Inner Sanctum (DSH Perfumes)

Back in high school, a friend of mine achieved the ultimate street cred when his parents kicked him out of the house. They happened to own a local restaurant, at which toiled a half-dozen migrant Mexican line cooks. These kind-hearted gentlemen took pity on my friend and gave him shelter at the abandoned farmhouse they occupied as squatters.

Hidden from the world by a thick screen of wild rose vines, they all lived together in fraternal peace-- cooking communal meals on a Sterno camp stove and pitching in to keep their shack spotlessly clean. Visiting them there, I was deeply struck by the monastic simplicity of their lives. Amid the flickering light of candles in thick glass jars emblazoned with the visage of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, they pooled their dreams of better days to be earned through hard work and faith.

Even today I remember the sleepy buzz of bees among the wild roses, the green tapestry of honeysuckle vines, the damp, musty smell of rotting wood, the accumulated smoke of cheap copal and nag champa incense burned in coffee cans, the ozonic scent of summer thunderstorms.... and when I wear Inner Sanctum, those days of hope in the face of hardship are seamlessly resurrected.

Scent Elements: Bulgarian rose otto, sandalwood, amber, moss, oud, Arabian myrrh

Natori Eau de Parfum (Natori)

...Elfine obediently resumed her reading aloud of 'Our Lives from Day to Day' from an April number of Vogue. When she had finished, Flora took her, page by page, through a copy of Chiffons, which was devoted to descriptions and sketches of lingerie. Flora pointed out how these graceful petticoats and night-gowns depended upon their pure line and delicate embroidery for their beauty; how all gross romanticism was purged away, or expressed only in a fold or a flute of material. She then showed how the same delicacy might be found in the style of Jane Austen, or a painting by Marie Laurencin...

-- excerpt from Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm, 1932
I'm generally what you might call a lingerie Philistine. On me, the word "delicates" is wasted. I buy my generic cotton bikinis by the three-pack off the peg wall at Target or JCPenney. My bras must be able to withstand fifty washings with denim jeans, or what's the point? I have neither the time nor patience for hand-laundered silk or lace. I have a life, see? (Sure, I'd probably have even more of one if I added a couple of teddies and peignoirs to my scanties drawer. But how long is a sane person supposed to tolerate the hot pink walls, klieg-lit mirrors, and seizure-inducing club music of the local panty palace?)

Similarly, I regard with suspicion any and all fragrances released by lingerie designers. Almost invariably of the vanilla-sugar-topped-with-pink-cherry-blossoms variety, these egregious 'fauxrientals' provide half the reason I need to avoid Victoria's Secret like the plague. (The other half is plain old modesty-- blame it on my shtetl genetics, but I would sooner choose a nightgown that cloaks me from stem to stern than the flimsy négligée Victoria offers. "Secret"? What secret? Feh!)

The sleepwear line authored by investment banker-turned-fashion-designer Josie Natori falls halfway between the tznius-laden frumwear of my forebears and the overly revealing costume pieces favored by Victoria et al. On one hand, these gently flowing tunics, gowns, and pajama sets certainly cover you up, if that's what you wish. (I do). On the other hand, said garments are executed in the most hilariously overwrought colors and patterns conceivable. (Hideous jaguar prints? Check. Eye-hurting tie-dyes? Check.) It's almost as if both hemispheres of Natori's brain are expressing themselves simultaneously, at wildly different volumes; the loudness and force of one drowns out the genteel cadence of the other, leaving the shopper feeling as though they're witnessing an argument... available in sizes XS-XL.

Luckily, Natori's eponymous perfume suffers from no such cognitive dissonance. Here we have a soft floral in the Chanel No. 5 mold-- which is to say that no single note is predominant; all sing together in pleasing four-part harmony, backed by the Percy Faith Orchestra. It slips on over one's head like a floor-length bias-cut gown of the most whisper-soft charmeuse. No transitions from top to heart to base interrupt its serene journey through time; from beginning to end, it plays one smile-inducing chord at the sort of subtle decibel level that allows you (and presumably those around you) to simply think straight.

Elevator muzak for the nose? Maybe. But if you find the mall as distressing as I do, the piped-in sounds of "A Summer Place" as you ride the escalator heavenward can be the only thing standing between you and a consumer panic attack.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, rose, ylang-ylang, peony, jasmine, plum, patchouli, amber, musk

Fleurs de Bulgarie (Creed)

Commissioned as a surprise birthday present for her beloved husband, a certain Winterhalter portrait of Queen Victoria reveals not a regal sovereign, but a woman full of fire and passion. Unruly locks of hair escape her coiffure, cascading over her shoulders. Only in the privacy of the conjugal bedchamber would the 24-year-old Queen have thus let her hair down. Obviously this painting is a visual billet-doux created exclusively for Albert's eyes-- its romanticism anchored safely within the propriety of marriage.

