The Scent of a Man

ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

– Of memory, madness and Amouage Memoir Man

Nothing fires up our emotions or long-buried memories quite so well as a scent. It need not even be a perfume, although I’ve come to find more often than not that perfumes obviously have a special place in my heart precisely for that instant superhighway from nose to emotion and a whole slew of associations, images, and long-buried film reels of memory and feeling rush out to greet me.

Any man or woman, but maybe perfumistas in particular, will tell you… Clothes, demeanor, appearance, personal charm – all of these are fine and good, but really, those sparks and stomach butterflies and twinges in our hearts begin with our noses.

For all our sophistication, excuses and pretenses, that much of the primeval, atavistic animal remains.

I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, but I suspect that idea might have been bubbling away at the back of my mind that November night I wrote the short story that became ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’, which led to a book, which led to… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the course of my nearly three years as a perfume writer and over three hundred reviews, a select few are tattooed upon my soul in indelible, never-fading ink, often becoming so much a part of what defines me or my memory, it’s impossible to say where I end or the perfume begins.

When I’m confronted with this or that new perfume for review purposes, I myself often have startling reactions to the perfume I’m sampling. The best ones often involve a streak of spicy (and unrepeatable) language, or even inarticulate sounds that also can’t be repeated, which is no way to write about perfume.

Great art, so it’s said, has to be felt. This certainly applies to one in particular, which gave me such a violent reaction the first time I tried it I didn’t know where to begin or what to do.

Violent not for being bad, but for unleashing a whole blockbuster movie contained within that sample vial, one recurring, intertwined silken thread in my own life that runs silver and black, unbroken for over thirty years. For the longest time, it was padlocked and chained away in a secret vault in my mind until that afternoon just over two years ago when a spray and a sniff blew the padlock and chains to smithereens and out came… a story.

The perfume was Amouage’s Memoir Man. The story was inspired by that other story, that one real life tale of heaven and heartbreak, secrets and sighs called… The One.

Every woman has one. The one who got away, the one who lingers on, the one you try not to think too hard about. It’s over. It’s done. You know you will never again burn so hot nor feel so much, you know how that story ends (more heartbreak), you’re all grown up now, you’re over it, such madness, such magic can never happen again.

Yet if you’re a writer, it can and it will. It comes out in unexpected ways, provoked by who knows what hidden muses laboring away in the dark – by a perfume, or by the way that perfume accentuates and underlines that story and the man who inspired it. He was and still is the only one I’ve personally known who it defines and explains so beautifully.

I will go to my grave stating that no matter what they say to the contrary on all the perfume fora and discussion groups on Facebook, when it comes to bottling up the Guy Thing in terms of high romance, cinematic scope, style and personal statement, no one does it like Amouage. No other line’s masculine-slanted fragrances slay me or my ragged, battered, bruised and disillusioned heart to quite the same degree so consistently, and for over two years, I’ve wondered, as I often do… why?

It took serendipity to figure that out, or was it something even more portentous? Call it fate…

Because last week, while bobbing along on a summery tide of Business As Usual, bubbling with plans and dreams and things to do and perfectly serene, someone had the idea to track me down.

That one. The one who got away. Someone I’ve known for well over thirty years and seen in many moods and several disguises, the one who inspired a fair-sized portion of the Devil’s personality as he is portrayed in my novel Quantum Demonology.

Call him the Memoir Man. Or L’Homme Fatal.

Throughout those thirty-plus years, we were friends, both part of a tight-knit gang who had known each other through high school and far beyond. Until that fatal party thirty years ago that made us both take a good, hard look at each other, and in an instant, all our past lives and all our shared history of friendship was scorched away by something much more dangerous.

There was no turning back after that.

Since then, many other people wandered in and out of our separate lives. Ex-wives, an ex-husband, girlfriends and boyfriends, all the detritus we humans tend to accumulate as we proceed through our lives, and yet… chance encounters just kept happening. Unlooked for meetings on the street. Catching up. We began again because we couldn’t not. We ended. And began other ends, other chances to break each other’s hearts in ways no one else could ever manage.

Our last meeting thirteen years ago was high drama and super-heated words, and as he drove away, I was so glad I’d never, ever see him again.

I would be sane, I would be sensible, I would be cured and inured and inoculated forever more. If it killed me never again to burn so hot, never again to feel so much.

I would. Damn it.

Meanwhile, a writer was born, and as writers will come to know, no experience is ever wasted. Somehow, slivers of that old, repeating story would insinuate themselves into my writing of novels and stories and even a perfume review that came unlooked for as an old, dusty padlock blew up… with a perfume. That padlock came back on after my review, locked a little tighter and with thicker chains this time around.

Yet I swore a secret oath to myself, for reasons I could never articulate, if I ever met anyone again, he would be doomed to wear (among a few others)… Memoir Man.

So it was, until last week. I was a (little too) grown-up now, I was inoculated, I was sane and serieuse and a sensational writer (at least in my own mind). I certainly wasn’t that white-hot fury of thirteen years ago.

When I received that message, I wondered how to respond. As I walked to meet him again after all this time, (don’t ask) I wondered how much havoc was wrought with both of us in thirteen years. I wondered about that inoculation. Wrapped up my heart airtight with metaphorical Kevlar before I left, just in case. I wore an Amouage. (Fate!)

Everything had changed. Some things never did. We would be sane, we would be grown-ups, we would be sensible if it killed us.

We would. Damn it.

Last night, I suddenly bounced around the room and began to upend my perfume cabinet, looking for That One to remind me. My little sample vial of Memoir Man.

Because to me, that was – and is – the scent of a man.

The Memoir Man.

Image: Robert Mapplethorpe

With thanks to Christopher Chong, who knows a thing or two about getting a girl in trouble…

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Fortune’s Gates

fortuneteller2a

– Part Two of a story and a review of Amouage Fate Man

It isn’t every day an adventurer such as you has the courage to enter through Fortune’s gates, to have all the questions answered that so enflame your soul, seeking you to wander ever onward, ever forward, ever eyeing the horizon and the stories you may find there.

Did you not know that elusive far horizon moves with you as you whirl headlong through your life? Did you know that sometimes, the answers you seek are found not by moving forward, but by standing still?

Are you prepared for the secrets I shall see for you? Or shall it be you found me by a happy accident, around a corner, through an ordinary-seeming gate, to seek the answers to the questions you were unaware you wished to know?

You walked through the gates and found me waiting, thinking you were searching for me, but in fact, it was I who searched for you.

Sit, and I shall tell you of momentous things and all your incendiary dreams, all that urge you on to set your world alight, tell you all your restless heart will want to know.

What perfume shall be for such a one as you with such wings on your feet and such a fire in your soul? Indeed a perfume, for you are no ordinary mortal and I am no mortal fortune teller cloaked in faux mystique and superstition.

