Jōvan Satisfaction (Jōvan)

According to Jōvan:

Whether you (sp.) looking to find a hot date or add a little spice to your current relationship, Jōvan Satisfaction will help you improve your love life, guaranteed.

According to me:

All my husband and I did was walk into the local RiteAid to pick up Easter candy and liquid eyeliner. We weren't looking for romance, I swear to god. Which, as it turns out, is just as well.

Just follow these easy steps:
1. Buy the new Jōvan Satisfaction fragrances.

There are two of them in identical ribbed glass bottles, one for women (pink liquid, white cap) and one for men (amber liquid, black cap), displayed cozily side by side. "SATISFACTION 100% GUARANTEED!" reads the display copy over a graphic of a happy couple in a sunny meadow-- recent recipients, presumably, of Jōvan Satisfaction's secret ingredient (pheromones?). A sheaf of square white blotters printed with the Jōvan logo await spraying. If Satisfaction is any bit as "cheap and cheerful" as Jōvan Musk, why the hell not?

2. Check out the Satisfaction Guaranteed Toolkit to find a romantic hot spot, send a love note or even find that special someone.

Said Toolkit, located at the Satisfaction homepage, consists of a selection of handy-dandy web forms sponsored by Match.com, CitySearch.com, and American Greetings. One-stop shoppers can conceivably find a likely mate, locate a restaurant/nightclub/ miniature golf course for the big date, and send a thoughtful e-card thanking their partner for one hell of a hot night.

3. Spray on Jōvan Satisfaction before heading out and be confident knowing that everything is in place to seal the deal.

If the deal you're looking to seal is a black-market chemical weapons trade, these two little bottles certainly violate a Geneva Convention or two.

"For Women" (designed by Françoise Caron of Ombre Rose fame) recreates one of those old-school air fresheners consisting of a glob of sticky scented gel encased in plastic. This one smells of mango marmalade, if such a thing exists-- and if it does, it belongs on toast and not on your pulse points.

"For Men" (designed by Juliet Karagueuzoglou and Domitille Bertier) is a murky citrus-cedar accord floating like an oil slick atop a pool of harsh, bright chemicals that catch in the throat like a double acetone on the rocks. "This sexy scent will surely make your sweetie's heart skip a beat", says the promo copy. I can testify that this is no lie, for as soon as I offered the scent-impregnated blotter to my husband, he looked at me in horror and booked off down the aisle.

If Satisfaction doesn’t work for you, we will give you a full refund.
Jōvan Satisfaction retails for $18 per fluid ounce, so your refund should nicely cover a brand new bottle of Jōvan Musk instead.

Scent Elements: "Sweet mango, lotus flower and warm vanilla" (Satisfaction for Women); "grapefruit, cardamom, cedarwood and amber" (Satisfaction for Men)

Borneo 1834 (Serge Lutens)

Much like fire fights fire, it seems the only remedy for Serge Lutens is Serge Lutens. One need only look to his back catalog to find a nice, dirty antidote for the cleanliness-obsessed L'Eau Serge Lutens: Borneo 1834. (Did you think I meant Muscs Koublaï Khän? Good lord, we want to revive you, not kill you.)

The conventional myth surrounding Borneo: Lutens found inspiration in the historic use of patchouli (genus Pogostemon) as a moth repellent for textiles. Asian merchants scattered patchouli leaves on lengths of costly silk before rolling them up into bolts to be shipped west. The alien/alluring fragrance of such cargo turned heads upon its arrival in European ports (a date apocryphally set by Lutens as 1834). Only the wealthy could afford to adorn themselves with these sumptuous fabrics; thus the scent of patchouli became synonymous with 19th century luxe.

If you visit a modern sari boutique and stealthily sniff the merchandise, this historical fact comes alive under your nose. A silk salwar kameez I purchased some years ago retained that heady, transporting scent for ages. I regretted its slow fade, and even today, I remember with pleasure that every garment in the shop was imbued with the same. If this scent is a cultural standard... sign me up, please.

Too bad the Western standard is to abhor smells like patchouli. Fixated as we are on soap-and-water cleanliness, we usually associate such odors with poor hygiene or alternative lifestyles which set the wearer beyond the pale. (My father, himself an ex-beatnik in the know, always jokes: "You're wearing that hippie crap again.... you holdin'?")

