Comme une Évidence, Exhibits A and B.

Today's entry in the Yves Rocher Roundup will be brief, as my two selections are easily summed up. If you like muguet, Comme une Évidence L'Eau de Parfum is a rather wan and dilute specimen of the genre; be prepared for a letdown. However, as it happens to be only one of many spinoffs from the original Comme une Évidence, I'll report back with a more well-rounded opinion once I've traced this pale trickle of scent back to its source.

In the meantime, I frankly enjoyed my dalliance with its male counterpart, which combines a woody nutmeg à la Histoires de Parfums' 1828 Jules Verne with an extra slug of sea water. Now, as anyone who reads this blog may have already guessed, calone is not my favorite chemical. What it offers (a mirage of fresh melon sprinkled with sea salt) sounds wonderful-- if only it didn't pick up the plate and cram it in your face Jimmy Cagney-style. But in the right circumstances, even a blackguard can be induced to show some manners. Used sparingly as an accent rather than as a primary color, calone gives Comme une Évidence Homme a nice edge of freshness sans aggression. It succeeds in deglazing the oily quality of guaiacwood and suffers its own intensity to be tempered in turn. Together under the skillful hand of Antoine Maisondieu, these two notes are coaxed into an amiable truce. If you like your pirates androgynously mascara'd or your highwaymen foppish and fully armed, Comme une Évidence Homme would like to parley with you.

Scent Elements: Violet leaf, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, patchouli, oakmoss (Comme une Évidence EdP); cypress, mandarin, bergamot, rose, patchouli, guaiacwood, cedar, nutmeg, pepper, cardamom (Comme une Évidence Pour Homme)

Bambou (Yves Rocher)

This fragrance is nothing new or special. It contains no notes that explode against my senses like fireworks against the night sky. It is not especially tenacious, registering only as a faint sweetness on the skin-- and not for long. I cannot honestly ascribe to it any of the adjectives (like 'stunning' or 'arresting') for which I normally reach when describing a fragrance I love.

And yet I do love Bambou-- very much.

Its scent reminds me of childhood, of summer, of the universe one could find in a single square foot of backyard, of the grass we used to idly pluck (stretching each broad blade between our thumbs to make whistles), of the lemony wood-sorrel we nibbled on the sly despite the grownups' warnings that it was poison, of the milky sap of thistles (the only true antidote to the warts we might catch from hoptoads caught in the garden), of the bunches of pale green winged maple seeds we threw into the air so that we could watch them helicopter down over us.

It reminds me of holding his hand as we sat on the curb watching the sky turn black with thunder, and of the first enormous raindrops that drove us squealing and laughing to the shadowy sanctuary of the front porch.

It reminds me of a kiss that I wished for, but that never came-- and better it did not, for it might not have lived up to the kiss I kept stored in my dreams.

Scent Elements: Green herbs and bamboo leaves

Vanille Noire (Yves Rocher)

When I hear the words "Vanille Noire", I instantaneously picture a vanilla bean still encased in its black leathery 'jacket' and sporting an impressive chip on its shoulder. Ah, me. Vanille Noire is closer to vanilla extract than to my ideal. I mean, vanilla extract smells good, don't get me wrong-- and I totally applaud Jennifer Love Hewitt for making the supermarket baking aisle a likely place to stock up on perfume. But her confession just proves that vanilla perfumes in general had better improve their game in order to be taken seriously.

This one?  Meh. Just meh.

Scent Elements: Absolutes of Bourbon, Tahitian, and Ugandan vanillas. Then again, in this world, is anything absolute?

Verveine (Yves Rocher)

.Any verbena fragrance -- so long as it is true to its natural subject -- could stop short at the two-second mark and still manage to be wholly enchanting. Being the very smell of the color green, verbena seems to play well with heart notes that fall along that synesthetic spectrum: lemon, grapefruit, sweet basil, tomato leaf, hay. The base is where things get wobbly, as dense woods and weighty fixatives drag the light, volatile spirit of verbena down. Perhaps it's inevitable that this should be so. Still, Verveine tries something novel by tossing the ballast overboard and going with a sudsy white musk instead. The thing stays airborne-- at least for a few moments longer than expected. And instead of crashing to earth, it simply dematerializes -- vanishes into thin air.

A graceful farewell, when you think of it.

Scent Elements: Verbena, lemon, musk

Moment de Bonheur (Yves Rocher)

It's always nice when packaging aptly reflects its product. Take Yves Rocher's Moment de Bonheur ("moment of happiness"). Its bottle -- which resembles a highly polished block of watermelon tourmaline, peony-pink dissolving gradually into new-leaf green -- offers a reliable hint as to both the sparkling transparency and untrammeled optimism of the perfume within.

