento berry, pink peppercorn, Siam benzoin, spice, vanilla, ylang ylang.


La Vie en Rose

On the day Dawn’s YSL collection arrived, after devouring the letter that came with it and the press prelease, too, I wasted no time and less breath in heading like a guided missile straight for La Vie en Rose, and this time, it was very much personal. Unlike Opium, which I never wore since some of my girlfriends did, I wore YSL Paris once I headed out of punkdom in my early twenties. I wore Paris in the eau de toilette and the parfum and the bath gel and the body lotion and sometimes all at once (true story), I wore Paris to work and on sizzling dates and girls’ night out, I wore Paris any chance and every chance I got. So far as I was concerned, Paris was the epitome of everything rose and everything perfect in my less-than-stellar life, and in fact, one boyfriend even asked many years later if I still wore it. What could I say? I loved it without reservation and inhibition, as you can only do in your twenties, and heaven help me, I’d love it still if it had not become reduced to a (misguided) rumor of its former glory. When a perfume so perfectly embodies a philosophy of life it inspires even the designer to make a dress such as the ‘Paris Bow’ pictured above, that means…something. So out it came, my little bottled wonder of La Vie en Rose, on it went, and then…this grown woman of jaded mien and grown-up responsibilities and (supposedly) grown-up tastes…cried. For La Vie en Rose is very much more than my own rosy-violet-linden tinged memories of my twenties, but more than that, it’s the Paris I remember, without being quite so bombastic, yet as perfect as only the very best recollections can be. From its first breath of fruity, green-tinged linden blossom through its epic, expansive rose-and-violet heart and without any of those rose-violet associations of lipstick I so dislike, this is the answer to that perennial question…Why do I love perfume? Because of perfumes like La Vie en Rose and perfumers like Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, because the best are so emotionally evocative, so utterly transporting in time and place, I can withstand anything at all, so long as I have beauty such as this to breathe. That’s why.

Notes: Aldehydes, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, cassis bud, Centifolia rose absolute, civet, French lily, French linden blossom accord, green clover blossoms, green oakmoss, heliotrope, moss, muguet, musk, neroli, violet, violet leaf absolute, Virginia cedar, wood violet, ylang ylang.

Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour

Named for an embroidered wisteria and yellow jacket and a classic French love song, Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour is a floral perfume that could equally well be called Impossible April. Impossible, for how does it happen that wisteria and linden blossom waltz so well in tandem, and is the ozone (not a note I encounter very often) that keeps this bouquet so expansive and open all through, like the French doors flung open on a day of sunshine after rain, when all of nature blooms before your eyes? I dare you to tease out the blooms one by one, but I can recognize what must be wisteria underneath a brocaded, embroidered opening of bergamot and linden blossom, rose, a touch (a very light touch) of jasmine and ylang and certainly lily-of-the-valley, too, but all along this perambulation through spring, vanilla hums sweetly in the background with its friends sandalwood and musk, but so lightly, so elegantly, you don’t even notice some hours later when that door to this impossibly gorgeous April day closes, and alas, it is over. Then again, tomorrow is another day and hope springs eternal…

Notes: Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Bulgarian rose absolute, civet, Dassinia orchid, East Indian patchouli, French linden blossom accord, honeysuckle, lemon, linden blossom absolute, muguet, musk, ozone, sambac jasmine, vanilla, wisteria, ylang ylang. (All notes from DSH Perfumes)

It’s not hard to find traces (and outright theft) of the immense legacy Yves Saint Laurent left behind, in the many modern designers who steal what they find, in his extraordinary command of color and technique, or simply in that definition of style he was the first to advocate and so many of us follow even today. But these six perfumes are much more than cover versions of perfume songs we used to know, so much more than riffs over the familiar themes and tropes we now take for granted in perfumery. They are all imbued with that deft restraint Dawn adds to all her perfumes, never so overpowering as to leave you breathless in the wearing, but always, like the best of art and the superlative best in perfumery art, exhilarating, inspiring, and as flawlessly executed as any Parisian couture.

