The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!


 – Being the true confessions of a hapless perfume writer…

Ah, the perils of a perfume writer’s existence. So many perfumes – according to Basenotes, 1366 new fragrances were launched in 2012 –so very little time! Without being able to sometimes club flotsam and jetsam reviews together – meaning I review more than one at a time – I’d be toast.

As it is, my ghost will probably be typing away in the afterlife long after my hopefully timely demise just to catch up on the backlog, wondering if Stygian WiFi is reliable…;-)

I also try to have a perfume free day every week to recalibrate my nose, which makes it easier to delve into the ones I do review.

Some of the perfumes I wore most in 2012 are repeats from my other two lists, for no other cause than I couldn’t live without them, others I have yet to review but I wore them anyway. Yet for all those new and/or newly discovered perfumes, sometimes, all this girl wants to do is wear a familiar favorite, and I’ve certainly done that, too.

These are the ones I have wafted and adored beyond all reason. For as surely as my readers know, reason had nothing to do with it!


Few things are more fun than scenting some of your favorite characters in books. It doesn’t get any cooler than to perfume the characters of your making, as my own project proved. Yet I suspect that Sophia – one important character who appears in my book Quantum Demonology – would wear Aftelier’s Fig, and whenever I’ve needed to borrow some of her own earthy grounding, Fig was a perfect fit. I loved it in an instant when I found it, and I love it dearly still. I hear Sophia’s Flatbush twang whenever I put it on. “C’mon, hon,” she seems to say, “just cut the bs already, whydoncha?” I do try.


Some days, nothing but an Amouage will do. I’ve had a few of those this past year, especially with Memoir Woman, Beloved, and certainly Opus VI. I also came to discover that bone dry, bitter cold – as we had in late January last year – turns my Cloak of Invincibility, Epic Woman, into a very moody, oud-y creature. I suspect that’s why my sister hates it. Considering some of the stink bombs she’s hit me with over the years, it’s only fair.

Aroma M

It’s said that the scent of Artemisia – which we sometimes know as wormwood and also as absinthe – furthers creativity. Who am I to argue with the Fée Verte glories of the Belle Époque? Aroma M’s Geisha Green is one of the most beautifully rendered absinthe perfumes I know, and whatever it takes ‘to further creativity’, I’ll do. That I received it as a present from a very dear friend makes it even more special.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, the lovely Dawn, she breaks my heart. For creating such stellar works of beauty as indeed she always, always does, and for making me cry, as I did when she so sweetly sent me her YSL Retrospective Collection made in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition. Those lucky enough to see it were treated not only to some of the most seminal – and spectacular – creations of my all-time favorite designer, they were also tempted with Dawn’s olfactory reinterpretations of some of his designs – and perfumes. La Vie En Rose – her tribute to one of my own Great Immortals, vintage YSL Paris, was so flawless, it made me cry. To be hit over the head by a massively packed suitcase of Guilt Trip for not reviewing that collection yet. The best defense in the face of Major Procrastination is an attack. Dawn, darling, yours will be my first review of 2013. As for the rest of you – read all about it!

Editions Frédéric Malle

Last year was my year of The Tuberose. It was a note I approached with some trepidation – one does not mess with this floral diva – only to find just how much I adored it, especially when it’s as stunning as the justly celebrated Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion. I suspect that the equally lovely Lys Méditerranée won’t be too far behind its sister in the Flawless Floral department. I am so doomed.

The Ex (Dev) Factor

I’m single now, so alas I don’t know a lot of (willing) masculine lab rats for when I needed to skin-test assorted testaments to Thermonuclear Testosterone Bombshells – also known as the Devilscents. For this reason and several others, mainly his resigned-to-the-inevitable sense of humor, I recruited Super Mario Sr. He then proceeded to ruin the female wait staff one night at a local Italian trattoria by deviously dabbing their boyfriend chefs in the kitchen with House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev. Those ladies  – usually quite clearheaded and competent in a busy, popular restaurant – were useless that night. Resistance was futile. The next day, so he told me, everyone showed up with Epic Night To Remember grins on their faces. The guys all demanded to know, as only red-blooded Italian males can – “WHERE can we buy that stuff prontissimo???” He never told them. Some things – and some secrets, apparently – are just…too good to share! Some time later, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a liquid decant of the scent of her own Dev massage lotion bar. I had just enough time to sniff it, before he declared this was his new liquid definition of awesome, and stole it with that elegant sleight-of-hand Geminis so excel at. I never saw it again.