I'm not going to even try to refute the patchouli stink factor (though I will have you know, Dad, that I stopped smoking that shit years ago. Really.) But I will say that the main culprit is cheap patchouli applied neat and unadulterated. Certain scent elements cannot perform well unless used in reasonable (read: miniscule) amounts, embedded among other olfactory notes so that they do not hijack the entire fragrance. (If you, like me, cringe at the difference between a "touch" of rose and the full-force wallop of rose absolute, you understand what I mean.) Whereas pure patchouli behaves like the Borg, ruthlessly assimilating all weaker scents, patchouli-in-miniature tends to play nice-- though you want to keep an eye on the friends it makes.

In Borneo, Lutens arranges a playdate between patchouli and cacao, with camphor as a referee. The result: simply happy. True, the resulting accord is nearly identical to that which underpins Thierry Mugler's Angel, stripped bare of all the sleaze. Some may find it monotonous, even severe. But Borneo's herbal-chocolate accord possesses more elegance and credibility in its birthday suit than Angel has in all its Lady Gaga frippery. It stands alone in perfect dignity despite (or maybe because of) its nakedness.

(All this confirms my suspicion that it's not Angel's foundation which is defective, but the cassis-floral funhouse structure built atop it. Because here, one finds its bare bones isolated-- and it works.)

This is not to suggest that Borneo lacks flesh to go with those bones. After applying Borneo to my clean, freshly showered body, I notice that I no longer smell exactly clean or fresh-- but neither do I smell unpleasant. I smell alive. This is the friendly scent of a warm-blooded animal, with no flower-and-herb concoctions to camouflage it. I feel unmasked for the mammal that I am-- natural and, as Jon Lovitz famously put it, "nude as a bee" underneath my clothes.

And I love it.

In Patrick Süskind's 1986 novel Das Parfum (Perfume), the antihero Grenouille creates an exaggerated "human" perfume for himself to conceal his lack of personal odor from the people around him. From a hell's-grocery-list of loathsome ingredients, he devises a fragrance he hopes will allow him to "pass". Today he wouldn't need to go to such trouble; he would fit in perfectly with the rest of us who have been denatured, rendered scentless and sanitary and safe. And if you think that's a crime, go find yourself some Borneo 1834 and get back in touch with what a human ought to smell like. It might come as a pleasant surprise.

Scent Elements: Patchouli, camphor, cardamom, labdanum, galbanum, cacao

L'Eau Serge Lutens (Serge Lutens)

Released this month to the percussive sound of jaws dropping all over Perfumeland, L'Eau Serge Lutens marks for its maker a sharp 180° from "dirty" to "clean" (as Lutens' PR team has amply hammered home). The concept: an "anti-perfume" whose very existence mounts a backlash against consumerist culture and the clashing smells which saturate our airspace. The purpose: to evoke the moment of first contact between freshly-bathed skin and crisp, air-dried white cotton (presumably before one mucks it all up by dousing oneself with any of Lutens' earlier works). Even more succinctly, according to its proprietor, L'Eau Serge Lutens is intended to summon the image of une page blanche, a blank page.

Whiteness, as a symbol of purification, signals a return to first principles. (Think John Lennon and Yoko Ono at Tittenhurst Park, wearing white in their all-white parlor complete with white Steinway grand, aspiring to Zen-like simplicity within the context of overwhelming wealth.) The implied message of L'Eau Serge Lutens is that in order to reach this pure, clean state, the perfumer must eliminate all that is spicy, rich, ethnic, dark, or "dirty". This, to say the least, is a surprising proposal from the king of Orientalism-- one which I found downright offensive when I first learned of it. What exactly is Lutens getting at here?

Only when I finally smelled it did I suspect a grand prank-- a bit of absurdist theater, maybe; a hand grenade of cultural criticism disguised as a perfume bottle and lobbed at the masses.

