Petrana (Odin New York)

Like an olfactory Patrick Nagel print, Petrana is a postmodern fragrance arranged in crisply demarcated fields of grey, fuchsia, burgundy, and black. Starting with an extremely tart hot-pink berry note, it quickly transitions to a sumptuously textured iris. Then -- like one of Nagel's enigmatic beauties -- it leans back with a Mona Lisa smile and defies you to explain how neon and suede could possibly be related. While you sweat and mumble to yourself over the math, it sneaks in a woodsy, almost masculine vetiver-and-pepper accord to further throw you off balance.

But just as tension is half the joy of sex, Petrana makes it fun to be frustrated.  There's an air of wry conundrum about this fragrance that defies easy summary even after hours spent in its presence. It is not especially radiant, but elusiveness is key to its allure. Cipherlike, yet friendly and willing to play, Petrana frisks around the periphery of my awareness like a well-meaning poltergeist whose mischief is all aromatic. All day, I keep turning my head to hear its disembodied whisper or to see it dart out of sight.

The greatest shock to my system is Petrana's modernity. Lately I've spending a lot of time (happily, mind you) in a retro-haze brought on by vintage fragrance overdosage. A quick read-through of Petrana's ad copy suggests an ode to an ancient culture (in this case Jordan, where grow the black irises from which perfumer Jean-Claude Delville derived inspiration). Yet for all the poetics of its promotional campaign, Odin New York has switched the traces and presented us with something utterly, unexpectedly futuristic. Petrana's transitions from top to base are lightning-fast and super-intelligent in a manner reminiscent of Serge Lutens' La Myrrhe.  It's as if this fragrance is running on the world's fastest processor while all others are lumbering along on the strength of old operating systems.  I wouldn't doubt that it could beat me at chess.

Petrana is the Great Sphinx modeled on classical proportions, but cast in hi-tech brushed titanium. Her riddles remain arcane, but the answers are given in hacker's code rather than in hieroglyphics or celestial tongues.  Upgrade your browsers: this is a goddess for the millenial interface.

Scent Elements: Cassis, pink pepper, coriander, black iris flower (Iris petrana), violet leaf, heliotrope, iris, vetiver, musk

4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser (Mäurer & Wirtz)

At age eleven, I purchased a 4711 gift set for my great-aunt, a sour old biddy with never a good word to say. She and I didn't exactly adore one another -- the last present I'd given her (a "handmade" utensil canister made from a coffee can wrapped in contact paper) had met with an acid sneer -- but hers was the name I'd drawn at random from the Secret Santa hat. So off I went to McCrory's with a month's allowance in my pocket and the sinking heart of a gallows-bound convict.

Though I knew nothing whatsoever about 4711's illustrious history, it smelled really nice, and I felt drawn to its beautiful, old-timey gold-and-turquoise label. The gift box, mock-satin-lined and touched with gold foil, included a spray bottle of the original eau de cologne and a fancy wrapped soap. Easy, right? But would it be good enough for Her Highness? After all, her dressing table was strewn with costly old bottles of Shalimar and Arpège, and you sure couldn't get those at McCrory's. I didn't feel particularly hopeful as I brought it up to the cash register.

On Christmas morning, as my great-aunt tore off the wrapping paper, I sat waiting for the axe to fall. But the moment her eyes fell on the gold-and-turquoise label, her entire face lit up. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of what she must have been like as a child on Christmas mornings long past.

"OH!" she exclaimed. "This is GOOD!"

Somehow -- by spending a few dollars at the local five-and-dime -- I'd managed to give this hardened woman-of-the-world something she didn't already have. Happiness.

Today, in the aftermath of what we are now terming our Weekend Watergate, I have liberally sprayed myself with 4711... for medicinal purposes, you understand. I believe that this blend of hesperidic, anisic, and heliotropic notes possesses apothecary as well as artistic merit. Nearly three centuries of continuous use can't be wrong: apply directly where it hurts.

That I can afford to do so in abundance is something I owe entirely to an unknown shopper who (unlike the eleven-year-old me) made a terrible, terrible mistake. Spying a 400ml. bottle of 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser at the local Bed Bath & Beyond (and perhaps mistaking it for a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, which it vaguely resembles in both shape and size), said shopper gave in to an ungovernable urge to snatch it down from the shelf and twist off its factory-sealed cap. (Please note: it was not me.) Three months later, this act of mercantile roguery worked in my favor, as I purchased the result of their poor impulse control at an obscene markdown.

4711 is the original cologne, a fine citrus-and-herb formula unchanged over the centuries. It comes in a beautiful bottle, priced dirt-cheap, and is as perfect as I remember it. I recently described its effect to a friend as a 'chilly, refreshing, spring-rain feeling'-- and that last word captures the soul of 4711's allure. It IS a feeling, as well as a perfume-- a sort of emotional/olfactory baseline to which it is beneficial to return whenever life (or other perfumes) have unsettled you. If 4711 were the norm, I'd be the happiest conformist around. To me, as to my great-aunt, it's truly the scent of joy itself-- pure, simple, surprising, like sunlight on a day when nothing but rain was expected.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, orange, petitgrain, neroli, rosemary, rose, musk, woods

L'Eau de L'Eau (Diptyque)

This past Sunday, my husband and I ventured out together into the midday heat for a round of day-off errands-- laundry, groceries, the usual. When we returned, we found our front door open. Well, not just open... busted open. The lock had been broken, the strikeplate torn off, and the very door frame cracked by the force of someone's desire to get inside. Yet not a single thing in our second-floor apartment had been taken-- or even touched, from the looks of it. All this happened in broad daylight, in full view of the street, unnoticed by our neighbors. A mystery.

Can't say we care much for mysteries chez Olenska.

After a lovely visit from our helpful local police force, we barricaded the now-useless front door with furniture and spent Sunday night in a state of sleepless high alert, twitching at every tiny cricket chirp in the neighborhood. On Monday, our landlord arrived to rebuild our front door, replacing hinges and strikeplates, adding new locks and deadbolts, and shaking his head over the whole amazing tale. He especially liked our jury-rigged "security alarm"-- empty glass bottles attached in pairs to the door handles via rubber bands. (Thanks to DC for the crafty tip!)

Today -- three new locks, two new keys, and six hours of exhausted, dreamless sleep later -- I feel safer but infinitely tired, as if my spouse and I had gotten swept up in an out-of-control cross-country marathon that deposited us this morning at our respective workplaces. The extent to which my peace of mind has been shaken? I didn't even realize I'd forgotten to put on perfume until an hour into my shift. Incroyable!

Luckily, Carol's Bag of Wonderful held a healing potion for me in my time of need. I reached in blindly and pulled out Diptyque's L'Eau de L'Eau-- the perfect choice, since it smells just like a delicious cup of chai, all muted spices and milky benzoin bent on soothing rattled nerves. It dries down to a cool murmur of a scent that at present feels as sweetly smooth and reassuring as a microfiber fleece blanket. You would think that such a thing would be contraindicated in the summer heat, but today, I truly welcome its comfort.

The week started rough; I hope it ends soft-- for all of you, as well as for us. Be safe and well, everyone.

