The Know.

So there was this concept that Bob Fosse used to dance around, literally. His leading lady Ann Reinking called it "the Know". Drawn from the theater of Brecht (who dubbed it Verfremdungseffekte, "alienation effect"), the Know flattens every gesture, replacing passion with deliberation, empathy with distance. The Know hands you horror with a smirk; it plays a taunting rimshot -- Ba-dum-TCH! -- when the rug's pulled out from under you. It portrays all tragedy as comedy and all comedy as cruelty. There's nothing noble in suffering. Just showbiz.

I was gone; where did I go? I was getting to know the Know.

Here is everything I wrote before, during, and after, for whatever it is worth. The way things are going, someday I might forget I wrote it or where I put it. I figure I'd better leave it where someone else might find it. If it gets in your way, I beg your pardon; if it gives you something to laugh at or think about, I'll be content that it wasn't all in vain.

My thanks to JC, DC, Suzanne, JoanElaine, BloodyFrida, Carol of WAFT, Ari, Blacknall, Patty, Olfacta and Olfactoria, Montmorency, Natalie, Vanessa, Undina, Colleen, Lisa, Nan, Toni, KV, Glynis, and Miss Mary, all of those who showed me so much generosity, forbearance, and friendship along the road. Strangely, I must also thank Mephisto. Even if he is one of the reasons I stopped, he is also the reason I started. And always, I thank my husband, who knows me and my nose best.

November 11, 2015

Lucky me.

Last week on Friday morning, I wore Cabochard-- just a tiny bit, applied in the same spirit that drives me to drink coffee to start the morning. And then I ended up in the emergency room.

Hospitals smell like decay. There is no escaping that fact. Spend any time in one, whether as a patient or as a visitor, and you walk away with an unmistakeable odor clinging to your clothes and the insides of your nostrils, a sweet, fetid stench that makes you queasy and uneasy in a way that's hard to shake.

For two days after my ER adventure, I felt deeply, viscerally nauseated-- sick not just to my stomach but to the roots of my existence. I couldn't eat; hell, I couldn't even think of food without wanting to vomit. My body smelled strange to me; I kept sniffing my skin, distressed at its deathly odor. I felt infected, invaded, colonized by molecules of hospital air. Not even a hot, soapy shower could expunge its miasma.

And I couldn't bear the slightest whiff of Cabochard. How do you like that?

Every perfumista fears losing their favorite perfume to tragic circumstance. You hear about it all the time. An unpleasant shock, a traumatic accident, a prolonged illness occurs-- and the fragrance you happened to be wearing at that time instantly becomes unbearable, off-limits, relegated forevermore to the realm of bad memories. You didn't want it to happen, but now your comfort scent, your courage scent, your signature scent is a symbol of anxiety and pain. Could anything short of the life crisis itself be any more distressing?

But this morning, I felt better. I drank my cup of coffee and kept it down. And I picked up my hairbrush (always kept liberally scented with Cabochard) and gave it a tentative sniff.

Good lord, it was heavenly.  That's when I knew that everything was going to be all right, including me.

The last perfume.

Today I picked up my new bifocals and realized that there is no going back. I'm forty-six years old. Irreversible things are afoot. My eyesight is failing. My gums are receding. Threads of silver run through the red of my hair. My brain tumor proceeds apace; I have trouble talking, typing, spelling words correctly, and remembering things. With every passing month, my ovaries tell me with increasing stridency that they're tired and would like to stop now. So would I.

I've given it some thought and come to a conclusion: I've gone about as far with perfume as I want to go. I have what I need, and I love what I have. The search, the insatiable desire to acquire and experience more, has run itself out. The neverending has ended. So I asked myself, if I could have just one more bottle to add to the Scent Cabinet -- an earth-shattering bottle, a drop-dead divine bottle -- which would I choose? But the only reason I asked the question was because I already knew the answer. I just wanted to say its name.

So after leaving the optometrist's, I drove over to the Mall and got me some Dior Dune. I'm serious, I just plonked down my credit card and walked out of Macy's swinging a little bag. I figure I can swallow my first-ever pair of bifocals with some heavenly, sunlit ambergris-and-ocean-breeze to wash it down. The matter-of-fact speed of the whole transaction -- I want it. Do you have it? I'll take it. -- was exhilarating, as was the not-unreasonable-but-also-not-quite-sensible amount I spent to experience that thrill. (Am I becoming a reckless spendthrift in my dotage? Who gives a good goddamn? Another benefit of getting old: any salty quip can pop out of your mouth, and they can't put you in the penalty box until you're really, TRULY done playing.)

There's no fragrance in the world quite like Dune, and now I have enough to wear until the wheels fall off. Finis.

Gender bender.

Women in close workplace quarters can be either supportive or contemptuous of one another depending on the weather, the temperature, the time of day, or (sad but true!) the time of the month. Unless one turns to extraordinary means to avoid them, personality clashes are inevitable... yet everyone fawns and fusses over our male colleague no matter what the conditions. Hm! How to tap into that without subverting the whole planet?

Today I wore Or Black by Pascal Morabito. Cloaking myself in a scent that triggers an instinctive recognition of "maleness" was both an experiment and a risk. How would all these women react to my olfactory disguise? Favorably, as it happens. Opinions on my fragrance included words like clean, comforting, reassuring.  I didn't attract a single snide comment all day. In fact, my coworkers seemed more impelled than usual to engage me in small talk or seek my opinion. At the end of the day -- holy moley! -- they all pitched in to help me with closing procedures.  All because I smelled like a man!?

Normally I don't give much credence to the concept of gendered perfume, but this -- along with the disrespect I get when I wear an girly "pushover" perfume -- leads me to think there's more to psychology, sexism, and scent than I believed.

Parfum du Jour: Ô de Lancôme (Lancôme)

Why wear it? For good old spritzy fun on a day which is no fun at all, meteorologically speaking. Right now it's pushing ninety, dishearteningly humid, and so bright it feels as though the sun itself is giving us the stink-eye.  Later (if the weather forecaster isn't fibbing) we'll have violent thunderstorms, high winds, and the possibility of a tornado. A tornado. Spritz now or forever end up in Oz.

What does it do? It cools skin on contact, for a start. Then an aura of lemony-freshness settles down all around me, and instantly I feel less sticky and sluggish. A zing of green basil increases the overall happy, while the drydown is a nice, dry vetiver. Let me have just one more spritz, and I'll be well on my way to surviving 'til five.

How do I feel? Rather apprehensive about that whole tornado thing. I can't help thinking about the massive old oak tree in our neighbor's yard-- fifty feet high, I'll wager. With every brisk breeze, I find myself straying to the kitchen window to stare out at it and nibble nervously on my fingernails. If a microburst brought the giant down, where would it land?

Panthère de Cartier Original Parfum (Cartier)

Launched in 1986 and (if you will excuse my phraseology, which I admit may be as tasteless as this perfume) put to sleep in the mid-1990s, Panthère follows in the footsteps of Poison and Giorgio, both supremely rude perfumes with no respect for pedestrian noses. Backed up with syrupy peach and a chokingly thick sandalwood, this massive tuberose tyrant refuses to be ignored. It's too big for its britches, its bottle, the room, and maybe even the planet. It creates an atmosphere so impenetrable that Reagan could have used it for the Strategic Defense Initiative. Giant asteroids bounce off of it and ricochet right back into space.

This is a perfume that fires its entire staff on Christmas Eve. This is a perfume that heaves a crystal paperweight at your head and screams, You LOOK at me when I'm talking to you. This is a perfume that owns 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags, and 1,060 pairs of shoes. This is a perfume that backs dictators and arms rogue nations at a profit. This is a perfume on trial in absentia for crimes against humanity. This perfume hasn't just violated the Clean Air Act-- it's condemned under the Geneva Protocol for its use of chemical warfare.

