Stupid Cupid

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 – or…the Genie’s antidote to Valentine’s Day Disease

Close your eyes and imagine, say, Fifth Avenue in New York in mid-February. Imagine that today of all days, there’s no insane traffic, only a frenzied crowd awaiting the arrival of countless city dignitaries, Mayor Bloomberg and likely moguls such as The Donald himself, running bare as babies or in goatskin loincloths down Fifth Avenue in a haze of ticker-tape and confetti with whips in their hands. Women and girls rush forward with their hands held out for a lash or two to assure they’ll never need fertility clinics, hormone treatments or anesthetics during childbirth ever again.

Romance? What romance?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Lupercalia, arguably the origins of Valentine’s Day, although that is still a matter of some debate in academic circles. Replace Fifth Avenue with the Palatine Hill of first-century Rome, if that makes you feel better.

Of all the hyper-commercialized holidays on Planet Earth – never mind Planet Perfume – Valentine’s Day is the one I detest the most, and not just because a) I’m single b) will get nary one Valentine, box of chocolates or red silk teddy never mind c) an actual date because d) I’m a post-punk diehard cynic of a certain age wondering if Restylane will somehow galvanize romance back in my life. (Doubtful).

No, the reason I take such umbrage with this whoopee cushion-shaped holiday is the underlying assumption that romance is or should be dead the other 364 days of the year.

If that’s the philosophy of anyone who wants to survive a first date with yours truly, we’ll never get past that first cup of coffee before I invent a fictional friend’s domestic disaster that requires my immediate assistance and PDQ out the door, never to return.

You see, I’m such a hapless romantic, I believe in romance every day of every year. (I’m a former Goth, surely you expected no less?) I believe that if you truly have a heart’s desire, let it all out in every way you can, say it in every way you can, and say it on any other day but that wretched February 14th that comes built in with all sorts of fraught emotion and expectations. That’s just me.

Yet you, dear reader, have other and more delicate sensibilities, since you are only too aware that if you don’t do something, have something planned for that date, you are so dead. You are so dead, you’d make mummies look animated. You need help. You need a suggestion, a roadmap, anything at all…

You need a perfume that spells romance with a capital R, or caring with a capital C, or even, dare I write it, the infamous four-letter L word. Your choice as to whether it ends in an ‘e’ or a ‘t’…

But where to start? What to do? And that biggest heartbreak of them all…what to wear?

No worries, darling. The Genie goes where even Cupid fears to tread, and in no time at all, you’ll actually be looking forward…to red velvet whoopee cushions, cheesy greeting cards, chocolate covered cherries and champagne.

First of all, contrary to whatever La Perla might have you believe…

1) Don’t buy lingerie for Valentine’s Day. If you get the size wrong, you’re so doomed, and not the way you hoped for, either. Save that for some humdrum Wednesday, when your darling least expects it (and you know what size to get), where it might have better consequences than even you could imagine.

2) Chocolate is always, always good, unless you have one of those rare creatures who don’t care for it, in which case, you likely don’t read this blog. Buy the very best you can obtain. Handmade, Belgian (or handmade Belgian)…truffles, what-have-you. Make sure to have it beautifully wrapped (presentation IS half the battle) and kept cool.

3) Roses…OK, I’m not about to argue with the appeal of a dozen long-stemmed, red roses (hopefully, the fragrant kind), but be a little original here. Six tiny, adorable baby cacti might be just as effective. Three perfect red cattleya orchids, one for each heartfelt word? Two dozen adorable violets? The flawless Casablanca Lily that ate Manhattan? Thirteen tuberose blooms? Just be sure to get them from a proper florist, and not from the checkout line at your local supermarket. As I said – presentation is half the battle.

4) If your own pathetic attempts at poetry fail you and Hallmark fails you, too – buy a plain, cream-colored card with an envelope at a stationery store, ally yourself with the Web, and go hunt for the words of Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine or even Lord Byron, if you’re that way inclined. If she/he’s a diehard cynic, you can’t possibly go wrong with Baudelaire. Ever. And if you do, then you deserve better.

5) Unless you have an idea of what your Valentine likes/loves – and that might not always be the case – don’t buy perfume. Honest. Just don’t. I have formerly been the owner of a few perfumes bought by well-meaning sweethearts I later came to dislike. But say…you do want to make that particular gesture of appreciation, only you don’t know where to start. You just want your Valentine to be the sexiest-smelling s/he can be. May I recommend the stellar Discovery Set from Ormonde Jayne. Whether a woman of mystery or a L’Homme Fatal, there’s sure to be a fragrant treasure for every taste, and it’s exquisitely presented. Perhaps s/he is a true cosmopolitan with a taste for sublime, fragrant adventure? Neela Vermeire Creations’ Discover Your India Set is a likewise beautifully presented passage to India in all its most opulent glory.

6) If your human whoopee cushion is artistic, I hereby point you to Jardins d’Écrivains, a French company who took famous writers as their inspiration for scented candles to write/create by. Tickle their inner Colette, tease out the closet Kipling or bring along the Baroness Blixen and write up a Serengeti lion hunt of your own…

Which brings us back to you and that agony of indecision. What, oh what to wear?

I’ll go on a few blanket assumptions here and say that Valentine’s dates tend to fall in one of four categories. Great Expectations, Twenty Tones of Torrid, Folie-à-deux and Surely, You Jest? Therefore, from the top…

Great Expectations

The worst thing you can do at this particular stage of affaires is to try too hard. But, oh! The possibilities! The butterflies! The 1001 Sighs of What-if! Which is not to say you can’t waft fabulosity and romance at one and the same time. And romance to many people means red as in…rose. Swipe that sweetheart off the floor in a rosy swoon with Aftelier’s Wild Roses, DSH Perfumes’ American Beauty, Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges, Etat Libre d’Orange’s Eau de Protection, Amouage Lyric (M/W) or Neela Vermeire’s Mohur.

Twenty Tones of Torrid

With any luck, we know this one. At this stage it matters less what you wear than how quickly you can take it off. The beauty of perfume is…it stays! 😉 This is when those super-sexy scents have their moments. Take them by surprise with the magnificent Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens, Opus Oils’ Dirty Sexy Wilde, Aftelier’s Secret Garden, Histoires de Parfum’s 1740, Amouage Memoir (M/W), Aroma M’s Geisha Noire, House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine (bottled sin!), Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir (ditto) or if you prefer a tumble on the wilder sides after midnight, Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2.

Folie-á-Deux

So you’ve made it this far, and have slightly less to prove. Does that mean an end to the rolling r of romance? Of course not! Now, you can cuddle up in blissful, mutual appreciation by taking it to the next level of l-o-v-e…with the incredible, edible Spiritueuse Double Vanille or Tonka Imperiale by Guerlain, Amouage Beloved, Esscentual Alchemy’s Moon Valley or Serge Lutens’ Santal Majuscule, and have an evening to remember as perfect as the two of you together surely are.

Surely, You Jest?

