Neroli Sauvage (Creed)

Today is the first day we have seen the sun here in what seems like a month. The dank atmosphere heavy with moisture and leaden, overcast sky have given way (after a spate of thunderstorms) to a crystalline morning-- cool, dry, really almost what you would expect of September. Not a day too late, I might add.

Today I'm wearing Creed's Neroli Sauvage. There's a bit of misdirection at work in the name of this fragrance, for neroli is not actually its centerpiece at all. Instead it's lemon verbena, radiating the healthful chartreuse of sunlight filtered through young leaves. Not expecting anything of the sort, I first found myself staggered -- and delighted -- by its presence. Now, many wearings later, my delight is all in the predictability of my response, which remains a joyful one.   Few aromatics are so wild, so green, so vibrant as verbena; here, the crisp astringency of yellow grapefruit zest emphasizes the sense of life-force fully awakened and gives it a quirky peppery lilt. 

But just as every cloud has a silver lining, so conversely does every silver lining have a touch of tarnish. Neroli Sauvage's is small, but in all fairness it must be mentioned: a sort of flat, woody, "clean" men's-fragrance drydown that strikes me as too commonplace for this pretty gem. Still, all those wearings have taught me that this stage will not arrive until a bit later, so at least I have the morning to enjoy all the sun and sparkle.

It's long overdue.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, grapefruit, neroli, lemon verbena, ambergris

Royal Water (Creed)

Don't ask me to explain the reasons, but lately I've been on a total Mitford tear. I'm currently plowing through as many biographies* as there were sisters** and picking up all sorts of strange phrases.*** As a result of this immersion course, my husband and I have been flinging about Mitfordisms like mad, beginning with "How perfectly extraorders!" and always ending with "Oh, DO admit!"

In print, the sisters present themselves as rather a mixed bag. There's precious little to admire in either Diana or Unity, and Jessica's red-hot firebrand act often wears as thin as Pamela's domestic-goddess routine. But I find the rapport between eldest (novelist Nancy) and youngest (Duchess of Devonshire Deborah) sincerely affecting.   Sixteen years' difference in age has little bearing on their favorite shared pastime: mockery, always couched in tones of prickly mutual adoration.

In letters, "Naunce" regularly greets "9" (a special name denoting her estimate of Deborah's permanent mental age) with tart accusations about her delinquency as a correspondent: "I see you have learnt to write in a single night." In turn, Deborah commences all of her missives to Nancy with the same zesty salutation: "Get on." Together they collaborate in ridiculing their mother (whose entire personality they distill to a single inarticulate syllable: "Orrhhn") and members of the Royal Family (in particular Princess Margaret, whose unfortunate taste in shoes earns her the code name Pygmy Peep-a-Toes). Aside from all the epistolary badinage, Deborah's steady affection and devotion to each sister over the decades is truly remarkable. She emerges as the linchpin around whom this tribe of Amazons revolves-- and in the end, it's always 'Debo' (with her lifelong yen for heirloom chickens and Elvis Presley) who wins the lion's share of my love.

So what to wear while Mitfording? I choose Royal Water, a delightful and sophisticated EdC variant from the thoroughly British firm of Creed.  Like most eaux I've known, Royal Water is as respectable as a chaperone vetted personally by Mamma.  It contains nothing in the least bit compromising to an Honourable's reputation... unless you know the signs to look for, in which case it smuggles in the very sort of cocktail recipe a Bright Young Thing might sample clandestinely whilst the parents are preoccupied with their Corgis.

Begin with equal measures of sweet mandarin, aromatic bergamot, and zesty verbena.  To this mimosa-like base, add mint for a welcome chill and juniper berry for a playful allusion to gin fizzes. (When no one's looking, sneak in a shot of aldehydes for a glittering, seltzery lift.)  Add a scant teaspoon of superfine sugar and shake well-- softly, so as not to wake Mother.  The overall effect is fresh, frank, floral, and feminine, with a pleasant warm-skin-scented drydown perfect for dancing cheek-to-cheek at the most exclusive nightclubs after the absolute hell of one's court presentation is over and done.

It's the only reason one bothers, isn't it?  DO admit.

*The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family (Mary S. Lovell); The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters (Charlotte Mosley, ed.); Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford (Peter Y. Sussman, ed.); Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford (Leslie Brody); Wait for Me! Memoirs (Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire); Counting My Chickens-- And Other Home Thoughts (Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire).  My library overdue fines are going to be EPIC.

