Ivoire de Balmain (Balmain)

Il planera toujours un mystère autour d’Ivoire. Une légende interrompue, l’aura d’un monde d’ailleurs, de sentiments inconnus, d’émotions au-delà de notre culture.
--Pierre Balmain
Salome -- the titular beanpole of Tom Robbins' 1990 novel Skinny Legs and All -- is a gauche, comic-book reading virgin too shy to utter a word in front of strangers. But when this girl-geek picks up a tambourine, she "(redefines) the art of belly dancing without really trying, like a somnambulant who writes original love poems in her sleep" (Pg. 348). With every hip-shimmy, Salome tells a devastating fable; onlookers grasp her meaning exactly, though she never opens her mouth to explain. It is said she can bring both men and women to orgasm without even glancing in their direction. Other, older dancers may be more polished in their movements, but the author assures us that they are "fluoridated tap water compared to Salome's gourd of spiced mare's milk".

It is Salome who comes to mind whenever I touch a drop or two of vintage Ivoire to my skin. Its scent transforms mundane, everyday me into a mystery, brimming with an ancient significance I have yet to fully decipher. It unravels itself slowly and sensuously, letting drop one veil at a time.... and I watch transfixed, arrested by the knowledge that all too soon, this dance is fated to draw to a close.

As we speak (and as per this announcement on NST), Ivoire has been re-released under a new licensing agreement. One can still admire its original notes and flacon at Balmain's website-- though presumably not for long. The classic opaque white cube filled with golden-hued perfume is now crystal-clear, the better through which to view a liquid tinted pale pink in accordance with current trends. An ivory tile with the perfume's name embossed in black text (and a token accent collar around the bottle's neck) appear to be the only "ivory" about the new Ivoire de Balmain.

What about the fragrance? I haven't yet had the opportunity to sniff it, but compared to the incredibly complex list of scent elements ascribed to the original (see below), Ivoire 2.0's official notes (orange, mandarin, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, galbanum, vetiver, cedar, patchouli and vanilla) suggests a terse, transparent abridgement with all extraneous baggage left behind. I'll give it a fair and honest try, but my instincts wisely warn me not to expect any connection between new and old. The name may be the same, but reincarnation may be too much to hope for.

Unlike other "green goddesses" who enunciate every one of their notes crisply and with a certain froideur typical of the galbanum chypre tribe, the original Ivoire de Balmain (1980) speaks in a honeyed slur, as though its mouth were full of melting vanilla ice cream. Where one expects sharp corners and dangerous edges, Ivoire presents the wearer with an experience as rounded, smooth, and creamily opaque as the surface of its iconic alabaster bottle.

If the old Ivoire really did contain every essence claimed on its behalf, its composition reflects the most incredible skill and restraint-- for in the end, all its complexity is transcribed with amazing tact, much like a belly dancer's subtlest swivel is the product of supreme control. Ivoire never boasts. It carries a sense of benevolent dispassion-- clearly, it's there to be worn, not to wear you. Its effect is that of density, but not unwieldiness; coolness, but not frigidity; spiciness, but no heat; sweetness, but no sentiment. It suits both the hottest and coldest of days, the simplest and most elaborate of occasions, the sunniest and darkest of moods. In it, I find an all-purpose anodyne to a rather prickly world.

To borrow Robbins' phrasing, I won't know whether the new Ivoire de Balmain is tap water or mare's milk until I try it. Some things may be lost in translation. If too terribly so, I'll stick to the original language-- however close it may be to disappearing from our tongues.

Scent Elements: A little confusing. Balmain lists mandarin, bergamot, raspberry, galbanum, rose, jasmine, iris, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, carnation, pepper, nutmeg, vetiver, patchouli, oakmoss, sandalwood, labdanum, and tonka bean. Basenotes adds aldehydes, lemon, hyacinth, orchid, cedar, and and musk. Fragrantica further adds chamomile, asafoetida, violet, artemisia, marigold, cinnamon, neroli, and incense. If it really contains all of the above, then Ivoire is the ultimate poundcake. Another slice? Don't mind if I do.

Lemon Sorbet (Etro)

I was endlessly grateful for the straightforward simplicity of this formula this afternoon, when the humidity felt like a soaking wet carpet unrolled over this whole town. Just a touch of Lemon Sorbet here and there, reapplied frequently, and I felt restored.

Now I'm off to eat the real thing.

Scent Elements: Orange, bergamot, lemon, petitgrain, rosemary, lavender, sandalwood, vetiver

Ruby red.

It came to me recently why fragrances containing grapefruit notes pose such difficulties for me: without fail, they remind me of dieting.

Armed with a horror of plumpness left over from their own girdle-bound maidenhoods, our mothers ruthlessly surveyed us for signs of unruly growth. As we blossomed, they pinched us back. Impatient sighs issued forth whenever we ate ice cream (or licked our fingers). Frazzled copies of the Pritikin and Scarsdale Diets magically appeared in our paths, casually laid on coffee tables and kitchen counters. Finally the offer came: wouldn't we like to share Mom's "special" meals? We gamely ate soft-boiled eggs (no butter!), dry squares of wheat toast (no jam!), carefully-measured half-cups of low-fat cottage cheese cradled by leaves of lettuce (iceberg only-- fewer calories than romaine). And if we still wanted dessert after all that... enter the grapefruit.

Halved and served without sugar or garnish, the grapefruit proclaimed the proverbial 'strait gate' traveled by the dieter. Who else but the faithful would eat something so acerbic, so biting, so reluctant to give up its contents? The fact that it had its own custom tools of extraction declared its challenging nature-- we had to really work to eat it, and for our pains, we'd more often than not receive a mouthful of bitter pips or a painful squirt-in-the-eye. To prevent the exercise from seeming overly punitive, we could choose a "fancy" pink or red grapefruit over the everyday "white" variety... but a maraschino cherry for decoration?! Are you crazy? Those things are seven calories apiece!