Scent Elements: Green mandarin, ginger, cinnamon, benzoin

La Belle Hélène Eau de Parfum (Parfums MDCI)

Once upon a time, I regarded pears with gluttonous passion. Raw, baked, poached in syrup or wine; cold from the refrigerator or fresh from the tree; glossy green, tan and leathery, blushed with scarlet or freckled and full of grace; from woody stem to shiny obsidian seed and all the sugary nectar inbetween-- I adored them.

Now, not so much.  What happened?

Four years ago, my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary with an elaborate backyard party. The chosen theme being "A Terrific Pair", pear-motif decorations abounded-- including a set of heavy pottery table centerpieces contributed by my younger sister. She was so proud of them, with their mottled green glaze and tarnished copper-wire stems, that I couldn't bring myself to admit I found them hideous... but then, I never needed to. Someone loved those pears so much, they simply took them home at the end of the party.

For the next three years, my sister pursued those pears with the dedication of a bail bondsman. She eulogized their loss at holiday dinners, cited their cost over plates of summer barbeque, described in detail the Ulyssean travails and tribulations she'd undergone to procure them. She even pointed them out to me in snapshots of the anniversary party, as if I were a key witness in a missing-persons case whose spotty memory needed jogging.

How could someone just TAKE them? she kept asking. Who would just HELP THEMSELVES like that?

I didn't know. To be honest, I couldn't actually imagine someone coveting those pieces of kitsch badly enough to plot a heist around them. Over and over, I expressed my sincere hope that they would be recovered... but after two years of this ritual, I noticed my sister's questions had started to become more direct.

Are you SURE you don't have one at home? she finally asked me one day. Her voice had an odd edge to it that warned me I might want to step carefully. Maybe you took it and forgot that you had it. Maybe you were loading party leftovers into your car and it ended up in your trunk. I'm not going to be angry. I just need to know.

I felt like laughing. She thinks I stole those stupid pears! I thought.  My mind flashed to that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie's Mom shrieks, "Jealous? Jealous of WHAT? That is the ugliest lamp I have ever seen in my entire LIFE!" I half wish I had said something like this... because it would have saved me a year of interrogative hectoring and sidelong glares.

To this day, the Case of the Purloined Pears remains unsolved... but the very thought of pears now makes me paranoid and twitchy. I can't even eat them anymore without looking over my shoulder. So why I am I wearing a perfume predicated on their scent?

Jesus, I don't know. It sounded good. It's the latest thing. I simply had to try it. All that crap. And now that I'm wearing La Belle Hélène, I wish I wasn't. It might be me, or today's hundred-degree heat, or the fact that I paid an obscene amount of money for a scant half-milliliter of something that smells like Garnier Fructis shampoo or (even less forgivable) Juicy Pear Jelly Bellies.  But La Belle Hélène fills me with a great and abiding impatience I cannot ascribe to any other cause but bad blood. It's pretty; it's fresh; I'm sure many people will fall on the floor in raptures over it. All it does for me is stir up a hornet's nest of bad associations, so while it probably deserves better (at that price, almost certainly!) I'm afraid I'm going to have to scrub it.

Others may assert that fragrance can be divorced from emotional baggage, or that molecular structure overrides personal memory, or that it is possible to practice total objectivity and never once connect new data to prior experience. To them I say, enjoy La Belle Hélène. I know I might have, if not for some stupid ceramic centerpieces from four years ago.

Scent Elements: Pear, tangerine, Mirabelle plum, lime blossom, aldehydes, rose, osmanthus, ylang-ylang, iris, hawthorn, myrrh, vetiver, patchouli, Virginia cedar, amber, oakmoss, white musk, sandalwood and something calling itself "licorice wood" even though licorice is properly a root, and not even that of a tree.

Into the woods.

Today's trio of fragrances all share a common family tree, so to speak-- genus Aquilaria, also known as agarwood, aloeswood, eaglewood, lignum aquila (Latin), aguru (Hindi), gaharu (Malay), sashi (Assam), mai kritsana (Thai), chén-xīang (Chinese),  jinkoh (Japanese), trầm hương (Vietnamese), arbazhig (Tibetan),  and last but not least, oud (Arabic).

Oud 27 (Le Labo)
Crazysexycardboard! All right, I'm sure more is required here than a made-up word. But Oud 27 IS crazy (morphing madly by the minute, from cedar to frankincense to black pepper to freshly-washed, still-damp hair) and sexy (never has "steamy wet animal" offered so much unexpected appeal). And it most certainly does smell like cardboard -- really well-kept, antique, archival-quality cardboard -- before, during, and after you set it on fire. Then Oud 27 spends the better part of a day sending up a red Hephaestean glow from your pulse points, making all around you wonder where you get your smouldering appeal. Why, from a bottle, naturally!

Scent Elements: Oud, cedar atlas, incense, patchouli, black pepper, saffron, guaiac wood

Oud Cuir d'Arabie (Montale)
It would be hard to articulate the exact shade of disappointment I feel about this fragrance. The closest I can come would be to imagine paying to see an Indiana Jones film only to find that the Professor never once leaves his classroom. I forked over my hard-earned cash to see him gunbelted and whip-bedecked, leaping across impossible chasms in his dusty Army Air Corp trousers, the collar of his linen shirt opened to reveal an expanse of tanned throat. Instead I get him looking pale and serious, buttoned up tight in a fusty flannel suit, his glasses visibly pinching his nose. Respected critics hasten to assure me that Oud Cuir d'Arabie is the epitome of ouds-- and with no fewer than two dozen oud fragrances on the market, I expect Montale to shake the very foundations of the earth with this one. Instead, Oud Cuir d'Arabie strikes me as little that isn't already offered by LUSH's Breath of God-- at half the price, half the pretension, and ten times the accessibility. (But Breath of God doesn't have oud in it, you say. Does your oud collection have some teeny gap in it which keeps you awake at night?  Mine doesn't.)

Scent Elements: Leather, oud, tobacco, burnt wood notes

Black Aoud (Montale)
Now, this is more like it... yet at the same time, it still isn't enough. I agree that oud and rose are destined for each other; clearly they share a certain edge as sharp and silvery as a knife's blade, here honed to razor keenness against which Black Aoud's feminine qualities flower in lush, extravagant contrast.  On skin, the collaboration between suede-like petals and raw wood grain plays out more enjoyably than the smoky vagaries of Oud Cuir d'Arabie.  But again I ask:  is this all there is?  When this sample's gone, will painful yearnings drive me to obtain more?  Only time will tell.  Whereas my dwindling supply of Montale's Boisé Vanillé is already making me bite my knuckles in the dark of my room at midnight...

Scent Elements: Oud, rose, labdanum, musk, patchouli, mandarin

Elixir (Penhaligon's)

Olivia Giacobetti's signature 'quiet' accord finds itself on a collision course with Hammam Bouquet. And if that sounds uncomfortably like Viggo Mortensen's naked steam-room brawl scene in Eastern Promises, I shall say no more.

Scent Elements: Neroli, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, cardamom, mace, rosewood, sandalwood, guaiac, cedar, benzoin, tonka bean, vanilla, and "eucalyptus steam", which my nose read as tea tree but which my husband identified as witch hazel. Basically, Idole de Lubin plus Vicks Vap-O-Rub. (Sorry, Olivia. I love you dearly.

