Audace and audacity.

au·dac·i·ty \ȯ-ˈda-sə-tē\; n. (Middle English audacite, from Latin audac-, audax [alternately 'bold' and 'rash'])
1. The quality of fearless confidence or daring.
2. Insolent disregard of limits or restraints, especially those imposed by conventional propriety; foolhardiness; temerity; effrontery.
3. A brash, intrepid, or heedless act or statement.
4. Cheek,
chutzpah, nerve (slang)
In Italian, the adjective audace means a number of things: fearless, risque, insouciant. The title of the 1960 comedy caper Audace Colpo Dei Soliti Ignoti translates literally as as The Usual Suspects' Bold Stroke, but the English approximation -- Fiasco in Milan -- hints that the colpo is really a cock-up turned miraculously around at the very last minute. Similarly, the French phrase un coup d'audace indicates a breathtaking venture requiring a certain arrogance to even consider, let alone pull off. When encountered as a notation on a musical score, audace indicates an assault on one's instrument, audience, and possibly even good taste. In short, very punk rock.

During sleep, the human brain tends to ruminate over the last thing it encountered while still awake. Before drifting off last night, I flipped through a few pages of Barbara Herman's wonderful Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume. The final tidbit my eyes took in before they glazed over was the entry for Rochas Audace (1972), one of my all-time favorite evergreen chypres... and naturally, I woke up still thinking about it. No option remained but to go spelunking through all my perfume boxes until I found it-- an activity which exhausted fully fifteen minutes of my morning routine. But such a seemingly pointless pursuit often hides a kernel of significance, especially on a Monday morning.

What other day of the week calls for so much audace just to make it through?

Une Rose Chyprée (Tauer)

Normally, my spouse is our household's Christmas champion-- hoarding gift ideas and coordinating a steady influx of mystery boxes from mailbox to deepest, darkest closet. But this year, we both entered the holiday season on considerably less than 100% battery power. He needed ideas... and ideas had I none. What to do?

Answer: check email! That's where I found a surprise bulk message from Andy Tauer one bright autumn morning. (My first thought: Didn't I opt out of his mailing list a YEAR ago? My second thought: Thank god he didn't take me seriously!) In language both cordial and generic, he offered his subscribers a discount on the newly-debuted Tauer Explorer Set: three 15ml. spray vials of our choice packaged up in a signature slide-top tin.

For once, my husband's enthusiasm about fragrance equaled my own. He happily urged me to just go ahead and order the damn thing, and he'd give it to me on Christmas morn. Bingo!

Since I purchased my first Discovery Set three years ago, the Tauer catalog has nearly trebled (if you count those Luckyscent exclusives and Tableau de Parfums, Andy's collaboration with filmmaker/'fume-blogger Brian Pera). At the same time, international shipping costs have skyrocketed, diminishing my dream of ever sampling "one of each". Representing less than half of the total Tauer oeuvre, the Explorer Menu curtails one's choices even further. But it includes my two favorites -- L'Air du Désert Marocain and Lonestar Memories -- which I am duty-bound to buy whenever I see them. (Say I am not faithful to a vow!)  All I'd have to do is select ONE untried Tauer for a brand-new experience tucked among old favorites.

But which?

Vetiver Dance, Incense Rosé, and Incense Extrême were easy to eliminate. I'd already tried them, and while I liked them well enough, I'd never wear them with the same sort of passion that L'Air and Lonestar inspire. For different reasons, neither Orange Star, Une Rose Vermeille, Noontide Petals, nor Carillon Pour Ange provoked more than a "meh" from me. The description for Une Rose de Kandahar (almond! apricot! cinnamon! ambergris! TOBACCO ABSOLUTE!) sounded tempting, yet the mention of "a natural extract of roses produced in Afghanistan's rose region" unfortunately called to mind that nation's four other major industries: war, terrorism, misogyny, and heroin. (Cue me getting all stingy with my Western Imperialist devil dollars!)

So that left Une Rose Chyprée, about which I knew only that it had been the signature scent of a onetime fellow perfumista who routinely prefaced its name with the sobriquet "My beloved..." Sometimes, she'd use only the nickname, and everyone knew what fragrance she meant without needing it spelled out for them. That sort of devotion is worth a hundred wordy reviews-- so I chose Une Rose Chyprée. My rash decision has yet to yield a single solitary regret.

After unwrapping it on Christmas, I decided to spray some on before heading out to our traditional Chinese-buffet dinner. As a fragrant accompaniment to an exotic meal, nothing could have been more apt. Though zingy and bright, the mandarin-zest opening has a strange oily-sugary quality that calls to mind the almond cookie so often paired with a juicy orange segment on a Cantonese après-diner plate. This appetizing-yet-jarring effect does not persist past the first minute or so, after which all focus shifts to a gorgeously rich, spiced-up rose. The labdanum to which it is wedded happens to be one of the most luscious I've ever encountered, striking a perfect halfway mark between animalic and gourmand and proving once more Andy Tauer's unparalleled rapport with resin.

I've been wearing Une Rose Chyprée now for three days straight. Although I shower at intervals just to provide it with a fresh canvas, the spritzes I've applied every morning last all day, all evening, and overnight... and my desire to re-experience it from the top increases with every dawn. Awakening with cheek pillowed on my own perfume-imbued hair, it strikes me that Une Rose Chyprée may have been my ONLY possible choice all along, despite all that hemming and hawing. It certainly sits beside L'Air du Désert Marocain and Lonestar Memories as if to the sang impériale born-- at home and serenely comfortable amid fellow royalty.

I understand now why my pal pledged herself to it for life: there's something about this fragrance which inspires fealty. And if the giver of this gift counts himself as a convert, there may very well be TWO devotees to Une Rose Chyprée cozying up by the tree this Yuletide.

Scent Elements: Bay, cinnamon, bergamot, lemon peel, clementine, Bulgarian rose oil, rose absolute, geranium, labdanum, oakmoss, patchouli, vetiver, vanilla

Blossom (Robert Piguet)

The fact that Blossom was designed to appeal to the hyperpolite Japanese market is patently obvious in its very scent. Blossom was engineered to be released in tiny, measured puffs from a futuristic hi-tech SuperToilet as accompaniment to the white noise that politely masks your rude body noises from a horrified, judgmental world. If you don't want to smell sexy, dirty, or even necessarily human, boy oh boy, are you in luck.

Scent Elements: Neroli, mandarin, orange blossom absolute, bigarade, musk

Juliet Eau de Parfum (Juliet Stewart)

First off, I must say that the great reviews this fragrance has received are unbelievable. Literally: I cannot believe them. So many fancy adjectives to describe this blah little thing! Uplifting, refreshing, beautiful, gracious, lush, erotic, exquisite, enchanting, pleasurable, ultra-feminine, inspirational, elegant, unforgettable, luxurious, crystalline-- for real? Hands out and palms up, everyone: there's probable cause to check for traces of grease.

If bribery was included in the PR campaign, surely they leached it from the perfumer's budget. The evidence is Juliet itself-- a flimsy, tedious bore if ever I wore one. This must exemplify that school of perfumery in which fancy geographical qualifiers take the place of actual craft. The lemon is from Amalfi, the orange is from Sicily, the vanilla was sourced from Madagascar, and the "precious woods" can only be traced to that vast, ancient, and treacherous territory known vaguely as "the Orient". And where does all this wishful travelogue get Juliet? No further than square one, where it started-- and where, if we're fortunate, it will ultimately go to ground.

If I were smart (which at this point seems doubtful) I wouldn't waste my time writing about Juliet. Finally I understand why people think we ought to do away with negative reviews: not because they're mean, ill-mannered, or damaging to your karma, but because some fragrances flat-out do not deserve our words.

Scent Elements: Lemon, basil, bergamot, orange, jasmine, vanilla, amber, woods, and one hell of a lot of nerve to charge $145 for such a cynical nothing of a scent. I can only imagine that the extrait contains $55 more chutzpah and cynicism-- both, of course, from Provence.

Playing it tough.

