InekeFest / Day One: After My Own Heart

For me, it really all began with Gilded Lily. Courtesy of the everfabulous Suzanne, a sample of this deliciously zaftig floral created by San Francisco perfumer Ineke Rühland appeared in my Christmas stocking in December 2010. I spritzed it on and was instantly smitten-- but never bothered to look further. Why? I just plain forgot, is all. I'm sure all perfumistas know this story: backlog of samples, more incoming; so many perfumes, so little time. In my affinity for one tree, I lost sight of the forest.

Enter Colleen, the Fragrant Fairy Godmother who introduced me to Sweet Anthem Roslin and Soivohle Yin Hao. We first met over my quarry list, when she emailed to say she might be able to fulfill some of my wishes. Thus launched a volley of emails, fragrant packages, and handwritten notes-- and a new friendship was forged. Hurrah!

Among the plethora of jawdroppers Colleen sent me was the beautiful black coffret containing the Ineke Deluxe abécédaire. My old friend Gilded Lily was there, accompanied by the six fragrances that preceded it: After My Own Heart, Balmy Days & Sundays, Chemical Bonding, Derring-Do, Evening Edged in Gold (Colleen's favorite), and Field Notes from Paris. These alone could make a week of reviews-- but then two other Fragrant Fairy Godmothers got into the act. Lisa surprised me with the newest "deluxe", Hothouse Flower... and Blacknall gifted me with a decant of Briar Rose (from Ineke's Floral Curiosities series for Anthropologie).

So here I am, set to discover the line and blog about it in real time-- the good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise. Let's go alphabetically, shall we?

Imagine, if you please, a montage of every classic movie musical featuring small-town folk who collectively (and spontaneously) burst into song. Imagine an escape to a simpler, happier time: blue skies and green grass and red-white-and-blue banners snapping in the breeze, straw boaters, feathered picture hats, and twirling parasols. Wait... is that a marching band I hear?

All this and more can be yours with one spritz of After My Own Heart. Oppressed by worries from the oncoming hurricane, I came to this happy lilac soliflore with a heavy heart and heavy feet. After ten minutes of wear, I was prancing around the reference department work floor, turning on copiers and logging in computers to the tune of "Marion the Librarian".

I kid you not. I'm pretty sure I'm why they closed the library early.

Like Opardu, After My Own Heart chooses a simple, innocent interpretation of lilac over anything hot and heavy-- ideal, since lilac's already the frilliest, frothiest, most bosomy of blossoms, as exuberantly feminine as Chantilly lace. But when I call After My Own Heart simple, I only mean 'unadorned by self-consciously sensual amber or spice'. I wouldn't exactly say it's going bra-less. Its natural embonpoint requires a bit of uplift and restraint, provided by dry, crisp green notes which act like a corset to endow a trimmer figure on the whole.

Of course, most days I like my lilac bustin' out all over, or gourmandized in the same manner as Samsara's jasmine-- all smothered with butter and creme caramel. But you can't always subject fragile flowers to the Cecil B. deMille treatment. "Larger-than-life" only works some of the time. For the rest, you're better off with Lerner and Loewe.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, raspberry, greens, lilac, sandalwood, heliotrope, musk

Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy (Givenchy)

From the pretty fluted bottle and the equally pretty perfume inside, you'd expect a pretty girl to represent Givenchy Eaudemoiselle. Preposterous headband aside, Taylor Swift is the one my mind's eye sees when I breathe in this lissome and sincere floral. It's just too bad she has her own fragrances to shill-- with her artless combination of fresh-scrubbed good looks and schoolgirl/geek appeal, she'd have been perfect to front this one.

Instead, Givenchy draped an anemic blonde in the ghastliest black weeds imaginable and turned her loose to frolic wanly upon the sunny green lawn of the Château de Courrances. Here's what her handlers have to tell us about her:
Of aristocratic origin, the Givenchy Demoiselle has inherited her natural elegance and self assurance from her prestigious French lineage, driven by its values of excellence and an inimitable lifestyle. But she is independent, free and determined, and her inner strength gives her the confidence and audacity to express her unique personality and stand by her own choices, without extravagance or provocation... In the romantic setting of her garden, her presence is unexpected, almost intriguing. Naturally elegant, her intense gaze communicates a captivating magnetism, not easy to forget.

Yes, vampires are reputed to hypnotize victims with their eyes... but really? Are we meant to derive centuries of privilege and breeding from this chilly little flower? Poor thing, what a responsibility! No wonder she looks so careworn and pale-- and that soot-black cloak does not help matters. If they had to put her in Riccardo Tisci, why couldn't they have picked something from this fanciful collection-- silly headgear and all?