To be beautiful, a woman needs nothing more than a black pullover, a black skirt and to be in the arms of the man she loves. – Yves Saint Laurent.

To which I could add, but if you really want to knock ‘em down…wear any one of these heartstopping tributes. Because, as the Maître also once said…

My most beautiful love story…is you.

As indeed Catherine Deneuve and Laetitia Casta sang on the fortieth anniversary of YSL to a visibly moved Saint Laurent.

Sometimes, we perfumistas are very, very lucky, that the very best love stories can be bottled, too.

The YSL Retrospective Collection is available directly from DSH Perfumes, as 5 ml dram perfumes, as 10 ml. Eau de parfum sprays, and as a coffret set.

Image credits: Photos of ‘La Ligne Trapêze’ dress & ‘Paris Bow’ dress from, taken from the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition. Black and white photo of model in YSL couture by Jean-Loup Sieff. Photo of Dior suit, 1958 from Photo of Catherine Deneuve with Yves Saint Laurent in1966 via Photo of ‘Opium’ dress (1978) from the Costume Institute’s collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Disclosure: Samples were sent for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Whom I owe an oversized apology for such a belated review! 🙂

The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!


 – Being the true confessions of a hapless perfume writer…

Ah, the perils of a perfume writer’s existence. So many perfumes – according to Basenotes, 1366 new fragrances were launched in 2012 –so very little time! Without being able to sometimes club flotsam and jetsam reviews together – meaning I review more than one at a time – I’d be toast.

As it is, my ghost will probably be typing away in the afterlife long after my hopefully timely demise just to catch up on the backlog, wondering if Stygian WiFi is reliable…;-)

I also try to have a perfume free day every week to recalibrate my nose, which makes it easier to delve into the ones I do review.

Some of the perfumes I wore most in 2012 are repeats from my other two lists, for no other cause than I couldn’t live without them, others I have yet to review but I wore them anyway. Yet for all those new and/or newly discovered perfumes, sometimes, all this girl wants to do is wear a familiar favorite, and I’ve certainly done that, too.

These are the ones I have wafted and adored beyond all reason. For as surely as my readers know, reason had nothing to do with it!


Few things are more fun than scenting some of your favorite characters in books. It doesn’t get any cooler than to perfume the characters of your making, as my own project proved. Yet I suspect that Sophia – one important character who appears in my book Quantum Demonology – would wear Aftelier’s Fig, and whenever I’ve needed to borrow some of her own earthy grounding, Fig was a perfect fit. I loved it in an instant when I found it, and I love it dearly still. I hear Sophia’s Flatbush twang whenever I put it on. “C’mon, hon,” she seems to say, “just cut the bs already, whydoncha?” I do try.


Some days, nothing but an Amouage will do. I’ve had a few of those this past year, especially with Memoir Woman, Beloved, and certainly Opus VI. I also came to discover that bone dry, bitter cold – as we had in late January last year – turns my Cloak of Invincibility, Epic Woman, into a very moody, oud-y creature. I suspect that’s why my sister hates it. Considering some of the stink bombs she’s hit me with over the years, it’s only fair.

Aroma M

It’s said that the scent of Artemisia – which we sometimes know as wormwood and also as absinthe – furthers creativity. Who am I to argue with the Fée Verte glories of the Belle Époque? Aroma M’s Geisha Green is one of the most beautifully rendered absinthe perfumes I know, and whatever it takes ‘to further creativity’, I’ll do. That I received it as a present from a very dear friend makes it even more special.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, the lovely Dawn, she breaks my heart. For creating such stellar works of beauty as indeed she always, always does, and for making me cry, as I did when she so sweetly sent me her YSL Retrospective Collection made in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition. Those lucky enough to see it were treated not only to some of the most seminal – and spectacular – creations of my all-time favorite designer, they were also tempted with Dawn’s olfactory reinterpretations of some of his designs – and perfumes. La Vie En Rose – her tribute to one of my own Great Immortals, vintage YSL Paris, was so flawless, it made me cry. To be hit over the head by a massively packed suitcase of Guilt Trip for not reviewing that collection yet. The best defense in the face of Major Procrastination is an attack. Dawn, darling, yours will be my first review of 2013. As for the rest of you – read all about it!

