The Know.

So there was this concept that Bob Fosse used to dance around, literally. His leading lady Ann Reinking called it "the Know". Drawn from the theater of Brecht (who dubbed it Verfremdungseffekte, "alienation effect"), the Know flattens every gesture, replacing passion with deliberation, empathy with distance. The Know hands you horror with a smirk; it plays a taunting rimshot -- Ba-dum-TCH! -- when the rug's pulled out from under you. It portrays all tragedy as comedy and all comedy as cruelty. There's nothing noble in suffering. Just showbiz.

I was gone; where did I go? I was getting to know the Know.

Here is everything I wrote before, during, and after, for whatever it is worth. The way things are going, someday I might forget I wrote it or where I put it. I figure I'd better leave it where someone else might find it. If it gets in your way, I beg your pardon; if it gives you something to laugh at or think about, I'll be content that it wasn't all in vain.

My thanks to JC, DC, Suzanne, JoanElaine, BloodyFrida, Carol of WAFT, Ari, Blacknall, Patty, Olfacta and Olfactoria, Montmorency, Natalie, Vanessa, Undina, Mals, Colleen, Lisa, Nan, Toni, KV, Glynis, and Miss Mary, all of those who showed me so much generosity, forbearance, and friendship along the road. Strangely, I must also thank Mephisto. Even if he is one of the reasons I stopped, he is also the reason I started. And always, I thank my husband, who knows me and my nose best.



November 11, 2015

A sonnet to a scent.

A taste for pretty flowers have I none;
Even a gardenful would leave me cold.
Hesperides and herbs for some are gold,
But I confess in “fresh” I find no fun.

In this, a world where one’s dessert is worn
Upon one’s wrists, and commerce fills the nose
With stink of pepper pink (call it “baie rose”
If spice with nicer names you would adorn)

Give me civet, musk, and richest indole,
Ambergris and honey, hyraceum,
Labdanum and costus, castoreum,
An animalic balm to soothe my soul–

And thus anointed, let me kneel and thank
The gods and goddesses who gave us skank.

Stash (Sarah Jessica Parker)

This (and not Covet; my mistake) is the fragrance Sarah Jessica Parker wanted to make before Coty insisted on a mainstream girlish floral. It was worth the wait. Stash is everything SJP wanted according to Chandler Burr in The Perfect Scent: a complicated, raunchy, friendly tapestry of incense and animalics; a true and beautiful "body scent" suited to warm, musky, maybe even not-quite-clean skin. It wouldn't matter whether that skin belonged to a male or female; I imagine this might smell equally enticing on anyone who wears it. Heck, even one's own self, judging from the way I keep compulsively snorting the scented inside of my elbow. No shame in that, is there? I think that's what Sarah Jessica Parker wanted us know. Stash is her mash note to mammals everywhere. Thank you, Sarah J.

Scent Elements: Grapefruit zest, black pepper, sage, Atlas cedar, patchouli, ginger lily, pistachio, olibanum, massoia wood, vetiver and musk

À la Nuit (Serge Lutens)

At this moment, I am contemplating Georgia O'Keeffe's Cow Skull With Calico Roses (1931). A less sentimental still-life would be challenging to find. It's hard to imagine (though such a thing exists) Cow Skull on a coffee mug or t-shirt; however they monetize it, it defies commodification because it does not offer kitsch a foothold.

Milan Kundera defined kitsch as "the aesthetic ideal (of) a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist... Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion." You would be right in surmising that he (along with E.M. Forster's dictum "Only connect...") influenced me to distrust kitsch and to seek the personal, the solitary, the brutally honest instead.

Read this review of Serge Lutens' À la Nuit by Normand Cardella of The Perfume Chronicles. Being intensely confessional (not to mention critical!) it can't be called kitsch writing, though it makes a case for À la Nuit being a kitsch perfume. I agree-- partway. I understand the point Normand's art professor was trying to make by deriding Canaletto's Venetian vedute as soulless, impersonal, lacking in that abstraction which indicates some kind of internal reaction on the part of the artist to what he or she is seeing. But all things being relative, aren't there degrees of abstraction, reaction, even -- gulp! -- kitsch? After all, you can smirk at any old piece of crappy novelty art and say, This is nothing; I've seen worse.

I have. Its name is Clair de Musc. Oh come on, I hear you saying. Clair de Musc is a perfectly nice fragrance. At least it isn't NIONA. To which I reply, AHA! You see what happened there? I tricked you into abandoning impartiality and got you to compare two things and find them inequal-- the exact antithesis of kitsch. That's just what I'm doing with À la Nuit. It might be (as Normand says) boring, but it's got more depth and dimension than Clair de Musc-- not a real Georgia O'Keeffe canvas, but at least a good-quality print rather than a greeting-card.

All would pale in comparison to the bona fide flower, of course. But we take what we can get.

Scent Elements: Egyptian, Indian, and Moroccan jasmine, green shoots, cloves, white honey, benzoin, musk

Clair de Musc (Serge Lutens)

The trial's hardly begun. The prosecution has only just begun presenting evidence; the defense is hours away from making its rebuttals. It seems premature to send the jury out for deliberations, let alone for lunch. But while we idle in the gallery praying for recess, I might as well whisper my impressions of the accused.

Clair de Musc has so many elements that I don't like (white musk, white florals, cleanliness next to Godliness) that I ought to despise it outright. I'm certainly capable of keeping an open mind, but I find it hard to unclench my teeth when faced with so oversanitized a scent. It's the antithesis of the rich, animalic, spicy perfumes I prefer, and yet, am I being fair? Surely it hasn't been upon my wrists long enough to judge...

The path to understanding is best trod in someone else's shoes. What kind of person do I think I'd need to be in order to wear Clair de Musc? A bridesmaid. A beauty queen. A babysitter. A ballerina. Immediately I think of the Hunyak, the only innocent Merry Murderess to dance Chicago's "Cell Block Tango". Her pleading refrain echoes in my ears: Uh-uh.

You said it, sister. Case closed.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, iris, neroli, jasmine, orange blossom, sandalwood, musk

Serge Noire (Serge Lutens)

The first thing I thought was: Frankincense and aged Parmesan. The second thing I thought was: Burnt-black wicks and sooty smoke. The third thing I thought was: It's weird, but I rather like it. Others emphatically do not.

Why does Serge Noire attract so much hatred? Its musk is goaty, 'tis true, but not the ugliest of bugbears to afflict an otherwise decent perfume. Some perfumistas damn that dusty clove note by comparing it to the dentist's office; others praise it as the jewel of Uncle Serge's spice cabinet. The rest of Serge Noire is incense, warm wax, wood ash, and a shade of melancholy which I suppose represents the noire. I shrug; it doesn't trouble me at all. In fact, I place Serge Noire in the same category as Muscs Koublaï Khän-- a relatively meek fragrance whose terrifying reputation produces a sort of smiling bewilderment once you actually try it.

Look, everyone is entitled to their impressions, as well as to their subsequent expressions of delight or dismay. At times, the flood of abuse applied to a fragrance goes so over-the-top it reaches the stratosphere-- but then, so might the acclaim. The only alternative is to meet in the middle and say, It's weird, but I rather like it.

Scent Elements: Patchouli, cinnamon, clove, incense, amber, musk, woods

Parfum du Jour: Rare Mimosa (Henri Bendel)

Today I've got a method to my mimosa. I've had this slim little purse sprayer of Henri Bendel's Rare Mimosa for many a year now; I bought it from a thrift store (beats me which one, though I suspect it was Jennifer's) and have worn it whenever the occasion calls for a touch of goof. It remains the sole specimen of mimosa perfume that I tolerate, maybe even like; the rest mostly bore the tits off me, with several actually evoking honest-to-god disgust. Mimosa, you see, reminds me of babies and all that comes out of them-- shit, drool, reflux, cutesy gurgling sounds, and intermittent demonic screams. This troublingly infantile trait becomes even more pronounced when opoponax and vanilla join the play date. While you're at it, invite guava, peony, heliotrope, and lilac over and then we'll really have ourselves a time-- complete with baby powder, feather pillow fights, and a thousand tears shed over spilt milk.

Parfum du Jour: Harbinger (Soivohle)

I need to use up all these 1ml. Soivohle samples I've hoarded before they all evaporate. So today I'm wearing Harbinger, Liz Zorn's peach-and-café-caramel gourmand take on Mitsouko.

