Poivre Piquant (L'Artisan)

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

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

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

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

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

Underworld Parfum Absolute (Soivohle)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text is from Persephone:

left something on passenger seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demeter finally believes it.

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

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

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

Dzing! and Dzonghka (L'Artisan)

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

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

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

The doldrums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scent Elements: Geranium, patchouli, amber, vanilla

Plus Que Jamais (Guerlain)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Even in paradise, guilty pleasures are indispensable.

Navegar (L'Artisan)

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

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

Tea for Two (L'Artisan)

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

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

Well, I hated it.

Did you give it a chance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just me, I suppose.

(lowers eyes significantly over teacup)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you love about it?

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

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

Mmmm, yes.

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

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

You don't--

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

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

Thé Pour un Été (L'Artisan)

I have been known to love the scent of Elmer's glue, of gasoline, of machine oil and WD-40, of kerosene and turpentine and rubber cement. I have huffed industrial fumes in so many places (Linden, Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, Kearny) and so many perfumes (coupled with vanilla in Bulgari Black; comfy as machine-shop coveralls in Dior Fahrenheit; sleek, reflective, and bulletproof in Nuit Noire) that it comes as a surprise to dislike them here. Context is king, I suppose; among smokestacks, gear shafts, and trainyards, these smells make sense-- but blended with Ladies' Auxiliary tea and lemon, nothing computes. And no-way-no-how have I ever loved the acrid air escaping the plastic wrapper in which cheap dollar-store goods are sold. Attempting to conceal it under a layer of jasmine only heightens that which is hidden: an essential ugliness, honest enough on its own but ludicrous when presented in Laura Ashley floral print, pinkies aloft.

Pour un été? The end of one, maybe-- and not a moment too soon.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, green tea, maté, peppermint, cedar, jasmine

Roslin (Sweet Anthem Handmade Perfumes)

Unless it hails from the land of Parlux, perfume does not normally cause my heart to sink. But that promise I made to review all my old acquisitions before I start wearing new ones has filled me with a sense of the unachievable. I thought it would take me two weeks, tops. Three weeks later, I'm still crossing items off of ancient Perfumed Court invoices and contemplating with dread the remaining pile of neglected samples. Fatigue (both mental and nasal) is setting in. I need a break from the back catalog.

Luckily, nothing justifies self-reward like a pre-scheduled vacation. This morning dawned as chilly and bright as a day meant for a month from now. I've taken this as my cue to wear Roslin, a gorgeous perfume oil by Sweet Anthem Handmade Perfumes. Gifted to me by Colleen (a newfound friend and recent nominee to my pantheon of fragrant Fairy Godmothers), Roslin is precisely what I need to recalibrate both soul and nose before gettin' on with the long haul.

Don't go looking for Roslin at Sweet Anthem's website, nor at their Etsy shop-- she's no longer there. I tell you this not to taunt you with the perfume version of unobtainium, but to awaken curiosity in Sweet Anthem's extant -- and innovative -- catalog. Roslin may have gone on a long, long trip to parts unknown... but there are so many other Sweets to meet.

Founded in Seattle by indie perfumer Meredith Smith, Sweet Anthem is a small-batch microperfumery specializing in handcrafted vegan scents. Each is available in an array of formats-- solids, salts, alcohol-based perfumes, and fractionated coconut-based perfume oils. Roslin is (was?) one of the latter. It boasts a very high (40-60%) concentration of fragrant essences with an eight-hour lifespan on skin. This is no mere estimate-- one application lasts all day long. I have zero doubt that Anita, Annabelle, et al. perform just as faithfully-- and with equal beauty.

You wouldn't think from the description that Roslin would be suitable for late summer. Archaic parchment from a ruined old library; long arms of ivy, practically dripping off the local pines; Christmas holly wreaths, fresh snow, and a dash of curry powder to warm up the scene... (Warm UP the scene? It's steamy enough on its own!) But in Roslin's symphony of roasted fruit (I smell baked apples!) and balsamic evergreen notes, there is no hint of inhospitable weather, hot or cold.  There is only pure bottled October-- the month that all summer-weary people wait for, and which seems to be offering us a sneak preview today.  As it stirs to life in a swirl of penetrating warmth, I receive a vision of bright embers rising from smoldering brush piles, orchards laden with fruit, and spruce boughs bristling with fragrant needles. A magical month of limitless blue sky stretches before me, renewing hope and purpose.

(And all this thanks to a plaintive perfume orphan which appeared on my doorstep one day!  Let no one call a fragrance dead just because it's discontinued-- this one has plenty of life in it yet.) 