Here's my opinion, purely personal and idiosyncratic, and possibly incorrect: For nearly three centuries, under numerous guises, xenophobia and germophobia have enjoyed regular reincarnations in American culture-- always seemingly hand in hand. At present, anti-Arab sentiment is in vogue. Lutens -- a scent adventurer who has spent his entire career paying homage to the Levant -- cannot have failed to notice this. Nor do I imagine could he resist commenting on it, tongue clandestinely in cheek: You want white? I'll give you white, all right. In fact, I'll shove your noses in it.

And he underscores this point by establishing L'Eau's top note as nothing other than Elmer's Glue. It don't get no whiter than that, I'll tell you what.

As successive notes develop, one recognizes that each was chosen primarily for its sanitary associations. Do Americans link cleanliness to citrus accords? Here's a ton of hesperides (a fancy name for mixed cold-pressed citrus peel essences) to achieve that lemony-fresh sparkle. Want it crystal-clear and ice-cold? Here's a big dose of calone to induce visions of Everclear splashed on spotless white ceramic tile. Occasionally, a breath of something interesting -- sage, thyme, mint -- breaches the confines of the oxygen tent, though none ever violates the hospital sanitation standard. And if there's musk in here at all, its passport clearly identifies it as hailing from the laundromat rather than the fabled realm of Muscs Koublaï Khän.

It's a parody, folks. Serge Lutens is shucking us.

The question, he has recognized, is not what post-9/11 paranoid Americans like. It's what they fear-- which is other people. Their smells, their germs, their otherness. His response? A perfectly-crafted, high-end dream antiseptic in a tall, clear-glass bottle designed to reassure anxious consumers that there are no nasty secrets hidden inside. In time, it will sit next to Crystal Pepsi, Ivory Liquid Clear, and Miller Clear Beer in the annals of "pure" product history-- and it will be the only one that contains any irony.

From a fragrance standpoint, L'Eau Serge Lutens is not all that different than Hugo Boss Pure (another, albeit more sincere, example of the faceless "clean" aesthetic). More citrus than melon; more herbal than floral; about a gallon less calone (but let's face it, even a drop of calone goes for miles and miles, so a comparison-by-volume is probably a moot point). Is it better crafted? Yes. Is it more sophisticated, more thought-out? I'll tell you when I stop sneezing.

Until then, let le maître do the talking. In the official launch press release, he claimed, "My intention was not to have (L'Eau Serge Lutens) supplant perfume, but to help restore the original pleasure of wearing fragrance."

Success: this definitely made me want to wear fragrance. Any other fragrance than this.

Scent Elements: Hesperides, sage, mint, magnolia, musk

Iris Taïzo (Parfumerie Générale)

Every time I sit down to write about Iris Taïzo, I find myself tongue-tied. It wouldn't be a lie to say that its beauty renders me mute. But so standoffish is this perfume that as I attempt to plumb the true depths of its character, it evades me at every turn.

Perhaps this behavior is par for the course. Despite all its fame as the costliest of perfume materials, the difficile iris tends to shun the spotlight. Woody, austere, and somewhat melancholic, it sticks to the background of many fine fragrances, lending profundity and depth from a safe place in the shadows. Whatever extroverted floral notes may be heaped atop it, it bides its time and outlasts them all.

And yet, iris rarely smiles, and even more rarely sings. It's a hard note to get to know-- and an even harder one to put out of mind.

Unlike other flowers, whose showy aerial parts produce all the perfume magic, iris is prized solely for its rhizome. To be used in perfume, the iris rhizome must be cared for by hand until it reaches maturity. Then it is unearthed, cleaned, peeled, dried, and allowed to rest in utter darkness for up to five years, during which a slow chemical transformation unlocks its fragrant constituent. What nature begins, scientific steam distillation finishes. The end result of this torturous ordeal is a thick, fatty substance known as orris butter, the terrifying cost of which emphasizes its supreme position as the perfume industry's artisanal gem.

After going through all of this, no wonder the iris has an attitude.

Spending time with Iris Taïzo, I feel as though I'm trying in vain to chat up someone who refuses to speak to, look at, or even sit facing me. This is one dark perfume-- serious, slightly forbidding, not at all sweet or innocent. By way of a parallel, it seems to me to hold the same comparative relationship to the average floral bouquet as the ancient Aztec xocolatl -- bitter, black, laced with annatto and cayenne, faintly ceremonial -- does to prepackaged hot chocolate with marshmallows.

