The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – of 2010

Time for the nostalgia fit that is…the end is nigh! The end of 2010, the end of another year, yet another drip down the hourglass of the days of our lives. You will see it on virtually every other blog, the best, the worst, the fantabulous and the craptacular lists of things we loved, things we hated and things we hated to love and loved to hate.

Since this is me and I am nothing if not different, I decided to veer off in a different direction. Below, you’ll find my own list of things I loved and loathed in 2010, why I loved – or loathed – them, and what I’ll be looking forward to in 2011. Tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O’Hara used to say, Saturday is another year, and when all is said and done, hope springs eternal and what lies ahead can only be an improvement on all I left behind.

The Best Reason To Be A Perfumoholic For Life:
The joy of new discoveries. Good, bad, terrible or indifferent, there’s always something New! Improved! Spectacular! Or…spectacularly over-hyped to be discovered, another blog that makes me think, laugh and try to track something down from my remote corner of BFE Planet Earth, another scent, another perfume, another way to slay the unsuspecting! How can that be bad?

The Worst Reason It Sucks To Be A Perfumoholic:
So many bottles, so little cash. So many difficult choices. The entire Amouage line, which I’m dying to try and haven’t…yet. On the upside, maybe that’s a good thing? Would there be anything worse than to fall in love – requited, if I’m lucky – and then not be able to afford it?

Best New Launch of 2010:
It was love at first sniff. The kind that made me slightly uneasy, the kind I’m not sure I should do, the kind of woman I’m not sure I am, but I don’t care, I don’t care, I want to throw all caution to the winds of fortune and fling myself right in the hurricane center path that is…Boxeuses, by Serge Lutens. The Serge Lutens line is no stranger to the Sex in a Bottle concept (which is another blog right there!), but Boxeuses is so totally, utterly not me. Yet it is. Totally. Utterly. Me. In leather and lace, being ever so nicely naughty…Some day, these plummy, smoky, leathery lady combatants will be mine. I shall henceforth leave a wake of devastating femme fatalities in my wake. Gentlemen, take note. Or take cover, your choice! I pack a punch, it will be fatal and resistance WILL be…futile!

Most Over-Hyped Launch of 2010:
Here’s something I don’t understand. You are a designer with a certain reputation for…iconoclasm, let’s say. In the clothes you once designed, in the perfumes that you launched, including the one that spawned a million imitators and created whole new trends in perfume. They love ‘em or they loathe ‘em, but they are not…indifferent. Or if they are, they certainly don’t blog about them! So then…time for the next surprise to spring upon an unsuspecting world – time to define…woman, bottled. Good luck with that one. They’re still digging for the last guy who tried. You then settle down with your perfumer (Fabrice Pellegrin) and you come up with…“Womanity”. The name is great, the bottle amazing in its sheer H.R. Giger-esque weirdness, but a name like that delivers certain expectations, expectations the juice alas did not deliver. What surprised me most is that it was so unisex. I could well imagine this on a whole slew of exes – the clean-cut, not-too outré gentlemen I used to go for. Sweet, citrusy fig. Salt/Caviar. It coulda been a contender, yet I am not…contented. For shame, Monsieur Mugler. Back to the drawing board for you. Now. Woman is spelled f-e-m-a-l-e. Write it down one hundred times on the blackboard. And start over. You gave us Angel. And Alien. You can do better. Prove it!

Most Unintentionally Hilarious Perfume Ad:
Marc Jacobs ‘Bang’.
Dude, I get it. You’re hot. Tattoos and all, and I like tats. You are not, however, channeling the immortal Yves Saint Laurent in that ad. He did it first – and also, I have to say, best, by applying a certain modicum of restraint and his own slightly geeky allure. On the other hand, who says it never pays to advertise? And with a name like ‘Bang’…I’d wipe the smirk off my face, but it refuses to budge…

Worst Flanker In Existence, As Well As A Terrible Idea, Terribly Executed:
YSL Parisienne. If the world had never known the violet-rose splendor that was ‘Paris’, this would not have been quite so painful. Alas, we did. Alas, it was. The murder/reformulation of the original ‘Paris’ was quite bad enough, but ‘Parisienne’ added insult to injury and rubbed salt in it, too.

