Two on the town.

Fresh Sake is a breathless maiko in blush pink, tabi-clad toes turned cutely inward and little-girl sleeves aswirl. At first impression, she's all smiles and silken gift wrapping, but a hidden pertness awaits to disarm the seasoned partygoer. For the first hour, she's as silent and watchful as a cat, learning by observation; then you notice how effervescent the evening has suddenly become. It's her, all her-- those impossibly tiny hands are pulling all the strings.

By contrast, Halston Eau de Parfum is the height of urbane geiko chic-- a bit raffish, a bit rakish, more than a little aloof. Hers is a tactic opposite to that of Sake: hit 'em up right away with smooth hostess patter, then lapse into a deep silence suggesting the tongue-tied travails of helpless love. By midnight you're on your knees, promising her what you cannot possibly give-- and so much more.

On the surface, this pair (one frisky, the other risky) would not appear to have much in common. But every maiko needs an ōnesan, and vice versa-- and when Sake and Halston hit the town together, their bond assumes a timeless quality, negating all generational differences. Only the irrepressible Sake can persuade Halston to smile like she means it; only the flawlessly elegant Halston can rein in her younger sister's giggly fits and teach her to comport herself like a tenured queen of the night.

If you see them together one of these nights -- traipsing along side by side en route to an engagement, drop-dead elegant in carefully contrasting kimono -- see that you hold onto your heart, or they'll have it in passing.

Scent Elements: Ginger, grapefruit, lily-of-the-valley, white peach, lotus, musk, vanilla, osmanthus, sandalwood (Sake); Tagetes, greens, spearmint, peach, bergamot, jasmine, cedar, rose, carnation, iris, ylang-ylang, oakmoss, patchouli, vetiver, frankincense, sandalwood, amber, musk (Halston)

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!
Happy New Year!

Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu!
I appreciate your support in the coming year!

Thank you so much!

Undercover angels.

They came into my life without a shred of documentation, traveling under false flags. They made my Scent Cabinet their designated safe house and quickly, quietly, assimilated. They live embedded amongst the perfume populace, shunning undue notice, pretending their best to be everyday, commonplace fragrances.

But I'm onto them.

In reality, they're covert operators-- secret scent agents on a mission. Their objective: to win me over without revealing their true identities. Whenever I get too close to the truth, their sweet, hypnotic sillage leads me conveniently off-track... but all I have to do is say the word, and their cover will be blown sky-high.

The Scout
From time to time at Ye Olde Antique Barn, a pile of sundry perfume samples appears in a bowl marked "fifty cents each". I routinely make a beeline for this dead drop and accept whatever scented communiqués I find there. This 3ml. decant of something resembling Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Blanc looked harmless, innocent. I took it home with me, little suspecting that it was casing me for weak spots. I must have looked ripe for recruitment, for the signal went out... and the rest of the cabal began making its way to my door.

The Mystery Minx
This sly seducer drifted into my life like a piece of lost luggage filled with undeclared treasure. I found her at one of my customary antique haunts-- a heavy, ziggurat-shaped crystal flacon with nary a label, seal or logo, yet half-filled with a nameless, exotic concoction touched with licorice and leather. I try to put a finger on her charms (is she Youth Dew wearing head-to-toe Harley Davidson? Tabu with a tell-tale five o'clock shadow?) but end up twisting in the breeze. I'm certain I'll never make an honest citizen out of her. But since she's taken my heart hostage, I keep following... and I'll never let the trail go cold.

Miss Moneypenny
Purchased by Glynis at a local school fundraiser, this plain-Jane spray flacon with the upstanding gold cap holds an anonymous (but lovely) rose-vanilla perfume. If I didn't know better, I'd call her Tocade, but her color -- pale peach as opposed to Tocade's deep yellow-gold -- strikes me as more than mite off. And yet... a sniff from the top of a Tocade mini recently obtained by Blacknall Allen only renewed my frustration. Did some perfumery student lose their homework? Is our prim princess a discarded dupe-- or a dangerous dame? I enjoy her company so much, I'm inclined to forgive her artifice. My reaction -- if not the jus -- is genuine.

The Sleeper
This oval-shaped beauty appeared at one of my antique haunts as part of a large vintage-fume shipment. I am peripherally familiar with its former owner, a serious local collector who consigns widely throughout central Jersey. From her I have purchased divine bottles of original Replique and Cabochard, but this one threw me for a loop. Since when does she deal in unmarked assets? Regardless of its lack of credentials, the bottle contains something I'm almost entirely certain is good old Lauder Private Collection. The disguise, the accent, the alibi... all are perfect. A little TOO perfect. Is this lissome lovely just a weekend player in the spy game, or something more? Dammit, what's her story?!

Femme Fatale #51
Like 007 or Agent 99, this world-class tantalizer goes by number rather than name. At least I know which corporation she works for-- yet when I sent Givaudan a polite inquiry, they clamped their lips tightly shut. It seemed a shame for so lovely an agent to be disavowed by her handlers, so I took her into protective custody. She turned out to be a deliciously spicy leather chypre in the tradition of Imprévu, Cabochard, or Azurée-- tricky to pin down, but not entirely untraceable. When Octavian Coifan posted a photo of a familiar green-and-white presentation box on 1000Fragrances I ventured to email him. As it happens, Our Man in Paris collects them and shared most graciously the intel he had gathered. Produced as gifts for high-prestige clients, these boxed and numbered flacons date to 1978-1985 and are representative of top Givaudan formulae of the era. Mr. Coifan described the specimen pictured in his own blog post as a "floral green rose-galbanum Anais-Anais type" and suggested that mine might be a late-1970's proto-Empreinte de Courrèges or (YES!) Estée Lauder Azurée. A pulse-dab of #51 affirms his judgment. Oakmoss, birch tar, coriander, armoise, artemisia? Affirmative! Givaudan may not be talking... but if in this lifetime I ever meet Mr. Coifan face-to-face, Femme Fatale #51 may very well defect to his side.