Here's a rose and its greenery drenched in morning dew. Period. No more and no less; no tricks and no traps. Touches of green sap and peachy lactones blur the potentially sharp edges (but spare the pleasantly peppery character) of the central Rosa centifolia accord-- chosen by perfumer Annick Ménardo to represent the imaginative ideal of a "dream flower". Ménardo has composed a number of other fragrances for Yves Rocher, including Comme Une Evidence and Rose Absolue; this is the most Estée Lauderish of them all-- a compliment, for no fragrance this appealing could have followed the wrong set of footprints.

Moment de Bonheur is not stunning, but pretty; not profound, but friendly and approachable. It doesn't challenge the wearer. It simply lets her get on with her day with a heightened sense of security and optimism. One feels appreciated wearing it. (Thank YOU, Ms. Ménardo.) Supporting the general feel-good vibe is the marvel of Moment de Bonheur's price. The 50ml. spray bottle clocks in at $59-- not bad, until you notice that the attractively-packaged 5ml. travel splash mini goes for only $5. When all is said and done, the real steal turns out to be the 15ml. purse spray, priced at only $12.50 (that's less than eighty-five cents a milliliter).

Doesn't that make you want to jump for joy?

A finalist in the Broad Appeal category of this year's FiFi Awards, Moment de Bonheur has earned every particle of this accolade. As one who has long viewed both mainstream perfumes AND the ubiquitous rose with suspicion, I tender my final praise most sincerely-- for Moment de Bonheur has proven to me that surprises are not uniformly painful, and some roses come without thorns.

Scent Elements: Greens, rose de Mai, geranium, patchouli, cedar

Forbidden Euphoria (Calvin Klein)

Sensual. Alluring. Modern. A younger interpretation of the iconic Euphoria fragrance, Forbidden Euphoria evokes a modern, fresh sexiness with a mysterious twist. Possessing an innate confidence and sophistication, she is just starting to explore her sexuality. What she doesn't yet know is that she already is every man's fantasy... A fragrance that can make any woman feel seductive and desired... Forbidden Euphoria is presented as a fragrance for younger audience and dedicated to independent women. The composition is sexy, modern and livelier than the sweetened by fruity juices...(A)imed at young women (17-20) and is reportedly younger, sexier and easier to wear than the original...
All right, Humbert Humbert, enough. I get it. I'm too old for you. It's been fun, and you'll always appreciate those moments we shared, but you're in the market for a newer model. That's just the way it goes.

Uh huh.

Once upon a time you gave us Obsession, a profound and bold fragrance that celebrated sex in its full-fledged, we're-all-adults-here sense. Then you gave us Eternity, with ads that dared to depict entire happy families instead of just provocatively-paired couples. Throughout the Nineties, we tolerated a parade of moody, skinny, lip-biting supermodels if only because the fragrances they represented implied that you took us for people with brains. As recently as two years ago, you released Beauty-- a quiet nod-of-the-head to the mature and sophisticated woman whose demographic is so often left out of the running.

And now all of a sudden you turn into Wooderson drawling, That's what I love about these high school girls, man-- I get older, they stay the same age.

"Innate confidence and sophistication"? For something that smells like melted Dreyer's Berry Rainbow sherbet, those sure are some fancy words. "Easier to wear than the original?" Less likely to tell you to buzz off, too-- until she wises up, which she always will. Girls mature faster than boys, they say-- and they pick up wisdom and spending power and bullshit detectors, too. In other words, they turn into women just like me. Where will your Euphoria be then, you sad little man? Forsaken? Forgotten? Farbisseneh?

Look, no one's saying you don't have the right to a midlife crisis... but not with the babysitter, and not in my house. Pack your bags, Mister. You're outta here.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, peach blossom, passionfruit, "iced raspberry", tiger orchid, jasmine, pink peony, cashmere woods, patchouli absolute, musk

Me Myself & I (Ego Facto)

In a future world (not too hypothetical, since we seem to be halfway there already) where "perfume police" outlaw all fragrance to protect the so-called public interest, Ego Facto will be one of many guerrilla armies dedicated to total scent subversion. Their manifesto: "Faites votre déclaration d’Ego Absolu (declare your ego to the fullest)". Their means: "Impertinence, rigoureuse inventivité et absolue qualité (impertinence, rigorous invention and absolute quality)". Their end: an uprising in scent, whereby individual preference and self-expression trump all other concerns.