Canali Men (Canali)

Agrumata, speziata, fiorita, legnoso, cuoio. Hesperidic, spicy, flowery, woody, leathery. So says the sample card-- but one sniff tells me that the Canali Man is none of these things. Rather, he's fifty-five, overweight, divorced "but looking", given to wearing overbright rayon aloha shirts when he's in a party mood, which is all the time! The pockets of his pleat-front khakis bulge with his outmoded jumbo cell phone and a wallet bursting with shots of his kids, which he always displays on first (and henceforth last) dates. He calls women 'ladies' because he thinks it's chivalrous but fails to understand that the way he says it (Weeellll, hel-LOOO ladies!) causes females to scatter at his approach. This saddens him, for he desperately wants to be liked. Unfortunately, I cannot oblige him. He is too cloying, clinging, insistent; he comes on too strong and leaves me queasy and needful for air.

For actual agrumata, speziata, fiorita, legnoso, and cuoio, buy yourself some Paco Rabanne Pour Homme.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, pineapple, apple, nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, violet, orange blossom, leather, suede, iris absolute, guaiac wood, cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka bean, amber, oakmoss.

Azzaro Pour Homme (Azzaro)

Alliage Pour Homme is more like it. After all, Alliage (1972) came first, proving instructive in the proper alchemical combination of evergreen and lemon notes for use in a chypre. Why not in a fougère? Azzaro Pour Homme (1978) gives Alliage's main theme a fraternal spin, with minor adjustments for the sake of masculine vanity-- vetiver in place of galbanum, a handsome milky cedar-soap drydown.  But really, side by side, you'd think Alliage and Azzaro were twins.  Wear it to feel clean and hale-- but for real unisex thrills, go with Aromatics Elixir instead.

Scent Elements: Lavender, geranium, anise, petitgrain, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, oakmoss, cardamom, basil, lemon, ambergris, musk

Monsieur Balmain (Balmain)

Billed as un parfum hespéridé, Monsieur Balmain is quite the surprise: a cheerful limoncello masculine. Most of the gents I know would question the very idea of wearing something that sounds like a ladies' cocktail, but I urge them to set aside their prejudices toward tiny umbrellas just this once. You don't need to be swamped in manly woods and musk all year round, do you?

Summer's the right time to relax your guard and go in for salty seaside air, crisp green mint leaves, silvery vetiver, and of course, the pure sunshine of citrus. No one will question your macho credentials. They will be too busy sniffing you, enraptured.

Scent Elements: Mint, citron, bigarade, verbena, bergamot, petitgrain, rose, black pepper, ginger, rosemary, nutmeg, thyme, oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, sage, cedar, amber

Le Troisième Homme (Caron)

Expecting to be knocked on my keester by sheer awesomeness after everything I've read, I am saddened to find 'The Third Man' to be... well, second-rate. It's an anisic fougère like Jicky with fruity-musky notes like Feminitè du Bois, and since I gave both of those fragrances five stars apiece, you'd think that their love child would also score big in my book. But after Guerlainapalooza and SergeFest, I guess my nose is plumb tuckered out.

It's not that Le Troisième Homme is a total disappointment; of course my sample won't go to waste. But I just can't see the cause of all the hyperbole. Nice is nice, no more and no less.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lavender, rosemary, anise, geranium, jasmine, rose, galbanum, carnation, cedar, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, musk, tonka bean, vanilla

No. 19 Eau de Toilette (Chanel)

For a person, an object, or an image to become an icon, it usually takes decades of cumulative worship. Keira Knightley won the prize in an instant by appearing in a backless bias-cut jade evening gown (and little else) in the 2007 film Atonement. In what seemed like seconds, she and her emerald ensemble triggered a global gasp. Was there ever a woman so lovely, so touchable and untouchable all at once?

In the original Ian McEwan novel, Cecelia Tallis chooses this gown out of pique-- toward the man she secretly loves but cannot approach, toward a closetful of other dresses too immature to match their blossoming owner, and above all, toward the blistering heat wave gripping the countryside. Donning the green dress changes everything. She slips it on over her head in one motion and emerges from her room cool as a river, remote as Artemis.

Wouldn't we all like such a talisman against the heat of the sun?

Chanel No. 19 is a pale green glass bottle sanded to frosted perfection in a thousand oceanic wash cycles. Inside, of course, is a message: water is always cooler than air. Though No. 19 is built upon an earthy foundation of iris and galbanum, its every molecule somehow encapsulates the idea of sea foam: water relieved of its own weight by sheer turbulence. Even its flowery aspect seems compounded not of petals, but of different-scented mists born across the surface of the ocean. Every spray takes one's inner temperature down a good notch, a trick which guarantees that demand will never wane... at least until the angle of the earth changes, and the mercury in the thermometer retreats south on its own.

Scent Elements: Galbanum, bergamot, aldehydes, violet, lemon, lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, iris, carnation, rose, ylang-ylang, narcissus, vetiver, cedar, sandalwood, musk, amber, oakmoss

Meerschaum Parfum Absolute and Demi-Absolute

Artist Liz Zorn is a nomad of creativity, migrating from sense to sense and building temples of innovation wherever her gypsy feet lead. Soivohle is her sojourn through the land of the olfactory-- and Meerschaum is a holy chrism of rare feeling and resonance, a worthy memento of a personal pilgrimage.

Here, tobacco takes on the smoky intensity of Mysore sandalwood, with a salty-lactonic back note reminiscent of freshly rendered ghee. Strangely, I'm reminded of an old hippie cookbook I used to have wherein could be found a recipe for something called Sacred Butter. The tobacco used to make it was... well, of another species altogether, if you take my meaning. But it was (as Meerschaum may well be) guaranteed to provide visions of all levels of heaven.

What's the difference between the Absolute and the Demi? A mere shade of richness and longevity. Both are stunning and provide (for this perfumista, anyway) a glorious introduction to the world of Soivohle.

Scent Elements: Tobacco, spices, cedar, chamomile, amber, moss, flowers

Tabacca (Costamor)

For days now, despite the dizzying array of bottles, decants, sprayers, and samples twinkling at me from within the Cabinet of Scent, I've reached again and again for a particular fragrance. What I want from that fragrance is a feeling. No, not even a feeling; a sensation-- the top-speed elevator rush of nicotine infiltrating the old blood-brain barrier on that very first inhale.

That's right. I keep putting on perfume when what I really want is a cigarette.

Don't you judge me.

I stopped smoking three and a half, almost four years ago. It wasn't difficult, as I'd only been a smoker for about a year, and a lightweight at that. By all logic, the habit should not be too deeply ingrained in my psyche. But when I'm feeling stressed out or hemmed in, and I walk past a stranger about to take their first nice deep drag off a newly lit cigarette, I experience a sympathetic shiver -- Oooohhhh, that is going to HIT THE SPOT! -- that's almost as satisfying as actual inhalation.

But I keep walking, because I've discovered an even better antidote to those hard-to-answer cravings: Tabacca by Costamor.