In contrast to Mitsouko's glimmering dawn, Harbinger projects a full-noon blaze well-suited to summer, when harsh moods like mine may be softened in an everpresent haze of blood-warm, sweetly-scented air. I appreciate this atmosphere today more than I can express. Sure, it's ninety degrees outside, but as we speak, a gentle, constant breeze is riffling the leaves of the sycamores outside my window and the sky burgeons with perfectly gorgeous billowing white clouds. The world is a hard place, and we have to take our softness where we find it.

And I'd rather July than January, I tell you what-- so I'm content.

Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate (Hermès)

I've hit the wall of fatigue, both in life and with fragrance. A brand-spanking-new perfume has been in my possession for-- what, three weeks?-- and I've formed no opinion of it whatsoever. I have nothing to say about it, yet still I feel I must bestir myself, and for what? For what?

Perfumer Christine Nagel must have begun working on Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate as soon as UK fragrance oracle SevenScent named rhubarb, tea, and rose as key notes for 2015. But it's 2016, and rhubarb, tea, and rose are last year's news, and so Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate smells a little sad-- a clumsy attempt to be youthful and "on trend", as they say in the biz. Hermès ought not to stoop to ploys like this. They and their fragrances should stay as they are: crisp, patrician, middle-aged and riskless.

Scent Elements: Hesperides, rose, rhubarb accord, redcurrant, green tea, white musk

Lagerfeld Cologne (Karl Lagerfeld)

Some kind of serendipity keeps leading me back to Karl Lagerfeld. By no means have I sampled all of his offerings, and I hesitate to try his latter-day wares, which all look frankly cheap and cheesy. But his bygone aesthetic-- which informed fragrances such as classic Chloé, KL, Sun Moon Stars, Lagerfeld and Lagerfeld Photo -- remains solid.

I once had a bottle of Lagerfeld EdT which I enjoyed for a time. But I knew I'd never wear it often enough to justify the space it occupied in the Scent Cabinet, so I let it get swept away in the Great Purge of 2015. Recently, I scored a mini-bottle of vintage Lagerfeld Cologne, which I actually like better than the EdT. Spicy and full-bodied, with a unisex softness, it occupies the same "lazy Sunday morning" reality as La Nuit de l'Homme. Following a crisp citrus overture, mellow tobacco and tarragon interplay beautifully with a sharp, fresh nutmeg accord that perks up the senses before coumarin smooths it to a shine. It starts with a sunburst, proceeds like a dream, and fades down to a satisfied sigh.

Lagerfeld Cologne is a sanguine fragrance which upholds old traditions faithfully without coming off as a vintage bore. It's an easy wear, and wear it I shall. In fact, I'm wearing it right now as I type-- and believe me, it's hard to type when you keep having to stop to huff your own wrists.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, sweet orange, tarragon, jasmine, iris, rose, nutmeg, tonka bean, tobacco, patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood, oak, amber, vanilla, musk

Kitty Girl Eau de Parfum (Preferred Fragrance)

How did I come by it? I bought it at Big Lots for fifty cents. It was marked down half-off. That should give you an idea of how seriously to take it.

Why did I come by it? It's simple. Now Smell This announced an upcoming challenged called Fake It Friday. Participants are to find, wear, and report back about a cheap dupe of an established (and more costly) perfume. You know, the kind whose name and packaging imitates those of its betters, with the addition of the cautionary tagline "Our impression of ( )" or If you like ( ), you'll love ( )!"

Well, I don't like Katy Perry Purr, and I don't love Kitty Girl, but that doesn't mean I can't have fun with them. Neither is reprehensible; Purr represents the youthful scent zeitgeist of this decade, and Kitty Girl mirrors it, and there you have it. They're harmless, hyper-sweetened, sexy-childish fruity florals with pastel packaging and all the fancy frosting this genre promises and delivers by the truckload.

Here's the specs on Katy Perry Purr, courtesy of Katy Perry Parfums: Frisky and feline, Purr's fruity, floral scent is ready to pounce. Top Notes: Peach Nectar, Forbidden Apple and Green Bamboo. Middle Notes: Jasmine Blossom, Pink Freesia, and Bulgarian Rose. Bottom* Notes: Vanilla Orchid, Creamy Sandlewood (sic) and White Amber.

Here's Kitty Girl, via Amazon: By being both playful and seductive this distinctive signature is soft enough for everyday use yet special enough for the most romantic evenings... Top note of fresh morning fruit with an abundance of peach nectar and granny smith (sic) apple. A middle floral note of jasmine and rose is warmed and rounded with elements of precious woods and amber. Kitty Girl is not associated with the maker of Purr by Katy Perry.

Alrighty then!

Kitty Girl doesn't smell as good as Purr, which is not saying much insofar as I don't really prefer Purr, but then again I'm not a nine-year-old girl, so there's that. I could just as easily say "Kitty Girl doesn't smell as good as Vera Wang Princess" or "Kitty Girl doesn't smell as good as Britney Spears Fantasy" for all that there's any distinctions between them. I will say that it smells better than Exceptional... Because You Are, but only just, and probably because it cost me a mere four bits for eight whole milliliters. (Eight milliliters! What on earth am I going to do with it all?)

Still, I expect that a grade-schooler with money to burn could do worse than Kitty Girl. If I were her mother, I wouldn't reflexively rush her into the bathtub after one application. Three applications within an hour, maybe. But I hope that by her age, any daughter of mine would have developed a taste for Arabie or vintage Miss Dior instead. I mean, honestly.

*Sure, they could have said "base notes", but "bottom" certainly leads one to imagine Ms. Perry's pert posterior (ahem).

Scent Elements: Peach, apple, jasmine, rose, woods, amber, white musk

Nag Champa (Nemat)

Yesterday and the day before, I wore a perfume oil almost three decades old. I purchased it in the summer of my twentieth year; we have matured together. It has outlasted ninety percent of my relationships, both friendly and familial. Not bad for a five-dollar souvenir.

I remember that long-ago summer well, when my sister and I joined a friend for a weekend in Cape May. We breakfasted on flapjacks and fresh blackberries at the famous Mad Batter, then took a meandering stroll along the waterfront. Beach weather more glorious you couldn't imagine-- wave after gentle wave scattering diamonds of sunlight on the sand. Somewhere along the way, we passed a kiosk peddling batik pareos and vials of perfume oil. I walked away with a tiny, gold-capped bottle of Nemat Nag Champa, a memento of summer joy and innocence.

But summers end, and so does innocence; nothing is immortal. Within a year the friendship would be over, wounded irreparably by selfishness and blame. Twenty-five years passed before I set foot in Cape May again-- this time without my sister, who is now a stranger. The temps that my bottle of Nag Champa represents are truly perdu, and I avoid painful recherche like the plague. Nemat Nag Champa has turned into something more than a sweet smell. It is my olfactory madeleine.

I would not trade it for gold or glory.

Carpathian Oud (Soivohle)

About this one, there's shockingly little to say. I've struggled for nearly a month to assemble a few descriptive words about it, but all I can come up with is "It's nice". I can tell you what I wanted: I wanted danger and desire. I wanted a raw sensual phenomenon seething with heat and mystery. I wanted the merest spritz of Carpathian Oud to summon up a lawless Romani lover in whose eyes I drown, in whose arms I find shelter as midnight closes in around our campfire...

Carpathian Oud is nice. I'll wear it. But it won't make me howl at the moon.

Scent Elements: Fir balsam absolute, rhododendron absolute, laurel, rose geranium, carnation accord, mountain poppy accord, ylang-ylang, orris butter, iris accord, wild violet accord, clove, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg absolute, oakmoss base, amyris, sandalwood, Indian and Laotion oud, oud accord, civet reconstruction, vetiver, opopanax, patchouli, castoreum reconstruction, muscone, amber base, benzoin

Parfum du Jour: Quadrille Vintage Eau de Cologne Fraiche (Balenciaga)

Why wear it? This week is Leather Week at Now Smell This, and I wanted a very light handbag SOTD as a lead-up to the heavier leathers (Casanova 1725, Jolie Madame, and of course Cabochard) which I mean to wear for the rest of the week.

What does it do? As I described to other NSTers, Quadrille smells "at first lemony-mossy, then rosy-fruity-spicy, then (concludes with) an unexpected slap of glove leather... The leather in mine pops up in the drydown-- delicate & almost prim against all the fruit..."

How do I feel? Rueful. I had a largish bottle of Quadrille which I convinced myself I didn't wear frequently enough, so I decanted a couple of milliliters before consigning it. Now I'll never get it back. I don't regret letting it go, but I wish I had decanted more of it before bidding it farewell.