The next time I go on a sample-buying spree, I think I'll skip the decanters and go straight to the creative source.  I doubt a set of Sweet Anthems would sit for a year in my house, untried-- and Roslin is the first hint that I'd be well-served and well-scented in every season if I pay Sweet Anthem a call.

Scent Elements: Curry leaf, "fresh snow", holly berry, white magnolia, leather, patchouli, pine

Cuir Venenum (Parfumerie Générale)

So I've gotten to the end of the Parfumerie Générale sampler set I picked up from the Perfumed Court... how long ago? A year? Out of PG's collection of twenty-three perfumes, I've tried and reviewed fourteen-- eleven of which (including today's selection, Cuir Venenum, which is so blatantly and cheerfully commercial I've taken to calling it "Cuir Venal") I rated as middling, the balance (Iris Taïzo/Oriental, L'Eau Guerrière, Ilang Ivohibe) receiving higher acclaim. Now, that's not a bad record at all. Here's a collection of pleasant, solidly middle-of-the-road fragrances, no duds, and a few clear standouts. What's not to like?

And yet... and yet...

On Thursday's L'Ombre Fauve post, Dionne and I shared a small exchange of confidences regarding how we felt about "nice" perfumes. Though the majority of it didn't exactly rock my socks, Pierre Guillaume's work is perfectly nice. I am sure the ones I haven't tried are the same. I do not feel the slightest inducement to spend time, money, and energy to find out.

Therefore, Cuir Venal: burnt sugar and leather. Or burnt leather and sugar-- one of the two. Again, nice. If you run across it, I'm glad for you. If you don't, s'all good.

Scent Elements: Leather, orange blossom, coconut, musk, lemon, myrrh

L'Ombre Fauve (Parfumerie Générale)

This is a sleek little thing of patchouli-imbued suede, buttery-smooth and not very profound, tagged on to a feel-good plasticky amber which (as my pal Nan suggested) smells like the aura surrounding a small-town psychic fair. It does its job tolerably well, though it seems that a whole lot of it is required to git 'er done. I wouldn't say I'm bowled over, but neither am I frustrated or let down. I smell good right now. For that, I feel grateful. Later today, when the last drop of this sample is gone (I told you, you can't be miserly with this stuff) I will forget L'Ombre Fauve quickly and painlessly. It cannot catch me, because it's not in its lazy nature to try.

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

Ilang Ivohibe (Parfumerie Générale)

Obviously Ilang Ivohibe is about the ylang-ylang flower, but who am I to pass up an chance to put a baobab tree in a blog post? Madagascar (and not the Little Prince's asteroid) is where baobabs grow, along with 170 species of palm, the fabulous ring-tailed lemur, the world's teenytiniest chameleon... and maybe one vain little flower.

To see the delightfully-named robust ghostpipefish, you'll have to swim to Nossi-bé. And while you're swimming, you'll smell something very like Ilang Ivohibe: a metallic sparkling top note, like sunlight on the flank of a wave, a zing! of sea salt and spray, and finally petals, creamy and limpid, spiraling down into shade.

Like most dream journeys, it lasts only a heartbeat. But in that moment, like the stealthy growth of the baobabs or the fragility of a very particular flower... it's a matter of great consequence.

Scent Elements: Orange, ylang-ylang, jasmine, vanilla

Felanilla (Parfumerie Générale)

I'm going to HATE this. So I thought after applying Felanilla for the first time. It reminded me of Nilla banana pudding, only boozed up, overdone, way past ripe and well into rotten. (Tough talk for a woman who wants to MARRY Ladyboy, the baddest banana in the bunch.)

But I don't really hate Felanilla. I just wasn't listening to it very closely. If I'd worn it in a quieter frame of mind, I would have better enjoyed the starchy, raw, and green notes hiding behind that cream-pie-gone-wrong facade. But I felt rushed, distracted, weighted down by my resolution to try a new perfume-- ANY new perfume. Poor Felanilla ended up on the sacrificial altar of my to-do list.

I will say this: everyone else enjoyed Felanilla, even if I didn't. People passed me only to turn around and walk backwards, eyes wide, calling out, "You smell SO GOOD." At least two people added, "Shalimar?" and were puzzled at my reply: "Maybe now. But you should've been there when it started."

Scent Elements: Saffron, vanilla, iris, hay, banana wood, amber

L'Eau Mixte (Parfums De Nicolaï)

In early spring of 2011, I asked Scent Goddess supreme Carol of WAFT to recommend a light fragrance or two for my pal Nan. Carol responded not just with suggestions, but with an entire tote bag of perfume samples, which we promptly dubbed Carol's Bag of Wonderful. For this unsurpassed act of perfumista generosity, surely a deck chair has been reserved for Carol at the Mount Olympus cabana. Nan and I sent our thanks in the form of a vintage flacon of Jean Patou Joy-- perfect for flirting with Zeus over a tableful of mojitos.