Do you know that peculiar lack of regret with which certain talismans invest you? When the time comes to harden your heart, what do you reach for?

Yesterday was no good; the night, worse still. This morning, only Cabochard would do.

In certain situations, the last (and least helpful) thing you want encumbering you is manners. I cannot imagine, for instance, Ramón Monegal's oversweetened Mon Cuir getting my back in a tight spot. Sure, it's nice, in that namby-pamby, work-safe sense that is of no use whatsoever when the planet's falling down. Courtesy? I'm sure it has its time and place. But not now. And not here.

When my day traipsing through hell was over, I came home and renewed my Cabochard-- one generous spritz to the back of the neck, another to share between my wrists. Almost instantly, my husband looked over at me, an expression of palpable discomfort spreading over his face. And though I love him, I was not sorry.

I, not he, must wear this heavy armor.

Norell Vintage Pure Parfum (Revlon)

Expectation is raised to its highest pitch: a handsome woman drives rapidly by in a carriage drawn by thoroughbred ponies of surpassing shape and action; the driver is attired in the pork pie hat and the Poole paletot introduced by Anonyma; but alas!, she causes no effect at all, for she is not Anonyma; she is only the Duchess of A–, the Marchioness of B–, the Countess of C–, or some other of Anonyma's many imitators. The crowd, disappointed, reseat themselves, and wait. Another pony carriage succeeds – and another – with the same depressing result. At last their patience is rewarded. Anonyma and her ponies appear, and they are satisfied. She threads her way dexterously, with an unconscious air, through the throng, commented upon by the hundreds who admire and the hundreds who envy her. She pulls up her ponies to speak to an acquaintance, and her carriage is instantly surrounded by a multitude; she turns and drives back again towards Apsley House, and then away into the unknown world, nobody knows whither.

The above paragraph -- published in the Times in July 1862 -- describes an appearance on London's Rotten Row by the courtesan Catherine Walters (AKA 'Anonyma' or 'Skittles'). The ensuing riot cannot be blamed on the tight fit of her habit. At a time when men's mistresses stayed discreetly in the shadows, Walters had the effrontery to show her face in broad daylight on London's most fashionable thoroughfare. If she felt any trepidation about this act of public defiance, she hid it well. Chin high, gaze unblinking, hands steady on the reins, she rode forth to face Society-- and lucky for her, they liked the cut of her jib. Not until the Beatles happened along a century later would such hysteria overrun the streets of Empire.

Imagine having Skittles as your life coach. Oh, the things you'd pick up, sangfroid chief among them! Under her tutelage, your repartee would become sure and swift-- and all the Latin you'd ever need would be illegitimi non carborundum. But being a stone-cold bitch requires not just practice, but props. Why not let perfume deliver the coup de foudre for you?

I wrote once before about the supportive role chypres play in the life of a modern-day Hippolyta. Nothing but nothing fosters the warrior-woman ethos better than a potent mixture of moss, galbanum, and leather. Jolie Madame, Ma Griffe, Cabochard, Expression, Paloma Picasso: these generous duennas bid me (as might Vincent Millay) to "walk forth Hell's mistress... or my own."

Thus has Norell extrait schooled me all this week long. I have long enjoyed the arch elegance of the cologne spray version, but the extrait really is Not Kidding. Sparkly-dry up top, leatherclad and deadly serious below, she's frightfully strict as far as governesses go-- yet at the same time, she's prone to mixing in strange and salacious lessons amidst all the posture, deportment, and needlework. Something about the connection between sex and leather... what, finishing school? We haven't even started.

Now step aside... or feel her lash.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, birch tar, cardamom, cedar, oakmoss, coriander, galbanum, hesperides, hyacinth, iris, lavender, narcissus, oakmoss, reseda, sandalwood, vetiver

A Sunday sort of scent.

I must be on a kick. After wearing Kouros last weekend, I felt the urge to pull Yves Saint Laurent's La Nuit de l'Homme out of storage and wear it after a long hiatus. Once again, all of my reasons for liking this beautiful, low-key fougère have come to the fore. Within that stern-looking bottle, so many lovely surprises are concealed: a luxurious, soapy smoothness, like lather slipping over wet hot skin; savory hints of lavender and fresh-brewed coffee; a moist, glistening quality like pollen within the heart of a day lily. In its soft-spoken way, it projects a tranquility and sense of firm purpose that has always and will forever suggest Sunday morning to me.  And while I have far too many errands to waste time lounging around, La Nuit de l'Homme gives me a taste of the comfort and ease which await me at the end of all my labors.

Kouros Vintage Eau de Toilette (Yves Saint Laurent)

What I'm about to say might cause a platoon of fragrance chauvinists to swallow their tongues. For them, YSL Kouros is the genius loci of an inviolably male precinct, a sacred scent with whom no mere woman may traffic. The idea of me rocking their filthy-dirty stonking wunderfume would be purest anathema-- and yet I'm doing it as we speak, and the words that come most readily to mind are "big ol' cuddlebear".

Cue the falling-upon of swords!

All right, look. I won't emasculate Kouros entirely. This 1981 monolith deserves all the he-manly epithets with which the decades have graced it. It IS raunchy. It IS racy. It's hung like Liam Neeson and has a half-life that rivals vanadium. But everything about it that could be overwhelming (the brisk face-slap of aromatic wormwood, the whiplash sting of civet-soaked leather) is tempered by something remarkably benign (rosy florals, ozonic amber, the scent of Chinese five-spice). Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Like fun. This is no angry deity, but a gentle, downy-cheeked, smiling youth of the sort immortalized in a thousand Tom of Finland illustrations. He knows how much further a soft word will get him than a growl; that macho pose is just the icing on some very, very sweet cake.

So here's to the boy who cleans up nice and plays well with girls. He'll never need to twist my arm. (Hear that, Hugo Boss?)

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, artemisia, coriander, clary sage, cinnamon, bergamot, carnation, iris, jasmine, geranium, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, honey, leather, tonka, labdanum, ambergris, musk, civet, vanilla

Ambre Noir (Sonoma Scent Studio)

I once knew a young man whose natural body scent was so divine it bordered on narcotic. Musky, sweet, distinctive, it acted as a pheromonal lure to people of all ages and genders, who died like moths in the flame of his beauty. He did not want their attention; in fact, it made him painfully self-conscious. In an effort to repel his followers, he would deliberately go for days without bathing, washing his hair, or changing his clothes. Alternately, he attempted to hide behind cheap aerosol drugstore scents, applying layer after layer of flimsy camouflage. It never worked. That extraordinary scent could not be vanquished-- and its mystifying effect on others continued to trouble him.

All this he confessed to me face to face, in the midst of a close embrace. We had been friends before we became lovers; the quirks and turnings of his soul were well-known to me long before I experienced the heaven of his body. I loved to follow the silken ribbon of his voice as he whispered his secrets to me. Our shared candor was a disarmament, a mutual letting-down of our guards. He could confess his perplexity at the power of this quality to which he himself was insensible... and I could confess to him without penalty that I was as besotted by it as anyone.

A photograph or recording can sometimes startle us into thinking "Is this how I really look? Do I sound like that?" But can we ever know our own smell as others know it? If my friend had come upon his own aroma by accident, would he recognize himself the way I still do?

Ambre Noir both raises and answers this question every time I apply it to my skin. The sweet intimacy of its notes summons up a pale hologram of my erstwhile lover, from whom I have been estranged for years. I loved him, and I loved his scent; I thought both were proof of a goodness to which no foul thing could lay claim. There was a time when I conflated his story with that of Laure Richis -- the beautiful victim of Patrick Süskind's Perfume, whose fragrance makes her the unwitting target of other people's illusive desires. But Ambre Noir has introduced the disturbing thought that perhaps his vulnerability had been the illusion all along-- a mirage to hide a monstrous darkness that I only glimpsed when it was much too late.