Oh, dear. Familiarity has set in. Or romantic rot. Or something. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to galvanize that human sofa pillow (or whoopee cushion) back to life and other four-letter L-words. This day of all days is not the time to be too edgy, unless that’s what it will take. If that means wrapping yourself in bacon in front of ESPN or finding alternative uses for Nutella, then who am I to argue? On the other hand, attitude is very much in the ambience you create. If you feel sexy, chances are, you act that way, too. So go ahead. You can’t go wrong with the classics. Dig out that half-hidden bottle of Piguet’s Bandit you were saving for a rainy day. That day has arrived n-o-w. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Get out of that sofa pillow rut and into another kind with Skye Botanical’s ‘Strawberry Passion’, or break out your inner rock star with Opus Oils’ M’Eau Joe no. 3 and prove that romance – rock’n’roll and otherwise – isn’t dead, and Stupid Cupid has nothing at all on you!

As for me, I’ve given up on Valentine’s Day. Whoopie cushions, cheesy cards, wilted roses and all. But I’ll never give up…on romance!

S*** Happens

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– a review of Guerlain’s Encens Mythique d’Orient

Dear M. Wasser,

Before I incriminate myself to such an alarming degree, I’d like to start by declaring myself an empahtic fan of your work, especially your astonishing work continuing the great heritage of Guerlain. Guerlain and all its perfumed wonders have a special place in my heart – for one, the very first perfume I ever chose for myself was a Guerlain – Jicky extrait, quite an audacious choice for an ingénue fourteen-year-old.

I fell for your own inarguable talents far too many years later thanks to a friend and distinguished perfume blogger named Carrie, who knew just what buttons to push in order to get me to invest my paltry fortune in a family – gourmands – I had formerly overlooked if not derided, and also to part with an exorbitant amount of money for a perfume I had never sniffed, and that was Iris Ganache. It was a purchase I have never had cause to regret unless to bewail its discontinuation.

So understand this pains me a great deal – more than you know. In my over two years as a perfume writer of ill repute and less esteem, I have broadened my horizons and expanded my limits to a degree never imagined before I began this perilous and ruinous descent into the odiferous maelstrom that is…perfume.

You could argue that I am perhaps a philistine, that I have no appreciation or knowledge of the terrors or delights of perfume artistry. To which I counter with the many exemplars in my cabinet from a diabolical competitor based in the Palais Royal. I rest my case.

In being one of your countless admirers, it follows that my devotion is such I’m prepared to forgive you a great deal and always give your work a second, or third, or even seventh chance as the occasion merits. Therefore, any new release from the house of Guerlain is cause for great anticipation if not excitement – a new Guerlain! How will dear Thierry Wasser astonish us now?

Such was my eager train of thought when yet another and seemingly unattainable series was released to much edification on Planet Perfume, and although my acquisition of these marvels was delayed by other factors known as “real” and “life”, eventually, Fortune deemed it timely that I, too – buried nose-deep in the Perfume Empty Quarter of Europe – should have the opportunity to sniff and to wonder at these new creations by your hand.

Lo and behold – the peerless majesty invoked in the collection known as ‘Les Deserts d’Orient’, and the one that called to me louder than any lonely djinn in a water gourd – Encens Mythique d’Orient.

I’m quite aware of the challenges inherent in a trio marketed towards an audience with somewhat different fragrant sensibilities than we milquetoast, spineless strawberry blondes languishing in the dimmest, bleakest outreaches of Northern Europe’s left armpit. I’m no stranger to ouds, mukhallats or attars, nor even to those heinous, screechy jasmines which ostracize you so deftly from all polite society. But I have a definite weakness for the many wonders of frankincense, whether Omani, Somali or Indian, so when a full set of Les Deserts arrived thanks to an enterprising friend, I wasted no breath and less time to head straight for the eponymous mythical incense of the Orient.

M. Wasser – my kudos to you. It begins in such a glorious fashion, all gold-embroidered damask and a slithering, silver-smoky undercurrent of L’Animale Fatale…less frank about the frankincense unless as an ideal of what incense could be. I regret to say I am transported…not to some elevated passage of the Rubai’yat or that eloquent turn of phrase Rumi was justly celebrated for, but rather…to one of those licentious, nay – salacious descriptions that run rampant throughout Sheikh Nefzaoui’s ‘Perfumed Garden’ which so delighted Sir Richard Burton and so dismayed the Victorian mind. I am neither deterred or dismayed – my own disposition is many thousands of leagues removed from the Victorian.

Then, some time later, you do shock me. For after that glorious, gold damask opening comes…not visions of the chic of Arabie, not the romance of a limitless desert sky nor even the sensuous secrets revealed by a hakim to an all-too willing pupil…but something so utterly unnerving, my words fail to quite convey the degree or extent of my dismay.

As I stated above, I’m no stranger to shock. But to quote the amusing American idiom…

WTF???

For what follows is best described by the image below:

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Yes. Wet dog. Not just any dog, but a hunting hound abandoned for hours in the driving, icy rain as its fellows bounded on with the horses elsewhere while it located a scent trail far more to its liking than any fox could muster.

To be fair, this sorry canine comes with an impeccable pedigree and a hundred generations of perfect temperament and training at the least. This is no mere back-alley dog. This is a Guerlain dog, and so more refined, more elegantly delineated than lesser-esteemed hounds, nevertheless, a wet dog is a wet dog, and a wet, cold and hungry dog – as surely this poor, unfortunate creature must be – is the sorriest, wettest, most miserable and thoroughly wretched creature of all.

At this juncture, I despairingly consult my notes as well as other, far more discerning noses of other, far more refined perfume bloggers, and all to no avail – the wet and wretched creature remains perched in the air above my skin with its reproachful brown eyes and its distressing, apologetic stance, and this irritates me no end.

You see, M. Wasser, I am a dedicated lover of cats – indeed, I’m owned by two – and by this time, more peeved than you can possibly imagine that this conjuration of a very luxurious perfume orchestrated by your magical hands and nose has incurred some cataclysmic shift in my perceptions, and with a creature I could appreciate quite fondly had the circumstances been rather better. Say, in real life, bounding through the meadows throwing sticks to catch, not wafting out of an opulently decorated and very hard to obtain perfume bottle, never mind perched on my wrist, dripping its melancholy, well-bred raindrops all over a priceless Ikea rug.

I refused to believe the obvious. It couldn’t be you. It had by necessity to be me, and my own pathetic limited, unsophisticated nose playing its tricks and practical jokes on my mind. So I gave it seven more tries on seven other nights that grew longer as time passed.

Now, I had eight wet dogs dripping all over the carpet. My cats…well, I’m sure you can imagine the unfortunate consequences. I had to draw the only conclusion I could. It wasn’t me. It was you.

Or else it was simply that this milquetoast wan exemplar of Scandinavian design not in flat packaging  and ‘d’un certain age’ didn’t have the pedigree, the breeding, the politesse to appreciate either the perfume – or that sorry dog in the bottle.

So I shall do my best to perservere as well as I can – through the remainder of Les Deserts d’Orient. I shall forgive you – for now. I shall even forgive you to such an extent, the friend who sent me this doomed dog has tempted me with something blue, brand-new and altogether more to my liking, and yes, M. Wasser, you made this one, too.