Somewhere in the Bag of Wonderful lay Nan's true scent profile; only a course of dedicated testing would tease it out. Her nose established its own rules right off the bat. Spicy Orientals, juvenile sweets, and musky masculines were out, as were labdanum-heavy fragrances and roses of every stripe. These made one pile. The 'likelies' went on to the next round, which took place on Nan's wrists. Here she learned of that annoying phenomenon whereby a fragrance can smell marvelous in the bottle yet fail miserably on skin. Another pile began to grow, composed of perfumes which fell flat. What remained began to take the shape of a wardrobe-- sheer, zingy citrus florals, fragrances with tannic tea notes and touches of sea salt, and light, powdery aldehydes or heliotropes.

Only one perfume was kept separate from the rest-- and that was for Nan's own protection.

One day, while rooting around in the Bag of Wonderful (which we kept at work so that we could compare notes from down the desk row) Nan pulled out Patricia De Nicolaï's L'Eau Mixte. It all comes back to me: her coo of delight as she sniffed the open vial... the eagerness with which she lavished its contents on her wrists... and the walloping allergic reaction (complete with numb lips, itchy eyes, and constricted breathing) that struck her within sixty seconds. We rushed Nan to the lavatory to scrubbity-scrub... and tossed L'Eau Mixte straight into quarantine.

This unfortunate incident was the only blot on an otherwise triumphant experiment, thank heavens. After her quick trip to Histamine City, Nan rallied and bravely resumed course, winding up at the finish line with a terrific final scent wardrobe (Kenzo Flower, Lili Bermuda Coral and South Water, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis, Fresh Citron de Vigne, État Libre d'Orange Josephine Baker, Smiley by Smiley, Givenchy L'Interdit EdT, and Barney's Route du Thé-- the latter two gifts of mine).

And L'Eau Mixte? Banished to perfume Siberia.

Its parole process began when Blacknall Allen sent me a duplicate sample, which triggered one of those head-scratching, wait-don't-I-know-you? moments. Next, while laboring (as promised) to organize all of my samples in date-of-acquisition order, I unearthed the original sample of L'Eau Mixte from the deep dark wayback of a Scent Cabinet drawer. The moment seemed ripe for a retrial.

L'Eau Mixte's notes include grapefruit, blackcurrant, rose, mint, vetiver, oakmoss, and musk. Such a list immediately raises my hackles, since its first three notes top my own internal roll call of dealbreakers. Only days before, Michael and I had been trading comments about how frightening a grapefruit-blackcurrant combination would be. Sulphur plus cat tinkle! Whooo! Lo and behold, L'Eau Mixte takes that very same recipe-from-hell and turns it into something very close to heaven... only to get there, you have to pass through purgatory.

L'Eau Mixte's opening is where I most feel Nan's pain. A cursory bottle sniff suggests a delicious spicy pink grapefruit (a note which she loves well and which might have contributed to a slightly freer hand in application than caution would have advised).  But on skin, this transforms instantly with a flash of ice-white acetylene brightness into an intense cassis-spearmint combination that hits the brain like insta-freeze. I feel disoriented, dazzled, pierced clean through; I long to escape what seems to me like the warning rumble of a migraine-- or an Alpine avalanche, it's hard to tell.

After a minute, that high-pitched sonic squeal vanishes, and L'Eau Mixte immediately offers a sympathy rose as if to say, No hard feelings? None whatsoever. It's actually my favorite kind of rose, if a rose-hater can claim such a thing: peppery, tobacco-tinged, set within a calyx of dry and prickly greens. These set the stage for a beautiful chypre to unfold-- very crisp and austere, distinguished by a light dry vetiver.

But what about the blackcurrant? you ask. Damn. I was afraid you'd do that.

Friends, it's official. After all my huffing and head-tossing, cassis and I are semi-officially IN DEEP. I'm talking midnight whispered phone calls and notes tucked in pockets and pinkies clandestinely entwined under the table. Sure, in public we still snipe and snort and roll our eyes when the other is speaking. But turn the corner and you'll eavesdrop on a whole different tale. L'Ombre dans L'Eau, Magie Noire, Missoni Original, Odin Petrana... and now this. Who am I kidding? Me and blackcurrant, sittin' in a tree. No doubt grapefruit and rose will join us there presently.