**For the sake of keeping a tidy scorecard, there were six-- Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah.

***The Mitfords played at glossolalia the way other people played at badminton-- energetically and competitively.  Jessica and Unity developed their own language known as Boudledidge, which no one could understand except Deborah, who dared not speak it herself lest she be convicted of theft.  Instead, she and Jessica  spoke Honnish, which was most emphatically NOT understood by the Horrible Counter-Hons (namely Diana, Nancy, and their brother Tom). All spoke a drawling dialect peculiar to the British upper-class between the wars-- exaggerated for effect in the Mitford tradition.  Jessica lost this faculty after many years of life in America, but in speech only-- never in writing.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, peppermint, verbena, basil, cumin, juniper berry, tonka bean, musk, ambergris

Essenza dell'Ibisco (DSH Perfumes)

For the same reason that the sudden appearance of aloha-wear signals that the luau is about to begin, there's something about hibiscus that promises a party.   This flower's starburst shape and dazzling range of color suggest celebratory fireworks; tuck one casually behind an ear and watch people start scoping around hopefully for finger foods and tiny paper drink umbrellas.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's "essence of hibiscus" has nothing to do with hibiscus, but everything to do with good times and relaxation. If such a thing as a party pheromone existed, it would smell like this-- heady, sweet, persuasive, like a pitcherful of Sex on the Beach and everything that follows.  At the same time, Essenza dell'Ibisco manages to capture the healthful, ruby-toned tartness of roselle tea even in the absence of its main ingredient.  Neat trick, to have your punch and drink it, too!

Scent Elements: Apricot, boronia absolute, mandarin, osmanthus, centifolia rose absolute, jasmine, orris, tuberose, ylang-ylang, ambergris, benzoin, cistus absolute, civet, labdanum, frankincense, sandalwood, true Arabian myrrh

Dolce & Gabbana (Dolce & Gabbana)

For a good stretch of the mid-1990s, I lived in a North Jersey commuter enclave that was bisected into two economic zones: upper (where I worked) and lower (where I lived). A railroad line to Manhattan served as the physical and psychological dividing line between the classes... but an invisible fog of Dolce & Gabbana daily broke down the sociopolitical wall.

Created to capture (or possibly to parody) the "ironical and somewhat solemn tone of haute couture", D&G did so much more: it overturned utterly the concept of using a fragrance to broadcast one's position in the social strata. I could never quite tell to whom -- upper, lower, or middle -- D&G ought to belong, because it seemingly belonged to everybody. Junior Leaguers, status-conscious yuppies, tired DMV clerks and lady bus drivers, gum-cracking supermarket checkout girls, subway train conductors, artsy boho housewives-in-disguise-- we all subscribed to its democratic, leveling love.

For those nervous about stepping outside the tried-and-true classics test-driven by their mothers and grandmothers, D&G offered all the powdery carnations and hairspray aldehydes a woman could want... only packaged in a new-and-now skyscraper bottle, emblazoned with an indisputably chi-chi brand name. Here was reassurance on every front. We could all be with-it, ultramodern, on-trend-- AND smell vaguely familiar and comforting, both to ourselves and to each other.

You may laugh now, looking back... but when everyone was wearing it, everyone was a winner. Straight up.

Scent Elements: The Dolce & Gabbana website lists jasmine absolute, "black pearl rose", hibiscus, freesia, aldehydes, orange blossom, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, sweet basil, Sicilian bergamot, mandarin, honeysuckle, heliotrope, sandalwood, vanilla, and musk. Basenotes adds petitgrain, ivy, freesia, rose, red carnation, coriander, marigold, and tonka.

Chypre (Jovoy)

Jovoy Chypre is a girl who wore a chypre fragrance a day or two ago and has chosen to reprise a single element of her chypre-imbued costume (a hairband, perhaps, or a scarf) today, when she's wearing a girlish peony soliflore. The peony makes itself very plain whenever she's close by -- leaning in to point out a paragraph on your computer screen or to filch a ballpoint pen from your desk organizer -- but five minutes after she walks out, you detect inexplicable atoms of chypre suspended in the airspace of your office, twinkling like tiny, pale-green points of light. You can't remember who placed them there, but you suddenly find yourself perfectly willing to trek all over the building to get your pen back.

It is, truth be told, your favorite one.