Parfum du Jour: The Afternoon of a Faun (État Libre d'Orange)

Why wear it? Because twice is nice. I wore it yesterday and felt so enlivened by it that I decided that a reprise was in order.

What does it do? It turns a humdrum workplace into a sun-dappled glade, a cluttered office full of book carts into a poppy-strewn meadow, and all of one's patrons into revelers waiting for the bacchanal to begin. Its rose geranium accord is supremely dewy, but set off against moss, incense, and some seriously animalic leather, it burns, it burns!

How do I feel? Ready for the weekend. I so seldom do what I say I'm planning to do, but this time I must hold to my promise of cleaning the kitchen. Our little friends the sugar ants are back, woe is us. If I bust it out quickly enough, I will be free to do something frivolous-- jewelry making, perhaps, or working on a short story.

Gucci No. 3 Eau de Toilette (Gucci)

Thus far, my exposure to the Gucci fragrance line has been limited. The peony nightmare that is Gucci Flora sent me running; unless we count James Franco's "Goosey by Goosey!" commercial parody, there it ends. I've heard that Rush and Envy are pretty good, but having never smelled them weakens my credentials as a perfumista. What rock have I been hiding under?

Released in 1985, No. 3 is an aldehydic chypre with a mien as ebullient as a can-can girl's. I have no other Gucci experience to offer points of comparison, so I must pull another simile out of my hat. For a time, I found myself in danger of becoming addicted to Saint-Germain, a marvelous elderflower liqueur ideal for spritzy mixers. Now that I am prohibited from tippling, I can get my jollies from Gucci No. 3. It's fizzy, friendly, approachable, and right up my boulevard. Instead of pinot, prosecco, or Sauvignon blanc, pair it with flânerie, Toulouse-Lautrec, and raw oysters on the half-shell. Et voilà voilà!

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, coriander, greens, jasmine, narcissus, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, iris, amber, vetiver, patchouli, oakmoss, leather, musk

Fracas Vintage Parfum (Robert Piguet)

Have you ever, in a moment of self-pity or ghoulish glee, planned your own funeral? Ostensibly, what happens after we evanesce heavenward is out of our control. But the temptation to stage-manage it is irresistible-- especially the part when you assemble a deathbed playlist. (Mine includes Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Sigur Ros, and of course the voice of Vedder carrying me home to Valhalla.)

To me, the idea of being embalmed and displayed like a ventriloquist's dummy in a satin-lined box is thoroughly repugnant. I personally always wanted to be laid out in the wilderness and devoured by ravens, but I don't think my spouse would be too keen on this concept. The alternative is to be cremated as quickly and cheaply as possible. Commit my ashes to the wind and water off Cattus Island, and send no flowers, please.

Especially not tuberoses.

Monolithic, carnivorous, chilly, morbid, waxy, bloodless, deathly sweet, overpowering, vegetal, funereal, unnerving. With these words, I have drawn past portraits of Polianthes tuberosa. Those who favor it use adjectives like buttery, creamy, opulent, velvety, voluptuous, luxurious, heady, sexy-- but to me, tuberose will always be the queen of the coffin, traditional witness to a million eulogies.

A recent gift added a few choice descriptors -- narcotic, menacing, masterful -- to my list. As we speak, I'm wearing two precious, golden drops of vintage Fracas, one on each wrist. They come from a thumbnail-sized bottle bestowed upon me by Toni, who IS a tuberose lover and cares not who knows it. I suspect that the ghost of Edie Sedgwick (whose favorite perfume Fracas purportedly was) whispered in her ear that I needed a crash course in classic BWFs. Or perhaps this is no mere apparition we're dealing with. Edie would make one hell of a vampire... with a perfume to match.

So often does one find tuberose swizzled up with coconut cream and white musk that it ought to come with a free tiki cocktail. Fracas, on the other hand, has never seen the sun; if she ever trod a white sand beach, it was by the rare light of a super blood moon. "Buttery", true; these petals come richly sauced. And yet this is no comfort food for the nose; Fracas' unsavory effect reinforces my disbelief that any consolation could be found in these blossoms. Sex and death, yes; sympathy, perhaps not.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, tuberose, hyacinth, gardenia, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, orange blossom, neroli, narcissus, violet, rose, iris, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, musk

Amberene, redux and redone.

On and off over the last few weeks, I've been wearing Soivohle Amberene. No special reason; I was pawing through my stash and gave in to the urge to get reacquainted. Had I known that Amberene has been not only renamed but reformulated by its creator, I would have worn it with more nostalgia.

Amberene was once a spicy, strongly vanillic amber kept from piercing sweetness by a touch of acerbic citrus. Now it is known as Burnt Pyrrole and is described by Liz Zorn as a "natural smoky amber-based essence with spice notes and a botanical musk". Perhaps you could say something similar about Amberene. But I can't help thinking that Burnt Pyrrole is an entirely separate and distinct fragrance. Surely it can't be Amberene masquerading under a new nom de parfum!

Now, I know you're not supposed to judge a perfume by its notes list. But compare the two fragrances' scent elements:

Amberene: Grapefruit, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, violet, heliotrope, tonka, benzoin, patchouli
Burnt Pyrrhole: Labdanum absolute, benzoin, Oman frankincense, balsam Tolu, spices, ambrette, smoked tea


Do those look like they would smell anything like one another? It will take a sample of Burnt Pyrrole for me to find out. Until then I will cherish my tiny vial of Amberene, such as it is-- or rather, was.

Aromatics in White and Black (Clinique)

Sometimes I worry about Estée Lauder. The company, I mean; not the grande dame (who is safe in her grave, though likely rolling over in it). During its first half-century, EL -- along with its subsidiaries Clinique and Aramis -- judiciously released one or two well-crafted fragrances per year. Many of these have been deemed classics of perfumery. But among the avalanche of flankers which followed Lauder's death in 2004, none came close to achieving that accolade. Most don't even try. Matters have only grown more troubling of late. With its systematic takeover of competing fragrance brands (Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Ermengildo Zegna, Jo Malone, Le Labo, Frédéric Malle, Tom Ford), EL now resembles that corporate Borg known as Coty, subduing and assimilating all who tremble in its path.

From this chaos emerges Aromatics in White (2014) and Black (2015), two sweet fruity-florientals which trade on the name of the 1971 Elixir without inheriting any of its gravitas. JC -- who adores the original Elixir to infinity and beyond -- purchased full bottles unsniffed and presented me with generous decants for my birthday. Even before I unpacked the gift bag, the buoyant golden scent of White's orange blossoms tickled my nose.  Its friendly florals seem squeaky-clean until they suddenly don't-- and when they don't is when things get interesting. Ambergris and labdanum give White a Dune-like dissonance and danger, at once sexy and glowering, successfully depositing its drydown yards beyond the expected goal post.

Like so many perfumes with 'Black' or 'Noir' in their names, Aromatics in Black is way too lighthearted to be dressed in that somber shade. It commences with a brassy blast of grapefruit and bergamot reminiscent of Chanel Coco Noir, which I believe it is meant to emulate. It's much nicer, though, in that diffuse unthreatening way of all Nice Lauders. I don't know what "plum leaf accord" is supposed to smell like, but the heart of Black smells like sweet red plum pulp, and that's fine with me. Like a stubborn compass needle, it keeps pointing toward By Kilian Back to Black, which I suppose is its North-- and maybe now I can finally stop accusing Puredistance Black of plagiarism now that I know Everybody's Doing It.

In White, Perfumer Nicholas Beaulieu promised a modern fragrance evoking the same "attraction on skin" as its august predecessor. I suppose the concept of attraction has undergone as many redefinitions over time as have popular perfume tastes. That being said, I do find both new Aromatics to be attractive on my skin... though I wouldn't say that either of them redefine Elixir, or (for that matter) Estée Lauder.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, pink grapefruit, "plum leaf accord", osmanthus, jasmine, neroli, myrrh, vetiver, tonka (Black); Sichuan pepper, violet leaf, labdanum, rose, orange blossom, patchouli, leather, white musk, ambergris, benzoin, vanilla (White)

KL Eau de Toilette (Karl Lagerfeld)

KL was introduced in 1983. That's almost all you need to know. Big! Brash! Ballsy! Think of it as the jasmine cousin to Chloé's tuberose-- caked with eyeliner, hairsprayed to the limit, and showing off maximum leg.