As for this malodorous endurance test, I shall attempt my own worst impersonation of the Gallic shrug you so excel at, and quote your own august self – again, with yet another fitting American term of opprobrium tinged with a little black humor unrelated to any the dogs might have brought in…

Shit happens.

Yours sincerely,

Tarleisio, the Alembicated Genie

Notes for Encens Mythique d’Orient: Aldehydes, neroli, moss, saffron, Persian rose, ambergris, musk and frankincense

The Les Deserts d’ Orient line is available from the Guerlain flagship store in Paris, the Place Vendôme Haute Parfumerie, Harrods and Selfridges in London, and in many locations throughout the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

With thanks to that perfumed friend – and an apology to the ghost of Edith Wharton.

Image of wet dog: Alex Romanov.

A Myth Beyond Time

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– a review of Esscentual Alchemy’s reinterpretation of Guerlain’s Djedi

Among perfumistas, certain things are a given. You will always want more  – or different – than you have at any given time, and if you possibly can, get your perfumed paws on that elusive unicorn creature…the very rare, the super-exclusive, the myth. Some perfumes are precisely so rare, so mythical, so elevated into the stratosphere of near-unattainable that to simply own a sample is to elevate you by extension.

Few are more rare than Jacques Guerlain’s Djedi, if you can even find it at all. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1926 at the very height of the Egyptian craze that followed in the 1920s after Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamon’s tomb in 1922, it is named for a fabled magician in a story of Khufu first mentioned in the Westcar Papyrus. And all the reviews I’ve ever read have mentioned just how haunting, how strange, how utterly removed from  the usual Guerlain vanilla patisserie sensibilities Djedi is, it might as well have been made by someone else entirely.

I’ve never tried Djedi that I can recall, so I’m not able to say. As serendipity would have it, it so happens I have the next best and far more obtainable thing…and that is Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy’s recreation/reinvention of this famous, strange oddity, and if Amanda’s version is anything at all like the original, all diehard perfumistas and lovers of vintage perfumes should take note, sit up and pay attention…

This is no mere ‘perfume’, no simple spin on a famous fragrance. Amanda Feeley has shown herself an eminently talented perfumer and participated in many group perfume projects including my own Devilscent Project. Lately, Amanda gave herself the creative challenge of recreating – or reinventing – some of those most beloved classics of yore, the ones we can no longer find, the ones we diehards dream about obtaining if only we could find them. When she told me about her work with Djedi, I couldn’t sit still, haunted by the specter of what I had read and thought about the original. Excited was not the word. Chypre! Animalic! Strange! Odd! I bounced around the living room, much to my former roommate’s delight, although she never did understand precisely what it was about this myth that had me bouncing off the walls…

Djedi! It was almost too good to be true…

So now I have it and wear it. Sacred Isis, this is stunning stuff.

It opens with a bitter, eerie, ghostly rose, if roses somehow had the ability to rise at a midnight hour from some underground crypt to haunt you. Haunt you it certainly does, growing ever more bitter-green by the moment as what must be vetiver (I didn’t get a list of notes) and oakmoss kick off their dust and emerge from their dry linen wrappings in all their timeless glory far more eloquently than Boris Karloff ever managed.

Bitter, yes, green, oh yes, dry as timeless desert sands, but so seamless, so elegantly restrained, as a luxurious, dark leather note emerges, I battle both my preconceptions and my meager attempts to find the words to express what I smell and no less what I feel, for as surely as I live and breathe, they really don’t make these marvels any longer. One layer, one moment at a time, Amanda’s Djedi breathes its mystery, patchouli (a definite vintage-feel patchouli), musk and civet adding their own feral growls to its power, giving the whole an edge, a force (yes, I said that!) of its own that skirts just this side of intimidation – precisely what I love most of all about chypres – that underlying breath of steel to fortify my spine. The drydown arrives after over an hour to remind me of other, later, famous chypres with their own razor edges and feline purrs, that fabulous leather/patchouli accord persisting for hours to follow on my skin.

I read in the reviews of Guerlain’s Djedi I could find that it was a perfume of sorrow and bitter mourning. Jacques Guerlain had somehow managed to add more than a little heartbreak into his creation. This version of Djedi has that characteristic in common with it, this is not something you would want to wear for a carefree, casual, happy-go-lucky day.  This is a perfume of perservering in the face of all adversity, of donning your armor and claiming your true power, of cloaking yourself in a myth beyond time to soldier on through your own challenges, no matter how small – or large. Djedi the magician of the original story had the power to bring the dead back to life, severed heads or no, and this Djedi too has that undercurrent of secret power behind it, to bring you back from whatever brinks you might have found yourself upon,to stand protected and secure when the time comes to roar those demons in the face.

Amanda Feeley’s Djedi will probably make most mainstream perfume consumers run for the hills. If you dislike leather, if you hate animalic perfumes, head straight for the nearest Nile crocodile and do not pass Go. It does have that emphatic vintage feel missing from most perfumes today, which is not to say it isn’t every bit as relevant or as wondrous as anything in the superlative best of indie perfumery today.

On the other hand, if you’re anything like me and many, many perfumeoholics I know, start a petition to have this made as soon as you can. Guerlain’s Djedi may be lost forevermore, thanks to IFRA restrictions, a tendency to play to the lowest common denominators and commercial interests, but thank all the Gods of time and timeless Egypt, we have Esscentual Alchemy and Amanda Feeley to restore our hopes that artistry really does exist, and even unobtainable, mythical perfumes can be resurrected or reinvented from beyond time, and when they are and you can wear them, you too shall rise like a Phoenix to burn again, burning through all those myths of life itself and even of your life, too – all those myths beyond time.

I didn’t receive a list of notes for Esscentual Alchemy’s ‘Djedi’, but Helg of Perfume Shrine gives the notes of Guerlain’s Djedi as: Rose, vetiver, musk, oakmoss, leather, civet and patchouli.

For reviews of the fabled Guerlian Djedi, I highly recommend Perfume Shrine’s, Dimitri’s of Sorcery of Scent, and Yesterday’s Perfume.

Esscentual Alchemy’s all-natural perfumes can be found here. Read the original story of Khufu & The Magician here.

Disclosure: A sample was made for review by Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy. For which I thank her from the bottom of my chypre/leather/oakmoss/vintage loving heart.

Best of the Best 2011 – Worn and Adored

Being the true confessions of a dedicated perfumoholic

The problem with being a perfume blogger – apart from the fact that most of your surroundings think you’re certifiable –  is that you by necessity wear a lot – I do mean a LOT – of perfume that you sometimes may love and sometimes…may not. It will inevitably happen that you encounter your own brand of philistinism when you introduce your skin to a highly touted house and your chemistry flips you the bird as this much-marketed brand turns into either a hydra on your skin – sprouting another head of awful the more you scrub – or else…that you’re falling in love with juice that will entail selling off your seven-year-old to pay for it.

The things, the monsters, the hydras I have endured…I rarely wrote about. It just didn’t seem the polite thing to do. But surely, some day I should write about that infamous rite of passage for any hardcore perfumista…sitting out the duration of three whole dabs of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Secretions Magnifiques’ on my skin without scrubbing. It was a bit like Anthony Bourdain drinking venomous snake blood in Vietnam because he wanted to be that guy who could brag about it with impunity…Well, I wanted to be that gal, and if Katie Puckrick had the ovaries to do it, then by Golly, so did I!