These are Fortune’s Gates, which only the brave ever find and none ever dare to seek, and this is where you perch on the verge between your old tales and your new hopes, this is where all your arcane secrets waft towards that far horizon that so eludes you. Like all secrets and many, many stories, this is a costly tale of uncertainties you have left behind, and all the hopes you have come to find, even as you fear them and even as you dream them into being.

Breathe them in. What do you sense in this fragrant cloud, do you see it reflected in my crystal ball?

Breathe in all your fiery hopes, inhale all its colors and its dreams. Can you sense that sunshine saffron burn, does that feisty, fruity kick of ginger lift you upward, even as an earthy whisper of cumin pulls you to the ground?

So much richness to your tale, so many secrets breathed into all the wormwood heartbeats… to go, to stay, to inspire, to wish, to instigate, to choose your path and unchoose other impossible mirages you must leave behind as you move ever forward, ever on.

To go, to do, to begin again, to start from nowhere and nothing known – that is what this scented song tells you must be left behind, if you ever want to find your far horizon.

Ah! That touched you, I can tell from the way you shift on your chair and your eyes slide to the door and your chin sets its hard and stubborn line. No one tells you where to go or what you can or cannot do?

If you truly had no wish to know what song you need to breathe or what answers you need to find, you never would have found Fortune’s Gates.

Sit still. Breathe it in and be inspired by the destiny you have come to claim. Did you ever suspect it would be so opulent or so deep? That rosy-tinted frankincense pulse that lies beneath and plays such an enticing calliope tune… this is where your game changes, this is where your time will stop an instant or two, this is where your new life begins and all your  old will fall away behind.

Crawl aboard that carrousel, do you see that gilded column of immortelle with all its sweet fragrant phantasms painted? This is what lies just beyond and straight ahead, not the clear cut answers you thought you sought, but the ever shifting, ever swirling dreams you have always denied, this the secret you never told.

The world was never meant to know you dream in such vivid colors, or scents exuded quite so sweetly.

This is the secret I tell you now – you will always paint another dream another day, always shift and change and gild it as it suits your purpose – a little more, a little less, a lavender and a labdanum shading to make it all seem more real and less a dream, but this carrousel never stops, not even for an adventurer like you, but then, there are none quite like you, yes?

It simply spins out your dreams into the ether and on to the world, out to where even your hungry soul stands still enough to build them up and make them real.

That hit you hard, I can see. Watch them as they spin out all your midnight fears, listen as they tell you as even I shall tell you that most arcane secret of all.

Nothing is predetermined, nothing is ordained just so, nothing is certain but this:

Your destiny is not a creature you can keep in a cage and feed with your dreams, your hopes and all the longing that hungry heart of yours can bear.

You shall find it and embrace it only if you set it free, only if you dare to paint it bolder still in darker hues and wrap your fragmented self in all its twilit notes, the sighs of sandalwood and cedar, the basso hum of labdanum and musk, the dulcet harmonies of tonka and licorice that urge you ever on.

Dare to believe in those calliope visions you paint so real, dare to hope for those twilit notes, stand up and face what you have never quite had the courage to face before.

Go back into the world now, go to find that far horizon that has haunted all your dreams, turn to the setting sun, breathe in all your secrets and all the courage you somehow doubt you have.

You have breathed in all your portent here. You have learned as it unfolded in your soul and on your skin, you have read its enigma as it breathed you back to the life that awaits you, a life unlike any you have known or any you can anticipate.

It is time to claim your fate.

amouagefate

Notes: Saffron, artemisia, ginger, cumin, mandarin, rose, frankincense, lavandin, immortelle, labdanum, copaiba balsam, tonka bean, labdanum, cedar, sandalwood, musk, licorice

Amouage Fate Man was created by Karine Vinchon – Spehner in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong. It is available directly from Amouage boutiques worldwide now, and in the US in October 2013.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Amouage. With thanks to the Very August Personage.

Images: Amouage Fate presentation courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission. Fortune teller via Dorothea’s Closet Vintage, original hamsa via deviantart, Wheel of Fortune Tarot card via Polyvore, Photoshop reprographics, editing and compositing, my own.

Destiny’s Doors

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– Part One of a tale and a review of Amouage Fate

How should I begin this reading for you? How to quell those butterflies of futurity that flutter in your dark, that fear of the unknown that so impels you all? If you had no trepidation of the future or even any hope, you wouldn’t be here with me, hoping against all experience for all your dreams come true. Or should that be – hoping against hope to quash that midnight black moth of fear that batters you and propels you through Destiny’s Doors, where I wait for those who dare to find me?

I am always here, you have just arrived, and time dances ever onward towards a destiny it too must fulfill.

Yes, I know, I know…I don’t come cheap. Few revelations ever do, and somehow, I get the impression that’s what you seek – a revelation of a future you don’t even have the courage to imagine. Or should that be some epiphany that even as one door closes – the one you chose to enter by, that tale you have told the world so far – another one opens, and yet another story begins for you?

I can tell you now…this is nothing more and never less than one ending to that old story of you, the one you write even as you sit with me across the table, and very much more than that new beginning for you, the one you need me to confirm.

That new beginning you so desperately want to believe in, the one you cling to on rainy days and Mondays. What shall it be, what shall I see for you, what clouds and visions will unfold in my crystal ball?

What perfume does your destiny breathe? Are you surprised that such a portentous thing should be a perfume instead of an amulet, a lucky charm, a  deck of Tarot cards?

Everyone does that, which is precisely why I don’t. These are Destiny’s doors, which open only for the most arcane of secrets – and people, too.

Close your eyes. Breathe in deep. Can you sense those omens of sunshine and spice? Do you feel how suddenly, your world seems so much lighter? It almost makes you want to laugh for joy, doesn’t it? Worries? What worries? This is kismet of a gentler, softer kind, but don’t mistake gentle for careless. If you do, that fiery, feisty spice and sass will come back to bite you, although I suspect it has other plans.

You expected Beethoven, star-crossed Sturm und Drang, an operatic overture of doom in baritone and alto keys. Major surprises can be good that way.

Destiny has other plans for you. Incendiary things, sugar and spice and several things nice, but I tell you now – you have to suspend your credulity just a little, give over control and have a little… faith.

Ah. That struck a chord, yes? Faith, hope’s less cynical sibling. Not something easy to come by in this disparaging day and age, which doesn’t mean you need it any less. This perfume will tell you how to find it, but I can tell – you know.

You know to find it in the beauty within the silky petals of a thousand flowers, roses, jasmine, narcissus, even, blooming all their glories, blinding white and ruby red against a blue eternal sky, emanating all their secrets on your skin and blowing their summer breezes into your soul.

Go ahead. Have all the faith and all the courage you can ever need when you doubt that destiny of your making.

Here’s another secret for you. This is not a destiny created for you, this is the destiny you create for yourself every instant it wafts in your wake. I am here to tell you, since otherwise, you would never believe and that is important.

Believe it.