I actually prefer KL to Chloé, truth be told; tuberose has never quite been a friend of mine. But jasmine jibes just right with my preferences, and KL's is a delicious one-- sultry, not too sugary, tempered with a velvety amber. In the main, KL lies far closer to the skin than its cousin, which is still not saying much. It's like a civil defense siren whose sound radius only measures three miles instead of five. Let that be a warning to you.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, orange, Jamaican pepper, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, orchid, patchouli, cinnamon, cloves, benzoin, amber, vanilla

Parfume du Jour: Chamade (Guerlain)

Why wear it? It snowed again today, and spring feels very, very far away.

What does it do? It presents in one package a sophisticated chypre, a sleek modern floral, a tender suede-soft leather, and an indescribable feeling of youth and newness. It whispers optimism in one's ear at the very moment when one might falter.

How do I feel? Weary and in need of a lift. Yesterday I wore Florineige Cuir de Russie and felt infused with a rakish energy that carried me through my night shift with ease. But even after having slept rather deeply last night, I woke feeling as if I'd spent the night in a state of bleak alertness. Cuir de Russie's elegant iris might have proved too unsubstantial to support me as I needed. But Chamade's narcissus laid rightful claim to all the vigor I lacked today.  I let it carry me, and I feel no shame at my own weakness.  Sometimes it's too much to pretend to be strong.

Must de Cartier Vintage Eau de Toilette (Cartier)

Last week, my downstairs neighbor -- a former regional sales rep for a fragrance corporation -- gave me a handful of manufacturer's minis she'd been using as Christmas tree ornaments. A loop of gold lamé ribbon around the neck of each little bottle, et voilà! I really admired her ingenuity in finding a purpose for these perfume-filled bibelots. I'm almost regretting having consigned mine. Almost.

The offerings included several negligible Avons, vintage Chloe, Karl Lagerfeld KL, Coco de Chanel, Gucci No. 3, Worth Je Reviens, and Must de Cartier. Tuberose remains a tricky note for me; I already own (and never wear) Chloe, and KL smells so similar that I may let them both go. The Worth smells like hot dog water, but its cobalt glass bottle is topped by an adorable gilt cherub which just screams Christmas; it has a fighting chance of getting repurposed once more as an ornament. Coco's always welcome, and I found the Gucci No. 3 really quite lovely, a sort of floral pousse-cafe for the nose. And then we come to Must de Cartier.

The heart of MdC (the name "Must" alone begs to be followed by "...and Mildew") reads like Dutched cocoa dust. This, I like. But to get to it, you have to start at the very beginning-- a bilious acid-fruit accord which swerves at reckless speed directly into a "fresh deodorant" ice patch. Now, unless we're talking about a York Peppermint Patty, "fresh" and "chocolate" generally don't belong in the same sentence. Just when it seems that the only way to get from here to there is to crash through the railing and over the cliff's edge, MdC jerks the wheel and forces the vehicle back on course. And thank god for that, because for a minute there, I thought for sure we'd end up in Rampage Pour Femme territory, where all tow trucks fear to tread.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, mandarin, peach, galbanum, neroli, jasmine, iris, carnation, narcissus, orchid, ylang-ylang, lily, vanilla, amber, benzoin Siam, opoponax, tonka, oakmoss, leather, Brazilian rosewood, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, civet

Lucky me.

Last week on Friday morning, I wore Cabochard-- just a tiny bit, applied in the same spirit that drives me to drink coffee to start the morning. And then I ended up in the emergency room.

Hospitals smell like decay. There is no escaping that fact. Spend any time in one, whether as a patient or as a visitor, and you walk away with an unmistakeable odor clinging to your clothes and the insides of your nostrils, a sweet, fetid stench that makes you queasy and uneasy in a way that's hard to shake.

For two days after my ER adventure, I felt deeply, viscerally nauseated-- sick not just to my stomach but to the roots of my existence. I couldn't eat; hell, I couldn't even think of food without wanting to vomit. My body smelled strange to me; I kept sniffing my skin, distressed at its deathly odor. I felt infected, invaded, colonized by molecules of hospital air. Not even a hot, soapy shower could expunge its miasma.

And I couldn't bear the slightest whiff of Cabochard. How do you like that?

Every perfumista fears losing their favorite perfume to tragic circumstance. You hear about it all the time. An unpleasant shock, a traumatic accident, a prolonged illness occurs-- and the fragrance you happened to be wearing at that time instantly becomes unbearable, off-limits, relegated forevermore to the realm of bad memories. You didn't want it to happen, but now your comfort scent, your courage scent, your signature scent is a symbol of anxiety and pain. Could anything short of the life crisis itself be any more distressing?

But this morning, I felt better. I drank my cup of coffee and kept it down. And I picked up my hairbrush (always kept liberally scented with Cabochard) and gave it a tentative sniff.

Good lord, it was heavenly.  That's when I knew that everything was going to be all right, including me.

The last perfume.

Today I picked up my new bifocals and realized that there is no going back. I'm forty-six years old. Irreversible things are afoot. My eyesight is failing. My gums are receding. Threads of silver run through the red of my hair. My brain tumor proceeds apace; I have trouble talking, typing, spelling words correctly, and remembering things. With every passing month, my ovaries tell me with increasing stridency that they're tired and would like to stop now. So would I.

I've given it some thought and come to a conclusion: I've gone about as far with perfume as I want to go. I have what I need, and I love what I have. The search, the insatiable desire to acquire and experience more, has run itself out. The neverending has ended. So I asked myself, if I could have just one more bottle to add to the Scent Cabinet -- an earth-shattering bottle, a drop-dead divine bottle -- which would I choose? But the only reason I asked the question was because I already knew the answer. I just wanted to say its name.

So after leaving the optometrist's, I drove over to the Mall and got me some Dior Dune. I'm serious, I just plonked down my credit card and walked out of Macy's swinging a little bag. I figure I can swallow my first-ever pair of bifocals with some heavenly, sunlit ambergris-and-ocean-breeze to wash it down. The matter-of-fact speed of the whole transaction -- I want it. Do you have it? I'll take it. -- was exhilarating, as was the not-unreasonable-but-also-not-quite-sensible amount I spent to experience that thrill. (Am I becoming a reckless spendthrift in my dotage? Who gives a good goddamn? Another benefit of getting old: any salty quip can pop out of your mouth, and they can't put you in the penalty box until you're really, TRULY done playing.)

There's no fragrance in the world quite like Dune, and now I have enough to wear until the wheels fall off. Finis.

Gender bender.

Women in close workplace quarters can be either supportive or contemptuous of one another depending on the weather, the temperature, the time of day, or (sad but true!) the time of the month. Unless one turns to extraordinary means to avoid them, personality clashes are inevitable... yet everyone fawns and fusses over our male colleague no matter what the conditions. Hm! How to tap into that without subverting the whole planet?

Today I wore Or Black by Pascal Morabito. Cloaking myself in a scent that triggers an instinctive recognition of "maleness" was both an experiment and a risk. How would all these women react to my olfactory disguise? Favorably, as it happens. Opinions on my fragrance included words like clean, comforting, reassuring.  I didn't attract a single snide comment all day. In fact, my coworkers seemed more impelled than usual to engage me in small talk or seek my opinion. At the end of the day -- holy moley! -- they all pitched in to help me with closing procedures.  All because I smelled like a man!?

Normally I don't give much credence to the concept of gendered perfume, but this -- along with the disrespect I get when I wear an girly "pushover" perfume -- leads me to think there's more to psychology, sexism, and scent than I believed.

Parfum du Jour: Ô de Lancôme (Lancôme)

Why wear it? For good old spritzy fun on a day which is no fun at all, meteorologically speaking. Right now it's pushing ninety, dishearteningly humid, and so bright it feels as though the sun itself is giving us the stink-eye.  Later (if the weather forecaster isn't fibbing) we'll have violent thunderstorms, high winds, and the possibility of a tornado. A tornado. Spritz now or forever end up in Oz.

What does it do? It cools skin on contact, for a start. Then an aura of lemony-freshness settles down all around me, and instantly I feel less sticky and sluggish. A zing of green basil increases the overall happy, while the drydown is a nice, dry vetiver. Let me have just one more spritz, and I'll be well on my way to surviving 'til five.

How do I feel? Rather apprehensive about that whole tornado thing. I can't help thinking about the massive old oak tree in our neighbor's yard-- fifty feet high, I'll wager. With every brisk breeze, I find myself straying to the kitchen window to stare out at it and nibble nervously on my fingernails. If a microburst brought the giant down, where would it land?