Best Perfume Note I (Re)Discovered:
Incense. Oh, how I love thee. ‘Magie Noire’ was my gateway drug into all things smoky and fiery, but thankfully, it didn’t stop there. Andy Tauer’s ‘Incense Extreme’, Via del Profumo’s ‘Mecca Balsam’, CDG ‘Zagorsk’ and ‘Avignon’, Lutens’ ‘Encens et Lavande’ or just a few smoldering nuggets of real Omani divinity, spreading peace and contemplation and goodwill towards humanity – there’s no such thing as too much incense. It didn’t help I wrote a Faustian tale and gave the Devil an incense-heavy, heady scent which totally ruined my protagonist – for life. And that scent has yet to be created. So, darling Andy, I have this idea…

Most Overdone Perfume Notes:
Anything berry-fruity aligned with anything patchouli. I. Am. Not. A. Twenty/Teenie Demographic. I. Am. A. Woman. Damn. It. Read. This. Roar. Why do perfumers – most of them at any rate – appreciate us so little, when we have loved you so long? And….Ambroxan. Skin. Amber. Floral. All in one handy combo that’s added to everything and clean musk, and makes me want to hurl bricks at glass facades, starting with Juliette Has A Gun. JHAG gave me the dearly beloved dark red-velvet Goth rose that is ‘Lady Vengeance’, so ‘Not A Perfume’ happened because…why? It’s ‘Not A Perfume’ I’d ever buy.

Best Idea In The Perfume World, Ever:
Outlaw perfumes! All-natural, all artisanal perfumes created with the kind of dedication, love and care that perfumers used to have, but in this day and age of marketing brief, sadly no longer do. (For one, it doesn’t pay.) An extended middle finger (bear with me and my shady past as a punk, please) to IFRA regulations and restrictions. Sock it to me with oakmoss, people! I promise to claim full responsibility for any adverse effects, but I suspect only my credit card will break out in hives – or my bank manager.

Best Reason To Become A Perfume Blogger:
I have opinions and I’m not afraid to write about them. I have a lot to learn and I’m not afraid to learn. I love new discoveries, new words, new worlds, new connections and new friends with a common passion. How can that be bad? It gets even better. Dimitri of ‘Sorcery of Scent’ was courteous enough to tell me where to go for niche in my perfume desert. Bless you, Dimitri – and bless you, my fellow perfumistas, bloggers and readers! – for proving the thrills, the spills and the perils of living dangerously – through our noses!

Here’s to the many discoveries we have yet to try, to ponder, to discuss and to argue about – in 2011!

Cloves But No Cigar

– A review of the reformulated ‘Coco de Chanel’

‘Tis a perilous business to venture into your local perfume store these days, perilous not because I might be tempted beyond endurance, but because I’m too afraid I’ll have hysterics over all the murder victims lurking on the shelves. Too many of my all time top-ten perfumes have been changed beyond recognition, indeed beyond repair in some cases, and sometimes, the thought makes me want to cry.

The other day I passed by one local store, and decided to bypass each and every one of the umpteen new releases and flanker editions that were even more boring than the originals. I did spray a few on paper I had somehow missed, to see if I had missed out. Among them Mugler’s ‘Womanity’ and ‘Alien’, which were neither so bad I wanted to run screaming out of the store, nor so good I was tempted. Of the two, I liked ‘Alien’ better, but man – the sillage! The sillage explains the name – surely this is intergalactic jasmine sambac sillage? This stuff could be used as an Ultimate Weapon of Mass Destruction. My eyes water just thinking about it.

Yves Saint Laurent Paris – the change apparent from the color scheme on the box – was once one of the most glorious rose-violet olfactory creations ever to grace yours truly – and loyal fans by the millions. No more. Now, ‘Paris’ is an anemic, wan shadow of her rosy-purple self, suitable only for tweenies with no discrimination, not even worthy of the name. No rose, less violet. Don’t even get me started on the abomination called ‘Parisienne’. Surely, Monsieur Saint Laurent is rolling in his grave? He would never have put his venerable name on that.