Exotic Island Aromas

Here comes Guilt Trip suitcase no. 2. Monica also flattered me this past year by requesting my dubious services for her Primordial Scents Project. As part of it, I received Juan Perez’ – the creator of Exotic Island Aromas – two contributions, and never in my life was a sample vial drained faster than his utterly unearthly Flor Azteca. You can therefore imagine how happy I was to win a roll-on of this wonder in a draw. Full review forthcoming or I am so dead, but this feral phantasm of a tuberose is to breathe – and die! – for.

House of Cherry Bomb

As if the devastation wrought by their Dev weren’t enough, the Awesome Twosome of the House of Cherry Bomb also made Lilith, and as opportunity would have it, on one of two dates I had last year, I wore it to see a former boyfriend I hadn’t seen in eighteen years. I really don’t know what came over me. Or him. Let’s just say the reunion was a happy one. I blame the perfume. It couldn’t possibly have been me.

Neela Vermeire Creations

When your preconceptions are blown to smithereens, when you’re blown to dandelion fluff on a high summer wind by beauty, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to wear it again as often as you can. In the case of the truly spectacular Trayee and Mohur, this could never happen often enough, and I’ve worn both of them frequently in 2012 with no end in sight. On those dire, far-too-early mornings when I told my reflection despairingly that Attitude Is Everything, I’ve worn Bombay Bling. I dare anyone to wear it without a smile on their faces! All three NVC creations have been plastered all over almost everyone’s Best of 2012 lists, and I’m not about to argue with splendor.

Neil Morris Fragrances

Among perfumistas, the astonishing Neil Morris is one of those great cult figures of American perfumery, far too cool to be a household name, much, much too talented not to be. No one was more flabbergasted than I when he chose to participate in the Devilscent Project – with alacrity and an infernal amount of glee, I might add. It pains me more than I can say to know that I only have two more Neil Morrises to review for the DSP, but on the other hand, it thrills me beyond compare to know that Neil,my darling, I’m not letting you get away! Rumi, made for his Vault Collection has become a signature I never want to be without, but I could certainly say the same for all five of his creations for the project. The good news for the rest of Planet Perfume is I understand they’ll soon be made available to the general public. Be afraid – in all the most perilous, perfumed ways…

Niki de Saint Phalle

In the Bad Old Days of the Eighties, when I wasn’t wearing my usual sock-it-to-‘em wonders, I was a definite green chypre kind of chica. No one was more thrilled than I when the opportunity to acquire this oft-overlooked gem came along. Niki de Saint Phalle is a softer, mossier and more approachable sibling of my beloved Bandit, and today, it is so unusual among the usual fruitchoulis in my vicinity, it always gets me noticed.

Olympic Orchids

One of my favorite things about inspiration is I never know in advance where it will take me. I suspect my partner-in-crime Ellen Covey would agree. So far as I’ve been able to tell, our notorious little project has redefined quite a few of her own sensibilities, and it’s certainly shown a far more dangerous, if not sinister side of her as a perfumer than anyone could have expected, least of all this longtime fan on the other side of the world. Labdanum – one of the oldest, most sacred perfumery materials – was a leitmotif of the DSP, and her opulent, labdanum-rich Dev #4 puts labdanum front and center in a whole new, peerless – and heartbreaking – light. (Ellen, I’m saving those other Devs for the (unlikely?) event I find a testosterone bomb to put them on…😉 ) Her Lil unnerved my colleagues many times this past year, before I swiped them off the floor in a photorealistic rosy swoon with her glorious Ballets Rouges.