Panthère de Cartier Original Parfum (Cartier)

Launched in 1986 and (if you will excuse my phraseology, which I admit may be as tasteless as this perfume) put to sleep in the mid-1990s, Panthère follows in the footsteps of Poison and Giorgio, both supremely rude perfumes with no respect for pedestrian noses. Backed up with syrupy peach and a chokingly thick sandalwood, this massive tuberose tyrant refuses to be ignored. It's too big for its britches, its bottle, the room, and maybe even the planet. It creates an atmosphere so impenetrable that Reagan could have used it for the Strategic Defense Initiative. Giant asteroids bounce off of it and ricochet right back into space.

This is a perfume that fires its entire staff on Christmas Eve. This is a perfume that heaves a crystal paperweight at your head and screams, You LOOK at me when I'm talking to you. This is a perfume that owns 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags, and 1,060 pairs of shoes. This is a perfume that backs dictators and arms rogue nations at a profit. This is a perfume on trial in absentia for crimes against humanity. This perfume hasn't just violated the Clean Air Act-- it's condemned under the Geneva Protocol for its use of chemical warfare.

Don't misunderstand me-- I kinda-sorta enjoyed being in its clutches for twenty-four hours or so, until I found a bar of soap powerful enough to tame it.  It has charisma in spite of itself.  But clearly Panthère is not meant for everyone. You really have to ask yourself if you're wicked enough to merit it-- and if you are, god help us all.

Scent Elements: Peach, coriander, mace, tuberose, karo karounde, jasmine, gardenia, marigold, rose, heliotrope, carnation, ylang-ylang, oakmoss, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, amber, vanilla, tonka bean, civet, musk

Parfum du Jour: The Afternoon of a Faun (État Libre d'Orange)

Why wear it? For its complex, mercurial, tumultuous nature, ideal for a day of thunderstorms and torrential rain.

What does it do? It commences with a peal of rosy geranium -- a note I most often equate with courage, but which I am now forced to reframe in my own perception as the aroma of carnal passion. This tricksy sprite of a scent surrounds itself with moody suede and moss, which causes its piquant nature to seem even more intense and fiery in contrast. The immediate effect is to evoke cries of "You smell delicious! DELICIOUS!!" from one's coworkers.  How often does that happen?

How do I feel? Very self-congratulatory for having purchased such a sizable decant.  If I can, I may even invest in a full bottle the next time I happen through Bergdorf Goodman.  Throw in a bottle of Like This for makeweight, and you've got yourself a deal.

Parfum du Jour: Réglisse Noire (1000 Flowers)

Why wear it? Because for something predicated on one of the world's stickiest and most dense confections, Réglisse Noire is as sheer as voile and as cooling as the fine mist thrown off by an epic waterfall.

What does it do? Initially, it really, really, really makes me mourn for Callard & Bowser licorice toffees (a sweet enjoyed by the British side of my family and oft-lamented now that it's no longer available stateside). But at some point, Réglisse Noire takes a subversive little turn into patchouli territory, landing on something akin to Lucien Lelong Tailspin, only sweeter and more transparent. And you know how I feel about Tailspin in weather as hot as we're having today, so... Call this a double triumph, for licorice and all its lovers.

How do I feel? Oh, so relaxed and composed in my veil of soft, anisic tranquility.

Parfum du Jour: L'Heure Fougueuse (Cartier)

Why wear it? Because Annick Goutal's Duel is still fresh in my mind, and I crave some more of that strange, horse-pasture-meets-teatime scent that is yerba maté.

What does it do? It evokes a luminous melancholy that is difficult to describe. I offered my wrist for Nan to sniff, and she said, "At first it was love, and then all of a sudden it turned to sadness." I agreed and added that it invariably reminds me of a moody black-and-white art film that disturbs the mind, dazzles the eye, and tugs at the heart.

How do I feel? Very satisfied myself, but I do wonder what others around me make of my scent. It does smell a mite horsey-- which of course I love, but which might cause another to do a double-take.

Parfum du Jour: Réplique Spray Mist (Raphael)

Why wear it? It's luscious, luscious, luscious! I snapped up this vintage marvel at the Columbus Antiques Mall-- a full bottle, and a good thing too, because I cannot seem to stop spraying. Precious is the perfume that compels you to reapply every hour or so for the fun of it, yet is so sheer and unobtrusive that no one around you catches on.

What does it do? It takes the original Réplique theme (green bergamot over green herbs over green leather) and boosts the bergamot up to heavenly heights. That clary sage note is no slouch, either-- resulting in the driest version of Réplique I have yet to encounter, ideal for stormy, humid early-summer days.

How do I feel? Very confident. Each re-spritz gives my mood a noticeable boost without undermining the effect with an overstrong sillage. When I ask for more, my flacon answers, "Say when." Une réplique si bien parlée.

Jules (Dior)

I think I understand now why certain perfume blog readers (and writers!) get so bent out of shape when you review a discontinued classic. It's unfair, they say, to get a person all fired up about a fragrance and then leave them out in the cold. Why torment us with lush descriptions of what we can't have? they complain. If we can't go right out and buy it, why review it at all?

Maybe they're right. I always thought it was my prerogative to review whatever the hell I wanted, and damn your rules. But wearing Jules, I can see now how frustrating it might be. Because Jules has vanished from these parts-- relegated to some bucket list of shy and elusive species, like the dwarf cassowary or the ghost orchid. And its comeliness makes its flight from the shelves of non-Parisian stockists that much more intolerable.

In the wunderkammer of perfume specimens, Jules joins Eau Sauvage, Caron Yatagan, and Pascal Morabito Black in a little drawer helpfully labeled "Fougères - Animalic (Sharp/Filthy)". This would differentiate it from those comforting barbershop fougères which are more tonka-heavy, or the zesty sort of fougère which relies mainly on aromatic herbs and pale blue or green coloring to suggest "freshness". The fragrances in this drawer are all sex and leather-- and Jules, with its sage-and-cumin suggestiveness, is the rarest of them all. And also the most beautiful.

The teaser has become the teased. Serves me right.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, basil, artemisia, lavender, sage, cumin, cyclamen, jasmine, rose, cedar, sandalwood, amber, tonka bean, oakmoss, leather, castoreum, musk

Duel (Annick Goutal)

Remember Tirador, that bespoke scent I envisioned for Viggo Mortensen? This is it, or as close to it as I'm ever going to get.

As I envisioned it, Tirador would incorporate notes of tobacco, maté, sweetgrass, sage, and animalic leather to be worn by a travel-worn outdoorsman (hell, let's call him Aragorn son of Arathorn). Duel takes maté to the red carpet by introducing it to elegant iris and absinthe-- and yet, it's still strangely redolent of time spent in the saddle. That it reminds me strongly of Cartier's L'Heure Fougueuse is no accident; it clearly provided inspiration.

So Duel is the perfume of my bespoke dream-- at least the press junket version. It's tailored to more formal standards but still has a uniquely lived-in quality, like a made-to-measure suit that does not sacrifice cut, fabric or fit for plain old indispensable comfort. That's why you've worn that suit for years. It looks as new on you as it did when it really was.

Scent Elements: Yerba maté absolute, petitgrain, iris, absinthe, guaiac, leather, musk

Cumming: The Fragrance (CB I Hate Perfume)

It does not smell peaty.
It does not smell boozy.
It does not smell heathery.
It does not smell woodsy.
It does not smell rubbery.
It does not smell leathery.
It does not smell tobaccoey.
It does not smell earthy.
It does not smell fiery.
It does not smell truffly.
It does not smell risky.
It does not smell sexy.
It does not smell transgressive.
It smells like YSL La Nuit de l'Homme, which I really like, but which I can buy at the Macy's near my house.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, black pepper, Scotch pine, malt whiskey, cigar, heather, Douglas fir, worn leather, Highland mud, peat fire, white truffle. All of which I think is a load of crap. Aye, ah do!

Parfum du Jour: Eau d'Hadrien (Annick Goutal)

Why wear it? It's a dry citrus. A very dry citrus. A triple-sec citrus. So if you (like me) have a temporary aversion to moisture on account of insane recent rainfall totals, this one will hand you no dew-drops.

What does it do? With tart, peppery notes of cypress and grapefruit mingled with sour lemon, Eau d'Hadrien puts the pith in perfume. I love bitter tastes, so it should follow that a bitter smell would be attractive to me. Side note: I could swear there's a rose hiding somewhere in that lemon grove, but it may be a mirage conjured from all those sharp essences.