The comparison is not only metaphoric. Deeply earthy orris root and raspy aoud combine with the bitterest, blackest chocolate powder you can imagine, bound together by a curiously tarry, crystallized honey note and smoothed over by bourbon-tinged vanilla... Yet, for all these extremes of aroma, it's nowhere near as assertive as it could be. You would have to apply quite a few layers for Iris Taïzo to seem overwhelming, and the sillage is next to zilch. On skin as in bottle, it stands back and forces others to approach.

Despite all of this, Iris Taïzo is perfectly delectable. If I stay quiet, ask no questions, make no sudden moves, it occasionally rewards me with the shyest of smiles. I discover that I am willing to overlook its cagey personality for the privilege of being let in on its secret.

Scent Elements: Fig honey, iris, Mexican vanilla, cardamom, agarwood

Un Bois Vanille (Serge Lutens)

In the early days of our marriage, my husband and I worked at adjoining stores in the local shopping mall. Without a car, we were compelled to take the earliest possible bus into town whenever we were both scheduled for an opening shift. Arriving at work hours earlier than necessary sounds like a positive drag-- but an empty mall at seven in the morning is a wonderland of hidden benefits.

My husband labored as a barista at the mall's only high-end coffee shop, which boasted two incredible features: the world's most comfortable carpeted floor, and a bank of counters which concealed said floor from public view. He'd set a digital kitchen timer for one hour, and we'd stretch out on the floor and sleep until the alarm went off. The store was silent except for the hypnotic hum of multiple refrigerators. As we drifted off into slumberland, we breathed in the scent of coffee and tea, cardamom and cinnamon, sugar and steamed milk. It broke every rule, and we couldn't live without it-- the one illicit luxury of our workaday lives.

Un Bois Vanille catapults me back to that moment of precarious safety in the warm, pitch-dark womb of the coffee shop before opening time. It opens with an intense, warm, and savory aroma of dark-roasted coffee, then flits around touching on all of the amenities a coffee drinker might find in their favorite java haunt-- amaretto, anisette, biscotti, cardamom, demerara sugar, loose black tea leaves, chamomile flowers with their prickly, pollen-rich scent. All this winds down to a lovely, peaceable accord of hot milk and honey, such as one might drink in the evening to encourage sleep.

In a way, Un Bois Vanille is a sketch of a "day in the life" -- from stimulating, supercharged morning to the tranquil repose of bedtime -- told through the little consumer pleasures that give our daily grind a touch of human comfort. Christopher Sheldrake, all is forgiven.

Scent Elements: Black vanilla absolute, licorice, bitter almond, sandalwood, coconut milk, caramelized benzoin, beeswax, tonka bean

Fille En Aiguilles (Serge Lutens)

Start with five stars, because this is a beautiful thing right off the top. Fresh blue-green pine needles fed to a orange flame, resin popping and melting in the heat, evergreen withering into pale blue smoke. A gorgeous, exciting, and extremely novel idea beautifully expressed by Christopher Sheldrake, the Great Brain of perfumers.

Subtract one star for poor persistance. Almost as soon as you grasp the beauty of both the idea and the fragrance, it's gone. Note to Sheldrake: Please, don't tempt us with a delectable fragrance only to have it fade almost completely within five minutes. We will praise your brilliance without stopping for breath, but it is a cruel thing to allow us so little time to appreciate it.

Add one star for that stealthy little incense drydown that sneaks some remnant fragrance back under your nose once you've already given up on it. (Well, hello! Where did YOU come from?)

Subtract one star for lacking a heart. I mean to say not only that Fille en Aiguilles exhibits top notes and base notes but very little in the middle, but also that Sheldrake is a bit of a smartass for putting us through this.

Sure, sure, I understand the pun of the perfume's name (fil en aiguille = from thread to needle = one thing leads to another; fille en aiguilles = girl on pins-and-needles). The joke (which I find less than funny, because as a perfume lover, I sense that I'm the brunt of it) is that with this perfume, one thing doesn't lead to another-- it skips a few things completely, keeping the wearer on the proverbial pins and needles, and inevitably letting her down.