Editions Frédéric Malle

Last year was my year of The Tuberose. It was a note I approached with some trepidation – one does not mess with this floral diva – only to find just how much I adored it, especially when it’s as stunning as the justly celebrated Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion. I suspect that the equally lovely Lys Méditerranée won’t be too far behind its sister in the Flawless Floral department. I am so doomed.

The Ex (Dev) Factor

I’m single now, so alas I don’t know a lot of (willing) masculine lab rats for when I needed to skin-test assorted testaments to Thermonuclear Testosterone Bombshells – also known as the Devilscents. For this reason and several others, mainly his resigned-to-the-inevitable sense of humor, I recruited Super Mario Sr. He then proceeded to ruin the female wait staff one night at a local Italian trattoria by deviously dabbing their boyfriend chefs in the kitchen with House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev. Those ladies  – usually quite clearheaded and competent in a busy, popular restaurant – were useless that night. Resistance was futile. The next day, so he told me, everyone showed up with Epic Night To Remember grins on their faces. The guys all demanded to know, as only red-blooded Italian males can – “WHERE can we buy that stuff prontissimo???” He never told them. Some things – and some secrets, apparently – are just…too good to share! Some time later, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a liquid decant of the scent of her own Dev massage lotion bar. I had just enough time to sniff it, before he declared this was his new liquid definition of awesome, and stole it with that elegant sleight-of-hand Geminis so excel at. I never saw it again.

Exotic Island Aromas

Here comes Guilt Trip suitcase no. 2. Monica also flattered me this past year by requesting my dubious services for her Primordial Scents Project. As part of it, I received Juan Perez’ – the creator of Exotic Island Aromas – two contributions, and never in my life was a sample vial drained faster than his utterly unearthly Flor Azteca. You can therefore imagine how happy I was to win a roll-on of this wonder in a draw. Full review forthcoming or I am so dead, but this feral phantasm of a tuberose is to breathe – and die! – for.

House of Cherry Bomb

As if the devastation wrought by their Dev weren’t enough, the Awesome Twosome of the House of Cherry Bomb also made Lilith, and as opportunity would have it, on one of two dates I had last year, I wore it to see a former boyfriend I hadn’t seen in eighteen years. I really don’t know what came over me. Or him. Let’s just say the reunion was a happy one. I blame the perfume. It couldn’t possibly have been me.

Neela Vermeire Creations

When your preconceptions are blown to smithereens, when you’re blown to dandelion fluff on a high summer wind by beauty, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to wear it again as often as you can. In the case of the truly spectacular Trayee and Mohur, this could never happen often enough, and I’ve worn both of them frequently in 2012 with no end in sight. On those dire, far-too-early mornings when I told my reflection despairingly that Attitude Is Everything, I’ve worn Bombay Bling. I dare anyone to wear it without a smile on their faces! All three NVC creations have been plastered all over almost everyone’s Best of 2012 lists, and I’m not about to argue with splendor.