How do I feel? Rather sunny today, as my spouse and I hit the road for an afternoon of thrifting. Sometimes it's a bust and sometimes it's must; for us it was the latter. My clothing find of the day: an official Beastie Boys shirt from their last tour before MCA passed away. It had never been worn (in fact, the price tag was still attached!) and it came in green, my favorite color. My book finds of the day: a brand new, pristine copy of Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey (I snapped it up before it had even been priced!) and a biography of E.M. Forster that I never knew existed. I also scored a glass bowl in which I hope to display my 1ml. perfume samples once I convince the Grist Mill to let me consign them. Wish me luck.

Épices Marine (Hermès)

Hermès Épices Marine is a sent-bon, a good smell. Light and unassuming, breezy and bright, it sits on skin nicely and sends up pleasing little puffs of citrus and salt air for an hour or two. It is not even slightly original, but something tells me it wouldn't be a sent-bon if it were. It reminds you, and to do so, it must be a reflection of things other than itself.

I don't smell any roasted spices, whiskey or smoke in Épices Marine. I do smell citrus, salt, seaweed, and vetiver, but in no very innovative combination. Like Tauer Incense Extrême, Heeley Sel Marin, and Histoires de Parfums 1828 Jules Verne, Épices Marine is simply a pleasure to wear. I don't need any other reason to enjoy it, so I will resist the urge to read anything into it-- or to bemoan that which it lacks.

Let other songs of the sea be sung. This glad beauty is merely made to hum.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mint, roasted cumin, pimiento, Sichuan pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, algae, smoke, salt, oakmoss, vetiver, whiskey accord

Parfum du Jour: Capricci (Nina Ricci)

Why wear it? It's hot and dry outside, requiring a blast of arctic archness from the land of aldehydes and oakmoss. Plus, Capricci is my favorite Nina Ricci thus far, so time spent with a friend -- however stern and forbidding -- is always enjoyable. I'm on my second application of the day and feeling well pleased.

What does it do? Capricci looks directly at the sun, and the sun begins to sweat. Where she walks, flowers grow in her footprints-- but also frost, so mind your manners.

How do I feel? Generally relaxed. I sampled a taste of freedom this Memorial Day weekend, which included burgers and corn-on-the-cob (obligatory) and a jaunt to the movie theater to see Mad Max: Fury Road (entirely voluntary. Tom Hardy blows shit up, you say? I am so there). Now I'm two days away from a nine-day vacation during which I'll be running at full throttle along several different (but complementary) tracks. My job hunt will begin in earnest, as will a round of heavy housecleaning. I've just started a diet/exercise program in the hopes of replacing ten pounds of fat with lean muscle. I have goals to achieve, resources to marshal, and eyes to keep on the prize. Like a tough-but-fair coach, Capricci puts the starch in my resolve; when I think I might falter, she's there to inform me that quitting is out of the question.

Parfum du Jour: Evening in Paris (Bourjois)

Why wear it? For the thrill of it! Oh, how glad I was to be reintroduced to this exquisite floral ode to romance. My first meeting was facilitated by my friend Teija, who gifted me with a 1950's-era vintage bottle filled with pristine jus. I loved it from the first. What's more, I admired its principles. Despite its dimestore provenance, Evening in Paris offered all the women in the world a chance to feel like women of the world... for less than ten dollars.

What does it do? In less than an hour, it modulates from newly-poured champagne to a stroll along the Seine to satin sheets entwined around well-satisfied lovers. Lay the blame (or the accolades, if you prefer) at the feet of aldehydes, tilleul, and powder-soft styrax.

How do I feel? Glorious; elegant; enveloped by grace. Really! I mean it!

A bizarre bouquet.

While wading through the Scent Cabinet to cull out consignables, I came across all those Olympic Orchids that Colleen sent me ever so long ago. And once again, I ended up berating myself for not giving them a fair chance even though I know precisely where that will get me-- nursing an exquisite migraine from that frighteningly powerful synthetic wood accord that must be perfumer Ellen Covey's go-to base. So This is IT, I promise. All but the final two vials have gone into the huge pile of 1ml. samples I've culled for a trip to the Grist Mill. I'm thinking that 25¢ apiece or five for a dollar is a fair asking price; at any rate, they'll become someone else's headache instead of mine.


Luzonica
A strange tropical fruity floral reminiscent of Sweet Anthem’s Roslin, but not as good. Opens on an intense, almost sickening fruit jam accord halfway between papaya and pineapple, then trails off into sweet smoke. Not novel enough to be worth it.

Scent Elements: Tuberose, pineapple, vanilla


Kyphi
This modern reconstruction of Egypt’s sacred incense is flat, waxy, and linear—evoking furniture polish more than ancient ceremony. After lending skin a brief, spicy topcoat, it proves quick to fade—no tragedy, since this is essentially an unattractive fragrance best left to the Ptolemaic Dynasty, or whatever’s left of it.

Scent Elements: Frankincense, myrrh, labdanum, calamus, beeswax, spices


Arizona
"Pine Tree" Scratch ‘n’ Sniff, and a stunted example at that.

Scent Elements: Ponderosa pine, juniper, sagebrush, wildflower accord


Olympic Rainforest
For a fragrance predicated on one of the wettest woodlands in North America, Olympic Rainforest is a mighty dry article—but its weirdness marks it as a likely occupant of the Seattle-Portland circuit. Where else could evergreen boughs and fresh-picked morels intersect with Vicks Vap-O-Rub—and make it work? This is Arizona done right—with a sense of humor.

Scent Elements: Cedar, ferns, rhododendron, cepes, oakmoss, wildflower accord


Bay Rum
Owing to its proximity to parts Caribbean, the East Coast is awash with bay rum fragrances—which is why a reinterpretation by a Westerner is so refreshing. Ellen Covey’s Bay Rum is a savory delight with a pronounced (and very proper) cinnamon note and a good plug of salted butter melting away in that sweet hot rum. (Remember, the Pacific Northwest has its ports of call!) Bay Rum’s balance and persistence make it the most effective fragrance of the whole lot; its handsomeness is the reason it’s the only one I would wear again—and if I had a full bottle, I might empty it.

Scent Elements: Bay rum, rum accord, laurel, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, orange blossom, citrus, Javanol (synthetic sandalwood), balsams

Parfum du Jour: Ligaea la Sirena (Carthusia)

Why wear it? Because the very last of it is about to evaporate from the spray vial, churning up a wake of salty tears.

What does it do? It smells more -- a LOT more -- like Shalimar than I remember. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't pick up on the resemblance sooner. In previous wearings, it reminded me of Etro Vicolo Fiori and Jean Nate, and with good reason.  All four fragrances embody the sum of a single equation: lemon plus thyme plus opopanax equals pure sunshine.

How do I feel? Cheered up during a time of local mourning: it's Memorial Day Weekend once again. Traffic is up, internet speed is down, and idiocy looms over the same horizon whence originates that stream of luggage-laden cars we all know and despise. Calm and lovely, Ligaea la Sirena responds to all of this hullabaloo by swimming further out to sea, where the noise and rudeness cannot touch her. (Take me with you, I beg!)

De Profundis (Serge Lutens)

In E. M. Forster's Howards End, Margaret Schlegel brings "a sheaf of tawny chrysanthemums" to her friend Ruth Wilcox's funeral. They didn't ought to have coloured flowers at buryings, a young cemetery worker muses. But he can't help it: he feels compelled to pluck a blossom and take it home to his lady love.

The chrysanthemums trigger a similar ambivalence for the the grieving Wilcox children. By custom of the country, only white flowers may bedeck a grave; hence Miss Schlegel's colorful Trauerstrauß offends British propriety and pride. Surprisingly, their newly widowed father defends Miss Schlegel: The flowers-- certainly we should not have sent such flowers, but they may have seemed the right thing to her...

This minute shift of Mr. Wilcox's sympathy outside the tribe proves the thin edge of the wedge. Within a year, he will marry Margaret. Like it or not, life goes on. Margaret in particular is sensitive to this fact:
A funeral is not death, any more than baptism is birth or marriage union... (Ruth Wilcox) had gone out of life vividly, her own way, and no dust was so truly dust as the contents of that heavy coffin, lowered with ceremonial until it rested on the dust of the earth, no flowers so utterly wasted as the chrysanthemums that the frost must have withered before morning... (Margaret) saw a little more clearly than hitherto what a human being is, and to what he may aspire. Truer relationships gleamed. Perhaps the last word would be hope--hope even on this side of the grave.
True-- and this is why I choose a riotously colorful mental image of chrysanthemums to represent Serge Lutens' De Profundis. The name of this perfume derives from Psalm 130 (From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord) but also hearkens to Oscar Wilde's prison missive of the same title (A pillory is a terrific reality... and to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing). The choice of notes -- chrysanthemums, incense, earth -- are meant to evoke mourning. Yet the perfume, in its finished form, does not. It says, Vita mutatur, non tollitur-- life is changed, not taken away. Flowers still grow, even atop a grave.