Today I am a grown woman, in charge of my own body, destiny, and dinner plate. I know full well that grapefruit pulp is packed full of essential phytonutrients-- Vitamins A and C, pectin and lycopene, anti-aging and antioxidant compounds, and tons of healthy fiber. The oil pressed from grapefruit peel is one of the few non-phototoxic essences in the citrus family, which should please IFRA; it also serves as a topical antiseptic and bactericide, which should please Florence Nightingale. Though bitter to taste, grapefruit zest acts as a lymphatic and digestive stimulant; its tonic properties are a boon to any detox tea blend. Grapefruits really are miraculous, yet I never buy them in stores or order them in restaurants. I simply can't shake the opinion that they're the housewife's "austerity measure"-- an edible form of self-punishment for secretly wanting an big ol' sloppy ice-cream sundae. Their very scent is a guilt-provoking jolt-- and that's why I've largely avoided that note in perfume.

Why spoil one of life's most wonderful indulgences with the bitter smell of penance?

Tastes change, as do opinions. Little by little I've talked myself into sampling without shuddering. For the most part, the compositions which work best for me cast grapefruit as a supporting player (AG Eau d'Hadrien, Creed Neroli Sauvage). I'm not fond of it topped with caramel (Tokyo Milk Kabuki, HdP 1873 Colette), but I will take it paired with sea breezes and fresh flowers (Lili Bermuda Pink). If I'm in the mood for a confection to make up for all those skipped desserts years ago, I can head off to Sephora and sniff Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune (grapefruit sorbet) followed by Lavanila Vanilla Grapefruit (grapefruit panna cotta).

The point is, I've gradually come to terms with the persnickety pamplemousse. If I feel any guilt now, it's because I didn't give this note the chance it deserved.

Here are a couple of Citrus x paradisi fragrances that I credit for talking me around:

Citron de Vigne (Fresh)
A bright, true pink grapefruit essence whose astringent character is encouraged by tannic tea and red wine notes, this comes closest of all to the scent of a fresh grapefruit in hand. Imagine laboriously working a thumbnail under the pliant peel... the stickiness of the peel essence on your palm, followed by the sting of juice... the cottony texture of the bitter pith... the pink inner flesh veiled but visible... Now pour yourself a garnet glass of Pinot Noir and get ready for a refreshing, mouth-puckering treat.

Scent Elements: Neroli, bigarade, pink grapefruit, red wine accord, jasmine tea leaves, lemongrass, patchouli, sandalwood, amber

Oyédo (Diptyque)
For this grapefruit maceration, substitute a half-and-half mix of kiddie grape juice and Jarritos Tamarindo for the red wine, and throw in a bunch of fresh thyme. It sounds like it could be a mess, but somehow it achieves a crazy balance. I prefer the savory drydown to the supersweet opening, but patience being a virtue, the wait is well-justified.

Scent Elements: Lemon, lime, yuzu, grapefruit, mandarin, orange, mint, caraway, thyme, tamarind, cedar

Eau Lente (Diptyque)

Frida is having more luck with opopanax than me. Inspired by her post and hoping to be similarly enamored, I wore Diptyque Eau Lente for about two hours on Thursday morning before shouting "Basta!" and lunging for my sprayer of PdN Sacrebleu.

It seems unfair even to me that I should cavil about something as lovely and harmless as this fragrance. Granted, I woke up that morning in a piss-poor mood, having slept badly the night before; my jaw hurt from nocturnal teeth-grinding, and none of my clothes seemed to fit due to continuing post-surgery Super Nightmare Funhouse Tummy. The milk of human kindness had apparently turned to clabber. Is it possible that I might have demonstrated impatience towards any scent, however brilliant, that morning? Undoubtedly so.

Eau Lente happened to draw the short straw. Sorry, kid.

Look, if you like opopanax, Eau Lente is Opopanax City. But if you have already experienced the heart-rending IMAX-3D aurora borealis of Shalimar, you might find opopanax alone as engrossing as the end credits. If you prefer a culinary rather than cinematic parallel, Eau Lente is as sweet, bland, and monochromatic as white-frosted angelfood on a milk-glass cake plate. And that's just fine, if that's what you like. Me, I'll stick with Shalimar's Riz à l'Impératrice... or Sacrebleu's fizzy gelée studded with ruby-red berries.

Scent Elements: Cinnamon, clove, Indian spices, opopanax

Coco Noir (Chanel)

My pal BB loves her some Chanel Coco, boy. She straight-up LIVES for the stuff. So when I apprise her of the impending release of Coco Noir, she squeals as if she's just received backstage passes for the Second Coming. Could that mid-'80's Empress of the Orient really be reborn-- darker, richer, more opulent, more dangerous? Speed the day!

With the issuance of the official notes list, BB's joy is no longer unalloyed. Grapefruit? What? All expectations of extra-dark chocolate and mesmerizing incense suddenly dissipate... replaced by the wariness of the once-burnt-twice-shy.

Remember the debut of Coco Mademoiselle? I don't. Despite last year's Chanel Week, I've never really followed the ups and downs of that house's fortunes. But for BB, a shiny new Chanel launch triggers a tempest of excitement-- and in Coco Mlle's case, a subsequent fury of pure, white-hot hatred. "Oh, Coco Mademoiselle is just perfect," she says, "if you happen to be be an elderly prostitute." Naturally, I can't wait for her to take on Noir. I admit to priming the vitriol pump by feeding BB bits and pieces from newly-published blog reviews, most of which express a range of opinion from "feh" to "meh".

Yet hope remains while the company is true...

Nice try, Galadriel.

One fateful day at work, BB hands me a scent strip. "It's SO much worse than we imagined," she whispers, motioning to me to lower my nose to the paper. The scent radiating upward at me is one-third acid fruit, one-third patchouli, one-third shampoo. I feel confused. I feel dizzy. I feel slightly nauseated.

"Exactly,"BB hisses and stalks away.

All day long, that scent strip lies on my desk, giving off a spectrum of odors, none of which I can imagine putting on my skin. Not that I'd need to-- even on cardboard, Coco Noir is so cloying and powerful I can smell it from two yards away. (I'm surprised my officemates didn't ask me to dispose of it outside. I would not have argued.)