The Honey Trap
Now, this one wears her nom de guerre front and center (hint: it matches that of a famous watchmaker from La Côte-aux-Fées). Yet so far, her identity has proven 100% elusive. No matter how diligently I search for her paper trail -- whether online or in the print resources available to me -- I can find no documentation on this sensual spectre; not even her progenitor appears willing to acknowledge her. Yet for a ghost she's quite solid, a curvaceous citrus-peel amber just ten or so spices short of full-on Arabie. She charms and disarms me; I would love to uncover the least of her secrets... but then, of course, she'd have to kill me.

Secret Obsession (Calvin Klein)

Those familiar with the balls-out blare of the original Obsession may find this quieter cousin enigmatic, as befits a Secret. But only just. For this is still a fabulously sexy, indecorous scent-- Euphoria with the plum turned down, the sandalwood turned up, and the neckline cut as low as it can go. It's just that in this incarnation of sex on two legs, the lady also wears horn-rimmed glasses.

With one glance at her supermodel gams, you might think that you've got her sussed. Those lacquered red lips nibble the push-button end of a silver Cross ballpoint as she pores over-- what? Beauty's Punishment? 50 Shades of Gray? Sorry: it's the Corpus Juris Secundum. Not very titillating, true. But it will cheer you to know that our lovely lady is deep into Volume 71: Pleading.

Which is precisely what you'll be doing if you ever underestimate her again.

Scent Elements: Plum, jasmine, Damask rose, orange blossom, tuberose, mace, burnt amber, cashmere woods, sandalwood, vanilla

Nuit de Noël Eau de Toilette (Caron)

Come Christmas, I am no damn fun. The silver tinsel of this glittering season conceals a tripwire of anxiety that invariably snags me and pulls me up short.  Is it the lights? The noise? The annual consumer crush that kicks off earlier and packs more pressure with every passing year? Is it residual trauma from time served in mall retail? Is it the desperate anxiety that I'll never find the perfect gift, or (having thought I found it) the mortification of learning that it's not what was wanted? Is it that wealth of past personal experience which tells me that holidays turn reasonable people into snarling beasts, or beloved friends into fist-happy brawlers?

Or is it the pressure (certainly not confined to only one time of the year) to do everything perfectly and never, never take one false step?

Nuit de Noël lets me off these and all other hooks. It is the most reassuring scent in the world-- a bland panna cotta of a fragrance, uniformly silken and digestible, utterly divested of all fuss or complication. It wears like the smoothest, slipperiest microfiber suede (beige, of course!) and plays like a hum of familiar background noise-- soft and undifferentiated, as if coming from very far away. And this strikes me as perfectly suited to the season-- because come Christmas, what I really want is to get away from it all.

Scent Elements: Ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, sandalwood, oakmoss, musk, amber

Rien (État Libre d'Orange)

État Libre d'Orange's Rien is a glossy black patent leather mixed with incense and citrus, like a Shinto offering left by accident on a Harajuku street corner. It is "nothing" in exactly the same desultory sense appropriated by a woman in a stunning couture gown who drawls, "What, this old rag?"

I am happy to have lost and then regained my sample of Rien long after I reviewed several less-inspiring ELdO fragrances (such as Antihéros and Eloge du Traître). I might have begun to form the opinion (similar to that which I hold for Parfumerie Générale) that their repertoire, while very nice, is uniformly bland and not worth continued persistence. How wrong I would have been! Consider my interest -- stoked to high heaven by Like This and tickled more than a little by Cumming -- renewed.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, rose, iris, black pepper, cumin, patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum, styrax, incense, leather

Marine Sel (Tokyo Milk)

Here by sea and sand
Nothing ever goes as planned

Come sleep on the beach
Keep within my reach
I just want to die with you near
I feel so high with you here

Let me flow into the ocean
Let me get back to the sea
Let me be stormy, let me be calm
Let the tide in and set me free

The beach is a place where a man can feel
He's the only soul in the world that's real

Only love can make it rain
The way the beach is kissed by the sea

Love, reign o'er me
Scent Elements: Mineral salt, fresh water, turned earth, white woods. (And vetiver-- lots of vetiver.)

Vanille Insensée Cologne Absolue (Atelier Cologne)

I spent the August of my seventeenth year in a senior retirement village, staving off a breakdown with a paperback copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea.

Neither locale nor literature were my choice. When our old house sold before the new one was completely built, my family had been forced to relocate in a hot hurry. My great-aunt Floss1 had recently passed away, leaving behind a fully-furnished home in Holiday City2. Dim and sour-smelling, crammed with rotting silk lampshades and dusty furniture, this ranch-style mausoleum became our default emergency headquarters for the season.

Imagine row upon row of tiny houses, identical right down to their window-boxed pink geraniums. Behind every lace curtain lurks a full-time spy spoiling for a sidewalk fight; behind every door a powder keg of neighborly resentment sizzles. Into this surreal and stultifying Peyton Place, drop a restless teenager with no car, depressive tendencies, and only one book to read3. I could not rest serenely within this place, this body, this confounded SELF. I don't exaggerate when I say that my summer sojourn in Holiday City almost cost me my mind.

In the midst of isolation and loneliness, Anne Morrow Lindbergh's calm, reasonable voice seemed a lifeline for the drowning:
The shape of my life is, of course, determined by many other things; my background and childhood, my mind and its education, my conscience and its pressures, my heart and its desires. I want to give and take... to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.

But I want first of all -- in fact as an end to these other desires -- to be at peace with myself (pg. 23).
All summer long, I pored over Lindbergh's precious words of wisdom, desperate to isolate the solution, the key, the secret to ending this claustrophobic misery. She overcame it. Couldn't I?