Never mind. Dress it up however you wish-- even like a finishing-school Nosferatu, if that fries your burger.  Eaudemoiselle is still a jolly little number: light and sweet, totally charming, devoid of all menace.  You can't overthink the experience of wearing it, no matter how you try. Believe me, even a wonk such as I can relax and enjoy this!

(Side note: the Eaudemoiselle website -- beautifully designed, if you ignore the jarring spectre looming over it all -- invites fans to join "The Order of the Demoiselles". Rosy-cheeked sorority? Ladies' auxiliary branch of the Knights Templar? Creepy cult of weekend Satanists à la Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate? Dare you to find out!)

Scent Elements: Mandarin, lemon, shiso, rose, ylang-ylang, orange blossom, musk, ambrette, tonka bean, cedar

Niona Eau de Parfum (Niona)

When you have something difficult or painful to say, a good piece of advice is to write two letters.

In the first letter, say everything you have to say exactly the way you FEEL it-- no holds barred, no punches pulled. Get it out of your system. Then set it aside, because nastiness serves no purpose.

Now write a second letter. In this letter, you will pare away all messy emotions and accusatory statements like "You always--" or "You never--", instead substituting much more reasonable statements that begin, "When you do so-and-so, it makes me feel..." or "I would really like it if..."

This is the letter you will actually send.

Letter #2

Dear Niona Eau de Parfum,

When you cause my head to jerk back that fast after sniffing you, it makes me feel as though you're hurting me on purpose. I would really like it if you did not do that.

Yours sincerely,

Scent Elements: Gardenia-scented VoBan.

Réglisse Noire (1000 Flowers) and Eau de Réglisse (Caron)

I have written before about my experience of anise/licorice notes and all the personal associations they hold for me. And though I've dabbled in many perfumes featuring licorice -- and found many of them toothsome -- until I now I hadn't really felt as though I'd found the perfect one.

Eau de Réglisse by Caron is a good example of a near miss. Some time ago, I ordered it from the Perfumed Court as part of a Caron "pick five" sample pack (which included Aimez-Moi, Le Troisième Homme, Violette Précieuse, and that old standby Nuit de Noel). I found Eau de Réglisse's old-fashioned lemon-drop freshness enormously attractive-- but I still felt disappointed, largely because the licorice promised by its name seems more of a whisper than a fully-voiced statement. I wore it and took pleasure in it, but I can't deny the tinge of regret I felt... as pale as the tinge of licorice in the midst of all that lemon.

1000 Flowers' Réglisse Noire, on the other hand, is a licorice perfume, not a-perfume with-licorice-in-it*. Of this, there is no doubt. Here is black licorice at its most glistening and regal-- elevated like a luscious jet obelisk upon a pedestal of spice. The way that it soars belies its solidity and attests to its perfect construction; it has too much verve to be anything but vertical. In the 'great minds think alike' category, both JoanElaine and Natalie of APB gifted me with nearly-simultaneous samples of this dusky bit of heaven. Each lady deserves 1000 flowers of thanks delivered to their doorsteps via winged celestial messenger!

In every way, Eau de Réglisse pales in comparison to Réglisse Noire. It's less tenacious, definite, distinct-- but then, it's less licorice. In a competition for best limoncello perfume, it would do pretty well for itself. But here, there's no contest: Réglisse Noire forever!

*Turn of phrase stolen from my spouse, who has this intricate theory that there are 'Bruce Willis' movies (Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout) and movies-with-Bruce-Willis-in-them (Moonrise Kingdom; Unbreakable). Within each subset, there are pluses and minuses, hits and sleepers, triumphs and turkeys. Then there is Hudson Hawk, which is just plain stupid.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, basil, lemon verbena, licorice, patchouli, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, musk (Eau de Réglisse); white pepper, ozone, mint, shiso leaf, star anise, ginger, licorice, cocoa, patchouli, cedarwood, vanilla, vetiver (Réglisse Noire)

Olympia Music-Hall Le Parfum (Histoires de Parfums)

In 1964, President Gamal Abdel Nasser awarded the Medal of Honor to Egypt's two greatest cultural icons. They happened to be lifelong rivals. No doubt aware of their mutual animosity, Nasser mischievously chided the two for having never collaborated. We cannot know in what spirit the following promise was offered-- capitulation, or true contrition. Nevertheless: "It would be my greatest honor to compose songs for Umm Kulthum," said Mohammed Abdel Wahab.

Performing for the first (and only) time at Paris' Olympia Theatre in 1967, Umm Kulthum sang Wahab's master creation, the heartrending "Enta Omri (You Are My Entire Life)". An archival film of the performance shows an audience completely transported by rapture.