Strangest of all is the way Coco Noir speeds from peppy girlhood to querulous old age, barely stopping for breath. It starts off all fruity-froufrou, overflowing with youthful brio, but in no time at all it devolves into narrowed eyes, dry martinis, and a triple-strand choker of matronly pearls. In its journey from Lea Michele to Barbara Bush Sr., it somehow never manages to be appropriate for any age, let alone all ages-- and there is one particular age it avoids like the plague. If that expansive, self-assured elegance that the original Coco encapsulated represents a woman's confident middle years, Coco Noir flies right over it without ever touching ground. (Ditto Coco Mademoiselle, who is still traumatized from contemplating the approach of her -- gulp! -- thirtieth birthday.)

Two days later, the aroma saturating my scent strip remains oddly unfaded. BB reports that she stashed hers deep down in her purse, which is now ruined. If it won't air out, she may have to pitch it in a dumpster.

Oh, BB, I feel your pain. Now look-- you've made ME verklempt! I'm sorry, everyone. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: Coco Noir lacks both Coco and Noir. Discuss.

Scent Elements: Grapefruit, bergamot, rose absolute and essence, jasmine absolute, narcissus, geranium leaf, tonka bean, patchouli, sandalwood, Bourbon vanilla, white musk, frankincense

Cordovan Rose Demi-Absolute (Soivohle)

As is probably self-evident from the palette of Parfümieren, I adore all variations of that most Victorian of colors: mauve. Described as a greyish pink leaning ever so slightly toward the cool end of the spectrum, mauve borrows its appellation from the anything-but-common mallow flower (Malva sylvestris). Yet in the art of bestowing proper names, Mother Nature cannot possibly hold a candle to Plochere-- a six-decade-old designer's color system in which mauve and all its corollaries operate under the most conspicuous of aliases.

Do you like roses? You can make a bouquet of them. Choose from Blush, Caroline, Castor, Cerise, China, Coral, Dryad, Fantasy, Fuchsia, Grecian, Magenta, Monticello, Octoroon, Slate, Southern, Spectra, Valencia, or Venetian Roses for a start. You can order up a matching corsage in the form of a Cloud, a Dust, a Mist, a Morn, a Pearl, a Shadow, a Smoke, or a Stain-- all Rose-tinted. If your tastes run to the gory or Gothic, you can enjoy Withered Roses or (presumably later, allowing time for decay) Ashes of Roses. Oooohhhh... spooky!

Do you prefer another flower over the ubiquitous rose? How about Ageratum, Amaranth, Azalea, Belladonna, Cineraria, Clover, Heliotrope, Hortensia, Misty Lilac, Old Lavender, Orchid, Phlox, Ruffled Petunia, Sussanqua, Violet Pansy, or Windflower? If blossoms aren't your bag, you can enjoy gemstones (Amethyst, Tourmaline), fruit (Blackberry Cream, Peach Bud, Raspberry Glace), precious materials (Amber Coral, Bisque) and celestial events (Aurora, Cold Morn, Dawn Glow, Evening Haze, Eventide, Heavenly, Midnight Bronze, Moonbeam, Moonlight, Moonmist, Morning Mist, Night Magic, Nocturne).

Thinking pink? Here's Beauty, Camelia, Cameo, Caprice, Carnation, China, Debutante, Dust, Heavenly, Lily, Nymph, Powder, Prism, Quality, Queen, Salome, Silver, Teenage, and Zest. But perhaps you'd rather model your sunset on intangibles: Atonement, Charm, Dignity, Distinction, Finesse, Rapture, Romance, Serenity, Surrender. No? Have you a specific love-idol in mind? Would it be Bronzio, Dolly Varden, Monsignor, Pinocchio, Rosario, Sophisticated Lady, Spitfire, Stella, Sultana, Vamp, Vanda, or Vesta? Tell us, do!

Or maybe you simply crave a mauve called Pouf de Vent (Puff of Air)? Plochere's got it. But how sad that in this parade of paint chips from Cameo Pink to Cabernet, there is no Cordovan Rose. The only explanation I can summon is this: Cordovan Rose is on a wavelength beyond this or any other spectrum.

The chromaticians -- if not the perfumers, thank goodness -- must have known when to call it quits.

If a scent can indeed provoke wild visions, Cordovan Rose appears in my mind's eye as a soft, leathery pale taupe that splits open at the seams to reveal an alarming blaze of vermilion. Encased in something cool, dry, and dusty, this great heat possesses the same startling and deceptive power as a spent coal. You might conclude from its ashen exterior that it's given up all its fragrant flame-- but at the slightest nudge, it breaks open to reveal a blazing heart of the very purest, hottest, neon rose.

Out of a thousand variations, this -- a color, a perfume, a banked fire that comes alive again and again on skin -- is the only pink I think I really need.

Scent Elements: Rose, leather, smoke, plum, birch tar

L'Eau (Diptyque)

Before proceeding, read this-- not only for its own brilliant sake, but because its central topic will be touched upon presently. I'll wait here.

In 1961, three friends employed in three related branches of the arts (painting, stage design, and architecture) opened a Left Bank shopfront to market self-designed textiles and motley "bric-à-brac". The painter, who enjoyed tinkering with essential oils, sought to recreate a recipe or two from historical formularies. He then brought his scented creations to a professional compounder to be 'translated' into salable merchandise. Candles, soaps, scented powders, potpourris, and room sprays all followed. Their popularity endures to this day.

The trio's first proper perfume -- named simply L'Eau -- debuted in 1968. Despite four intervening decades, its structure and beauty remain intact, an idea echoed in a number of subsequent compositions.  Reduce its volume, and you have James Heeley's wonderful Esprit du Tigre. Increase its sorcery, and you have Patricia de Nicolai's stunning Sacrebleu. Give it claws and teeth, and it's that sly little devil Lolita Lempicka. Send it to the barbershop for a close shave, and it's Le Mâle. Leave it alone, and it's a monument to 'mouthwatering'.

So what is L'Eau? An intense, dry clove-basil accord boosted into glowing neon pinkness by a bright geranium at the outset and loads of fiery cinnamon at its heart. At its far end, one finds subtle hints of anise and musk, two unbilled but welcome walk-ons that increase L'Eau's longevity on skin. But something else entirely is at the root of its longevity in our hearts-- and that, I believe, is where the candy comes in.