My gift came not from the sea, but from the Board of Education. If my parents didn't want to drive miles to school twice a day, they'd have to farm me out from Seniorville. This they did, and I moved in with a friend's family just in time for the fall semester. Under a gloss of surface normality, I rejoined the flow of student life-- yet my sense of deep dissociation continued. But by then it was no good seeking relief from Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Try as I might, I could not resurrect the meaning her insights had held for me only a month earlier. Each powerful syllable now seemed woefully flimsy, as weightless and formulaic as the paper fortune inside a gumball machine prize. This time, I would have to pull myself from the quicksand and struggle toward answers of my own.

When we moved into the new house, I did not take Gifts from the Sea with me. Why should I? Life awaited me out in the world-- not within the flaking pages of a lousy old paperback.

5STARS Small

I purchased my sample of Vanille Insensée (Foolish Vanilla) in February, just before my appendix blew. Curiosity had prompted me to secure this oft-reviewed fragrance; duress caused me to forget it. I found this perfectly simple to do. I had no prior connection to Vanille Insensée, and therefore no need of it; it was a total stranger, easy and guilt-free for me to abandon.

Towards the end of the summer, when I rescued Vanille Insensée from the depths of the Scent Cabinet, it was almost by accident-- I certainly hadn't gone looking for it. No sense of purpose or urgency drove me to it; nothing within me nagged, "Today I must wear Vanille Insensée, or nothing!" And when I did wear Vanille Insensée, no inner voice demanded an encore. It struck me as bland, featureless, nice-- so nice I forgot I was wearing it while I was wearing it; so nice I forgot to wear it again for a few months more.

Holiday notwithstanding, the last week or so was a pretty bleak stretch marked by the kind of sustained tension that makes time feel as though it has stopped cold. A brainless and comforting scent sounded right up my alley, and since I had a little bit of Vanille Insensée left, I naturally went in for a couple of desultory dabs. But this time, something did nag at me-- a strange, uncomfortable echo of the past.

Was it a familiar sense of inertia, of being paralyzed by circumstance and desperate for a deus ex machina to come and break me free?

Was it the suspicion that comfort is not to be trusted, or that a platitude offers the easiest -- but not most lasting -- refuge from pain?

Or was it simply that Vanille Insensée smells exactly like a yellowed paperback crumbling away to nothing in the suffocating solitude of an old lady's house?

1Her given name was Florence, but younger siblings found this impossible to pronounce. I have always found it supremely ironic that a woman so reminiscent of cold hard steel should have ever borne a name of such gossamer lightness.

2I have requested that my husband forcibly smother me if I ever seriously propose relocating to a 55+ community. For the express purpose of carrying out this wish, he keeps a bed pillow eternally at the ready. Occasionally he says, "Now?" and I reply, "Not just yet, my sweet."

3I'm waiting for Tim Burton to make THAT movie.

Scent Elements: Lime, citron, coriander, jasmine, vetiver, oakmoss, Madagascar vanilla, oakwood, amber

Je t'ai piqué ton nez!

Before, perfume was a comfort. It engaged and inspired me. Finding it, wearing it, reading and writing about it-- it was the defining interest of my life. it might well have continued to be so, had a force majeure named Sandy not intervened.

In one day's time, a wall of sewage-laced floodwater dismantled all we knew. In the wake of the hurricane, ease and joy disappeared, replaced by wet and dark and cold and fear. Everywhere we looked, we saw thousands of uprooted trees, beached boats, foundation stones where houses used to stand. Our candles burned down; our gas supply disappeared; we spent our days shivering like whipped curs.

And that was before the blizzard arrived. You heard me. The blizzard.

I did not wear perfume during the blackout. Correction: I did not go anywhere near it, not even to steal a reassuring sniff from the top of a bottle. The one time I thought to try it, the house was so cold that the rose and jasmine absolutes I'd taken out of the Scent Cabinet in a moment of need had completely solidified within their vials-- gelatinized, if not frozen. I'd witnessed so much by then, you'd think I'd be inured to something as trivial as this. But no, the sight stripped me of confidence. I simply did not have the heart to seek my heart's ease in these or any other bottles.

What would be the point? I couldn't wear it, because I couldn't bathe. My spouse and I spent the last trickles of hot water in our tank on what we knew would be our last showers for the duration. We began the dark time smelling, at least, of Ivory soap-- and I wasn't about to fuck it up. The idea of spritzing on perfume stirred up an instinctive aversion in me, completely surprising yet possessed of something I suspected might be an unwelcome truth. Things being what they were, really-- how could perfume possibly get my back?

The scents of the post-storm world, then, were those of the rusty, toxic muck that washed the streets, the garbage accumulating head-high in the outdoor disposal bins, growing body odor, the disgusting coffee we improvised in our old French press-- shitty, tarry stuff, practically battery acid, made tolerable only with sugar and dollops of milk from tiny vacuum-packed single-serve cartons. Quaintly enough, that coffee was the only thing we actually looked forward to each day. Along with a stomachache, it gave us caffeinated courage.

The only thing really and truly scented about my storm time was that mini Air Wick jar candle which I drove miles to find when the candle stubs at home threatened to gutter out for good that night. It was the last one on the supermarket shelf, kept company only by a tiny plastic bag of cheap tea lights. I picked them both up and wearily schlepped over to checkout, where a husband-and-wife pair of frantic latecomers spotted my pathetic score and pitched the most unbelievable public tantrum of which I have ever been the subject. The wife actually called a store employee over to demand why I, and not she, had candles. In the hollow, sepulchral tone of an exhausted near-zombie, the employee asked, "What do you want me to do, ma'am? Tackle her and take them away?" Sensing a "YES!" on the horizon, I kept my fucking head down all the way through checkout and out to my car. I half expected that woman to shank me in the parking lot with a nail file.

That was where we were at, in that point in time, down the Shore. The candle, by the way, was Vanilla Indulgence (a.k.a. Plaisir Vanille). It smelled like buttercream hell and threw off just enough light to keep the nighttime demons at bay.

