The ones that got away

Flotsam and jetsam – on perfume

Dear readers,

 My apologies for being a bit AWOL lately. These past weeks have been insane. It all began on a very early Sunday morning, when the combination of an attention-hungry cat, a large cup of tea and a laptop immersed in the finer points of an online retailer who shall remain nameless resulted in a tea-drowned and dead-as-a-doorknob laptop. The plot thickened on the following Thursday, when I was hugely surprised to land a great job, for real money, two hundred km away in Copenhagen. So in the space of four weeks, I’ve moved myself and the dastardly feline across the country, started this new (and exhausting) job, and broken in a new(ish) laptop that means I can’t use Word any longer. (But there’s Google Docs, no worries, so I can still write.) All in all, it meant I haven’t had a lot of time, certainly not to write – about perfume. 

Flotsam and Jetsam

But here I am, typing away, with a few flotsam and jetsam thoughts – on perfume. I spent an afternoon recently in and out of bookshops, vintage clothing stores, and two department stores. From one end of that afternoon to the other, I sniffed quite a few of them. All of these things put together led me to writing this post. 

I sniffed my way around YSL Libre and Tuxedo, Diptyque Kyoto and Do Son for good measure, several of the “new” Amouages including one that made me swoon (I’ll be getting back to those), a new L’Occitane and Chanel 1932, a longtime favorite I reviewed a long time ago. I still curse the day I met Tom Ford’s Lost Cherry for being so good, damn it. I swore an oath to buy one of those astonishing Cire Trudon candles I sniffed.

I wondered about how so many brands are displayed in places like department stores. Copenhagen might not have the floor space of, say, Harrods, or Neiman-Marcus, and yet, they still manage to lead you into a ground floor maze of a staggering amount of brands, all competing for the same customers. 

Behind the designer fragrances, the knock-offs, and the teenaged budget friendly raspberry bombs, in a small, exclusive, carpeted corner, there were the high end niche brands: Histoires  de Parfum, Initio, Diptyque, the Collection Extraordinaire of Van Cleef and Arpel, the vast output of Maison Margiela. Just don’t have the nerve to ask for Untitled, as I did. No one had ever even heard of it. 

Plebeian problems

And Amouage, a brand once exceedingly dear to my heart for the perfume stories they sang on my skin. I took several deep breaths. 

And then. 

I’m not a tall woman. On a good day, I stand 5’2” in sneakers. Yet every single Amouage was displayed at around 175 cm – or a good 5’9” – and up. I came to that particular location to wallow a little in two Amouages that got away from me, and if only one were available, that one. My press sample of Fate Woman was stolen/purloined by Ms. Hare and despite pleading, begging, bribing and cajoling for over eight years, I’m n-o-t getting it back. Ever. 

Fate Woman was about 6’4” up. No way in Hades I could ever reach it, and sales assistants had made themselves scarce in the Saturday afternoon crush. 

So I sniffed my way through the 5’9 shelf. All the new Amouages, with two exceptions. They were good, they really were. But something was missing, something I could barely articulate, yet there it was, conspiciúous by its absence in every one of those fancy bottles. 

The Groove in the Heart

On the left end of the shelf, two older bottles. Love Mimosa – a beautiful, sunny, spring in mimosa blossom, and I say this as someone who likes the blooms if not the perfumes. Malle’s Une Fleur de Cassie notwithstanding, mimosa is a note I can live happily without, and yet, Love Mimosa is outstanding. 

Next to Love Mimosa was another Love, Love Tuberose. (I do!) I grabbed the tester, applied a little to my unperfumed left arm and – swooned

It wasn’t the magnificent tuberose note, salicylates and all, nor the chantilly cream-with-extra- Madagascar Bourbon vanilla+tuberose heart, and then – I had to sit down on a gray velvet pouf when it hit me. 

It was the heart. Love Tuberose, like its sibling Love Mimosa, like Fate, like Journey, like Memoir, Epic, Ubar, Gold, Interlude, Jubilation and Lyric twinkling away in the soft spotlights out of reach for plebeian, pedestrian, midget moi, like every Amouage I have ever tried in over eleven years of perfume writing, had heart. Boundless, Crimson Rocks and all those other new releases, had none I could determine. This is why – you’ve read it here first – I’ve decided this ‘review’ will be my last ever Amouage review. I’m no longer anywhere important or influential enough to receive press samples any longer, and I’m OK with that.

The one that got away 

Up in the gods of the perfume case, somewhere around the seven foot mark (I wish I were kidding), another fervent love twinkled in the spotlights. The one that got away. The one sitting at the very top of my personal wishlist, the press sample I drained to droplets and fog and swore (for over six years and counting) that someday, some way, it would be m-i-n-e. Our relationship was so personal, I couldn’t even write about it, since that would make public what was a uniquely private love.

