A Once and Future Genie

0212c1b476e2cd1a11669f80745423fd

– Where we were and where I hope we go from here

You may have wondered. You may (or not!) have wondered when the Genie would get her derrière in gear and start posting those reviews and musings again, checked the TAG Facebook page to see if you might have missed a post (no worries, you haven’t!). You wonder …

Is that it? 265 blog posts and <BAM!/POW!> – no more? No more rambling reviews that haul in everything from history to literature to … well, whatever I can think to throw into a review of that odiferous stuff of dream and emotion we call perfume?

Well, no.

As I’ve stated before numerous times, back in the day (2010, and I can’t believe that, either), I began my first perfume blog, Scent Less Sensibilities, as a writing exercise. The more you do it, the better you get, so both the saying and Stephen King’s On Writing go, therefore, if I could sink my verbal fangs into communicating what is in effect a wordless art, I might learn a thing or two about writing along the way.

I dare say I have. Writing about perfume taught me so much about writing, in fact, I applied every single trick I learned by the time the fall of 2013 rolled around and my first novel of over 780 pages was edited for publication from the ground up in a blistering five weeks, including proof-reading, cover compositing and final adjustments, which also taught me a thing or two about deadlines and my ability to fulfill them.

Here you and I are these four years later. You’re still reading, and I’m still writing – if rather less than I used to, not because the words have dried up, but because my time is no longer my own.

But what if it could be?

To that end, and all thanks to the Dude and his “you’re-way-too-good-not-to-get paid/far-more-people-need-to-read-you” attitude, I decided back in June to join Patreon and hook a paywall into The Alembicated Genie.

The paywall goes live on September 20th. It would have been earlier, but Mercury Retrograde got in the way.

How it will work

Patreon is basically your chance to feel – if even a little – like a Medici. You – the Lorenzo or, say, the Eleonora de Medici – contribute a token sum to the starving artist, which would be me. For this, you will have five options:

The Subscription Option:

For a measly $5.00 a month, you subscribe to the latest TAG posts – meaning, the latest two. If there’s an interest, I can add a monthly newsletter with things like rebates and special offers, short articles on materials, spotlights on perfumers, Creative Directors and so on as well as links to other revelations from Planet Perfume. TAG has – and this still surprises me – 225 subscribers at the time of writing. If everyone subscribed through Patreon, I could not only finance TAG’s overhead, I’d also have created my very own student job. The job of edifying YOU, my readers, twice a week, and not only that. You would in effect be my employers, which really puts the onus on me to deliver the smelly verbiage twice a week, posted every Wednesday and Saturday. No more, because I’m also a student at the moment with a heavy work- and reading load.

The Gift Subscription

Maybe you like what I write and you read so much, you’d like to gift a subscription to a friend, colleague or family member. For the exact same price of $5.00 a month, you can do just that. Tell the world! Tell your friends! Or simply gift them a subscription and let them judge for themselves.

The One-Off

If a dedicated subscription is a bit more commitment than you’re able to handle, you have the option to pay $0.99 for reading the latest two reviews. That might be feasible so you can decide whether or not my idiosyncratic style and perspective is a good fit for you – or not. And it’s only 99 cents. I’ll wager you’ve blown far more than that on perfume, yes?

The Tip Jar

Once upon a storied time a long, long time ago, I used to busk with a friend on Strøget, the Walking Street in Copenhagen. We sang a capella whatever we could think of at the time, but I recall a distinct predilection for Kid Creole and the Coconuts songs, and ‘Gina, Gina’ in particular. The tip jar option is that virtual hat on the ground. Contribute however much or little you please, but for reasons of logistics I’m unable to control, the minimum is $1.00.

The Freebie

Paywall, schmaywall. Blogs should be free, you might think. They have been for this long – whether with advertising or without – so why stop now? This option is for you: Pay nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Because I garnered a reputation, such as it is, for something, and you want to know why, you just don’t want the obligation or the commitment of subscribing. So in the future, all reviews, musings and general fragrant blathering except the last two are free to read, to comment upon (something I greatly applaud/appreciate, and all comments get a reply), and to link to. (I will be notified if you do, and I’m more grateful than you know.)

The Filthy Lucre

I enter this perilous undertaking on the premise that I’ll be lucky to get five subscribers, if that many. I’m only too aware that I’ve lost a metric ton of street-cred and influence these past meagerly posted years, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to where I was in 2011-2012, but by golly, I’ll die trying. What I’m emphatically NOT out to do is score a bunch of free cash and leave you, my dearly beloved readers, in the lurch. In other words:

I’m not doing this for the money. I’m doing this for the motivation.

Say, I do land five subscribers – well, the way I see it, that’s $25 I didn’t have before – for writing about perfume. Any amount is x amount of dollars I didn’t have before.

Each of the four first options has a specific purpose ear-marked. The subscription and the one-off money goes toward overhead; web hosting (I no longer use WordPress hosting), domain upkeep, and blog templates, and the best ones are more expensive than you’d think. 2017 has been an expensive year in that regard, but I have some hopes things will run very much smoother in the future.

The gift subscription and tip jar options will go towards something equally vital to the purposes of TAG – a new computer. Four years ago, I crowd sourced a ‘new’ used 17” MacBook Pro, which has been a godsend for this writer. Four years on, I’m still profoundly grateful many of you made that happen.

Having said that, it was used. Like every Mac I’ve ever owned since 1997. It still works beautifully and without a glitch, but it IS nine years old by now, the frame around the screen has broken, and I’m no longer able to close it properly, and therefore, no longer able to transport it everywhere. (I suspect Janice Divacat and her annoying, forbidden habit of lying on top of the closed computer, something she well knows is strictly verboten.)

I’ve been given a Windows 8 laptop (which is big, bulky, and an Epic Pain) for school by the Dude, who is vehemently against everything Apple. I have no words for how much I loathe and detest Windows 8, and I can’t afford to upgrade to Windows 10. Even if I could, I’m emphatically NOT a Windows person, although I mean no slight to those who are.

As I’ve tried to explain to a linear-thinking, rational, stats-and-specs-obsessed, non-creative IT supporter, it’s not about the specifications. It’s about something else.

Since I began writing in earnest in 1998, I’ve written on Macs. Some were big and bulky and beige (my least favorite color), and two others were sleek, silver laptops. All could – and indeed still do – run my beloved Adobe package of graphics software (a necessity), MS Word and all the other bells and whistles.

So it’s become a habit and also more than a little superstition. Those two MacBooks I’ve owned since 2008 have made these very words possible. Closer to my point is this significant revelation:

A Mac lights my imagination on fire in ways Windows never, ever could. Not only that, I consider my MacBook to be an indispensible family member the same way I regard my iPhone 6. It engages my emotions daily, takes care of all the background stuff, and offers the shortest way from the A of ideas of the Z of execution in the most painless way possible. If that means I’ll be forking out an insane amount of money, then yes, I’ll pay for that lack of (daily) aggravation.

So the tip jar and the one-offs will go towards saving for this beauty. Like my battered 17”, it can do absolutely everything I’ll need a computer to do – for TAG, for my future books and stories, and for school. Also, like I said earlier, I’ve never unpacked a computer straight from the box to use, all shiny, fresh and pristine. I can take it with me everywhere. And – important for my personal sense of aesthetics, and to hell with stats and specs – it’s pretty. These things matter, or is that just me and my own demented mind? I might get it. I might not. But it would be at least a possibility, and I can hope for that.