Scent Elements: Peony, rose, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, honey, amber, vetiver, patchouli

Eau des Quatre Voleurs (L'Occitane)

In its amber-glass flask reminiscent of an old-time bootleg whiskey bottle, L'Occitane's Eau des Quatre Voleurs is clearly designed for high-noon emergencies. All this summer long, whenever humidity levels threatened to topple my equanimity, I kept it in the holster for periodic quick-draws. A blast or two deployed with gunslinger speed always set me to rights-- and attracted a sizable posse, besides.

The juice within is an androgynous elixir, airy and deliciously dry, a song-in-scent of the high plains touched with highlights of Mediterranean herbal elegance. A discernable gin note puts a cold blue glint in this stranger's eye, and although there's neither thyme nor rosemary listed in its scent notes, I (and others) would swear on a stack of Bibles they're holed up somewhere in them there hills.

Life is full of moments requiring swift responses and eye-blink reflexes. In a world where it's crucial to keep it locked 'n' loaded, Eau des Quatre Voleurs is a must for any on-the-go desperado. It is sadly discontinued, so far as I know, but surviving bottles are well worth tracking down. Should you wish to pursue this perfume vagabond into the badlands, I recommend hiring Rooster Cogburn for the job. He is a drunkard and a layabout, but he will find your man. Just don't let him drink the L'Occitane. He is not above trying.

Scent Elements: Lemon, bergamot, juniper berries, clary sage, basil, cloves, cedar

Opus I (Amouage)

The mind is a most tenacious organ. In the time it takes for a thought to travel between synapse A and synapse B, it may latch on to any trivial thing that unwittingly blunders onto its path, forging a connection that requires brute force to break.

One hectic day this summer, I arrived at work breathless and out-of-sorts. In the rush to get my show on the road, I'd forgotten the most essential element of my morning ablutions: perfume. For an antidote, I reached blindly into Carol's Bag of Wonderful. Out came Amouage Opus I.

For any person whose pulse rate needs no further elevation, Opus I is the ideal defibrillator. Mild, soothing, even (forgive me) a mite bland, it is the very essence of comfort in a chaotic world. One colleague described its scent as "sleepy and happy"; another joked that I smelled as though I'd just dredged myself in the world's most luxurious baby powder. Based on these and my own impressions, Opus I might have remained forever classified as a bassinet blanket for the nose... if not for the one item I had remembered to grab on my way out the door that morning.

On days when my mental wheel wants a familiar groove in which to run, A. S. Byatt's 1992 novel Angels & Insects (of which I own an ancient and frazzled publisher's proof copy) is my go-to tome. I've read it so many times, it's been converted in my mind to literary muzak: open to any page and start humming along. This is not to say Angels & Insects lacks surprises. If you've neither read it nor seen the film based upon it, I will not spoil it for you. However, be assured that my present nonchalance comes only after dozens upon dozens of readings. Even I was shocked speechless the first time.

But that day on my lunch break -- encouraged, perhaps, by the chance intersection between the customary and the new -- my mind latched onto the book as it had not done since that inaugural read of years ago. The unfamiliar nimbus of Opus I surrounding me seemed to interact with the printed word, drawing my eye to certain paragraphs (specifically those describing Eugenia Alabaster, the novel's anti-heroine) as if it wanted me to know something about itself.

Beautiful and distant, Eugenia is the favored eldest daughter of an ancient English family. She is described as pale and soft in every particular, with cream-white skin, flaxen hair, and a personality as indefinite as fog. To the young explorer William Adamson, she seems a territory more virginal and mysterious than any he has previously charted. Her acceptance of him (first as a suitor, then as a spouse) brings all his most fervent prayers to life. Yet while her exterior forever remains as he first perceived it -- "so soft, so white, so untouched, so untouchable" -- inside this goddess-shaped chrysalis, a monster resides. William will not meet it until the novel is almost over. Neither he nor we will walk away unscathed.

Throughout Angels & Insects, a motif of metamorphosis -- the process by which a complete living creature vanishes only to reappear as something different, new, even alien -- resurfaces again and again. William, an entomologist, first captures Eugenia's heart by setting all of his butterflies and moths free for her pleasure. She strongly identifies with the pretty and passionless insects who float along "so light, so soft, like coloured air"-- but shrinks in horror from those which fly mindlessly at lit lamps, pitchers of cream, her own person. In them, she perceives a blind, voracious hunger like that of ghosts. Yet at least they seek, and find, and change. Eugenia remains suspended within her chrysalis, absorbed in "self-nurture and self-communion"-- and secrets, and silence.