Don't misunderstand me-- I kinda-sorta enjoyed being in its clutches for twenty-four hours or so, until I found a bar of soap powerful enough to tame it.  It has charisma in spite of itself.  But clearly Panthère is not meant for everyone. You really have to ask yourself if you're wicked enough to merit it-- and if you are, god help us all.

Scent Elements: Peach, coriander, mace, tuberose, karo karounde, jasmine, gardenia, marigold, rose, heliotrope, carnation, ylang-ylang, oakmoss, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, amber, vanilla, tonka bean, civet, musk

Parfum du Jour: The Afternoon of a Faun (État Libre d'Orange)

Why wear it? For its complex, mercurial, tumultuous nature, ideal for a day of thunderstorms and torrential rain.

What does it do? It commences with a peal of rosy geranium -- a note I most often equate with courage, but which I am now forced to reframe in my own perception as the aroma of carnal passion. This tricksy sprite of a scent surrounds itself with moody suede and moss, which causes its piquant nature to seem even more intense and fiery in contrast. The immediate effect is to evoke cries of "You smell delicious! DELICIOUS!!" from one's coworkers.  How often does that happen?

How do I feel? Very self-congratulatory for having purchased such a sizable decant.  If I can, I may even invest in a full bottle the next time I happen through Bergdorf Goodman.  Throw in a bottle of Like This for makeweight, and you've got yourself a deal.

Parfum du Jour: Réglisse Noire (1000 Flowers)

Why wear it? Because for something predicated on one of the world's stickiest and most dense confections, Réglisse Noire is as sheer as voile and as cooling as the fine mist thrown off by an epic waterfall.

What does it do? Initially, it really, really, really makes me mourn for Callard & Bowser licorice toffees (a sweet enjoyed by the British side of my family and oft-lamented now that it's no longer available stateside). But at some point, Réglisse Noire takes a subversive little turn into patchouli territory, landing on something akin to Lucien Lelong Tailspin, only sweeter and more transparent. And you know how I feel about Tailspin in weather as hot as we're having today, so... Call this a double triumph, for licorice and all its lovers.

How do I feel? Oh, so relaxed and composed in my veil of soft, anisic tranquility.

Parfum du Jour: L'Heure Fougueuse (Cartier)

Why wear it? Because Annick Goutal's Duel is still fresh in my mind, and I crave some more of that strange, horse-pasture-meets-teatime scent that is yerba maté.

What does it do? It evokes a luminous melancholy that is difficult to describe. I offered my wrist for Nan to sniff, and she said, "At first it was love, and then all of a sudden it turned to sadness." I agreed and added that it invariably reminds me of a moody black-and-white art film that disturbs the mind, dazzles the eye, and tugs at the heart.

How do I feel? Very satisfied myself, but I do wonder what others around me make of my scent. It does smell a mite horsey-- which of course I love, but which might cause another to do a double-take.

Parfum du Jour: Réplique Spray Mist (Raphael)

Why wear it? It's luscious, luscious, luscious! I snapped up this vintage marvel at the Columbus Antiques Mall-- a full bottle, and a good thing too, because I cannot seem to stop spraying. Precious is the perfume that compels you to reapply every hour or so for the fun of it, yet is so sheer and unobtrusive that no one around you catches on.

What does it do? It takes the original Réplique theme (green bergamot over green herbs over green leather) and boosts the bergamot up to heavenly heights. That clary sage note is no slouch, either-- resulting in the driest version of Réplique I have yet to encounter, ideal for stormy, humid early-summer days.

How do I feel? Very confident. Each re-spritz gives my mood a noticeable boost without undermining the effect with an overstrong sillage. When I ask for more, my flacon answers, "Say when." Une réplique si bien parlée.

Jules (Dior)

I think I understand now why certain perfume blog readers (and writers!) get so bent out of shape when you review a discontinued classic. It's unfair, they say, to get a person all fired up about a fragrance and then leave them out in the cold. Why torment us with lush descriptions of what we can't have? they complain. If we can't go right out and buy it, why review it at all?

Maybe they're right. I always thought it was my prerogative to review whatever the hell I wanted, and damn your rules. But wearing Jules, I can see now how frustrating it might be. Because Jules has vanished from these parts-- relegated to some bucket list of shy and elusive species, like the dwarf cassowary or the ghost orchid. And its comeliness makes its flight from the shelves of non-Parisian stockists that much more intolerable.

In the wunderkammer of perfume specimens, Jules joins Eau Sauvage, Caron Yatagan, and Pascal Morabito Black in a little drawer helpfully labeled "Fougères - Animalic (Sharp/Filthy)". This would differentiate it from those comforting barbershop fougères which are more tonka-heavy, or the zesty sort of fougère which relies mainly on aromatic herbs and pale blue or green coloring to suggest "freshness". The fragrances in this drawer are all sex and leather-- and Jules, with its sage-and-cumin suggestiveness, is the rarest of them all. And also the most beautiful.

The teaser has become the teased. Serves me right.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, basil, artemisia, lavender, sage, cumin, cyclamen, jasmine, rose, cedar, sandalwood, amber, tonka bean, oakmoss, leather, castoreum, musk

Duel (Annick Goutal)

Remember Tirador, that bespoke scent I envisioned for Viggo Mortensen? This is it, or as close to it as I'm ever going to get.

As I envisioned it, Tirador would incorporate notes of tobacco, maté, sweetgrass, sage, and animalic leather to be worn by a travel-worn outdoorsman (hell, let's call him Aragorn son of Arathorn). Duel takes maté to the red carpet by introducing it to elegant iris and absinthe-- and yet, it's still strangely redolent of time spent in the saddle. That it reminds me strongly of Cartier's L'Heure Fougueuse is no accident; it clearly provided inspiration.

So Duel is the perfume of my bespoke dream-- at least the press junket version. It's tailored to more formal standards but still has a uniquely lived-in quality, like a made-to-measure suit that does not sacrifice cut, fabric or fit for plain old indispensable comfort. That's why you've worn that suit for years. It looks as new on you as it did when it really was.

Scent Elements: Yerba maté absolute, petitgrain, iris, absinthe, guaiac, leather, musk

Cumming: The Fragrance (CB I Hate Perfume)

It does not smell peaty.
It does not smell boozy.
It does not smell heathery.
It does not smell woodsy.
It does not smell rubbery.
It does not smell leathery.
It does not smell tobaccoey.
It does not smell earthy.
It does not smell fiery.
It does not smell truffly.
It does not smell risky.
It does not smell sexy.
It does not smell transgressive.
It smells like YSL La Nuit de l'Homme, which I really like, but which I can buy at the Macy's near my house.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, black pepper, Scotch pine, malt whiskey, cigar, heather, Douglas fir, worn leather, Highland mud, peat fire, white truffle. All of which I think is a load of crap. Aye, ah do!

Parfum du Jour: Eau d'Hadrien (Annick Goutal)

Why wear it? It's a dry citrus. A very dry citrus. A triple-sec citrus. So if you (like me) have a temporary aversion to moisture on account of insane recent rainfall totals, this one will hand you no dew-drops.

What does it do? With tart, peppery notes of cypress and grapefruit mingled with sour lemon, Eau d'Hadrien puts the pith in perfume. I love bitter tastes, so it should follow that a bitter smell would be attractive to me. Side note: I could swear there's a rose hiding somewhere in that lemon grove, but it may be a mirage conjured from all those sharp essences.