If Me Myself & I is any indication, the revolution promises to be remarkably civil. Maybe other perfumes in the Ego Facto series come off more Baader-Meinhof than this one; I hear Prends Garde à Toi is pretty fearsome-- but then, I also hear Poopoo Pidou is just a big ol' sweetie-muffin, so who's to say?

MM&I wears no bandoliers and flashes no heavy artillery. This friendly, frisky, hazy-dazy tuberose-vetiver-caramel concoction hasn't made a single alarming move since the generous JoanElaine sent it my way. Even so, it has taken me hostage, and I find myself wholly swayed by its argument. Call it a covert indoctrination, a brainwashing of sorts. But in the words of the great John Wesley Harding, "If you were my country, baby, you know that I'd enlist."

Scent Elements: Tuberose, Javan vetiver, hemlock

Infusion d'Iris Eau de Parfum / Eau de Toilette (Prada)

Iris -- that most indispensible perfumery material, exorbitant both to produce and to procure -- is one exasperating love-object. The violet may be fickle and tricksy, but the iris is just plain aloof; I worship it, but always from afar. There are irises I admire (Iris Silver Mist, 31 Rue Cambon, 28 La Pausa, Iris Taïzo, Amanda Lepore, L'Heure Bleue), irises that get my goat (Iris de Nuit, Vol de Nuit, Attrape-Coeur, The Unicorn Spell), irises I long to meet (vintage Après L'Ondée extrait, Iris Gris, Iris Ganache, Creed Irisia, Iris Poudre, Nombre Noir), and irises just too ridiculously expensive for my world (Xerjoff Irisss). I have a long way to go before I try them all... but what I really yearn for is an iris I can marry for life. Will I ever get past the handholding stage?

Prada Infusion d'Iris could be the one, although it has led me a merry chase from three stars to four. The pursuit began some time ago, when I happened across an Infusion d'Iris scent strip in a glamor magazine. I normally don't go by first impressions as tenuous as those found embedded in perfumed glue, but I was sufficiently interested in what I was smelling to head to my nearest Sephora.

I loved Infusion's overture of snappy green galbanum-- an interesting acerbic accord, like fresh green bell pepper or a salad of nasturtium and arugula, which greeted my nose with a lively prickle. I liked it enough, in fact, to overlook the anemic listless quality of everything that followed. Infusion plays the wearer a slightly mean trick of dimming from bright and beautiful into a pale, spooky herbal eau-- but I didn't let that stop me from taking home samples of both the EdT and EdP.

Time worked its magic, and not only did I eventually come to terms with Infusion's mute beauty, but I became persuaded that the quietude of its second half represented a kind of sanctuary for my nose. Essentially, both versions present a pleasant raw-rooty iris, as pale as can be; the major distinction comes down to whether you like your roots infused in water (EdT) or milk (EdP). Either way, this elixir comes refrigerated-- and even with the extra insulation provided by the EdP's incense, I'd hesitate to wear it in winter for fear of catching a chill.

If you are looking for an olfactory cloaking device, a pleasant scent that will help you slip unnoticed through the crowd, Prada's innocuous iris is your flower.

Scent Elements: Iris, neroli, lily-of-the-valley, violet, heliotrope, cedar, galbanum (EdT); mandarin, neroli, orange blossom, orange peel, iris, galbanum, gum mastic, benzoin, cedar, vetiver (EdP)

Crêpe de Chine Vintage Parfum (Millot)

Being young and green, I said in love's despite:
Never in the world will I to living wight
Give over, air my mind
To anyone,
Hang out its ancient secrets in the strong wind
To be shredded and faded...

Oh, me, invaded
And sacked by the wind and the sun!

--Edna St. Vincent Millay, from The Buck In the Snow, And Other Poems (Harper, 1928)
In no text or reminiscence of Vincent Millay have I yet discovered what perfume she preferred. Thanks to biographer Nancy Milford, we at least know what Vincent hated: Djer-Kiss, a cheap-yet-popular Oriental fragrance available in small-town pharmacies. Writing from Vassar in 1915 just prior to a visit home, she lobbied for the Millay cottage to smell cozily of brewing coffee or a freshly-smoked cigarette. "And if you have anything Djer-Kiss about the house," she warned, "drown it!!!"

It seems fitting that Vincent -- so imperious, so severe -- would reject the soft motherly embrace of vanilla and amber. I've always imagined her wearing a moss-rich chypre to go with the 'Guinevere' gowns she favored for recitations: flowing robes embroidered with threads of gold that "whispered and chimed faintly against the floor" as the poet paced the stage.