I did. I also turned green, then purple, then blue from holding my breath among other things. I dare say Anthony of NKDMan now owes me a bathtub sized drink…;)

On the other hand are the ones I simply…loved. Loved for their beauty, their peerless construction, the heart-rending drydowns and mood-enhancers and sex-me-uppers and just. Plain. Loved.

Aftelier

Cepes and Tuberose was my gateway into all things Aftelier. So compelling, so stunning, so simultaneously earthy and divine, spicy and sweet, it’s now become one of my Great Immortals, and on most days, there will be a tiny dab of it on my person somewhere. My Goddess Freya ‘fume. Sophia, another goddess in my novel Quantum Demonology, would surely love Fig. Something about jasmine sambac gets me. When it gets with fir and turns to fig, I’m done for. I’ve loved it – that much! I take Tango and Candide with me wherever I go just to breathe in their wonder. Whether it’s the completely seamless opulent bouquet of heaven that opens it or the perfectly balanced animal drydown of yes! Civet! Yes! Castoreum!…my little vial of Secret Garden is going fast. My ex hates it, which makes it a classic right there!

Atelier Cologne

Call me a philistine, but I have yet to meet an Atelier Cologne I haven’t loved, worn and killed off completely. I want one of each in those big, glorious 200 ml bottles. But for now, I’ll settle for a small bottle of Trefle Pur. Because it’s lucky! I just know…

Amouage

Ah, the many perils of Amouage. I first fell in love with Ubar – fatally and forever – and next with Epic Woman, although that took a while longer, but it crept up on me. Then, I met Memoir Woman. That took five tries and I was…toast. An instant love was the outrageousness of  Opus V – a slam dunk for this iris lover which will soon be reviewed – and then, Suzanne sent me a sample of Jubilation 25. “If this isn’t you…” she wrote ominously. I’m terrified it is…me! The good news, from my perspective, is that Lyric Woman is gorgeous …and hates my skin. I now eye that sample vial of Gold somewhat askance…and I don’t want to hear anything about Memoir Woman in extrait. I’ll wait until the day I show up in Knightsbridge, smoking plastic in tow, and they can tell me anything they like, so long as they tell me they take Amex as I take one of everything!

Aroma M

I’ve drained my sample set of Aroma M d-r-y. Geisha Blue (a verdant sanity saver for total stress-out days), Green, which is my other favorite absinthe, Violet, a deliciously subversive chocolate violet, Rouge, the spice fest to spice up anything at all, or the newest, Amber Rouge…Aroma M perfume oils are stunning, beautifully packaged in their Yuzen paper wrappings and they last and last and last. So will our love affair, I just know it!

Balmain

When I need a break from p-e-r-f-u-m-e, when all I want is to get on with my day and not worry about what I wear, when I get hit by acute indecision in the morning, Balmain’s Ivoire is what I reach for. A seamless, perfect dream of a green floral chypre that does everything a perfume is supposed to do – make me feel beautiful. It always does.

Caron

SuperMario Jr’s favorite perfume on his mother is Caron’s Bellodgia, one of the greatest carnations ever made. I make a point of wearing it when he’s sick to cheer him up. (His own, to his mother’s horror, is Amouage Memoir Man. He has sometimes insisted on wearing it to school…) Maman, meanwhile, has become addicted to the bad-gal leather of Tabac Blond extrait, thanks again to Suzanne. Yes, it’s the current formulation. I’m sure it was better before. But this is now and this is it and Tabac Blond is surely one of the sexiest scents I’ve worn this year? Wear wisely. I never did hear back from the guy I was with last I wore it to such stunning effect!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, Dawn…she breaks my heart. First, there was…Vert pour Madame, and I have maybe three drops left, it’s such a perfect throwback to those Great Green Chypres we loved and adored. Then, I received a tiny vial of 1000 Lilies, and lilies don’t get any better, no matter what they say. Next, I discovered Sampsuchinon, which really puts the sass to my spice, and finally, she slayed me with Pandora and Paradise Lost. I love all of them when I can. Which is nowhere often enough for my liking.

Etat Libre d’Orange

Yes, I know. I know. But Etat Libre also gave us Like This…and I did indeed, like that, so much it’s all gone…as is Rossy di Palma, a thorny, spiky, green rose I also dearly loved.

Guerlain

In my year of revelations, two Guerlains – both from the L’Art et La Matière line – have converted me into a huge fan of Thierry Wasser. I haven’t yet tried Shalimar Parfum Initial – although I would like to – but Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Iris Ganache have made it into my regular rotation, and I’m so not a gourmand gal. I blame Carrie of EyelinerOnACat. That’s right. My nose had nothing to say in the matter at all!

Histoires de Parfums

There is no justice in this world if I don’t get my grubby hands on at least a decant of HdP 1740 – Marquis de Sade. Should be classified as a drug of a most lethal kind, so naturally, I’ve gotta have it!

ODIN NYC

I’ve only ever tried ODIN NY-04 Petrana (although I’ve heard so many great things about the others!), but for an iris lover, it doesn’t get any better, or classier, or chewier, or cooler. Then, I had the inspired idea – no such thing as too much iris! – to layer it with Iris Ganache. Petrana cuts some of the white chocolate overload of IG, and they dance in such beautiful tandem all day and well into evening…

Opus Oils

SInce I was done in by a dangerous bloom, my Flapper perfume oil from the Les Bohemes collection has seen a lot of action in my neighborhood, and never fails to land me compliments. So does Giggle Water. And Absinthia, my other favorite absinthe. Does this mean I’m dangerous? No. It means you must run, not walk, straight to Opus Oils and try them for yourself! You know you want to!

Ormonde Jayne

Linda Pilkington, how do I love thy genius? Let me count the ways…Tolu, a golden, glorious wreath of resinous perfection, Orris Noir, the world’s richest, warmest, thickest, sex-me-up iris got me into a flirt…five hours after I’d applied it and it was still going strong! Taïf, a dark, rich, red desert rose…Frangipani, Osmanthus and Champaca when life’s a bowl of cherries on a flawless summer’s day…oh, yes! Genius!

Penhaligon’s

Once upon a time, I received a Penhaligon’s Scent Library..and then proceeded to murder Malabah and Blenheim Bouquet. That’s love! Amaranthine’s utter strangeness and so-wrong-it’s-right-ness was stolen by a colleague. That’s purloined love!

Puredistance

There is no right way to say this, but say this I must – yet again. If you have the kind of skin that cozies up to green, then you must surely adore Puredistance Antonia. It is a masterpiece of a perfume – at once a reference to all those Great Greens of old and yet totally modern, too. It makes me happy and grateful beyond belief to know that Anne Bezantian felt as I do – and created what is – or what should be – a Classic with a capital C. Sigh. A forever love!