Anything left over – and as I said earlier, I have extremely low-key expectations – will go towards keeping the Genie afloat in samples and/or decants for review.

The Future Genie

I’ve been sitting on a stash of what I dub Big Reviews. Meaning important perfume releases I can’t wait to edify you with. Some are stories, some are simply reviews, but all of them are proof of why I love to write about the art (which it is) of perfume. A few are brands I haven’t reviewed before, and that’s another tangent I’d like to go on – to review those brands who don’t get so much attention, along with some too important to ignore. I’ve found things to blow my socks off, and things to rile me up for being so uniquely horrifying.

I can’t wait to share them with all of you, can’t wait to discuss them, argue about them, and expand all our horizons in the process.

Speaking of process, YOU – yes, you! – are the most important part. I’d love to read what you might think and feel and say about all of this.

Watch this space – and let me know in the comments what you think!

Photo: A still from Fritz Lang’s 1925 film, Metropolis.

 

Resurrection Royale

fernmacro3

– a review of Houbigant Paris Fougère Royale (2010)

Imagine you consider yourself a Parisian gentleman of some class and discernment. You know your forks, your knives, your ps and your qs. You are fortunate enough to be a gentleman of thought or at least a certain degree of leisure to indulge whatever impulses you might have. And although clean linen of course has never gone out of fashion for the discerning, particular gentleman of a certain class, perfume has somehow in this age of steam and noise become a decided afterthought. Pleasant enough in warm weather to cool with some eau de cologne or such, yet their thrill is too brief and linear, never complex enough to engage all your senses in one sudden, sharp and unexpectedly deep inhalation.

In this day and age (1884), it would appear that all things manmade assault the senses even as they exhilarate the minds; the possibilities in science, in the arts, in the electric and increasingly electrified currents of change in the very air, in the hiss and roil of billowing steam engines.

And then, the perfumer of Houbigant Paris, a gentleman named Paul Parquet, has an idea inspired by the great strides happening in chemistry, when he encounters a new synthetic material named coumarin. Be gone, ye soliflores and linear démodé colognes, adieu simplicity – and bonjour to a brand-new era in olfactory epiphanies: the abstract perfume.

From this day forward, perfumes can – and emphatically will! – tell stories, evoke moods and fire imaginations in ways both great and small, and nothing much at all in perfumery will ever quite be the same again.

Parquet called his new creation ‘Fougère Royale” – “Royal Fern”, and stated with all the hubris of someone who knows his own master stroke:

“If ferns had a smell, they would smell like Fougère Royale!”

Or as another highly discerning Parisian gentleman, a devoted fan himself – eloquently put it:

“It is a prodigious evocation of a forest’s scent, or maybe the moorlands, not at all a floral expression, but a portrait of its greenery.”

Say whatever you like about Guy de Maupassant (one of my favorite writers), but he knew a grand thing when he sniffed it!

Fougère Royale went on to have such a massive influence on perfumery in general and perhaps masculine perfumes in particular, that by the time Houbigant was relaunched as a luxury perfume brand and decided to reinvent their flagship perfume in collaboration with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, fougères had become so ubiquitous, they were their own worst olfactory cliché.

Whether shaving cream or eau de toilette, most men – in the Eighties in particular, judging by my own haunted twenty-something memories of Guy Laroche’s Drakkar Noir or Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros to name only two, just about every man I’ve ever dated, married or lived with since my teens has a Really Big Thing for ‘manly’ fougères. Never ‘manlier’ in my opinion than Kouros, a perfume that makes me shudder to this day due to a former colleague’s habit of ODing his surroundings by wearing every single permutation of it at once. We used to joke M. Saint Laurent could smell him in Marrakesh, which is a l-o-n-g way away from Copenhagen.

No one alive has had the opportunity to sniff the original 1884 version with its overdose of coumarin. A select and lucky few have had the opportunity to sniff the Osmothèque’s recreation of it (M. Flores-Roux among them), but apart from those who own the rare 1950s version, this is what we have.

Before I say anything else, let me be as clear as possible. I’m only too aware that this version of Fougère Royale is nothing like the original, nor even its 1950s incarnation, but an altogether singular reinvented perfume. As M. Flores-Roux stated in this interview, it was, in architectural parlance, restored with respect.

Manly – schmanly! Masculine or not, I had to try it. The first perfume I ever chose for myself was Jicky extrait, itself massively inspired by Parquet’s original. I’m also a green fiend. So when I first encountered the new Fougère Royale at Pitti Fragranze in 2013, I nearly swooned where I stood.

Somewhere between that first hyper-green, citrus herbal blast, that winning combination of lavender, carnation, rose, geranium and cinnamon and the long, luscious amber-y drydown was, I’m sure of it, a love affair waiting to happen. For everything I sniffed at Pitti, Fougère Royale stuck in my mind and refused to budge.

Two years later on a Facebook perfume group, a friend had half a bottle of this gem for sale at a price even an impecunious perfume writer could afford. Before I could sneeze, I bought it. To wear, of course! Or so I thought …

Enter the Dude. True to form and my own shady past, he’s a fougère fiend. And although Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Le Male is an excellent fougère (as well it should be, being created by the astonishing Francis Kurkdjian), he wasted no time at all ditching it like so many old and overheated loves as soon as he encountered Fougère Royale. Less than a month into our relationship, he appropriated my precious bottle with the words “This is mine now!”, and wore it on an almost daily basis from then on, only alternating with another fougère, Amouage’s Memoir Man. Colleagues and schoolgirls complimented him everywhere, superiors sat up and took notice, and even his own family remarked that he suddenly smelled miles better than usual. (The perils of dating a perfume writer!) There, he happily remained until that sad and sorry day the bottle was as empty as a daydream.

Along the way, both he and I noted a few things. On my hyper-pale skin, it pulled greener and more floral alongside the train tracks of a spectacular chypre, even in the drydown. I detected a lot of geranium and rose with the carnation and spice. With his not-so-pale, dark-haired, hirsute, green-eyed chemistry, it slanted much spicier, classier and in a plusher, darker, amber green and fern-ish direction. I also noted something else neither of us were quite prepared for.

It had a truly remarkable effect on Janice Divacat. She refuses to leave him alone for even a minute when he wears it. Half-joking spats ensued between the Mrs. (Janice Divacat!) and the sidechick (Yours truly) over who got to sit next to him. We eventually reached a compromise once she realized the Dude has two sides, and one could be hers. She’d bury her nose in his elbow with a sigh of pure pleasure – and promptly go to sleep with a purr.

I’ve been wanting to review Fougère Royale for a long, long time, ever since that hot Saturday afternoon in Florence, but I never imagined quite how much it would literally perfume my life since then for all the right reasons. Fougère Royale, you see, has become the Dude’s ‘The One’, that perfumed self definition he had been looking for, a few scant millimeters above that other one – Memoir Man. It is incredibly classy, elegant, and is virile without trying too hard or overstating the issue. (Drakkar Noir, that would be you!) Longevity is excellent – I can get 12 hours wear out of two tiny sprays, but the Dude gets at least 15 out of four. It smells staggering on me, but on the Dude, it’s a marvel – of modernity, of intricate perfumed art and not clichéd in the slightest.