Like all of the fragrances I named as its heirs, L'Eau smells distinctly confectionary-- think red-hots, fireballs, 'olde tyme' cinnamon sticks striped like barbershop poles. All these are shorthand for childhood. But a nostalgia for candy shouldn't mean a regression to that age, which sadly seems to be the aim of most little-girl florals of today-- to infantilize the wearer, diminish her dignity and render her adorably harmless. Can we please have a sophisticated candy instead-- one which can (as Blacknall Allen requests) be worn by adults, mostly because it (like Peek Freans) is MUCH too good to waste on children?*

(Oh, we're serious. VERY serious.)

Considering that many modern fragrances suffer repeated reformulations or flat-out discontinuation if the fickle zeitgeist swerves even minutely, L'Eau's lifespan is a doggone miracle. It infuses me with hope to think that this gorgeous perfume has survived forty years without attracting a hundred unhappy fates. In this, I imagine that I may read my own fortune: good things have staying power, and value -- despite all propaganda to the contrary -- increases with age.

*How often (and loudly) have I wished for Leone to release perfumes to go with every single flavor of pastiglie and tartufi they make? Pleasegodplease.

Scent Elements: Rose, geranium, cinnamon, cloves, sandalwood

Tam Dao (Diptyque)

Anybody who watches Hoarding: Buried Alive as compulsively as I do knows that order must be imposed on chaos relentlessly to keep everyday existence livable. Though my scent stash isn't necessarily a recordbreaker, a recent inventory made me aware of a growing blind spot-- my box of unreviewed samples. As this collection of scores, swaps, and gifts patiently waits for my attention, I dither over the best way to start. Should I sort them by perfume house, by nose, or by notes? Shall I wear them in alphabetical order, or via random selection? How should I begin?

Time will tell-- literally. A perusal of my fragrance purchase ledger awakens me to the fact that some of these samples have lingered unworn in my collection for almost eighteen months! It seems insane that I wanted them badly enough to hunt them down, only to tuck them away in the shadows of the Sight Unseen. And they won't stick around forever. Even as we speak, they're merrily evaporating from the very vials and sprayers they occupy...

Forgive my turn of phrase, but the time has come to spritz or get off the pot.

For the next week or two, I've resolved to wear nothing but my oldest samples-- starting with a passel of Diptyque decants that have been in my possession since early 2011. Way back then, I'd ordered a TPC sample set with the greatest of expectations. Having loved Philosykos, L'Eau de L'Eau, and Ombre dans L'Eau (my favorite toffee-rose with a dose of dry, salty greens), I felt fully confident that I'd discover plenty here to admire. But the very first sample I tried let me down... way down. So I abandoned the whole enterprise in a spate of perfumista pique.

Bang: back of the box.

Three weeks ago when I warbled the praises of Lalique's Encre Noire, Undina remarked that it reminded her somewhat of Tam Dao. Her comment impelled me to (guiltily) excavate this 2003 EdT from perfume sample limbo.

While I'm personally unable to connect it to the vetiver-heavy Encre Noire, I like Tam Dao quite a lot. According to its makers, it's a tribute to "the most sought-after of the sacred woods: the sandalwood of Goa". Fresh, oily, aromatic, its opening moments evoke freshly-peeled bark and the first pass of an iron rasp along the fragrant grain. From here, Tam Dao draws a straight line through mellow to sweet-- a boon if you've got a hankering for sugar; a drawback if (like me) you find bitter/savory more to your liking. Still, regardless of appetite, everyone can appreciate the seamlessly smooth journey Tam Dao offers. This perfume is built to coast-- feet off the pedals, hands off the handlebars, eyes trustingly shut.

Relax and enjoy the ride.

Scent Elements: Sandalwood, rosewood, cypress, ambergris

Sunset Rider Absolute (Soivohle)

Well, I suppose it had to happen sometime-- a Soivohle that didn't agree with me. Sure, things got off to a great start with a lovely bright mandarin sinking into a dusky Joylike jasmine-- but that's the exact point where this perfume and I stopped speaking.

Lord knows that jasmine and I only see eye to eye under very particular conditions-- emotional, atmospheric, and otherwise. Humidity is usually a dealbreaker, so I deliberately waited for a cool, dry day to attempt a détente. No luck: Sunset Rider turned to soapy sugar on me, fast and fierce and forever.

Perfume regret -- though not the choicest of companions when the long day stretches ahead -- encourages reflection. I have known jasmines that smelled heavenly on me (Liz Zorn's very own Calcutta being one of them), but this one -- plainly and sadly -- does not. Still, being that I cannot judge this flower with perfect objectivity, I am loath to say that it was all Sunset Rider's fault.

Maybe I'll wait six months and give it another shot.

Or maybe I'll see whether the Yin Hao that Colleen kindly sent me is any more inclined towards diplomacy.

Scent Elements: Jasmine, red mandarin, moss, woods

La Nuit (Paco Rabanne)

During my twenties, I picked up two fascinating yet almost entirely unmarketable skills: meadmaking and crafting Viking-style drinking horns. From these facts, you might extrapolate that I spent a lot of hang time in medieval drag, lounging around Ye Olde Ren Faire. Not so. True creative anachronism allows a modern heathen to pursue the ancient folkways in jeans and Doc Martens. A good thing, because meadmaking is way too sloppy for scarlet and miniver.

Regardless of what type you plan to brew, the basis of all mead is raw honey-- at least a gallon to start. I have previously described the scent of raw honey as the strongest, sexiest, most stomach-turning aroma imaginable... (a) lascivious reek. Even diluted with spring water to the requisite 1:4 part ratio, the prurient pong generated by a whole gallon of honey will make your house smell as ripe as Plato's Retreat on a hot August evening in the late 1970's.

And you haven't even added the YEAST yet. Wah wah WEE wah!

For a batch of mead to fully convert into alcohol takes about six months. That's a long, long time to live with the smell of sex. Then you rack and bottle it and wait-- what? Three to five years before you can drink it? No wonder the Vikings went víking! They had to do something with all that pent-up mojo!