Scent Elements: Labdanum absolute, amber, rose, olibanum, myrrh, vetiver co-distilled with mitti (earth), oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli, Texas cedarwood, sandalwood, clove, castoreum

Wood Violet (Sonoma Scent Studio)

When it's as instant and as galvanizing as this, love tends to shut language down. I can't find a detour, and I won't return the way I came, so I pull over and just sit-- hands limp, eyes unfocused, car keys tossed aside on the passenger seat. What else is there to do?

If other violets have passed you by and left you stranded by the roadside, this will be the one that stops for you. Finally.

Scent Elements: Violet, plum, cedar, cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, violet leaf, musk

Champagne de Bois and Vintage Rose (Sonoma Scent Studio)

Scentwise, yesterday proved an odd and pensive day. I'd deliberately eschewed fragrance the day before to restore my nose to its original factory settings. When I put on Champagne de Bois (described by many as a Bois des Îles-esque aldehydic sandalwood with impressive sillage and persistence), I expected to be knocked flat on my ass.


When I think of champagne or aldehydes, I envision a whizz! pop! sensory effect, sparkling and buoyant. When I think of sandalwood, I expect the sweet-buttery-sleepy scent of warm skin. Champagne de Bois left me disappointed on both counts. This is one of the most undemonstrative aldehydics I've yet to encounter, not to mention one of the chilliest sandalwoods. After an initial burst of chemical coldness and something that smelled like lemony frankincense, it was as if I'd never put on perfume at all-- at least to my own nose. My husband and my pal JC seemed able to smell Champagne de Bois, if only fleetingly in the close quarters of a hug. Most tellingly, Champagne de Bois did not even seem to trigger my husband's superhuman hypersensitivity to aldehydes. I mean, he can detect that stuff from ten miles away-- but his meter's needle barely twitched. What gives?

Growing ever more puzzled about its disappearing act, I reapplied Champagne de Bois twice during the day, with similar results. I started feeling lost and bereft, as when I go scentless by accident, with no backup fragrance in my purse to remedy the oversight. As soon as I got home from work, I pulled out Vintage Rose (the next sample in my Sonoma Scent lineup) and went to town. Wrists, inner elbows, throat, nape, cleavage... the works. You could smell me from space.

Now it's the morning after, and Vintage Rose's plummy, assertive damascenones are still going hella-strong. I'm enjoying them, but not really more or differently than I enjoyed Rose Musc after the cacosmia wore off. It's funny-- I can connect this rose's tomato-herb quality to that of Guerlain's Nahéma, but it is evident that the latter perfume benefited from a superior sandalwood and thus was saved from its own acid tang. Whether Laurie Erickson's sandalwood isn't powerful or plentiful enough, one thing is certain: it doesn't compete.

Still, her perfumes are essentially friendly ones-- and a nice, accessible scent is better than no scent at all. Champagne de Bois may have left me cold, but Vintage Rose brought me back from hypothermia. After a delightful hot shower, I'll be trying out Wood Violet-- and owing to violet's notoriously reticent nature, I'll wager that this final Sonoma Scent experiment may seem like even less perfume than Champagne de Bois.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, jasmine, clove, sandalwood, labdanum absolute, vetiver, amber (Champagne de Bois); rose, plum, amber, labdanum absolute, sandalwood, cedar, vetiver, tonka (Vintage Rose)

Winter Woods (Sonoma Scent Studio)

I probably would have liked Winter Woods better if I hadn't already encountered its extraordinary sister, Incense Pure. Had I never crossed paths with Michael Storer's Winter Star -- a fragrance which states a similar premise in bolder olfactory language, and in tones less plaintively sweet -- I may have found myself more smitten. But for another wearer, who knows? Winter Woods could conceivably serve as a gateway perfume, providing clues to what one might enjoy if only one possesses the fortitude to delve deep.

And anyway, Winter Woods is still a lovely thing-- as cozy as a mink toque and muff on a frigid day. If Incense Pure strikes me as the scent of a Tsarevna in full court regalia, Winter Woods laces up her ice skates and sets her to twirling on the frozen Neva.

Girls (even princesses!) just want to have fun.

Scent Elements: Guaiacwood, cedar, sandalwood, birch tar, cade, oakmoss absolute, castoreum, amber, labdanum absolute, vetiver, ambergris, musk.

Rose Musc (Sonoma Scent Studio)

A rather distressing symptom related to brain tumors and seizure disorders is phantosmia, otherwise known as olfactory hallucinations or 'phantom odors'. Even a lovely smell can provoke anxiety when you know damn well that it's coming from nowhere... and that a blinding migraine or even convulsions will almost surely follow. In its most unwelcome form, phantosmia morphs into cacosmia-- the perception of a rotting, rancid, decaying, or burnt (yet utterly nonexistent) odor. The brain dredges up its worst scent memories (dead fish, scorched rubber, raw garlic, fresh shit) and tosses them out there for reinspection. Gee whillikers; thanks!

The first time I wore Rose Musc, I had a simple partial seizure (completely coincidental, of course). That day, I'd been operating under a double whammy of insomnia and ovulation, two potent precursors to an intracranial fireworks show. For about five minutes, I marveled at how lovely Rose Musc was-- so rich, so red, so leathery-animalic -- and then the sulphurous scent of raw onions overran everything. For half an hour, I kept asking my husband, "Come on, level with me; you can't NOT smell that," and he patiently maintained that I must be having a heavy burtation*. Steadfast in my desire to blame it all on the perfume, I went and took a shower. But while under the spray, I suffered a brief but startling auditory hallucination; it lasted only seconds and sounded like a fire alarm in volume and intensity. Most importantly, it succeeded in getting poor Rose Musc off the hook. Clearly, my very own brain -- and NOT Sonoma Scent Studios-- was responsible for my woe.

I'm wearing Rose Musc again today. I do not smell any onions, thank god, although now that my neural pathways have cleared, I do notice that the rose essence used herein has a somewhat savory quality. It falls about halfway between Guerlain Nahéma's tomato-rose and the strangely foccaccia-like Zephir by Parfums de Rosine-- and it lands farther from India Gulab or Fleurs de Bulgarie territory than I'd originally gauged.

So it's not bad... but not entirely all in my head, either.

*Which I have rather frequently, in case you think I'm making fun of this poor reporter.

Scent Elements: Rose petals, ambergris, labdanum absolute, skin musks

Fig Tree (Sonoma Scent Studio)

Lately I've felt reluctant to try perfumes that are unfamiliar to me. I keep reaching for those that have already earned my trust and in which I know I can find complete security. I never reckoned I might stumble upon an approximation of this feeling in unexplored territory, but Laurie Erickson's perfumes lend me confidence. I may be wary of many of my sample vials, but not of hers.

Capturing the scent of real figs is a standard exercise among perfumers, who use oximes and lactones to construct their facsimiles. The scent of fresh figs blends reliably well with a fixed menu of other, mostly gourmand elements (tea, blackcurrant, peach, apricot, coconut, cedar, sandalwood, musk) but the perfumer is by no means limited to these. Fig is paired with fresh aquatic and saline notes in many masculines and at least one feminine-- Thierry Mugler's Womanity, in which the fruit finds itself shipwrecked on a desert island in the company of caviar and vetiver.

But what's simplest is best with Ficus carica-- and Erickson knows it. Her Fig Tree is a minimalist masterpiece: bitter greenery, milky sap, syrupy fruit, fragrant wood. No whistles and bells, no buffet tables full of extraneous ingredients. It is exactly what it says it is -- a fig tree -- and in the setting sun, its fruit-laden branches seem dipped in liquid gold.

Scent Elements: Green fig, vanilla, cedar, patchouli, tonka, musk

Interlude Man (Amouage)

Basically Viktor + Rolf Spicebomb with more oud, less longevity, and literally three times the price tag ($225/50ml as compared with Spicebomb's $75/50ml).  Color me as surprised as you. But in all respects -- olfactorially as well as economically -- I find the downmarket Spicebomb so much more pleasurable to wear than this uptown stuff.  The moral: money talks; Amouage walks.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, oregano, pimiento, amber, frankincense, opopanax, labdanum, myrrh, oud, patchouli, sandalwood

Interlude Woman (Amouage)

" the heart of chaos and disorder, this floral chypre fragrance reveals an interlude moment of unity and sentiment..."
This is why I distrust advertising. Told to expect "chaos" from Interlude Woman, eight out of ten reviewers did just that-- even making that word the very theme of their assessments. I've since read so many reviews alluding to the tohu-bohu of Interlude Woman's scent elements, I ought to consider it a foregone conclusion, too.

