Undercover angels.

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

But I'm onto them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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