Like so much else these past two years, it’s a revelation. I call it Resurrection Royale. As soon as I can afford it, the Dude gets a refill bottle. And when I can afford the extrait, I’ll buy that for him, too. Resurrection is a wonderful thing, especially in emerald green.

Houbigant Paris Fougère Royale is available as eau de parfum and as extrait from Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and directly from the Houbigant Paris website.

Notes: (via Fragrantica) Bergamot, lemon, chamomile, lavender, clary sage, carnation, geranium, cinnamon, rondeletia accord, rose, lilac, oak moss, patchouli, tonka bean, labdanum.

Disclosure: My sample came as part of a stunningly presented and very reasonably priced sample pack from Houbigant Paris, paid for by me. (At the time of writing, it is currently unavailable.) My reviews and the opinions I express are always my own.

With gratitude and thanks to Jan Gonzalez for The Bottle.

Photo: A macro of a fern, via lukeobrien.com.au

 

 

Writing On Fumes

incense-with-thurible

– the future of alembicating, and also the Genie…

Ladies, Gentlemen, Fragrant Humanity all —

Perhaps you might have noticed over the course of the past year or so how the blog posts and reviews on this blog have become few and far between. It would be far beyond the scope of this blog to state exactly why, or how that happened, except to state that life has been sprouting monumental roadblocks all across the superhighway of my creative process, especially the creative process that is and was part and parcel of my perfumed self – writing about perfume.

Excuses, excuses

Over the course of the past eighteen months, my life has changed to an incredible degree. A certain Dude moved in, old detritus moved out, and finding the space to get any writing done became an exercise in logistics and diplomacy, when all my former writing habits went flying out the window for getting involved with an ultra hardcore gamer who was not at all about to divorce either the monster TV or the PS4, and the garret has exactly two (tiny) rooms.

Along the way, I had to do some very serious thinking about this blog, the other blogs I own and write for on occasion, my presence on social media which has become virtually non-existent lately and even the state of Planet Perfume itself, and asked myself a rather pertinent question:

Was this really, truly what I wanted to do any longer? Why? Or more to the point: why not?

Believe it or not, and I’m still not sure I do, I have been writing about perfume – in fits and starts and stops – since August 2010. In those seven years, I’ve seen blogs come and go, I’ve seen the landscape of Planet Perfume change and evolve and not always for the better, and I’ve seen the meteoric rise of YouTube vloggers who speak fluent Adobe Premiere/Garageband, do all their own special effects and have followers numbered in the thousands.

Yet this is emphatically not YouTube but WordPress, and probably not why you, dear readers, are devouring these very words. You read this blogger’s idiosyncratic/iconoclastic words on perfume because you are a reader, not a spectator. You appreciate not just literature but liquid literature, which is to say, perfume writing with a literary bent and a metaphorical ear for prosody and phrasing.

Many of you – bless you! – have followed this blog since its beginnings and stuck with me ever since, well aware that I can’t write like anyone else, not even about perfume, which could very well be the precise reason why you’re here.

Thank you.

The Writer’s Lament

Remember those monumental roadblocks of a few paragraphs ago? Two of them will become pertinent to the future of this blog, but bear with me a moment.

The thing about reviewing perfumes, researching them, wading through acres of hyperbole-blasted PR copy, reading other blogs who reviewed this new It release, keeping up with the Joneses of Planet Perfume – it all became so much work. Work was the one thing I haven’t lacked these past eighteen months, and sometimes, it took all I had to just ignore that squeaky voice in my head berating me for not writing the next review, and the one after that, not because I had nothing to say about it, not because my inspiration ran dry, but because it felt like shouting into a void – a whole lot of headache, hassle and heartache for not a lot of payback or feedback which became harder to justify given that this blog alone costs me almost $200 a year I can ill afford and that I don’t get to blow on perfume. Somewhere, somehow, I forgot to have fun with it, which begged the question: what would make it fun again? How could I recapture the joy of 2011 in particular, when I posted twice a week Tigger-bouncing all over my keyboard and couldn’t wait to review something new?

Money, honeys!

How do you know you’re a professional writer? When you get paid to do it. After one published novel and three upcoming projects, I may now look in the mirror, shriek in horror at the sight and scream:

“Well, at least I get paid…” Not a lot and not often, but still…

Since I began on Blogspot all those years ago, I’ve resolutely steered past any notion of monetizing my perfume writing. I did not want to be beholden to advertisers or perfume houses, thank you very much, and ad clicks surely meant a sellout of my integrity, such as it was. The concept of charging perfume houses for reviews (this happens!) left a very bad taste in my mouth or my soul, pick one.

Then, two things happened. First, thanks to the aforementioned Dude, I was suddenly exposed to the biggest form of entertainment on Earth – video games. Along with that bombardment of sensory overload came exposure to a whole new kind of review; the cutthroat world of game reviews, and some of the best ones were monetized, not by ads but by subscription, via something called Patreon.

That made me think long and hard. Yet, I still wouldn’t do it.

The Dude and I had many, many discussions about Patreon, about money, about writing-for-hire and about, as he put it, “being way too good not to get paid for it.” (He was referring to yours truly.) Still, I sat on the fence, hoist on the petard of that wretched ‘integrity’.

About that second thing … In March, I applied for what the US would call college, but the rest of us education, to become a teacher in four years. In May, I was summoned for a two-part interview that would determine whether or not I was accepted on the basis of my 36-year-old classics baccalaureat, my life experience and my general (questionable) intellectual capacity. Two case studies, interview sessions and days later, I was informed that I passed my interviews and fulfilled the criteria for acceptance, although I won’t know for certain until July 28th. What this means for me personally is invaluable (I get to go back to school, yippieeee!), and yet, it will also mean that for the next four years, I’ll be living off what you’d call a student grant which is, all told, about USD$400 a month less than the pittance I pay bills with now, or roughly what it costs me to be an independent blogger every year. Meanwhile, I’m writing up a storm and will likely continue to do so – a novel is on its way, more short stories (one of which is coming to Amazon in July/August), a perfume book of stories I’m rewriting, flotsam, jetsam and …

Back to that daily morning horror story in the mirror. Am I a professional writer, or just a ditzy middle-aged D-list blonde throwing away her ‘brand’ for free? And if that’s the case, the brutal bottom line is the ‘free’ part has become a luxury I’m sadly no longer able to afford.

Future Fuming

After a lot of soul-searching, wrestling that damned integrity and removing myself from the perfume community so I could gain some degree of static-free clarity, I had some very hard decisions to make.

I could a) shut down TAG, say goodbye and sayonara and vanish into the sunset. Which made me all sorts of sad, since the perfume community – that means YOU! – had made me what I’ve become over the course of the past seven years. Each and every interaction everywhere, each comment, each blog post hit has made my soul sing in ways nothing else does except writing – about perfumes.

Or there was option b) move the blog to a free WordPress site, leave it for posterity and walk away. I could sit there among company, all teary-eyed and nostalgic, and tell stories of those halcyon days when ‘I used to be a perfume writer of dubious repute …

But what about option c) Throw caution to the wind, sign up for Patreon and dangnabbit, see how that goes? What’s the worst thing that can happen?