Given its placement in history, this is an extraordinary concert. Throughout the world, youth culture (with its patented contempt for all things "over 30") had already assumed total dominance. Bookended with appearances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and James Brown and the Famous Flames, the Olympia debut of this dowdy beehived matron clutching her chiffon hankie might have seemed entirely anomalous. Yet she OWNED that stage. Her voice -- radiating joy and agony, transcending history and the fickleness of fashion -- brought Paris' hottest house down.

Umm Kulthum! Do you know this name? If not, I implore you to acquaint yourself with it. Spell it any number of ways (Oum Kalthoum, Om Kalsoum, Om Koulsum, Om Kalthoum, Oumme Kalsoum, Umm Kolthoum, Om Koultoum, Umm Khoulsum), but by god, spell it. Find it. Follow it back to its source. And if you get lost along the way, spray some HdP Olympia Music-Hall on a chiffon handkerchief and hold it in your left hand. Like a dowsing rod, it will catch in the wind and pull you inexorably in her direction.

True to perfumer Gérald Ghislain's intentions, Olympia Music-Hall contains the "magic of Parisian nights... spirits glowing from the excitement of an unforgettable evening... C’est ça, l’Olympia!" As stage manager of this spectacle, Ghislain wisely allows us a glimpse backstage, where harsh realities hide behind the red velvet curtain. Our leading lady has suffered for her art-- and still does, if certain bitter, smoky notes tell the truth. She's a floral with a past-- well-trained to conceal her vulnerability behind guarded eyes and a glamorous exterior.

Thespians, musicians, and stagehands all know that the mist produced by the fog machine looks beautiful in the stage lights but irritates the throat. Powdery-sweet and acrid, it permeates one's hair and costume to the last fiber with its unique odor, evocative of the joys and tribulations of the performer's life. I'm not sure if anyone has attempted to design a perfume around it before; for all I know, Ghislain's could be the first.

Encore! Encore!

For those interested in learning more about Umm Kulthum (birth name: Fatima Ibrahim, 1898-1975), this online biography is a good place to start. Over at Habiba's Diary you'll find a wonderful television interview with the singer taped just after her triumph at the Olympia. The documentary Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt, directed by Michal Goldman and narrated by none other than Omar Sharif, is a masterful study of the impact Umm Kulthum continues to have on world culture today-- as beautifully symbolized in the recent announcement that a street in the Beit Hanina district of Jerusalem will soon be named after this great lady, whose music crosses all borders.

Scent Elements: Orange, bergamot, lemon, mandarin, pink and black peppercorns, saffron, rose, freesia, lilac, peony, blond wood, patchouli, frankincense, styrax, suede, vanilla, chocolate, licorice, white musk

The Sniffapalooza Fall Ball Saga.

The sky before dawn.
The sight of Venus, Sirius, and Jupiter brilliant against a liquid black sky proves so breathtaking, I run a red light on the way to JC's house and must pull over to collect myself.

JC and Glynis!
My sweet scent sisters! I could not dream of better partners for this grand adventure. Navigation is the name of our game: JC's armed with a list of her favorite perfume notes to launch her toward new galaxies; GW's packing an adorable pocket-sized Garmin Nuvi GPS to guide us through the big bad Bergdorf 'hood. As for me, I’ve compiled all of the day's schedules, addresses, and walking maps into mini-zines for me and my chicas. Dressed in layers and carrying capacious satchels, we’re ready to go!

The Meadowlands at sunrise.
Once you've seen mist-beribboned marshes exquisitely washed in abalone iridescence, with snowy egrets and great blue herons launching themselves into flight in front of a glittering Manhattan skyline, you will never call the New Jersey Turnpike 'an eyesore' again. Capisce?

Empire State of mind.
The walk from the parking garage is teeth-chatteringly cold, but our first sight of Bergdorf Goodman makes us whoop like a Zouave raiding party! To celebrate its 111th birthday, its has been entirely "giftwrapped" with wide purple ribbons-- a stirring sight to start us off right!

Miss Patty!
The very first pal we encounter upon descending into Goodman Cafe-- and a most elegant and lovely sight she is, too! As a lifelong fragrance devotee and the most experienced 'Paloozer amongst us, Patty appears to us newbies as a gracious goddess high upon a pedestal of solid perfume knowledge. She herself readily tempers this notion with her welcoming warmth and sly humor (already enjoyed thoroughly by me in Ocean Grove this summer). She comes bearing gifts from her last vintage expedition: full bottles of Lili Bermuda Jasmine, Pierre Vivion Kismet, and Sonoma Scent Studios Femme Jolie! Sadly, her table's nearly full up, so we exile ourselves to the back of the class until the recess bell.

WaWa coffee + muffin combo.
But for this, I might have perished of starvation during the 2+ hour BG Breakfast, at which the world's smallest ratio of victuals-per-person is ruthlessly enforced by the waitstaff. Having come from a land where all cups of java are "bottomless", I suffer culture shock and must be revived with...