After the electricity came back on and the hot water tank filled back up, I took a long hot shower and scrubbed the ape-stench off my skin with a coarse washcloth saturated in Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree Oil liquid soap. I smelled medicinally, miraculously clean afterward. Yet, did I perfume? No. It would take a few days before I could really bring myself to do it.

I broke my fast with the vintage Bellodgia extrait that Blacknall and I had found in the Red Bank Antique Center. Then followed Helena Rubinstein Wanted, New Jersey by United Scents of America, and the mother of all comforters, Youth Dew. Numerous care packages arrived from various friends, boxes full of scent, and tea, and chocolate. I enjoyed the tea and chocolate, and think that very soon I'll be able to enjoy the perfume too.

Because really, I want to take comfort in scent again. I want to find it, wear it, read and write about it, just like I used to. It's a big risk. The shore seems far away, an awful long way to swim. At times I feel too tired to attempt it, and I end the day as unfragranced as I began-- smelling as clean and characterless and safe as soap.

NOTE: "Je t'ai piqué ton nez!" is what French children say when they play what we call "Got your nose!" I seem to have played that game with a hurricane. I would like her to give me my nose back, please.

InekeFest, the rest: Chemical Bonding and Derring-Do.

Have you ever feared that you might be on the verge of a seizure? For me, it's not only the sight of strobe lights that bring on the panic, but a very particular noise-- the high-pitched ping-ping-ping of metal tapping metal. Silver bells, wind chimes, a swaying windowblind chain that keeps striking the metal casement over and over in the breeze-- something about the combination of high-hertz frequency and repetitive rhythm causes my brain to ripple out of control.

Synesthetically speaking, Chemical Bonding and Derring-Do achieve the same results on behalf of the world of scent. One's a bright blackberry-laced peony, and other's a zingy citrus-cedar; both are stridently "fresh", singing from my skin in a glass-shattering treble register. I'm not saying they're bad; not at all. But if I were a suspension bridge, they would be Nikola Tesla's ball peen hammer and stethoscope... and the police would be called upon to interfere.

Scent Elements: Citrus, tea, blackberry, peony, amber, musk (Chemical Bonding); hesperides, cyclamen, rain and fougère notes, cardamom, magnolia, pepper, musk, guaiacwood, Virginia cedar (Derring-Do)

InekeFest, the rest: Gilded Lily.

In classic cinema, there are two types of blondes: the ice queens (Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak) and the sex goddesses (Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield). I doubt it's a coincidence that the latter are more suited to comedy. Comedic acting requires a willingness to let oneself go -- to be seen with one's pants down, so to speak -- without fear of appearing foolish. The ice queen holds herself aloof; the sex goddess lets it all hang out.

Arguably the greatest sex goddess of all time (mostly because she taught 'em all how it's done), Mae West turned the bawdy-broad-with-a-heart-of-gold into a cultural phenomenon. Whether named Diamond Lil, Lady Lou, the Frisco Doll, or Flower Belle Lee, her zaftig dames smoke, joke, drink, wink, and wisecrack their way across America, rolling their eyes at any uptight stick-in-the-mud out to spoil a gal's good time. In West's universe, a woman could be both 'easy' and easygoing without being a pushover. And with those hips, who could knock her down? Majestic, swaying, as fluid as a river but as immovable as a mountain, Mae West's impressive center of gravity inspired at least two perfume bottles (Schiaparelli Shocking; Rochas Femme) and schooled Marilyn Monroe in the art of the walking wiggle.

Hips and heart: what better description for Gilded Lily? The sensuality it broadcasts is unmistakable; one can't help but imagine it adorning the next heir to the sex-goddess throne. Yet there's such a lovely sense of yield to this perfume, a feeling of openness and generosity, that one feels welcomed into its arms. Its soft, embracing nature demonstrates that there's nothing to fear-- no shame or hangups here.

The first notes out of the sprayer are sweet with a decided touch of acid. Pineapple, grapefruit, and rhubarb all share a mouth-stinging tart quality, yet otherwise have distinct flavors which perfumer Ineke Rühland has balanced so precisely that none hijack the accord as a whole. She saves the spotlight for the goldband lily, a flower with which I admit I'm unfamiliar, but which -- if it's that shimmering-sparkling-honey-dusting-powder accord that I suspect it to be -- is my new best friend. With each spray, I felt a powerful urge to keep spraying, more and more and more, on body parts well outside my usual wrist-nape-throat perfume itinerary. Mae West once said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful," and truer words were never spoken. (Also, are you sure there's no ambergris in here? Because Gilded Lily amplifies the smell of skin to something that demands to be unleashed on the nearest nude beach. Thank goodness I have some restraint... though, really, goodness has nothing to do with it.)

Wearing Gilded Lily, I am not so much aware of its separate scent elements as of the physical feeling it produces. It seems to hug my body tight like one of Mae West's figure-skimming costumes in She Done Him Wrong, all satin and sequins and beads. I'm convinced my figure becomes more of an hourglass while those sweet notes hold sway. Hips rounder, bosom fuller, movements slower and slinkier...

Some days, I may love another fragrance more than this one. There will be moments when Evening Edged in Gold captures the lion's share of my affection, simply because for that instant, I shall want my beauty backed up by silence rather than a jazz band going full tilt. But the clock will tick, and my mood will change, and I'll swing and sway again... and then, Gilded Lily will be the only girl for me.

Scent Elements: Pineapple, rhubarb, grapefruit, elemi, goldband lily, patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum

InekeFest, the rest: Field Notes from Paris.

That orange blossom top note, so dazzlingly de trop, gives pause. Will this be yet more "freshness" to set the teeth on edge?

In swaggers tobacco, as macho as the Marlboro Man, confident it will soon have everything well in hand. But what's this? Reinforcements? Beeswax, coriander, leather... how many lasso-wielding wranglers does it take to tame this bronco?