But I smelled it before I ever read the promo copy, and my first impression was of something far simpler and more innocent than "chaos". In fact, upon my return from Sniffapalooza -- and before any outside opinions could influence me -- I boiled it down to six words: Odd but compelling floral Play-Doh.

In a manner similar to Jacomo Art Collection #2, Interlude Woman smells like the contents of a grade-school art studio-- a place of promise where crayons, oil pastels, and tubs of bright-colored polymer clay give off a rich, waxy scent conducive to creativity. This is the spirit of childhood distilled and bottled to be worn by adults-- brighter and more spirited than Art Collection #2, but still redolent of the peaceful, happy hush that accompanies the act of making stuff.

I can't smell half the individual notes listed in the scent elements, mostly because they've been woven so compactly into one another that there's no picking and pulling them apart. Of the few that I do detect, dulcet orange blossom, spicy marigold, and piquant rose predominate-- blended together beneath a whispery haze of powdered suede. There are no sharp edges here; all angles, lines, and planes have been softened to an artful, lovely blur.

Playful without being childish, nostalgic without being melancholy, this fragrance packs just the right amount of adventure in its pencilbox. I may not be able to locate one smidge of the "chaos and disorder" with which it's is supposed to be invested. .. but the "unity and sentiment" part, I do get.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, grapefruit, ginger, marigold, rose, jasmine, orange blossom, immortelle, opopanax, sandalwood, frankincense, coffee, kiwi, honey, oud, vanilla, amber, benzoin, oakmoss, leather, tonka, musk

The Mémoire Liquide Reserve Edition (Mémoire Liquide)

It takes no special powers of perception to note that the fragrance industry, both mainstream and niche, cranks out new releases at a lunatic rate. The bottom line (rather than creativity or originality) motivates this effort. Perfume houses want to make money, and lots of it. Profit -- lovely stuff! -- is driven by brand visibility, which in turn is secured by as many perfume launches as you can shoehorn into a calendar year.

Look closely, and a couple of different modi operandi make themselves plain. First, there's the time factor. Established corporate houses such as Chanel, Coty, and Estée Lauder can afford to be more sanguine about their launch schedules, floating a gentle succession of flankers and limited-edition reissues downstream between major new launches. But niche houses -- particularly brand-new ones -- tend to go for broke straight out of the gate, blitzing the market with oversized multi-fragrance collections that leave consumers stunned. If one were to compare perfume with intravenous drugs (and who hasn't?), Coty & Friends clearly favor the slow IV-drip delivery method, while niche tries to pack it all into one fateful syringe. That's how overdoses happen-- not a pretty way to go.

Secondly, there's theme. Some collections (such as A Dozen Roses) are variations on a single note. Others cleave to the box-of-chocolates format, offering "one of every flavor"-- a bridal orange blossom, a sex-goddess tuberose, a citrus-tea cologne, a gourmand vanilla, and the obligatory oud. (One senses the artistic director's panic lest any potentially deal-breaking genre be omitted.) If nothing really matches, just link it all together with a series of evocative names the way Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's been doing for years. Their Ars Amatoria collection consists of more than fifty (!) perfume oils all connected by the most tenuous of premises... and knowing BPAL, all fifty probably smell like a Jolly Rancher Jumbo-Pack.

Thirdly, there's presentation. One often sees identical bottles, each filled with a 'fume of a different (but complementary) hue, arranged as if in a police-station lineup (as here and here). If there are enough of them, they may come numbered à la Odin New York, Tokyo Milk, or CB I Hate Perfume. If it's a male/female duo launch, the bottles can be identical, but the selection pour femme should always be prettily pastel (as here). Easy-peasy, right?

Finally, there's the consideration of usage. Does each fragrance in the set stand alone as a finished product? Or is the consumer meant to use them as "ingredients" to mix up their own clumsy potions at home? (If Jo Malone represents the high-end neighborhood of the DIY model, Demeter Fragrance Library surely occupies its working-class suburbs.)

While it's challenging enough to navigate a coffret that comes from a known and trusted source (i.e. Christian Dior's Collection Privée; Cartier Les Heures de Parfum), confronting a massive multi-launch from a newcomer is a near-Herculean trial. Who can keep up? Not me, I tell you what. I find myself spent before I even toe the starting line. This may explain why I have yet to review these Mémoire Liquide samples I got at Sniffapalooza over a year ago.

Oh, God, I thought to myself both then and now. Another drop in the bucket.

I'm given to understand that Mémoire Liquide first emerged in 2006, debuting with no fewer than one hundred and fifty essences, all grouped in twee little categories comprising a vast mixable-matchable "bespoke bar". Just reading about it makes me crave a Centrum Silver and a nap. The Reserve Edition of five EdPs (Encens Liquide, Fleur Liquide, Soleil Liquide, Vacances Liquide, and Amour Liquide) marks its maker's foray into prêt-à-porter. Clearly, they've been cut using existing industrial patterns, one size fits all.

So here I am, trying to be fair and give these fragrances a chance... and I just feel tired. TIRED. Nothing's been left to chance-- and when I say that, I mean not only that every expected mark has been hit, but that absolutely no risks have been taken in the process. Even the color-coded-but-otherwise-uniformly-identical packaging of these samples deflects all curiosity. Nothing to see here, people; move along, move along...

Encens Liquide smells like a sweeter, wetter, cheaper version of Ambre Sultan. Fleur Liquide is a regulation orange blossom; Soleil Liquide a by-the-book "fresh" hesperides. Vacances Liquide is Parfums De Nicolaï Cococabana back from the dead. Amour Liquide is every single ethylmaltol-vanilla gourmand you have ever, ever smelled. Oriental: check. Bridal floral: check. Eau de Calone®: check. Cabo San Lucas vacation for two: check. Shit that smells like candy: check.

The worst thing? It's knowing that there are so many other boring collections out there just like this one... and you'll never know just how mind-deadening they are until you try them. Honest to goodness, it makes you want to cry.

Scent Elements: Amber, tea, white musk, hinoki cypress (Encens); orange blossom, mimosa, jasmine (Fleur); Madagascar vanilla, tonka bean, incense (Amour); grapefruit, tangerine, blood orange, neroli, sandalwood, white musk (Soleil); tiare, coconut, Tahitian vanilla, marine accords (Vacances)

Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime (Jacomo)

I've been on a severe galbanum kick lately. Ma Griffe, Via Lanvin, Chanel No. 19... if it's mean and green, I'm first in line.

I'm sure this craving is due to the fact that I'm experiencing serious ambivalence about my job-- not a comfortable prospect, having already sunk thirteen years of my life into it. Every day brings eight hours of anger and humiliation; every night the tears I've held in come pouring out. I tell myself I'm doing it for my husband, our kitty cat, our cozy home, the almighty pension... but wearing galbanum? That's for me. Its crisp, cold, standoffish quality helps me to maintain the necessary distance to tolerate (as Ian Curtis put it) the day in, day out, day in, day out.

However, during off-hours, one needs to gear down into a slightly more forgiving frame of mind-- otherwise your spouse, cat, and home (not to mention the pension) will never be as happy as you'd like. If the galbanum featured in the original 1978 Silences is a bit too brutal for home wear, the new(ish) Silences EdP Sublime offers a touch of sweetness along with sanctuary.

The combination of cassis and galbanum always totals up to a triumph in my book. In Silences Sublime -- as in another great green cassis, Missoni Original -- the mutual sharpness of these two notes are displayed to best advantage in contrast to a third, much sweeter note. In Missoni, it's honey; here, it's a nectary pear. The wearer has all the benefit of galbanum's edginess without its accompanying froideur.