NEST Passiflora in all its glora.
The SAs run out of scent strips before they reach the back of the cafe. No matter: Passiflora wafts to us from the front rows, its wake marked by a surge of audible gasps. Salty, lactonic, pink, like a drop of blood fallen into a saucer of cream-- and that bottle design! We come THIS CLOSE to stomping our feet in unison like Folsom Prison inmates waiting for Johnny Cash. When a scent strip finally makes its way into my hands, I know immediately that Nan will want this, and want it bad. (The following Monday, I give her the gorgeous spray sample that came in my gift bag. My prediction = spot on.)

Tom Ford Jonquille de Nuit.
I take one sniff and my eyes immediately fill with tears. In an instant, I'm transported back to my childhood home, where narcissi of all kinds filled my mother's gardens. This sort of reaction is infrequent for me and usually presages total devotion. But then I suffer a lightning bolt of terror, triggered by the notion that this breath of pure nostalgia will go all flat or sad or sour. I love that top note so much, I actually feel pain at the thought of it not keeping its promises. I fear no such thing about the next encounter...

Miss Blacknall!
Hip-hip hooray! After spending a stellar day with Blacknall several weeks ago (during which we tripped around Red Bank talking each others' ears off and unearthing vintage Bellodgia and Geoffrey Beene parfums to boot), I'm extremely eager to see her again! Finally we find each other outside the JAR alcove, where Blacknall waits her turn for a perfume experience without parallel. We resolve to meet up again afterward, whenever and wherever this mighty river of people and scent brings us together again. Until then, I'm in the capable hands of...

Tom Crutchfield.
Gifted with a uniquely congenial presence, Annick Goutal's classy mainman sets exactly the mood we newbies need to ease our way into the strange new world of the BG sniffing floor. No face could be friendlier; no bespoke suit could enfold a warmer heart. After he takes the time to personally introduce me to Mon Parfum Chéri Par Camille, I contemplate begging him to adopt me. Go-fer or Gal Friday-- I'm easy.

The god Hermes.
I never learned his name, so that's what I'm calling him: the impeccably-dressed, drop-dead-elegant gentleman presiding over the Hermès boutique. Lightning-quick much like his divine namesake, he brings Glynis and me the good word. We sniff many Merveilles (Eau, Elixir, and the new L'Ambre), reacquaint ourselves with old favorites (Eau d'Orange Verte) and newer Ellenas (Un Jardin sur Le Toit), and I enjoy my second crying jag of the morning over Voyage d'Hermes (whose airy angelica note speeds directly to my limbic system). Then our guide demonstrates the Jewel Lock flacon, originally designed to hold Kelly Calèche but soon to be relaunched with interchangeable cartridges. Come November, perfumistas will be able to carry the Hermès perfume of their choice in this cunning little clockwork of a bottle. Do I hear the holidays coming?

Miss Ari!
I see her across the sniffing floor, zipping around from scent to scent like a honeybee in a meadow full of flowers... and yet she's the most flowerlike of them all in a frock the exact deep purple color of wild violets. In this atmosphere already sparkling with energy, Ari's a blast of pure effervescence! Before our hug's even over, we're exchanging gifts. For Ari, a stashbox hand-painted with Mitsouko bottles; for me, the bottled sunlight that is New Jersey by United Scents of America. True to Ari's review, it's Seaside Heights stripped of biker gangs 'n bimbos and distilled to its most delicious.

Jo Malone Blackberry & Bay.
Every claim made on its behalf is perfectly true: it's the perfect marriage of juicy wine-dark berry and dry-savory herb. I am charmed by the dapper SA, who gently lavishes scented cream on our hands before spraying on the EdT... and though I've been Purelling like mad all morning to make skin room for new scents, this time I balk at the thought of making this beauty disappear. I snag a sample for DC, who sadly couldn't join us today-- but I can't think of a sweeter consolation.

Chantecaille Kalimantan.
I know nothing about this house, and expected little after smelling Frangipane. But then came Kalimantan, which stopped us all in our tracks. Sure, it's an herb-laced labdanum a la Ambre Sultan, manned up with a patchouli-oud five-o'clock shadow that faintly rasps on the senses. But rowr! Patty said it reminded her of Christmas. Christmas! Now there's an idea!