These days, I brew for the short-term-- one-gallon batches of hard cider/melomel, two weeks' fermentation followed by a scant three months' shelf-age to mellow it. (Finnish sima takes even less time-- four days at most from brew to bottle.) The result may not be the height of refinement, but hot damn, it does the trick.

Still, with any brew, there's a wait before it's ready to drink. How do I circumvent frustration? By wearing Paco Rabanne La Nuit. This sybaritic nectar comes out of the sprayer fully loaded with honey-civet goodness, ready to knock you for a loop. Ever since Bloody Frida gifted me with a generous decant, I've been staggering around three scent-strips to the wind with nothing but sweet, sweet mead on my mind.

You want raunch? In my notes for La Nuit, I went to write the word "sultry" and ended up writing "slutty" instead. Call it a Freudian slip, or accuse me of writing under the influence, but wear it yourself before you judge me. La Nuit's specific brand of skank involves honey, yes, but also a pair of leather hotpants that have been worn commando-style for at least a week... some of which has been spent on horseback. This the Boris Vallejo version of Ren Faire-- and you don't need to check the printing on your ticket to know for sure.

For something of such profound specific gravity, La Nuit's initial effervescence came as quite a surprise. At first I wondered whether aldehydes had been invited to this pagan rout, though the scent notes tell a different saga. Whatever its cause, that glorious burst of fizz pushes the mead comparison as far as it could go without coming to an actual taste test. It reminds me of the brewing process called kräusening, by which a small amount of active yeast is reintroduced to the already-fermented mead at bottling time. It causes the finished brew to recarbonate just enough to ensure a satisfying POP! of the cork come decanting time.

This is the delirious effect La Nuit has at first spritz-- it comes at you like sparkly champagne, but turns your head like the Valkyries' own cocktail.


Scent Elements: Bergamot, Amalfi lemon, mandarin, peach, jasmine, rose, basil, artemisia, patchouli, pepper, oakmoss, Virginia cedar, leather, honey, civet

Pозово масло & White Linen.

While antiquing today with my friend Mary, I found a decorative wooden object-- a small, hollow container decorated with a clumsy and rustic combination of pyrography and paint. It could be called tourist kitsch. But hidden inside is a vial of Bulgarian attar of roses (розово масло). Pure, sweet, buttery, delectable, this attar could change my mind about the scent of roses, which up to now has never been on my list of favorites.

Or has it?

One rose for which I have a decided infatuation is Estée Lauder's White Linen. It takes the very same velvety Damascene rose, sets it against a carpet of glossy dark green foliage, and casts a layer of sparkling aldehydes over all like the faintest, coldest snowfall. As if by serendipity, a tiny trio of White Linen Perfume miniatures had been placed on the shelf next to the Bulgarian attar of roses. Not one to question kismet, I took them all home together.

As I type this, I sit secure in a veil of White Linen, augmented here and there with judicious touches of that rich, incomparable Bulgarian attar. Through my eyes at this very moment, the world indeed looks nothing less than rose-colored.

Pulse Eau de Parfum (Beyoncé for Coty)

Once again -- like a glutton for punishment -- I find myself at RiteAid, toying with the perfume testers while I wait for a prescription to be filled. On this visit, I find Beyoncé Pulse prominently displayed in its strange chrome bottle holster that begs the question, Is that thing upside-down or right-side-up? (You can have it both ways, apparently.)

"Beyoncé Pulse possesses an energy unlike any other. It moves through you, around you. Never fading as it surges, pulsates and electrifies," declares the official Pulse website. It had better. With 16 Grammys, 11 VMA's, 3 AMA's, 75 million record sales, and placements in the top three of pretty much everything (Greatest, Most Powerful, Most Influential, Most Beautiful), Beyoncé ought to rate something a little more deluxe than the usual caramel-drenched floral crap that Coty's been shilling as of late. (I wonder which rising star will finally put her Louboutin'd foot down and call an end to that carnival. Lord knows Sarah Jessica Parker tried.)

The website hastens to assure us that something completely unique and never-before-seen-in-perfumery is afoot. "Reflective of Beyoncé’s incredible energy and powerful femininity, the fresh notes in Beyoncé Pulse intermingle to create a unique citrus, floral gourmand, anchored by Beyoncé’s favorite flower, the orchid." That's a lot of, um, commas. Just as you're about to ask Miss Thing to be a little more specific about WHICH of the 25,000+ accepted species of Orchidaceae she prefers, you learn that it's the 'bluebird orchid'. But again: which one? Several orchid species bear that particular moniker. There's Pabstia jugosa X Zygopetalum gautieri, which resembles a bolder version of the lady's slipper; there's also the Zygonisia cynosure, whose delicate, iris-like beauty certainly is the cynosure of all eyes... much like Sasha Fierce herself. (POW! Up top!)

But if it's fragrance you're looking for, the orchid you want is the Neostylis 'Louis Sneary' Bluebird (Neofinetia falcata x Rhyncostylis coelestis). Visits to several specialty orchid websites and forums confirm that this tiny, starlike orchid (considered rare for its tinge of blue, a relatively uncommon hue for flowers) does indeed produce an odor, described by aficionados as "sweet", "delightful", "wonderfully fragrant". One forum contributor even went so far as to state, "(Its) fragrance killed me and almost made me dedicate my entire life to this Genera and its Hybrids."

All righty then!

Having never had the pleasure of being slain by an flower (though several lilies-of-the-valley have made the attempt), I am forced to fall back on trust. Does Pulse smell like orchids? I pick up one of the promotional sniff cards and peel back the flap.

Expecting ethylmaltol, I am taken aback by a huge, juicy orange note rising up off the paper. It's so appetizing, my salivary glands go all Pavlovian on me. There has to be some mistake-- where is the cotton candy, the caramel apples, the Cracker Jacks? I wrassle the Pulse bottle out of its stand-up corral and spritz my wrist generously. There again! Oranges, pure and true! Delicious! So no blue orchid, maybe, but curaçao, yes-- blue or otherwise. (I'm thinking perhaps Triple Sec, with both bitter and sweet orange essences.)