Opus Oils

When I get rich, I want of everything Isis by Opus Oils. Because blue lotus – one of my favorite floral notes – really, truly doesn’t get any better than this. And when I want to bring out my inner hell-raising bad-gal, Opus Oils and Michelle Kredd Kydd’s M’Eau Jo no. 3 is the best intoxication to be found this side of a bottle of Jack D’s. In no time at all, I’m backstage again on a sofa in a green room with a libertine, cleavage-loving guitarist, sharing the filthiest jokes we know…

Ormonde Jayne

When a line has more hits than misses with me, I know I’m in trouble. Or I am trouble. Which is precisely what I am whenever I’ve worn Orris Noir, and that happens often with this luminous, rich and decadent iris. This past summer and early fall – or just whenever I’m in the mood for bluer skies and warmer climes – I’ve added Frangipani to my Ormonde Jaynes, simply for being the embodiment of everything tropical and happy and positively perfect, which is how it makes me feel, although I really should know better. Do I care? Not in the slightest.


If there is a celestial location where the epitome of spring is kept on tap, where Green reigns serene as well as supreme, then surely, it smells like Annie Bezantian’s masterpiece for Puredistance,Antonia? If there isn’t, there certainly should be.

Parfums Serge Lutens

2012 was the year I delved quite a bit deeper into the nefarious doings of Mssrs. Lutens and Sheldrake thanks to the interventions of a few perfume fairies. I’m not sure whether to thank them or curse them for that…but I’ve worn a lot of Lutens this past year, among them Rousse – I come from a long, long line of redheads, or at least that’s my excuse, De Profundis, which was everything in a chilly green kiss I could possibly have hoped for, and the breathtaking Sarrasins, which shot to the top of my jasmine exosphere in a flash and sank me to the floor in a heartbeat, overcome by this outrage of night-blooming jasmine so stunning, my world twirled, tilted and has never been quite the same since.

The Japanese Zen masters have yet another word for that instant when suddenly, all those random little factoids and odds and ends of things you know – or thought you did – fall into place as if by magic, and everything becomes as obvious as breathing, as clear and as sparkling as Baccarat crystal. That heartbeat when suddenly you get it, you get it all – the beauty, the peril, the earth, the sky, the air…the art? Zen wrapped all of it into one word and called it…satori.

Aren’t those the very moments we live and breathe for?

With thanks to all the perfume fairies!

Falling Forward

 – an ode to my favorite fragrant Fall thrills

Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. A little melancholy, slightly tinged with regrets for what might have been and what should have been done, autumn has also proven itself to be the season of cataclysmic change this year, a change so drastic, it’s been all I can do to hang on by the skin of my teeth and know…that all I can do is to go with the flow and give myself over…to evolution and the knowledge that from here on, life can only get more exciting.

And I can give myself over to the many pleasures of falling forward…into autumn, into the incendiary glow of golden-leafed trees, ruby-hued leaves, and the intoxicating sharp scent of burning wood fireplaces and bonfires, the smell of mushrooms and cepes sprouting up overnight, the sound and scent of apples falling to the ground, that looming breath of steel and stone that lurks beneath the colors and the chills in the air. Wrapping my chilly, wintry self into favorite woolen sweaters, and wrapping favorite scarves and mufflers around my neck, inhaling that palimpsest of perfumes worsted in the wool.

Autumn is also an excuse for hauling out the heavy, heady perfumes with which to slay the unsuspecting world – the ones I wear as I would wear cashmere, the ones that comfort and console me on rainy days and Thursdays, the ones I wear like scented armor, and all the ones I love…

Below, you’ll find some of my favorite autumn fumes, the ones that contain October  and November in their essence, the ones that trail behind me like the ghosts of autumns past as well as harbinger angels of the future possibilities that lie ahead, waiting for when life returns and all is green again.

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Seville à l’Aube

It’s generally agreed that Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the greatest perfumed geniuses alive today. His work has ruined me several times over this year, when I was introduced to Neela Vermeire’s breathtaking perfume odes to her native India and all three of them shot to the top of my Most Worn of the year list. Next came an introduction to L’Artisan’s Dzongkha – one haunting, numinous iris – and Sienne L’Hiver, no less haunting and evocative. They all broke my heart. But when I read of Duchaufour’s collaboration with one of my own inspirations, Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc, and heard the fated words ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’, I was had at the first syllable. Oh! So imagine my anticipation when I moved in on a split of Seville à L’Aube blind (this very rarely happens any longer), and all it took to tip me over the edge was one fatal sniff…My full review will be up in a few weeks, but this mesmerizing blend of orange blossom, lavender and incense is …flawless.