If the great 20th century leathers encapsulated the confident derring-do of the modern woman, chypres clearly expressed her ambivalence-- about herself, the world, the Victorian ideal she would never (and could never) emulate. Sexy yet austere, by turns inviting and forbidding, chypres imply a certain savagery ('nature red in tooth and claw') hidden deep within the wearer. Those around her do wisely to step with care.

I can't prove that Vincent ever wore chypres, but I like to believe that she understood their fey and feral appeal, so like her own. Furthermore, since Dorothy Parker has already laid claim to Coty's Chypre, I fantasize that Crêpe de Chine -- the stern high priestess to Chypre's footloose avatar -- might have called to Vincent. Fairly glowering with thundercloud intensity, this mystic jus befits a goddess of any age-- even Jazz.

Some call chypres 'difficult', as if that were reason enough not to attempt the wearing of one.* True to form, the vial of Crêpe de Chine extrait which recently came into my possession obstinately refused to give up its contents without a mighty struggle. Its Egyptianate lotus-bud stopper being truly jimmy-jammed, I did everything I could to loosen it. I froze it in the freezer, warmed it with hot compresses, anointed it with both alcohol and mineral oil, poked at it with fine-gauge steel pins, and finessed it with needle-nose pliers wrapped in felt. But the bottle had its own ideas. If it was to be "invaded/And sacked by the wind and the sun", it would make sure to have the last laugh. So it was that while transferring the vial from the freezer on the last refrigeration attempt, I heard a high-pitched ping! The brittle glass had cracked-- in the parabolic shape of a mocking grin.

I managed to save every drop of jus from the ruined bottle, but even then, Crêpe de Chine fought me. After having been sealed up for decades, it sent up its final protest in the form of an utterly sickening odor, a miasma like the breath of a corpse. I very nearly abandoned the entire operation. But patience prevailed, and ten minutes later I came back to gingerly dab a drop on my skin. All of Crêpe de Chine's fury and resentment seemed to have extinguished, leaving only a rich, almost sombre moss accord garlanded with flowers-- just like the Cologne Glacée, only worlds more profound. If you've ever read Vincent's "Renascence", in which the narrator experiences a terrifying vision of mortality only to find herself restored to warmth and life, you have some idea of what this extrait put me through.

I've read that the venerable critic Edmund Wilson carried torches for both Vincent and Dorothy Parker-- two diminutive vipers accustomed to slaying mere mortals with flicks of their forked tongues.** Mrs. Parker saturated herself in Chypre de Coty so thoroughly that its scent clung to Wilson's palm for hours after he shook her hand. (Biographer Marion Meade has astutely observed that he could have easily washed it off... but didn't, for reasons of his own.) If Vincent trailed such a scent as Crêpe de Chine behind her, what chance did the poor man have?

Talk about a candle burning at both ends!

*For a terrific analysis of the genre, read this blog post by Blacknall Allen; for other perspectives on Crêpe de Chine, read Barbara's and Gaia's takes.

**I half expected Katherine Mansfield to be a member of this Literary Ladies' Chypre Sorority (the Chypre-Skates?), but it seems she had a hundred-year lease on a parfum called Genêt Fleuri (Flowering Broom). According to my copy of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless, the dried flowers of the Spanish broom shrub (Genista juncae) produce an absolute known as gênet in the same way that rose absolute is called otto. Gênet is described as having "an intensely sweet, floral, hay-like scent with a herbaceous undertone". Fair enough: if you're going to be a bitch, you might as well smell like honey and hay while you're at it.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, neroli, orange, jasmine, rose, lilac, ylang-ylang, carnation, oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli labdanum, benzoin, musk, leather

Tradition de Hammam (Yves Rocher)

Papa said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this, my Papa said... Well, not that I normally call my spouse Papa, but when I came home from the hospital all sulky and sore and badly in need of morale, he quite reasonably suggested that I treat myself. "You might need it for a rainy day," said he... and oh, has that rainy day arrived.

It's pouring buckets outside. My head hurts like hell, as does my belly. (No one tells you what an adventure post-surgical PMS will be; let it be enough for me to say that abdominal incision + water-retention = Super Nightmare Funhouse Tummy*. Though my husband is usually my prime source of spiritual consolation, he's working today... so it's up to Yves Rocher's Tradition de Hammam Cocooning Kit to rescue me from misery.

First, a hot, hot shower with the most beautiful cake of soap I have ever seen. I mean that sincerely. It looks like a solid block of Valrhona Grand Cru Tanariva with a gorgeous "mehndi" pattern molded in bas-relief on its face. I almost regret having to get it wet-- but then I wouldn't be able to fully enjoy its decadent, olive-oil-enriched lather or its fragrance of mouthwatering rose, jasmine, and chocolatey patchouli.