Opus I makes no less (and no less strange) of an impression than Eugenia. Like hers, its beauty is striking for its very bloodlessness. Its florals are blonde; its woods are powdery; its plum is palest Mirabelle. The tonka which ties it all together is as soft as pashmina and as weightless as a cirrus cloud. But Opus I's power -- which is considerable -- lies in its ability to envelop the wearer in a totality of scent, cocooning one in a formless soft accord a mile thick and thereby eliminating the need to focus on other distracting details while you drown. (I am reminded of one of the proposed demises faced by the Seven Brothers of Chinese legend-- to be buried alive in whipped cream. If suffocating in zuppa inglese has ever been a dream of yours, you can now live to tell the tale.)

Opus I is amazing, marvelous, wonderful stuff. I do not think I could wear it now without thinking immediately of Eugenia Alabaster. Like William regarding Eugenia in the final throes of their tragedy, I regard its beauty with a kind of fascinated revulsion. It very loveliness has an edge of menace, concealing like a chrysalis some as-yet unrevealed secret.

Its mystery, like metamorphosis, keeps my breath pent.

Scent Elements: Bigarade, plum, cardamom, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, papyrus, cedarwood, guaiacwood, sandalwood, frankincense, tonka, vetiver

Tainted Love (Tokyo Milk)

I am sitting on a NJ Transit bus en route to midtown Manhattan. The fellow travelers seated directly behind me must have eaten breakfast at Subway, for they smell powerfully of garlic, raw onion, and red vinegar. I feel claustrophobic, nauseous, a mite dizzy. I suspect that my attempts to inhale exclusively through my mouth might be heading me toward hyperventilation.

In the kitchen, a handy remedy against garlic's sulphurous reek is vanilla. Some constituent of vanillin knows just how to do battle against all manner of mephitic smells. For this very reason, I now keep my nose glued to my wrist, where a more-than-homeopathic dose of Tainted Love is busy keeping me from losing my wits completely.

Like Bittersweet, Tainted Love is a whopping gourmand, but without the curiously inedible second act. In this case, a middling sandalwood is roused to life by a jet-black leathery vanilla bean soaked in oaken-cask-aged Martinique rhum vieux. It smells like the best bread pudding that ever came out of an oven-- and so far, it seems to be holding my neighbors' garlic demons at bay.

I may be jumping the gun here... but Tainted Love might just be my new Rescue Remedy.

Scent Elements: Dark vanilla bean, orchid, white tea, sandalwood

La Vie La Mort (Tokyo Milk)

La Vie La Mort begins la vie as a sweet sugary tuberose with a tropical coconut butter-biscuit overtone. It progresses swiftly -- and by swiftly, I mean with almost obscene haste -- through an attenuated soapy-musk drydown en route to la mort.

Despite its ephemeral nature (or maybe even more keenly as a result) -- I liked it very much.  From it, I got a nice mental image of a city bodega-- the scent of freshly-baked coconetes, a jelly jar full of white flowers in front of a postcard of Stella Maris, a seven-day good-luck votive candle flickering next to the cash register...

It just seemed awfully sad to walk in the door seconds before the candle was due to go out.  Oh well... c'est la vie.

Scent Elements: White tuberose, cardamom, hibiscus leaf, jasmine

Excess (Tokyo Milk)

Excess need not be voluptuous to ensnare you in its web. The pious as well as the dissipated have their prisons of overindulgence. Take the malady known as scruples, whereby terror of committing fault tips the afflicted into an orgy of preemptive penitence. It's a common-enough entanglement in the lives of the saints-- differing only from sybarites in that the holy trinity of wine, women, and song is replaced with novenas, tears, and kitchen floors thrice-scrubbed at midnight.

But there are as many paths to damnation as to the divine... and some use the exact same shortcuts.

Tokyo Milk's Excess is a prim incense fragrance cast in the minimalist Comme des Garçons mold-- with one thrilling deviation. For a single instant, a heart-stopping note of blood-orange nectar flowers like a crimson stigmata before vanishing entirely back into the cathedral shadows. From there, Excess quickly refolds its hands, lowers its eyes, and assumes once more a look of innocence and piety.