Amouage – Memoir Woman

Something about autumn brings out my inner Goth, which is to say, that part of me that appreciates seriously depressed-mode music, rainy days, and lots of witchy black velvet. While I wouldn’t be so bold as to say Memoir Woman is Goth per se, I will say that it is a moody, magnificent, haunting perfume of a kind that tends to stick in the mind long after it wears off. I didn’t like it much at first, but I couldn’t stop sniffing. It reminded me of a advertising tagline I once cooked up for a story I wrote: “Haunted. What he will be.” Haunting, unforgettable, there is nothing quite like it and nothing quite like a love that grows and grows to haunt you.  As it has. As I have been. As I remain.

Serge Lutens – De Profundis

Some claimed that dear Uncle Serge had somehow lost his marbles when De Profundis was released, and I have no idea what mushrooms they nibbled, because De Profundis – inspired by the treatise by Oscar Wilde, death and funereal chrysanthemums – is simultaneously green, cool and impossible to forget. Incense, chrysanthemum and a mesmerizing icy green-tinged, tear-stained violet chill all add up to ‘spellbinding’ in my book, but if any Lutens is perfect for that delicious melancholy that pervades October Sunday afternoons, it’s this one.

Aftelier – Cepes and Tuberose

My first introduction to the fabled perfumes of Aftelier was Mandy Aftel’s justly famous and unorthodox Cepes and Tuberose, which is earthy, floral, spicy, heady bottled magic – or else a horror story of mildewed mushroom and airy tuberose. There is truly nothing at all else quite like it, and you either adore it or hate it. I have since that fatal introduction loved it so much, a mini of the parfum goes where I go and a dab often wafts as I breathe no matter what else I wear. It smells golden to me – golden as the maple leaves that now are turning red to bloom in midair and dance their leafy sigh into the ground.

Neela Vermeire – Trayee

Whether it’s the blaze of color or the sudden shock of chill in the air, there is something numinous about autumn, something that reminds you of the passage of time and the ephemerality of all life. When that sudden pang of mortality hits me with the delicate slap of a falling leaf, I often reach for Trayee, a swirling, whirling, spicy Mahabarata epic in a bottle, wit its fiery, feisty cardamom, a wink or two of sacred bhang, smoke, incense and samsara. In no time, my spirits lift and my mood improves, and I dream such faraway dreams of other times and other, sacred spaces.

A Trinity of Ambers

Autumn is also the perfect time for ambers…those glorious, heady, drop-dead sexy golden potions I once hated and now love with a fury that teeters on obsession. Three in particular hold pride of place in my amber-tinted Pantheon, and I’m not even sure I can bear to know there will be others in their wake. The Great Khadine, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, with its opening green bite and its sumptuous drydown, whispers its secrets in my ear, while Amouage’s Opus VI speaks its twisting, turning, ever-evolving tongues of wood flickering in firelight, and when I stand still and listen to the beat of my heart in the moonlight, Neil Morris’ Rumi trills its transcendental tale of another kind of sweet-scented magic.

Labdanum dreams

The ongoing Devilscent Project has completely changed my life around in more ways than one. I could talk about these unbelievable perfumes until the cows came home to roost, but the one note the Devil insisted upon to his perfumers was labdanum, a whole fragrant universe unto itself, and one of the oldest perfumery materials in the world. When life has been known to grind me down, Olympic Orchids’ spare, pensive Dev #4, which puts a magnificent labdanum in the spotlight, centers me as nothing else will, so even I can envision such luscious, labdanum things come true. As I do, I’m often taken back to a midnight moment in time, and when I am, another spicier, darker, more ominous labdanum-tinged marvel wafts forward, and that is Neil Morris’ Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Olivier Durbano – Black Tourmaline

One reviewer on Fragrantica stated that Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline was ‘for real men only’. This is absolute nonsense. For Black Tourmaline is a stunning mélange of leather and the darkest, deepest, smokiest incense you can imagine, and I’ve received many, many compliments when I’ve worn it, despite being nothing masculine in the slightest, not even in a tux. It’s as otherworldly as a fog-drenched November morning and as warming as a firelight glow at night, and when it goes, it will be missed, like November, like firelight, like a ghostly wisp of cloud bearing down to kiss the earth one last and final time.