To find yourself, lose yourself, counsels the YR website. With delicious hot water pounding the back of my neck, advice like this is easy to carry out.

Next up: a lashing or two of smooth Oriental Shower Oil. Denyse of Grain de Musc recently called this product "ultra-luscious"-- a phrase that just begs to be intoned by Isaac Hayes over a Quincy Jones backing track.

After two months' worth of daily surgical tapings, my skin is stressed to the max and crying out for therapy. Does Oriental Shower Oil deliver? Good gawd. In hot water, this satiny liquid froths up into a milky lather, richly fragranced with labdanum, orange blossom, and sweet tobacco. Moroccan argan oil -- YOU know, that magical age-defying stuff everyone's been yabbering about -- leaves my skin feeling quiet. There's no other word for it. (Plus, did you know that argan oil is commercially produced by a Berber women's fair-trade cooperative supported by UNESCO? Finally, beauty can be pain-free!)

The last bit of self-care on the menu is dedicated to those parts I most neglect: elbows, knees, and feet. But aside from its light grease-free texture and skin-pampering qualities, Nourishing Argan Balm also smells intensely of candied orange blossoms. I cannot stress enough the spiritually uplifting quality of orange blossom essence; it's an instant chakra transfusion.

Wrapped in a soft old cotton yukata with a hot water bottle pressed to my tender belly and a steaming mug of raspberry-leaf-and-bitter-fennel tea, I feel better and better every minute. I smell good. The pain is ebbing. Drowsiness is stealing over me. I hear my man's car pull into the driveway...

And the sun comes out.

*It's not quite as dire as Kate Gosselin's "jowls of the dog". BUT ALMOST.

Scent Elements: Different combinations of orange blossom, labdanum, vanilla, patchouli, rose, jasmine, and other wonders of the East.

Eve Rêve Vintage Eau de Parfum (Rigaud)

I found Eve Rêve attached to a motherlovin' matchbook. No kidding; back in 1957, a marketing genius had affixed 1ml. vials of perfume to matchbooks as échantillons gratuits. Something about the recklessness of this perfume-sample marketing method really took my breath away. Folks in the Fifties sure were hearty; they liked their handheld fire starters paired with complimentary liquid combustibles. Perfume as pocket-sized Molotov cocktail: truly the olden days were the golden days!

There were at least three dozen of these sweet babies sitting unused and unclaimed in a box at the antique store, priced at five dollars a pop. Of course, this was a real scam-- many of the attached sample vials were empty, and the perfume that remained would scarcely total up to ten milliliters' worth. Yet the vendor's price (as his hand-lettered sign declared) was "firm"-- meaning no negotiation. (I wonder how firm that price will remain, however, if not a one has sold by the end of the summer...)

I know little about Rigaud except that Jacqueline Kennedy was a big fan of their bougies parfumées, favoring the dark green Cyprès votive to scent the Camelot White House. Of Rigaud's parfums I know even less, except that they were legion; the only two I'd ever heard of were Un Air Embaumé and Violettes de Toulouse, yet close to fifty others have been documented. I suspect they were largely forgettable. Prolific though they may have been, I can't picture Rigaud as being on a par with Guerlain, those purveyors of decadent delight. If Eve Rêve is any indication, Rigaud's audience was resolutely les classes moyennes-- hidebound and conventional, leery of anything that smacked of experimentation, yet not quite as supérieure as they hoped.

Beyond merely describing it as an aldehydic floral chypre, I have few words to spare for Eve Rêve. About ten paces past its impressively tart green citrus opening, it sinks into a boneless (if nice) rose-jasmine accord for a little while, and thence into a murmur of woody notes. There is nothing animalic, balsamic, or exotic here; no allusions to carnal knowledge whatsoever, and hardly any sweetener. In total, it sits on skin as composedly as a tulle-draped debutante on the sidelines of the most sedate of waltzes.

Wait. No, that's too romantic, too evocative. Let's say instead that Eve Rêve behaves itself like a matron at Sunday Mass-- eyes facing front, hands folded in lap, hatpins properly seated. Whatever happened the previous evening is none of the Lord's business-- if indeed anything happened at all.

Her lips are sealed.

Scent Elements: My guesses are rose, jasmine, oakmoss, vetiver, the palest smidge of patchouli, and maybe -- MAYBE! -- some iris.  But positively no ambergris, oud, castoreum, or civet. As the old saw goes, "Horses sweat, men perspire, but women only glow".