The wonderful Warwick.
The meagerness of this morning's breakfast is forgiven as we sip wine at a balcony table and ease into a soul-satisfying lunch (roasted chicken, fingerling potatoes, white and green asparagus, cheesecake, and pastel-tinted macarons). The first-come-first-seated policy separates us temporarily from Ari and Glynis-- but it affords us the opportunity to meet new folks. Our tablemates -- one a stately fragrance industry rep from Florida, the other a sweet Connecticut medical man -- prove friendly and hospitable. The Floridian gent turns out to be a fan of Blacknall's blog, a fact which makes her blush and us cheer... and our applause continues as both Patty AND Glynis are chosen at random to receive professional bespoke-perfume consultations! The lovely Alyssa Harad shines as the afternoon's top speaker (her statement "Pleasure is such a tender thing, isn't it?" burns itself into my memory). At the table behind us, the Posse roils in full festive mode, and when Anita Berlanga (AKA Musette) kicks out the jams with a rousing paean to perfume blogging, a certain fiery femme called March takes advantage of the balcony table to pelt her with foodstuffs. For one nanosecond, this elegant gathering transforms into a scene worthy of CBGBs in the '70s. I attract a well-aimed pellet of March's bread and later tell Ari, "She hit me, and it felt like a kiss!"

Ah, Henri Bendel.
Our new Mecca. Forever after, in the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. JC thrills to the multicolored enamel "oval rivets" bangle bracelets, Glynis gets happy with hair jewels, and Ari speaks for us all when she says, "Headbands? There's HEADBANDS?! Gotta go!"

L'Artisan manager Allison Wirston.
The greatest, grandest sweet-talker since Reno Sweeney! Spraying a black lace fan with Seville a l'Aube, she dances like a flamenco bailaora and very nearly seduces me into springing for Denyse Beaulieu's dreamscent. Alas, my heart is and always shall be with spicier fare like Navegar and Poivre Piquant (a full bottle of which the fabulous Allison gladly packages up for me). Two days later -- thanks to Gaia and Victoria -- the tragic news of Bertrand Duchaufour's terrible decision-making skills hits the 'fumewebs. His collaboration with Gulnara Karimova is not how I want to remember his genius. Allison's joie de vivre is. She's de-lovely.

Kickin' back at Krigler, bumming around at Barneys.
After bidding sweet Ari farewell and sojourning to Duane Reade's in search of quinine water for me (merci a million, Blacknall!) we proceed to the Plaza Hotel. There, Ben Krigler presides over a gem of a boutique, a living temple dedicated to his family's history in haute parfumerie. But despite fine wine and even finer perfumes (for which see this great piece by Blacknall), leaden exhaustion descends upon us all, prompting an exodus to the food court where we collapse en masse into cafe chairs. Blacknall produces a score of samples to keep our noses fresh-- Hilde Soliani, Micallef, Mona di Orio, and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. Gifted thus with our second wind -- and eschewing a trudge uptown to the despicable Bond No. 9 -- we vote to hoof it over to Barney's and have our minds blown. We are not disappointed!

He went by no other name, and was inherently a man of few words... but I could ascribe numerous flattering adjectives to Barney's Serge Lutens SA: graceful, intuitive, disarming, tactful, and possibly telepathic. Ushering this weary traveler to a seat at a table full of newly-available cloche jars, he deftly dipped and passed me scent strips, pinpointing my truest desires by an almost uncanny process of mindreading (although I'm sure my blissful face betrayed a hint or two). He said little, but accomplished much... and if ever there comes an opportunity to procure a bell jar of De Profundis, to Fifo goes the commission and all my heartfelt thanks.

The finis line.
After parting fondly from Blacknall and Patty, JC, Glynis, and I drive slowly through the city streets, passing costumed ComiCon-ers and late-night hipsters en route to the Lincoln Tunnel. We are tired but ecstatic, laden with loot. What have we discovered? That we've just had the time of our lives... and that next year will bring two more chances to feel exactly this way again!

Deepest thanks to everyone with whom I shared this adventure.

Sniffapalooza speed round!

I'm still too tired from my awesome Saturday adventure with JC, Glynis, Patty, Ari, and Blacknall to write a proper summary (though one will be forthcoming). For the moment, a brief rundown of things sniffed at Bergdorf, Bendel, Krigler and Barneys... expressed in the six-word bursts of the truly exhausted.