Finally (just before all confidence in this rodeo evaporates) orange blossom consents to take the bit. You might experience a momentary sadness to see this wild thing transformed into a well-behaved show pony. But when you see with what vivacity it canters, you recognize with gratitude that its spirit can never be broken.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, coriander seed, orange flower, tobacco flower and leaf, patchouli, cedar, tonka bean, leather, beeswax, vanilla

InekeFest, the rest: Evening Edged in Gold.

Up to this point, all of Ineke's fragrances seem to have been designed for so-called "morning people"-- those aggressive smilers who shout, WAKE UP, SUNSHINE! whenever they catch you in a pensive private moment. Evening Edged in Gold marks a departure from the crisp botanicals that characterize the series thus far.

Like a couturière who makes a mid-career switch from stiff and scratchy taffetas to the yielding flow of satin, Ineke Ruhland dips here into a more exotic olfactionary to produce a fragrance so indolent, so forgiving of all excess, that you wish you could make it your mistress. This gentle admixture of sweet plum, creamy datura, and warm saffron notes joins (and perhaps even outdoes) Gilded Lily in the "night owl" category of perfumes: luxurious, sympathetic, and above all, discreet. Never will it raise its voice when what you need is unbroken quiet. In a sense, it's the perfect scent-- not for the evening cited in its name, but for the morning after, when a whisper is the best remedy for a rather tender head.

Scent Elements: Osmanthus, plum, angel's trumpet (Datura), saffron, cinnamon bark, midnight candy flower (Zaluzianskya capensis or night-blooming phlox), leather, woods

InekeFest, the rest: Hothouse Flower.

You'd think that twelve years of working in a public library would teach me not to judge books by their covers... but with Hothouse Flower, can you blame me? The name and the notes suggest a languid pale blossom nestled in lush green foliage. Ha!

Here's proof that you can indeed get figs from thistles-- for Hothouse Flower is a well-balanced portrait not of a flower, but of that famous fruit, caught here halfway on its journey toward ripeness. The milky green note of its youth is augmented by a lovely, legible note of cornsilk, as fresh and raw as if just shucked from an ear of sweet corn. (This essence, you will allow, is one of summer's purest delights.) Creamy gardenia suggests the dark honey of the mature fig, but a good dose of tea and galbanum keeps the sweetness from turning trite or cloying. There's even a mirage of salty coconut to hold the wearer's interest through the drydown.

My husband calls Hothouse Flower "nice and clean"-- high praise in his book, and therefore in mine, since we DO share. But this book is not short on naughty bits... so perhaps this is one for the bedside table, kept close at hands for evenings when sleep is negotiable.

Scent Elements: Greens, cypress, Earl Grey tea, galbanum, gardenia, fig, frankincense, cornsilk, guaiacwood, musk

InekeFest, the rest: Briar Rose.

At first spritz I thought I might be in for fresh disappointment, as Briar Rose initially presented itself to me as a watery fragrance programmed for instant fade. But about ten minutes later (during which time I slyly checked on the notes), I realized I'd been duped once more by the tricksy and perfidious violet. A blast of ionones had shut down my honker just long enough for Briar Rose to drape shimmery rose and berry notes all around the joint like festive red-and-purple fairy lights-- and when I came to, I found myself in the midst of an olfactory surprise party. Faith restored, I'm positively raring now to check out the Floral Curiosity series whence Briar Rose came. Get me to an Anthropologie!

Scent Elements: Rose, blackberry, bitter almond, spices, violet, patchouli, cacao absolute

InekeFest, the rest: Balmy Days & Sundays.

So where was I?...

Balmy Days & Sundays. Doesn't that name suggest relaxation, leisure, the warmth of summer? The name alone will have to do, for the perfume offers no such thing. Balmy Days is a cadaverously cold floral chypre, a 'wire-mother' of a fragrance whose very manner forbids attachment. Its flowers come from a refrigerated display case lit by a chilly blue fluorescent bulb. Its greens are hardly that, for they lack the intervening touch of sunlight that would have invested them with vital chlorophyll.

Balmy Days sure enough is a pretty thing, if you like your pretty things icy and affectless; come July or August, I may appreciate its ability to instantly induce sangfroid. But the recent experience of shivering in a cold, dark house thanks to Superstorm Sandy may have adversely influenced my opinion. Is it too soon? Yes. Yes, it is.

Scent Elements: Freesia, leafy greens, grass, honeysuckle, rose, mimosa, chypre accent, musk

Seeking solace.

This morning, when I rummaged through my scent collection in search of a fragrance to gird me against the endlessly brimming tears, the strangest volunteer stepped forward. I expected a perennial toughass like Jolie Madame to take the assignment. Instead, Anna Sui Original -- a cuddly lil' nothin' full of red berries and vanilla -- sidled up and tugged my sleeve. It turned out to be just what I needed to make it through another day of careworn chaos.

Now, "dessert-course gourmand" is not the genre for which I instinctively reach on a normal day. Habit, taste, and preference prompt me to choose incense, spices, leather, wood. But none of these are proving helpful right now. Life-after-hurricane is such an emotional minefield, I do not think I could bear to wear anything that isn't 100% gentle and forgiving. By gum, this is the moment for big ol' softie sweetfest fragrances to claim their day in the sun!

"A shocking lot of you swan around smelling like pie," Tania Sanchez remarked about wearers of Jessica Simpson's Fancy-- and right now, I have to confess that I would much rather be on the receiving end of a snootful of Fancy than one of the finest vintage Cabochard.

What does New Jersey smell like?

Well, at this moment, it apparently smells of approaching snow. I know what you're thinking: here we go again. Turn up the heat, turn down the refrigerator, gather up your candles, batteries, and blankets, and grit your teeth, because Nor'easter Athena is on her way.

So what fragrance to wear when the weather won't quit delivering below-the-belt hits?