Miserere mei, Deus!

The first time it happened, I thought I dreamt it. So I tried again... and again. But there was no mistaking it: first the clouds of purifying smoke, then the brief outrageous explosion of tart, sensuous fruit, then the smoke again. What sly sacrilege! But it wasn't until I'd depleted nearly the entire sample in only one day that I realized I'd been tricked into exactly what the perfume promises: Excess. It seems I had let a demon in angel's clothing through my front door. No wonder all the saints wear this maddening little smile in their official mass-card portraits-- they must all be in on Excess' cosmic joke!

What was left? The penance, of course. Excess closes with a note of botanic oak bark tincture that, while both novel and legible, is vastly less appealing than what precedes it-- largely because it comes across as boozy wet wood. Still, it succinctly drives home the point that beauty is fleeting, and the things of this world must pass away. All that's left is to say the Confiteor, bow your head... and take the medicine that's coming to you.

Scent Elements: Amber resin, oak bark, blood orange, patchouli

Everything & Nothing (Tokyo Milk)

On a sleepless night, a fun way to pass the time is to play the "perfume party" game. Assign each chosen scent a fictional persona and imagine what kind of host/ess he or she would be. With tea fragrances, it's easy, because the conventions of the tea ceremony are already well-established. All you need to do is supply (as it were) the table settings.

Tommy Girl wears beachy, "relaxed" linens (Armani, $379) as she prepares iced tea (Organic Hunan Gold, $105) for the guests at her Hamptons summer home (3BR/3B, 2.75 acres, $11.5M). Quivering with anxiety, she loses track of how much sugar she's stirred into the pitcher (Juliska Graham, $168, Saks Fifth Avenue) but prays that a big, bright, aspirational smile will cover her clumsy mistake.

Bulgari's Eau Parfumée Au Thé crowd is more genuinely convivial in mood, but operates at a much higher level of decorum. Those who would join these ladies-who-lunch at their well-appointed table at the Carlyle must wear hats, gloves, and "important" brooches just in case Madeleine Albright happens to do a walk-through. (So nice to SEE you again, Madame Secretary!) Be prepared to supply mild, amusing talk about this year's opera season, and for god's sake, don't confuse the Whitney with the Guggenheim like last time. Watercress sandwich, darling?

Tea for Two belongs to a homey subset who eschews public ceremonial in favor of intimate tête-à-têtes on the living room sofa-- or better yet, on the floor, cross-legged among myriad craft supplies. The tea, of course, is chai-- improvised on the stove top with sundry kitchen spices thrown in willy-nilly; served in handmade ceramic mugs large enough to warm both hands. The laughter is uninhibited, sisterly, and sly. Stick around, and there might even be a round of tarot card readings.

Take note that all the fantasy tea parties so far have been reserved for grownups. By comparison, Everything & Nothing is child's play.

At this doll's picnic table, sweet Darjeeling is served in mismatched cups, each with its own old-fashioned orange-flavored candy stick for stirring-- and who needs napkins? Here, one may regress without prejudice to happy, sticky-fingered childhood. (Other hostesses might be scandalized-- but not Anné Pliska, I'd bet.)

So honeyed and exuberant is Everything & Nothing that I almost wonder if it truly belongs in the tea circle. Manners, sophistication, elegance, even spiritual comfort are all proper qualities for tea to project-- but do candy and joy have a place at the table? Well, why not? The tastiest treats, the prettiest tea set, the BIGGEST mud pies-- those are the humble guarantees of this guest list.

Go ahead. Lick your fingers. It's that kind of party.

Scent Elements: Sweet orange, pressed petals, desert moss, tea leaves

Crushed (Tokyo Milk)

However gratefully we hand summer its hat, a certain wistfulness accompanies its slow, elegaic departure from our landscape. Fiery leaves, cobalt skies, and crisp weather will soon arrive to ease the transition-- but here in New Jersey, we're not out of the woods yet.

Our current climate -- sandwiched between the estival (true summertime) and autumnal terms -- is a month-long pent-breath pause known as the serotinal season. Serotiny is a natural phenomenon whereby certain plants (such as the pitch pines that carpet South Jersey's fabled Pine Barrens) only eject their seeds under extraordinary conditions. Drought is one. Wildfire is another. High heat forces pitch pine cones to split open, releasing the next generation of trees-- so what seems like a disastrous loss to us actually guarantees the forest's future.