California perfumer Elizabeth Wright drew her inspiration for Tabacca from youthful memories of Costa Rica, where Nicotiana destined for the finest cigars is cultivated in fertile volcanic soil. If it's pipe-weed you want, Tabacca serves up a raw dose of it straight from the get-go-- full-bodied, direct and sweet, with depth and complexity provided by hints of rose hips and harvest apple. This thrilling opener quiets (if you can call it that) into a rich gourmand amber similar to Parfums d'Empire's Ambre Russe-- and just as addictive.

Now here's the clincher. Just like cigars and cigarettes, perfumes differ widely in quality, price, and exclusivity. Unless you are a jillionaire, the higher the product rating, the more self-limiting your habit must needs be. I actually utilized this principle to control my own smoking habit, resolving ONLY to smoke a certain expensive, high-quality, hard-to-find brand whose purchase involved travel and inconvenience. But with 1ml. samples costing a comparative pittance, there's no reason to economize quite so harshly with perfume. Sure, you can go cheap and get the equivalent of gas station Swisher Sweets (Mäurer & Wirtz Tabac, anyone?). But if it's affordable, why not indulge sparingly on a higher plane? Tabacca retails at a cost ($75/50 ml) that places it comfortably in the affordable range, and it makes up the weight with undeniable quality of design.

Consider it ideal for your next daily "nic fix".

Scent Elements: Aromatic spices, apple peel, jasmine, rose tea, raw and dried tobacco leaves, rare woods, amber

According to medical studies, smoking gradually deadens one's sense of smell at the level of the olfactory nerve. Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to experience significantly impaired ability to differentiate one odor from another. I probably didn't smoke long enough to find out, but oddly, I've heard that many well-known perfumers smoke like chimneys. Then they go and make divine fragrances that smell like a tobacconist's shop in Shangri-La and which ought to be a routine therapeutic element in nicotine addiction recovery, just like the Patch or the eCigarette. (One of my friends recently worked his way down to the nicotine-free stage using the latter... and looked way cool doing it. I should totally lay some Costamor samples on him by way of celebration.)

Norell Eau de Toilette (Revlon)

Recently, I received a very polite email from the webmaster of a forum devoted to ladies' designer handbags. He suggested that we might find it mutually beneficial to promote each others' sites since we shared the same demographics. After executing a nifty spit-take with my coffee, I did my best to ponder what on earth he meant  by that. Demographics?... Handbags?... the HELL?!

When one views perfumery as an art form wherein each fragrance ideally represents an exquisite, one-of-a-kind experience, the resulting haze of romanticism tends to obscure the truth: perfumes are products. So are handbags. I imagine there are bloggers out there who review handbags the way I review perfumes: for the sheer pleasure of putting words together in the service of beauty. Or maybe just they get paid to do it. I most resolutely don't.

At any rate, I can't hold it against Handbag Man. Even though it's plain he only stumbled across my blog in a word search after I mentioned handbags in my Jolie Madame post (and he didn't really bother to read any of it, otherwise he would have realized the depth of my contempt for status-boosting luxury brands), he did do me one favor. He got me thinking about the confluence between perfume and purses. How and why are they related? If one were to draw a Venn diagram with two circles, one for fragrance and the other for handbags, what exactly would characterize the overlap? What is the missing link?

I do believe I've found it.

According to Nigel Groom's Perfume Handbook, the original Norell parfum (1969) was classified as a "Floral (fresh)". Michael Edwards' Fragrance Directory seconds the motion. In 1980, Revlon issued an eau de toilette version which Groom dubs Norell II, describing it as a "Chypre (green-woody)". As Edwards remains mum on the subject, I would therefore venture to propose my own classification: "Ladies' alligator clutch (interior)". For Norell Eau de Toilette indeed smells like the inside of a woman's purse, and the oddest thing is how eloquently and convincingly it argues that you might enjoy smelling like that too.

All the peripheral details of womanly day-to-day existence -- face powder, lipstick, purse leather, scented Kleenex -- play out in sequence from the moment of Norell's first spray. For fun and surprise, you'll also find a nice dose of green galbanum, prickly and slightly bitter, though very pleasant. It's as if somewhere in the depths of this proverbial purse hides the remnants of a formal corsage-- a little totem bundle of dried ferns and flower petals held together with florist's tape, a memento of a long-ago lovely evening carried to remind its owner of a past moment of innocence predating all current sophistication.

If luxury goods impresarios were smart, they'd make all their brand-new wares smell like this-- urbane yet romantic, with the potential of becoming the repository of good memories. And then Handbag Man and I might have something to talk about.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, bergamot, lemon, aldehydes, lavender, hyacinth, narcissus, carnation, iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, galbanum, reseda, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, sandalwood, amber, musk, vanilla, oakmoss, vetiver, cedar, myrrh

Orange Blossom Cologne (Sanborns)

After yesterday's soul-killing drudgery (i.e. having to wear Let It Rock all day at work, where there is no shower), I wanted a simple fragrance to scour away residual painful memories. Luckily, Bloody Frida gifted me with a goodly decant of Sanborns Orange Blossom Cologne (AKA Agua De Colonia Flor De Naranja), which I duly tapped for the task.

I am pleased to report that it's doing the job beautifully. Just as Frida described, this unpretentious (yet curiously fulfilling) soliflore smells like the beach in a bottle-- sun, sand, topaz surf, tiny puffy clouds riding marine breezes across an aquamarine sky. Powerfully floral at first, it calms into a delicious skin-scent with the help of its resident pheromonal musk, pentadecalactone. Its indoles are very well behaved, though an overenthusiastic initial application revealed an unfortunate (and truth be told, rather suggestive) bleach-and-Elmers-Glue top note which took some time to dissipate. Once it cleared, however, I found Sanborns to be one relaxing beach-blanket of a fragrance.

Which is a good thing, because I've got a long night shift ahead of me... and if I can't go the beach, by god, the beach will have to come to me.

Scent Elements: Orange blossom, musk.

Let It Rock (Vivienne Westwood)

Where have I smelled this before?

Everywhere, my nose claims.

Everywhere? Really?

Yes. Can we go now?

Come on, I chide. Is it REALLY that bad? It's ambery, flowery--

And completely fucking tedious, my nose replies. Seriously, how long did you pay attention to it after applying it? A minute? Two, tops? Did you get any poetry from it in that short space of time, or can I rest my case?

Well, at least it wasn't a scrubber, I remark.

You're right, it wasn't. But that's not enough. A perfume should be an experience you want to repeat. I don't feel any particular compulsion to repeat this. Do you?

Jesus, you're philosophical all of a sudden.

You made me smell it and asked me what I thought, so I'm telling you. You're right-- Let It Rock isn't that bad. But it's not good. Nothing this forgettable, this generic, could be. It's totally clichéed, and if you notice, even its clichés are out of context-- I mean, wasn't punk supposed to be a BACKLASH against all things hippie? Yet here you have Vivienne Westwood, punk's grand high priestess, shilling the most by-the-book head-shop fragrance imaginable. What's THAT all about?

Sorry I asked, I find myself muttering.

You ought to be.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, freesia, jasmine, amber, patchouli

Réplique... in triplicate.