Robert Piguet

I never expected to conjure up the ovaries to fall for Fracas this year, but I did. With a vengeance. But there’s more intrigue from Piguet…since back in my Badass Days (when I was a good deal younger), I wore Bandit extrait…So I ordered a sample of the EdP from First in Fragrance, so I’d have something to complain about, only to find it was only slightly softer and not too changed these days, and that thrilled me no end. Bandit is another of my Great Immortals. Next I knew, I ordered a decant from TPC, because I’m still that kind of badass…and then, things got a little…weird. For this Bandit was not MY Bandit, with its bitter leather-violet-galbanum vibe and ashtray undertone (which is precisely why I love it, something only perfumistas can understand), but rather a fluffed-down, muskier version. Not even the color of the juice was the same. Came to find out that the US version is markedly different – why, I don’t know – and also, that I want that Euro ashtray version, so bad, I can taste it! On the other side of February 1st, I foresee an order…My sample is almost gone. I will cry my bitter isobutyl quinoline tears.

Serge Lutens

It gives me an evil amount of pleasure to state that I have managed to turn four of my friends and acquaintances into diehard Lutensoholics. Now, there are five of us where I live. I lured them in with Fleurs d’Oranger (best orange blossom ever created!), hooked them with Boxeuses, and wiped them up with Ambre Sultan. The Arabie is m-i-n-e. (and Suzanne’s! Cumin lovers, unite!) The Vitriol d’Oeillet I can share. If L’Eau Froide is half as good as I hope, this town is toast. Meanwhile, I have an inexplicable craving for the glories of Encens et Lavande…and want to try De Profundiis very badly. Cèdre I’ve loved for a quite a while, and thanks to JoanElaine, it can love me right back!

Skye Botanicals

The boy of the household – whatever Hairy Krishna, the ginger fiend thinks to the contrary – is a bit blasé about the amount of sample vials in different locations around our apartment. “Argh, Mom…why do you always smell of something?” he asked me yesterday. Nevertheless, he’s being indoctrinated by proximity. A seven-year-old who wears tiny dabs of Memoir Man to school has, I foresee, a very bright future. But one he loves beyond all reason is the one I spray on his pillow every night – Skye Botanicals Fuzzy Blue Blanket. It has replaced the lavender/neroli blend I used to use to get him to sleep. It works! He sleeps, if usually a half hour later than his mother would like…

Mainstream hits and misses

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t like very much of what came out this year at my local shops…Chanel no. 19 Poudré was such a massive disappointment for me, Prada Candy hated me with a fury. These two words should never occur in the same sentence: Caramel and hairspray. Gah! Bottega Veneta made my best of list. There are a few Guerlains I need to investigate properly – Insolence among them, and yes, you may shoot me! But the closest thing to a mainstream find – and I can’t even find it here – that I loved was a flanker to one I do like: Mugler’s Alien. I said it – I’m a sucker for intergalactic jasmine sambac. When Aromi of IlMondodiOdore sent me a sample of Alien Liqueur de Parfum, it took me no time at all to decide I. Just. Have. To. Have. It. It’s Alien but better, smoother, richer, with a smoky, satinwood, resinous amber drydown to die for.

Ah, we perfume bloggers have it rough. So many ‘fumes, so little time. The ones we had to wear to review, the ones we wanted to love but couldn’t, the ones we loved so much, we couldn’t review them, and the ones we love so much, we wear them even on the days we claim we’re wearing nothing at all! These were mine in 2011. What were yours?

Image: The Queen’s Crown, made for Queen Sophie Magdalene by court jeweler Frederik Fabritius, 1731. Royal Danish Collections, Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

The Softest Sell


– when image is everything
At one important point in Quantum Demonology, one of the characters says “I can believe anything for at least five minutes, it’s all in the persuasion.”

So if you stop to think about it a little further, would you not agree with the statement that nowhere is that persuasion more emphatic than with …perfume? That art most ephemeral of all, fleeting as a spring wind, yet a perfume can engrave itself upon your memory and your emotions in such a visceral manner, it might as well be hewed in Carrara marble by Bernini to endure for eternity.

We buy, consume, wear perfume for so many reasons – to reflect our many and often disparate selves on any given day, to celebrate spring, summer, fall…or the first snow. We wear perfume to seduce and entice, or simply to seduce and entice ourselves into a newer, better self, however we choose to define it. We use perfume to define or emphasize a mood, a feeling, a certain emotion. As in…

“Today, you don’t want to mess with me. I am cool, confident and completely collected. Today, I wear Chanel no. 19.”

Or…

“Tonight, it’s you and me. The world stops at the door. Tonight, there are no…cell phones, no Twitter feeds, no Facebook status updates. Tonight, there is only now. So tonight, I shall wear Tabac Blond, for you alone…”

So by association, and by associating all the images conjured up in naming only two perfumes, two whole movie trailers play in the reader’s mind…Armani suit, well-behaved hair, an impeccable presentation of the ten most relevant facts a client needs to know to take the bait and pay the bills. Don Draper, eat my dust!

Or something black and slinky, something altogether different for an altogether different purpose…some time definitely after dark.

At least, that’s what yours truly tells herself in front of the perfume cabinet. Your mileage – or your perfumes – may vary.

But in choosing, buying, consuming perfume – whichever one you choose for whatever reason – you are buying into not just the juice, you are choosing, buying and wearing an entire aesthetic, as well. This was brought to my attention by some of the comments I received for my blog on Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Vraie Blonde’. Which got me thinking…and as we all know, that means trouble!


Behold, one of the glories of the twentieth century – Jacques Guerlain’s immortal ‘Mitsouko’, beloved, worshiped and adored by perfumistas and normal women alike since its creation in 1919. Because…it’s perfect. It is every bottled aspiration any woman and many men could ever hope to have, and – it’s Guerlain, who broke new ground in a world of ostensible soliflores with the still very modern ‘Jicky’ in 1887, and even then, they had been in business for over sixty years. Guerlain, to our jaded minds, wafts heritage, class, refined taste and a certain refined aesthetic native to France especially, where all aspects of life are sensual pleasures to be celebrated, explored and taken to entirely new heights. Buy a Guerlain perfume – almost any Guerlain – and you are buying an entire history in a bottle, all wrapped up in the heady aura of…Mitsouko, Shalimar …It is a compliment to your most excellent, discerning taste in that most excellent, ephemeral art form that is – perfume. In the unlikely if not implausible event anyone says it smells ‘weird’, please, just shoot that ignoramus on sight!

At the other end of that same super-sophisticated aesthetic spectrum, we have…the line of Serge Lutens. Whereas Guerlain has its nineteenth-century heritage to claim as its own, Serge Lutens as a perfume house has only existed since 2000, and yet, it would be fair to say that few other lines – and indeed few other perfume houses – have done so much to explore and even refine the singular and very personal aesthetic inclinations and preoccupations of M. Lutens and his perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. The brand, the concept, the very perfumes themselves are unique and uniquely intriguing, not least because this is not a mainstream brand, and these perfumes are nowhere near mainstream.