Believe it as you waft through it, walk around it, breathe in all those arcane wishes and secret aspirations.

Now, the time has come to inhale those fires that inspire you to create that karma you claim as your own.

They burn far below that summer sun and spicy laughter, beneath that faith the flowers bestowed upon you, they burn as warm and as precious as frankincense tears to cherish and console you when all around you seems so cold and so indifferent.

What world would not acknowledge what you have to give with a fortune such as yours, with a singular perfume such as this?

This is not the song this perfume sings for you, this is not the destiny you’ll implore as you walk out my doors.

Ah, I sense it now, that tiny drop of fear you hide so well beneath all your sophisticated veneer, that fear of one door closing, the fear we all have of all we cannot know.

Most of all for you, I think, that fear that all your dreams are dreamt in vain, for nothing, for lack of a reality to manifest them in.

Close your eyes. Breathe them in, those dreams, for all reality begins in dreams, the daylight dreams that catch us unaware and the midnight visions that so bewitch us in our sleep and sets us free to build reality upon them.

I know those dreams. I can tell you what they mean, but you…you are in a hurry to know more, to know everything, to know what no one can ever know but you.

Every moment you breathe, every moment you create, every instant you remember…the sunshine of a flawless summer day, your fiery zest for life, those moments of beauty that catch you by surprise and take your breath away, those flickering flames of inspiration that always, always burn and impel you to manifest those haunting dreams – all will lead you to this sweetly scented secret.

Vanilla and benzoin will sing their chorus that great things await you, this silken chypre will whisper on your skin no pleasures shall be denied you, if you dare, if you believe, if you have the courage to follow where they lead and the imagination to envision it as boldly and as audaciously as you dare.

These are the secrets I could breathe alive for you, the perfume your kismet has made for you.

I sense nothing more for you here, see no further secrets in my opalescent crystal ball except one.

The time has come to claim the Fate that awaits you on the other side of Destiny’s doors.

amouagefate

Notes: Bergamot, cinnamon, chili, pepper, rose, jasmine, frankincense, labdanum, vanilla, benzion, castoreum, patchouli, oakmoss, leather

Amouage Fate Woman was created by Dorothée Piot in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong. It is available directly from Amouage boutiques worldwide now, and in the US in October 2013.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Amouage. With thanks to the Very August Personage.

Images: Image of Amouage Fate presentation courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission. Fortune teller via Dorothea’s Closet Vintage, original hamsa via Razanal on deviantart, Wheel of Fortune Tarot card via Polyvore, Photoshop reprographics, editing and compositing, my own.

Chiaroscuro in Amethyst and Onyx

opusviiiris

– a review of Amouage Opus VII

Among all my many moods and frequent fancies, one moves me more than nearly any other and sets my imagination alight, the delicious, delirious champagne bubbles of …anticipation. That timeless moment when anything and everything is possibility, when hopes and dreams and wishes slither inside to fuel the fires of your imagination, assert themselves and remind you that anything can and will likely happen, that you might know and experience what you never did before, go places you never knew you could.

Even now, even today, even as it seems in this endless dreary winter that sent Spring straight to an icy fevered limbo, anticipation takes hold and bubbles away in my mind, even as I have a slight hint that my anticipation might be just warranted enough, justified enough to make these fragrant hopes and ephemeral dreams a little more real, a little less dream to catch as it flies.

This day, this instant, my anticipation has a name, a prosaic name from an anything but prosaic house, the house of Amouage, and the name is nothing more and nowhere less than… Opus VII.

Once upon a time, the Library Collection line of Amouage seemed to be a counterpoint to their main line, scented sonatas as opposed to symphonies, Schubert lieder rather than full-blown Wagner operas, or novellas as opposed to doorstopper novels.

So I even believed at the time, until an inkling that arrived as the same time as Opus VI became a definite suspicion, if not a proven fact with the arrival of Opus VII.

You see, I suspect that the Library Collection is where Creative Director Christopher Chong gets to play with ideas and concepts that somehow fall outside the scope of the main line, where he might want to do things and say things on a different scale and to a different end.

Here is Opus VII at last after months of speculation, here is another concept and another idea. I have no press release to cling to nor any reviews to eye at a distance, no list of notes, nothing to go on. I am simply flying blind by my nose, walking that tightrope walk between my words, my emotions and my impressions without a safety net, and all I can hope for is not to fall flat on either my words or my face.

It is like nothing I expected, nothing I thought it would be. Nevertheless, it is an Amouage, and therefore, nothing if not surprising.

What would it be, so many of us wondered, would it be an iris, asked some people, would it be a leather, would it be anything at all like its predecessor?

I could answer all of those questions, but that’s no way to review an Amouage.

Opus VII is an iris, an iris apparent to my questionable nose from start to finish, an iris that refracts and shimmers and sparkles not with intimations of a light and airy, chilly spring, not at all like any famous irises you might think you know. Instead of light, it gives you a decadent, delectable and nearly Gothic twilit dark, instead of repeating all those famous orris commonplaces, it delivers something else, something unexpected – it gives you an iris with a haunting, slightly foreboding edge. Not ominous so much as arresting, compelling your attention in an instant.

Orris butter has so many facets on its own, far more than the flower its rhizomes sustain. With Opus VII, you will find in the opening alone not a few of them, interlaced with each other in compelling ways I can’t recall ever having encountered before. An earthy, spicy jolt to my senses of black pepper, an opening sunburst song of bergamot and maybe a touch of grapefruit that winks on your skin and is gone before that most regal, midnight purple iris steps forward to command your attention, as it surely will. Not a cold, chilly iris, not even so haughty as many irises are, but still a touch…imperious, as all irises should be.

This iris – borne up by a supporting cast that might include davana, a note that always, always haunts me and stops me cold, glows with a whisper of dark chocolate which could be patchouli, a basso profondo, poised pulse of labdanum and frankincense (that glorious frankincense Amouage uses like no other brand I know), and another arresting note that also always compels me like few others, a note I think might be a supple, silky smooth myrrh.

If that were all Opus VII were, I’d be beyond thrilled.

It’s not.

Understand, all these disparate elements take hours to show themselves in the spotlight. They wend and weave and dance their separate measures throughout, sometimes appearing clear as day, clear as a key light shone upon them, before they imperceptibly recede and retreat, only to reemerge from the shadows when you least expect them.

Now you smell them. Then, you don’t.

Suddenly with a shock of awareness, they appear again.

And then.

Then comes another thread, another ribbon of dark, refracted light that spirals from top to bottom, from start to finish and back again, and this is called leather in still another midnight shade and hue. As soft and as pliant as a flawlessly fitted glove, as luxurious and dense as suede, it seems neither one nor the other, but the hide of some otherworldly animal, caught and tanned if never tamed by some sleight-of-hand, arcane secret we mortals may not know, but only have the privilege to breathe in.

Call it hyperbole, call me out on my exaggerations and verbal excess, yet I tell you…this is what Opus VII is and these words are the story it tells me.