I own a full bottle of Arabie, and that's all; up to now, no other Lutens/Sheldrake creation ever tempted me to "go big". I've idly toyed with the idea of buying a large decant -- say fifteen milliliters -- of Un Bois Vanille or Fille en Aiguilles, but I've never acted on this impulse, so it can't be serious. But De Profundis gripped me so quickly, so completely, as to force my hand. I've worn it three days in a row, growing to love it more and more with each sunset that passes. I spray repeatedly to reexperience that one-two punch of bitter chrysanthemum flowers and freshly-broken green stems; then I go to bed and pillow my cheek on warm hair that smells of frankincense and flouve.

A "bell jar" flacon of De Profundis costs $300, which places it well out of my reach. It's ample cause for mourning... but every time I think De Profundis has breathed its last sigh, the idea of that decant resurrects itself. It reminds me that heaven is here on earth, not in some far-off afterlife where one's credit card is no good.

Scent Elements: Chrysanthemum, violet, lily, chamomile, peony, greens, incense, earth accord, hay, woods

Parfum du Jour: Amanda (Amanda Lepore)

Why wear it? It's gone, baby, gone-- an original and curiously affecting perfume, now nearly extinct. Completely eclipsed by its namesake's reputation for glitz and glamour, this unlikely comfort scent composed of bready iris, sweet tangerine, and cooked-rice steam is the last thing anyone would expect from a Manhattan socialite. But there you have it (or rather, had it). With scarcely a sixteenth of an inch of fragrance left in the sprayer, I declare that I have enjoyed every atom of Amanda Lepore, and I'd do her all over again if I could.

What does it do? It enfolds you against its ample breast, murmuring soothing syllables to drive the tears away. After inhaling my sillage, an enraptured library colleague practically dragged every person in the office over to huff my wrists. All agreed that Amanda was a calming, comforting presence-- and honey, we need us some of that-all.

How do I feel? Wistful to see Amanda go. Amouage Opus I, Hermès L'Ambre des Merveilles EdP, and Les Néréides Opopanax are all extremely compassionate fragrances, but I like a bit of strangeness with my solace. The closest thing to Amanda I can think of is Daliflor by Parfums Salvador Dalí. Just days ago, a tidal wave of organizational fever compelled me to put my bottle of Daliflor in the box of fragrances destined for consignment. But now I know that's simply impossible. I may not be able to get my hands on Amanda again -- at $900 a bottle, she's no cheap date -- but at least I can keep her memory alive with a less expensive cousin.

Escape (Calvin Klein)

I pick up the purse spray to study its simplicity-- the clear, fluted glass, the columnar silver cap. I hold it to the light and admire the color of the jus-- sherry, citrine, Baltic amber. I turn it over to look at the manufacturer's sticker. Calvin Klein Escape, it reads. I pull off the cap, sniff the spray nozzle, and recoil in horror. Calone, I thought. That cucumber-and-acetylene-torch odor that works my nerves like nails scraping against sheet metal.

According to Luca Turin, that's a good thing. Apparently, the reworked version is pitiful. This one is not, and it takes some doing to induce me to say it, for I have never, never, I repeat, NEVER been able to stand calone at any strength. Even when it's not alone.

Various notes I've seen listed for Escape include lychee, mandarin, apple, peach, plum, apricot, bergamot, blackcurrant, coriander, clove, chamomile, rose, muguet, iris, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, carnation, jasmine, rosewood, cedar, sandalwood, oakmoss, amber, musk, and vanilla. Impressive, but improbable-- unless more is less instead of the other way around. My nose pares the roster down to only the things it can actually detect-- reductive, I know, but I trust its judgment implicitly. It says calone, lychee, peach, coriander, cyclamen, cedar, vanilla, and (white) musk. Done.

I'm astounded to find myself capable of such a thing, but I enjoyed wearing Escape today. Past the cantaloupe-and-sledgehammer opening, there's an blessedly pale and subtle fruity-floral with a salutary hint of sea salt and cilantro. I'd wear it again. (What is HAPPENING to me!?)

Scent Elements: Calone, lychee, peach, coriander, cyclamen, muguet, cedar, vanilla, white musk

Parfum du Jour: The Scout

Why wear it? Since I first wrote about the Undercover Angels more than two years ago, I've hardly worn The Scout at all. I only recently dug it up from the depths of the Scent Cabinet and figured I ought to give it another go before I consign it to the sample bin at the Grist Mill.

What does it do? Stops planets in their orbit? Bench-presses the Verrazano Bridge? Whatever its talents, subtlety isn't one of them. It's much stronger and farther-reaching than I remember. (Did I really once consider this delicate?) I only spritzed twice, and it has annexed the atmosphere of this entire room and made all breathable air its bitch. If it only consisted of the pretty, sparkling tea-lemon-rose accord that first greets the nose, all would end well. But beneath that, there lurks a fiendishly powerful (and surprisingly masculine) musk that never, ever says "uncle" (though I eventually might). These two halves somehow make more than a whole. They're like a pair of conjoined twin giants who, contrary to their mighty stature, are perfectly behaved and polite... for now. The unspoken menace they project is centered on the thought that someday they might quarrel-- and on that day, God help us all.

How do I feel? Like taking a long, steamy, and very thorough shower with a can of Bon-Ami.

Vitriol d’Œillet (Serge Lutens)

All right, I was Googling Necco® Wafers (like you do) to confirm the alignment of colors and flavors. The official combinations are lemon/yellow, lime/green, orange/orange (obviously), cinnamon/white, wintergreen/pink, licorice/black (rather, chalky grey) chocolate/brown (rather, a strange mauve-tinted tan), and clove/purple. (Personally, I would have swapped the colors for cinnamon and wintergreen, but it's not my place to interfere.) Now, as always, the clove wafers are my favorite kind. I could refer to them as "carnation" wafers, since both cloves and carnations derive their spicy quality from eugenol. (Not for nothing are wild carnations called "clove pinks".)

Eugenol intersects well with rose, geranium, anise, violet, pepper (pink or black), cinnamon and other "hot" spices. Serge Lutens' Vitriol d’Œillet (roughly, Carnation Rage) contains many of these, plus a curious incense-smoke note that sends me right to church. Or maybe it sends me right to this absolutely hilarious blog post by Kitty Lapin Agile, who makes a startling observation which (once you get used to it) seems as though it's been obvious all along: Necco® Wafers strongly resemble communion wafers. Sweet sacrilege! Enter Picasa's image-tinkering tools, and there you have it: violet holy wafers to appease a violent-sounding perfume.

Let Serge Lutens himself describe the smackdown your nose is about to receive:
Je vais tout vous dire mon enfant : prenez un œillet, du poivre de Cayenne en quantités suffisante ma foi. Enfoncez le bien, au centre de lui-même par des clous de girofle puis, avant de passer à l’acte, pour conclure, augmentez cela d’une paire de gifles offerte par la giroflée. (Listen, my child, and I will tell you everything. Take a carnation and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper. Firmly drive it into the very center, using the "nails" of a clove. Before committing the final act of violence, let wallflower throw in a few punches.)
Whoop! That's some back-alley prizefight you're running there, Uncle Serge. He continues:
No more ghostly than a train, nor more sudden than death, nor quicker than the opening of a grave, my vitriol is distilled from carnations. After a moment of hesitation, the carnation -- alias the clove pink -– is what I am in every sense: this fragrance fraught with anger is my riposte. Its petals, laced with tiny teeth, hold out the solution: a burst of fragrant spikes... Yet the carnation is an obsessive and intrepid flower. When it doesn’t bloom on market stalls and in open fields in southern France, the carnation -– blood red, as if bitten by a dapper criminal with a fox-like smile -– perishes.
Thenceforth follows a rather lurid description of a film noir heroine meeting a gruesome fate. I don't want to see her come to a bad end; I'd rather she summon up the moxie to belt her shadowy adversary upside his head. Hard. But if a hint is wanted, she's not likely to get it from Vitriol d’Œillet.