While this very nice first impression is still lingering in the ether, Pulse takes me by the hand and leads me into more predictable (read: boring) territory. This fragrance's heart is one of those middle-of-the-road floral blends where no single note sticks its head up too far above the others. Everything's harmonious, yet overall the sum smells sort of cheap, lacking in richness. Corners were definitely cut. (What do you expect? It's Coty.) I find myself thinking about Beyoncé's bank account and how this portion of Pulse cannot possibly be reflective of it. PayWizard, a joint venture of the Harvard Law School's Labor and Worklife Program and the University of Amsterdam's WageIndicator project, estimates her income at USD $40 million annually. She could BUY the city of Grasse, but instead settles for floral meh. Oh, well-- it's her life.

Now, the drydown. I tense up somewhat when the first atoms of vanilla begin gathering; I fully expect them to take me straight to the carnival fairway and tip me into the cotton candy machine. But no-- things progress with a modicum of dignity, and I reach the gourmand goalpost with a sigh of relief. Pulse's closing stretch is, as promised, "irresistible... warm, opulent"-- all vanilla and santal and amber, nicely homogenized and stabilized. The musk we're supposed to find embedded there could have been way more growly and animalic (fierce!!) but I guess it might then have stood out too much from its surroundings.

Bottom line: not bad, considering its source. (Coty, I mean-- not Beyoncé. She's okay. She certainly deserves 'Coty Prestige' status more than Kimora Lee Simmons, so hope for a corporate coup d'etat.) Once I get past all my eye-rolling, I'm surprised, and pleasantly so. Yeah, I'd buy this if nothing else was available-- why not? Little Blue Ivy Carter might need braces someday.

Scent Elements: "Sparkling" pear blossom, "effervescent" blue curaçao accord, "frosted" bergamot, "enticing" bluebell orchid, "delicate" peony, "midnight blooming" jasmine, "Madagascar" vanilla, "seductive" musk, "sensual precious" woods. Sorry, I just got hip to the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks, and once these things get started...

Rampage Eau de Parfum Pour Femme (Rampage)

I got it for twenty-five cents at an outdoor swap meet. I know what you're thinking: What a rip-off. I know! And yet, I've squeezed at least two bits' worth of fun out of this fragrance-- proof that knowing exactly what you're paying for is half the battle of getting your money's worth.

Rampage (2003) is a fermented fruit salad made up of seventy percent overripe melon. This big ol' bowl of commingled honeydew and cantaloupe has been stewing for hours in the hot sun, gradually breaking down into a sweet, soft, boozy-queasy puree. You'd think that'd just about do it, but the introduction of a bizarre, waxy plasticene note raises the interest level. Hey-- how did that crayon get in there? Who knows? Who cares? Let it stay, I say. This perfume almost pulls it off.

If forced to make a summation, I'd have to say that Rampage is slightly headache-inducing and not the most wearable thing in the world. Still, there's something perversely fun about it-- like the one solitary roller-coaster ride you take each August just to be able to call it a summer. You stagger away from the experience dizzy and faintly nauseated... but smiling.

Scent Elements: Grapefruit, melon, clementine, pineapple, tea, bamboo, peony, waterlily, mimosa, musk

Canturi Eau de Parfum (Stefano Canturi)

In the art gallery, the changing of the month is a hectic business. The final week of the month brings a flurry of phone calls, work orders, proofreadings and press release mailings; the existing exhibits must come down so that new exhibits can be installed, and the whole thing must be stage-managed with diplomacy and precision.

Installation day! Ladders and carts begin to arrive far ahead of the artists, who are still trying to find parking spaces close to the library. On rare occasions, they all walk into the building together, chatting merrily and helping one another hoist bubble-wrapped artworks into the elevator. Their work begins; often, library patrons gather to watch as canvases are lugged, unwrapped, and wrestled into place. I race from first floor to second floor and back again, delivering wires and hooks and handing out bottles of water, while hastily-sipped styrofoam cups of coffee slowly grow cold on my desk.

At the end of the day, we're all sweaty, dusty, exhausted-- and happy. Everything's arranged beautifully; the galleries look marvelous. For another month, art is alive and well on our walls.

This year, I've made a habit of wearing Canturi EdP on installation days. My little mini-bottle (with its Mondrian-like pattern) came from Suzanne, who also gifted me with the vintage Chanel No. 5 Extrait that I reserve (is it any wonder?) for art receptions. I favor Canturi for gallery work because it surrounds me with a scent so clean and composed, I feel as though I could run a marathon -- no, TWO! -- and go directly to dinner at a fancy restaurant afterwards without the slightest fear of offense. You know that old adage, "Horses sweat, men perspire, but women only glow?" When I'm on the run between two galleries, I may be lit up like a 100-watt bulb-- but the heat I generate in dashing around like a lunatic only seems to increase Canturi's golden, luminous aura. Doubt or panic simply can't break through.

In times of duress, we're always told to go to our "happy place". When the rigors of gallery work begin to overwhelm me, my "happy place" is a fantasy barbershop-- the kind that hosts a ladies' night.

Even as a kid, I preferred the barbershop to the beauty salon, which smelled of burning hair and Aqua Net and rang with endless gossip generated by the gum-crackin', overly-cosmetized hairdressers. Their fitful fussings, distracted clippings, and seeming desire to make up a new hairdo as they went along quite frankly made me fear for my coiffure. I could take no confidence in their art-- whereas I would have trusted the barber with my life. In his shop, quiet reigned; even the sound of a live baseball game broadcast on the shop radio remained at a low and gentle volume. Patrons (my dad included) always seemed relaxed by his ministrations, invariably carried out with the methodical precision of a high priest performing an important religious ritual. The combined scents of hair tonic, shaving soap, hot towels and Pinaud Clubman talcum powder thrilled and appealed to my tomboy sensibilities. Perched in one of the waiting area chairs, I felt as privileged as if I'd been invited to spend an idle afternoon among the gods on Mount Olympus.

No wonder I started shaving my head at age fourteen-- I knew where I preferred to spend my time.