By Wednesday, when this four-day weekend is over, I may well be back in Ma Griffe. But for now, I'll take the kinder, gentler route. If you knew me, you would thank me for it.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, cassis, galbanum, pear, rose, iris, narcissus, lily-of-the-valley, vetiver, sandalwood, musk

Celtic Fire (Union Perfume)

Union Perfume calls its smoketastic Celtic Fire an "ode to wode". This is the second instance (after Boudicca Wode) in which a perfume house has tapped the Pictish warpaint for inspiration... and then blithely misspelled it. But I suppose "wode" looks sexier on paper than "woad", a root word so ancient that it has only ever been used to describe two things: a specific flowering weed and the blue dye it produces.

Woad (Isatis tinctoria*) is one-third of a great ancient triumvirate of plants wild-gathered by tribal people to dye their homespun fibers. The highborn enjoyed access to saffron, Tyrian purple, cochineal, and kermes scarlet. But woad, weld (Reseda tinctoria) and madder (Rubia tinctorum) provided the primary blue, yellow, and red pigments with which humble folk proudly identified their tribal lineage.

What would a band of roving Keltoi smell like? Union Perfume posits a blend of peat fire, evergreen boughs and well-worn leather fortified with the yeasty, bittersweet aroma of freshly-poured stout. Fair enough, says I. But this fragrance is really nothing more than a great, smoky vetiver... which sounds rather less British than 'wode', but is still bloody fan-freaking-tastic.

I won't pretend that the rites of Samhain or the Battle of Bannockburn cannot be imagined to exist in Celtic Fire. If I took it down onto the street and conducted a series of vox populi sniff tests, someone would almost certainly propose a round of Guinness or a caber toss in due time. But I get no peat, pine, leather, or Marmite from this thing-- just a ton of delicious, rich, autumnal vetiver. And because I adore vetiver, I don't mind Union's tricksy use of suggestive language to evoke a more mythical vision.  Surely someone kissed the Blarney Stone en route to launching Celtic Fire-- but with this marvelously long-lasting fragrance on my wrists, I'll be damned if I complain.  Give me glamourie over glamour any day!

*Was Givenchy thinking of woad when it named a perfume Ysatis? It may have nothing to do with that plant's indigo dye, but woad flowers are the purest golden yellow... rather like Givenchy's jus.

Scent Elements: Peat, oak, fir, pine, birch tar, myrtle, Marmite

Ma Griffe Vintage Parfum (Carven)

Working in a reference library, I've helped many an amateur genealogist launch their own family-roots expedition. Most begin the journey into "days of yore" with a healthy, playful sense of adventure. They end much the same way: satisfied with the few gems they find and content to let all the rest go.

But there are some who traverse the past as if chased by an army of angry ghosts. Dead ends and dry wells that would scarcely break the stride of other, happier conquistadores cause them to burn with a feverish frustration that only more facts can soothe. In these weary travelers, I glimpse a reflection of certain perfume aficionados for whom the question of vintage is something to gnaw and worry and scrap over like an everlasting ham bone. They fixate on infinitesimal details of box, bottle, and label-- all leading, of course, to the debate over whether (and how much for the worse) the jus itself has changed over time. This, they are willing to debate until Armageddon. In fact, I am reasonably certain they may ultimately be the cause of Armageddon... at which point they will start arguing about whether their brimstone is synthetic or naturally sourced.

Me, I'm the worst kind of perfume heretic: I just like to wear the stuff. Reasons, excuses, and apologies are unnecessary. Whether it's old or new, niche or mainstream, famous or obscure, currently in production or discontinued decades ago, fragrance provides me with adventure, diversion, and stimulation. Believe me, I enjoy the historical anecdotes and apocrypha that build up around it as much as the next perfumista. But nothing excites me as much as the wearing of it. E'en be it blasphemy, I just cannot manage to get myself all worked up over production lot numbers.

That being said, I did wonder about the two miniature bottles of Ma Griffe parfum and eau de toilette I recently snagged. The one with the "spiral C" stopper smells a whole lot like my previous eau de toilette sample (and makes use of that same funky '70's font). The other is a gorgeously brisk extrait whose greenery strikes the ideal balance between bitter and milky before mellowing down to a swoon-inducing sandalwood. It came to me in a gorgeous, diminutive green-and-white striped box precisely fitted to the square bottle, on whose base a gold label indicates "Jacqueline Cochran New York" as the distributor.

But what year? Machete in hand, I set out to bushwhack my way through the encyclopedic underbrush. It didn't take long to discover a trail.

Founded in 1946 by Mme. Marie-Louise Carven-Grog (birth name: Carmen de Tomasso), the Parisian fragrance house known as Parfums Carven was acquired in 1966 by Shulton, an American cosmetics conglomerate of which Jacqueline Cochran had become a subsidiary the preceding year. According to "The Story of Shulton", a corporate prospectus published in 1967, Cochran thereafter became Carven's official worldwide distributor. By 1984 Ma Griffe belonged to the Beecham Group; from this I deduce that my parfum is anywhere from three to four and a half decades old.

At that age, I'd call it vintage. Wouldn't you?

Moving onward, Beecham ceded Parfums Carven to Worth in 1992. It passed to Daniel Harlant in 1998, then to Groupe Jacques Bogart in 2010. (I can't even keep count of the number of bottle redesigns it went through-- more costume changes than a runway model at New York Fashion Week.) At the moment, Carven is the property of SAS & Company Limited, the UK outfit which markets 'fumes for Justin Bieber, Rihanna, One Direction, and other bastions of the fickle youth market. Nothing wrong with that... right?

So it's clear that Ma Griffe is a genealogist's dream. From a single seed, its tree has branched out to all horizons, and its foliage continues to flourish. Still, a recent article has me somewhat confused as to whether the 2013 relaunch version of Ma Griffe is a true descendant. Thomas of Candy Perfume Boy ascribes it with "motherly softness". SOFTNESS? Holy cow. This brings new meaning to "not your mother's Ma Griffe".

Scent Elements: Gardenia, galbanum, citrus, aldehydes, clary sage, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, orris, ylang-ylang, styrax, oakmoss, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, labdanum

Lys Fume (Tom Ford)

Today I wore Lys Fume and experienced a kick in the balls similar (in impact, if not in particular details) to the one I received when I wore Jivago White Gold and subsequently had to put on Hindu Kush to regain my self-respect. I didn't guess ahead of time that either the perfume or the potshot was going to have this effect, so I shouldn't really be so hard on myself. But if you smell like a wimp, people will treat you like one. Lesson learned.

Bring out your torches and pitchforks, motherfuckers, because tomorrow it's Union Celtic Fire.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, nutmeg, pink pepper, turmeric, davana, lily, ylang-ylang, dark rum, oak, cistus labdanum, styrax, Madagascar vanilla

Cabochard and Mephisto: A pas de deux.

Having a brain tumor is indeed a danse apache. Instead of a Montmartre pimp for a partner, I have Mephisto-- the chickpea-sized lesion that presses deep into my left frontal lobe like an accusing fingertip. I demonstrate for him daily every ounce of my fury and contempt, tossing my head and turning away in purest defiance from his rough, unwanted overtures. And what does he do? He hauls me back, bends me this way and that, flings me down and yanks me to my feet-- all the while remaining invisible, untouchable, devoid of remorse. From his magisterial throne safe within my skull, he calls all the shots. Ah, la chienne de vie!

But I have hit upon a way to tame my inner demon: copious amounts of vintage Cabochard. Something in this farouche herbal leather brings the little fiend to heel. In fact, Mephisto himself must be directing me on the day I head out in blind search of vintage perfume... and come home with a lifetime supply of his favorite.

I'd heard rumors that the antique store where DC and I uncovered our first bottle of Cabochard had just reopened after months of renovation. Could that faceless, magical vendor from whom I'd bought Cabochard, Réplique, Shalimar, Jolie Madame, Joy, and my precious vintage Crêpe de Chine extrait still be consigning there? The answer: hell no. The Point Pleasant Antiques Emporium has transformed itself from a chaotic treasure attic to upscale "home accents gallery", all spartan whitewashed walls and modern ceiling fans a-twirl-- and no room nor use for perfume. (Bastards!)

