Writing On Fumes

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– 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

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– 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.

 

Vanilla Thrills

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– 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.

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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.

 

 

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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

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– 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.

 

The Space I Take

baldwinquote

– on the Genie’s overlong absence, perfume writing, and real life roadblocks

Ladies, gentlemen and fragrant entities –

It’s been far too long. I have in the past six months removed myself from social media to a greater or lesser extent due to work issues (my first major freelance assignment, now completed) and life issues, and somewhere along the way, perfume fell by the wayside in the sense that I for good or for ill didn’t and couldn’t … write about it. I’ll be getting back to that one.

Future Music

A new novel will, Dev willing, find its way into the world of publication in two languages this year, Danish and English. It will be a prequel to Quantum Demonology, with a very different narrator and a very different story.

In publishing, there’s a phenomenon called The Follow-Up Act. In layman’s terms, the Difficult/Impossible Second Novel. Since Quantum Demonology was in a sense handed to me on a platter of id and dissociation, what this means is the second book in the series (which in terms of story arc is actually the first, and makes QD the third) has caused me more grief than I ever knew existed. This time, the stakes are higher. This time, I have something to prove, which always gets a writer in trouble, and this time, some aspirations of achieving what I hoped for with the first, thanks to a Danish publisher who could be a soul brother in terms of common inspirations, idols and predilections. Not to mention being a Capricorn with plans for world literary horror domination, quite a few connections and an epic talent pool of writers to urge that outcome along.

Sibling rivalry also plays its part. My beloved sister is a journalist, an often incisive columnist for one of Denmark’s largest women’s magazines and a published novelist. I’ll be damned and dipped in tar and feathers before I let her have that last distinction on her own, because why should she have all the fun? Luckily, she agrees. We write nothing alike and each have our own literary preoccupations, but by Golly, we’re going for it. Because we can, bolstering each other’s porcelain egos and talents with sisterly bubble wrap as we go. It’s what these two sisters do.

Fragrant Epiphanies

All along, perfume wafts in my wake. New releases have made my heart sing in ways I never thought it could by their sheer virtuosity, and other possible ones that just might also set the heartstrings quivering. I bought two hotly coveted perfumes in the past few months, one Estée Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, and the other L’Artisan Parfumeur’s genius Seville à L’Aube. Next on my list is another favorite FBW, perfectly appropriate for the spring exploding forth everywhere around me as I type: Hermès 24 Faubourg. I’ve ripped through three decants and every single sample I have, which tells me it’s love. But having just upgraded my shoe collection, that’s not happening just yet, no matter how much I wish for it. And more indie perfumes for my FBW list: Envoyage Perfumes’ astonishing floral symphony, Fiore di Bellagio, Olympic Orchids’ White Cattleya, DSH Perfumes’ Giverny in Bloom and Fleuriste, Neela Vermeire Crèations Pichola, Aedes de Venustas’ Oeillet Bengale, Iris Nazarena, Palissandre d’Or, Cierge de Lune and.

And.

The perfumes I’ve loved in my absence: my arguable HG, that intransigent, unapologetic bad-gal masterpiece that is vintage Robert Piguet Bandit. It has the effect of a hydrogen pulse bomb on the Dude. Should I ever doubt the towering genius that was Germaine Cellier or the delicate touch of Aurelien Guichard who reorchestrated it beautifully in 2007 to comply with modern IFRA standards, it takes just one sniff. I dare not contemplate what would happen if I ever encounter vintage Balmain Jolie Madame, or Vent Vert. I. Shall. Be. Toast. Bandit in the modern eau de parfum is on my FBW shortlist, if only so I can spray with abandon and let the world think what it will of that perfect, naughty, borderline disgusting/wrong note of cold ashtray.