Leather Krem (Soivohle)

Harsher, edgier, yet similar in spirit to Fumerie Turque, Leather Krem comes out of the bottle bent on confrontation. No escape through clouds of camouflaging smoke will be permitted; this tough girl means to nail you to the wall. Let her. Submission is rewarded with a slow-breaking smile, a softening of stance, a glimpse of vulnerability beneath her hard armor. Stick it out, and you'll shatter that layer of burnt-black sugar to reach the dream girl underneath.

Scent Elements: Citrus, leather, caramel, woods, "whipped cream" with an emphasis on the "whipped".

Blasts from the past.

I recently received a most intriguing fragrant offer from my dear pal Nan. While helping to spring-clean her elderly parents' home, she came across a cache of perfumes left over from her own teenaged days. She described them in an email as "positively wretched" but promised that "(t)he dust on each bottle comes at no extra charge".

Though she claims to be embarrassed at the contents of the trove, Nan's sensitivity about all things adolescent (a gift polished to a high shine in the humorous middle-school fiction she writes) prompted me to give these youthful follies a fair shake. After all, didn't I have a few of my own?

Honey Musk (Cameo Gems)
This cute, chunky little bottle looks exactly like the ones I found so fascinating as a teenager on after-school sojourns to McCrorys five-and-dime. It contains neither honey nor musk, but a surprisingly competent sweet-resin confection that mimics the powdery drydowns of any number of classic Orientals. In the same way that Ques d'Amour thinly (but successfully) apes L'Heure Bleue, Gems Honey Musk is basically Shalimar edited down to its final hour-- a muted but pleasant thing to wear to the weekend Rockin' Laser Light Show at the local planetarium, circa 1980.

Scent Elements: All sorts of sweet resins (benzoin, styrax, opopanax) with a root-beerish touch of myrrh and a price tag of a buck-o-five.

GranValor (Mäurer & Wirtz)
I'm intrigued as to how this 1972 men's cologne infiltrated Nan's trove. She thinks it might have belonged to her brother or one of his college chums, but judging from the level of liquid in the bottle, it must not have been anyone's favorite. No matter-- more for me! Though I couldn't find a notes list, GranValor is easily described as a standard eau de cologne masculinized with what smells like basil and peppermint. Yet this is no Green Water retread-- there's a nice smoky vetiver in here, too, which turns up the heat enough to counteract mint's icy frisson. In 2007, M&W apparently threw GranValor into a mashup with their other men's bestseller to produce GranValor Tabac. Conceivably, I could get the same effect by simply smoking a cigarette, but those days are behind me.

Scent Elements: Hesperides and herbs.

Jungle Jasmine (Tuvaché)
Holy moe! Now I know where La Prairie got its inspiration for the pickle-licious Life Threads Silver. Nan expressed concern that I might find Jungle Jasmine too zaftig. Hell, no: nothing this soapy could ever be misconstrued as sexy. At the same time, it hides within its perfidious heart a tang of vinegar that kills every last expectation that something sultry might occur. The fine print on the card reads "Skin Perfume"; that's so you won't mistake it for duck sauce and dribble it on your egg roll.

Scent Elements: Again, I quote the sample card: "Fine quality ingredients: SD Alcohol 39C, fragrance, water, diethyl phthalate, methylparaben, D&C Green #6, D&C Red #17, D&C Violet #2, D&C Yellow #11." And not an ounce of class.

FoxFire (Avon)
"The fact that I'm giving this to you is a testament to our friendship," Nan wrote to me. She continued:
I remember wearing and actually liking this stuff... The very first hit of scent seemed to be a peppery astringent-- not very pleasing at all.  But perhaps I don’t love this because (its scent) is an emotional tie to days I’d rather not re-live. I’m anxious for your thoughts on this one.
Vintage Avon fragrances aren't easy to assess. When they're good, they're only kind of so-so; when they're bad, they plunge right off the cliff's edge and burst into flames halfway down. Considered alongside its counterparts, FoxFire easily surmounts the 60th percentile. A white-flower-and-black-pepper composition anchored by a decent chypre and lightened with a green note as piquant as arugula, it is neither sharp nor flat, neither soapy nor sour, neither cloying nor characterless. I honestly couldn't grasp why Nan would term it her "embarrassment". But then on my third spritz, I woke up: Foxfire smells like a sweetened-up version of Annick Goutal's Eau d'Hadrien, a sample of which Nan had politely yet firmly rejected, stating that it reminded her of a past she would sooner forget. The difference? Now she admits to having loved it once upon a time. When I pointed this out, Nan's eyes grew thoughtful. "Wow," she said, then fell silent. If FoxFire represents a part of herself she wishes to disavow, she is perfectly entitled to do so. But I wonder what it means to her to hear that I find it lively, quirky, and interesting-- in short, worth knowing?