The risk you take, cher Sheldrake, is that your victim might subsequently feel a mite catty and vindictive. In which case, she may elect to subtract one teensy weensy final star for the stain factor. This concoction of yours is dark, and it leaves a definite mark. I like to wear perfume without my cuffs looking as though they were sprinkled with U-Bet coffee syrup. If I have to walk around with the evidence of your genius on my clothes, sir, the least I want is an actual smell to go with it.

Scent Elements: Pine needle, bay leaf, incense, vetiver, fruit, spices

Boss Pure (Hugo Boss)

Now, after yesterday's wrestling match with a killer Angel, you'd think I would have lost ALL desire for ANY perfume EVER AGAIN. But the Sephora saleslady had added insult to injury by slipping a manly Hugo Boss sample into my ladylike shopping bag (well played, beeyotch... well played). I like a good men's fragrance as much as any woman, so I decided to accept her little underhanded challenge.

What Boss Pure basically boils down to is eau de calone-- very little fragrance at twice the force. The marine element here is abundant, aggressive, and cucurbitaceous, evoking a plate of chilled cucumber slices sprinkled with sea salt. I'd almost like it.... if it didn't practically take my head off. This is a perfume with a lifetime gym membership. Still, for all its muscle, Boss Pure seems more like a base than a completed perfume. I could envision it paired with creamy coconut or a fresh muguet-- but on its own, it registeres merely as a loud sonic ripple hovering over the pulse points.

Maybe that IS the point-- a fragrance that is all attitude, but zero personality.

Scent Elements: "Bright aquatic accord" (AKA the Chemical Formerly Known As Calone), massoia, tree moss, fig water, citrus, lily, hyacinth

Angel (Thierry Mugler)

Today, during a routine trip to the mega-mall, I dragged my husband into Sephora for a spate of perfume sampling. Immediately I spotted a perfume I've been itching to meet for ages: Thierry Mugler's Angel. How did I manage to live for nearly two decades without encountering one of the most recognizable, polarizing, and notorious scents of the last half century? Luck, I guess. (Or maybe I'd always run away from it too fast to ever learn its unholy name.)

First impression on the test strip: fantastic! An acetylene-bright scent, sparkling with carbonation, like Sacrebleu with added nitromethane. I offered it to my husband; he nodded and smiled. Nice.

I strayed over to a couple of other perfumes -- Lolita Lempicka (if flowers could sweat...), Shalimar (charming as always), Hypnotic Poison (regular Poison + two roofies) -- before coming back to Angel. Out with the test strip again-- sniff, sniff.

"What do you think?" I asked my husband.

"It's interesting. Different. Not like anything you've worn," he said.

I decided to leap in. Picked up the heavy, star-shaped, Tim Burtonesque decanter and gave my wrist a hearty spray. Hooray!

The first five minutes will live in my memory as some of the nicest minutes I ever spent with a fragrance. Prickly, tickly, teasing, Angel seemed alive with personality. Behind its strobe-light top notes, I could detect some of that unusual chocolate-patchouli chord I'd read about. I relaxed, plotting how I might ask the Sephora floor staff to make me up a sample to take home, and maybe I'd even follow up by purchasing a full-sized-- WHAT THE HELL?!

My Angel had just sprouted horns. No, not horns-- legs. Eight of them, all bearing down on me at freight-train speed. To my horror, this cherubic little bit of cloud-fluff had just morphed into a Shelob-sized spider of stonk. Having lured me into its pretty gossamer web, it now set about immobilizing me in a cocoon of sticky cotton candy from which escape was impossible.

Noticing the look on my face, my husband asked, "Everything OK?"

"Help," I managed to whisper before the death-cloud of spun sugar covered my mouth.

In what seemed like seconds, nothing remained of either the effervescent opener or that alluring bitter-chocolate accord. The present (and the forseeable future) consisted of a single, relentless note of slightly burned Karo corn syrup which grew stronger and sweeter with every passing moment, ratcheting the tension skyward until I thought I was going to scream.

Did I think it couldn't get worse? Oh, how wrong I was.