For me today it's New Jersey by United Scents of America (we'll call it USA/NJ for short). Back in July, NowSmellThis hosted a very nice discussion about USA/NJ wherein number of readers chimed in to say some lovely and supportive things about our state. Seaside Heights being the veritable Ground Zero for all of the scent elements USA/NJ encompasses, I found it very ironic that there wasn't a single stockist within comfortable driving distance of this iconic Shore town. However, I really like the fact that while all of the other fragrances in the first release look nearly identical, USA/NJ alone is distinguished by the amber color of its juice-- which appears very warm and appealing in the bottle, as seen below.

Back on Sniffapalooza Saturday (was it really so short a time ago?) Ari of Scents of Self surprise-gifted me with her review bottle of USA/NJ. What seemed to me then like a purely fun, frivolous, and charmingly cheesy olfactory portrait of every Jersey Shore town I know now takes on a certain strange gravitas after the Superstorm-- parody turned elegy. That magical combination of Boardwalk carmel corn*, vanilla-tinged cotton candy, coconut tanning oil and sea air encapsulates memories and relics that cannot be named lest we start crying all over again.

Before Sandy, I'd have spritzed on New Jersey purely for a lark. Now I wear it proudly, defiantly. It does something for me I never expected it to: it warms me. It cheers me. It steps up and delivers in the tightest of tight spots... just like every other New Jersey soul I know.

*Yep, that's how many of us pronounce it... but I'm not sure where this originates. Is it a Pennsylvania thing, or perhaps the last shreds of my Illinois birth language? Henry Higgins, where are you when we need you?

Scent Elements: "Fresh buttered popcorn" and "cotton candy" accords, caramel, coconut, vanilla, peach, patchouli, musk

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 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

Poivre Piquant (L'Artisan)

Nepenthe (νηπενθές), the draught that brings forgetfulness, does not necessarily flow from a divine source. Inman, the wounded Odysseus of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, receives his nepenthe from a wizened mountain crone without a name. She distills it herself, hillbilly-style -- from corn liquor and opium from wild-gathered poppies -- and serves it to her guest in a humble cup of clay. Yet this modest offering is designed to do the trick. "Our minds aren't made to hold on to the particulars of pain the way we do bliss," the old woman tells Inman. "It's a gift God gives us, a sign of his care for us."

My nepenthe comes from fancy old France in an elegant faceted glass column-- but in truth it's just as simple and down-home as Inman's, not to mention tastier. (White pepper, milk, and honey? Sounds like my kind of loving cup.) Most importantly, it eases pain by way of the considerable joy invested in each spritz-- and so what if the joy is shorter than this sentence?

In truth, once its heart-stopping initial blast of pepper is over and done, Poivre Piquant lingers on my skin so briefly as to evade not only notice but committal to memory. If not for Ari's recent and lovely review, I might have forgotten that I not only possess a sample, but have nearly drained it to the last drop. Yet longevity -- normally a perfume virtue -- becomes moot when a topnote this comely happens along. And that quality known as 'memorability' loses its allure when the veil of nepenthe permits renewed rapture with every wearing.

Each time, Poivre Piquant happens to me all over again. If this be amnesia, may I never recover.

Scent Elements: Licorice, white peppercorn, milk accord, honey

Underworld Parfum Absolute (Soivohle)

Today is the day Persephone says goodbye to her weeping mother and hoists her suitcase aboard a hellbound train. It's a slow ride, making all the local stops; one can track its southerly progress by the blaze of color it leaves at every small-town station-- collateral for its passenger's eventual safe return.

Sighing heavily, tearful eyes hidden behind the biggest Jackie O. sunglasses in her collection, Demeter compares the time on her vintage gold wristwatch to that of the terminal's LED clock. She can't say whether hers is slow or theirs is fast. In her opinion, the only reliable thing is this feeling of dread-- an enveloping weight that fits her as snugly as those mothballed sweaters she'll pull out of storage within the next week...

A panicked thought forces itself to the foreground: Did Sephy pack enough sweaters? Then she reluctantly remembers: Persephone stores them year-round at his house. And even though she is clad in late-summer flowing linens, Demeter hugs herself as if winter has already sidled up behind her to lay its icy fingers on the nape of her neck.

On the platform, aboard the train, mother and daughter keep pace with one another for the length of two train cars until Persephone finally finds an available window seat. They wave at one another with forced gaiety: It's only four months, right? Noting that Persephone has already inclined her head over her ever-present smartphone, Demeter puffs an impatient breath out through her nostrils. Why stand here like a dummy? Why make a fuss? she thinks. They've done this so many times; must every parting demand the same sentimental ritual? Maybe next year she'll simply call Sephy a taxi and hand her a twenty dollar bill.

And so she turns to go, and behind her the train pulls out; just another year, just another goodbye...

Deep within her purse, Demeter's cellphone chimes to announce the arrival of a text message. As she paws the damn thing out of the 'black hole' (the name with which her darling daughter christened the vast Prada Cervo Lux that was last year's birthday gift), she resolves to make Zeus teach her how to decipher emoticons. Annoyingly, he always seems ahead of the trend, while she -- the Luddite of the family -- perpetually lags behind.

The text is from Persephone:

left something on passenger seat

Demeter sighs. Silly baby. Mommy will take care of it, as usual.

Back at the car (look at all the pollen on the windshield, spent and gone to waste!) she lowers herself into the driver's seat with an audible groan, forcing herself to close the door before turning to confront Persephone's little mystery. Sure enough, tucked against the neighboring seat belt latch, there's a small brown bag out of whose open mouth explodes a deep purple cleome blossom. (They ARE grown to be plucked, aren't they?)

Clucking her tongue, Demeter pulls the flower out and tucks its stem down into her cleavage for lack of anyplace better. The next object her fingers encounter is a tiny card cut from a larger sheet of watercolor paper, emblazoned with Persephone's distinctive jagged handwriting: Don't you forget about me.

When Demeter pokes her fingertips deeper into the bag, they meet cool glass and what feels like leather. From shadow, she extracts a perfume bottle-- diminutive, silver-capped, wearing the tiniest of turquoise bolo ties around its neck.