Scent Elements: Greens, rose, jasmine, hyacinth

Un Jardin Après la Mousson (Hermès)

Orange creatures invade South Jersey! No, it's not a new chapter of the famous War of the Worlds hoax-- and by "orange creatures", I don't mean Snooki & Company, smart aleck. That invasion's scheduled for the end of this month.

As chronicled by news sources up and down the East Coast, thousands of butterflies -- Red Admirals (Vanessa atalantis) and Painted Ladies (Vanessa carduii) – have descended upon us in a blizzard of color. Described variously as a migration (from Texas and more southerly parts) and an irruption (a cyclical bump in the butterfly population aided by uncommonly mild weather), the Vanessa phenomenon can be witnessed everywhere from front yards to state parks to parking lots. One can spot six butterflies jostling for primacy on a single garden flower, and flurries of tangelo-colored flutterbugs whip across every roadway like a living ticker-tape parade. (Check out Stockton University's wonderful B-Log for an up-to-date chronicle of current butterfly sightings!)

On a May day almost one year ago, I wore, loved, and reviewed La Chasse aux Papillons by L'Artisan. I toyed with the idea of wearing it today as a sort of tribute to all things nectar-seeking, but I figured I ought to knuckle down and wear something new. Silly me: I ended up wearing La Chasse aux Papillons anyway-- only it came in a Hermès bottle. How'd that happen?

I can hardly find any feature in which Un Jardin Après la Mousson differs from L'Artisan's earlier perfume; it presents the same scent of summer hedges burgeoning with tiny, milky-sweet white flowers and the same general concept of sleepy, warm-weather faineance. I like it plenty-- but soaring lightness is preferable to heavy humidity, and La Chasse has been soaring far longer. It simply contains more butterflies-- and Un Jardin, too much monsoon.

Scent Elements: Cardamom, coriander, pepper, ginger, ginger flower, vetiver

Shelter from the storm.

For days, it's been ominously grey overhead. The atmosphere is as heavy as lead; no sweater seems adequate enough to keep out the damp. It takes creative tactics to ward off the blues. For me, this meant donning a succession of warm woody-suede scents in ever-increasing layers. Gimme shelter!

Black Mark Eau de Parfum (Jack Black)
Black Mark opens with an in-your-face, aggressively "fresh" masculine note that explodes out of the sprayer almost like THAT Jack Black at his most crazy-eyed. (I swear I heard it scream "Explo-SIVO!") Luckily that note peters out quick, making way for a comfortable and cozy saffron-cedar duet. But here's the rub: as much as I enjoy this, those first ten seconds tend to prey on my mind. It's like being slapped in the face only to find that your attacker is Mister Rogers-- cardigan, sneakers, avuncular grin and all. You forgive him, of course. But forever afterwards, you instinctively put your dukes up when he saunters into the room.

Scent Elements: Coriander, Kashmir saffron, red cedar, leather

C Eau de Parfum (Marie Saint Pierre)
Krista of Scent of the Day surprised me with a sample of C (and its sister fragrance B) earlier this year. (Here's her review.) Thank you, Krista-- and pleased to make your acquaintance, Marie! After one has encountered a number of saffron suedes, one finds that members of this species (if not interchangeable) cleave reassuringly true to type. A strong family resemblance is no liability when something smells as gosh-darned delicious as saffron suede, am I right? Maybe it's unfair that I don't cut fruity florals or celebrity candyflosses the same break-- but they just don't smell as good as C. Tant pis.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, African orange blossom, freesia, saffron, birch, Virginia cedar, leather, musk

Sandalwood & Ginger Body, Room, and Linen Spritz (The Body Shop)
Something about sandalwood's buttery-rich character begs to be contrasted with notes that offer zip, zing, and bite. Spicy-juicy ginger root proves as much a match for sandalwood as mandarin or clove (or for that matter cinnamon, which appears here as just a dusting, but an attractive one at that). Ever since my darling Bloody Frida sent me a sample, my body, my room, AND my linen have all benefited from this benevolent concoction. All it takes is one blissful inhale, and my core temperature gratefully inches up one notch.