Despite the provocation inherent in both its brief and its name, Vitriol d’Œillet is not a very forceful fragrance. It's no Poivre. It's no Parfum Sacre, nor a Sacrebleu. It's not even Bellodgia, bless its heart. It's a meek, hazy, charming little confection with absolutely no injurious designs on the wearer. From its elusive violet incense opening, it meanders into a typical carnation accord whose complementary peppercorn blend is unexpectedly bright and fruity. From there, it's soft, dry, Grey-Flannel-esque woods all the way down.

I envision Vitriol d’Œillet folding its little white-gloved hands nicely during Sunday Mass... and perhaps surreptitiously enjoying a sweet or two during the homily. No vitriol. Not a particle. But purple Necco® Wafers? An ample supply.

Scent Elements: Clove, nutmeg, black pepper, pink pepper, cayenne, œillet (carnation), wallflower, lily, ylang-ylang, woods

Flèches d'Or (Lancôme)

Today at the Grist Mill, I snapped up that vintage Lancôme Flèches d'Or mini I'd noticed on my last visit. (I also took home those aforementioned PdT minis of Coty L'Origan and Le Galion Sortilège, AND added in purse-sized perfume sprays of Revlon Intimate and Calvin Klein Escape. I mean, I'm not made of STONE.) Of course, when I went online to look up Flèches d'Or, I came across one of Cleopatra's flanker Boudoir blogs. Suppressing a grin, I clicked.

What did I learn? That Lancôme released Flèches d'Or in 1957; that its original flacon was designed by Georges Delhomme and manufactured by Verrières de la Bresle; that its notes included rose, jasmine, anise, cloves, and galbanum. Not much more. The post seemed uncharacteristically terse by Cleopatra standards, so next I visited The Vintage Perfume Vault, where Amelia... quoted Cleopatra. (Cue concealed grin #2.)

So anyway. Flèches d'Or was preceded by Flèches (1938), a typical floral arrangement consisting of rose, violet, lilac, and vanilla. Sounds like the precursor to YSL Paris, oui? By contrast, Flèches d'Or (Golden Arrows) is a spicy, tempestuous thing, more akin to L'Heure Bleue or L'Origan (I should know; I had a reference sample of the latter on hand to conduct an impromptu sniff test). I do smell bergamot, anise, and a powdery dried rose; while Cleo's notes list features cloves (the spice), I smell clove pinks (the flower), so I guess we'll split the difference. The dusky floral heart slowly gears down into a blurry chypre completely lacking in animalic qualities. But then, L'Origan and L'Heure Bleue end that way too-- on a bed of moss sans musk.

Scent Elements: Lemon, bergamot, verbena, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, carnation, lavender, anise, cardamom, galbanum, vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli, musk

Neroli (Attar Bazaar)

The species Citrus x aurantium is a veritable one-stop shop when it comes to flavor and fragrance. Itself a hybrid of pomelo (Citrus maxima) and mandarin (Citrus reticulata), it encompasses a host of subspecies and varieties in turn.

The peel of the otherwise inedible laraha (var. currassuviencis) is used for one purpose only: to produce Curaçao. The fruit of the myrtle-leaved orange (var. myrtifolia) flavors the popular Italian soft drink chinotto. Pectin-rich Seville oranges (var. bigaradia) are preferred for making marmalade, while their peel oil (known as bigarade) acts as a bittering agent in both mixed drinks and fragrance. The dried zest of the Asian sour orange (var. daidai) is eaten as a digestive tonic, while its flowers are used to sweeten black tea. Also used as a tea flavorant is bergamot (Citrus bergamia), a hybrid of bitter orange and sweet lime trees.

But the real main event is true bitter orange (subsp. amara), whose contribution to the olfactory and gustatory arts remains unmatched. Alembicate its leaves and twigs, and you end up with petitgrain oil, zesty and terpenous. Cold-express the peel of its fruit, and you end up with a singularly intense bigarade-- or better yet, steep the peel in cognac, and you're sipping Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Subject bitter orange blossoms to solvent extraction or enfleurage, and you have orange blossom absolute, airy and uplifting. Steam-distill them, and you end up with two products: orange flower water (the heart-and-soul of baklava syrup!) and an essential oil known as neroli (after the 17th century Princess of Nerola, Anne-Marie de la Tremouille de Noirmontier-- an early adopter of this heavenly scent element).

Attar Bazaar lets customers choose the four free samples that come with every order. In response to my request, they sent me about a quarter-milliliter of natural neroli oil. I realize now that I should have just heaved caution out the window and sprung for a full dram. After all, it only costs $8.95-- a pittance for so intense a pleasure.

I've encountered neroli in so many fragrances by now, we ought to be beyond the 'hail-well-met' and handshake stage. But I've never smelled it neat before, and now that it's on my wrists, I can't stop bending my head down for another stealthy sniff. Whereas the effect of buoyant orange blossom is mostly a matter of altitude, neroli adds heft and spin to the aerial dynamic. Fruitier, waxier, darker, and more honeyed than its counterpart, it's a complicated scent that lends purpose and staying power to a scent that would otherwise merrily disperse in all directions.

If another Attar Bazaar order is in order, I'll go for that full dram (as well as one of India Musk Connoisseur, to be reviewed here once I regain consciousness). Let summer rev its engines. With Neroli, I'll be road-ready.

Scent Elements: Nothing but what it says on the label.

Lotus Blossom (Attar Bazaar)

Attar Bazaar's Lotus Blossom is simultaneously a Big White Floral and a Little Nothing. It packs a syrupy-sweet wallop of your usual tropical white flowers, with gardenia way out in front. But grand, impressive, statuesque? Not so much. It may even contain a particle of prim muguet to provide self-restraint before things go over the top. It's pleasant, and I'm fine with that, for BWF's were never really my favorite genre. This one I could wear within hollering distance of the seashore, if not to the beach proper.

Scent Elements: Tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, possibly some coconut, and maybe a smidge of lily-of-the-valley.

Persian Lilac (Attar Bazaar)

More than most other aesthetic subjects, perfume forces an immediate response. It takes time to read a book, listen to music, or absorb the symbolism of a work of visual art, but it takes no time at all to accept or reject a fragrance. Despite the insistence of some that you stick with it from beginning to end or even wear it more than once before committing to an opinion, you know right away-- instantaneously. A perfume's notes, after all, advertise its personality. One screechy or false note, and the acquaintance is as good as over.

After you experience a hundred or so fragrances, reflex turns into reflection. It becomes possible to slow down, categorize, generalize, and identify what you like and don't like. Empirical knowledge authorizes me to state that I like leathers, chypres, woods, spicy or smoky fragrances, and animalics. The same accumulation of experience allows me to tell you that I dislike ditzy florals, sweet fruities, "fresh" odors, and aldehydics. I can use more specific language, if you wish: I like things that smell dirty, dense, and complicated; I dislike things that smell sanitized, deodorized, sugar-coated, and infantile. I am not likely to change these opinions. They have become hard-wired over time.

At first, Persian Lilac smells as clean and safe as anti-allergenic laundry detergent-- deceptive, since an unfortunate note of fecal matter is next to emerge. For all their color and spicy sweetness, lilacs are akin to white flowers in that they contain a hidden blast of indoles. It's enough to turn the clean dirty, but not dirty in the way I like it. Rather, this combination of sugar and poop morphs into a turnoff mighty fast. The drydown is dryer sheets all the way-- an ugly, sterile musk that sours quickly on the skin.

I wore Persian Lilac all day, and at no time could I accustom myself to its cloying presence. It made me smell like someone (or something) other than myself, a stranger. Unlike other Attar Bazaar samples I've parlayed into full-dram purchases, this one will henceforth remain corked.

Scent Elements: Lilac, white musk, and Desitin.

Parfum du Jour: Roslin (Sweet Anthem)

Why wear it? Yesterday's Un Bois Sépia proved a letdown, so today I wanted a sure shot. To date, Roslin has never let me down; it's like an old and faithful friend who inspires complete trust.

What does it do? Roslin's evergreen boughs, ripe red apples, and edgy patchouli smolder like a pagan festival in a bottle; on skin, it's beautiful savagery, a scent for the hunter rather than the hunted.

How do I feel? Not entirely discouraged. So I tried Un Bois Sépia first and got it out of the way-- that's how I choose to look at it. I have so many other newly-obtained scents to experience, the near future holds a wealth of olfactory discovery.