More than any other season, autumn sings to me of time passing, of moments as fleeting as the bloom of glowing leaves dancing in a deep blue sky. When Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ seems to match the tasty tristesse of a rainy afternoon, and when the smoky thrills of firelight and flame warm the soul through.

What are your autumn favorites? Or just…your favorite things about autumn? I’d love to hear about them!

With many thanks to…Andrea, Amy, Ruth, Christopher, Mandy, Ellen, JoAnne, Neil and Christos. 

Silver and Black

– a review and a story of Amouage ‘Memoir Man’

Sometimes, we choose what to remember. I tried for so long to forget you, forget that last time, that last day, the day you walked away and walked out of my life.

Somehow, I succeeded so well, I nearly convinced myself of that ultimate lie, your parting words, the ones you knew would hurt me most of all:

You and me, baby…we never happened.”

I can still see myself as I was that day, frozen to the steps, looking back over my shoulder at you as you just walked on and didn’t look back, not then, not ever. I remember coming home in a white-hot fury, packing away every reminder of you I could find, vacuum sealing every memory, every word in some padlocked part of my mind until finally, that lie was true. We never happened, baby, and only my ashes remained, as cold and gray as the wind and sky that day you walked away.

Until today. The day I found that beautiful black and silver bottle, half-full of that haunting, provocative scent, the one you always wore and liked so much, you bought me its counterpart, Woman, sparkling like some willful, black secret in the dark behind it, and in that heady, perfumed cocoon that set us apart from the rest of the world, we were both of us blinding dark and dazzling light, heavy and heated as molten lead and lighter than air, every love and all the passion every man and every woman ever felt and ever lived.

I had to sit down, to sink to the carpet in a swoon when I sprayed the air with your scent, as it blew that padlock in my mind to pieces and everything, everything poured out, memory and madness, magic and the music that played that night I saw you across a crowded room and caught you staring back.

That bittersweet opening kick of herb and darkest green, mint and absinth took me there in a single sniff, a room full of posturing and pretense, beautiful people talking beautiful things. I was never one of them, I was the wormwood, the outsider in the mix, brought in to add a little offbeat color, a spicy-green counterpoint of my own. So I thought as I stood apart, so I felt until something made me look up to where you stood. In the eternity between one heartbeat and the next, my world fell apart, the room fell away, I walked away from all my old life and all I knew…toward you.

Remember how we stood, not saying a word in a room full of words? Remember how we simply breathed each other’s reality in, how you wrapped me in that breathless aura of incense and lavender bouncing back and forth? Now incense with all its sacred air, next lavender with its earthy, dark secrets, and peeking behind like a promise, a silky black-red ribbon of rose, a hint of things to come, sensations I never knew and sights I never saw except with you.

“Let’s go”, you said that night, and so we walked off into our tempestuous future, wrapped in that cocoon of endless light and blazing dark. Laughing debates at 4 AM and books we read and things we did and places we went, everywhere wrapped in that invisible cloak of all lovers throughout all time, and what happened underneath that perfumed aura of light and deepening dark, no one knew and no one guessed.

I knew…I knew I needed you to take me there, I knew your need to go there, even when you raged, even when all the world never understood you, even when that fury included me, pushing all your red-alert buttons.

It was part of the thrill, part of our mutual electric charge, that challenge we kept throwing in each other’s face like a gauntlet, that tension that broke plates and smashed boundaries and ripped our pretenses apart.

All the sandalwood, all the vetiver, the amber, the musk and oakmoss, the vanilla and tobacco…all the potent, drydown promise of you could not, would not make me submit. I would not give you the upper hand, not give you the submission you craved, not give you anything but the one thing not even you dared demand. You knew what it would cost you, you knew what it would mean, you knew that if you and I took our story there, there could be no turning back. You were a man nothing could frighten, but the finality of that mutual surrender scared you, spooked you so badly you could only walk away because it was the only conclusion we could draw, the only place we had left to go.