If looks were everything, I wouldn't have bought it. The sprayer was plain and generic by design, with no decorative features to distinguish it; its cheap white plastic cap bore an ugly crack, evidence of its having once been carelessly dropped. No wonder the antique store wanted only pennies for it-- lost and unwanted, it had the appearance of garbage.

However, there's always room for magic in the odds-and-ends bin. I fished an old receipt out of my purse to use as a blotter and gave it a quick, clandestine spray. From that ugly spray nozzle emerged a swan of a scent floating on a river of green. Fifty cents, you say? Sold!

But enough of the magic; on to the mystery. The gold foil label on the bottom of the bottle read thus: "Réplique Spray Mist, Revlon Inc., N.Y., N.Y." Revlon? Don't they mean Raphael? I thought. Introduced to America post-WWII, Réplique belonged properly to the Parisian couturier Raphaël Lopez, who had produced it since 1936. I'd seen "note-faithful" dupes of Réplique advertised online, but Revlon? Really? My investigative nerve tickled, I decided some research would be in order... but before the data train could leave the station, life happened... and kept happening. You know how it goes.

Fully two months elapsed before a reminder presented itself: this post on Réplique by Bloody Frida. Having obtained two versions of the classic scent (a mini-flacon of the vintage eau de parfum and a splash bottle of a newer eau de toilette), she wholeheartedly urged her readers to try both. Such persuasive writing made it impossible for me to resist her offer of samples to compare with my dark-horse version... information about which seemed to be harder to find than a traffic cop when you need one.

Finally, a breakthrough: this snippet from the Sniffapalooza forums. Apparently, in 1980 Raphael still had two fragrances left over from its once-sizable repertoire: Réplique (a rich, mossy Oriental) and Plaisir (an aldehydic citrus-spice). That year, Revlon acquired Raphael, ditched Plaisir, and reformulated Réplique into something cleaner and more modern.

A recent blog article reposted in Now Smell This suggests that having more than two versions of a thing handy to compare side-by-side is the start of connoisseurship. If so, with three versions of Réplique to study, I could rightly be considered for candidacy. Was my Revlon redux and Frida's "new" EdT one and the same? And did they bear any resemblance whatsoever to the Raphael original? The only way to find out was to try them at a time, and then (heaven help us!) all at once.

Réplique EdP is a potent, assertive creation, halfway between chypre and Oriental. The darkest and most leathery of the three, it commences with an exciting roasted-coffee note that proves all the more startling seconds later, when everything turns deep green. Oakmoss rules the base outright, but there is plenty of room in the heart for spice; here, Réplique reminded me plaintively of kümmel, that wonderfully medicinal liqueur made of seeds (cumin, caraway, anise) steeped in best vodka. Beneath this, an agreeable rumble of flowers is sensed more than smelt. Nothing surfaces to directly hit you in the face, but you feel the ground lift and ripple under your feet, leaving no doubt as to the primordial power of the unseen.

Close attention must be paid to find the distinctions between Frida's EdT and the Revlon-era spray mist. It's small -- a microscopic degree of civet, an imperceptible tip in the balance between vanilla and vetiver -- but it's there, all right. I find the Revlon to be a marvelously dry elixir with a green, bitter-herbal edge attributable to a heightened dose of clary sage-- something like Pascal Morabito's Or Black altered to fit the female form. Wearing it narrows my eyes, sharpens my tongue, and puts an definite arch in my brow. The EdT strikes me as a touch sweeter and less sardonic; here, Réplique's sly personality is relieved by a pert little wrinkle of the nose and a wistful glance now and then.

What links the trio? It's most certainly a fulgent coriander note, appropriately portioned out by grade. In the vintage EdP, it's spicy, deep, and concentrated, as befits the seed; the closer one moves to the EdT, it grows progressively lighter and greener as if regressing back to the leaf. (The lightening of mood is reflected in the gradation of tone, from the EdP's rich amber color to the pale gold of the EdT.)

Wearing all three at once is quite an experience-- every shade of green imaginable, from olive to beryl, shoehorned into a curvaceous wavelength of scent. I wouldn't layer them by any means -- why miss out on their individuality? -- yet if you apply each of these three versions in a row from elbow to wrist and take them in via one continuous inhale, the olfactory center of your brain will confirm their kinship with a glow of pleasure.

In an age when completely different fragrances are cynically marketed under the same name as if related, it's a relief to find a family of fragrances that has managed to maintain a consistent likeness even after six decades, several owners, and numerous reformulations. Respect was paid to the original idea of Réplique, and these lovely interpretations are the result.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, aldehydes, cardamom, neroli, coriander, clary sage, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, mimosa, tuberose, heliotrope, coumarin, olibanum, oakmoss, amber, musk, vetiver, patchouli (Original EdP) / Bergamot, lemon, coriander, clary sage, neroli, clove bud, jasmine, rose, tuberose, iris, ylang-ylang, patchouli, vanilla, vetiver, amber, civet, oakmoss, musk (Contemporary EdT/Spray Mist)

A*Men (Thierry Mugler)

Holy mother of god.

If I had known that all I had to do was try the men's version of Angel for the clouds to part and heaven to reveal itself, it all would have been so simple.

I would not have tormented myself with questions as to the reliability of my own perceptions.

I would not have told myself -- despite every instinct within me that screamed the opposite -- that ten bajillion fragrance consumers were right and I was wrong.

I would not have gone back and kept trying, kept crying, kept scrubbing-- all in pursuit of that elusive something which was over here in this bottle across the aisle the entire time.

I would have converted. Right there, right then, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. Bam. Well, there might have been a little bit of wrestling à la Jacob, but only of the most angelic sort-- you know what I mean.

A*Men (or Angel for Men, stateside) utilizes the same essential chocolate-patchouli-caramel base as Angel, but swaps out that hellish blackcurrant/G-string accord for notes of lavender, roasted coffee and tar. Everything that I adored about the first five minutes of Angel is here, only for hours, with no violent hijacking midway through.

Beyond Angel, all I could see were the endless flames of hell.  Looking over A*Men's broad and muscular shoulder, I notice now what I never noticed before: all the lavender accords I already love, queued up in unbroken celestial progression from Jicky to Yohji Homme to this heavenly being in my arms.

That A*Men was designed for men deters me not at all, but it certainly begs the question: Do I really need to grow a pair to get an Angel I can live with?

Scent Elements: Bergamot, coriander, lavender, helional, peppermint, patchouli, honey, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, Atlas cedar, sandalwood, roasted coffee bean, caramel, cacao, benzoin, tonka bean, vanilla, musk

Jolie Madame Vintage Perfume Oil (Balmain)

If reincarnation is fact rather than theory, somewhere in my Paleolithic past I lived surrounded by three things: forest, smoke, and leather. I wore suede next to my skin, tanned butter-soft and supple as cloth; I stitched together my shelter from it and even (as I've dreamt before) played shamanic rhythms upon it. And more likely than not, I spent long hours out under the emerald forest canopy tending a massive wood-fired cauldron of bubbling plant resin, an essential component of the leather-curing process.