I can lose every tattered shred of perceived integrity I might have, lose every subscriber/follower/perfumista friend I have acquired in the past seven years for being considered a money-grubbing, avaricious louse and swan-dive right bang-smack onto dry land from a lofty height, with the added hashtag #epicfail. A distinct probability.

So far as I’m aware, there are no perfume blogs on Patreon. There are monetized blogs and vlogs via ad revenue, but that’s all.

I would be the first of my kind on Patreon, and I can handle that. I can handle that after almost seven years, a fury/passion for perfume has got me about as far as I can go, but passion won’t pay the web hosting bills, alas.

My idea was to make TAG a subscription service. For the princely sum of USD$5.00 a month and not one penny more! (about the price of a Starbucks latte), you, dear readers, would get early access to two reviews/perfume stories a week posted every Wednesday and Saturday, smartphone wallpaper, video bottom line reviews, a monthly newsletter of coming attractions and ‘insider’ info if there’s an interest and a guaranteed ticket for sample giveaways. After a week, those early access reviews go public – which is to say, are available to read for free – by which time you will have two new reviews to read. Whatever I might earn goes toward blog upkeep, web hosting (since I’ll have to move TAG to wordpress.org) blog templates and reader goodies. You would of course have the option to cancel your subscription at any time. TAG could be kept ad-free. Yours truly would be obligated and exceedingly motivated to bring you the best dang perfume writing I can possibly supply, and it goes without saying – at least, it should?! – my reviews as always are my own opinions and impressions.

Say USD$5.00 every month is way more commitment than you can handle, but you’d still like to share your appreciation of my writing. For you, there will be a ‘tip jar’ which will give you access to the latest review at 99 cents a read, and that’s the most I’d ever ask for thanks to that damn integrity.

Yesterday – Midsummer’s Eve, an auspicious date in my part of the world, I signed up for Patreon. The Patreon page and the new format for TAG goes live in early July, but I’ll announce it everywhere when it does; my Facebook profile, a few perfume groups if I’m allowed, the TAG Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram as well as a (free-to-read) post on THIS version of TAG.

As of this moment, I have samples from … Houbigant, Ormonde Jayne, Amouage, Serge Lutens, DSH Perfumes, House of Cherry Bomb, Scent By Alexis, Opus Oils, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Memo Paris, Atelier Cologne, Le Jardin Retrouvé, Neela Vermeire Creations, Perris Monte Carlo and Oriza L. Legrand to review. Most of those samples were paid for by me in the hopes of revitalizing TAG with a bit of the ‘new’, and all of them are fully worthy of alembication. I can not w-a-i-t to sink my purple prose fangs into each and every one of them.

Would YOU be excited to read about them?

Do you think I’ve completely lost my mind? Would you subscribe or leave a tip and if not, why not? Should I just slink away and die, already?

Let me know what you think in the comments, thank you for reading and sharing our fragrant journey so far and as always, here’s to the wonders we all have yet to discover!

Love, always!

The Alembicated Genie

The Interstellar Clean Machine

metropolis3

– a review of Parfums Mugler Mugler Cologne

You might be one of those people, the ones who love to trail complex, intriguing stories in their wake, the ones who leave an imprint in the atmosphere – of their presence, their essence, their plans or their purpose. If you’re reading these words, you very likely are.

In which case, read on.

But what if you’re not? What if you’re oblivious to perfume as anything but a toiletry item, elevated somewhere above the level of soap, yet below the appalling and intricate, complex-smelling perfume-y stuff? Something you’ve used since you were a teenager because it came with the territory of Growing Up and was considered a prerequisite for polite human interaction? Plus, the bottle was a birthday present from Aunt Joan or Uncle George (we all know it was Aunt Joan), it was free and wth. A shame to just let it evaporate, right? It’s not like you go out of your way to seek that stuff out, and it arrives without fail on every birthday, and.

If you’re that reader, read on.

Then again, maybe you belong in that box titled “All and/or Neither Of The Above”. The So Frazzled and Frantic All My Effs Have Left box. The ain’t nobody got time for that box. The this-is-my-life-with-a-snooze-button-and-now-I-have ten-minutes-for-everything-on-a-!§12346?!-Monday category. On those mornings, you can hope for nothing more than a mindless miasma, just enough to simultaneously camouflage any leftover weekend sins, advertise yourself as a substantive individual of the human race, and pull you through your quotidian purgatory as painlessly as possible.

The End.

Is that your box? Read on.

Maybe you’re a guy, a gal or a garden-variety alien trying to assimilate as seamlessly as possible into the general population. And maybe, just maybe, you want to get out the door with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency, so you are clear and focused enough to work for far more important causes and effects. Like changing the world, one of several or simply your own.

Maybe most of the time, perfume, personal scent, or any kind of olfactory experience isn’t something you want to be reminded of in your waking hours, you just want it to be there somewhere, a low, subsonic hum in the background frequency of You, just to say you are, you were, you do and you did.

On some sub-molecular, subconscious level of existence, we humans need to smell of something. No matter whatever our skin chemistry may cook up on our behalf, in this super-sanitized, anti-perspirised, squeaky-clean twenty-first century (at least in my part of the world), that something is usually soap.

Soap is the universal bottom layer to which we add all our other variables; the qualities of our water with its own variations on local minerals and trace metals, physical activity, diet, ambient temperature and humidity, the time of year. Add to that the scent of our laundry soaps and dryer sheets, fabric softeners or fresh air, hair products, and finally, lotions and potions, colognes, eaus and extraits. Then, of course, there’s the cherry on top of it all – your very mood.

All told, there lies the sum total of your “mindless miasma” – at least five different layers of differently scented products that all have their complicated contributions to your fragrant baseline on top of ambience, skin chemistry and mindset, all of which add their odiferous two cents.

Then again, maybe you have somehow by might and by right Marie Kondo-ed your life. Every single pencil in your possession has its proper place. Your entire wardrobe fits into an overnight bag, and your mental processes are the perceived realities of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in action. You really cannot believe how much simpler your life became since you hyper-streamlined and revised both your life and your material testament, and in so doing discovered midcentury moderns, the work of the Bauhaus studios or Hans Wegner and the clothes of Helmut Lang. Life itself – messy, chaotic, whirligig primeval life – has been reduced to baseline essence, distillate and purity of line.

But perfume? Soap would be more efficient, less expensive and effusive.

Should you by chance or design be that person, I have news for you. And it comes from a most unexpected source.

Say what you will about the perfumes of Mugler – but each and every one of them is a supremely singular creature. The overwhelming majority of mainstream designer releases may be conjured and attuned via marketing committee with an eye towards the trend-o-meter, but not chez Mugler, who have marched to the beat of their unique drum since the release of their groundbreaking, trend-setting Angel in 1992. Angel somehow fit the brand aesthetic of Thierry Mugler, a space-age Brutalist monochrome exercise in super-human Hyper-Baroque, wide-shouldered, wasp-waisted Glamazon/Master of the Universe perfectly in keeping with the fashions that made his name. Loathe it or love it, you can’t possibly mistake it for anything at all else. A’men – another Mugler release of 1996 – was another game changer with its own agenda and DNA. Alien turned a perfumery trope on its head, kicked it sideways from above and gave us Intergalactic Jasmine Audaciousness in many permutations, and again – at least to my addled mind – there were no contradictions between the statement, the brand or the perfume. Womanity came along in 2010 and again upset the perfume world’s apple cart by giving us not fruitchouli, caffeine or intergalactic jasmine, but a salty, juicy fig, leaves – and a truckload of puns – included.