Yet the branding – of a super-luxurious, super-exclusive, inside secret of the cognoscenti fits the perfumes, even though many of them are challenging, shapeshifting, mercurial creatures who seem to take a life of their own on skin and bloom in ways we may or may not like. A Serge Lutens perfume can be difficult in a way no Guerlain can, can be downright obstinate and insistent and you can likewise insist that this…thing…on your skin is a horror story not even John Carpenter could cook up, until that one day, that one day you catch yourself thinking – as with Tubéreuse Criminelle pictured above…whoever could have guessed that gasoline and mentholated mothball could evolve into such peerless beauty? So you are hooked forever-and-a-day, and there is no cure, no panacea, no balm for that spot on your soul that only a Lutens could find and appease.

Meanwhile, we’re still in luxury territory, still within the safe and beautiful confines of sophistication and discernment and our own most excellent taste. There’s no disparity between the juice and the brand, nothing we need to outright reject, because it’s still…perfume. A necessary adornment and the only accessory that really matters, as Coco Chanel once said.

Perfumes came and went, perfume houses bloomed and died, all of them to the last bottle catering to our need for definition, our hunger for the extraordinary, the necessary, the hotly coveted…luxury, even if it were the only luxury we could afford, even if we would never wear or afford haute couture in our lives, we could aspire and breathe in that rarified air and for a moment believe ourselves to be…rare, exclusive sophisticates.

But times were changing, people’s perceptions of luxury and branding were changing – even luxury brands were – and are – becoming watered-down commonplaces, available to anyone with enough rubber credit and a bad case of the ‘screw-it-and-I’m-worth it’s. Other lines joined the fray in upping the ante to maintain that exclusivity, through price tag or limited distribution, all to better separate the plebes from the patricians, the cognoscenti from the clueless. Some of those lines merit their outrageous price tags, and some are just more…noisy hype in a world where everything is hyped as ‘luxury’, to the point where it can be hard to define what the word even means any longer.

Which was where that blog entry came in. Because in the comments, I came across several statements that quite simply stopped me in my tracks. It was a Japanese ‘satori’ moment, an ‘Aha!’ moment, when with a few select words, my entire perspective on perfume changed. Possibly forever.

In an Internet age, when everything new-ish is so five minutes ago, when chocolate, bath towels and even something so mundane as toilet paper can be marketed as ‘luxury’, along came …you guessed it…another perfume house, and this time, nothing ever would be quite the same again.

Enter the renegade perfume house of Etat Libre d’Orange, and pictured above, quite possibly the most universally reviled and deplored perfume ever created. No one who has ever experienced it can forget it, and many simply don’t have the stomach to try. It doesn’t even stop with the perfume itself. It’s the entire concept of the line. Because some of the comments stated quite unequivocally that the brand itself and its marketing concept was enough to reject the line entirely, and that was what stopped me cold.

Etat Libre chose a very different approach to marketing themselves as the Next New Kid On the Block. Instead of über-sophistication and exclusivity, they chose to sell themselves on shock value – and a certain adolescent – or tongue-in-cheek, if you prefer – image, and a definite salacious slant. With names such as ‘Putain de Palaces’ (Palace Slut), ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong (Baby I Don’t Swallow’) or even the infamous ‘Secretions Magnifiques’, they turned perfume marketing and branding entirely on its head, and even managed to raise quite a few hackles in the process by challenging all preconceptions as to what constitutes ‘perfume’ – that it must be beautiful, it must be luxurious, it must by definition be a continuation on an eternal theme – to smell good. And anything that smells…good must perforce be marketed like perfume has been marketed since the beginning of time – with the aesthetic we have come to associate with….perfume. Sacred, special, sophisticated, mirroring back to us our own…sanctity, uniqueness, sophistication.

Not so, if Etat Libre is anything to go by. They may have advertising copy Beavis and Butthead could have written (on a good day), their perfumes may have salacious names, and one of them may indeed be the bottled Texas Chainsaw Massacre in full Technicolor, 3-D and Smellavision, but all the same, they are doing quite well for themselves in spite of – or because of – that iconoclasm that dared to question our preconceptions of perfume and perfume marketing.

I have no problem with either personal choice and preference or iconoclasm – I actually gravitate toward it more often than not. If some would prefer to reject Etat Libre’s creations simply for their Beavis and Butthead aesthetic, well – it’s a free country, right? We’re inundated with choices every day. The old cliché – to each his or her own – is nowhere more true than in perfume. One woman’s Poison is another woman’s Obsession, etc.

Personally, I would never write off a new experience of any kind I might stand to learn something from. (If nothing else, I could always use it in a novel!) I would never reject an entire line on principle, because in my daily life, no one would ever know about my super-deluxe-exclusive-only-available-every-other-decade-limited-edition-and-distribution-vintage-in-18K gold-bottled…perfume. My surroundings would pass their judgment something along the lines of…good/bad/yuck/let-me-rip-off-your… etc. Which is fine by me.

What is very fine indeed by me is the occasional…huh-huh…Beavis..check-this-out-dude…reminder that sometimes, marketing can take itself too seriously, perfumes can certainly take themselves too seriously, and what we really need to do is just…chill out, laugh and let our hair down a little. There is a space and a headspace for our longing for the ephemeral dream that is perfume, for that flawless, shining moment of transcendent beauty that gives us such joy simply to exist, to live and to breathe! There is a place for our inner teenaged longing for irreverence and off-color, too, should we be that way inclined.

And above all, sometimes we need a reminder – that it’s only perfume, people! The softest sell of all!

Images:
Illustration for Le Galion’s ‘Snob’ by C. Maurel, 1957, belledepub.free.fr.
Vintage Guerlain Mitsouko, guerlainperfumebottles.webs.com
Limited edition Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle, megsmakeup.com
Etat Libre d’Orange Secretions Magnifiques, Etat Libre

A Zodiac Guide to ‘Fumes


– An irreverent – and tongue-in-cheek – guide to the rest of the world’s scented disasters!

Have you ever read descriptions of what perfumes your Zodiac sign is supposed to go for and thought:

‘They’ve got to be kidding, right? Me and Bal à Versailles??? Over my dead, decaying Diors!’

Have you ever wondered what mind-blowing insights might be offered if someone ever dared to write the whole truth and nothing but – about what we truly, really wear?

Wonder no longer! For Scent Less Sensibilities dares where others wrinkle their noses! What’s the worst thing that can happen – apart from litigation? Based on decades of experience and about 130 lbs of blarney, here’s your ultimate guide to knowing with your nose.

Aries
Rams often attack in full daylight, horns first and consequences be damned!. You always know where you stand with a Ram – right in front of their own self-interest. So when it comes to perfume, Rams of either sex are bold, brash and in your face and at the epicenter of every universe you’ve never heard of. Naturally, a personal perfume should reflect that. Male Rams prove it was no accident Chanel came up with ‘Egoíste’, and it suits them perfectly. Female Rams tend to exorcise a tad more restraint. Agent Provocateur’s ‘Boudoir’, for instance. Or Jean Desprèz ‘Bal à Versailles’.