In a more recent incarnation, I achieved the same synergy with cigarettes, handbags, and moss perfumes. My leather this time around was the hard variety, to suit a tough-talking career gal pounding city pavement; the fire around which my tribe huddled was the flame of the closest Zippo, from which we lit our Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields. For a time I wore Coty Chypre because it seemed more rough-and-ready than the buxom, powdery scents my mother's generation favored. But when I first sniffed Jolie Madame, my amygdala lit up like the Fourth of July. Forest, smoke, leather, violets, danger, femininity, what-have-you-- all in one neat little square-cornered bottle.

One morning, I handed what was left of Chypre to a nine-year-old girl on the elevator. Last I heard, her dolly liked it just fine.

Empyreumatic is the old-fashioned descriptive term for the scent I crave: a smoky, dangerous smell, like black leather left to bake and crackle in full, ruthless sunlight. As time goes by and I explore the world of perfume more widely, I find myself leaning ever more inexorably in its direction. I have learned what makes it: dry oakmoss and galbanum, bitter inky vetivers, the guaiacol in old vanillin, phenols and creosols found in birch tar, and a host of deceptively tender flowers: carnation, ylang-ylang, mignonette, immortelle, and narcissus. Pale, limpid colors do not blend well with this bouquet; nor do fragile forms or textures. It calls for grey tailored wool and blood-red lips and black four-inch stilettoes-- all of which are right up my alley.

Jolie Madame and I have been through an equal number of incarnations by now, yet while I have grown progressively tougher and more keen-eyed, Jolie Madame has gone backwards, retreating into callow greenness according to the latest reports. I find this a great pity. Among other things, it signals to me that even the inheritance of the ages is finite. My prehistoric past, those idyllic savage hours beneath the trees, comes down to what is left in this little vintage bottle. When it is all gone and I am stranded in this sterile concrete landscape, where and how will I hunt for more?

Scent Elements: Gardenia, artemisia, bergamot, coriander, neroli, jasmine, tuberose, rose, jonquil, orris, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, musk, castoreum, leather, civet

Pleasures and Pleasures Bloom (Estée Lauder)

Note: Though appearing late in EstéeFest, this review was one of the first I happened to complete. Once I finished it, I scheduled it for posting and continued to work furiously on other EstéeFest reviews. However, when I read JoanElaine's delightful essay on Estée Super Cologne, I realized that the motif was amazingly similar-- unknown, unseen, across the miles, she and I somehow had been on a psychic "party line"! And while my feelings about Pleasures Bloom were somewhat tinged with regret and disappointment, I found hers about Estée Super Cologne to be bubbling with life. What she expressed mirrored what I secretly wished: that a sense of grownup celebration could somehow be retained in the current Lauder flankers. A tone reminiscent of the days of old would not amount to anachronism. Just... continued tradition, somehow.

The original Pleasures (1995) is a summer birthday party in a bottle. Pull the stopper, and you'll find a sheaf of multicolored roses just arrived from the florist, the scent of their greenery as prosaic as the period marking the end of a sonnet.  Outside, stacks of paper plates are weighted down with silverware to keep errant breezes from peeling them off like playing cards. A bottle of prosecco cools its heels in a tin bucket of ice water by the patio steps. In the kitchen, a cake waits to be slid from a white cardboard bakery box onto a cut-glass pedestal, while a virgin block of vanilla ice cream prepares for its rendezvous with a stainless-steel scoop.  At dusk, lanterns begin to glow amid the trees, and music and laughter wend their way towards the stars.

Pleasures Bloom (2010) is the same party redesigned for six-year-olds.

Instead of bubbly, there's tropical punch; instead of roses, Mylar balloons.  The cake icing packs twice as much sugar, and the noonday sun reduces the ice cream to a sticky puddle.  There's laughter, but louder and higher-pitched, punctuated by inarticulate squeals of juvenile excitement.  All the flavors and colors of celebration seem pushed to an almost unbearable extreme.  But what do you want?  It's a party.  You can't expect kids to settle for what adults like-- or vice versa.

At some point, Estee Lauder Corporation must have looked for a signature element that would distinguish its new fragrances from the heavy, ambery Orientals (Youth Dew, Cinnabar) and galbanum-rich woods (Private Collection, Azuree) of the past.  To me, that element smells like helional, the aromachemical which lends a balancing glint of cold steel to otherwise lush or vulnerable florals.  If Guerlain had its Guerlinade and Caron its Mousse de Saxe, Lauder's Hint of Helional turns the temperature down for a host of Lauder florals and their flankers.  In Pleasures, it's truly just a touch-- the veil of condensation on a chilled glass before it's filled with something sparkling, dry, and blessedly off limits to minors.

Over time, however, one can see it's become more than just a hint.  Dazzling Gold and Silver, for instance, shamelessly overdose on that frosty-sweet note-- and yet both manage to remain more sophisticated than Pleasures Bloom, which accessorizes its helional with the brain-piercing sweetness of peonies and raspberry jam.   I remember reading that the freezing process mutes the flavor in food, so more sugar than usual must be added to liquids intended for iced treats.   Some of the more recent Lauders reflect this tenet to an extreme-- more sugar, less sophistication, an odd regression for a perfume house built upon the tastes of mature women.

Breathing in Pleasures Bloom's neon gaiety, I miss the civility of earlier Lauders.   It seems to me that the party's right for the times, but I'm the wrong person for it.  After only five minutes, I long to grab my purse, sneak out the back gate, and give this little soirée the slip.

Scent Elements: Lily, violet leaf, greens, lilac, karo-karounde, rose, peony, jasmine, patchouli, sandalwood (Pleasures 1995); grapefruit, raspberry, lychee, violet flower, peony, rose, jasmine, green lily, musk, patchouli, vanilla (Pleasures Bloom 2010)

Tuscany per Donna (Aramis for Estée Lauder)

As you may have already gathered from popular culture, New Jersey is so Italian that being non Italiano is like being from Jupiter. According to the US Census Bureau, we have the third highest Italian-American population by percentage in the nation. But the best pizza. THE BEST. Got it?*

Growing up, I found myself viewed as an resident alien by my classmates, who reckoned that the least Italian you could be was 25%. Otherwise, what was the point of living? Sometimes I asked myself the same question. One school chum of mine lived in what appeared to be a Renaissance gift shop-- all 1/12th-scale Michelangelo reproductions in gilded plaster and rococo crushed-velvet sofas. For an after-school snack, her mother prepared us a merenda fit for the gods: pane e Nutella, steamed milk, enormous black grapes from the farmer's market. Compared to my Saltines-and-Jif upbringing, this transcended simple melting-pot multiculturalism and verged into Romance with a capital R.

But often enough the idea of a thing can be more compelling than the thing itself, and instead of il paese natale, one winds up in Kitsch Italy-- a place as colorful and fictional as the mural of Portofino on the wall of the local pizzeria. Nowhere is this fabled land easier to find than here in America, where a credit card makes a handy substitute for a passport and armchair travelers can accomplish the Grand Tour with nothing more than a laptop and a six-pack of San Pellegrino. "Authentic" hand-painted majolica ware, gift baskets of flavored olive oils, Rosetta Stone language courses and Under The Tuscan Sun-- who needs the real Italy when you can order it online?