Canturi is a dream come true for me. It's feminine and sweet without doubt, but it seems to contain all the various elements of my favorite "tonsorial parlor": the mellow aromas, the tone of quiet introspection, the sense of total security, of being cared for and set right by an expert hand. This is why I find it absolutely indispensable when the end of the calendar month draws nigh. Any disaster (and art galleries are full of them!) can be faced with calm when I'm wrapped in the boundless tranquility of this fragrance.

Scent Elements: Calabrian bergamot, mandarin leaf, neroli, damask rose, jasmine, Florentine iris, lily-of-the-valley, patchouli, amber, musk, vetiver, Tahitian vanilla, red cedar, oakmoss

Apuldre (Molton Brown)

The Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, middle daughter of the Earl of Grantham, is the most mechanical-minded of maidens. One sees her cheerfully pedaling her bike over the country roads to her Land Army work at a nearby farm, where she drives a tractor with more visible contentment than dancing, dining, or dress fittings have ever given her. An afternoon's honest labor, a sandwich and a bottle of stout, a kiss (oh, just one!) from the farmer... and wheels.

That's all Lady Edith really needs to be happy.

She may not possess her elder sister's imperious beauty, nor her younger sister's fiery certitude about Life And How to Live It. Hers is the tentative approach of a square peg looking for a permanent fit. She will try her quiet best at almost any pursuit, particularly if it proves to be of benefit to others. Where Mary demands all due respect and Sybil agitates for global change, Edith just wants to know what she can do for you today.

And if you answer, "Change this blasted spark plug!" she'll be forever your girl.

Along with a stout pair of boots and a lifetime supply of Lava pumice soap, I'd prescribe Molton Brown Apuldre for the Earl's gearhead daughter. Gentler and more floral than Bulgari Black, bolder and less retiring than Bottega Veneta, Apuldre is a simply lovely country leather with a side of woodland violets... and a set of black rubber tires.

Imagine a dusk-lit drive through an early-spring landscape whose coverlet of snow has melted back, revealing new grass and last autumn's fallen leaves in a tapestry of brown and green. Lady Edith is teased along the winding road by the promise of shadowy beauty hidden around every bend. The wind, fresh and cold against her face, smells of the awakening earth: violets, woodsmoke, black loam, hay.

Today she has Father's Renault. He almost made her take Branson as well, but who needs a chauffeur when one is perfectly capable of driving oneself? The Renault is top-of-the-line, though she'd prefer a more utilitarian model for work: a Daimler CB-type 40-horsepower lorry equipped with a nice flatbed for hauling hay-- or bicycles. Father won't allow Edith to put hers in the Renault's backseat, even with a rug spread out to protect the leather. She wonders if Sir Anthony Strallan would value a motorcar's upholstery above a lady's happiness. She also wonders if he would let her change her own tires.

Branson has seen her do it. She even lent him her watch to mark the time.

A quick pit stop at the village pub, whose windows shine invitingly golden. The atmosphere within is rich with scents of leather, whiskey, kindling, and the oil soap used to rag-polish the ancient wooden bar to a vitreous gleam. The village men no longer puzzle at the sight of a noble daughter of Downton drinking her whiskey standing. Something about Edith's dirt-stained land-army garb and forthright manner convinces them she has earned her place among men. You'd never see Lady Mary accept an invitation to throw darts-- and you'd never try it on with Lady Edith after you've seen her aim.

What time is it? Half past-- nearly time to dress. From the heady independence of her workday, Edith must soon plunge into the stultifying atmosphere of dinner at Downton: Mary's petulance, Mother's blank stares, Grandmother's barbed asides...

The blazing hearth, festooned with boughs of juniper, attracts her eye one last time. She reaches out and surreptitiously pinches one of the tiny blue-black berries to release its sharp green essence-- a tonic to her soul, lending courage which no one realizes she needs.

Between here and home, there's the road and the Renault, a brand new pair of leather driving gloves and a posy of fresh violets on the seat.

She's ready to go.

This post was inspired by the magnificent Montmorency. Back when I was recuperating from AppendixFest, this incomparable perfumista penpal (who for several years now has gifted me with a glorious ongoing conversation volleying back and forth across the Atlantic ) emailed to ask me if I'd tried Apuldre. She described it as a "spicy leathery apple-y" scent with an Anglo-Saxon name honoring the village of Appledore, Kent. "Anything named for a Domesday entry should be worth it," promised Montmorency (who indeed found it full-bottle-worthy). She offered me a sample in exchange for some of my Imprevu-- and I'm so glad the swap came together, because this stuff IS the stuff. Merci, Montmorency!

Scent Elements: Juniper berry, violet leaf, artemsia, cedar, leather, styrax

Organza (Givenchy)

In the summer heat, everyone tends to slow down... even our perception of scent. Today, I'm wearing Givenchy Organza, a classic ambery floriental from 1996. Though named after the most crisply gauzy of all fabrics, it packs quite a wallop in the humid July air. I suppose I ought to save a fragrance this heavy until winter, but I confess this perfume's name plays tricks on me. The word "organza" summons up a vision of a translucent beach wrap lifted aloft by a cool ocean breeze. Come December, I'll want to don warm woollies; sheer and weightless fabrics will be anathema to getting (and staying!) warm. So summer will have to be the season for Organza-- and anyway, it captures some of the hypnotic quality of a humid summer day spent in a flower garden, with cicadas buzzing overhead and a tiny rumble of thunder in the distance....

As an afterword, I'll add that Organza (like 24 Faubourg) strikes me as a fragrance for dress-up occasions that require a gloss of richness and elegance to match the air of romance.  It might, however, be to the wearer's best advantage if said special event focuses on something (music, theater, etc.) other than food. Organza is so gourmand, it might put one off the very idea of eating... but not of drinking champagne!