Since my sample arrived, I’ve spent not a little time with its wonders. I’ve sprayed my skin, I’ve sniffed the bottle, I’ve immersed myself by spraying not just myself, but my pillows and my Tibetan prayer flag, too. I’ve been more than a little obsessed with it in a way I’m not normally accustomed to. Through not a few days and the nights that followed those days. I’ve tried to capture the djinn as they flew and listen to the story they told, wondering where that story began and how it ended.

When my own realization hit, it hit through music, as happens often in this musically obsessed household. I sat and listened last night to Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Rites of Spring’, and as I did, the djinn within Opus VII began to dance with far more abandon than even the great Nijinsky could manage, dance as they told a story of emerging from the depths of an endless, icy winter, of springing forth from the shadows and next, running back to the twilight gloaming that conceals them.

They laughed at my pretensions and my anticipation, only to wrap me snug and warm against the sudden, shocking chill of early spring with that otherwordly, chiaroscuro silk velvet pelt of amethyst and onyx, of iris and pepper, frankincense and labdanum and a deft touch of patchouli, of leather and myrrh.

An emergence, a story, a dance, anticipation, a plush, velvet olfactory pelt of an otherworldly animal the world will soon know as…Opus VII.

opusvii

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Amouage Opus VII was created by perfumers Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin in collaboration with Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong. It will be available from Amouage boutiques and Amouage retailers from mid-April.

Image 1: A black iris bud, via Wikimedia Commons, adapted by me.

Image 2: Opus VII presentation, courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission.

Disclosure: A sample of Opus VII was provided for review by Amouage. The Alembicated Genie is never endorsed by any perfume house or company, all reviews are original, I’m never compensated for reviews and all stated opinions are my own.

*********Addendum*********

Since writing this review yesterday, I’ve been informed by a reliable source that Opus VII does not, in fact, contain iris at all. So I’ll proclaim the Humpty Dumpty rule of (terrible) perfume analysis and say…Your Mileage (and sillage) May Vary. But such were and are my definite impressions, and as it is, my review remains.

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A Renaissance Man

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– a review of AmouageBeloved Man’

Sometimes, assumptions can be dangerous. Dangerous, because assumptions lead to expectations, expectations are not always fulfilled, and disappointment can be deadly. If I have a credo I try my utmost to live by, it’s that I might as well bite the bullet and expect the unexpected. It’s one way to save what’s left of  my sanity.

This was brought home when I received the hotly anticipated Amouage Beloved Man, anticipated because c’mon, it’s an Amouage!, and hotly since Beloved Woman blew so many of us away last year, yours truly included.

Of all the many things I so adore about the house of Amouage, one of them is the unique way their masculine and feminine perfumes play off and enrich each other – as if they exude two sides of the same eternal stories; The Age of Opulence (Gold), Grand Adventures (Epic), Great Expectations (Jubilation), A Haunting Affair (Memoir), The Memory of Loss (Honour), or even Beautiful Chaos (Interlude).

It could be me and my own warped perspective, it could even be my warped nose for all I know, but every Amouage I’ve ever encountered tells a story to a degree very few other perfumes do, and that’s something else to love about them.

In my own not-so-humble opinion, Amouage creates some of the Best Masculines On Planet Earth. In the (unlikely, if not impossible) event someone walks through my door with the intention to stay a while, he is doomed in more ways than one. To wear an Amouage (or three) is a given. No questions and no quarter. I shall insist. Nicely. If all else fails, I’ll quote the Universal Law of Dividends With Compound Interest.

So what – or who? – is this Beloved Man? Inspired by the 1980 movie ‘Somewhere in Time’ starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, Beloved Man is a bit of a departure from the usual Amouage masculines, less operatic, brighter and more timeless in feel and aura. It starts with elemi on me, all a summer-bright, charming, citrusy burst of light and ‘Hello, there!’ On this woman, it makes a definite statement, a subversive statement to femininity akin to wearing a tux with heels. Slowly – it would be far too obvious to give it all away too soon – the bright beginning fades as floral notes begin to bloom.

Geranium, jasmine and iris, says my note list, but just as in Beloved Woman (also created by Bernard Ellena), they’re seamlessly, flawlessly blended. I could tell you that it begins with geranium and ends with a deliciously dark, grassy, leather-tinged iris, but as it shifts and moves and evolves and involves you through the hours and the day, it grows lusher, woodier and, dare I write it, even a touch melancholy, a surprising twilit twist on a perfume that begins with such a luminous burst of light.

If you somehow expected your usual Amouage rollercoaster ride (or wafts of Wagnerian scope, scale and pitch), you’ll be in for a surprise. Beloved Man is none of that. Instead of rewriting the rule book of machismo with a capital M, it tells its story in a lower, more understated key. The surprises in its depth will find you, not the other way around, like all the most evocative fragrant love stories, the ones we remember the longest and best. Next to Beloved Woman, it tells that other story of definition…no need to conform to a script, only a wish to transcend the rules we write as we go and the yearning we may find – through time and beyond it.

On a humdrum afternoon last week, a friend of mine dropped by. We talked about things old friends will talk about, and in the course of our conversation (I wasn’t about to waste an opportunity with testosterone in the room), out came Beloved Man. He graciously offered his left arm to Art. Up came the Armani sleeve, out came a generous spray to adorn some stellar Norse knotwork. We waited a couple of minutes for the fallout to evaporate. Next came the big surprise. Lo and behold, out of the mouth of this iconoclastic, volatile black metal aficionado, Amouage virgin and notorious thirty-something Lothario came the words:

It smells like me, but better.

Who knows – there might be hope for him yet!

But in the event I were ever to give Beloved Man to an exemplar of same, I think it would suit the kind of man who had nothing in particular to prove, a man who had no doubts about who he was or what he wanted. He has no wish to break or bend rules he doesn’t define himself, no desire to assume another identity or persona. He is, in a phrase, all of a piece. Intriguing, complex, infinitely curious and yet with a smoother, softer and no less masculine edge he isn’t afraid to show to an appreciative audience. A Renaissance man, as iconoclastic as he wants to be and as classic as he always is and also – as surely as he must be…

 A. Beloved. Man.

Some day, I hope to find him. In time – or beyond it.

Notes: Orange, grapefruit, elemi, geranium, jasmine, orris, saffron, cedarwood, gaiac wood, leather, patchouli, vetiver and musk. Longevity and sillage is outstanding (as are all Amouages), but it wears closer.

Amouage Beloved Man was created by perfumer Bernard Ellena in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong.

Available as 100 ml eau de parfum (425$) from Amouage boutiques worldwide as well as Harrods in London, Tsum in Russia, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and coming in March/April, Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

Disclosure: Sample provided for review by Amouage.

Image of Viggo Mortensen (My definition of a Renaissance polyhistor, used for illustrative purposes) via fansshare. Some rights reserved.