Tom Ford Jonquille de Nuit: So pure and true, I cried.
Tom Ford Lys Fume: Pink smoke over a flower meadow.
Tom Ford Ombre de Hyacinth: Springtime, pure and simple. Yes, please.
Tom Ford Cafe Rose: A rose is a rose is...
Tom Ford Noir: Husband will fight me for it.
Nest Amazon Lily: A strange milky-salty carnivorous flower.
Nest Passiflora: Also milky, way stranger, instantly addictive.
YSL M7: The one, the only... THE oud.
Micallef Vanilla Marine: Vanilla milk laced with fresh seaweed.
Amouage Interlude for Men: Oud-smoke-incense; almost meaty. Rowr!
Amouage Interlude for Women: Odd but compelling floral Play-Doh.
Atelier Vetiver Fatale: What vetiver? This one's all citrus.
Atelier Rose Anonyme: Rose undisguised, not even an alibi.
Houbigant Orangers en Fleurs: Lovely orange blossom dusted with pollen.
Jo Malone Blackberry & Bay: YARDS above Mûre et Musc. Swoon!!
Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne: Fresh, biting, likable. I'd wear it.
Chanel Coco Noir: As disappointing as when first sniffed.
Balmain Ivoire de Balmain 2012: Not earth-shattering, but solidly good.
Donna Karan Woman: Conventional but pretty, perfect for work.
A Dozen Roses Gold Rush: Almost scary how yummy! Instant want.
A Dozen Roses Iced White: Am I anosmic to white musk?
A Dozen Roses Shakespeare in Love: A full-blown silky romantic rose.
A Dozen Roses Amber Queen: Mellow peachy tonka, warm as cashmere.
A Dozen Roses Electron: Ultra-cute Lily Pulitzer bottle design.
Balenciaga Florabotanica: This year's Miss Pucci. Not bad.
Guerlain Encens Mythique d'Orient: Citrusy incense with an aldehydic zip.
Annick Goutal Mon Parfum Chéri Par Camille: Inspired by Colette? I believe it!
Serge Lutens Un Bois Sépia: Iodine smoke, inky ocean, weird wood.
Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle: Floral syrup to cure your pleurisy.
Serge Lutens Vitriol d'œillet: Violet perfume for angry Edwardian suffragettes.
Serge Lutens De Profundis: Looks like Sarrasins, smells like heaven.
Krigler Chateau Krigler 12: A cool blonde of a scent.
Krigler English Promenade 19: Sour green apple Jolly Rancher candy!
Krigler Lieber Gustav: Ah, now THIS is the stuff.
Chantecaille Kalimantan: Instant, hopeless, forever sort of love.
Chantecaille Frangipani: An overegged heavy satin floral, natch.
Arquiste Aleksandr: Deliciously degenerate and subtle Russian leather.
Arquiste Flor Y Canto: Aztec tuberose, a most sacrificial flower.
Arquiste Anima Dulcis: Xocolatl marvelously made with spicy immortelle.
Arquiste L'Etrog: A lovely citrus note, that's enough.
Byredo Gypsy Water: A Seville orange, eaten campfire-side.
Clive Christian V for Women: Vanilla-tonka-ambrette, like everything else.
Dior Mitzah: I'm both nauseated AND turned on!
Hermès Voyage d'Hermès: The angelica of my dreams. Mine.
L'Artisan Séville à l'Aube: I'm saving myself for the book.
L'Artisan Batucada: Lime sugar, not much to remember.
L'Artisan Premier Figuier Extrême: Like its predecessor, but way riper.
L'Artisan Poivre Piquant: I took this sweet baby home!
Mona di Orio Oiro (via Blacknall): Big ol' dirty jasmine. Me likey.
Mona di Orio Chamarré (via Blacknall): A midnight garden enfolding the wearer.
United Scents of America New Jersey (via Ari): Smells familiar. Wait, I LIVE here!
Sonoma Scent Studio Femme Jolie (via Patty): Suede I could live in forever.

Postcard illustration by Giovanni Nanni circa 1914.

Yin Hao Eau de Parfum (Soivohle)

Attempting to describe the indescribable is a task sufficient to stop the mind in its tracks-- yet in a pinch, the broad shoulder of classic literature proves a dependable one upon which to lean. Only whistle, and a bevy of well-known fictional characters come to the rescue, each eager to personify whatever emotion, object, or phenonemon you've tried so hard (and in vain) to summarize yourself.

A drop or two of Soivohle's Yin Hao calls forth the Mortmain sisters, heroines of the Dodie Smith classic I Capture the Castle. Two nice girls chafing at the oddness of a Bohemian upbringing, they scheme to win respectability-- all the while blind to the deleterious effect that public tipples of crème de menthe can have on one's social status. Try though she might to 'clean up nice', a Mortmain girl harbors a stubborn vein of eccentricity that will forever subvert all her attempts to act normal. There is no getting around it. Strangeness is dyed in her every fiber-- which is why Yin Hao reflects her so perfectly.

A sweet womanly floral with a vast rank heart, Yin Hao is one of the oddest and most fascinating smells I've ever stumbled across. At once sexual, scatological, and inexpressibly morbid, the massive note of organic rot embedded at its core stirs such an odd mix of infatuation and discomfort that one easily forgets the lush, sugary jasmine which frames it on every side. Here is an indolic beast dolled up in ruffly white taffeta, a fauve who cannot be tamed even when decked out in Sunday best. The sum effect -- convention hiding contravention -- unsettles me. I find myself fascinated against my will by this perfume, drawn to spray and sniff it over and over in a state nearing obsession. I actually cannot help myself.