It's evolution, baby!

Lasting roughly from from mid-August until the equinox, the serotinal season is a staccato confusion of parched, dusty days marked by heat lightning, hurricane warnings, wildfire alerts-- and longing. The best flowers have come and gone; luxuriant foliage that burgeoned over every fence just weeks ago now appears yellow and sad-- wilted, if not reduced to a crisp. There is no escaping the cruel eye of the sun, except by thundercloud or smoke plume towering over the Barrens-- but wouldn't we give anything for one more month of it? We know we can't. It's time for us to evolve, too.

So what to do until true autumn arrives? Me, I'll be cooling off with Crushed.

When I first sampled it back in late spring, I wasn't impressed. Why? All around, Nature was throwing flowers at me by the bushel-- first hyacinths, then lilacs, then magnolias, then honeysuckles. I had all I could stomach of lush greenery in real life-- what did I want with a perfume facsimile? But now, I breathe in Crushed with closed eyes and feel a strong sense of melancholy fondness. Each stage of its modulation, from milky floral to beach-dune sweetgrass to green-fig syrup to clean white musk, seems invested with a special pathos.

This, I think, is what we're losing as the year gives up the ghost. And I catch myself sniffing my wrists greedily, desperate lest any of these precious molecules fade too soon.

The wonderful thing is that they don't. Once sprayed, Crushed proves that it's here to stick around. With each note comes a courteous pause that allows you to enjoy what you're smelling now, reminisce about what has just faded, and anticipate what surprise may come next.

Just like a segue between seasons...

Scent Elements: Earth, moss, crushed herbs, wild grass, jasmine

Bulletproof (Tokyo Milk)

Initially I was puzzled as to why this fragrance should be named Bulletproof. First impressions revealed a pale, serious heliotrope living the furthest thing from a life of danger. Frankly, this thing seemed like Après L'Ondée 2.0-- all raindrops and melancholy, wearing its heart on its funereal sleeve. (Sad Keanu, are you listening? Put the cupcake down and pay attention, honey.)

But the moment it touched skin, Bulletproof leapt into action as if spring-loaded. Whipping dexterously between notes (incense, coconut cream candy, grey ashy wood), it ramped up to ever-increasing speeds until a final daring rocket-jump landed it on a straightforward (and nicely masculine) anisic musk. True, I'd smelled similar accords before-- but this was definitely the first time I'd gotten there by leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

Through the exciting high-speed blur, one image swam to mind: that scene from The Matrix in which Neo dodges bullets without appearing to budge an inch, because he (being The One) moves faster than they can. And I found myself saying what only seemed appropriate given the circumstances.


Scent Elements: Smoked tea, coconut milk, crushed cedar, ebony woods

Bittersweet (Tokyo Milk)

Under certain circumstances, "linear" is not a word to shun. Take Bittersweet, a fragrance whose top note deserves to be the entire song. This cocoa accord, as silty-rich and decadent as any a handmade truffle might roll through, is so patently satisfying it could have gone on for eternity, and I would've loved it to pieces. Unfortunately, from this delicious powder-dry affair, Bittersweet turns one hundred percent Bain de Soliel with an amber accord so heavy I expected to see a topcoat of shine on my skin.

Depending on how you feel about suntans, you may revel in this turn of events. Perhaps Bittersweet will transport you to the fantasy beach of your choice, there to roast in cocoa-butter-anointed bliss under a blazing sun. Me, I'm an SPF 50+ girl. Call it synesthesia, but for me, something about this particular shade of labdanum comes across as intolerably oily, slick and slippery, prone to overheating. No matter how nice it smells, it makes me desperate for refrigeration and shade. (Where's the osmanthus? I couldn't smell it at all-- and its astringency would have been more than welcome.) Under these hot 'n' sticky conditions, the continued smell -- heck, the very thought -- of chocolate (normally one of my prime daily food groups) made me ever so slightly queasy.

The verdict: Bittersweet is worth sampling just for that ridiculously appetizing top note. The rest may not be my cup of cocoa, but overall it possesses charms enough to tempt and delight others who may not be as prone to wilt, freckle, or burn as I am. Apply cautiously, as all sorts of yummy melting may occur... and if in doubt of your ability to withstand the heat, there's no need to stay out of the kitchen. Just delay this pleasure for cooler weather, is all.