How do I feel? Rather sunny today, as my spouse and I hit the road for an afternoon of thrifting. Sometimes it's a bust and sometimes it's must; for us it was the latter. My clothing find of the day: an official Beastie Boys shirt from their last tour before MCA passed away. It had never been worn (in fact, the price tag was still attached!) and it came in green, my favorite color. My book finds of the day: a brand new, pristine copy of Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey (I snapped it up before it had even been priced!) and a biography of E.M. Forster that I never knew existed. I also scored a glass bowl in which I hope to display my 1ml. perfume samples once I convince the Grist Mill to let me consign them. Wish me luck.

Épices Marine (Hermès)

Hermès Épices Marine is a sent-bon, a good smell. Light and unassuming, breezy and bright, it sits on skin nicely and sends up pleasing little puffs of citrus and salt air for an hour or two. It is not even slightly original, but something tells me it wouldn't be a sent-bon if it were. It reminds you, and to do so, it must be a reflection of things other than itself.

I don't smell any roasted spices, whiskey or smoke in Épices Marine. I do smell citrus, salt, seaweed, and vetiver, but in no very innovative combination. Like Tauer Incense Extrême, Heeley Sel Marin, and Histoires de Parfums 1828 Jules Verne, Épices Marine is simply a pleasure to wear. I don't need any other reason to enjoy it, so I will resist the urge to read anything into it-- or to bemoan that which it lacks.

Let other songs of the sea be sung. This glad beauty is merely made to hum.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mint, roasted cumin, pimiento, Sichuan pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, algae, smoke, salt, oakmoss, vetiver, whiskey accord

Parfum du Jour: Capricci (Nina Ricci)

Why wear it? It's hot and dry outside, requiring a blast of arctic archness from the land of aldehydes and oakmoss. Plus, Capricci is my favorite Nina Ricci thus far, so time spent with a friend -- however stern and forbidding -- is always enjoyable. I'm on my second application of the day and feeling well pleased.

What does it do? Capricci looks directly at the sun, and the sun begins to sweat. Where she walks, flowers grow in her footprints-- but also frost, so mind your manners.

How do I feel? Generally relaxed. I sampled a taste of freedom this Memorial Day weekend, which included burgers and corn-on-the-cob (obligatory) and a jaunt to the movie theater to see Mad Max: Fury Road (entirely voluntary. Tom Hardy blows shit up, you say? I am so there). Now I'm two days away from a nine-day vacation during which I'll be running at full throttle along several different (but complementary) tracks. My job hunt will begin in earnest, as will a round of heavy housecleaning. I've just started a diet/exercise program in the hopes of replacing ten pounds of fat with lean muscle. I have goals to achieve, resources to marshal, and eyes to keep on the prize. Like a tough-but-fair coach, Capricci puts the starch in my resolve; when I think I might falter, she's there to inform me that quitting is out of the question.

Parfum du Jour: Evening in Paris (Bourjois)

Why wear it? For the thrill of it! Oh, how glad I was to be reintroduced to this exquisite floral ode to romance. My first meeting was facilitated by my friend Teija, who gifted me with a 1950's-era vintage bottle filled with pristine jus. I loved it from the first. What's more, I admired its principles. Despite its dimestore provenance, Evening in Paris offered all the women in the world a chance to feel like women of the world... for less than ten dollars.

What does it do? In less than an hour, it modulates from newly-poured champagne to a stroll along the Seine to satin sheets entwined around well-satisfied lovers. Lay the blame (or the accolades, if you prefer) at the feet of aldehydes, tilleul, and powder-soft styrax.

How do I feel? Glorious; elegant; enveloped by grace. Really! I mean it!

A bizarre bouquet.

While wading through the Scent Cabinet to cull out consignables, I came across all those Olympic Orchids that Colleen sent me ever so long ago. And once again, I ended up berating myself for not giving them a fair chance even though I know precisely where that will get me-- nursing an exquisite migraine from that frighteningly powerful synthetic wood accord that must be perfumer Ellen Covey's go-to base. So This is IT, I promise. All but the final two vials have gone into the huge pile of 1ml. samples I've culled for a trip to the Grist Mill. I'm thinking that 25¢ apiece or five for a dollar is a fair asking price; at any rate, they'll become someone else's headache instead of mine.

A strange tropical fruity floral reminiscent of Sweet Anthem’s Roslin, but not as good. Opens on an intense, almost sickening fruit jam accord halfway between papaya and pineapple, then trails off into sweet smoke. Not novel enough to be worth it.

Scent Elements: Tuberose, pineapple, vanilla

This modern reconstruction of Egypt’s sacred incense is flat, waxy, and linear—evoking furniture polish more than ancient ceremony. After lending skin a brief, spicy topcoat, it proves quick to fade—no tragedy, since this is essentially an unattractive fragrance best left to the Ptolemaic Dynasty, or whatever’s left of it.

Scent Elements: Frankincense, myrrh, labdanum, calamus, beeswax, spices

"Pine Tree" Scratch ‘n’ Sniff, and a stunted example at that.

Scent Elements: Ponderosa pine, juniper, sagebrush, wildflower accord

Olympic Rainforest
For a fragrance predicated on one of the wettest woodlands in North America, Olympic Rainforest is a mighty dry article—but its weirdness marks it as a likely occupant of the Seattle-Portland circuit. Where else could evergreen boughs and fresh-picked morels intersect with Vicks Vap-O-Rub—and make it work? This is Arizona done right—with a sense of humor.

Scent Elements: Cedar, ferns, rhododendron, cepes, oakmoss, wildflower accord

Bay Rum
Owing to its proximity to parts Caribbean, the East Coast is awash with bay rum fragrances—which is why a reinterpretation by a Westerner is so refreshing. Ellen Covey’s Bay Rum is a savory delight with a pronounced (and very proper) cinnamon note and a good plug of salted butter melting away in that sweet hot rum. (Remember, the Pacific Northwest has its ports of call!) Bay Rum’s balance and persistence make it the most effective fragrance of the whole lot; its handsomeness is the reason it’s the only one I would wear again—and if I had a full bottle, I might empty it.

Scent Elements: Bay rum, rum accord, laurel, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, orange blossom, citrus, Javanol (synthetic sandalwood), balsams

Parfum du Jour: Ligaea la Sirena (Carthusia)

Why wear it? Because the very last of it is about to evaporate from the spray vial, churning up a wake of salty tears.

What does it do? It smells more -- a LOT more -- like Shalimar than I remember. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't pick up on the resemblance sooner. In previous wearings, it reminded me of Etro Vicolo Fiori and Jean Nate, and with good reason.  All four fragrances embody the sum of a single equation: lemon plus thyme plus opopanax equals pure sunshine.

How do I feel? Cheered up during a time of local mourning: it's Memorial Day Weekend once again. Traffic is up, internet speed is down, and idiocy looms over the same horizon whence originates that stream of luggage-laden cars we all know and despise. Calm and lovely, Ligaea la Sirena responds to all of this hullabaloo by swimming further out to sea, where the noise and rudeness cannot touch her. (Take me with you, I beg!)

De Profundis (Serge Lutens)

In E. M. Forster's Howards End, Margaret Schlegel brings "a sheaf of tawny chrysanthemums" to her friend Ruth Wilcox's funeral. They didn't ought to have coloured flowers at buryings, a young cemetery worker muses. But he can't help it: he feels compelled to pluck a blossom and take it home to his lady love.

The chrysanthemums trigger a similar ambivalence for the the grieving Wilcox children. By custom of the country, only white flowers may bedeck a grave; hence Miss Schlegel's colorful Trauerstrauß offends British propriety and pride. Surprisingly, their newly widowed father defends Miss Schlegel: The flowers-- certainly we should not have sent such flowers, but they may have seemed the right thing to her...