If you are one of those people who blithely keeps a compost pile right next to the flower patch, who holds onto florist's arrangements far past the point of decay and then compulsively studies the effluvium left in the vase, you might find Yin Hao as gripping as I did-- if you can find it at all. Sadly, it's one of the older 'mixed media' scents Liz Zorn retired from Soivohle's current rotation, though it still appears on various swap forums and online decanters' sites. I was lucky to have received a bottle of it from my new pal Colleen, who thus started a fire that can't be put out.

Maybe a little crème de menthe will cool me down a notch.

Scent Elements: Jasmine sambac, jasmine absolute, green leaves, green tea, sandalwood, musk

David Yurman Signature Eau de Parfum (David Yurman)

I've always had this concept of "bridal" fragrances being as sheer and delicate as a tulle veil. When I voiced this viewpoint to a friend of mine, her eyes went wide. "No, no!" she exclaimed. "Don't you know how stinky a bride gets on her wedding day?"

I confess that I do not. Rather than the conventional Big-Ass White Gown, I wore an airy faux-vintage green muslin drop-waist dress to my own September courthouse nuptials-- and I don't remember breaking much of a sweat.* (Even the presiding judge remarked on how relaxed my spouse-to-be and I seemed. As he confided to us in tones of rue, "We have couples who enter AND leave fighting, with an 'I do' somewhere in the middle.")

Back to my friend: "Brides wear the heaviest, most cloying fragrances they can find to cover up the smell of fear," she asserted. "Deodorant failure comes with the territory. Why do you think they carry those huge, heavily-scented wedding bouquets? It's not just to give 'em something to do with their hands!"

"So would you call this a bridal fragrance?" I asked, passing a wrist that reeked of David Yurman Signature under her nose.

"Hell yeah. Plus, you don't want to wear something you love on your wedding day. You'll be so stressed out, you'll end up hating it forever."

David Yurman is a trendy high-end jeweler best known for his twisted silver cable bracelets and massive square cushion-cut gem pendants. Personally, I've never been keen on his designs, which -- along with Paloma Picasso's metal squiggles and X's -- will forever recall the excessive Eighties. But having developed a true love for Paloma's fragrance, I figured I owed DY Signature a chance. I really have no idea what made me conclude that it would be bridal-- maybe it was all those hideous engagement solitaires which have become Yurman's latest stock-in-trade.

As it turns out, I may have been onto something.

From the first spritz, this overbearing peony fruitchouli strikes fear into the heart like the biggest and baddest of Bridezillas, rejecting all niceties to shriek full into your face, IT'S MY @$#%&! SPECIAL DAY. A cocktail of Organza, Rampage, Pleasures Bloom, Secret Obsession, and Jovoy Chypre all worn at the same time might aspire to its decibel level-- not that anyone would be so insane as to try such a thing. (Would they?) If what my friend says about bridal B.O. is true, this fragrance provides the ultimate connubial camouflage. It also explains how so many brides end their wedding day with a honeymoon-endangering migraine.

If were a new bride, I'd consider David Yurman Signature an incentive to work hard toward marital success, because I sure as hell wouldn't want to wear it more than once in a lifetime. Still, what do I know? Having been never a bridesmaid and only once a bride, I can't assume this fragrance is a total fail just because it doesn't quite fit within my own peculiar wedding experience. That's why I'm giving this fragrance three stars, the benefit of my doubt... and a wide berth.

*I pretty much looked like Cold Comfort Farm's Elfine Starkadder before the Cousin Flora makeover. And I wore Attar Bazaar Tunisian Frankincense, as I have all throughout this happy union. But we BOTH are addicted to watching Bridezillas-- why? Beats me.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, blackcurrant leaf, peony, water lily, rose otto, patchouli, woods, musk

Bois Farine (L'Artisan)

It's good to be Jean-Claude Ellena. I imagine his life looks much like a Duran Duran video, circa 1983. Designer suit-clad, hair blowing in the breeze, he sails from one exotic location to another on a yacht well-staffed by Nagelesque supermodels. When it's time to enter the jungle in search of local botanical rarities, he gets himself up as Indiana Jones as played by Simon LeBon-- a touch of eyeliner and mousse; sexy sweat beading on perfectly tanned skin. (Hey! Saxophone solo!)