Discouraged but not yet defeated, I walk two blocks over to the Point Pavilion Antiques Center on Arnold Avenue-- another place where my Fairy 'Fume-Mother has been known to consign. Again, nothing. Now feeling positively grim, I get back in my car and just start driving. No goal, no aim; I just want to clear my head. But Mephisto, in his usual domineering fashion, begins turning the steering wheel toward Red Bank. That town having been perfume-dry for months, I naturally think him deluded-- but he's the boss, applesauce, so I do as I'm bidden.

There will be (he assures me) ample time to thank him.

No sooner do I walk down the center aisle than a chill of realization hits me. In front of me sits a quaint carved-wood vitrine-- familiar, yet curiously out of place. Of course it is-- for it used to sit in the Point Pleasant Antiques Emporium, dispensing scented delights. I look closer. Sure enough, through its glass panels I glimpse a most distinctive bottle, adorned with a bow tie of taupe velvet ribbon under a frosted-glass stopper embossed with a G. Right next to it sits a full and unopened vintage flacon of Guerlain Chamade extrait, as casual and companionable as you please.

Aha, says Mephisto.

Store employees direct me to an elderly man, recognizable as the gentleman from whom my pal JC had purchased a rare amethyst-glass hobnail vase two years ago. I point out the perfume bottles, and he beams. With much arthritic key-fumbling, he manages to extract Cabochard from the vitrine. I carefully pull the stopper out and inhale deeply. Mephisto concurs: it's perfection.

"Oh, can I?" the old man says. I hold the stopper to his nose. "Yes... yes. These are my wife's," comes his rusty murmur. Inside me, Mephisto sends a tingle across my scalp. Could it be...?

"She has so many perfumes, consigned here and there, all over the place," the gentleman (my Fairy 'Fume-FATHER?) continues. "She hated to give them up, but they're more than she could ever wear herself..."

"I think I've ended up with some of them over time," I tell him carefully. "Every single one has been so perfectly preserved; they are among the best I have ever had. Please thank her for me, and let her know these are going to a very appreciative home."

"Oh, she'll like that."

Driving home with both precious bottles paper-wrapped beside me on the car seat, I think of my other passenger-- Mephisto, with whom I so often find myself engaged in a pitched battle. Is it possible that he is the source of that sixth sense I've described which pulls me unerringly like a dowsing rod in the direction of things I cannot see? Is this what happens when I stop fighting against him and just let him lead?

May I have my reward now?
he asks.

Smug little fucker. I make him wait until the car is no longer in motion to dab more Cabochard on our wrists.

Breathless Vintage Eau de Toilette (Parfums Charbert)

The 1933 debut fragrance of Parfums Charbert -- a Manhattan cosmetics company established to serve the "middle market" -- Breathless lagged one graduating class behind Tabu and preceded Shocking de Schiaparelli by a full four years. Clearly, popular culture had picked up on Tabu's down-and-dirty strategy and decided to storm the goal post. How better to achieve this aim than by populating the playing field with an entire team of smell-alikes? Hut-hut!

If one counts Tabu as the kickoff and Shocking as the final spectacular touchdown, Breathless is the quarterback who gets tackled only seconds after the snap-- and on his very first play, too! But don't consign this rookie to the sideline bench just yet. With a nice slug of skanky civet, a hint of moss murmuring in the background, and a yummy cream-soda finish, this pleasant little patchouli rose isn't exactly a game-changer. But it wears its varsity letter with pride. Go, team, go!

Scent Elements: Dear god, I have no idea. If I had to guess, I'd mark down patchouli and civet as certainties, with theoretical appearances by rose, benzoin, and musk.

Vamp à NY (Honoré des Prés)

I would have worn this sooner if I had not read a fellow blogger's assessment of it as "vile". In the comments thread, a crowd gathered to applaud her before adding their own epithets to the pile. I love that you HATE this, one crowed. Blech, shuddered another.

They're all right, of course; this is not a good perfume. It's simultaneously cloying, sweet, short-lived, and boring-- essentially Kai on an austerity budget. It does absolutely nothing to overturn my dislike of tuberose. And for such a "futuristic" perfume (Honoré des Prés founder Olivia Giacobetti's word, not mine), its drydown smells like sun-spoiled Youth Dew, or Granny's tatty old underpants. I wore it today; I won't wear it again. There are mistakes one never makes twice, unless one is a fool.

Scent Elements: Tuberose, rum, vanilla, benzoin, balsam Tolu, balsam Peru

Femme Jolie (Sonoma Scent Studio)

At long last, October has gone on record to declare summer officially over. This morning -- wet, cold, blustery, forbidding -- I thought I might attempt to wear one of the many yet-untried samples that glare daggers at me every time I open the Scent Cabinet. But truth be told, I felt so weepy and out-of-sorts that I couldn't bear to spend the day with a stranger. I needed some kind of warm, soft, and (above all) familiar fragrance that would cushion my heart against breakage.

Without question, Femme Jolie makes an ideal protective covering for thin-skinned days. Ever since Patty introduced us at Sniffapalooza, I have found this gracious pashmina shawl of a perfume to be the very embodiment of merciful lovingkindness. I agree with all who have already remarked upon its kinship to Serge Lutens' Féminité du Bois, but I find Femme Jolie's plum-and-sandalwood to be warmer, more buttery and enfolding, laden with certain humble consolations absent in its august predecessor. And oy, that base-- a musk-incense-labdanum mélange so luxuriously warm, the chill of fear or anxiety cannot penetrate its golden aura.

If my angst gets worse and my urge to hibernate outpaces me, I'll certainly reach for Michael Storer's wondrous Winter Star (which is almost nothing but musk, and appropriately low-down-and-dirty besides). But while my strength holds out, I will dress myself in Femme Jolie and cling to the hope that its gentleness will rub off on me.

Scent Elements: Ginger, cinnamon, clove, plum, peach, orange blossom, violet, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, musk, labdanum

Champs-Élysées (Guerlain)

Are you ready? Dig this.
The perfume bursts forth with a crystalline laugh: The transparency of rose with frosted petals softens the rise of tender, crushed mimosa leaves. In parallel, the light, acidic tempo of cassis berries harmonizes with the subtlety of almond tree flowers. The supremely refined and delicately sensitive heart palpitates with the silky shudder of mimosa flowers. These minuscule suns catch fire and lend the skin unexpected sensuality, a buoyant, dancing light that illuminates Buddleia, that enchanted tree known as the butterfly bush, which each spring welcomes clouds of butterflies that flock toward its spellbinding, lilac-accented scent. This long caress becomes pure voluptuousness when the dry-down blends carnal accents of hibiscus seed with the softness of almond tree wood.
"The silky shudder of mimosa flowers"? "Carnal accents of hibiscus seed"? Shut UP.

Well, at least the fragrance is nowhere near as egregious as the promotional copy, no matter what Luca Turin says. I can see how he might object to smelling like a Tokyo pop tween, but so far as "youthful" fragrances go, a kid could do worse. Not so the mature woman: at the age of forty-odd, I feel like mutton dressed up as spring lamb wearing Champs-Élysées. I imagine it was even worse for my mother, who requested and received a gift bottle at the age of sixty only to find that it made her smell literally like the supermarket candy aisle.

Moral of story: be careful what you wish for, because you might just get 75 ml. of it.

Scent Elements: Peach, cassis, melon, mimosa, almond, heliotrope, violet, anise, peony, lilac, muguet, rose, sandalwood, cedar, benzoin, ambrette, vanilla

Lei Flower (Providence Perfume)

Composed in 2010 by Charna Ethier, Lei Flower smells like no lei flower I ever encountered during the whole time that I lived in Hawai'i. Blossoms commonly used for such floral tributes included plumeria, jasmine, and carnations-- none of which smell like the immortelle that clearly dominates this fragrance. I hardly smell anything else, but then, that's the nature of immortelle-- it forces every perfume it inhabits to become a soliflore by default.