This minute shift of Mr. Wilcox's sympathy outside the tribe proves the thin edge of the wedge. Within a year, he will marry Margaret. Like it or not, life goes on. Margaret in particular is sensitive to this fact:
A funeral is not death, any more than baptism is birth or marriage union... (Ruth Wilcox) had gone out of life vividly, her own way, and no dust was so truly dust as the contents of that heavy coffin, lowered with ceremonial until it rested on the dust of the earth, no flowers so utterly wasted as the chrysanthemums that the frost must have withered before morning... (Margaret) saw a little more clearly than hitherto what a human being is, and to what he may aspire. Truer relationships gleamed. Perhaps the last word would be hope--hope even on this side of the grave.
True-- and this is why I choose a riotously colorful mental image of chrysanthemums to represent Serge Lutens' De Profundis. The name of this perfume derives from Psalm 130 (From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord) but also hearkens to Oscar Wilde's prison missive of the same title (A pillory is a terrific reality... and to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing). The choice of notes -- chrysanthemums, incense, earth -- are meant to evoke mourning. Yet the perfume, in its finished form, does not. It says, Vita mutatur, non tollitur-- life is changed, not taken away. Flowers still grow, even atop a grave.

I own a full bottle of Arabie, and that's all; up to now, no other Lutens/Sheldrake creation ever tempted me to "go big". I've idly toyed with the idea of buying a large decant -- say fifteen milliliters -- of Un Bois Vanille or Fille en Aiguilles, but I've never acted on this impulse, so it can't be serious. But De Profundis gripped me so quickly, so completely, as to force my hand. I've worn it three days in a row, growing to love it more and more with each sunset that passes. I spray repeatedly to reexperience that one-two punch of bitter chrysanthemum flowers and freshly-broken green stems; then I go to bed and pillow my cheek on warm hair that smells of frankincense and flouve.

A "bell jar" flacon of De Profundis costs $300, which places it well out of my reach. It's ample cause for mourning... but every time I think De Profundis has breathed its last sigh, the idea of that decant resurrects itself. It reminds me that heaven is here on earth, not in some far-off afterlife where one's credit card is no good.

Scent Elements: Chrysanthemum, violet, lily, chamomile, peony, greens, incense, earth accord, hay, woods

Parfum du Jour: Amanda (Amanda Lepore)

Why wear it? It's gone, baby, gone-- an original and curiously affecting perfume, now nearly extinct. Completely eclipsed by its namesake's reputation for glitz and glamour, this unlikely comfort scent composed of bready iris, sweet tangerine, and cooked-rice steam is the last thing anyone would expect from a Manhattan socialite. But there you have it (or rather, had it). With scarcely a sixteenth of an inch of fragrance left in the sprayer, I declare that I have enjoyed every atom of Amanda Lepore, and I'd do her all over again if I could.

What does it do? It enfolds you against its ample breast, murmuring soothing syllables to drive the tears away. After inhaling my sillage, an enraptured library colleague practically dragged every person in the office over to huff my wrists. All agreed that Amanda was a calming, comforting presence-- and honey, we need us some of that-all.

How do I feel? Wistful to see Amanda go. Amouage Opus I, Hermès L'Ambre des Merveilles EdP, and Les Néréides Opopanax are all extremely compassionate fragrances, but I like a bit of strangeness with my solace. The closest thing to Amanda I can think of is Daliflor by Parfums Salvador Dalí. Just days ago, a tidal wave of organizational fever compelled me to put my bottle of Daliflor in the box of fragrances destined for consignment. But now I know that's simply impossible. I may not be able to get my hands on Amanda again -- at $900 a bottle, she's no cheap date -- but at least I can keep her memory alive with a less expensive cousin.

Escape (Calvin Klein)

I pick up the purse spray to study its simplicity-- the clear, fluted glass, the columnar silver cap. I hold it to the light and admire the color of the jus-- sherry, citrine, Baltic amber. I turn it over to look at the manufacturer's sticker. Calvin Klein Escape, it reads. I pull off the cap, sniff the spray nozzle, and recoil in horror. Calone, I thought. That cucumber-and-acetylene-torch odor that works my nerves like nails scraping against sheet metal.

According to Luca Turin, that's a good thing. Apparently, the reworked version is pitiful. This one is not, and it takes some doing to induce me to say it, for I have never, never, I repeat, NEVER been able to stand calone at any strength. Even when it's not alone.

Various notes I've seen listed for Escape include lychee, mandarin, apple, peach, plum, apricot, bergamot, blackcurrant, coriander, clove, chamomile, rose, muguet, iris, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, carnation, jasmine, rosewood, cedar, sandalwood, oakmoss, amber, musk, and vanilla. Impressive, but improbable-- unless more is less instead of the other way around. My nose pares the roster down to only the things it can actually detect-- reductive, I know, but I trust its judgment implicitly. It says calone, lychee, peach, coriander, cyclamen, cedar, vanilla, and (white) musk. Done.

I'm astounded to find myself capable of such a thing, but I enjoyed wearing Escape today. Past the cantaloupe-and-sledgehammer opening, there's an blessedly pale and subtle fruity-floral with a salutary hint of sea salt and cilantro. I'd wear it again. (What is HAPPENING to me!?)

Scent Elements: Calone, lychee, peach, coriander, cyclamen, muguet, cedar, vanilla, white musk

Parfum du Jour: The Scout

Why wear it? Since I first wrote about the Undercover Angels more than two years ago, I've hardly worn The Scout at all. I only recently dug it up from the depths of the Scent Cabinet and figured I ought to give it another go before I consign it to the sample bin at the Grist Mill.

What does it do? Stops planets in their orbit? Bench-presses the Verrazano Bridge? Whatever its talents, subtlety isn't one of them. It's much stronger and farther-reaching than I remember. (Did I really once consider this delicate?) I only spritzed twice, and it has annexed the atmosphere of this entire room and made all breathable air its bitch. If it only consisted of the pretty, sparkling tea-lemon-rose accord that first greets the nose, all would end well. But beneath that, there lurks a fiendishly powerful (and surprisingly masculine) musk that never, ever says "uncle" (though I eventually might). These two halves somehow make more than a whole. They're like a pair of conjoined twin giants who, contrary to their mighty stature, are perfectly behaved and polite... for now. The unspoken menace they project is centered on the thought that someday they might quarrel-- and on that day, God help us all.

How do I feel? Like taking a long, steamy, and very thorough shower with a can of Bon-Ami.

Vitriol d’Œillet (Serge Lutens)

All right, I was Googling Necco® Wafers (like you do) to confirm the alignment of colors and flavors. The official combinations are lemon/yellow, lime/green, orange/orange (obviously), cinnamon/white, wintergreen/pink, licorice/black (rather, chalky grey) chocolate/brown (rather, a strange mauve-tinted tan), and clove/purple. (Personally, I would have swapped the colors for cinnamon and wintergreen, but it's not my place to interfere.) Now, as always, the clove wafers are my favorite kind. I could refer to them as "carnation" wafers, since both cloves and carnations derive their spicy quality from eugenol. (Not for nothing are wild carnations called "clove pinks".)

Eugenol intersects well with rose, geranium, anise, violet, pepper (pink or black), cinnamon and other "hot" spices. Serge Lutens' Vitriol d’Œillet (roughly, Carnation Rage) contains many of these, plus a curious incense-smoke note that sends me right to church. Or maybe it sends me right to this absolutely hilarious blog post by Kitty Lapin Agile, who makes a startling observation which (once you get used to it) seems as though it's been obvious all along: Necco® Wafers strongly resemble communion wafers. Sweet sacrilege! Enter Picasa's image-tinkering tools, and there you have it: violet holy wafers to appease a violent-sounding perfume.