Not to mention, those bottles, people! Mugler has hands-down the coolest bottle designs this side of Agonist and Kosta Boda limited editions. At least, I think so.

But soap?

Soap! Luxury soap – we’re still well within the confines of aspirational luxury here – but soap, nevertheless.

Personally, I adore it when a brand upsends our expectations of their releases. Soap is not at all what any perfumista would expect from a brand like Mugler. Having said that. simplicity has its own appeal in these trying times. Hence the success of Marie Kondo and her acolytes.

Mugler Cologne is from top to bottom yet another perfumery trope – indeed, one of the oldest – turned sideways and drop-kicked into an imagined twenty-second century. You’ll find everything present and accounted for, because there’s precious little to account for: a bergamot so incandescent, fluorescent bitter-green it’s borderline lime, a truckload of very high grade neroli that hangs on for dear life for the duration, and white musk, to add a little searing white, impeccably laundered skin chemistry-enhancing edge to the neroli. Some have claimed vetiver – indeed, a striking similarity to Creed’s Original Vetiver which arrived five years later- but never having tried any Creeds, I’m unable to comment.

That’s it. That’s all.

The End.

To some, it could be a massive snooze fest, soapy, green, hyper-simplistic and utterly unisex. To others, this could be a Marie Kondo of Planet Perfume – just smell good and get on, never mind through – with your day. So you have the sang-froid to take over the world.

It would be a paradox to claim that androids would ever wear perfume, that exercise in superfluity. But this is something the Maschinenmensch of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis would wear, or perhaps Star Trek’s Borg Queen, for maximum efficiency with a minimum of fuss before taking over the Alpha Quadrant and assimilating us one and all.

Should that be more hyper-baroque space-age imagination than even you can handle, look at Mugler Cologne another way.

Think of it as an interstellar Clean Machine, a time capsule from a future so blinding, bright, so immaculate we’re all wearing shades.

Resistance is futile!

Notes: bergamot, neroli, white musk.

Mugler Cologne can be had at many online perfumery locations for a bargain. Which it is.

Photo of Brigitte Helms in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1925), Photoshop manipulations, my own.

 

A Better Brand of Fishbowl

gold-fishes-wallpaper-hd-gold-fish-jumping-to-another-tank-digital-art-beautiful

– On the Genie’s absence, the changing state of the blog/vlogosphere and those all-important New Beginnings

Dear readers,

That I have you reading this still, even after being MIA with no reviews for so long, is an honor I’m nowhere sure I deserve. Therefore, I’ll start with the Big One:

Thank you from the bottom of my black and overflowing heart.

Yet for the longest time, it seemed my life was expanding in all sorts of ways that left no room for perfumes, for contemplation, or indeed for any kind of sensual appreciation involving words, bottled genies or meandering musings in the intersections of all three. I seemed to live in one mode only: pedal to the metal and predilections as well as perfumes be damned. Somehow, some way, there was simply Too Much To Do between waking at godless hours and sleeping, and perfume writing became yet another guilt trip I could beat myself over the head with for not doing, or I could just dump it altogether. (Trust me, I thought of it!)

But at a time when my writing is going other, more noticed places alongside other, far more noted writers, I came to realize a rather startling fact:

My life was missing a dimension, and maybe even all my writing, too. I still wore perfumes daily, still found myself almost automatically searching for context, for story, for texture and association, even as I now wore it solely for my own pleasure, and even focused on the perfumes I loved without reservations or inhibitions, the ones that felt like a second-skin extension of my own self on different days.

I rarely posted my SoTD on Instagram or Twitter (I gave up on Twitter for a time), I didn’t participate in the myriad Facebook groups of Planet Perfume, and in fact, simply removed myself from the conversation altogether. It wasn’t a conscious decision at all, it just happened that way. Lemming new releases, participating in splits and conversations about this or that creation, Keeping Up With the Hi’s and L’Eaus – all failed to fill me with even a sliver of excitement when I had other and weightier things on my mind.

This might have had something to do with certain emails and PMs I received castigating me for non-conformity, sucking up to brands and/or my particular brand of fragrant iconoclasm/bs. It was a knife straight in the aorta of all the cardinal sins a writer may be guilty of; vanity, narcissism or simply a sense of relevancy. Most of you are well aware I subscribe to the Room For Everyone School of Writing, but apparently, there wasn’t, if … ‘there shouldn’t even be room for crappy, hysterically overwrought writers like you who can’t just tell it like it is.’

Well … no. I can’t do that. I tried. I failed. I also for no reason at all forgot or overlooked emails I should have answered, and in general behaved like a massive, unprofessional flake. Maybe I should have been just a short-lived blip on the radar of Planet Perfume, here one year, gone and forgotten all these years later?

I also tried to ignore that small voice at the very bottom of my existential soup bowl that said and certainly felt I had failed YOU – for really, what – or even where? – would I be without you? As an individual, as a perfumoholic or as a writer?

Each and every one of you readers has made me the writer I am today. I say this without so much as a smidge of irony and my hand on my heart. Not only have you made me a better writer, you have made me a better, more well-rounded, less stuck-in-the-mud person. By not writing, by not reviewing, by not and by knots (the ones I tied myself into), I felt I had somehow failed everyone who had ever believed in me, in my idiosyncratic/weirdo approach to perfume writing that kept insisting on context, on texture, or on story.

For, as a job counselor stated recently in an unrelated context, the storyteller in me will o-u-t, even in situations it might not be entirely appropriate.

So far as I’m aware, that’s the hallmark of a writer, which indeed is how I choose to define myself above almost all things else. A writer of stories (mostly horror, for reasons best explained elsewhere), a lover of history, and a perfumaniac diehard who misplaced her iconoclastic/idiosyncratic/oddball/weirdo brand of magick trying to chase all sorts of dragons who would much rather roast me than revere me. That, too, has Got To Change.

As of this moment – noon on a chilly Easter Sunday that is gray, overcast and with a lot of rain promised later – I stand before you on the edge of a precipice called Reinvention. Over the course of the next few months, my life will be turned entirely upside down. Hinging on an upcoming interview, I hope to be accepted into a new and shinier career four years from now. I’m in the process of re-evaluating my living situation, my bad habits and even my wardrobe.

If that were all, that would be plenty, yet the headstrong Reinvention Tour doesn’t stop there, for two scant weeks ago, I submitted my first short story to my editor/publisher/fellow iconoclast friend to debut in a Danish horror/weird fiction anthology called ‘Project 1900’, which for me is a Really Big Deal. Ten writers – of which I’m one – were each given a brief and a decade of the 20th century, and instructions to capture as best we could the temporal flavor of our chosen time.

I chose the 1970s and disco, chose to completely divorce myself from my own self-created mythos of God and Dev(il), and proceeded to go all-out in a brand-new direction. I don’t know how it will be/was received, and really, that’s none of my business anyway. The Dude is the only one who has had the story read aloud, and his first reaction was unprintable. His second – which followed the first – was an indication that maybe I didn’t suck as hard as I thought I did.