Amouage’s Sunshine Man knocked the gender-bender out of the ballpark for me and has rapidly become my Favorite Masculine/Schmasculine Stupid-Happy-Delirious Perfume of All Time. It’s a lavender-almond cookie with an electrifying jolt of Curaçao/Cointreau/Grand Marnier that somehow all adds up to making me feel, well, deliciously delirious, maybe? It also has salubrious/salacious effects on the Dude, who loves it on me and nowhere else.

Aedes de Venustas’ Palissandre d’Or, a silky-smoothly burnished spicy wood unisex wonder, is as transparent and as glowing as maroon silk chiffon, and has become something I crave very badly, which does not bode at all well for my wallet.

The Case Against TAG

Yet something I’ve also found myself doing with increasing frequency lately is pondering that space I take in the blogosphere, the state of the perfume industry and the hair-raising amount of new releases, new brands, and new brands of headache to consider, and what – if any – role I should try to fulfill.

I’ve been writing about perfume for almost six years, as part of the – let’s call it – second wave of perfume bloggers that began somewhere around 2010. In that time, I’ve seen the social media landscape around blogging in general and perhaps perfume blogging in particular change in ways that emphatically do not appeal to my comfort zone. That sweet-smelling (?!) world has become so much nastier, no matter what I do to convince myself otherwise. Some of my mainstays from those early days are still very much around and are as awe-inspiring as they’ve ever been. A few more have had to quit the blogosphere due to real-life issues, and I miss their particular voice and perspectives on this thing called perfume.

All of these things somehow all add up that soup of contemplation I’ve been stewing in for so long, and in the past year or so, a few things more have given me long, hard pauses for thought.

I began to write about perfume for two big reasons. First and most importantly, to become a better writer. At the time I began my first perfume blog on Blogspot, I was heading toward the finish line of my novel Quantum Demonology, and thought it might do me good as a writer to find an outlet for all those girlie sensibilities the hard-boiled QD protagonist would have mocked to infinity and beyond.

I dare say that YOU – if you’re reading this – have forced me to up the ante and succeed in ways I could never have imagined that August night in 2010 I cooked up the idea to become a perfume writer.

Thank you. For bearing with my idiosyncracies and predilections, and for being with me this far.

On that note …

I’ve also been the victim of trolling on more than one occasion in the past year or so in particular. I’ve received more or less “anonymous” emails blasting me with vitriol and undiluted verbal hydrochloric acid for daring to redefine perfume writing on my own terms and in my own way, for not knowing enough about my subject matter, for shoddy, slapdash research into my subject matter (FWIW, some of those reviews required over a full month of research to write with any degree of credulity), and a blatant inability to locate even the most “obvious” notes in the perfumes I’ve reviewed. Some of these mails have gone so far as to state I should just STFU already ‘if you can’t write like ‘normal’ perfume bloggers!’

There IS such a thing, and I didn’t know?

O.M.G.

I realize an entire segment of online entities out there take great pride in destroying reputations, credibility and what in social media has been dubbed ROI, or Reach of Influence, on the mistaken assumption that our entire self-worth rests solely on the opinion of such human pondscum.

As a perfume blogger, I could not have cared less. There is no shortage of blogs out there to read or to watch on YouTube, and no shortage of compelling perspectives and quality prose. I link to the best of them.

But as a writer, I was devastated nearly into giving up the ghost altogether, and that conclusion almost did me in. If I can’t write, if I am silenced into nonentity or figuratively ball-gagged into shutting up, then just kill me now.

I do not, and have never that I’m aware, ‘write about’ perfume. I write to express my impressions or to communicate the experience said perfume gave me. You may beg to disagree, and that’s perfectly all right. Should I sometimes – as indeed has happened – be inspired by a particular perfume so stellar I feel compelled to write my review as a story and you take offense at that, then by all means unsubscribe and read something else. My perspective is a novel writer’s and storyteller’s perspective, and I can’t and won’t change that, not even to shut up the trolls who take offence at my approach or indeed anything else about me.