Let Serge Lutens himself describe the smackdown your nose is about to receive:
Je vais tout vous dire mon enfant : prenez un œillet, du poivre de Cayenne en quantités suffisante ma foi. Enfoncez le bien, au centre de lui-même par des clous de girofle puis, avant de passer à l’acte, pour conclure, augmentez cela d’une paire de gifles offerte par la giroflée. (Listen, my child, and I will tell you everything. Take a carnation and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper. Firmly drive it into the very center, using the "nails" of a clove. Before committing the final act of violence, let wallflower throw in a few punches.)
Whoop! That's some back-alley prizefight you're running there, Uncle Serge. He continues:
No more ghostly than a train, nor more sudden than death, nor quicker than the opening of a grave, my vitriol is distilled from carnations. After a moment of hesitation, the carnation -- alias the clove pink -– is what I am in every sense: this fragrance fraught with anger is my riposte. Its petals, laced with tiny teeth, hold out the solution: a burst of fragrant spikes... Yet the carnation is an obsessive and intrepid flower. When it doesn’t bloom on market stalls and in open fields in southern France, the carnation -– blood red, as if bitten by a dapper criminal with a fox-like smile -– perishes.
Thenceforth follows a rather lurid description of a film noir heroine meeting a gruesome fate. I don't want to see her come to a bad end; I'd rather she summon up the moxie to belt her shadowy adversary upside his head. Hard. But if a hint is wanted, she's not likely to get it from Vitriol d’Œillet.

Despite the provocation inherent in both its brief and its name, Vitriol d’Œillet is not a very forceful fragrance. It's no Poivre. It's no Parfum Sacre, nor a Sacrebleu. It's not even Bellodgia, bless its heart. It's a meek, hazy, charming little confection with absolutely no injurious designs on the wearer. From its elusive violet incense opening, it meanders into a typical carnation accord whose complementary peppercorn blend is unexpectedly bright and fruity. From there, it's soft, dry, Grey-Flannel-esque woods all the way down.

I envision Vitriol d’Œillet folding its little white-gloved hands nicely during Sunday Mass... and perhaps surreptitiously enjoying a sweet or two during the homily. No vitriol. Not a particle. But purple Necco® Wafers? An ample supply.

Scent Elements: Clove, nutmeg, black pepper, pink pepper, cayenne, œillet (carnation), wallflower, lily, ylang-ylang, woods

Flèches d'Or (Lancôme)

Today at the Grist Mill, I snapped up that vintage Lancôme Flèches d'Or mini I'd noticed on my last visit. (I also took home those aforementioned PdT minis of Coty L'Origan and Le Galion Sortilège, AND added in purse-sized perfume sprays of Revlon Intimate and Calvin Klein Escape. I mean, I'm not made of STONE.) Of course, when I went online to look up Flèches d'Or, I came across one of Cleopatra's flanker Boudoir blogs. Suppressing a grin, I clicked.

What did I learn? That Lancôme released Flèches d'Or in 1957; that its original flacon was designed by Georges Delhomme and manufactured by Verrières de la Bresle; that its notes included rose, jasmine, anise, cloves, and galbanum. Not much more. The post seemed uncharacteristically terse by Cleopatra standards, so next I visited The Vintage Perfume Vault, where Amelia... quoted Cleopatra. (Cue concealed grin #2.)

So anyway. Flèches d'Or was preceded by Flèches (1938), a typical floral arrangement consisting of rose, violet, lilac, and vanilla. Sounds like the precursor to YSL Paris, oui? By contrast, Flèches d'Or (Golden Arrows) is a spicy, tempestuous thing, more akin to L'Heure Bleue or L'Origan (I should know; I had a reference sample of the latter on hand to conduct an impromptu sniff test). I do smell bergamot, anise, and a powdery dried rose; while Cleo's notes list features cloves (the spice), I smell clove pinks (the flower), so I guess we'll split the difference. The dusky floral heart slowly gears down into a blurry chypre completely lacking in animalic qualities. But then, L'Origan and L'Heure Bleue end that way too-- on a bed of moss sans musk.

Scent Elements: Lemon, bergamot, verbena, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, carnation, lavender, anise, cardamom, galbanum, vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli, musk

Neroli (Attar Bazaar)

The species Citrus x aurantium is a veritable one-stop shop when it comes to flavor and fragrance. Itself a hybrid of pomelo (Citrus maxima) and mandarin (Citrus reticulata), it encompasses a host of subspecies and varieties in turn.

The peel of the otherwise inedible laraha (var. currassuviencis) is used for one purpose only: to produce Curaçao. The fruit of the myrtle-leaved orange (var. myrtifolia) flavors the popular Italian soft drink chinotto. Pectin-rich Seville oranges (var. bigaradia) are preferred for making marmalade, while their peel oil (known as bigarade) acts as a bittering agent in both mixed drinks and fragrance. The dried zest of the Asian sour orange (var. daidai) is eaten as a digestive tonic, while its flowers are used to sweeten black tea. Also used as a tea flavorant is bergamot (Citrus bergamia), a hybrid of bitter orange and sweet lime trees.

But the real main event is true bitter orange (subsp. amara), whose contribution to the olfactory and gustatory arts remains unmatched. Alembicate its leaves and twigs, and you end up with petitgrain oil, zesty and terpenous. Cold-express the peel of its fruit, and you end up with a singularly intense bigarade-- or better yet, steep the peel in cognac, and you're sipping Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Subject bitter orange blossoms to solvent extraction or enfleurage, and you have orange blossom absolute, airy and uplifting. Steam-distill them, and you end up with two products: orange flower water (the heart-and-soul of baklava syrup!) and an essential oil known as neroli (after the 17th century Princess of Nerola, Anne-Marie de la Tremouille de Noirmontier-- an early adopter of this heavenly scent element).

Attar Bazaar lets customers choose the four free samples that come with every order. In response to my request, they sent me about a quarter-milliliter of natural neroli oil. I realize now that I should have just heaved caution out the window and sprung for a full dram. After all, it only costs $8.95-- a pittance for so intense a pleasure.

I've encountered neroli in so many fragrances by now, we ought to be beyond the 'hail-well-met' and handshake stage. But I've never smelled it neat before, and now that it's on my wrists, I can't stop bending my head down for another stealthy sniff. Whereas the effect of buoyant orange blossom is mostly a matter of altitude, neroli adds heft and spin to the aerial dynamic. Fruitier, waxier, darker, and more honeyed than its counterpart, it's a complicated scent that lends purpose and staying power to a scent that would otherwise merrily disperse in all directions.

If another Attar Bazaar order is in order, I'll go for that full dram (as well as one of India Musk Connoisseur, to be reviewed here once I regain consciousness). Let summer rev its engines. With Neroli, I'll be road-ready.

Scent Elements: Nothing but what it says on the label.

Lotus Blossom (Attar Bazaar)

Attar Bazaar's Lotus Blossom is simultaneously a Big White Floral and a Little Nothing. It packs a syrupy-sweet wallop of your usual tropical white flowers, with gardenia way out in front. But grand, impressive, statuesque? Not so much. It may even contain a particle of prim muguet to provide self-restraint before things go over the top. It's pleasant, and I'm fine with that, for BWF's were never really my favorite genre. This one I could wear within hollering distance of the seashore, if not to the beach proper.

Scent Elements: Tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, possibly some coconut, and maybe a smidge of lily-of-the-valley.