If Kitsch Italy had a duty-free shop, it would sell nothing but Tuscany per Donna. Issued in 1992 as a companion piece to Tuscany per Uomo by Aramis, Tuscany per Donna comes boxed in cardboard printed to look like a baroque tapestry in autumnal shades of russet, peach, and green. (Remember those hideous floral "upholstery" vests we all wore in the Nineties? Uh huh.) Its urn-like flacon is appropriately Romanesque; the tawny pinkish-amber liquid within radiates a strange, sweet humidity, like a wall of honeysuckle on a muggy midsummer day. What this rampant, bosomy aroma has to do with Tuscany, I really can't say. According to the Italian garden guides I consulted, more relevant scent notes might have been cypress, olive, juniper, bay, boxwood, chestnut flower, rose centifolia, iris germanica, wisteria, geranium, lavender, rosemary, thyme, fields of wild red poppies... In short, Tuscany per Donna probably doesn't smell much like Tuscany.

But it smells a whole lot like New Jersey.

At this moment, honeysuckle is the name of the game south of Asbury Park. Spilling over concrete retaining walls, peeking through the interstices between fence posts, heaped high by every roadside, its vines -- heavy with yellow, cream, white, and sometimes even pink blossoms -- hold my home state together. Now that I think of it, drinking honeysuckle nectar was the first thing I learned to do as a kid newly moved to New Jersey. You pluck flower after flower, carefully pulling out each stamen to drink the pale nectar, so sweet you can hardly stand it...

You know what? Forget Italy. This, I think, is what Estée Lauder had in mind, New York girl that she was: a Jersey Shore summer in a bottle. It may not be the most refined fragrance in the Lauder line-- but for voluptuous, uninhibited fun, Tuscany is much closer than you think.

*And me born in Chicago! Ma, io sono grullo?

Scent Elements: Rose, muguet, citrus, Mediterranean herbs, jasmine, carnation, honeysuckle, peony, sandalwood, amber, vanilla

Knowing (Estée Lauder)

Housebound on a holiday, staycationing here at home, I'm glad someone got to go to the south of France. That's where Estée Lauder saw (and smelled) her first pittosporum shrub and was inspired to build a perfume around it.  You go, girlfriend!

Estée might not have been so impressed if she'd known the pittosporum by its other name -- cheesewood, after T. F. Cheeseman, the eminent botanist who collected the first P. dallii specimens in what is now Kahurangi National Park on New Zealand's South Island. Its broad, glossy leaves make it a worldwide hit among landscapers; the languid scent of its fleshy white flowers are apparently tailor-made for perfume. Not that I would know.  I wouldn't recognize a pittosporum if I accidentally backed my car over one, and as to what they smell like, I may never find out.  Finances being what they are, the south of France has never seemed more far away.

Knowing doesn't do much to shorten the distance.  Like many luxury items, it trades on borrowed riches, employing the idea of an exclusive ingredient to make itself seem more rare.  The whole pittosporum shtick is all very impressive, but I smell a regulation chypre with a swizzle of rose-- basically Beautiful with its proportions reversed and its volume boosted by a dose of white flowers.  Of course, this scent is instantly familiar as the one trailed by every middle-class woman alive back in 1989.  It went well with big chintzy floral-print garden-party dresses, white pantyhose, and the all-important cultured pearl twist choker, and it gave off a sillage that put lesser beings firmly in their place.  (Let them eat pittosporum!)

I know that Knowing was relevant once and may be again.  But in the present moment, it somehow feels more anachronistic than many fragrances that are decades older-- and what's more, it feels wrong.  Wearing it makes me feel deeply inauthentic, as if I am dressed in clothes too fancy for my actual station.  The values it espouses --  indolence, affluence, complacency -- are not ones I admire. And however pretty this perfume is, I half hope it never comes back into vogue.

Evolution must go forward, and people of the new millenium need luxuries that are actually within reach.

Scent Elements: Rose, tuberose, mimosa, plum, pittosporum, jasmine, patchouli, orange blossom, rose, oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood, amber

White Linen Parfum and Eau de Toilette (Estée Lauder)

Composed in 1978, White Linen presides over American perfumery like Athena Nike over the Acropolis. Designed by one woman (Sophia Grojsman) for another woman (Estée Lauder) to offer to all women, it set a new standard for clean proportions and simple beauty in fragrance-- and became a goddess in the process.

In my imaginary version of their first meeting, Lauder and Grojsman -- two vibrant, forceful Jewish women, almost a mother-daughter team -- size one another up over tea and finger sandwiches. Each has come to the table with strong preferences and opinions; neither is about to defer to the other. This must be a true collaboration-- or nothing. All they need is a common inspiration, one algorithm on which to build a shared creative code.

Lauder's gaze lights upon a massive floral arrangement on a nearby sideboard. "Look, that's us," she jokes-- indicating a marriage between the roses of YSL Paris and the greenery of Private Collection. Grojsman studies the bouquet for a moment and then asks, "But what about all the baby's breath?"

Within an hour two orders are issued: a bottle of the house's finest champagne, and a boatload of IFF's finest aldehydes.

"Flowers, ferns, and filler" may sound like a pretty generic recipe for either a bouquet or a perfume. But White Linen's flower isn't any old flower-- it's Sophia Grojsman's rose, all romance, velvet, and shadows. And its greens come not from some nameless florist's bucket, but from Estée Lauder's own bespoke scent. Imprinted so deeply with these marks of identity, this fragrance could sink under its own emotional weight... but that's where the "baby's breath" comes in. As weightless and dazzling as a layer of mica dust, aldehydes contribute a crucial lightness to White Linen, rescuing it from gravitas and transforming it from personal to universal. Any woman can wear it. Its notes are so full, so unstinting, that she will feel rich and well-rounded no matter her starting-place-- projecting the quiet confidence of an explorer who knows at all times her exact coordinates on the globe.

If White Linen parfum were a goddess, what an earth mother she'd be-- dependable, plainspoken, strong. Proud and pure against the cloudless blue sky of the American dream, her silhouette is unmistakable; faithful and heathen alike cast their eyes upwards in awe.

5STARS Small

Yet without some sort of nemesis, the goddess would be one-dimensional, and mythology would be one big long yawn. Everyone needs a bête noire to define them-- or better yet, a sinister twin whose identical features conceal radically different intentions. Enter White Linen Eau de Toilette-- the laid-back parfum's bitchy alter ego.

Though it contains all of the scent elements extant in the original, the EdT has clearly been refined to the point of declension. Sophia's romantic rose and Estée's lush greens have been forced to diet; the volume has been axed on many of the secondary support notes, and the aldehydes -- alone undiminished -- have turned strident and hysterical. The overall impression is of White Linen suffering from upper-class neurosis: still attractive, of course, but with thinner lips, narrower eyes, and a decidedly nervous mien.

In comparison to her serene sister, this version of the White Linen goddess radiates anxiety. Desperate to dazzle by any means necessary -- wit, elegance, flawless breeding, name-dropping -- she tries too hard, smiles through gritted teeth, and spoils the desired effect. Yet she always manages to make me feel worse-- tatty and déclassé. We resent each other equally for the entire duration of her stay, and we're both relieved when it's over.