Scent Elements: Cake flour accord, dark cacao bean, osmanthus, "bronzed musk"

An object lesson in the lifespan of perfume.

Death devours all lovely things:
Lesbia with her sparrow
Shares the darkness,-- presently
Every bed is narrow.

Unremembered as old rain
Dries the sheer libation;
And the little petulant hand
Is an annotation.

After all, my erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was not love,
Just because it perished?

--Edna St. Vincent Millay, Collected Lyrics, pg. 75 (Harper & Row, 1939)
Today -- combining a day of hard-won vacation with a nagging sore throat and a desire not to budge from my comfortable domicile -- I decided to reorganize (for the umpteenth time) my perfume collection. In so doing, I discovered with a pang of woe that my 2.5 ml. decant of État Libre d'Orange's Tilda Swinton Like This had almost entirely evaporated right in the vial when I wasn't looking.

I'd purchased Like This from The Perfumed Court last October and enjoyed its penetrating warmth greatly over the winter-- but not so greatly that over ninety percent of it should be missing from the bottle today. Whether due to a faulty seal or some kind of natural propensity to diminish, it alone of all my decants (believe me, I checked) seems to have suffered some sort of ghostly drain.

According to Wikipedia, "'Angels' share' is a term for the portion (share) of a wine or distilled spirit's volume that is lost to evaporation during aging... In low humidity conditions, the loss to evaporation may be primarily water. However, in higher humidities, more alcohol than water will evaporate, therefore reducing the alcoholic strength of the product."

I rather like the idea of angels swanning about wearing Like This. But as I loved to swan about in it even more, I rather wished the angels had left my share alone. Yet one doesn't wear fragrances such as this during the summer, does one? It would be like donning a mohair sweater during a heat wave. The very thought makes me itch.

Somehow, though, I couldn't feel sad. The pleasure that Like This had given me during its short time in my possession outweighed any regret. Only a few drops remained in the vial. I tipped them out into the palm of my hand and drenched myself in the dregs.

Arsenic (Tokyo Milk)

Imagine opening a brand-new tin of herbal pastilles, only to find that the white powder in which they lie is not confectioner's sugar, but finely milled zinc-- its insidious taste racing like metallic fire across your tongue.

Imagine entering a plush Venetian bordello and discovering that it smells disquietingly of an outdated dentist's office: clove oil, mercury amalgam fillings, mint-infused alcohol, autoclaved stainless steel instruments.

Imagine the loveliest girl -- perfectly brought up, impeccably turned out, not a hair out of place -- concealing the soul of a mad genius. Her name escapes you now (something Arbus? Sylvia Path-- no, Plath!) though it is destined to burn a hole in you someday. Behind her eyes, an annihilating force bides its time-- but it won't be your fault when she blows. After all, she looks so normal.


Arsenic recreates these experiences and all their attendant emotions, from anticipation to outrage-- and the real shock is that you won't demand your money back. On the contrary: you'll start saving your pennies to buy more of this ghostly concoction with its sweet metallic tang, just so that you can experience the thrills -- and chills -- all over again.

The long-lost half-sister to Aroma M's Green Geisha -- raised, perhaps, in a circus sideshow and allowed free access to the Mütter Museum during her impressionable youth -- Arsenic states its sympathies right off the bat with a central note of green absinthe. As we all know, the presence of absinthe alerts the Gothically-inclined that this will probably be right up their dark, secluded alley. But wait a tick: publicity deceives. Though saddled with notoriety from decades of bad press, absinthe (being a distillation of bitter wormwood, aromatic hyssop, fennel, and anise in good eau-de-vie) also possesses powerful worth as a fortifying tonic. In perfume, as in apothecary, its sharp green odor does the opposite of put you to sleep-- rather, it rouses the appetite with a brisk little poke.

Are you awake? Yes? Good. Chase la fée verte on your own time.

To fully revive us from the last vestiges of stupor, a mortarful of pestle-crushed herbs and seeds is passed under our noses. No sooner does the mind register their aroma than the mouth fills with a disturbing taste, at once saline, sweet, and metallic. There is something beautiful and poisonous about this accord, as when metal corrosion explodes in a rainbow of crystals whose hue both attracts the eye and shouts a warning of toxicity.

And all the while that you taste salt, you smell vanilla.

It's the creepiest thing in the world.

It's also a huge amount of fun.