Angel chose that moment to deploy a stinger full of venom in the form of a blackcurrant note so boozy I thought I'd been teleported back to 1987, when the candy trend for high-school girls was fancy French cassis pastilles in collectible tins filled with powdered sugar. When you were done with the pastilles, you emptied out the sugar and used the tin to store your cocaine. And when you were done with the cocaine, you drank most of a bottle of cheap Leroux's blackberry brandy in a desperate attempt to come down. Then you puked yourself dry and promised God and your sainted grandmother never, ever, EVER to do it again.

That's where Angel had me, and I'd only been wearing it for an hour.

After two hours, Angel shapechanged into the feminine version of Drakkar Noir, the toxic pong of choice for all the gold-chain-and-hair-gel playas who overrun South Jersey every summer. NOW I knew where I'd smelled this before-- I'd been smelling it all my life! Having grown up just across the bay from Seaside Heights, how well I knew those evil winds that drifted over the water, carrying the odor of stale cigarette smoke, suntan lotion, unwashed ass, and day-old funnel cakes coated in a sludge of equal parts congealed grease and confectioner's sugar....

I get it. Angel is none other than Snooki.

Home to throw myself in a steaming hot shower and scrub myself from head to toe with Ivory soap. No luck: hours later, Angel is still with me. If it doesn't fade soon, I'm going to have to get out my microplane citrus zester and grate the first hundred layers of skin off the inside of my wrist to get free. Until then, I'll sit in my pajamas, shivering and clutching a teacup full of whiskey, such as is traditionally offered to survivors of a terrible, unspeakable ordeal.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, helional, hedione, blackcurrant, honey, patchouli, vanilla, coumarin, chocolate, sandalwood, caramel, and a veritable shitload of ethylmaltol.

Philosykos (Diptyque)

In reviewing perfumes released as pairs, Luca Turin gives the trend a neat personifying twist by stating that public opinon is "merciless when only one of two sisters has charm". However, his theorem only seems to apply to simultaneous launches by a single brand (q.v. Estee Lauder's Dazzling Gold and Silver).

Born two years apart and fostered by two separate perfume houses, Philosykos and her older sister Premier Figuier appear to be exempt from the dreaded twinhood curse. They enjoy a remarkable family likeness, being half-siblings through the same mother (Olivia Giacobetti). At times, it seems they could almost be the same perfume-- or at least identical cousins. But Premier Figuier and Philosykos truly are distinct variations on a theme, each coming to a completely different conclusion in its own memorable style.

In a dual-wrist simultaneous spray test, the two fragrances get off to an fairly equal start. Once those astringent green top notes take flight, though, the individuality starts to shine through. The drier and more cerebral Premier Figuier takes the high road, focusing on the sunny, aerial leaf-and-sap aspect of the fig tree. Philosykos, on the other hand, is all about the sweet, sweet fruit-- full, honeyed, earthy, and blatantly feminine.  In short, Premier Figuier is the tall, elegant blonde with perfect posture who gets taken very seriously by the grownups... and Philosykos is the small, cute, zaftig brunette for whom the phone never stops ringing on Saturday nights. Two figs from a single tree, one growing in the sunlight, the other in the shade.

I would certainly wear Premier Figuier to work.... but come five o'clock, I would add a layer of Philosykos. It's the equivalent of trading cardigan for pashmina-- it might all be made out of the same cashmere, but the cut, color and drape are what define it as evening wear.

I might even go as far as to suggest that Premier Figuier is made for the wrists and throat -- safe, up-front, public areas of the female body. But Philosykos -- darker, dirtier, juicier, and sexier -- belongs in more dangerous areas, beneath the clothes and below the collar line, where it will hint at deeper mysteries and wreak just as much havoc on the senses, if not more.

Scent Elements: Fig leaf, white cedar

Timbuktu (L'Artisan)

What's a Dad smell? Mown grass, motor oil, Lava soap? Shoe polish, shaving cream, shirt starch?

Every Christmas for a good portion of my childhood, we kids forced a huge bottle of Jōvan Musk on my father. Never mind that last year's bottle was still three-quarters full-- a brand spanking new bottle always appeared in Dad's stocking each year.