The duo of Amouage Sunshine is uniquely private for me. Sunshine Woman arrived on the day I became a grandmother, and since it was the only thing I had to give at the time, I gave it to my daughter, who since declared it her personal The One, along with several heartfelt lamentations of the How-Can-A-Perfume-Cost-So-Much variety. She still has that press sample and uses it to this day for special occasions. 

Which leads my words to Sunshine Man. 

In quite a few ways, I’m profoundly lucky NOT to be able to buy everything I come across that I come to love. I can’t afford to make mistakes, and blind buys, as any perfumista will tell you, should be approached with extreme caution. For me, this means I only buy what I truly can’t live without. The End. 

Most lemmings pass with time. The ones that stick in the mind, the ones that stick around, the ones, in short, that set their metaphorical hooks in my bathetic gray matter and declare in neon letters OMG YES – those are the ones I prefer to buy, and as this perfumista has evolved these past almost twelve years of perfume writing, those moments are ever fewer and further between. As my mother used to say, if you can’t afford anything at all, you can at least aspire to the best. 

I make no distinction between masculine and feminine perfumes. I wear whatever I damn well please and really, who’s going to know never mind care anyway? As one famous perfumer put it: 

The only difference is the ‘Pour homme’ on the label. 

If I were to sum up the mood of Sunshine Man in three words, they would be …

Stupid Happy Perfume

Lavender anything has been a love of mine ever since those endless Christmas present cakes of Yardley English Lavender soap adorned and perfumed my teenage dresser drawers. I adore the scent of lavender, adore that lavender has done wonders for two sleep-deprived fractious toddlers back in the day when I had them, and I adore lavender perfumes on me. 

Of all the lavenders to love on Planet Perfume, two have made it to my personal stratosphere. One is vero profumo’s Kiki, which I don’t own and fervently wish I did, and the other is Sunshine Man, which I also, alas and alack, don’t own for no other reason than I truly did love my press sample to death.

Imagine a cookie. The apotheosis of cookie. Sweet, vanilla-scented, almond-base lavender-with-an-orange-brandy-twist … cookie. The kind of cookie that makes you want to dance just a little, a cookie that makes you glad to be alive to experience it, a cookie other cookies should aspire to be when they grow up, and Sunshine Man is nothing if not a decidedly adult cookie. 

This isn’t a cookie you’d hand out in one of my classrooms, for sure. For one thing, that kick of Curaçao liqueur that underpins the lavender is an acquired taste. For another, the lavender is not your usual lavender – this lavender has an herbal, dark green and slightly sharp edge lightyears away from any fusty old lady and Yardley English Lavender associations. This is Lavender Luxe. Those puffs of sugary vanilla may nudge it towards gourmand territory, yet Sunshine Man teeters on that brink without ever once falling in. 

As time goes on, the vanilla comes forward accompanied by toasted almond. I wrote ‘as time goes on’, and being an Amouage from the Bad Old Days this means 16+ hours of evolution. 

All told, few perfumes put a smile on my face as wide as Texas faster than this one. 

For an entire day. 

For over six years, Sunshine Man has accompanied me and defined me through my days. Through four years of teaching college and praxis teaching and paper writing and even a few of the many exams I endured writing, performing and survived, through woes and wonders, through everything I’ve been through these past six+ years. 

The Case for Optimism

While it may not be apparent on this blog, it would be entirely fair to state that throughout my life, I have had spectacular bad luck in so many ways. 

So when fate finally decides to let up and just let me have it, ALL of it, it’s highly unnerving, to say the least. 

Yet lo and behold, after a thoroughly depressed autumn and early winter, I landed THE job of my dreams that wasn’t ‘best-selling author’. At a place that’s happy to see me, every day. With students who greet me with smiles and hugs, and colleagues who always ask how things are going and bosses who ask if there’s anything they can do to help me thrive. Every day.


Fate isn’t finished with me yet. 

I landed a (sublet) apartment in Copenhagen in my EXACT kind of neighborhood – funky, artistic, bohemian, culturally diverse and just a little edgy – of a kind 150 other people gladly would have killed me for, 20 minutes commute away from my school. (Apartments in Copenhagen are very hard to come by, unless you can afford to buy, and I can’t.)

I also have a publisher who really believes I should be The Next Big Thing, and has invited me to participate in things that might help me get there. 

I am closer to my family than I have been for over twenty years, and I’m back among all the things I love and adore – book stores, perfume shops, vintage clothing stores, museums, art galleries, movie theaters and other theaters, a whole smorgasbord of culture to immerse myself in. 

In short, I have everything to look forward to, even on an unremarkable Saturday morning full of spring-feeling sunshine. 

All that’s missing is that stupid happy perfume known as … Sunshine Man. 

If only I could reach the tester in the store. 

With thanks and gratitude to someone I am thrilled and grateful to call my friend.

Destiny’s Doors


– 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.


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.