But with the arrival of more and more and more and more …. blogs, vlogs and the general proliferation of the perfume community, I have had to question what I as a perfume writer can contribute to the conversation.

As I stated before, the conversations we’re having about perfume have changed. Likewise, the relationships between brands and perfume bloggers has also changed. I was shocked to learn that at Pitti Fragranze last year, some bloggers walked around with price lists for reviews, which was somewhere around the point where my own brain imploded.

Call me old-fashioned. But a paid review in my book = no credibility whatsoever as a reviewer. In any size, shape or form.

I began with a passion – my own passion for perfume, and my passion for verbiage. That passion is not, nor will it ever be for sale. I couldn’t live with myself if it were. You may choose to believe me when I say that a rave is a rave because I think something is great/stellar/incredible, or you may take issue with the – indisputable – fact that certain brands on TAG always get raves. For one simple reason, and I state this with my hand on my heart and swear on my cat’s fur: because they’re always that great. Emphatically not as a compliment to a brand that provided me with a sample free of charge.

But more than anything, I’ve thought about that space I take, thought to utilize it better and more, thought to do whatever I could to entertain, or illuminate, or sometimes even confuse/bemuse my readers, and that has happened, too.

No one is renumerating my time or my efforts in trying to find the words to match my nonverbal impressions of a perfume.

More to the point, no one cares. Or do they? If you’ve read this far, do you?

Let me know in the comments! And let’s continue the conversation – about perfumery, about the blogosphere, and about… that space we take.

Illustration: yours truly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STFU

STFU

– something on brands, bloggers, dedication and not shutting up

Two days ago, which was Sunday in my part of the world, life was grand. All was good. Or it would be, as soon as I replenished that pan of blondies that had somehow vanished between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

So I thought, until I opened up Facebook and discovered an all-too-real horror story to strike terror, outrage and sorrow in the hearts of many, many perfumistas and any perfume bloggers.

Horror Story

Our most treasured resource on all things fragrantly Guerlain, the blog Monsieur Guerlain as well as the Monsieur Guerlain Facebook page and Twitter account was gone, shut down without warning, explanation or recourse by Guerlain PR.

For the few who are unaware, Monsieur Guerlain was a blog devoted to the house of Guerlain, created, maintained and impeccably researched by a lifelong fan of the brand. Whether you were looking for information on reformulations, differing editions of a perfume, or simply the historical context of, say, that white unicorn of vintage perfumes, Djedi, Monsieur Guerlain delivered the goods with a clarity and precision that only underscored his love of one of the world’s most justifiably beloved and renowned perfume houses.

Like many others, I, too, have had a lifelong love of several Guerlains ever since that first visit as a teenager to the Champs-Élysées flagship store that ended with my first perfumed self-definition – Jicky.

I have reviewed Guerlain perfumes I’ve loved, liked or loathed, and never in a New York minute ever considered that my somewhat snarky/underwhelmed opinions on new releases in particular might have unwanted – or unwarranted – consequences.

To have such an event happen to you must be doubly devastating coming from a brand you have done nothing but promote and gild with your encyclopedic knowledge. My sympathies here are solely on the side of Monsieur Guerlain.

Silence is golden, but…

But stop for a moment and think about the bigger implications here. Guerlain – owned, as we’re all well aware, by that corporate juggernaut monster known as LVMH – is adopting non-negotiable bully tactics without recourse to silence a blogger who has given them nothing but the superlative best kind of complimentary and free-to-Guerlain PR.

Seriously?

No matter what degree of awareness the general public has of the name Guerlain, the bottom line is this: Guerlain is a purveyor of products. Whether it’s a lipstick (and this brand makes some nice ones) or a perfume, these are all of them ‘luxury goods’, things that would not make a whit’s difference in the event of a zombie apocalypse, although you might enjoy it more should it happen.