Scent Elements: Almond, cinnamon, ginger, sandalwood, tonka bean, musk

Full bottle of Black Mark purchased from Soapmarket, formerly of Red Bank, New Jersey; now of the World Wide Web. Sample of Marie Saint-Pierre C gifted to me by SOTD's lovely Krista. Decant of Sandalwood & Ginger gifted to me by the fantabulous Bloody Frida. Thousands of thanks!

Thé Vert (Yves Rocher)

Today -- for the first time in three months and with the surgeon's blessing -- I went to my chiropractor for a long-awaited adjustment. This may not sound exactly like a reason to break out a bumper of champagne. But after two months of having to sleep sitting up, I nearly cried with relief to have my spine realigned.

 To celebrate, I wore Thé Vert, a crisp, light, and naturalistic cologne from Yves Rocher's Fraîcheur Végétale series. It's nothing more than tea and lemon... but tea and lemon (and lumbar electrostimulation) is sometimes all a person requires to feel right with the world.

Scent Elements: Green tea, hesperides

Eloge du Traître (État Libre d'Orange)

Through the heart of my hometown runs the source of its name-- the shimmering silver ribbon that is the Toms River1. First known to settlers as Goose Creek (presumably after the menacing mob of ridiculously fat Canadian geese that controls it to this day), the river was renamed in the early 18th century after Thomas Luker, a local boat pilot who established the first ferry across the estuary's narrowest point2. Throughout history, privateers, merchants, and smugglers alike enjoyed the use of our river-- but its true notoriety was earned in one pivotal battle during the Revolutionary War.

On March 24, 1782, a party of Loyalist militiamen raided the Toms River Blockhouse, a small Patriot outpost commanded by Captain Joshua Huddy. After overtaking the Blockhouse and burning the adjacent village to the ground, the Loyalists transported Huddy northward in chains. Under the pretense of carrying out a prisoner exchange, the British army subsequently executed Huddy as a traitor to the Crown. This act of Tory treachery nearly derailed peace negotiations between King and Colony. Had not cooler heads prevailed, the Paris Treaty -- and the hopes of many on both sides of "the pond" -- might have ended up dead in the water.

Today, it's hard to believe a war ever passed through these parts. Wide swatches of greenlawn, shady trees, and Victorian gazebos grace the site of the famous skirmish. Wedding parties pose for photos on the wooden footbridge under the disapproving gaze of the usual Canadian geese. Kayakers navigate the waters below alongside mated pairs of mallard ducks, while the most intrepid souls search for ripe blackberries amid fragrant riverbank thickets.

All is peace and balance here, belying the turmoil of the past. Let the silent river carry the weight of history downstream... today is a beautiful day.

5STARS Small

Like all other État Libre d'Orange fragrances I've tried thus far, Eloge du Traître (Elegy for a Traitor) is a quiet perfume hiding beneath the cloak of a provocative name. Its logo depicts a concealed dagger, but really, there are no dastardly surprises or betrayals here.  This fragrance is far too friendly and equanimical to go behind your back-- and while dictionary definitions of the word "elegy" emphasize a certain funereal quality, Eloge du Traître simply refuses to mourn as it should. How can it, when everything about it sings a song of life, growth, and renewal?

A welter of woody and herbaceous notes greets the nose first, painting a dappled scene that is more intimate thicket than broad landscape, more gentle Ophelia3 than arrogant Claudius. Pine and mugwort lend a suggestion of deep shade; at times, the dank aroma of decaying wood threatens to coalesce into something sinister. But at just the right moment, the blow is deflected by a nose-tickling touch of peppery geranium-- and Eloge du Traître continues on its quiet, simple, unapologetic way.

I can think of few better fragrances for a day down by the riverside.   Relaxed and happy, lulled by gems of sunlight sparkling on the water, one could be pardoned for laying down one's sword and shield.  Don't you think?

1You might ask -- and quite rightly -- why there is no apostrophe in "Toms". This vital punctuation mark went AWOL from maps and surveyors' reports approximately 150 years ago, but (like our state's mascot the Jersey Devil) it continues to resurface in local advertising, always incorrectly positioned (Dozen Rose's; Fresh Clam's; Remember Our Heroe's).  Apparently, it makes things look more "fancy".  (For numerous examples of traditional New Jersey punctuation abuse, watch this hilarious expose.)

2Alternate versions of the naming story assign credit to British privateer Captain William Toms and "Old Indian Tom", a Lenni Lenape envoy thus nicknamed by white homesteaders who couldn't manage the pronunciation of his tribal name.

3Check out this amazing gallery of floating Ophelia recreations.

Scent Elements: Pine, bay leaf, armoise (mugwort), geranium, clove, jasmine, leather, patchouli, musk