True, blackcurrant can't shake that incredible ammoniac 'catty' quality which can be such an affront to the senses. But somehow I have learned to tolerate this in order to enjoy the bold, deep, fruity aspects of cassis. I'm no chemist, but I have read that the plaintive sharpness of odors such as blackcurrant, grapefruit, sage and fig leaves, tomato stems, and (yes) cat urine are linked through all sorts of common molecular groups-- ketones, oximes, mercaptans, sulphurs. Have I experienced a lowering of physical defenses against these molecules due to gradual, steady exposure? Would Nan become similarly desensitized over time? I wonder.

All things summed up and allowances made, L'Eau Mixte is a positive pleasure to wear. I feel certain that if only that overpowering top note had been tamed, it might have earned its place (roses or not!) as the central jewel in Nan's scent wardrobe.

Who knows?  It may yet stand to receive a full pardon.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, mint, grapefruit, blackcurrant buds, rose, jasmine, spices, vetiver, oak moss, musk

L'Eau de L'Artisan (L'Artisan)

L'Eau de L'Artisan (1993), Olivia Giacobetti's first creation for L'Artisan, is billed as a predominantly citrus fragrance by Michael Edwards. Perhaps this classification serves as a kind of fallback position, for there may be no easy category for something as strange and tactile as this fragrance.

Citrus is here all right, but imbedded in a strong and perfectly identifiable note of white glue. Very soon, a very fresh green grass note commandeers the fragrance-- but again, only for a moment; it seems to dry out right under your nose.  Scents, sights, and textures from marine landscapes (salt, sand, seaweed) work their way into the picture. The final impression: a tatami room overlooking the sea; unfurled over each window, matchstick bamboo shades swaying at the touch of a landward breeze's invisible hand.

Oh, and a glass of lemonade for Mr. Edwards.

Scent Elements: Lemon, verbena, mint, basil, marjoram, oakmoss, hay, seaweed, woods

Cozé (Parfumerie Générale)

Every time I go for one of those "choose any five" sets from the Perfumed Court, I end up hitting one sample out of the five so regularly that it's reduced to dregs before the others are even half finished. Cozé is that sample, and I believe my heavy repeated usage is due to my puzzlement over how to describe it.

I wear it in search of clues.

Sometimes Cozé smells like Shakedown Street. Sometimes Cozé smells like a Williams-Sonoma. Sometimes Cozé smells like those glass jars overflowing with dyed incense sticks you see down on the Boardwalk. Sometimes Cozé smells like a bowl of really top-notch mint stracciatella ice cream. My husband says it's all about the woods.  I swear that pimiento is the name of this game. We both agree about the marijuana note-- it's not the raw, skunky, green stuff evident in Dupetit Cannabis, but the complex, stratified smoky residue found clinging to a person who only intended to go see My Morning Jacket that one time three summers ago, and now look.

Cozé is magical, mystical, mesmerizing-- a sleepy, stoned, out-of-it fragrance for cuddling way down deep.  But if I'm going to drop everything to follow a full bottle cross-country, I'd have to say that Iris Taïzo (Cozé's close-lipped, slightly forbidding sister) is the one for me.

Between cruel and kind, cruel gets me every time.

Scent Elements: Indian hemp, patchouli, coffee, pimiento, pepper, sandalwood, ebony wood, Virginian cedar, tobacco, Bourbon vanilla

Yuzu Ab Irato (Parfumerie Générale)

In legalese, ab irato ("from an angry man") indicates a deed performed for sheer calculated spite. When one gives a gift ab irato, the intent is to cause maximum inconvenience to the recipient. Besides being impractical and expensive to upkeep, such gifts often come heavily entailed (in other words, next to impossible to unload). This recalls the old British "lucks"-- those hideous vases or screaming skulls which ancient families kept around, not because they loved them so goshdarned much, but because VILE THINGS happened to anyone who tried to get rid of them. (Cue supernatural cackling and organ music.)

If Yuzu Ab Irato is the product of malice, then this must be the Maya Angelou prank show. Here's a cologne as pretty and breezy as ever could be, full of zingy citrus, scintillating herbs, and a springtime freshness that projects a sense of hope for yards around. I can only imagine the giver's supposed "rage" to be adorable, like that of Rumpelstiltskin or Danny DeVito's Lorax-- a lot of hopping around and comedic cussing to which the only logical response is "Aaaawwwwwww."

I'm sure that would make him even madder. I can't imagine it could make Yuzu Ab Irato any nicer. Wear this one for whimsy!

Scent Elements: Yuzu, spearmint, thyme absolute, hyssop, pepper, magnolia, jasmine, hyacinth, myrtle, bamboo