I fully intend to translate it into English and make it available as a short story to publish on Amazon later this year. And just to be clear: an under-the-radar perfume features in the story, as well as a super-famous (for 1978) one. Now, you know!

You can take the writer away from perfume, but …

Thanks to that Reinvention Tour, there will also be changes to TAG. (You might have noticed the new logo/header above). I’ll still write about my dearly beloved indies, the other iconoclasts and weirdos and non-conformists I so adore, but I’d also and very much like to continue into new, uncharted territory with other under-the-radar perfumes, the ones that don’t get a lot of free PR, the ones not even you sophisticats have heard about and the ones I’ve never even considered before. Two reviews for three smash hits (at least on my part) are currently underway in terms of research, since these will be stories, and all I can do is hope I rise to the occasions these perfumes have inspired.

Every once in a while, I’ll also add a short video summation of a review, not to give any of the perfume review bigwigs on YouTube sleepless nights (which won’t happen), but more as a bottom line reference. Or irreverence, I’m still not entirely sure!

Most of all, it’s time for an upgrade. Because you’re worth it. And because the importance of a better brand of fishbowl can never be underestimated!

Yours always,

The Alembicated Genie

 

Vanilla Thrills

vanilla_planifolia_1

– reviews of Aedes de Venustas’ Cierge de Lune & aroma M’s Vanilla Hinoki

Pity this orchid the Aztecs called tlilxochitl. Once upon a time ca. 1840, its fruit was a byword for all that was exotic, prohibitively expensive, New World and marvelously, epically fragrant like few other plants on Earth. Five hundred years after Hernan Cortés introduced it to Europe, it’s been reduced to a synonym for conventional, boring, safe, mainstream, middle-of-the-road and/or mundane. An awful letdown for one of the world’s two most labor-intensive and expensive spices, for tlilxochitl we know today as one of the world’s most well-beloved aromas – vanilla.

For a perfume lover, vanilla is its own kind of thrill. Vanilla has been used as a base note in perfumes since 1889 when Aimé Guerlain had the bright idea to add it (as the newly available vanillin) to Jicky in 1889, and ever since, vanilla has elevated untold thousands of perfumes, whether to add a touch of its own sultry heat and sweetness, to enhance or soften other, louder notes, or – this happens too – to amp up perfumery candy-floss basenotes to eleven. The aroma of vanilla – whether vanillin or vanilla bean – also has a remarkable effect on the human brain – it enhances all other sensory experiences. Those Aztecs were on to more than they perhaps knew, when they added those fermented and dried orchid pods to xocolatl, which was served as an aphrodisiac.

My own angle on vanilla came with a bang ten years ago, when I worked as a pastry chef apprentice in the town’s most prestigious bakery. There, I learned about the different vanillas and their uses; the deep, leathery incense tones of Madagascan Bourbon vanilla, the woody, spicy, almost dark-chocolatey tones of Mexican vanilla, and the floral-fruity perfume of Tahitian vanilla.

But I was a vanilla fan way before, as witnessed by my (then) appalled husband in an Albuquerque supermarket when I had a dedicated Euro-cook’s total meltdown over the barbaric and ubiquitous – to my purist mind – custom of selling vanilla extract, proudly proclaiming ‘with real vanilla’. In Denmark, vanilla existed for a large part of my life in one of only two available forms – as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, sold in glass lab tubes two at a time and as a proprietary brand of vanilla sugar in distinctive packaging, the same brand that sold the vanilla beans in tubes, and made with the same vanilla. The ‘real vanilla’ in that Albuquerque supermarket was vanillin made from lignin or wood pulp, not vanilla beans. Most so-called ‘vanilla’ aroma is vanillin of the wood-pulp or the castoreum variety, which also provides the natural aromas of strawberry, raspberry and, umm … castoreum. I wanted real vanilla beans, darn it, not what I considered ‘that McCormick travesty of vanilla’, since I knew well before I ever became a writer, whether love or vanilla, there’s no substitute for the Real Deal.

Vanilla has thrilled me no end as both flavoring and fragrance, in that gold standard vanilla, Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, the limited edition Shalimar Ode à la Vanille Sur La Route de Madagascar that you may know by the name Shalemur, Mona di Orio’s Vanille or Téo Cabanel’s famous Alahine, to name but four stellar vanillas.

Now, I have two more vanilla thrills to add to the list, two very different vanilla-centric perfumes that are as far removed from anything dessert as you can imagine – aroma M’s new release, Vanilla Hinoki, and Aedes de Venustas’ new Cierge de Lune.

night-blooming_cereus_paniniokapunahoa

The Queen of the Night

My grandmother, like green-thumbed grandmothers everywhere, had a spidery, spiky and not at all prepossessing plant in a very fancy ceramic pot in her bedroom window. This plant, a vaguely cactus-looking creature, was tended and coddled like a particularly fractious baby – watered with special plant food, repotted with succulent-friendly soil into another fancy ceramic pot once a year, and kept warm in cold weather. I believe she once told me she even chatted to it. What I know for a definite fact is this: she called it the Queen of the Night, not after Mozart’s famous ditto from his opera The Magic Flute, but after that magical event that happened on one single night of the year, when that frankly fugly plant bloomed into a drop-dead beautiful and drop-dead scented white flower that paid for all her dedicated care with its perfume. For years, she would watch for signs of its impending bloom, take pictures, and call to edify me with her description of ‘the best vanilla-y perfume in the world’. One year, I happened by complete coincidence to be there at the perfect time, and finally saw what all her fuss was about. The flower as well as its perfume really was all that, we both agreed, and I would never again complain about the time I had to spend dusting the volutes and crannies of that Art Nouveau flowerpot.

With its 2016 release Cierge de Lune, the New York perfume house of Aedes de Venustas brought me back to that night with my grandmother in an instant, and straight to that incredible, indelible bloom.

Cierge de Lune – which is the French name of Selenicereus Grandiflorus – translates as ‘Moon altar candle’, and if there’s any more mellifluous name for that flower in French or Latin, I’m not aware of it. Created with perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin, it sings beautifully both on its own terms and within the overall evolving arc of Aedes de Venustas’ perfume releases, all of which hold a special place in my personal olfactory dreamscape, and two of which I have literally loved beyond all hope of reviewing, because they’re now …gone, loved, worn, inhaled, thoroughly enjoyed and disappeared. I hope to curb my enthusiasm some day, but I might have to buy at least four bottles first.

A common theme of all the Aedes de Venustas perfumes is a singular sleight-of-hand effect: somehow, they all manage to be highly complex perfumes of a kind you’d expect in dense, plush sillage bombs and yet, their texture – and their sillage – is as sheer as silk chiffon. In other words, they’re all complex enough to satisfy any sophisticate’s perfume itch, but never so loud or obvious as to overwhelm your surroundings.

If you like your vanilla thrill to be a chewy, gourmand, wearable pastry cream, this is emphatically not that vanilla. On the other hand, if you too have a memory of that indelible flower – once seen and sniffed, never forgot – then Cierge de Lune will surely make your vanilla-loving synapses sing. It comes incredibly close to my own fond memory of cereus, from the subtle but immediately apparent vanilla – a special dense, woody, leathery and incense-y Madagascan variety – to the bright kick of pink pepper. Black pepper is in there too from the outset to the finish line, and adds its own earthy, slightly ashy, mineral chiaroscuro to the vanilla. If that were all, I’d be perfectly content.