There was a rare bottle of Miss Dior of so many memories, not another version of ‘Miss Dior Chérie’, but plain and simple ‘Miss Dior’. My very first grown-up bottle of perfume. I tried to stop myself, really, I did. Resistance was futile. It would end in tears. I sprayed some on paper. Ah, the pain of it! They killed ‘Miss Dior’ and never bothered with a burial, but left her for the wolves of reformulation to rot in ignominy. Oh, the shame of it!

Somehow, I managed to compose myself, if barely. There were tears hiding just beneath the surface, but One. Must. Stay Calm.

On I sidled along the shelves, nope, not interested inn anything Boss Orange, or anything Cacharel. I had reached Chanel, and geez, how many ‘Chance’s can a customer stand? Chanel, one of the last independent major-league perfume houses on Planet Earth, should know better. I know I do – ‘you’re-SO-not-our-demographic, dahling’.

No. I know too much, I’m too old and too jaded. Past no. 19, known and loved to this day, and I don’t need another right now, the one I have at home is still going strong.

Which was when I saw it, when I had that Epiphany Moment. Making no fuss of itself, and looking nearly exactly the same as of yore, back in the day when neither fashions nor perfumes could have shoulders that were wide enough, sillage that was potent – enough. In those days, I wore it and some close cousins to give me that courage life had yet to teach me. So I told myself at the time, at least, but the simple fact was, I had a boyfriend at the time who liked Loud and Proud on me, and I did my best to oblige – with Paloma Picasso, YSL Paris, Cabochard, Magie Noire – and Coco de Chanel. All of them representing Liquid Courage, and none of them suited for blushing violets of any stripe.

Coco de Chanel was a constant companion and eternal favorite, a gloriously opulent Oriental that was the epitome of Classy-Sexy-Dame, a perfume even my notoriously fickle mother liked on me. That the sillage also slayed several boyfriends throughout the Eighties and early Nineties was only a bonus side effect.

Feeling like the last of the living Ostrogoths that day last week in the perfume shop, I decided to give it a go on my skin, to see if it could make me cry. I reached for the Eau de Parfum.

From that first and only blast it was apparent that it had been changed, certainly in the top notes. The peach is less obvious, the orange and mandarin not quite so noticeable and rich.

I told myself I wouldn’t cry. So I walked away and out the door and on to the other errands of my day.

Ten minutes later, that classic rosy Chanel note, this one accentuated with clove, cinnamon and orange blossom, bloomed forth and…took me away, to the woman I once was, before I lost most of my illusions. Cloves! Clover! It was all…still there, and not merely figments of my imagination.

Oh, yes! This was Coco all right, this wasn’t damaged beyond hope or repair, this was…seriously, why didn’t I own a bottle any more?

But Coco truly came into her own in the dry-down, when the labdanum, the opoponax, the sandalwood, amber and vanilla came to call. This was the eau de parfum, with more focus on those base notes, and they seemed to my uneducated nose to be as thick and as opulent as always.

Certainly, she was tenacious as always. Coco stayed – and stayed – and stayed. Forty-eight hours later, it was still definitely discernible on my jacket, even to my roommate, who has the olfactory abilities of a wooly mammoth with a bad head cold.

If Coco were a Tarot Card, she would be…the Major Arcana card called ‘Strength’. For courage, for determination, for tenacity, for daring to wrestle the lions of life unscathed and unafraid, bold and beautiful and strong.

Just like another kind of woman I want to be. Coco goes on my to-die-for list. Maybe as a belated Xmas present – from the young woman I once was to the woman I am now.

Notes according to Fragrantica:
Top notes: Coriander, pomegranate blossom, mandarin orange, peach, jasmine and bulgarian rose
Middle notes: mimosa, cloves, orange blossom, clover and rose
Base notes are labdanum, amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, opoponax, civet and vanilla.

Photo: Vanessa Paradis as the face of Coco de Chanel 1992, from