Taurus
You think that anyone born under the sign of a placid, cud-chewing herbivore would be placid, plain and simple. You would be wrong. The undisputed sensualists of the Zodiac, Taurus l-o-v-e-s anything pertaining to the senses. You draw your own conclusions – at your peril. For Taurus, too much of everything can be…wonderful. So long as it’s classy, elegant, and smells like the million dollars they will surely own some day. Male Bulls stick with the tried-and-true, such as Givenchy Homme, and the very womanly Taurus will love, worship and adore the epically elegant, maximalist approach of Amouage’s Epic Woman. She is. You have been warned.

Gemini
The important thing to remember in dealing with Geminis is that you are always dealing with at least two people at any given moment in time, and those two – or four, or ten! – can’t agree on anything, never mind perfume! So Geminis can be all over the map. Male Geminis tend to avoid anything in the slightest floral like the plague, including the women who wear them. Fleeting, flirty and gone in sixty seconds suits their style, if not their entire M.O. If it’s something they put on and forget about, so much the better. Fougères suit their style, so long as they’re not too demanding, as well as citrus-based scents like Guerlain’s Eau de Cèdrat or Eau Impèriale. For lady Geminis, it’s whatever they darn well please – or whichever one of their many heads is yelling loudest at the time. It could be Shalimar – or it could be Tabac Blond. It could be something summery and g-r-e-e-n, such as Olympic Orchids’ A Midsummer Day’s Dream

Cancer
There are two types of Cancer. Either they are so square, strait-laced and moody, you can hear the whalebone in their metaphorical corsets creak when they breathe, or they are way out in the far outfield of avant-garde (and they’re still moody). There is no middle ground with the Crab. You may or may not come to know about the bizarre five-ring circus going on inside them. Just remember to pay attention to the phase of the moon when dealing with a Cancer of either gender and plan accordingly. It’s no fun in the middle of a hot date when Mr. Crab metamorphoses into a werewolf – or worse. He would appreciate Guerlain’s Habit Rouge, if he’s strait-laced. He might wear Yohji Homme if he’s the other kind. Female crabs know they’re tasty as well as female, and like their perfumes to reflect that. By Kilian’s Back to Black Aphrodisiac would fit the bill, so would Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille. The fruity kind of lady Crab might like the tropical tang of Olympic Orchids’ Luzonica. If Lady Crab gets her claws in you, just don’t forget that she only smells sweet…

Leo
“L’ètat, c’est moi,” stated Louis XIV, and Leo would amend that to “Le monde, c’est moi!” The Diva of the Zodiac, Leo makes the world go round and the sun rise and set, and for the love of Guerlain or Leo, don’t ever forget to appreciate it, once an hour, if not more! Leos loom Large and In Charge, in their own over-inflated imaginations not least, so for a perfume, they want whichever fragrant bicycle pump can inflate their egos the most. Amouage Gold for Men or Dior Homme Intense works when or if their own leonine musk isn’t enough to overwhelm the unsuspecting, and for those Leo diva ladies, perfume powerhouses such as Givenchy’s Amarige, Amouage Gold for Women, Guerlain Samsara and Dior’s Poison float their boats, and Piguet’s Fracas. SInce gold is the color of Leo, she might also go for Olympic Orchids’ Golden Cattleya.

Virgo
Virgos have a not altogether deserved reputation as prudes, which is a bit unfair. They’re not prudish at all, they’re discriminating, which is nowhere the same thing. Like the other earth signs, their tastes tend toward the classic rather than the startling, and the less they have to think about them, the better – so long as they know they smell good, if they’re not on an anti-perfume kick and wear no scents at all. Male Virgos like Guerlain’s Vetiver, unless they’re too worried (Virgos are always worried) they might be considered odd, in which case, they’ll choose Cool Water – or Hugo Boss. Educate them, please. Female Virgos – no virgins, no matter what you’ve heard – love restrained, lady-like florals, such as Issey Miyake’s A Scent, Penhaligon’s Bluebell or Dior’s Diorissimo. If they don’t go over to the Dark Side of the Force of Patchouli and choose Prada.

Libra
Mirror, mirror on the wall…To Libra, the world is their mirror, and they are the fairest of them all. So reluctant to commit are they, they often suffer a chronic case of indecisiveness in terms of perfume and just buy one of everything. It’s only fair. Male Libras are the peacocks of the Zodiac, perpetually in front of their mirrors, and often, that mirror will be you. Dior’s Eau Sauvage, YSL Opium for Men, Cerruti 1881…“Darling, I can’t decide. What do YOU think?” It will drive you nuts, or he will. Lady Libras, unlike their male counterparts, are basically made with titanium spines and go to great lengths to hide that fact. It might be used as leverage later. They choose very feminine, classic scents to slay the unsuspecting (that would be you, if you’re dating a Libra), such as Annick Goutal’s L’Heure Exquise, or Chanel no. 5 if they’re that kind of Libra. Or maybe Olympic Orchids’ Red Cattleya, if they’re the other kind.

Scorpio
It can’t be entirely coincidental that in my several decades of experience, I’ve encountered not a few male Scorpios who all had a thing for…skank. Not just on themselves but on their victims, too. Scorpios redefine the word ‘intense’. They live their lives on the edge and on the fringe. If a male Scorpio has his sights on you, resistance will be futile. You might be assimilated. You certainly won’t forget that encounter in a hurry, nor will you forget his choice of scent. This is the guy who would choose Knize Ten, Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, YSL Homme, M7, Dior’s Eau Noire or Byredo Baudelaire. Lady Scorpios do their best to live up to their own salacious reputations by selecting the kind of over-the-top scents even female Leos might pass over, such as Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, Boxeuses, Arabie or À La Nuit. Whatever it takes to undo you – and she will!

Sagittarius
Happy-go-lucky – and often insanely lucky – Sagittarius canters through life, hooves in mouth, with packed mental suitcases full of opinions he or she will certainly let you know all about. Any Sagittarius has a spectacular talent for saying the exact right thing – at the worst possible time. So long as it’s time to go – and they will, as soon as they find something or someone more interesting than you. When he’s not busy puncturing your pretentions, male Archers might try to tack you up in other ways with green, woody scents such as Lagerfeld for Men, Serge Lutens’ Chêne or Creed’s Green Irish Tweed. Female Sags of all persuasions were thrilled to discover Cartier’s Les Heures IV – L’Heure Fougeuse. All the horse of their own centaur origins, and a fragrant roll in the hay, too! Giddyup!

Capricorn
A male Capricorn is a throwback to another era, the era of Manly with a capital M. Or male chauvinist, if you prefer, just so long as you remember who’s in charge – he is. At all times and at all costs. This is the guy who will wear Guerlain’s Mouchoir de Monsieur, Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel, or Serge Lutens’ Gris Clair. He’ll never let you know about his need for control until it’s too late or you’re hooked, whichever comes first. The same can be said for lady Goats – but they’re not above showing themselves and their intentions a bit more, by choosing Robert Piguet’s Bandit, Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle or vintage Cabochard. Don’t forget – she’s in charge, too. Now you know!