One could say that Arsenic is 'weird, but in a good way'. Without being disrespectful, the same could be said of Margot Elena, creatrix of Tokyo Milk. This Denver-based artist, perfumer, and queen of quirk imbues her products so deeply with her unmistakable aesthetic that wherever they can be found -- from Anthropologie to the tiniest hole-in-the-wall boutique -- one feels as though one has stumbled upon somebody's personal vanity table, where all the lovely objects are up for grabs.

If you enjoy Arsenic, you may also take a shine to the rest of Tokyo Milk's "Dark Collection" (AKA Femme Fatale)-- a perfume series of playfully somber demeanor, brimming with hidden tricks and unholy talents. (I will be reviewing it all here, so stay tuned.) If, on the other hand, you prefer a more holistic oeuvre, Margot Elena's Lollia line (held aloft by Oprah Winfrey as a Favorite Thing of 2004) is for you. And if you just feel downright K&E (Kicky & Eclectic), oh, how you will love and toast Love & Toast, with its high, bright, and happy smells like Pomme Poivre, Sugar Grapefruit, and my favorite, Honey Coconut.

FromTheDeskOf... has a really great interview with Margot Elena, as does BotkierBlog. But trust me-- for a hands-on introduction to the world of Margot Elena, get thee to a perfume display table!

Scent Elements: Absinthe, vanilla salt, cut greens, crushed fennel

Sel de Vetiver (The Different Company)

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a common garden herb which looks like broadleaf parsley's taller cousin and has a zingy taste similar to raw celery. This culinary staple consistently wins "best supporting player" in the bouquet garni category... but in a perfume? Sure, why not? In an art form obsessed with the novel, rare, and opulent, it's refreshing to see a perfumery note of humble origins given a featured role-- and acing it.

By its name, Sel de Vetiver implies that some kind of masculine maritime elixir awaits the wearer. Its overture -- woven full of dry, austere notes of ozone, incense, and of course vetiver -- does little to dispel this assumption. But eventually the veil drops, and Sel de Vetiver's feminine character is revealed in a sparkling blend of grapefruit peel, full-bodied iris, and peppery-sweet geranium petals. Lovage surfaces well into the heart, its leafy spring-green tones dovetailing nicely with earthy Haitian vetiver, sealing the central accord's dessicant quality with a juicy-salty kiss.

As summer transitions into autumn, our minds inexorably turn away from the beach and toward the land, where harvest time awaits.  Yet the desire for a breath of ocean air may linger well past the equinox. Sel de Vetiver straddles the line between seasons, helping us over the gate of the year with a steady, healing hand.

Scent Elements: Vetiver, patchouli, cardamom, geranium, lovage, iris, grapefruit, ylang-ylang

Two by Kenzo.

Jungle L'Éléphant
Anise and licorice are neighbors in the same olfactive subdivision. Often confused for one another, they've been known to receive each other's mail by mistake. (They're cousins! Identical cousins!) But while cool-natured anise keeps company with civilized cologne herbs and yacht-club citruses, burly licorice pals around with a raucous bunch of roasted spices whose booming laughter fills the air on poker night. At first encounter, this loud-voiced assembly might come off as intimidating. But once you get to know them, you'll never find a more huggable tribe of palookas. Secure an invite to one of their legendary weekend backyard bashes, and "A-list" will be forever redefined.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, cardamom, cumin, clove, ylang-ylang, licorice, mango, heliotrope, patchouli, vanilla, amber, cashmeran

Jungle Le Tigre
While perhaps neither as intense nor as memorable as its sister scent L'Éléphant, Le Tigre follows the nature of its totem animal and slips into one's notice under the cover of deep shade and silence. Creamy, cool notes of vanilla and ylang-ylang establish a homogenous soft blue twilight such as any nocturnal animal would prefer, while tangerine and osmanthus provide a thrilling golden glisten made to be seen for a mere instant through the vines. With almost zero sillage, this rare beast is trained to heel-- but it maintains a slippery sense of ease native to the wild and free. And while I don't normally geek out overmuch about bottle design, the miniature Le Tigre flacon is so adorable, I'm totally in agreement with Gaia the Non-Blonde-- it deserves to be jewelry. A soldering iron, a few steel jump rings, and a necklace-length silver chain, and you've got yourself a wearable conversation-starter!

Scent Elements: Kumquat, mandarin, orange, osmanthus, ylang-ylang, amber, vanilla, cinnamon