Composed for Victoria in 1845 by the venerable house of Creed, Fleurs de Bulgarie -- a free-spirited scent for an intensely feminine woman -- likewise hints at unrestrained delights to be enjoyed when backs are turned. I envision the tiny Queen blowing through her court like a rose-scented sirocco-- her ceremonial dress correct down to the last ribbon, but the scent of Fleurs de Bulgarie billowing like a banner of youth in her wake.

The rose that predominates FdB is, as promised, of the deep cerise Damascene variety-- velvety petals as soft as a lover's lips. It permits bergamot exactly three seconds to sound a fanfare before demanding that it step aside. This, after all, is a royal rose to which all other notes must defer-- except ambergris, whose sexy-salty tang reminds even a Queen of her susceptibility to tender emotions. The overall effect is of girlish joy contained (not suppressed) for a time and place when it may be set free. Did Victoria wear Fleurs de Bulgarie to state functions as did Jacqueline Kennedy wore Jicky-- to poke gentle fun at all the stuffed shirts? Or did its essence form the backbone of a private language between Queen and Consort? (Later, my love... later...)

My sample of FdB came from Bloody Frida, who must have known that the thirst for emancipation can strike a girl at any age. I put off wearing it over the winter, reckoning that I'd need it more keenly at that precarious moment when spring seems to withhold itself, coming close without fully committing, taunting us with its coy approach. That moment has stretched into an entire week, during which I've discharged my obligations to not one but two library programs while outside the rain falls and falls. Throughout it all, Fleurs de Bulgarie helped me keep my head above the waterline. (Thank you, dear Frida!)

Scent Elements: Bergamot, rosa damascena, musk, ambergris

Roseberry (Les Parfums de Rosine)

You would think I'd have learned by now that the luck of the draw is not the most reliable avenue to happiness. Exhibit A: this decant of Les Parfums de Rosine Roseberry, which I purchased for fifty cents and which, I assure you, is worth every penny. With exactly twice as many pennies, I could buy a bottle of liquid dish soap at the local dollar store. Cheap as it is, it would undoubtedly smell better than cassis-soaked cardboard. I could then use it to gratefully scrub all traces of Roseberry away, after which would I choose something more worthy from my backlog of untried scents, rather than reaching blindly (as I did this morning) and snatching up the first thing my fingers touched.

One gets pricked by thorns that way.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, blackberry, cassis, chamomile, rose, raspberry leaf, sandalwood, vetiver, iris

Trésor (Lancôme)

This weekend, I awarded myself a break from PowerPointing and went antiquing with my friend M.  We ended up at the Red Bank Antique Center, a huge multi-building emporium housing dozens of individual vendors.  Of course I kept my eyes peeled for perfume, and I was not disappointed-- walking away with bottles of Coty Les Muses and Norell and earmarking a tiny presentation-box Emeraude circa 1960 for future consideration.

However, while browsing, a strange but undeniable fact came to my attention:  nobody wants Trésor.

I can hear it now:  What a reckless statement! Of course people want Trésor-- it's a best-selling perfume!  Ah.  But once it's bought, who holds onto it? Judging by the outrageous number of full Trésor bottles of all sizes populating every display case I looked at, hardly anyone.  After a while, it almost became a joke.  I seriously considered playing the perfume version of "Punch Buggy" with M:  Look! Trésor at three o'clock! BAM!

In days long past, I admit I took advantage of Trésor's thrift-store ubiquity.  Maybe that fancy little circumflex accent mark over Lancôme's "o" hypnotized me into thinking I was scoring a steal (all the way from Paris, France, no less).  My nose tended to go along with this fiction, more out of boredom than anything else.  It has since learned differently, and better. I have sampled more of what the world of perfume has to offer, and now -- at long last -- Trésor is the thing that bores the pants off of me.

Originally composed by Jean Hervelin in 1952, Trésor began life as a dreamy vanillic rose worthy of a thousand and one Arabian nights.  In 1990 it received a classic Sophia Grojsman breast enhancement: what had once been soft and retiring was now bustin' out all over. For those accustomed to the old Trésor, a sniff of the redux must have come as a shock-- much like reaching to embrace an old lover only to find a big bad balcony of freshly-installed silicone in the way.  For all its lushness, the sheer circumference of Trésor's cosmetically-sculpted Amazon physique ultimately keeps suitors at a distance.  (Ain't no mountain high enough?  I beg your pardon.)

Flat-chested and dowdy though she may have been, the old Trésor fit neatly in your arms. Compared to her '90's era sister, she's a plain Jane-- but just you try telling that to Tarzan, or me for that matter.  The day I find a true vintage Trésor in the display case, all New Jersey will hear my jungle cry.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, peach, pineapple, apricot, lilac, lily-of-the-valley, heliotrope, rose, jasmine, iris, sandalwood, amber, musk, vanilla