Aquarius
The uncontested loonies of the Zodiac, surely it was an Aquarius who cooked up the idea for the entire line of Etat Libre d’Orange – and most of the advertising copy, too. They love to shock or just surprise, in their unorthodox behavior, in their likewise radical opinions, or else just their unorthodox choice of perfumes. The men may choose very frilly, feminine scents, and the women may choose rather masculine ones. Or vice versa. Or both at once. The only thing to expect with an Aquarius of either gender is the unexpected. By Kilian’s A Taste of Heaven, Lush Breath of God, Escentric Molecules, Serge Lutens’ Fumerie Turque, Worth Courtesan – anything goes, and a lot of things do! I once met an Aquarius man who wore ELdO’s Secretions Magnifiques – for the pleasure it gave him. Needless to say, he left the party alone…I also once had an Aquarius girlfriend who adored Paloma Picasso’s eponymous perfume, so you never know…Expect the unexpected!

Pisces
It’s all too easy to dismiss Pisces as the flaky, fluffy-bunny, space cadets of the Zodiac, an impression they usually do nothing whatsoever to dispel. Like the water that is their element, they adapt to whatever container they’re poured into. That will be your last and most fatal mistake with a Pisces. Right when you think you have them all figured out, they will have disappeared…into a silver school of other fish, or in a cloud of black ink like a squid, but they will be…gone. Push them too far, and you’ll find yourself the metaphorical seal dinner of the biggest, badass orca on Planet Earth, and you will be tossed like a volleyball in the surf before you’re breakfast. Male Pisces, so I’ve noticed, like incense perfumes, especially if they’re of the more unusual kind, such as Andy Tauer’s Incense Extrème, or Serge Lutens’ Encens et Lavande, which made one Pisces cry when I introduced him to it. He now refuses to wear anything else. Female Pisces veer toward hyperfeminine, such as Jean Patou’s Joy and Guerlain’s Mitsouko, or ethereal, like Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist or Bois de Violette. But do yourself a favor before you fall for a female Pisces. She only looks like the human equivalent of an angora sweater. There’s an orca lurking underneath!

Caveat: All content written thoroughly tongue-in-cheek!

A Scent of Sin


– a review of Guerlain’s ‘Spiritueuse Double Vanille’

Behold – the vanilla orchid, originator to one of the most beloved and abused essences in perfumery. Beloved when it’s rendered well, adding sweetness and spice and all things nice, despised when rendered as sugary cupcake overkill. Vanilla is an important part of one of the most famous bases in perfumery – the Guerlinade. Shalimar would not be Shalimar without that opulent, rich vanilla base.

You would never know that this little, unassuming flower is one of the most important in the world. You would never know that this dainty little orchid could evoke hints and intimations…of sinful, sweet and animal.

Few people realize just how animal, how nearly feral vanilla can be. Although I’ve liked and even loved vanilla as a component in many, many perfumes including Shalimar, I’ve never taken the trouble to actively seek them out, simply because…there are too many horror stories out there, and I’ve stuck my unsuspecting nose in quite a few.

Vanilla in general has a terrible reputation. Vanilla has become a byword for anything boring, bland, middle-of-the-road. It is a safe fragrance, a safe flavor, and ‘safe’ is not an adjective I like to keep in my vocabulary. When used to death in cheap scented candles, bath products, celebufumes or room sprays, I say it deserves every description of horror I can think of. The phrase ‘olfactory torture’ comes to mind. This is not vanilla, this is not what vanilla can and should be.

If any nose on Planet Earth knows vanilla, knows what it is capable of, knows its depth, its richness, its animality, surely it would be Jean Paul Guerlain. More than any other perfume house, Guerlain has elevated vanilla in many versions to superstardom. Always with that highly refined sensibility that (once upon a time at least and rather lacking lately) defines the venerable name ‘Guerlain’.

When I received a generous sample of Spiritueuse Double Vanille (SDV for short) from the equally beneficent Olfactoria, I was happy, but not excited. Happy – it’s a Guerlain. Like old loves and old friends, I’ll always give Guerlain a second, third, and twenty-fifth chance, even if they did release that trainwreck known as ‘Insolence’. Excited – well, there were other things in that Austrian package that got my motor running, so I left it at that.

Until I opened that sample of SDV. Oh. Oh, my. Oh, my gosh. Oh, baby! Oh! (Here follow a few epithets I try to keep out of a perfume blog, if not in real life!)

It is…boozy, whoozy, dizzyingly alcoholic without being potable – and that’s a good thing! I’m quite hazardous enough, thank you. I’d go so far as to say – just as was Jean Paul Guerlain’s intention, this is the moment you split open a vanilla bean and an entire alternate universe grabs you by the nose as a reminder that dessert isn’t always something you eat!

This is carnal vanilla, as sinful as that third chocolate truffle and as sexy as that silk slip that slides down the shoulder just…enough. There are pink peppercorns, bergamot, Bulgarian rose and ylang ylang in there, say the notes, but what I get is boozy, whoozy, faint-making killah vanilla, the kind of vanilla that is no relation whatsoever to anything sold as ‘vanilla’, or indeed anything defined as ‘safe’, ‘bland’ or boring.

SDV is anything but safe. Somewhere among all that overt nuclear vanilla impact floats a hint of cedar, a whisper of incense, a mere suggestion of benzoin, weaving in and out and through that vanilla vixen that murmurs…’come closer, if you dare’, and then buries her teeth in your neck. And oh, that vanilla, so sweet, so lethal, so carnal, oh…

This is horizontal Hitchcock territory. Boozy. Here I go again, and I swear, I was sober when I began this review. Sweet, animal and borderline feral, gourmand – in other words, everything yours truly should absolutely hate in a perfume, and yet…Yes! Yes! Yes! Puleeeze…Just put me out of my misery and buy me a bottle already!

Since I first began writing about perfume on this blog, the occasions I’ve been sideswiped by a perfume have not happened all that often. This is one of those. Just to commit the ultimate in sacrilege, I’ve tried layering this with Atelier’s Grand Neroli on a whim, and my, it was glorious. Gilding an already perfect lily, I tried it with Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. The jasmine gives up the ghost (who would have thought it?), and the tuberose comes all the way out to play in the sun with the vixen, and meanwhile, I can’t hold one coherent thought that won’t get me arrested should I ever attempt to act it out in public.

Spiritueuse Double Vanille is…intoxicating, in all the best senses of the word. It lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts. It is sweet but never cloying and utterly delicious. It is sinfully wicked in all the best Guerlain ways, dark, devastating.

I can’t imagine what the burgeoning perfumophile Scorpio would say to this one should I wear it on a latte date, and he usually has plenty to say about whatever I wear. But I can imagine what he might do. It’s that kind of vanilla, and that kind of perfume, and that kind of dangerous.

There are cheaper ways to get this kind of thrill. Buy four of the best vanilla beans you can afford, and chop them into smaller pieces. Throw them in a food processor with one cup of plain white sugar and blend until the sugar turns gray-brown and the vanilla beans are pulverized. Pour this concoction into a tightly sealed container and leave for at least a week. Use this instead of vanilla extract or bought vanilla sugar, and you will know everything there is to know about something that isn’t safe, bland or boring. Vanilla will never be the same again.

Not even in a perfume.

Notes: Pink peppercorn, bergamot, incense, cedar, Bulgarian rose, ylang ylang, vanilla, benzoin.