Instead of that electric heat, all I felt was burning cold. The perfumed cocoon was ripped away and I stood shivering in the wind, trembling at your fury, shaking like the winter trees at your final, parting words, hissed between clenched teeth and flung into the wind the instant before you walked away.

So I thought and so I sat for most of an afternoon on my floor, holding these two black and silver beauties in my hands, telling me what I had wanted so badly to forget and obliterate, the haunting scented history of you and me, of the man unlike any, of that story I always knew and always will…

I can breathe us in any time I choose, feel your aura wrapped around me like a cloak in these two peerless bottles that read ‘Memoir Man’ and ‘Memoir Woman’.

You and me, baby…we happened.

Notes for Amouage ‘Memoir Man’:
Top: Absinth, wormwood, basil, mint
Middle: Rose, frankincense, lavender absolute
Base notes: Sandalwood, vetiver, gaiac wood, amber, vanilla, musk, oakmoss, light blonde tobacco

Disclosure: Sample provided by Amouage for review.

‘Memoir Man’ is available at Luckyscent, First in Fragrance, Alla Violetta Boutique, Les Senteurs and from the Amouage website.


For The Man who inspired it.

All in One

AMOUAGE WEEK June 20th-26th

A review – and a story – of Amouage ‘Memoir Woman’

Rumors had persisted for months in the publishing world in Paris, a persistent whisper that Madame’s memoirs would be published, that this or that publisher already had a copy of the manuscript and was preparing it in secrecy in time for her centennial birthday, and what those memoirs contained was anyone’s guess. It became a favorite dinner party game of the literati in Paris to conjure up stories of her fabled past, to wonder what she would say of this or that lover who would after go on to his fame and fortune in the arts. Would she be specific, give details, tell the stories no one knew and everyone wanted to hear?

He wasn’t old enough to care. All he could do on that chilly October day of rain and wind was to hurry toward the Rue des Grands Augustins and curse the fate that made his editor choose him to interview her, the only interview she had ever granted.

He knew of her. How could he not? Nothing in all of the arts of twentieth century Paris had occurred without her name in the mix somewhere, usually in an undertone that implied something slightly salacious and scandalous. A courtesan some said dismissively, a muse, a woman who had inspired painters and writers, playwrights and musicians and composers, a mistress of this or that household name. Always as the inspiration, never as a creator in her own right. So she had done everyone. Who cared? Men were so grateful, that couldn’t have been too hard.

Ah, there it was, the building with the Mariage Frères teashop on the corner, just as her housekeeper had said.

His first surprise was her housekeeper, a tiny Somali woman who eyed him and his leather jacket with a suspicious eye and an indifferent shrug. “You have come to speak with Madame,” she said. “She is expecting you. You are late.” Another look that took him in from top to toe, his wind-blown hair, the raindrops on his jacket that dripped on the carpet in the foyer.

He knew Madame had lived for nearly a hundred years, so he expected an overcluttered, over-furnished space full of porcelain figurines and lace doilies, all the detritus of a very long life very well-collected. There were none.

Instead, the foyer was painted in a luscious sienna tone, the furniture dark, polished woods that gleamed in the gray light of a Paris afternoon reflected in a Moroccan mirror on the wall, a bouquet of Casablanca lilies perfuming the room. There must have been over a hundred photos in all sizes, hung in symmetrical patterns on the walls, a large glamorous portrait of Madame as she must have looked in her heydey, a face to rival Garbo’s, yet there was no tragedy in these eyes, only a steely glint of intelligence. And something else. He peered closer. This young face had, so his mother would have said, the Devil in her eyes, a thousand laughs hiding in one dimple in her cheek.

Over there on his left, another photo, this one a long-gone day at the beach, laughing at the camera with a little boy wrapped in a towel, above it and all around it, impromptu snapshots of sun-drenched lunches, there was Picasso and Dora Maar, Hemingway smoking a cigar, Jean Cocteau with a bottle of wine and an impish grin on his face, goodness, was that Henry Miller, with that ecstatic grin that implied this was another free lunch?