Persian Lilac (Attar Bazaar)

More than most other aesthetic subjects, perfume forces an immediate response. It takes time to read a book, listen to music, or absorb the symbolism of a work of visual art, but it takes no time at all to accept or reject a fragrance. Despite the insistence of some that you stick with it from beginning to end or even wear it more than once before committing to an opinion, you know right away-- instantaneously. A perfume's notes, after all, advertise its personality. One screechy or false note, and the acquaintance is as good as over.

After you experience a hundred or so fragrances, reflex turns into reflection. It becomes possible to slow down, categorize, generalize, and identify what you like and don't like. Empirical knowledge authorizes me to state that I like leathers, chypres, woods, spicy or smoky fragrances, and animalics. The same accumulation of experience allows me to tell you that I dislike ditzy florals, sweet fruities, "fresh" odors, and aldehydics. I can use more specific language, if you wish: I like things that smell dirty, dense, and complicated; I dislike things that smell sanitized, deodorized, sugar-coated, and infantile. I am not likely to change these opinions. They have become hard-wired over time.

At first, Persian Lilac smells as clean and safe as anti-allergenic laundry detergent-- deceptive, since an unfortunate note of fecal matter is next to emerge. For all their color and spicy sweetness, lilacs are akin to white flowers in that they contain a hidden blast of indoles. It's enough to turn the clean dirty, but not dirty in the way I like it. Rather, this combination of sugar and poop morphs into a turnoff mighty fast. The drydown is dryer sheets all the way-- an ugly, sterile musk that sours quickly on the skin.

I wore Persian Lilac all day, and at no time could I accustom myself to its cloying presence. It made me smell like someone (or something) other than myself, a stranger. Unlike other Attar Bazaar samples I've parlayed into full-dram purchases, this one will henceforth remain corked.

Scent Elements: Lilac, white musk, and Desitin.

Parfum du Jour: Roslin (Sweet Anthem)

Why wear it? Yesterday's Un Bois Sépia proved a letdown, so today I wanted a sure shot. To date, Roslin has never let me down; it's like an old and faithful friend who inspires complete trust.

What does it do? Roslin's evergreen boughs, ripe red apples, and edgy patchouli smolder like a pagan festival in a bottle; on skin, it's beautiful savagery, a scent for the hunter rather than the hunted.

How do I feel? Not entirely discouraged. So I tried Un Bois Sépia first and got it out of the way-- that's how I choose to look at it. I have so many other newly-obtained scents to experience, the near future holds a wealth of olfactory discovery.

Un Bois Sépia (Serge Lutens)

What Serge Lutens wanted: "This fragrance, just like falling leaves, evokes the colors of autumn... More than a shade, sepia is the scent of moss and dead leaves that one only finds in the woods. As for the autumn sun, it often coincides with rain. Maybe my story should even include a scene about finding mushrooms... In a word, it's a fabulous chypre!"

What I wanted: Neither the painter's pigment known as sepia nor a chypre from the forest floor, but something organically marine in nature: the blood-rich, salty tang of ocean water and all the life that thrives in its depths. When I first smelled Un Bois Sépia at Sniffapalooza, I described it as "iodine smoke, inky ocean, weird wood"-- this is what I craved. (If a chypre could be predicated on kelp instead of oakmoss...)

What Serge and I got: Dessert. If Histoires de Parfum's 1828 Jules Verne and Viktor + Rolf's Spicebomb had a baby and then christened it in a baptismal font full of warm caramel, it would be Un Bois Sépia. I was unprepared for how sugary it is compared to the murky, complex scent I recalled from three years ago. Did Uncle Serge sweeten it up for the American market, or is my memory so faulty and fickle that it's attempting to spin a big fish tale?

What I'll wear instead: Liz Zorn's Fougère Nakh. This, at least, lays a legitimate claim to kinship with the 'wine-dark sea'.

Scent Elements: Vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, opoponax, cypress

Parfum du Jour: White Linen (Estée Lauder)

Why wear it? Because a forecasted temperature of 80°F is nothing to scoff at.

What does it do? It puts starch in your shirt, that's for sure.

How do I feel? Very stiff today, and a little unforgiving.  Not to mention short on words. I don't even have enough of those to tell you what's vexing me. Maybe by Saturday I'll have replenished my supply.

Ivoire de Balmain Eau de Toilette

Last weekend, my spouse and I drove westward to the Columbus Farmers Market-- a vast sprawl of outdoor tables and tents containing a dazzling collection of gently (or not-so-gently) used items priced super-cheap. Hatted and shrouded against the sun, I followed my husband up and down dusty pathways in search of secondhand comics and DVDs to add to his collection. For myself, I found a "sassy" suncatcher, a book about brain tumors, and a stainless steel ring to replace the broken one on my Þór's hammer necklace. It doesn't sound like much of a haul, but I was saving myself for the indoor antiques stores. I'd once scored a gorgeous Coty Emeraude mini-bottle in mint condition there. Would I be so lucky this time?

Yes! After a mere fifteen-minute traipse through the cool, shady aisles of the antiques mall, I unearthed a nearly-full vintage spray bottle of Ivoire de Balmain Eau de Toilette. Now, if one were to compare the iterations of Ivoire to Depression glass -- in plentiful supply at Columbus, all you collectors! -- the pure parfum is the "milk" variety, dense and opacified, while the EdT is pale yellow-green "vaseline" glass complete with a mini-dose of uranium. Cut to sparkle in any light, it fluoresces under the ultraviolet; in other words, it truly glows, but only in the dark.

Ivoire pure parfum is a languid delight laced with bitter herbs and sweet honey. Where's all the galbanum, raspberry, and lemon, you ask? Answer: in a different bottle. Ivoire de Balmain Eau de Toilette is a classic "green goddess" fragrance-- tart and biting, as crisply sophisticated as Jeri Hall stepping out of a limousine. The creamy elements of the original have been shifted to the background-- not entirely out of sight, but just enough to let Ivoire remind us that she's a chypre. Her peppery blend of galbanum, tagetes, and acid red berries echoes all the Halstons, Missonis, and Magie Noires that were au courant back in those halcyon days. She's definitively a chypre of her era. Tonight, she parties at Studio 54; tomorrow, she's got finals at Barnard.

Of course she aces them both.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, mandarin, neroli, raspberry, galbanum, chamomile, violet, marigold, rose, jasmine, hyacinth, orchid, iris, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, carnation, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, artemisia, vetiver, patchouli, oakmoss, cedar, sandalwood, labdanum, tonka bean, incense, musk. Oh, and uranium.

Perfumy Konwalia: A mystery May Day muguet.

For today's Fête du Muguet, I test-drove a perplexing little Slavic trifle called Perfumy Konwalia-- Polish for "Muguet Perfume". (The 'Konwalia' derives from Convalleria majalis, muguet's maiden name; another option would be lilia doliny, lily-of-the-valley.) I have no information regarding its brand or manufacturer; I suspect it's the polski equivalent of a dimestore 'fume, inexpensive and easily obtained. Its bottle resembles the old Vigny Heure Intime "grenade", right down to the triangular label. I half wonder if it's a glass factory remainder-- or did a shipment of empty Vigny bottles mysteriously fall off the back of a truck somewhere between Paris and Kraków?

Good Christ, is this stuff musky!  Skank is not a quality I've ever associated with muguet, but there's a first time for everything, right? All the requisite sweetness of muguet is here, only sans Granny panties. Comparing Perfumy Konwalia wrist-to-wrist against the more vegetal Penhaligon's Lily of the Valley is like sighting a wildcat in the woods: the savage forest instantly seems tame in contrast to that yellow-eyed predator inching toward you on stealthy paws.