It isn’t. For in minutes, just like the flower itself, it unfurls, opens and …blooms. There’s no other way to state it. A buttery, warm ylang ylang and the expansive feel of hedione underscore the vanilla and give it a distinct floral aura, if not any flower I’ve had the pleasure to meet before. A very sultry flower, I might add, fully able to carry that name, Queen of the Night, with all its associations of a magic flute, two star-crossed lovers and a fabled, fiendishly difficult coloratura F6 over high C. When the show is nearly over and the curtain comes down on this one night of glory, what we’re left with is a sultry, intelligent, superbly unisex whisper of amber, leather, black pepper and that breath-taking, woody vanilla, wrapped up in a flower you can never quite forget. It lasted the better part of eight hours with just two sprays, and elicited scores of compliments wherever it went.

 

 

tsurunoyu_003

The Geiko’s Thrill

You may have heard of the vanillas of Madagascar, Réunion, Mexico or Polynesia, each with their own olfactory profiles. But did you know that Morocco – for centuries a prized source location of many things grand and aromatic – grows it, too?

Neither did I, until Maria McElroy of Aroma M chose a very rare (and most unusual) Moroccan vanilla for her latest Aroma M release, Vanilla Hinoki. Five years in the making, here is another vanilla nothing at all like the vanillas you think you might know.

Maria’s inspiration was that unique Japanese institution of the onsen, the hot springs baths often – as in the image above – associated with inns in the mountains, and also hinoki wood, used to build everything from palaces, Noh theaters, shrines, temples and bathtubs. Hinoki has a very particular fragrant profile; at once lemony and pine-y with incense undertones, and its remarkable pairing with the Moroccan vanilla she used is nothing short of inspired.

Inspired, because of that vanilla to start. This vanilla is thick, woody, smoky and not at all sweet – indeed, it’s arguably one of the woodiest vanillas I’ve encountered in a perfume. Another rabbit from Maria MacElroy’s mischievous hat was the fact it took me a few minutes to even register the vanilla at all, since Vanilla Hinoki starts with something of an olfactory shock. A sunshine-bright bergamot and spice kick to the senses – maybe the olfactory equivalent of that shock of heat you get when lowering yourself into one of those very hot onsen tubs? – kicks me awake and aware, but in no time at all, the green-herbal-woody-piney heart takes over and leaves me incapable of coherent thought beyond several deep breaths and a far less articulate if no less heartfelt ‘Aahhh!’

Ah as in … this is truly stellar stuff. That vanilla may be woody and smoky, but it’s been polished to a sparkling, effervescent fare-thee-well and behaves itself beautifully with the other star of the show, the hinoki, which makes those herbs do everything they’re supposed to; wind you down, relax you, and make you contemplate the brocaded Zen intricacies of existence. In a leisurely fashion to be sure, because who can be rushed when surrounded by such twilight beauty?

But wait! Once the drydown arrives – and all aroma M Geisha perfumes take time to develop and appreciate – it’s yet another, sultrier story, with sexy, smexy (yes!) leather, cedar and patchouli notes, in the event someone else should come close enough to appreciate it.

All of Aroma M’s Geisha perfumes exist in some highly evocative, creative space between the subtle Japanese olfactory aesthetic and Western perfumery traditions, but Vanilla Hinoki especially strikes me as more Japanese than Western. It owns a certain restraint, a very subtle delicacy and light polish rarely found in new perfumes today, yet it never seems alien or foreign to this Western nose, just evocative, contemplative and perfectly all its own creation.

I can imagine a geiko – a fully-fledged, mature geisha – taking it with her on her next sanity-restoring trip to an onsen, for her own private pleasure. Somewhere between the clean, fragrant mountain air, the heat of the onsen, the quietude of the Japanese countryside, she too will discover … there’s nothing at all ‘vanilla’ about Vanilla Hinoki.

The day I received Vanilla Hinoki, I presented my wrist to the Dude after a few hours to ask his opinion. ‘Do I need this?” I asked.

“It smells Japanese. In a good way. Oh. And yes. Yes, you do.”

One of my own favorite things about the aroma M Geisha line is the fact they come in both a roll-on perfume oil and as a spray eau de parfum. Both have amazing longevity on their own, but if all that Zen restraint is a bit much to ask, I can only recommend you get them both in your choice of perfume. Apply the eau de parfum, and then add perfume oil on your pulse points. You may not slay your surroundings with your sillage, yet you will be magically, wondrously, deliciously fragrant for the better part of 24 hours. Which is a thrill I have no problems at all announcing in public!

 

Notes for Cierge de Lune: Madagascan vanilla, pink pepper, black pepper, ylang ylang, Ambroxan.

Notes for Vanilla Hinoki: Bergamot, clove, cardamom, nutmeg, Moroccan vanilla, hinoki, cedar leaf, lavender, leather, patchouli, amyris, cedar wood.

Aedes de Venustas Cierge de Lune is available as 3.4 oz./100 ml eau de parfum at First in Fragrance, at Aedes de Venustas online and in their Greenwich Village store.

Aroma M Vanilla Hinoki is available as 50 ml eau de parfum and as a roll-on perfume oil  at Indiescents, Luckyscent, the Aroma M studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn and directly from the Aroma M website.

Disclosure: Samples of Cierge de Lune and Vanilla Hinoki were provided for review by Olivier Le Didroux of Beauty Entreprise and Maria McElroy of Aroma M. With thanks to them both for their faith – and their patience. I am never compensated or paid for reviews, and the opinions of the Alembicated Genie are entirely and always my own.

Image of vanilla orchid and night-blooming cereus, Wikimedia Commons. Image of Tsurunoyu Onsen, Akita Prefecture, Japan.

Vintage Divinity

dovima---botany-1951

– a review of vintage Balmain Jolie Madame

Once upon a storied time in the early Nineties, I found myself by happy accident in a very exclusive consignment shop in Copenhagen. So expensive was this shop, in fact, there was nothing I could afford at the time, something I came to rue that moment I located a stupendous 1950s strapless black velvet cocktail dress that might have actually fitted yours truly, nothing to sneeze at if you’re in the category of Really Serious Cleavage.

Then, as I checked the lining, I saw the label – Atelier Balmain.

The dress was haute couture, made to measure for some fortunate lady who cared enough to look her superlative best, even if she were – like me to this day – short, short-waisted and stacked.

Yet the genius of that fairly simple dress, or 1950s haute couture itself for that matter, lay not so much in its outer glory – that super-plush silk velvet! The heavy silk satin lining! The peerless workmanship! – but in its inner construction, for this was a dress with everything built in, shapewear and brassiere included, with cunning and surprising nips, tucks, seams and folds to conceal any multitude of sins and accentuate that thing the French did so well, once upon a time; la ligne. The Line! Say what you will about modern fashion and its love of ectomorph bodies – one common theme of the fashions of the 1930s to 1950s was precisely that they looked great on many different body types.