So …these products, some of them with well over a century of prestigious perfume behind them and some released just last week (limited editions, darling) are then sent out into the world. One person – who just so not so coincidentally happens to ardently adore all things Guerlain – decides to spend his free time, his cash resources and his creative capital creating original content at his own initiative and does this for years. Content that gains a loyal following on social media, gets quoted, content far more entertaining and informative than any Guerlain sales assistant I’ve ever met? Content (and this is important, people) Guerlain can then take and transfer into bottom lines and numbers in the black, and everyone knows that’s where the money is.

More’s the pity that in this day and age, it’s never just about the money but the reputation, and that lies with followers, readers, subscribers and backlinks. Could there be an issue with Mr. Guerlain’s followers, subscribers, readers, in that they aren’t controlled by the Guerlain PR department? Even though that blogger celebrates precisely all things perfume and Guerlain?

Was their copyright infringed or their trademark impinged by an article on, say, the creation of Djedi, or the history of Mitsuko? This was not material made available or controlled by Guerlain, so perhaps?

To the PR mavens of Guerlain – I have some rather unsettling news for you. Welcome to the twenty-first century, the two-way street and the archaic bully tactics. Taking away someone’s virtual entire online identity and labor of love does not equal a great PR moment, and with all you’ve been through PR-wise since the turn of the century, one would think you’d be aware of it by now.

You do not own your own brand on social media. Your fans do. It would behoove you to remember this, but seeing as you’re owned by LVMH, who own all the legal sharks any rapacious corporate monster could wish for, that degree of humility is not bloody likely.

Furthermore, in shutting down Monsieur Guerlain in such ratty fashion, instead of showing a bit of class and at least giving some kind of justification, never mind some credence to a blogger who loves your brand, you dare assume you will have control over the consequences.

Any dubious bloggers (that would be me) should just quake in their cheap (non-LVMH name) boots for fear of retaliation.

OMG… we’ll be taken down!

Do we have the right to remain silent in the event we disagree? And if we dare disagree, does that imply possible/probable legal consequences? In which case, why aren’t LVMH targeting those ‘impartial’ fashion bloggers (!) who savage the fashions of LVMH brands yet still get invited to their runway presentations?

All our online identities, social media, Twitter accounts, blogs we maintain at not a little expense and time etc. etc – are now up for grabs should we ever dare state (as opposed to whisper sotto voce) what’s staring us in the face at Sephoras and department stores worldwide?

Everyone’s a critic

For instance, and I speak only on my own behalf, that most new Guerlain releases seem to be made by a marketing committee hell-bent at whatever cost on catering to either sugar-addicted, angora-brained teenyboppers or newly minted gazillionaires with way more money than discernment.

Given that the house perfumer of Guerlain is Thierry Wasser, that seems to me a spectacular waste of talent, not to mention a waste of opportunity to redeem yourself for slipshod reformulations of the truly breath-taking, beauteous perfumes that planted you in that public consciousness to begin with, and where you bloomed so fragrantly for so long.

A friend of mine in the know with the duds and the deeds to prove it once said that true luxury is always inclusive. Think about an alternate scenario for a moment.

What if Guerlain – and by extension, its parent brand LVMH – had decided to embrace this extra exposure? Taken him into the fold, included him, celebrated a fan who has many fans of his own? Would that have been so detrimental to their overall image, or subtracted from their luster? ?

I suspect a lot of indie perfumers would disagree since so many of them have been doing just that with both success and increasing public awareness as a result.

Yet, what about perfume bloggers? Those of us who write about many brands, those of us who are non-commercial, those who do what we do for nothing more than love of our subject, so dear to our souls – the very perfumes we write about.

Why go after a fan and take away all he’s built in a keystroke, when you could have turned this into a PR coup with just a tad more finesse?

I can’t answer these questions, but I can tell you what I’ve done. I’ve written to the PR person listed on the Guerlain website to protest the closing of Monsieur Guerlain’s blog and Facebook page.

Feel free to do the same: irousseau@guerlain.fr.