The Best of 2012 – Perfumes and Perfumers

C4crown

 – Perfumes and perfumers

It’s that time of the year again when I have the agonizing task of determining the best perfumes of 2012. What did I love, what did I loathe? What did we write and what did I wear?

Just as last year, my Best of list will be in three (long) parts. First, the perfumes and perfumers that – and who – blew my mind in so many different ways. This list is limited to those I’ve actually tried and/or reviewed. I can’t keep up any longer, and I’m not sure what irritates me most – that so many perfumes were launched, or that no matter how I try, I just can’t try them all, darn it! Next comes an ode to the words, the friends and the facilitators who did so much to improve upon what I otherwise consider an annus horribilis of my own, and last, but not least, my personal list of what I wore and adored this year.

The more I’ve written about perfume, the more I’ve discovered the truth of that maxim – it doesn’t get any easier. If anything, quite the reverse. What does get easier is determining the duds from the dudes (and dudettes), the spectacular from the super-bad. As the saying goes – experience is a witch! 😉

Meanwhile, I have three fervent pleas.

Dear EU. You have a problem. Several powerful political lobbies and the IFRA wish to strengthen the substance ban and add far more natural substances used in perfumery for fear of allergic reactions. You also have a billion-euro industry of unparalleled history and heritage who depend on those very substances to make their money and so employ growers, suppliers and the thousands who work in the worldwide perfume industry. Here’s your problem. Do you give in to the political pressure – and lose all those thousands of jobs and billions of euros that pay your salary? Or do you wise up to an irrefutable fact – the people who might react are not the people who wear perfume. I hope for the best – and try to quell that tiny smidge that makes me fear for the worst…

Dear perfume houses – niche, indie and otherwise. Please. For the love of contraband oakmoss – no more oud ANYTHING, OK? Enough is enough. Let those poor, overharvested aquilaria trees just grow for a change, and get back to me in about 30 years.

One more thing. I do hope you’re listening. If you’re going to call something ‘Noir’, make sure it emphatically IS…Noir. (This doesn’t apply to Tom Ford, who knows better.) Instead, I got saddled with Chanel’s Coco Noir. I had such high hopes. Once again, they were dashed to smithereens. Note to Jacques Polge – next time, call it Chanel Greige.

Here are my fragrant epiphanies of 2012 – the best and the worst of what this year had to offer.

Best New Line:

Although technically launched at the very end of last year, the trio of carefully curated perfumes from Neela Vermeire Creations has taken the perfume world by storm this year – for a very good reason. Orchestrated with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, her fragrant odes to her native India past and present – Trayee, a numinous song of the distant past and sacred ceremony, the luminous Moghul rose that is Mohur, and the Bollywood extravaganza of exuberance that is Bombay Bling  – an homage to India’s dynamic, fast-moving present and future – are all richly complex, ever-evolving, multi-layered and textured tapestries, a bit like the mood rings I wore as a teenager, since I never quite know what magic carpet rides they will provide this time or what stories will follow, except they will be as fabulous, as colorful and as kaleidoscopic as India surely is and ever was.

Best Discovery:

Sometimes, I suspect that Fate/Destiny/Kismet has plans for me. I rarely enter draws or competitions, but one competition I did enter was a Facebook competition from Roman luxury retailer Campomarzio70 for a chance to try vero profumo’s newest launch, and vero profumo was at the very top of my Dying to Try list and has been for years. Lo and behold, I was one of the lucky ones, and lo and behold – not only did I receive a sample of Mito, I also received samples of both the extraits and eaux de parfums of Vero Kern’s line. I’ll have more to say about vero profumo, but I’m thoroughly, utterly delighted to state that they were all of them everything I could have hoped for and so very much more.

Theme songs

1. The War of the Roses

2012 was a year of some spectacular roses, not simply variations on a theme but roses reinvented and made into new, improved versions of themselves, and this year brought me three breathtaking roses – and one I have yet to review, but I’ll be getting back to that one. My personal 2012 Trinity of Rose – I can’t choose between them and wouldn’t dare to try – consists of the decadent, mossy, silk-velvet Ballets Rouges by Olympic Orchids, Aftelier’s joyously delicious Wild Roses and Neela Vermeire Creations opulent, majestic Mohur. The war referred to in the heading is simply the one that goes on in my mind deciding which one to wear!

2. The Color Of My Hopes

This diehard green-floral fan was thoroughly delighted to see that she wasn’t the only one who loved her greens and wore them, too. The most original take on that particular theme was definitely vero profumo’s Mito, which is my Green of the Year. But another new line’s highly original spin on that well-loved riff deserves singling out, and that is the Green Feral Thang that is Kerosene’s aptly named Creature. Alas, I loved that tiny sample so much I have nothing left to review it with.

3. The Chypre Continuum

Despite whatever the IFRA might say to the contrary, three stellar chypres were launched this year that bear no resemblance to those wan, pathetic, patchouli-laden wannabes called ‘chypres’ in mainstream perfumery. These three are far, far above and way beyond them all. Two I’ve already reviewed, Amouage’s Beloved and the effervescent Parfums d’Empire’s Azemours L’Oranger, the last of the three came to me fairly recently thanks to a perfume angel. MDCI’s Chypre Palatin – yes, expect to see a review soon – is a blatant, deliriously great gauntlet thrown in the face of all who would do away with those dark, earthy, mossy depths so many of us love – and wear with no ill effects whatsoever.

4. Perfume stories

Two tales involving perfume have become a huge part of my own personal scent trail in 2012, and I say this in all humility since one of those stories was my own. The one that wasn’t (which I have yet to read) was L’Artisan Parfumeur’s showstopping Seville à l’Aube, created by Bertrand Duchaufour (I swear, the man was everywhere this year!) in collaboration with Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc for her book ‘The Perfume Lover’. Once that fatal word ‘orange blossom’ began to be thrown around as the rumors grew before its launch, I swept in like a hawk on the hunt and acquired a decant of Seville à l’Aube blind – and never in the history of this perfume blogger did the level of perfume drop so fast in a decant, not for lack of alternatives. This blend of rose-tinted memory and glorious orange blossom, beeswax, a most unusual lavender and thick, dancing swirls of incense is, in a word, flawless. Rumor has it that Denyse and Bertrand have plans for an extrait version called ‘Duende’. I pale to contemplate what it might be like. When that decant goes, I will cry. Buckets. Streams. Rivers!

About that other one…Once upon a time, I concocted a story out of boredom that I wrote all the way to the day I wrote ‘The End’ – and have rewritten several times since. Thanks to my partner-in-crime, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, the Devilscent Project was resurrected as a group project involving some of the very best bloggers in the blogosphere – and the very best indie perfumers in the US. Neil Morris, no stranger to danger and a monumentally talented perfumer, joined the project and then proceeded to blow my poor proboscis to smithereens by bottling up the first chapter of the tale – and calling it Midnight at the Crossroads Café. All the elements of that first chapter are contained within its depths: the smoky, late-night café, the chill of looming winter, the cinnamon and spices wafting from the mulled wine, the remnants of an evening to remember, the danger, the desire, the Devil, the deal…There’s nothing at all on Planet Perfume quite like it. I cried my immensely flattered, floored, grateful tears the day it arrived and many times since whenever I wear it.