He only wore it on Sundays, and then sparingly; it sat undisturbed in the medicine cabinet most of the year. But how the sight of that blocky glass bottle reassured me! And that wonderful, clean scent that said: I'm dependable. I'm strong. I can do anything if I put my mind to it. One sniff could put the whole world to rights. The women's perfumes I knew never had that sort of power.

So what's a Dad smell? English Leather, Old Spice, Brut? Polo or Paco Rabanne?

In my twenties -- nauseated by the talcum-floral cloud hanging over the ladies' deodorant section -- I defected to the gentleman's aisle. Mennen "Ocean Surf" Speed Stick was my product of choice. Sure, it smelled like cheap men's aftershave, but what's not to like? Crisp, bracing, mature-- not like those girly products that made grown women smell like helpless infants. (Plus, it went with my Doc Martens and shaved head.)

A decade and a half later, I've moved on again-- grown my hair out, bought some actual high heels. But from time to time, I still need to feel like I could move the planet with one hand tied behind my back. When I want that extra shot of confidence, I no longer head for the medicine cabinet for Musk or Mennen. I reach for Timbuktu by Bertrand Duchaufour-- and bring my A-game to the court.

Timbuktu is a scent for serious straight-shooters, regardless of gender. Cool, grass-green notes of vetiver and mango form the backdrop for top notes of peppercorn and patchouli-- definitely a virile blend. However, the African jasmine known as karo-karounde pays the feminine side just enough tribute to make this the masculine fragrance for the girl with get-up-and-go. If I had any complaint, it would be that the drydown shifts into a standard "sport fragrance" gear that seems a little predictable, and slightly unworthy of the rest.

But those first forty minutes? Pure Don Draper.

Don't get me wrong-- baby powder's great, if you want to smell like a baby. But as a grown woman, I'm not afraid to admit I feel more comfortable smelling like a grown man-- and that makes Timbuktu the ideal perfume for this Daddy's girl.

Scent Elements: Mango, pink pepper, frankincense, papyrus, vetiver, karo karounde, balsam, patchouli, myrrh

Sacrebleu (Parfums de Nicolaï)

At this precise point in the arc of human evolution, it may seem that magic is on its last legs. The smarter we become, the further we stray from the neighborhoods of the divine. Once-mighty gods are now plastic action figures. Ancient religions limp along as superstitions. The Great Pan is dead, replaced by the Sony Playstation.

Flowers are no exception to the trend of disempowerment. Once upon a time, they were viewed as living missives from the otherworld. Plucking the wrong one could draw the wrath of the unseen; illness, misfortune, and death might visit the house into which a single stolen blossom was carried. For flowers belonged to the fairies-- savage and unpredictable elemental beings whom one begged for protection and bribed to keep at a safe distance. Even helpful flowers were host to uncanny spirits. Periwinkle blooms, said to ward off all manner of evil, were yet used to adorn the graves of children. Those in the know called them violettes des sorciers.... witch violets.

But that was long ago. The Victorians and Edwardians stripped flowers clean of all unseemly characteristics and recostumed fairies in gossamer and starlight-- friendly, sanitized and safe for children. What job they started, Walt Disney finished.... and generations of girls like me grew up unaware of a femininity whose power was manifest not in cellophane wings, but in claws and teeth.

I admit I have never been what you would call the flower-fairy type. Even as a little girl, I eschewed things like dolls and frills and the color pink in favor of snake hunting and rock collecting. To my mind, flowers were just one more mark of femininity to which my tomboy self stood in improper contrast. It follows that in my adult life, floral perfumes have largely struck me as overwrought in one of two directions: syrup or sugar, oversexed or sexless. One is womanhood exaggerated; the other is womanhood sanitized. Neither is natural or (at least to me) appealing. I have long found myself wishing for a floral with all of its dark magic intact-- inspiring equal amounts of desire and dread.

Was I born at the wrong time? Had I missed my chance?

Luckily, every so often, the breath of some age-old spirit reaches us from its hiding place, and we experience a primordial chill of recognition that reaches as deep as our bones. The violettes des sorciers are not all banished-- they're in Sacrebleu, a perfume as close to unseelie as it gets.