Inside the bottle is Persephone-- or as close to a distillation of her daughter's being as a mother could imagine.

Spicy and complex, this aroma captures the point at which summer turns to autumn, or sugar turns to magma, or girl becomes woman. Herein is the intricacy of a body in transformation-- catching fire, as it were, and releasing all of its secret savor. Demeter recalls the days before Hades, when her daughter -- she that was so proud and wild, flippant, arrogant and free -- came home breathless and grinning from days spent at play, her disheveled locks fragrant with bonfire smoke. Simultaneously, she also remembers the bitterness of the first time Persephone said, But Mom, I love him. If you only got to know him, you would, too.

That terrible year -- Zeus away on business as usual -- she made Sephy's favorite Thanksgiving dishes and ate them alone. Contemplating a roasted sweet potato on the plate, exuding caramelized syrups through its crisp, blackened skin, she found it impossible not to ponder (morosely) the aria:
Olim lacus colueram
olim pulcher extiteram
dum cygnus ego fueram.
Miser, miser!
Modo niger
et ustus fortiter!
The great irony is that a tenor, a man, sings this-- aping the vulnerable falsetto of a woman. And yet there was no tremor in Persephone's voice when she said: No one made me, Mom. It was my choice.

Demeter finally believes it.

Sitting in the car with her eyes closed, she thinks of the one she always called her "cinnamon girl", with a tender tip of the hat to Neil Young. Then, with awkward fingers and much backspacing to correct her errors, she texts her daughter:

See you in the spring, my darling. And tell him hello from me.

Scent Elements: Vetiver, cinnamon, ginger lily, clove, jasmine, coffee, cacao, rose, leather, balsams, vanilla, oud

Dzing! and Dzonghka (L'Artisan)

I know I'm supposed to enjoy a Big Top experience with Dzing! (originally named "Désir de Cirque"), but all I get is the take-home souvenir program. That is to say: Dzing! smells like something fresh off the printing press-- and having worked long ago for a commercial offset printer, I know whereof I speak. Back in the day, I would use any available pretext to abandon the sales counter and sneak off to the press room, where the sweet-acrid-chemical scents of printer's ink and machine oil permeated the atmosphere with creative potential. Dzing! is how I imagine Hatch Show Prints smell, sitting in stacks way out west in Nashville... long before they ever reach the promised circus.

As for Dzongkha, it's essentially a very likable, mild cedar in which natural rawness and Far-East elegance live side by side-- somewhat like a hand-carved wooden screen (complete with nicks, splinters, and rough patches) which nevertheless looks like the finest lace when backlit by the sun. That being said, I join Josephine in her heartfelt plea that Bertrand Duchaufour check himself before he wreck himself. That's quite a dance card you've got going, brother! You might want to slow it down!

Scent Elements: According to sources as far-flung as NowSmellThis, OsMoz, Fragrantica, and L'Artisan itself, Dzing! contains golden and white woods, toffee, caramel, saffron, ginger, cinnamon, rose, iris, daffodil, tonka bean, leather, musk, benzoin, basalm Peru, costus, and castoreum-- most likely arranged in a three-ring setup under one hell of a tent. Dzonghka is far simpler, consisting of peony, lychee, cardamom, white tea, iris, vetiver, cypriol, cedar, leather, and incense all doing their routine together smoothly and professionally.

The doldrums.

Once again, we're at the tail end of the serotinal season here in South Jersey. Yesterday it was sunny, clear, and dry outside with a gilded hint of autumn in sun's angle. Today, it's miserable -- sheets of rain and wind-whipped trees shivering in capitulation.

I should have no complaints. I'm inside and dry. I have most of a long, lazy week of vacation to go, ideally balanced between day trips and downtime. I can pass the afternoon exactly as I wish-- whether busy as a bee, or like an unrepentant slackass. So why I am restless, uneasy, prowling around like an anxious cat?

Because there are still four unreviewed L'Artisans from a year ago staring me in the face.

Even more than I want summer to hurry up and finish, I want this perfume sample backlog project to be over. With the equinox just days away, I can see at least one of those finish lines clearly; autumn will happen naturally with or without my help. But that other goal requires my willing participation, which is currently in short supply. I no longer want to play nice or be fair. I just want to get on with my life-- and like Sandra Bernhard's Masha in The King of Comedy, I'm prone to passively bitch, "How much longerrrrrrrrr?"

So here's unreasonable me, taking my seasonal frustrations out on a totally blameless bunch of perfumes who never did a damn thing to anybody. Salud.

Patchouli Patch (L'Artisan)
Like many career insomniacs, I possess a bottle of valerian root extract capsules that has to be bagged in plastic, then sealed in its own special Tupperware, then stored far away from everything else just for the sake of maintaining a happy home. In the hippie pong pantheon, valerian enjoys a tenured position, being as strongly soporific (and encouraging of strange visions) as marijuana. But holy hell, does it reek like roadkill. I have no idea what combination of elements is ultimately responsible for the mimicry of valerian's sweet, nauseous stench in Patchouli Patch. If not for its sake, I'd probably write this fragrance off as a generic patchouli, one among thousands. But that "little bit of difference" is enough to repel me for the next million years, never to rethink or revisit.

Scent Elements: Patchouli, caraway, anise, iris, osmanthus, sandalwood, vetiver, cedar, musk

L'Eau d'Ambre (L'Artisan)
A nice, uninspiring sweet amber courtesy of Jean-Claude Ellena. I can think of about a dozen ambers I like better -- mostly due to some small-but-telling extra feature, such as a hint of savory herb or a lacing of well-chosen flowers -- but I really shouldn't sulk, for while L'Eau d'Ambre didn't make me burst into song, neither did it make me burst into tears. A mild disappointment: geranium (which I adore) is listed in the notes, but I can find nary a particle of it here. Well, at least it doesn't have any VALERIAN in it, I hear you say. And you are quite right.