The housekeeper snapped him out of his reverie. “Madame is waiting in the library.” She poked him in the back and pointed down the hall. “You are late.”

The library, the housekeeper had said, but this was like no library he had ever seen. As he crossed the threshold, he was assaulted – there could be no other word – by a perfume at once midnight-black and blinding white, and the room, goodness, the room. Overflowing bookcases from floor to ceiling and books stacked up on side tables, paintings, ornate Balinese shadow puppets and Dahomey masks, a lacquered Chinese screen and Japanese woodcut prints, a terrifying, lifelike wooden statue of Kali, jade sculptures and paintings by Braque, Picasso and Dali, a small white marble sculpture on the simple wooden desk that could only have been Brancusi in its exquisite purity of line, a leather sofa stuffed with silk brocade and velvet pillows and throws in every hue from scarlet to persimmon, Persian carpets piled three deep over each other and by the window, an armchair turned to the light beside a small table set with tea things and a cake plate on plain, white china.

“My library surprises you?” said a voice at once ancient and young. “Sit in this chair.” He saw a finger point. “You are late.”

“I am sorry, Madame,” he stammered as he moved across the room and those plush, thick rugs, “The rain…” A chair. Sit. Yes. He turned slightly in his seat to look, and there was Madame.

That disturbing perfume surrounded her like a veil and sent his senses reeling. He wasn’t used to women this old with this degree of notoriety, so he had not known what to expect, but this woman, wrapped in a paisley-embroidered shawl, was not what he expected. She looked simultaneously as ancient as some of her own books in their dilapidated leather covers and as young as he himself. She could have been a Sibyl in a Cumae temple, and she could have been an acolyte of nineteen. These were the eyes of a woman for whom life no longer held any secrets, yet life still made her laugh. That spark of mischief he had seen in that old portrait shot was still very much alive.

“So. You want to know. About my memoirs.”

“Well, Madame,” he stammered, “all of Paris is talking…” All his carefully thought-out questions slid out of his mind and scattered on the rug beneath his feet.

“All of Paris…all that Paris always does is talk and gossip. That will never change! What stories will I tell, what yarns will I spin of when Paris was another city and life was so very different? Who did I love, who did I disgrace, whose fortunes did I steal and whose lives have I ruined? You want to know?” She leaned forward, and again, he was caught helpless in that heady, haunting, spicy cloud of incense and leather, blinding black and dazzling white.

Instead of answering his question, she poured tea and pushed the cup across the table toward him. “Drink. You need to warm up. It is a cold day today.”

He was far too discombobulated to disobey. The tea was Lapsang Souchong, not his favorite kind.

“You want to know?” She sat back and gave him an appraising look. “All of them. I ruined …all of them. Do you want to know why?”

“Of course!” The answer was out of his mouth before he could think.

“Because they wanted me to. You…you are so naïve, you think as every generation does that the rules will not apply to you, that you will invent the world anew, and you always fail. History repeats itself. The patterns may change, but the colors never do. You are the ones with the right to know and demand passion, to reinvent love as you see fit. Once, I thought the same. Before I learned that secret all men who love women never want them to know, never trust them enough to tell them.”

“What secret, Madame?”

“All men…all the men I’ve loved and ruined in my day, all the ones I’ve known all my life…they all want to suffer, for having the luck and temerity to be male, for daring to rule the world. The truth is, they – even you – are helpless without us. Women give you life, women keep you in life, and if she plays her cards right, as surely I have, a woman can rule the world and anyone she desires, just from knowing that little secret.”

“Then why is it you have never married any of your lovers?” He added a lump of sugar and stirred his tea.

“Simple. Life is too short and too interesting to live from a cage. And I like my solitude, the order I created, the routines I have lived by. I have had…an interesting life. I have seen the wonders of the world, I have breathed the air of faraway places, and I have certainly not been bored. In a cage, I would have been bored to tears.” She shrugged, a very Parisian shrug of her shoulders that belied her age.

“Your name has been associated with so many artists, writers and creators, Madame. Have you always been the muse?”