Of the several recognized usages of sacrebleu, which one did perfumer Patricia de Nicolaï mean to evoke? On one hand, sacré bleu allegedly refers to the celestial color of the cloak worn by the Mother of God. Taken in this light, the name of this perfume seems almost prayerful. In reality, however, sacrebleu is a curse word-- something to shout when outraged. I like to think Nicolaï intended the latter, for this perfume was designed to provoke-- as I discovered in the first wearing.

First came a mighty, in-your-face note of anise-- then nothing. Sacrebleu had simply disappeared. Failing to notice the "back in five" sign (written in the tiniest handwriting imaginable, and in invisible ink), I liberally reapplied to all pulse points. And waited.

Then anise returned-- with reinforcements. Sandalwood, licorice, cinnamon, vanilla. Soon they had me surrounded-- a pack of manic scent fairies spiraling around me in a helix of sparkling aromas. Outnumbered and outgunned, I surrendered and closed my eyes. The air around me prickled with electricity, shimmered with color. And the scent-- fizzy, hard, and bright, intensifying and picking up velocity with every passing second. I could have been standing in an enchanted ring of violettes des sorciers in some shadowy forest straight out of Grimm... or on one of the rings of Saturn, dodging silver meteorites.

The glamoury lasted all day, most of which I'm sure I spent smiling goofily with my eyes crossed. When I finally landed back on earth, that maddening scent had faded to a nice Choward's Violet Mint sort of thing, dry and pleasantly prickly on the nose. But the fairies had vanished, as fairies do.... and I think the little bastards made off with my wallet.

They're welcome to it. It's a small price to pay for real magic.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, raspberry, blackcurrant, peach, apricot, carnation, tuberose, jasmine, cinnamon oil, frankincense, patchouli, sandalwood, balsam Peru, tonka bean absolute

Aedes de Venustas (L'Artisan)

Spring is coming, and with it, the age-old compulsion to clean house. We fast, detox, wash windows, file taxes, and swap out everything heavy -- food, clothing, attitudes, and of course, fragrance -- for something healthy, bracing, and light.

To kickstart the renaissance, here's Aedes de Venustas, a fragrance created by Bertrand Duchaufour exclusively for the eponymous NYC boutique. Online or on-site, Aedes serves up its house blend in just about every imaginable form -- votive candles, diffusers, gift sets, room sprays, and oh yes, eau de parfum -- all gorgeously packaged and seizure-inducingly expensive. (Sixty-five dollars for a candle in a jar-- really? No, seriously-- really?)

A 3.4 oz. (100 ml.) bottle of Aedes de Venustas purchased straight from the source will set you back $185.00-- or $1.85 per milliliter. (For unit-price comparison, a 1ml. decanted sample from the Perfumed Court costs $5.00-- quite a markup, but it includes parts and labor.) If you prefer to "try before you buy", Aedes' online store offers a mail-order-only deal on perfume samples. Choose seven 0.1 oz (2+ ml) testers from their impressively wide selection for a flat-rate shipping fee of $15.00. (Not bad, considering that a six-sample set of 0.3oz "luxury miniatures" by Amouage costs close to $300.)

The bottom line is this: do whatever you have to do and spend whatever you have to spend to get your hands on Aedes de Venustas. And then wear it. Wear the hell out of it.

Aedes de Venustas is the virtual equivalent of a scent garden near the sea, where the hale aroma of a hundred living herbs comes to you on an ocean breeze rich with salt and negative ions. To arrive at this effect, Duchaufour has gathered for us a therapeutic bouquet garni of dry-soil herbs - thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage, and artemesia - which he presents simply atop a straightforward cedar base. Patchouli is here, too, but not the oily, objectionable kind-- instead, it's already been converted to smoke rising from a censer. The resulting symphony of scent is penetrating yet light, austere yet thoroughly uplifting, and devoid of useless excess. One feels rejuvenated merely by the act of breathing it in.

Aedes de Venustas is an affordable little luxury for everyday living. It seems born to be a daily signature spritz rather than a special-occasion show-stopper... and that's just fine. Don't hoard it like gold. Get happy.

Scent Elements: Orange, pink and black pepper, cardamom, rose, iris, cedar, patchouli, coffee, opoponax, benzoin, moss, vanilla, white musk