Speaking of invoking my inner Drama Queen…one august personage loves nothing more than to induce apoplexy at the post office, apoplexy that means a large, smoking trail of blackest profanity, a not-at-all clandestine spray because I can’t bloody help myself and eff-what-they-think, followed by that unfortunate I-so-have-to-sit-down-now moment. Christopher Chong has had not just an awful lot on his plate this year, he also has that on his conscience! As well as…

Best Post Office Apoplexy – and my Amber of the Year:

Amouage Opus VI. If anything redefined amber as something new and audacious, surely it was Opus VI. Dry, smoky, woody, complex and raspy, it’s extraordinary and yet a definite Amouage, and that’s precisely how I like my ambers – and my Amouages. Meanwhile, I’ve received funny looks at that post office ever since. They probably think I’m getting controlled substances in the mail. I am. And it’s all HIS fault!

Finest WTF moments:

Amouage Interlude Man & Woman

But Beloved wasn’t enough for this Perfume Torquemada. Opus VI wasn’t enough. Then came the coups-de-grace that were Interlude Man and Woman, and my doom was as total as my confusion, since I came by necessity to discover that the labels has been switched on my samples. Interlude Woman was Interlude Man, and vice versa. Or his vice was my versa. Or something. Whatever the case, these two bottled odes to the cacophony and chaos of modern life – and the deep, deep breaths we take in order to cope with them – were astonishing. And nearly impossible to review, since I barely knew where to start. Even now, even today, I wrestle with those obstinate genies who refuse to give anything away, yet insist all the same… “We haff vays to make you talk…” Oh, yes. In tongues long dead and likely forgotten, but talk, I do! The problem, as my readers are surely aware, is shutting up!

That other Christopher (Sheldrake) whose work I so adore – and the devious if not diabolical Creative Director he works in tandem with, M. Lutens  – was no slouch this year, either. Parfums Serge Lutens gave us…

My Favorite Bottled Air Conditioning:

The Serge Lutens line known as L’Eaux tend to be a bit divisive. I happen to like the original L’Eau, (a decided minority), but ‘like’ turned to love when L’Eau Froide arrived in February during an epic spell of freezing weather. It since became a summer staple on those (rare) hot summer days with its unique combination of rosemary/pine/eucalyptus and chilly Somali incense. No matter where I went or what I did, I was – literally – Cool, Calm and (very) Collected. If there were two words that encapsulate all L’Eau Froide is to me, they would be Chill and Out.

Got Wood?

Sandalwood? If we’re talking the fabled Mysore sandalwood, the answer is probably not. Over-harvested to near-extinction, adulterated and even counterfeited, the real Mysore sandalwood is nearly impossible to come by any longer. Australian sandalwood, however – a different species of tree and a different fragrance – is not. Frankly, I don’t mind too much, since the arrival of Santal Majuscule – using that Australian sandalwood – will likely completely make you forget you even miss the real thing, with its spicy cocoa-rosy ribbons wrapped around a rich, creamy sandalwood heart. Obey my commands if not my deeds, ye sandalwood lovers. Try it!

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Masculine:

Anything named Dev, from Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids or the Perfume Pharmer. Trust me. I know.

Most Dangerous/Sexy Perfumes of 2012, Feminine:

Anything named Lil or Lilith from Neil Morris Fragrances, House of Cherry Bomb, Olympic Orchids, and certainly Babylon Noir from Opus Oils, too. Trust me. I know.

Tropical Escape Hatch

Another line that was new to me (if not to the rest of Planet Perfume) was Micallef, and my shameless self-promotion on Facebook and Twitter meant that a sample package arrived in the mail one sunshiney day – with one broken vial, but I won’t hold that against them. There will be more reviews of Micallef to follow – but for now, let’s just say that whenever the winter blahs blow too hard, I now have the tropical escape hatch that is their beautiful Ylang in Gold. Just knowing it’s there glowing in my cabinet tends to make the snow, the rain, the wind somehow easier to bear.

Disappointment, Guaranteed!

It was a spectacular campaign. It was a no less spectacular premise. Even the bottle was, well…spectacular. What wasn’t quite so spectacular were the contents of Lady Gaga’s ‘Fame’. I wish I could say that might have been the whole idea – you’ve been had by a concept – but alas, that might be asking for more meta than even Lady Gaga could supply. Likewise, the much-anticipated ‘Truth or Dare’ by Madonna was a monumental…letdown. I’ll give celebufumes a chance, but throwing Fracas into the cotton candy-machine and calling this fluffy-bunny over-sugared Da-Glo pink tuberose ‘Truth or Dare’ is neither truthful nor particularly daring. C’mon, Madge. We had expectations. Until we didn’t. Sic transit…For one, I never in my wildest flu-ish phantasmagorias expected to write ‘fluffy bunny’ about a tuberose. ‘Nuff said!

From the overthought Unintentional Hilarity Department:

Brad Pitt for Chanel no. 5 could have really rearranged everyone’s mental furniture. It did, but in ways not even the marketing department of Chanel could have anticipated. We were howling with laughter…over the pretension of it all. Since Brad Pitt as a rule doesn’t make me laugh and neither does Chanel these days, that’s…something, just not what Chanel might have been hoping for.

Dear readers, you have all been so patient, so forgiving of all the verbiage. But wait! There’s more! For this year, I hand the baton of Truly And Epically Spectacular Perfumers to…a collective united by a project that took them places and made them create perfumes as perfumes might never have been created before, and an individual that means I’ll likely cook my goose most thoroughly. Since I’m not afraid of controversy – or flying bottles of Britney Spears Circus Fantasy – I’ll plow in regardless.

Perfumers of 2012 – Collective

The perfumers of the Devilscent Project as a whole claim one half of the Perfumer’s Prize. I had no idea one snowbound weekend in January preparing the brief, just what would lie in store or what marvels would be created. But in essence and absolute, Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy, Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances, Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Incense Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb and Kedra Hart of Opus Oils threw away all the rules and the book they were written in, too – and made my Faustian tale of desires, dreams, love, rock’n’roll and redemption into something brand-new and most wondrous strange – strange for being impossible to classify, wondrous for being, well, some of the sultriest, sexiest, most salaciously hair-raising, inhibition-killing, zipper-popping, bodice-ripping perfumes ever made – anywhere, so long as you parked your preconceptions by the wayside and followed them down the rabbit hole, the Chelsea Hotel, a street in Ditmas Park – or that midnight café.  I’ll have much more to say about them – I have four reviews to go and a wrap-up post, but for now and for always, the technical skills and all-out sinfulness of all the Devilscent Project’s seventeen scents are staggering testaments to a maxim I learned while writing the book – that inspiration is everything, and so long as you dare to follow where it takes you, anything can happen, and sometimes, miracles, too.