The shop owner was having a slow day. She offered that I could try it on. Lo and behold, it fit me like a glove, which was the first eye-opener, and the second was the way I looked in that dress. For this, dear readers, was THE dress, that much-vaunted LBD you could take anywhere; a fancy dinner party, the theater, or a Very Important White-Hot Date. It would not have looked at all out of place in any of those locations, not in 1992 and certainly not in 2016. I was instantly five inches taller, 15 pounds lighter and my girls had not been so prominently or lusciously displayed since my mid-Eighties Goth days of partying in not much else but net skirts, knee-length Doc Martens, a veiled fascinator, a black satin Merry Widow and a few metric tons of sooty eyeliner.

I never did buy that dress, for all I wanted to so badly, but I also never forgot it.

A Balmain haute couture cocktail dress, 1953

A Balmain haute couture cocktail dress, 1953

Last week, I was reminded of that dress and that moment – through a perfume. Not just any perfume, but one of those famous vintage glories any perfumista really should sniff, if only to determine the many reasons why its creatrix Germaine Cellier is one of the 20th-century’s greatest noses.

Nothing at all ‘petite’ about the mains who embroidered this!

Nothing at all ‘petite’ about the mains who embroidered this!

 

The perfume was an adorable mini of vintage Balmain Jolie Madame (in, I’m guessing, the extrait), Bakelite cap included, a kind offer from a perfumista friend, and I was over the moon for another and highly personal reason.

Jolie Madame was the first perfume I can remember my late mother wore, so much so I always remembered that glorious sillage, even if I didn’t know the name for many, many years. Yet I remembered the way her sheared beaver fur coat – a 1950s ‘swinger’ coat in a leopard print my present self would have loved to death and beyond – would smell when I was collected at the babysitter’s after parties and I was wrapped up half-asleep in that coat.

This was, so concluded my three-year-old self, what a lady should smell like. What it contained, I couldn’t know at the time, but in rural Virginia in the 1960s, I knew enough to know that most of my playmates’ mothers didn’t wear expensive French perfume every day and my mother did, yet another thing that set her apart.

This was another moment that brought me back in a heartbeat as soon as I’d applied two smidges of Jolie Madame. While I can’t honestly say this is precisely as I remembered it, given that memory is fifty years old this year, I can say this:

Vintage Jolie Madame, dear readers, is heartstopping stuff.

To my own surprise, it checked very many of my own favorite boxes: it was a very green leather chypre, it had one of the superlative best leather notes in perfumery and a violet/floral note to die for, and last but never, ever least: it was a Cellier, damn it.

Let me begin, as this should have begun, with the big one: I own bottles of vintage Bandit and Fracas, and now this mini, the third in my private Mlle. Cellier Perfumer Hall of Fame trifecta. (The Vent Vert tetralogy can’t be too far behind.)

Just as you can sniff something of the creator’s/originator’s DNA in ALL truly spectacular perfumes, or at least I believe so, Jolie Madame could not be anything but a Cellier creation. Green in the opening like Vent Vert, a feline leather and feminine floral bouquet that somehow all adds up to ‘violet and leather’ purring away in perfect harmony in the heart and base, and a mossy, bossy and exceedingly smexy drydown somewhat akin to Bandit some long, long time later.

It’s a tad disheartening to stoop to modern slang for this writer who specializes in 19th-century purple prose, but the best description of the one common element of all the three Celliers I’ve tried so far is ‘smexy’, meaning smart and sexy. You might argue her use of perfume ‘bases/accords’ (according to Luca Turin) instead of raw materials is questionable, whereas I would argue that is precisely what makes them so stunning: each and every Germaine Cellier perfume is nearly impossible to pick apart, much like those complex ladies who lunched in the 1950s. And just as they were – any Cellier adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts.

Jolie Madame – Beautiful Lady – is no exception.

She is the perfect embodiment of the bien élévée, well-mannered 1950s woman, not a hair out of place, stocking seams dead-straight, fetching hat, chic flannel suit and shoes, gloves and matching handbag included.

Feminine, despite the rather severe cut of her form-fitting suit as the violet blooms to sing its tale, a violet born and bred not in Parma with all its sweet connotations nor Toulouse, which is sweeter still, but only in Paris, a violet that knows to flirt with that bad-gal leather just right, just enough to charm rather than titillate, and how could you not be charmed by a violet? What are you – heartless?

Of course not. You are simply a very intelligent, immaculately put together woman, from the angle of your hat to the shade of your lipstick. Any one of these details – the limited but elegant makeup, the gleam of your jewelry, the violet leather of your gloves, the line of your handbag and even your shoes has been carefully considered as a flourish to accentuate rather than advertise, to stand on its own, and sometime in a magic hour between midnight and dawn, to fall away like the pearls that slither from your neck to the floor in the moonlight.

Dovima with elephants, by Richard Avedon, 1955. Her dress was designed by a very young assistant to Monsieur Dior named Yves Saint Laurent

Dovima with elephants, by Richard Avedon, 1955. Her dress was designed by a very young assistant to Monsieur Dior named Yves Saint Laurent

(The divine Dovima, in other words, only this time without the elephants. Jolie is all too short a word for the multitudes she contains, and Madame?

“Oh, please.” I seem to hear her say. “I am a woman. Mademoiselle sounds so… adolescent after a certain age, don’t you think?”

Indeed I do. Because when the drydown arrives to dazzle, I begin to understand something about why my late mother might have chosen Jolie Madame to define herself, and something about that prototypical Parisian femme du bon famille those tailored-to-within-an-inch-of-their-sillage 1950s perfumes, as well as the current perfumes they have inspired.

Leather, tobacco, vetiver, cedar, patchouli, oakmoss and musk, states the notes list, which is a bit like saying the Mona Lisa was painted in sepia hues. On my skin, I smell the leather, the oakmoss, a whiff of the green, grassy violet leaf, and lo and behold, the drydown sent me off to locate that vintage Bandit to confirm what I suspect is present in this vintage incarnation of Jolie Madame: those uncanny, glorious (and now banned) nitro musks that growl beneath the basenotes, giving a rather different, animalic and not at all prissy spin on such a tailored perfume.

Just as I can marvel at my own audacity aged fourteen in choosing the rather naughty Jicky for my first perfume, I can wonder that my mother chose Jolie Madame. I suspect like all twenty-one-year-olds, she wanted to define herself in better, more glamorous terms, to set herself aside and apart from the common run of 1960s housewife, to show her fragrant story just enough not to give the game away. She never did.

Jolie Madame is still in rather limited production, reformulated, revised and rewritten for an IFRA-compliant age. I haven’t tried it, so I’m unable to compare the modern version with the vintage.

What I can say is this: I really need to hunt down a vintage bottle of just about any incarnation I can find. It will be neither easy nor cheap (one vintage bottle I saw sells for 198$), but such is the price of divinity, and the echo of Pierre Balmain’s famous words:

Always dress women in the right look for the right moment.

Just don’t forget this perfume, and that moment will always be right.

With special thanks to Dagmar for the mini that made this review possible.

Notes: Artemisia, coriander, gardenia, neroli, bergamot, petitgrain, cloves, tuberose, narcissus, orris, jasmine, rose, orange blossom, violet leaf, lilac, leather, patchouli, musk, coconut, civet, oakmoss, vetiver, cedar and tobacco.

Photo of Dovima in violet by Edwin Blumenfield via My Vintage Vogue. Dovima with elephants by Richard Alvedon, 1955. Balmain haute couture dress, 1953 via Balmain.