Scent Elements: Konwalia, jasne i proste, with a side of deliciously dark and beastly musk.

Parfum du Jour: Un Jardin Après la Mousson (Hermès)

Why wear it? The weather's getting warmer, the scent of flowers has begun to fill the air, the sky is full of birds on the wing... it's spring.

What does it do? In its milky-spicy-greenish way, Après la Mousson captures that moment after a thundershower when the emerging sun dazzles the eye and warms the skin. I wouldn't say it's as heartfelt and affecting as La Chasse aux Papillons by L’Artisan Parfumeur, but it gets the message of the season across.

How do I feel? Cheered somewhat. My husband bought me a light, portable folding lawn chair so that I can spend my lunch hours sitting under a shady tree in the park adjacent to the library. It really helps to be able to watch clouds pass and imagine that our earthly troubles will do the same.

Parfum du Jour: Hindu Kush (AbdesSalaam Attar)

Why wear it? I'd used it up nearly to the bottom of the sprayer, and I wanted to experience that last smoky quarter-milliter before it evaporated.  Plus, a branch visit from the Wicked Witch happened to be on the menu-- and I needed all the courage and resilience I could muster, olfactory or otherwise.

What does it do? Ears high and nostrils flared, it fixes you with an unwavering glare and ever so slightly curls its lip to show you its teeth. One false move and it will spring. Do you want to try your luck?

How do I feel? Impervious to witchcraft.

Parfum du Jour: Try and guess.

Why wear her? Because she is not taking any nonsense today.

What does she do? First she slams her purse down on YOUR desk, whips off her mink, and flings it at your face. You work for her, not the other way around. While you struggle with a coat hanger, she swans into her office and loudly declares that she's never known a fresh cup of coffee fail to be on time, unlike you. (This despite the fact that you're half an hour early to work every morning, smile fixed precipitously in place.) You're desperate for a cigarette and twelve mai-tais, but it's only 8:30 in the morning. Is this what Katy Gibbs meant by success? Welcome to the big time, kiddo!

How do I feel? Invincible, imperious-- so of course I'm wearing Cabochard. Now take a letter and be quick about it. What do I pay you for?

Parfum du Jour: Marine Sel (Tokyo Milk)

Why wear it? Because I feel adrift at sea, and I need an anchor. Plus, I have an entire bottle of Marine Sel (plus some extra that JC gave to me) so there's plenty of it to spare. No rationing necessary; I can really go to town on this fragrance.

What does it do? With its curious combination of salt, soot, green grass and cold, fresh maritime air, Marine Sel offers more than the usual bonfire vetiver. Not that I don't love bonfire vetivers. Heck, I love all sorts of vetivers. Inky vetivers. Elegant vetivers. Brutal vetivers. Silvery vetivers. Pale watery vetivers. Tisane vetivers. Dark rooty vetivers. Wild west vetivers. Kinky vetivers. I'll stop now.

How do I feel? Like the salt of the earth.

Parfum du Jour: Le Troisième Homme (Caron)

Why wear it? Wow, that's a tough question. I'd hoped that with time, I might eventually be able to perceive the charms which every fragrance lover on earth seems to see in Le Troisième Homme. Unfortunately, time has only made it seem more insipid (in the sense of 'lacking in vigor or interest'). The guy who wears this is nice. Very, very nice. So nice that you want to needle him just to see him behave with something less than perfect propriety. If you tried that on Pour Un Homme, he'd belt you upside the head, and you'd deserve it.

What does it do? Not all that much for me-- but then, that seems to be par for the course with Caron. Let me tally it up. LOVE: Bellodgia, Infini, Parfum Sacré, Poivre, Yatagan. HATE: Farnesiana, L'Accord Code 119, Narcisse Blanc, Nocturnes. MEH: Aimez Moi, Eau de Réglisse, Nuit de Noël, Tabac Blond, Violette Précieuse, Yuzu Man. The 'mehs' have it-- and that's not good. I want perfume to make me feel something more definite and polarized than just 'meh'.

How do I feel? Like Caron is not so much a hit-or-miss house as a middle-of-the-road house-- and everyone knows houses don't belong in the middle of the road.

Parfums du Jour: Ambre Rayonner (Soivohle) and Ariane (Avon)

Why wear them? The morning began with blue sky, a flood of sunlight, and a chorus of joyful birds. Ambre Rayonner's linden blossoms perfectly suited such a golden, sun-washed April day as this. As the afternoon progressed and blue twilight settled across the landscape, I found myself feeling a pleasurable chill-- at which point Ariane provided me with a delicate, insulating shawl composed of rose and sandalwood.

What do they do? They play nice together. Very often, two fragrances clash at the meeting point-- but in this case, Ambre Rayonner's drydown segues beautifully into the opening notes of Ariane. How often does that happen?

How do I feel? Well-pleased with my lot, and indecently happy to have crossed the border from Patou-land to liberation.

L'Heure Attendue and Divine Folie (Jean Patou)

I'm down to my last two samples of Ma Collection, and I have to admit I'm a little burnt out on Jean Patou. The aldehydic chypre Câline truly exceeded all expectations, and as a Mitsouko variant, Que Sais-Je? isn't too damn shabby-- but otherwise, no winners. Just a series of scents of middling merit. Ah, well.

I've decided to condense my opinions on L'Heure Attendue and Divine Folie into one review because there's so little to say about either of them. Neither inspires a zut alors! from the depths of my being; nor do they provoke the critic in me to whale away at them with all cylinders firing. L'Heure Attendue reminds me somewhat of Samsara, if you traded the jasmine out for lilac and retained the sandalwood drydown. Divine Folie is a romantic rose bordered in awkward clumps of orange blossom, like a lace peignoir set that looks naughty on the hanger but turns inexplicably frumpy when worn by a living, breathing woman. Of the two, I obviously like L'Heure Attendue better, but not enough to give it its own post. Again: ah, well.

So now I'm done, honorably discharged, free to go. I think I'll go back to plain old Parfums du Jour for a while and wear some of my old favorites. I feel as though I've earned it.

Scent Elements: Lily-of-the-valley, geranium, lilac, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, opopanax (L'Heure Attendue); neroli, orange blossom, jasmine, rose, iris, ylang-ylang, vetiver, vanilla, musk (Divine Folie)

Invitation (Jean Patou)

Sadly, I must decline.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, tangerine, cedar, sandalwood, thyme, mint, labdanum, oakmoss, musk

Colony (Jean Patou)

I've been wearing this one for several days, and I still haven't quite gotten the measure of it. It's clear, for instance, that Histoires de Parfums' 1804 George Sand (and, to a lesser extent, Milly-la-Forêt by Dior and Ladyboy by LUSH) derived inspiration from Colony. You couldn't get more pineapple-tastic than those top notes, and the chypre element embedded in the very center is vintage-smelling and delightful. But between them, you have to wade through yards and yards of flavorless, colorless acid candy, which is where I lose my taste for the whole enterprise. Weird me out as much as you want to, but please don't detour me through the Sour Patch.

Scent Elements: Pineapple, ylang-ylang, iris, carnation, oakmoss, vetiver, opopanax, leather, musk

Parfum du Jour: Orris Ochre (Soivohle)

Why wear it? Because my husband wore Grey Flannel today. After one embrace, I wanted his scent to remain with me all day-- but I also wanted to add my own signature. Liz Zorn's Orris Ochre has always struck me as a similar concept to Grey Flannel-- iris, violets and cedar, only backed with velvety suede instead of heathery brushed wool. Timeless, effortless, always a joy to wear.