Independent Perfumer of 2012

I’ve been writing this post off and on in my head since October, thinking about what should make my list and who I should single out for praise. Yet no matter which ways I sliced or diced it, my mind kept coming back to a man with a stunning string of massive successes just this year alone, and he’s given us perfumistas so many epiphanies in so many bottles for quite some time.

Therefore, I’m going to court controversy and hand it to… Bertrand Duchaufour. For his work with Neela Vermeire Creations, for his work with L’Artisan Parfumeur and Denyse Beaulieu, for the breathtaking Chypre Palatin and for never, ever falling back on a formula and repeating his own artistic predilections. Like all the best of any art in any genre, a Duchaufour is always recognizable, yet always surprising.

Having said that, one of his artistic collaborations blew up in his face and all over the blogosphere as well as perfume boards – namely, his creation of a line of perfumes for Gulnara Karamova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator, who apparently has plans to become either a fashion designer or a pop star with a celebufume of her own. The problem isn’t that she at least had the supreme good taste to go for the best – the problem, of course, is whether an artist is ethically responsible for the questionable actions of his patrons.

Never mind we mortals will likely never even see these perfumes in our part of the world. The rest of Planet Perfume learned about it via an article in the UK newspaper The Independent, which was picked up by a number of perfume blogs. Next we knew, all hell broke loose as so many rushed to deride the ubiquitous M. Duchaufour, his works and his choice of collaborators. People swore never to buy another of his perfumes again. People threw out entire, costly bottles. Planet Perfume felt somehow betrayed in its illusions of the beautiful world of perfume, when the fact is – it’s every bit as dirty, as filthy, as infested and as cutthroat as any other business these days. And much as it pains me to say it – it IS…a business, for all we prefer or hope to believe otherwise.

It was an interesting debate, not least for what it never really said. If M. Duchaufour were to lose his professional reputation over his trip to Uzbekistan (one commenter stated his career was over, which is a tad over-dramatic) – one of the most severely repressed countries in the world – shouldn’t it by rights follow that the august fashion houses of Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana et al. should surely be shunned/boycotted, too, for clothing Miss Karamova? After all, it is the precise same problem.

Or – if the questionable ethics of patrons really were the point, then how do you explain the Italian Renaissance – financed by a whole bunch of emphatically and epically questionable so-called ‘nobles’ in Florence, Milan, and Rome? Do we now boycott the Mona Lisa since Leonardo Da Vinci was employed by Cesare Borgia (no Snow White!) at one point in his illustrious career? Would Da Vinci be responsible for what Cesare Borgia and the Papal armies did to Italy? He did make several lethal war-machines, after all…

Or do we simply say…even artists are people, too, and people do like to eat and support themselves and their families as best they can. So artists will go where the money is and hope for a creative challenge if they’re lucky, and the rest is…what it is. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Here’s what I believe. Anyone can make mistakes. If they’re smart – as I definitely suspect M. Duchaufour is – they’ll learn from them and…move on. As I suspect he will, and hopefully, his legions of enlightened fans will follow. The art supersedes the artist, and the art Duchaufour has created and unleashed upon the world this year alone has done so very much to improve upon my world and my life.

As for the artist – I also have reasons to believe he still has a few aces up his sleeve, and is just waiting to unleash them upon an eager world. Here’s hoping! Bertrand Duchaufour, this was your year. You do have a few more left, yes?

So many perfumes – and so little time! What were your favorites of 2012? What trends did you love – or hate – and what do you hope lies in store for 2013?

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Best of 2013 – in friends, in phrases and in facilitators…

Note: This blog expresses my own independent opinions and views and I am never compensated for any reviews or review lists.

Anodynes

–     a review – and a story – of Amouage Interlude Man/Woman

Like so much else in his frenetic life, what he was doing now was absolute madness, rushing like the White Rabbit down West 14th Street so he wouldn’t be late, late, late for this very important date, wouldn’t miss this for anything on Earth, this seeming mundane insomniac four A.M meeting in a donut shop of all places because it was the last place anyone would think to look for either of them in this nowhere hour, too early to be morning and too late to be night.

She was too careful to leave much to chance, too cautious not to cover her tracks and leave back doors open for a speedy exit. Like any woman worth knowing, she had many secrets and kept them well.

One reason he was running down the street at this insane hour was simply because she knew all of his, too.

They had known each other since the days before everything happened, before they became what they were now, before the rest of the world demanded all of both of them with a fifty percent tax on top. Before life became so frantic with all the things they had to do to stay where they wanted to be and needed to do. Ever since, he had a deal with her – to meet once a year, no matter what happened or where in the world they were, in a location they both agreed upon at the meeting before.

He felt guilty that until forty-odd hours before in Hong Kong, he had forgotten all about it, so guilty he bought her an expensive present he thought she might appreciate. It was with him now with the companion he bought for himself in the hope it would remind him of her and of all this secret history that made him rush breathless into a donut shop at four in the morning to be greeted with the welcome, warm surprise of hyper-fragrant empty calories.

She sat at the last stool towards the back with a huge cup of Starbucks and an apple fritter she had yet to touch. She looked much as she always did at four A.M., with her hair up under a sixpence pulled down over her face and no makeup, her leather jacket making her look much younger than he knew she was.

“I nearly didn’t make it,” he said when he sat down next to her. “I was in Hong King when I got your message.”

“For shame. What do you do, put me up on the lost and found shelf the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year?” She mock-punched him in the shoulder.

“No. I just try not to cross the days off in the calendar until the next time. What on Earth were you thinking – to meet up at this hour?”

She laughed. “I had a deadline. This was one way I knew I could make it on time. I told myself yesterday I couldn’t get out of the chair until I finished, so I could meet you with a clear conscience.”

“Did it work?”

“Actually, it did. Otherwise I would have had to cancel, and that wouldn’t do.” She shrugged. “Life is crazy enough, don’t you think?”

“I know it is. You should have seen me have hysterics at the ticket counter in Hong Kong. I had to be on that plane.”

“I’m so glad. Where are you even these days?”

“Everywhere. Singapore. Paris. Los Angeles. Buenos Aires. Hong Kong. Shanghai. London. I go where they send me, and try not to complain about it.”

“Poor you. Doesn’t it get old, living out of a suitcase?”

“Of course it does. I heard that you moved, by the way.”

“I did.” She sipped her coffee. “I either bought real estate or I paid way more taxes. So…Manhattan. Just to make my life a little more frantic than it already is. ”

“Meeting an old friend at four A.M isn’t frantic? It’s almost enough to make me wish I drank.” That made her laugh, just as he knew it would. “That reminds me. I brought you a present.”

“Ah. You shouldn’t have.” Beneath the brim of her cap her grin spread from one ear to the other.