Please share this post with anyone or everyone who loves perfume, perfume writing and the delicate arts of celebrating beauty. Share the image below on Instagram. Tweet. Spread the word.

The only thing we shouldn’t do is…

STFU.

 

bringmrguerlainback

 

L’Incasta Diva

callasbyhirschfeld

– a review of Amouage Opus IX

Whether by accident or (infernal) design, I grew up in an opera-mad household. Family Christmas traditions included (among other things) at least one viewing of Milos Foreman’s Amadeus (because Wolfgang was the household god) and if my mother the histrionically addicted opera buff could get tickets for it, an Xmas ticket to another Christmas tradition at the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen – a performance of Carl Nielsen’s Maskarade. One year, the ticket gods conspired to send Maman, her mother and both her daughters to see ‘Maskarade’, and my sister laughed as the orchestra struck up the overture and my giddy anticipation was painted all over my face.

Since I’m also the only one of my family to play a musical instrument (classical flute, violin and viola) and I did not run away screaming for my first live opera performance (Monteverdi’s Poppaea, not exactly entry level stuff), she hauled me to many, many others throughout the years, on the stage of the Royal Theatre (too many to count) as well as opera cinema – Carmen, Zeffirelli’s La Traviata, Bergman’s indelible The Magic Flute, and (my all-time favorite opera and opera film) Joseph Losey’s Don Giovanni. Her one hesitation was hauling me to a one-time only performance of Wagner’s Parzifalbecause Wagner!”, and six hours of bum-numbed, utter flabbergasted stupefaction later, I still wasn’t sure I’d ever forgive her.

All of this is by way of saying that a) I’m no stranger to opera, live OR recorded and b) opera is the plural of ‘opus’ not to mention c) when you initiate your first-born into the opera lovers’ club, be prepared for the consequences.

Among them was our shared propensity for arguing about opera divas. Maman, you see, was a diehard Maria Callas fangal, and I… was not so much. So she would bludgeon me with ‘Casta Diva’ (from Bellini’s Norma), and I’d bash her right back with Kiri Te Kanawa’s Arabella. Or when I really wanted to get her goat: Renée Fleming.

This elicited one of two responses. Either I’d get frozen in the headlights of a Scorpio Glare (trust me, it’s a Thing) before a lecture on how altos (that would be me) never did see the point of sopranos out of spite since all the best female opera parts are always, always written for sopranos (true), or else, she’d haul out her trump card:

La Traviata.

You don’t argue with Maria Callas’ interpretation of Violetta. You. Just. Don’t.

Apparently, neither did Christopher Chong of Amouage when he cited La Divina Callas’ Violetta as his inspiration for the latest in the Opus line of Amouage perfumes , Opus IX.

My experiences with the perfumes of the Opus line have been a bit like singing a blonde bimbo version of Wagner’s Parzifal: I know I’m looking for something but I’m never sure what it is, and I’m always asking all the wrong questions and looking in all the wrong places. Opus V was an instant love, and so was VI. VII has to be my most confounding moment in my five years as a perfume writer, and VIII was… I’m still not sure. The Jasmine That Ate Manhattan?

Here and now, we have one of the most famous voices and characters on Earth, bottled. So how does it smell? Does it conjure up images of divinity, sublime musicality and all the fabulous ferocity and staggering beauty Maria Callas called her own?

Well, I’ll begin with the big one: Opus IX belongs to what I call The Brunette School of Perfume, meaning it will likely do wonders for the hordes of jasmine-fanatic brunettes out there.

Ms. Hare – a brunette, a Leo and rabid Amouage fangal – borrowed it for nefarious purposes and was quite pleased with wafting a fantastically fragrant, flawless honey-sweet jasmine sambac F over C# along with the not at all sotto voce animal growls of those nefarious purposes.

