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