So why have I given White Linen EdT four stars? Because though I despise its attitude, I can't deny the inherent high quality of its origins. It might be impoverished, but it comes from Olympian stock. I'd rather wear the parfum any day, of course. But I recognize that a parfum without its eaux and other corresponding products is, commercially speaking, as much an anomaly as a one-legged table. Without its fidgety, edgy EdT to provide contrast, White Linen proper might seem too ordinary, too much a given. We might not be able to see the epic poem for the verses.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, citrus, peach, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, lilac, iris, lily-of-the-valley, ylang-ylang, cedar, honey, amber, civet, sandalwood, tonka bean

Cinnabar (Estée Lauder)

Challenge for budding critics: write a review of Estée Lauder's Cinnabar without mentioning Yves Saint Laurent's Opium. Damn. Too late-- and maybe it's just as well. They've shared column space for so long, it'd be a pity to break them up now.

Geographically, both fragrances pretend to hail from the inscrutable East, though their passports admit otherwise. Genealogically, both ascend from Tabu's mighty taproot, though Opium cleaved more faithfully to family tradition. In contrast, Cinnabar seemed too modern, too American, a third-generation child dressed up in the folk costume of a country it had never beheld. Skeptical consumers sensed its shaky pedigree and backed away, and Estée Lauder abandoned the East for more domestic pastures.

But even in settled dynasties, fortunes rise and fall. At the time of its release, Opium seemed the obvious heir to the Tabu throne. Now that it has been deposed -- its magisterial bulk pulled earthward by the ropes of corporate lackeys -- Cinnabar (once the weaker and less promising child) perks my interest. The time could at last be ripe for its prodigal star to rise.

In Cinnabar, the basic notion of Tabu and Opium (and Youth Dew for that matter) shows signs of dilution, and not to ill effect. You could call it a summer version of any of these grand perfumes-- and being that all three are most appropriate for deep-freeze temperatures requiring layers of wool and fur, isn't it a relief to know there's at least one fragrance in the family that you can wear when the mercury hits seventy?

Cinnabar is indeed lighter, brighter, and cleaner than its predecessors, projecting the gauzy crispness of sheer silk voile on a hot August day.  Though still founded on a patchouli-spice accord ameliorated with vanilla and amber, it is also unabashedly fruitier than either Opium or Tabu, encompassing the tartness of yellow citrus as well as the honeyed sensuality of peach. Sandalwood and aldehydes combine to produce a delicious soapy-clean sparkle, while the warm-suede note of ylang-ylang keeps it from tipping over into sterility.

The contrast between Cinnabar and Opium extends into the images of femininity they evoke. If Opium paints the stereotypical portrait of a shadowy courtesan robed in crimson silk, concealed in eternal mystery behind a carven ebony screen, Cinnabar describes a dashing, sprightly maiden clad in Korean hanbok, her vivid, bell-shaped skirts swirling like a peony's petals as she rides a traditional kune (standing swing) at the spring Dano festival.  

In fact, it's that girl -- peach-cheeked, sparkling with life -- who raised Cinnabar in my estimation. At first I wavered-- sure, I liked it plenty; it's pleasant and easy to wear, but hardly original.  However, it occurred to me that spice is sorely lacking in the perfumes available to young ladies these days, and Cinnabar would make a perfect introduction for a newbie unfamiliar with the genre.  She might be too green to carry off Opium, Tabu, or Youth Dew... but Cinnabar is the breath of youth itself. 

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, orange blossom, aldehydes, peach, carnation, cinnamon, cloves, jasmine, rose, iris, ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, balsam tolu, amber, vanilla, spices, incense

Youth-Dew (Estée Lauder)

My first exposure to Youth-Dew occurred during infancy. As I was passed, blanket-swaddled, from one cooing female relative to another, a certain spicy scent lodged in my tiny cerebral cortex, and I said: Mama.

All right, I'm making that up-- my mother never touched the stuff. But someone must have worn Youth-Dew during my formative years, because I feel as though I've been resting my cheek on its big, warm, reassuring shoulder all my life.

Was it this air of ubiquity that made me take Youth-Dew for granted? Until recently, it never occurred to me to actually buy any. There always seemed to be enough of it in the air to satisfy whatever transient longing for it I might experience. But lately, with the rise of the whole sugar-dusted-jelly-donuts-for- childwomen school of perfumery, I confess I've found myself stocking up on the sly.

My first purchase (the foundation stone of my stash, if you will) was a little fluted glass purse sprayer with a monogrammed goldtone cap. Less than an inch of liquid remained inside, as dark and opaque as Modena balsamico. It smelled like extract of Christmas morning, set me back a dollar, and kick-started an idée fixe.

My next acquisition: a half-used 2.25 fluid oz. bottle whose spray nozzle had been snapped clean off by its previous owner. This one cost me three dollars and two hours of full-on MacGyver hijinks aimed at getting the juice out of the bottle. After attempting first to pry the metal seal loose with a heavy-duty pair of pliers, and then to pick the plunger mechanism loose with an awl -- both in vain -- I actually found myself bashing at that adorable nip-waisted glass bottle with a hammer-- until I realized they just don't make glass of that calibre anymore. (It didn't even CHIP.) Finally, I managed to puncture the plunger with a steel engraving tool, then sat there shaking the perfume drop by drop into a Pyrex mixing bowl.  This alone took half an hour.

How did it smell? Worth every single curse word that came out of my mouth.

Vanilla, licorice, patchouli, vetiver, cinnamon, cloves, incense:  Youth-Dew is no lightweight.  Even its color as seen through the clear glass bottle -- dark, impenetrable, like barrel-aged soy sauce or 10W-30 motor oil -- offers fair warning about the nature of the fragrance within.  Yes, it is powerful.  Yes, it is confident.  But if you've only ever heard it called "old-ladyish", you might be taken off guard by how yielding and sensual Youth-Dew is. Oh, you know you want it.  You know.

And you can so easily have it-- at any age, any season, any time.

While laying down some cash for another (!) bottle at a recent community fundraiser, it occurred to me that I may be turning into a hoarder. Granted, you could choose worse things to hoard than Youth-Dew. Judging from how great it smells even when ancient, this stuff will probably survive the Apocalypse. In fact, it may prove to be the only stable form of currency in the far dystopian future-- which puts me well on the path to becoming the Auntie Entity of Central New Jersey.  (All I need is a chain mail dress, an army of punks to guard my underground Youth Dew refinery... and a Thunderdome.)

A more positive way for me to view my insatiable need to acquire more and more Youth Dew is this: I tell myself that I'm really acting as an archivist. When a perfume has been around as long as Youth-Dew has, it takes on the role of a guest registry which people of all generations line up to sign. Whether laudatory or tinged with distaste, the comments recorded there testify to Youth-Dew's assured place in culture. We may not ascribe it the same impact or magnitude that we would a presidency, or a war, or a social revolution; it is just a perfume, after all.   But history has its little votive corners to fill-- too small for big events, but too visible to be allowed to take on dust.  Youth-Dew occupies one such alcove very nicely. Judging by the flood of visitors she continues to receive, she has been curated well.

That's why I continue to carry her torch.  Past, present, and future are alive in her smile.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, orange, spices, peach, bergamot, cinnamon, cassia, orchid, jasmine, cloves, ylang-ylang, rose, balsam tolu, balsam Peru, benzoin, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, oakmoss, vetiver, incense