Try as I may, I can’t argue with skin chemistry, and you, dear reader, know as well as I do that genetics, diet, temperature and mood all have their parts to play in how to make a perfume sing on the stage of your skin no matter what the press release copy/libretto wants you to believe. My theory of what I’ve come to call the Brunette School of Perfume is this: certain types of grandiloquent Oriental perfumes smell infinitely better on brunettes.

Yours truly – a pale, buxom, vertically challenged dishwater blonde Taurus – tends to pull perfumes in a greener, more bitter direction, which goes a long way towards explaining my lifelong love of green floral chypres and fougères.

Opus IX is no chypre (In my demented imagination, if chypres sang they’d be altos out of spite!), but a great, grand, 24-karat whopper of an Oriental Diva with a scintillating Capital D.

Camellia is listed as a note and a reference to Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias which in turn inspired the plot of La Traviata, but so far as I’m aware almost all camellias are scentless. Not something you could ever say about jasmine sambac, which in this instance is dusted with pepper, a slightly powdery puff of an imaginary fragrant camellia and curled around a woody, fiery and sweetly leather-flecked heart.

Don’t be fooled. This jasmine can s-i-n-g, hitting that fabled F over C smack bang on those bright, pulsing quarter-note dots of beeswax and ambergris.

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Ecce La Diva

Ecce La Diva.

If you’re looking for the kind of drop dead glamourie that sweeps up its audience in a swoon, this is emphatically it. I’ve never smelled anything like it, and after this I don’t know why I’d even bother. The opening reminds me of those famous lines from Shelley’s Ozymandias, but with a twist:

Sniff on this art, ye mighty, and despair.

And then comes a slinky, silky feline on not-at-all stealthy paws and begins to purr, growl and roar right along with the jasmine in a duet to the death where neither will back down an inch. Ever.

The notes listing has ambergris (quite apparent) and civet, and I’ll come right out and say it: if you dislike civet, this will not change your mind. Civet happens to be one of my two most favorite animalic notes, but I’ve never, ever met a civet base note quite so lascivious? Lecherous? Licentious? as this one. This jungle cat is on the prowl looking for a decidedly different kind of carnal dinner for a fantasy blue movie rated a whole lot more than triple X.

Which is where Opus IX remains on this bathetic blonde for well over 24 hours. It’s the jasmine that gobbled up Manhattan before devouring Milano, Venice, Paris and London, until the civet jungle cat challenged her to a duelduet where they’ll both go down in fragrant flames – or crimes – of passion that might explicate the faint whiff of melancholy I detected in the far drydown.

Violetta expires – ah! The tragedy! – in the third act of La Traviata, right when all possibilities are opened up, when Alfredo returns, ‘Gran Dio … morir si giovane’, ‘Great God, to die so young…’, and just as the tragic Violetta, La Diva Callas, too, left this world far too soon, leaving behind, as all great artists do, a legacy of superlative musicality, a voice unlike any before or since and drop-dead, deathly intimidating glamour on top.

Some long, long time later came a perfume fully worthy of everything Maria Callas was and all she did – called Opus IX.

But somewhere between Maria Callas, my operatic memories and Opus IX, I have an urge to call it something else. A spin on another of her immortal arias, and with all due apologies for mangling the beautiful Italian language.

I’d call it ‘L’Incasta Diva’. ‘The Unchaste Goddess’.

Gaze upon her work, ye mighty, and despair.

Amouage Opus IX is available from First in Fragrance, Luckyscent and directly from the Amouage website.

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Notes: Camellia, jasmine, black pepper, gaiac wood, leather, beeswax, vetiver, ambergris and civet.

Disclaimer: A sample of Opus IX was sent by Amouage for review. With thanks to the Very August Personage. And the ghost of a diva.

Illustrations: Caricature of Maria Callas by Al Hirschfeld, 1958. Photo of Maria Callas in the Royal Opera House 1958 production of La Traviata. Photo of the Library Collection Opus IX, Amouage. Used by permission.