“I know. I did it anyway. I think it reminded me of you.” He put the glossy bag on the counter, and immediately, she pulled out the gift-wrapped box.

“Oooooh,” she cooed. “Perfume. Very, very expensive perfume. You realize this has all sorts of loaded significance, don’t you?” She opened the box, and although it was almost too quick for him to catch it, he saw the surprise write itself on her face, saw her face light up as her smile changed. “My favorite shade of blue.” She snuck a furtive look at the waiter behind the counter at the other end, and as he looked away, she removed the cap and sprayed her wrist underneath the counter. “Hello!” she exclaimed when she sniffed her wrist. “This is an entire novel in a bottle, you know that.”

“Of course I do. Perfect for a novelist!”

“That sounds so much more distinguished than mere ‘writer’. Hmm. It’s green, it’s bright, it’s spicy, it’s… a breath of fresh air in a window I fling open after working all night. When I look to see the sun is coming up outside my windows.”

He reached for her apple fritter and bit into it. “You mean, that moment when you stop whatever it is you’re doing and realize that for just a few seconds, it seems as if the world has stopped too, ” he mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.

“Yes. Like that. Oh! Wake up and smell the coffee, baby! Is that coffee?” She laughed again, and watching her evident, child-like pleasure was almost worth the panic attacks he just sidestepped to get there on time. “Fruity coffee!”

“You tell me. You used to write about perfume.” This was one hell of an apple fritter.

“Another life ago. Is that what you’re asking? You want the perfume writer’s scoop on your present? ”

“I guess I’m asking what you think, or if you’ll wear it, or…you know. I’m not usually in the habit of buying you perfume.”

She sniffed her wrist again. “Next time, I’ll just call you up at four A.M. and ask what you’re wearing.”

“The Wall Street Journal. Reading glasses. So not sexy. Or…” he suddenly remembered. “The counterpart to what I just gave you.”

She leaned closer right by his neck and breathed him in. “That’s outrageous. I do mean outrageous. Allspice with a green bite underneath it, and…oh! Leather! Sweet, luscious, supple, silky leather and am I getting…what is that? Tarmac? Rubber? Not just any rubber, and nothing in the slightest bit bad, but much more than a little…dangerous. Yes. Dangerous! That’s it! You’re the gazillionaire bad boy my mother warned me about. The guy who lights fires in hapless lovelies on five continents and always leaves in the morning. His secretary has been instructed to send roses. Not that it helps.”

He had to laugh. “I’m nothing like that. And you don’t like gazillionaires anyway.”

“True. ” She sniffed her wrist again. “But I love this. Why they always say a perfume has evolution, I don’t know. This is more of a revolution…it goes up and down and all around a thick, floral heart, like a spiral spinning around all the many contradictions that define it. It’s really busy in a very intricately crafted way. Frankincense that should be written out in capital letters, but no frankincense is ever so glorious as this…this is…the apotheosis of all the word and the material implies. Ah. But wait! There’s more!” She laughed again. “A novel in a bottle! We’re getting to that inevitable point of no return. There will be no happily ever after.”

“For four thirty in the morning I’m hugely impressed.” He was, too. No amount of money could have bought him a conversation like this one. Too bad he could only have it once a year.

“Hush.” She leaned in on him again and breathed in. “Smooth, but just… rough enough to make it interesting. A girl always likes a little bit of…rough.” As she said that last, her voice dropped to a smoky, sultry alto that gave one simple word a universe of meaning the scent he wore seemed to embroider upon, sparks and glints of heat, of firelight and wisps of rising, fragrant smoke from a roaring bonfire of exotic woods that only grew where dragons lived to guard the trees.

It was jetlag. It had to be. Or else it was these two infernally great perfumes. Worth every yuan he paid for them just to hear her say ‘rough’ like that.

“I don’t have enough time for bonfires,” he heard himself saying.

“I know. I don’t, either.” In the space of a heartbeat, her regret played across her face like a piano note and was just as quickly gone, but he caught it in the way she shifted on her chair and slightly away from him, as if wrapping herself just a little tighter and smaller. A piano note with the damper pedal down.

“So why do we meet like this once a year?” He found himself wanting to distract her from that hint of blue he saw in her eyes, illuminated by the light bouncing off the display case of cookies in front of her.

She blinked, turned back towards him again and lifted one eyebrow. “You mean you don’t know?”

“You’re the novelist,” he shot back. “You tell me!”

“Well, to remind each other that it’s the world that’s crazy, but you and I aren’t. You’re my anodyne, and I’m yours. Everything and everyone coming at us from all directions, constant streams of information, stress, noise and clutter and all that messes with our minds.” Again, he saw that lightning flash of regret that blazed over her face before it vanished.

“That there’s…” she went on after a while and a sip of her coffee, “these rare instances every blue moon, where everything just…stops, and you stop with it. When you breathe in, and you are all of a piece, you’re whole and entire and an entire, complex universe in one fleeting, shining instant. You don’t have to do, you don’t have to go, you just have to be. Like now.”

She replaced the blue bottle in its box, put it back in the bag and sniffed her wrist again.

“How do you know I’m not crazy?” He had to ask. Sometimes, he wanted to be just a little crazy.

“Because you brought me serenity…in a beautiful blue perfume bottle! And you wore your own to see me. That tells me everything I need to know.” She had a mischievous glint in her eyes, one he hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

But when he returned to the counter, she was gone, with only a trace of that magnificent, ambery, opulent trail behind in the sugar-scented donut shop. There was a card on the barstool.

On the front was her name, her new address, her email and phone number. And on the back, a quote from a poem.

The soul selects her own society

Then shuts the door

On her divine majority –

Obtrude no more.

Below, she had written “Hong Kong. Make the time for a bonfire. Oh. Yes. You’re going to need two more bottles of this.”

Which was when he realized that she had taken not just the bottle he had brought for her, but his own too, still in the Tsum department store bag.

He laughed, laughed so loudly, the waiter at the other end of the counter came over to ask if everything was OK.

Oh, yes. It was just about perfect. As perfect an anodyne – or an interlude – as anyone could ask for.

Image of Interlude Man & Interlude Woman: Amouage

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Notes for Interlude Woman (Perfumer Karine Vinchon-Spehner): Bergamot, grapefruit, ginger, marigold, kiwi, frankincense, rose, coffee, orange blossom, helichrysum, jasmine, opoponax, vanilla, benzoin, amber, sandalwood, oud, oakmoss, leather, tonka bean, animalic notes, musk

Notes for Interlude Man (Perfumer Pierre Negrin): Bergamot, oregano, pimento berry oil, amber, frankincense, cistus, opoponax, leather, agarwood smoke, patchouli, sandalwood

Amouage Interlude is available directly from the Amouage website and Amouage boutiques. It will be available at First in Fragrance from September 24th, and elsewhere Amouage is sold.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Amouage

With thanks to the usual suspect and Emily Dickinson, too.