Scent Elements: Bergamot, orange blossom, honeysuckle, ylang-ylang, peony, tuberose, jasmine, iris, nutmeg, mace, amber, vanilla, cedarwood, guaiacwood, walnut

Shaal Nur (Etro)

Shaal Nur starts out with an intense, dry, virile incense. Despite the fact that it's named for a queen, this promises to be a very masculine scent -- fit for a king -- until the rose shows up. Now, while I'm not certain it's proper to assign gender to the scent of a flower (and lord knows there are "masculine" florals, just as there are "feminine" fougères), this is one zaftig rose, hooboy-- it has bosoms and everything! Pink as a maidenly blush, it emerges from that incense smoke and comes toward you smiling, improbably but indubitably a girl.

I can't quibble with it. Love does that to a person.

Other flowers follow, but they seem to be distinguished from that fruity, dewy rose by their pairing with an almost medicinal bouquet of herbs. Picture huge bunches of mixed flora and silvery foliage tied with twine and suspended from the roofbeam to thoroughly dry, and you get the jist.

Throughout the middle progression of Shaal Nur, I detect a terpene-camphor accord arising from the junction of rosemary, patchouli, and thyme. It reminds me of L'Artisan's Aedes de Venustas EdT-- only drier and more aromatic, if that were possible. Out of this desert, our rose continues to bloom, turning drier and airier as time passes. Just as one starts to become more aware of its prickles, its pink deepens like a sunset. The incense that ruled the kickoff and the herbs that command the drydown serve to make the wearer more appreciative and grateful of the blossom suspended between. Finally -- and by finally, I mean a long way from the start -- a delicious sweet amber catches up and brings it all home.

The fact that this sample vial is almost empty while other Etro samples I bought at the same time are still mostly full attests to my addiction. And while I adored its cousin Aedes de Venustas, this one actually has me up at night, pondering the possibility of a full bottle.

Scent Elements: Lemon, mandarin, bergamot, grapefruit, petitgrain, rose, karo karoundé (Leptactina senegambica, African jasmine), coriander, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, patchouli, cedar, rosewood, vetiver, nutmeg, opopanax, incense, musk. Aedes de Venustas adds jonquil, narcissus, pomegranate, tea, myrrh, amber, and vanilla.

Vetiver (Etro)

In my ongoing perfume quest, experience keeps teaching me that a single note may possess multiple personalities. Vetiver, for instance, presents two contradictory faces, each reflecting a different level of civility. One, watery and pale, hand-knots its own bowtie and enjoys a super-chilled martini before dinner. The other, smoky and feral, drinks its whisky neat from a Mexican silver hip flask and sports permanent squint lines from staring into the sun. Occasionally, as with today's scent, there's a bit of each to be found in the same bottle-- concealed behind a poker face.

Attempting to judge which kind of vetiver you're going to get by the notes that surround it can get a perfumista into trouble. My pre-purchase skim-over of Etro Vetiver's scent elements suggested a scent rigged out for a Sergio Leone-style bandolero. Instead, I found Bret Maverick dressed in his gentlemanly best, prepared to overturn all my preconceptions with one winning hand.

Did he succeed? Or was he bluffing?

Etro Vetiver begins with quite a striking burnt-brown note that puts me in mind of boot leather imbued with Brazil nut oil. (Yes please!) This is quickly replaced (Wait... what?!) with a vetiver as pale and metallic as pump water in a tin cup. It's an interesting segue, if also confusing, rather like a song that switches tempo from polka to waltz mid-verse. If you don't see the change coming, you end up in a tangle on the dance floor. As the main accord dries down, it becomes grassier, fresher. Then an apple-tobacco note peeks in-- never fully entering the room before it fades out with all the rest. As I watch Etro Vetiver ride into the sunset, I'm left with many pleasant impressions... but I feel as if I never knew him, and fleeting impressions don't make for a clear remembrance.

Though it ain't too durn bad, Etro Vetiver is just... not all that. I won't go so far as to say this outlaw's made of straw. But he doesn't quite rate a "Wanted Dead or Alive" poster, either.

Scent Elements: Artemisia, clary sage, cypress, cedar, tobacco, Bourbon vetiver

Moonbeam, Clean Skin, and Clean Linen (Demeter)

"Back to School Basics $4.99," the Demeter countertop display read. "Wear Alone or MIX, MATCH & LAYER." The scents in question: Moonbeam, Clean Skin, and Clean Linen. At least two of these are available on Demeter's website. But why go there when you can go to RiteAid Glam Camp?

How totally magical is Glam Camp? Well, for starters, it has the power of changing "green leaves, Jasmine, Lily of the Valley, Amber and precious Woods" into "(a) unique combination of Vanilla, Chocolate and floral notes".* Incredible! But you say you need more magic? Check this out: all three fragrances painted in side-by-side stripes on your arm will smell, quite magically, like one thing.




Granted, that's what real moonbeams, clean linen, and freshly scrubbed skin smell like, so there's no deceit in advertising. Should doubt wrinkle your marble-smooth adolescent brow, the spirited Glam Camp counselors hasten to reassure you that Clean Linen smells "soft, fresh... as the best, freshest linen you have ever encountered." (But is it FRESH?) And Clean Skin is "(s)o delicate it is virtually transparent... Clean Skin is simply you...enhanced."

If this is so, then from the bottom of my heart I worry for you, because Clean Skin (AND Clean Linen, AND Moonbeam) are NON-SMELLS. I mean, they were still wet on my arm, and I could not find them. I stuck my arm under my husband's nose, and he said, "What? What do you want?!" Are these particular Demeters the olfactory parallel of that sound old fogeys can't hear?**

"Mix, match and layer directly on the skin and create your own personal fragrance experience," the promo copy reads. However, "(y)our 'scent circle' should be about an arm's length from your body. People farther away than that should not be able to smell your fragrance."

Honey, I would not worry about that.

*Notice how Moonbeam inexplicably turns all gourmand when it's marketed to adolescent girls? This is ironic, seeing as how this demographic is under absolute bombardment to achieve the perfect Size Sub-Zero. But marketing campaigns which recast women's hair-and-body products as "edibles" are way older than me.

**Yet I can still hear THAT SOUND. My spouse (age 47) cannot hear it even when the volume is turned all the way up, and our cat (who at age 15 in human years is actually 82 in feline years) jumped a country mile even when I played it super-low. Go figure.

Scent Elements: Bupkes.