What does it do? It lightly straddles the line between masculine and feminine, naturalness and artifice, simplicity and drop-dead elegance. I've worn it all around the town-- to work, to doctor's appointments, to art shows, to lunch. It fits in everywhere without even trying. I wish I had that talent.

How do I feel?  Filled with equanimity.

Normandie (Jean Patou)

This is a very serviceable carnation, not quite as enchanted as Bellodgia but still very nice. Its most remarkable feature is a cinnamon-liqueur quality that appears at the outset and keeps you compulsively sniffing your wrists until orange blossom and styrax turn everything into a Shalimaresque shimmery powder. If your senior prom featured a carnation corsage and a mini-bottle of Goldschläger tucked under your garter, you will feel right at home.

Scent Elements: Neroli, orange blossom, carnation, rose, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, vetiver, styrax, moss, vanilla, musk

Parfum du Jour: Fougère Nakh (Soivohle)

Paris, April 1, 1922
A mile of clean sand.
I will write my name here, and the trouble that is in my heart.
I will write the name & place of my birth,
What I was to be,
And what I am.
I will write my forty sins, my thousand follies,
My four unspeakable acts. . . .
I will write the names of the cities I have fled from,
The names of men & women I have wronged.
I will write the holy name of her I serve,
And how I serve her ill.
And I will sit on the beach & let the tide come in.
I will watch with peace the great calm tongue of the tide
Licking from the sand the unclean story of my heart.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Adieu Sagesse (Jean Patou)

I didn't really believe Patou's hair-color hype when it came to Amour Amour or Que Sais-Je?... but as an auburn-haired woman descended from a long line of russet-tops, I really must protest about Adieu Sagesse. This is meant for a redhead?

Maybe I'm biased, but I expect a certain piquancy -- a verve -- from my type, and therefore also from anything marketed to my type. And Adieu Sagesse has not got it. It's wan. Faint. Sweet, I'll concede-- but a sort of diffuse windblown sweetness, such as one gets from a blooming garden four or five doors down. It's an atmosphere rather than a perfume. Chamade is a perfume, if cassis and narcissus are what you want.

And for getting what she wants in the end, commend me to a redhead every time.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, cassis, neroli, narcissus, lily, tuberose, rose, lily-of-the-valley, carnation, jasmine, vetiver, musk, civet

Black March Water Perfume (CB I Hate Perfume)

Yesterday I put on some Narcissus before going to the movies and promptly lost the vial in the parking lot. (If its scent had been more memorable, I might not have handled it so absent-mindedly.) Today I put on Black March, which is basically Zombie For Him reanimated-- possibly a little sweeter, greener, rootier, and prettier, but still recognizable. I'm wearing both at this very moment and can't tell where one ends and the other begins. It happens to be the perfect parfum du soir for watching the season finales of both The Walking Dead and The Talking Dead tonight. And since I have no plans to leave the house on this next-to-last blustery day of March, I'm not worried about misplacing it. It can't travel far without feet, can it? CAN IT?!

Scent Elements: "A fresh clean scent composed of Rain Drops, Leaf Buds, Wet Twigs, Tree Sap, Bark, Mossy Earth and the faintest hint of Spring." And zombies.

Que Sais-Je? (Jean Patou)

Here's one for all those perfumistas who find Mitsouko too tough of a taskmistress. If ever you've gotten lost in the labyrinth of Mitsy's serpentine mood swings, you'll find Que Sais-Je? a merciful substitute. Delicious peach note? Check. Glowing neroli? Check. Melancholy iris? Check. Animalic labdanum? Check. Oakmoss out the ying-yang? Check. So hush yourselves, people. There's more than one peach chypre in town. No one ever said you had to kneel trembling before the one that cracks a whip. Try the one who sheathes her pillows in satin.

Scent Elements: Neroli, apricot, peach, carnation, iris, jasmine, rose, honey, hazelnut, vanilla, oakmoss, labdanum, civet

Câline (Jean Patou)

Run the words "Mod girl" through Google Image, and it seems that all you get are pictures of Twiggy. True, she was exemplary of the late Mod look adopted by Swinging Londoners from 1966 onward and "liked" by loads of Pinners and Tumblrweeds today. But I'm talking about the original Mod subculture-- a world not made for delicate Twigs.

From the vintage pictures I've seen, early Mod girls favored a tough, androgynous look free of "soft" feminine touches. Boyish cropped hair, little if any makeup, men's Oxford shirts worn with pegged trousers or straight skirts, plus the obligatory anorak or London Fog raincoat to fend off the elements. No dreamy-eyed dollybirds here: these young women did not accept the usual passive, subordinate female role. They held their own jobs. They bought their own clothes. They danced with each other, or alone, if they chose. And forget riding pillion or bringing up the rear-- mod girls gunned the engines of their very own Vespas and claimed a place at the head of the formation.

In French, câline means 'affectionate'. God help the person who expects a cuddle from Câline by Jean Patou, billed as the first perfume designed explicitly for teenaged girls. Could perfumer Henri Giboulet have been thinking of Mod girls when he created this 1964 style-conscious aldehydic chypre? It seems he had somebody other than the regulation female-of-the-species in mind.

Câline explodes onto the scene with one of the most audacious bergamot openers I've ever encountered. This top note really takes no prisoners! It stands alongside Coty Imprévu for greenness, sharpness, and crystalline clarity-- but whereas Imprévu heads off into leather territory, Câline tears through the flower garden as if chased by angry bees. (Or is she the bee, hungry for nectar and disinclined to stand in line for it?) There's a good deal of herbal freshness and pretty petals camouflaging these mossy depths. In classic chypre style, they're unsettling and just a bit cruel. If you like that sort of thing -- lord knows I do -- you'll gladly (and carefully!) embrace Câline's brand of sublimated aggression.

Welcome to the bitch seat. Ready, steady, go.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, aldehydes, orange blossom, galbanum, rose de Mai, jasmine, iris, cyclamen, ylang-ylang, carnation, basil, coriander, spices, oakmoss, cedar, sandalwood, labdanum, musk

Ellen Tracy Eau de Parfum (Ellen Tracy)

A perfume whose brand is totally unfamiliar to you can teach a lesson in open-mindedness. The trick is avoiding the trap of assumption: just because you haven't heard of it doesn't automatically mean that it's obscure or no good.

I have no idea who Ellen Tracy is or was, if she ever existed in the first place. (Some poking around reveals that in fact she did-- and her real name was Herbert Gallen.) I have no idea if any of the eleven other fragrances released under her name are worth a damn-- but I know this one is, and I'm willing to tell you why. It's a note-perfect homage to the sunny early-to-mid-1970s, when both men and women followed their bliss, dressed identically in plaid wool pantsuits paired with mustard-yellow turtlenecks and Jonathan Livingston Seagull pendants from the Franklin Mint. You know, the good old days! Mood rings! "Venus Trines at Midnight"! Cher! If you never lived through it, you'll never love it as I do-- and though I was but knee-high to Gordon Lightfoot at the time, I remember and revere that '70's aesthetic:  so clunky, so awkward, so sincere.

Regardless of its actual vintage, Ellen Tracy EdP fits right in. If you were hosting a retro key party, you could reach into the Wayback Machine and pull out this perfect white floriental overlaid with peach nectar and loaded down with sexy musk. Goes great with rumaki, fondue, and Mateus wine bottles covered in rainbow-colored candlewax drips.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, peach, raspberry, plum, galbanum, osmanthus, hyacinth, tuberose, orchid, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, rose, freesia, rose, carnation, cinnamon, sandalwood, cedar, oakmoss, amber, tonka bean, musk