More likely Ellena spends his time schlepping wearily between airport terminals and suffering endless security patdowns. He does this to bring us nice things like Bois Farine, a perfume inspired by the bois de senteur flower which grows on L’île de la Réunion. Bois Farine, which smells like fresh foccaccia sprinkled with crushed fennelseed, is the predecessor of Serge Lutens' Jeux de Peau and The Different Company's De Bachmakov-- two perfumes which I happen to like better than Bois Farine, but which clearly owe Ellena a debt. As do I.

Pass the olive oil, please... or the saxophone. I'm easy.

Scent Elements: Ruizia cordata flower, fennelseed, iris, benzoin, cedar, sandalwood, guiaicwood

Opardu (Puredistance)

During the turbulent years of the Great War, women's hemlines embarked on a startling adventure. After several centuries of touching the floor (or occasionally rising slightly above it, as if fueled by momentary optimism), they abruptly soared ten inches to mid-calf. Within five years, they'd make a second, hellbent break for knee territory, and the long-suffering female gender would kick up its heels at last.

Yet women didn't just leap from hobble skirts straight into tap pants and rolled stockings. There passed several intermediate years during which dressmaker-client relations must have taken on an undercurrent of strain.

The tunic dresses popularized by Callot Sœurs, Madeleine Vionnet, and Gustav Beer in the early 1920's combined mid-length skirts with trailing "fishtail" trains in the rear-- a sort of mullet in evening-gown form. The robes de style promulgated by Jeanne Lanvin and Lady 'Lucile' Duff-Gordon -- torso-hugging bodices over excessively pouffy pannier skirts -- only fueled this sense of sartorial indecision. Modern in front! Traditional in back! Austerity up top! Excess down below! If the couturier's mission is to interpret unspoken female desire, then this generation of women wanted it all without knowing at all what it wanted.

Picture a girl caught between hemlines. She's the 'vintage geek' still clinging to fin de siècle look books as she struggles to acclimate to revealing new fashions. I envision her raiding her mother's and grandmothers' vanity tables, repurposing their old lorgnettes and chatelaine brooches to wear with her newfangled drop-waists. This curious fashion blended of both past and present makes her look quaint, anachronistic... and oddly endearing.

Opardu could be her signature scent. But it's busy chasing another vision.

Who can resist the allure of the Jazz Age? This fantasy world of straight lines, sharp edges, bold colors and high-gloss surfaces is a boon for historians and designers alike. In real terms, the 1920s ushered a new set of freedoms for women, who leaped at the chance to vote, work, drive, smoke, drink, dance, and (most important) go it alone, unchaperoned. Such liberty had its own well-defined perfume wardrobe: Habanita, Tabac Blond, No. 5, Chypre, Mitsouko, Arpège.

Amidst these, Opardu stands out like a convent-school pupil in the company of chain-smoking garçonnes*. I'm not saying it's dull by comparison. But jazz hot? Not even remotely.

Opardu's name is a neologism for lost elegance or opulence perdu, specifically that of Paris during les années folles. From the first wearing to the last, it coaxed from me a feeling of nostalgia-- but not in the way its creators may have intended. For one thing, "nostalgia" is a tactful way of saying that I've worn this perfume before, and its name was Nuits de Scherrer. Luckily, I love Nuits de Scherrer, and I'm glad to see it reincarnated in a more diaphanous form. Opardu's combination of full-blown lilac and buttery gourmand notes suggests afternoon tea served in one's own garden-- high summer heat and delectable treats, both enjoyed within the shelter of a shady floral pavilion. A wistful touch of heliotrope (sans any of its tendency toward Après L'Ondée-style melancholy) ensures that Opardu's warmth never escalates into a heat wave.

(I mean this, of course, in more ways than one-- for while Opardu is a deeply affecting fragrance, I would never call it sexy. But then why would I want to, when its tranquil lilac bower is persuasive enough?)

Opardu is too tender for the Jazz Age-- and I like it just fine that way. It lacks the narrowed eyes, hardened heart, and stray-cat survival instincts necessary to traverse Kiki's carnivorous Montparnasse or young Édith Piaf's brutal Belleville. It lives at home with Mother, and I'm glad.

A sincere welcome, a warm smile, an open heart-- isn't this better than a thousand nights in Paris?

As for Opardu's hemline, it's not exactly up above her knees, but neither is it fettering her ankles and causing her dancing feet to drag. Like those clumsy dresses of the inbetween years, it achieves a workable medium.  She might not be prepared to tango her way across a glittering ballroom... but a foxtrot in the moonlit garden?

Can do!

*If I were among their number, I'd wear Puredistance M without blinking. I have grown to love it cravenly whether it's me or my husband who happens to be wearing it, and I imagine it would perfectly suit a garçonne (Does 'M' stand for 'Montparnasse'?)

Scent Elements: Carnation, tuberose absolute, jasmine absolute, Bulgarian rose, purple lilac, heliotrope, cedar