Scent Elements: Geranium, patchouli, amber, vanilla

Plus Que Jamais (Guerlain)

Driven by the same internal contrariness that compels me to don my most precious Chanel No. 5 extrait to haul ladders on gallery day, I wore Guerlain's Plus Que Jamais Friday night to eat jerk chicken with my fingers. Our good friends had invited us over for a home-cooked dinner, replete with Cajun red beans and rice, mocha layer cake, and icy bottles of Red Stripe. A fine time was had by all... and PQJ fit right in.

If you're surprised, so was I. The House of Guerlain projects such an unassailable aura of elegance, I thought the contrast would be self-evident. I confess to wearing Plus Que Jamais with tongue in cheek, but it confounded my attempt to be ironic by proving itself the most laid-back, comfortable fragrance around-- a seamless, soft floral with no pretenses, possessed of impeccable breeding but perfectly at home in both blue jeans and the big world.

If one of us had a chip on its shoulder, it was me.

As I leaned back and watched Plus Que Jamais assimilate effortlessly into the company of kids, dogs, laughter, toys, and TV, it struck me that this is what good manners are really all about: not a ritual show of lofty superiority, but simply the acquired gift of putting others (and thus oneself) at ease.

Thank you, Guerlain, for this lesson learned. Better late than jamais!

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, ylang-ylang, jasmine, iris, amber, vanilla, vetiver, tonka


Inspired by the lively conversation about what defines "wearable" over at Natalie's APB, I'm pondering my own fragrance choices-- but no matter how philosophic I might wax, I'm brought back to basics by something like today's SOTD.

Daliflor smells like mochi rice cooked with parsley, cumin, and coriander seed, then topped with a bizarre and anomalous swizzle of caramel. Seriously, what is 'wearable' about this mishmosh of a fragrance? Everything. I reach for it whenever I'm bored, and it readily assents to be worn-- in fact, it's as excited to go out on the town with me as I am to take it along. I like it almost in spite of itself-- just like I like Tumulte, that crazy raspberry rose by Christian Lacroix that makes wintertime near about bearable... just like I like Clutch, Abercrombie & Fitch's L'Eau-Serge-Lutens-for-mallrats... just like I like Florida Water, the cheapest-of-the-cheap grocery store fragrance that smells positively heaven-sent. (Brut? Don't get me started-- that stuff makes my mouth water. In the words of Hedwig, Deny me and be doomed!)

Long story short: if I were to be Remanded 4 Life to the proverbial desert island, would I really-honestly-no-joking-now tote along one of my precious special-occasion five-star fragrances for the duration? Yeah, probably. But the three-star "wearables" would be the ones I tuck in my underwear to smuggle in as pure scrum-dilly-umptious contraband.

Even in paradise, guilty pleasures are indispensable.

Navegar (L'Artisan)

This is what I wished for but did not get from Comme des Garçons Ourzazate-- a blistering furnace-blast flown in special from scorching desert climes. Not the tiniest trace of sweetness blunts its intensity (though if you must have sugar in your lava, orange blossom pairs with this volcano as unreservedly as if to a marriage vow born). At exactly the right moment, the heat lowers like a gas flame precisely adjusted by hand to maintain the perfect simmer. And simmer it does -- like a fever -- until it breaks, leaving behind only delirious dreams.

Scent Elements: Lime, ginger, capsicum, black pepper, star anise, rum, cedar, guaiacwood, incense

Tea for Two (L'Artisan)

(A friendly conversation between two friends over cups of tea.)

Don't you think you came down a little hard on Thé Pour un Été?

Well, I hated it.

Did you give it a chance?

I wore it several times, if that's what you're asking. Could you pass the honey, please?

Sure. (Does so) Is there any possibility that you were working from a bad sample? You did say it had been sitting around for a while.

I don't know. (Squeezes, stirs) It was one of a set of ten L'Artisans, all stored together under the same conditions. The rest are just fine.

But what if it was decanted from a bottle that had gone off?

Oh, I doubt it. I've used that source for a long time and never had a bad sample from them. Anyway, I'm sure they keep their collection refrigerated to within an inch of its life. (Sips, swallows) I just didn't like the perfume, that's all.

But others do. A LOT of others. Fifteen years and thousands of consumers can't be wrong.

Just me, I suppose.

(lowers eyes significantly over teacup)

Oh, now wait a minute. So if a lot of people like something, but it doesn't work for me, I'm wrong? Is that what you're trying to tell me?

Consider the possibility, that's all I'm saying.

(considers the possibility) Well, a lot of people like crystal meth--

(laughing) That's NOT the same thing and you know it!

Okay, okay, okay. But look at this. (Rummages in purse, pulls out Tea for Two and places it on the table) Four years after Thé Pour un Été, same house, same perfumer, same pivotal note. Different perfume. BETTER perfume.

(recognizing) Oh, I have this at home. I love this.

What do you love about it?

Well, it's spicy. Comforting. It makes me think of wintertime, all nasty sleet and slippery ice outside while indoors you're safe and sound and WARM--

That big bite of gingerroot at the beginning, right? Like FIRE.

Mmmm, yes.

And the tea. A totally different feel from the tea in Thé Pour un Été, and not just because it's smoked black instead of acid green, or spiced up instead of iced down. You see? It's tempered differently. More balanced, more figured out. It's like when you listen to someone sing and then you don't see them for awhile, and then you hear them sing again, and it's not that they've had voice lessons in the meantime-- it's that there's more of them in the sound. And more so every time after that. You don't have to guess. You know. For me, that's the difference between Tea for Two and Thé Pour un Été. Go home and put one on each arm and tell me what you think.

I can't. I don't have any Thé Pour un Été at home.

You don't--

(The two stare at each other for a long moment, then start to laugh)

Scent Elements: Bergamot, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, tea, spices, honey, vanilla