The tiniest -- and I mean TINIEST -- bit of coconut can be found buried in this vast burnt-sugar ocean, but that really seems to be all the variety or dimensionality Lei Flower is prepared to offer. It's extremely linear, remaining just as it is from beginning to end; its life on skin being fairly brief, it seems to have scant time for transformation. I don't love it as much as Annick Goutal's monumental Sables (or Love + Toast's mercurial Honey Coconut). And yet I really do like this fragrance-- enough to have put a fairly sizable dent in the purse sprayer that Lisa sent me a year ago.

Lei Flower may not have much to do with flowers, but it does have something to do with Hawai'i, if only tangentially. It reminds me of those days on Maui when the sugarcane fields were burning, and a hazy shroud of molasses smoke tinted the very sunlight as sepia-brown as a pair of old-school aviator shades.

Scent Elements: Yuzu, orange, cassis, jasmine, frangipani, ylang-ylang, bitter almond, coconut, chamomile, tarragon, cocoa, patchouli, vanilla

Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur (Pierre Cardin)

I have to admit that I'm not feeling very motivated lately-- either to wear unfamiliar perfumes or to write about them. My source of inspiration seems both damned and dammed. So I'm reaching for a reliable fallback fragrance in the hopes that it will draw a trickle of creativity forth from the depths.

About Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur (1972), I can state matters very simply: it smells really, really, really good. It always has, and probably always will. The ancestors of this coumarinic soft floriental are Habit Rouge, L'Heure Bleue, Bellodgia and Florida Water; its descendents include PdN New York, Tom Ford Noir, and Fendi Uomo. That's a genealogy I can certainly admire-- and a family tree I feel no fear in climbing.

If you don't pay too much attention to the Basenotes wolves who snarl and scrap over production years and batch-lot numbers, you can relax into just about any vintage of PCPM, safe in the knowledge that you're in the hands of one of the nicest, most laid-back scents in the biz. My bottle is marked "Shulton © 1974" on the bottom, which might mean something to someone. Me, I'm only interested in what's inside the bottle and what it does on my skin and for my mood. The answer: it works wonders.

As for the "Pour Monsieur" part, don't you ladies fret. Like Cardin's iconic late-'60's fashions, PCPM possesses a cheerful genderless quality which makes it universally wearable by all. And if anyone at Basenotes tries to tell you that it's only for the hairy-chested... bark right back at 'em.)

Scent Elements: Lemon, orange, lavender, basil, bergamot, carnation, geranium, leather, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, benzoin, vanilla

A scent worth scrapping over.

I first came to New Hope as a high school sophomore, crossing that narrow two-lane bridge over the Delaware into counterculture heaven. Freedom pervaded the very air of this tiny, colorful riverbank town, which simultaneously boasted the world's best ice cream parlor (Gerenser's), bookstore (Farley's), head shop (The Now & Then, now sadly defunct) and Wiccan boutique (Mystickal Times). Plus, Ween. I thought New Hope enchanting, maybe also enchanted. To quote A Hard Day's Night, it looms large in my legend.

But the older I grew, the more Lambertville -- New Hope's Jersey twin -- came to charm me in its turn. With its antique shops, art galleries, and Revolutionary War heritage, it held just as much (if not more) allure as its sister city. I could spend entire afternoons at Sojourner (an emporium where one may sit for hours crafting one's own jewelry, priced by the bead) and then head over to Giuseppe's, whose slices and stromboli boast a certain finesse lacking at Penn-side pizzerias. Swear to god, if only I won the lottery, I'd move into one of those tiny 18th-century two-room cottages just outside of town, there to hang herbs from the rafters and cast runes for weary wayfarers... But if year-round residence in my little dream town is not economically feasible, then a day trip every now and again keeps me satisfied.

So it transpires that on a sun-bright Saturday, I make the journey west to where Route 29 hugs the curves of the historic Raritan Canal. There, the Golden Nugget -- a vast outdoor antique and flea market open only on Wednesdays and weekends -- awaits me. On this cloudless, cool late-summer day, the place is hopping... and I hear the siren song of vintage perfume on the wind!

I've been told by various perfumista friends that I have an uncanny talent for locating perfume in even the most chaotic of landscapes. I sally forth with no fixed destination or orderly system, keeping my eyes peeled for telltale signs-- the vitreous shine of glass; the twinkle of light on liquid. Sometimes in the course of barrelling around, I'll make an abrupt beeline for a stall or table based on nothing but a vague intuition: There's perfume there. As I am more often right than wrong, I (and my sidekicks) have learned to trust this instinct.

This time, it pays off in spades. Shading my eyes against the midday sun, my sights fix on a table that to any other eye would seem unremarkable but for the presence of a four battered cardboard boxes whose coloration and logo graphics I recognize. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am: Via Lanvin.

The story of my first Via Lanvin acquisition (and the insane obstacle course of getting it out of the busted spray bottle) can be found here. I keep what I was able to reap in a tightly-sealed spice jar, dipping a pipette into it every so often to refill my purse sprayer, which I deploy very sparingly. You see, I really love this fragrance. Every time I wear it, its delicious cleanliness makes me feel as if I've just shared an hour-long hot shower with the most expensive bar of moisturizing soap on the market. If I could, I'd wear it with such frequency that it would become my signature, recognizable to all. But as long as my supply -- so small to begin with -- kept dwindling, I could never afford such a luxury.

Until now.

From the driver's seat of her station wagon, the vendor watches me open each box, carefully extract the bottle within, twist off the cap, and sniff the contents-- nodding enthusastically as I inhale. Those brisk evergreen/galbanum notes up top, that satisfyingly creamy sandalwood in its base.... Ahhhhhh. There you are, my beloved. These forty-year-old fragrances have been perfectly preserved, and at $12 per full unused bottle, it's a bargain for a lifetime supply.

I select two of the boxed splash bottles and hold them up to the vendor to indicate my readiness to buy. As she wearily rolls out of the car and approaches the table, I notice that she appears somewhat ill-at-ease. "You want those?" she asks.

"Absolutely. One of my all-time favorites. I'm surprised to see so much of it in one place."

"Well, the person I'm selling them for used to be a Lanvin executive, so she had a big collection..." She coughs, darts her eyes around, then leans in to whisper hoarsely as though we're fellow agents in a spy novel. "There's this lady, you see. Comes every week. Always wants perfume. She hasn't been here yet today, but she's the one I usually sell to..."

"Are these being held for her?"

"No, but..."

"Well, then, if it's all right, I definitely want them." I choose this moment to show her some cash, which usually proves calming to the nerves. (The furious haggling which ensues at flea markets often leaves a vendor defensive and wary; as I seldom wheedle for price breaks, I always hope that my willingness to pay without argument will help to counteract the cumulative effects of bargainer's shell-shock.)

But as she hands me my change, the vendor suddenly tenses up like an intimidated cat. "Hullo, Shirley," she mutters in a voice so strangled with apprehension I can't help but follow her gaze to the source of the threat. A woman -- seventy-something, diminutive, with limp grey bobbed hair and a permanent scowl etched into her features-- has planted herself at the end of the table. With naked hostility, she glares at the two bottles in my hands. Then she flings both arms wide and scooooooops up all of the remaining perfume bottles-- clutching them to her chest in exactly the same way a greedy child hogs a pile of coveted toys.

At this point, reacting (I am positive) out of sheer terror, the vendor heaves me in front of the proverbial bus. "I'm sorry, Shirley! She got here just before you did! I tried to tell her--"

"MINE!" Shirley barks.

Realizing that Shirley may have been either a pit bull or a serial killer in a former incarnation, I attempt to defuse the situation gently. "I see you're a fellow fragrance lover," I address her in tones of deepest reverence. "I bought these two, but there are two others exactly like them right there, plus many others which--"


With that, I hightail it back to my car and take my leave of the Gold Nugget, feeling as though I may have just narrowly side-stepped a gangland-style execution at the hands of a septuagenarian. I'll always be happy to wear Via Lanvin, but I suppose I'd better enjoy it even more now... since I very nearly paid for it with my life.