“Is that what they are saying about me in Paris these days?” She laughed, a bawdy, carefree laugh that sounded all of eighteen and full of possibilities and hopes. It was such a contrast to that ancient and young, profound and profane face. “Young man…” She lifted an imperious eyebrow. “To inspire, I’ll have you know, means to breathe in. To transmute into thought and concept one gossamer idea. Trust me, I had many ideas. They simply found a fertile field where they could grow.”

“And many lovers.” He buried his burning face in his tea cup. It was her perfume, that haunting, heady scent of spice and power, fire and earth, light and dark that made him so bold. It had to be. It was like nothing he knew, like no one else. So rich and heady, so unapologetic and bold, so powerful, it was all he could do to even think.

“Yes. I enjoyed them all, you know. Not because of their fame, not because of their talent or what they could do for me. But because of who they were – as men. Unique. Some of them, I did love…for a time. Some…” Again, that bawdy laugh. “Not so much. I liked their money better.”

As she spoke, her face became softer, younger, it seemed to lose the years writ over her skin and he could see, or thought he could, the allure she once had held, the allure she had never lost, even now. For a moment, she seemed lost in a memory of a different time and space. Then she looked him right in the eyes, and again, he was struck by that blend of ancient wisdom and youthful laughter. They were separated by nearly three quarters of a century, yet behind those all-seeing eyes laughed a girl his own age.

“You are so young and so impatient.” Again that shrug, that potent perfumed waft of power, incense and earth, endless dark and blinding light. “You want to know my secret? I can give it away, since they are all long dead and gone. The perfect woman, the perfect dream of any man who ever loves, is to find that one who is all in one, all women in one woman, all of her darkness and all of that light…” he voice trailed off to a whisper and he had to lean forward to hear her. “ ‘She who dazzles like the dawn, she who comforts in the night…To hear the music of her breathing, and the perfume of her speech.’ No fool, Baudelaire. He knew.”

For a long and breathless moment, as the rain slid down the windowpanes, he could not even hear her breathe. All he could breathe in the quiet room, the low hum of Paris just outside her windows, was that perfume he knew now he would never, ever forget. Darkness and light, shadow and spice, flower and earth, it was both a remembrance and a visitation, a haunting and a redemption, power and passion, a passion that knew no time but its own.

She waved her hand toward the door. “You have your interview, I think. You can go. Tell the world. I doubt the world will care, as if it ever did. But once in another time and place, I cared as you do, and once as I burned, so do you. And as I am now…so every woman becomes.”

“But Madame, your memoirs…is it true that they will be published?”

As he waited by the door for her answer, he saw nothing but that twinkle in her eye. “Ah…you shall find out, soon enough.” She pointed and called out. “Anab! Show my guest out.”

“You never answered my questions!” he remembered to say.

“You never thought to ask!” she snapped. “ I answered all the questions you never dared to ask, the ones you really wanted answered. Now go. Anab!” She called again.

As he turned down the hall toward the foyer, he caught a last glimpse of her, a frail figure wrapped against the October chill in her paisley shawl, looking out the window at a past that only she could see, or was that a future only she could know?

He was writing his impressions down when the editor stopped by his desk with a parcel in his hands. “Have you heard it?”

He was confused to be snapped out of his train of thought, still breathing in that dizzying palimpsest of a perfume. “Heard what?”

“I just received a call. Madame died. It must have been right after you left. And strangely enough…He unwrapped the parcel. “I just received this…” he tore open the paper.

It was a book, a thick hardcover book, with Madame’s name on the cover, that same arresting photo he had seen in her foyer. Beneath that photo was one simple word, but it was enough.

It read: Memoir.

Notes of Amouage Memoir Woman, according to Basenotes:
Top: Mandarin, Cardamom, Absinth, Pink Pepper
Middle: Pepper, Clove, Opulent White blossoms, Rose, Jasmine, Precious Dark Woods, Frankincense
Base: Styrax, Oakmoss, Castoreum, Leather, Labdanum, Fenugreek, Musk

Disclosure: Sample provided for review by Amouage.

Photo of Gabrielle Sidonie Colette (used for illustrative purposes) by Irving Penn.
Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Tout entière’ by George Dillon, NY, 1936