Neil Morris Fragrances

Among perfumistas, the astonishing Neil Morris is one of those great cult figures of American perfumery, far too cool to be a household name, much, much too talented not to be. No one was more flabbergasted than I when he chose to participate in the Devilscent Project – with alacrity and an infernal amount of glee, I might add. It pains me more than I can say to know that I only have two more Neil Morrises to review for the DSP, but on the other hand, it thrills me beyond compare to know that Neil,my darling, I’m not letting you get away! Rumi, made for his Vault Collection has become a signature I never want to be without, but I could certainly say the same for all five of his creations for the project. The good news for the rest of Planet Perfume is I understand they’ll soon be made available to the general public. Be afraid – in all the most perilous, perfumed ways…

Niki de Saint Phalle

In the Bad Old Days of the Eighties, when I wasn’t wearing my usual sock-it-to-‘em wonders, I was a definite green chypre kind of chica. No one was more thrilled than I when the opportunity to acquire this oft-overlooked gem came along. Niki de Saint Phalle is a softer, mossier and more approachable sibling of my beloved Bandit, and today, it is so unusual among the usual fruitchoulis in my vicinity, it always gets me noticed.

Olympic Orchids

One of my favorite things about inspiration is I never know in advance where it will take me. I suspect my partner-in-crime Ellen Covey would agree. So far as I’ve been able to tell, our notorious little project has redefined quite a few of her own sensibilities, and it’s certainly shown a far more dangerous, if not sinister side of her as a perfumer than anyone could have expected, least of all this longtime fan on the other side of the world. Labdanum – one of the oldest, most sacred perfumery materials – was a leitmotif of the DSP, and her opulent, labdanum-rich Dev #4 puts labdanum front and center in a whole new, peerless – and heartbreaking – light. (Ellen, I’m saving those other Devs for the (unlikely?) event I find a testosterone bomb to put them on…😉 ) Her Lil unnerved my colleagues many times this past year, before I swiped them off the floor in a photorealistic rosy swoon with her glorious Ballets Rouges.

Opus Oils

When I get rich, I want of everything Isis by Opus Oils. Because blue lotus – one of my favorite floral notes – really, truly doesn’t get any better than this. And when I want to bring out my inner hell-raising bad-gal, Opus Oils and Michelle Kredd Kydd’s M’Eau Jo no. 3 is the best intoxication to be found this side of a bottle of Jack D’s. In no time at all, I’m backstage again on a sofa in a green room with a libertine, cleavage-loving guitarist, sharing the filthiest jokes we know…

Ormonde Jayne

When a line has more hits than misses with me, I know I’m in trouble. Or I am trouble. Which is precisely what I am whenever I’ve worn Orris Noir, and that happens often with this luminous, rich and decadent iris. This past summer and early fall – or just whenever I’m in the mood for bluer skies and warmer climes – I’ve added Frangipani to my Ormonde Jaynes, simply for being the embodiment of everything tropical and happy and positively perfect, which is how it makes me feel, although I really should know better. Do I care? Not in the slightest.


If there is a celestial location where the epitome of spring is kept on tap, where Green reigns serene as well as supreme, then surely, it smells like Annie Bezantian’s masterpiece for Puredistance,Antonia? If there isn’t, there certainly should be.

Parfums Serge Lutens

2012 was the year I delved quite a bit deeper into the nefarious doings of Mssrs. Lutens and Sheldrake thanks to the interventions of a few perfume fairies. I’m not sure whether to thank them or curse them for that…but I’ve worn a lot of Lutens this past year, among them Rousse – I come from a long, long line of redheads, or at least that’s my excuse, De Profundis, which was everything in a chilly green kiss I could possibly have hoped for, and the breathtaking Sarrasins, which shot to the top of my jasmine exosphere in a flash and sank me to the floor in a heartbeat, overcome by this outrage of night-blooming jasmine so stunning, my world twirled, tilted and has never been quite the same since.

The Japanese Zen masters have yet another word for that instant when suddenly, all those random little factoids and odds and ends of things you know – or thought you did – fall into place as if by magic, and everything becomes as obvious as breathing, as clear and as sparkling as Baccarat crystal. That heartbeat when suddenly you get it, you get it all – the beauty, the peril, the earth, the sky, the air…the art? Zen wrapped all of it into one word and called it…satori.

Aren’t those the very moments we live and breathe for?

With thanks to all the perfume fairies!