(Read some other Via Lanvin reviews by Suzanne, Carol, and Gaia. Suzanne and Carol got their samples the cruelty-free way-- from me. As for Gaia, I know she's a veteran vintage hunter-- I wonder if she has ever encountered Shirley in her travels?)

Carolina (Olympic Orchids)

When the angle of the afternoon sun shifts by imperceptible degrees...
When shadows lengthen across the lawn earlier and earlier each day...
When the sound of wind in the trees takes on a dry, rustling, ghostly quality...
When I begin to crave the scent of bonfires, apples, and fallen leaves...

The equinox is fast approaching, and as always, this time of year finds me turning inexorably from summer's herbs-and-hesperides to richer fare. Soon, piquant evergreens, golden tobaccos, ambery balsams, moody leathers, and bracing vetivers will overtake my pulse points. The fiery austerity of scents such as Parfum d'Empire Wazamba, Soivohle Meerschaum, or Lalique Encre Noire will suit the sacred equinoctial rites to perfection. But what about the before-and-after? Not every seasonal preparation requires solemnity, after all. For autumn's more mundane rituals -- raking leaves, making cider, hanging cool-weather curtains -- shouldn't there be a scent as comfortable and dressed-down as those Eddie Bauer flannels you just took out of storage?

Carolina seems a likely candidate for the task. It contains all of the cozy warmth one expects of an autumnal perfume, but in trading out smoke for candy-apple sweetness, it moves the focus from high ceremony to small-town harvest home. Corn dollies, county fairs, haunted hay rides... you get the picture. Combined with mellow tobacco leaf, that ultra-crisp pine-needle top note strikes me as being not too dissimilar to the scent of my home state's beloved Pine Barrens (who says Yanks and Rebs can't share common ground?). The ambery drydown is a mite conventional and at times a little too syrupy, but gee whillikers-- as long as I get to wander through this honeysuckle meadow on the way to the Karo factory, I don't mind it one bit.

Leave it to another fragrance to stiffen my backbone and gird me against the coming winter's privations. Carolina simply whets my appetite for the small hometown pleasures that the here-and-now affords.

Scent Elements: Longleaf pine, hay, tobacco, lavender, green grass, magnolia, kudzu flower, honeysuckle, star jasmine, tonka

My Sin Vintage Extrait and Eau de My Sin EdT (Lanvin)

I know two women who both hail from the same insular Jersey Shore community. One -- a career librarian -- has never strayed from her childhood home. The other -- a spirited local teacher -- has pursued a life of Bohemian adventure via travel and theatre. Despite having sprung from the same square foot of common ground, they could not be less alike in personality or temperament.

Besides me, what connects them?  Feminine forebears who hoarded perfume... in particular, My Sin by Lanvin.

In her youth, the librarian's mother made it her exclusive signature-- a scent so indelibly hers that her beaux begged for empty perfume bottles as souvenirs d'amour. Even after becoming a wife and mother, she continued to wear My Sin, buying it well ahead of time to tuck away for future use. Given the perfume industry's penchant for trashing even its classics, her impulse to hoard proved quite prescient-- Lanvin would discontinue My Sin in 1988. After her mother died, my library colleague found several bottles of Eau de My Sin secreted among her personal effects. She gave one to me, and it has become one of my most cherished vintage bottles.

The teacher, of course, is my old friend DC, who (along with her mother CC) has shared many a vintage lovely with me in past days. Recently, CC uncovered another gem from her own mother's stash-- a tiny square flacon of My Sin extrait with just a breath of jus remaining. DC brought it over to my house and decanted a nice little sample for me. Just a few drops' worth, but really, that's all one needs of this extraordinary fragrance.

Both the pure perfume and the EdT smell amazing-- a bouquet of jonquil and ylang-ylang petals run through with a ribbon of smoke from the world's most elegant cigarette. Is smoking the sin to which the name Mon Peche refers? If so, it's just a minor (and very pleasurable) vice enjoyed by a sophisticated woman whose urban chic has not eclipsed her sense of humor. She brandishes that cigarette like Bette Davis, all flared nostrils and widened eyes, daring you to take her drama seriously. A smile ghosts around the corners of her mouth as she savors another deep drag. Wry luxury, sly wit: lovely.

As much as I adore vintage Arpège, I think I might call My Sin more wearable in everyday terms. Arpège glistens like gold lamé, but who can wear that to the office? Save it for nighttime, and flaunt My Sin during the bold, bright light of day.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, neroli, aldehydes, clary sage, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, iris, lily-of-the-valley, jonquil, lilac, vetiver, cedar, cloves, balsam Tolu, styrax, vanilla, civet

Obsession (Calvin Klein)

At times, I think that history is a distinct liability. It informs us, yes, but it also saddles us with luggage that does not belong to us. Just as we received it, we likewise pass this battered suitcase full of conventional wisdom into the hands of those who follow us. Each generation in turn judges it by its exterior-- the scratches, the bash marks, the motley travel stickers. Would it kill us just to open the damn thing and see what's inside?

Search for blog reviews of Calvin Klein Obsession and find me one, just one, that doesn't mention Giorgio, Poison, shoulder pads, big hair, Eighties culture, or the words "guilty pleasure". (Jesus, even mine just did.) From the way perfumistas of the Common Era speak of it, you'd think Obsession is a fabled prehistoric beast trapped in the La Brea Tar Pit of perfumedom -- a victim of extinction cemented firmly in the past and permanently unsuited to the present.

But I'm wearing Obsession right now, as we speak. It exists on my wrists this very minute-- not sometime thirty years ago. The culture it supposedly represents is decades dead and gone. I don't feel like an anachronism wearing it; nor is there a single particle of guilt or shame mixed into the pleasure I'm currently deriving from my pulse points. Why on earth should there be?

If you believe that Obsession has no relevance today, go ahead and pitch a couple of cheap shots in its direction. You might regard the behemoth as an easy target, something slow-moving and feckless that can't defend itself. But you'll see. This fragrance can bench press the planet. It will outrun and outlive us all.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, peach, orange blossom, jasmine, rose, basil, coriander, lavender, marigold, armoise, galbanum, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, amber, cashmeran musk, castoreum, civet, vanilla, incense, spices

Khaki Cologne (Love Cosmetics)

According to Wikipedia, Menley & James Laboratories was the cosmetics subsidiary of SmithKline & French-- the wonderful folks who brought us Thorazine, Dexedrine, and Contac Cold & Flu tablets. High-schoolers of the 1970s adopted the latter as their sixth period study hall pick-me-up of choice. But when meth-making came into vogue, SmithKline was forced to swap out Contac's pseudoephedrine for something a little less... hackable.

Thorazine may have made it into at least two Ramones songs, but history will remember Menley & James for something equally addictive: Love's Baby Soft, the ubiquitious scent of female adolescence. Along with Love's Fresh Lemon and other drugstore delights, Baby Soft came packaged in a retrofabulous glass bottle that resembled a dome-top roll-on deodorant, inviting lavish application. With super-affordable pricing to boot, the entire line was designed to appeal to teenaged girls eager to give their mothers' girdle-bound sensibilities the slip.

This is the way Love is, the ads proclaimed. Innocence is sexier than you think. And how!

But there's always room in a girl's arsenal for a good, "grown-up" leather chypre-- and so debuted Love's Khaki Cologne, a fragrance less successful but more sophisticated than either of its pretty sisters. While Baby Soft suited high-rise jeans and Candies platform clogs and Fresh Lemon complemented tennis whites and beach bikinis, a young lady looking to make an evening date a hit could easily pair Khaki with a retro wrap dress and her older sister's ankle-strap disco heels. That's the way (uh huh, uh huh) I LIKE it!

I must admit I'm pleasantly surprised by the smartness of Love's Khaki, which I'm sure dovetailed quite nicely with the vintage boom of the early 1970's. It starts off like My Sin Junior and ends somewhere in Rive Gauche territory-- and since I'm currently working on reviews of both of those classics, I believe I'm in the right neighborhood. There's some galbanum in here to instill Second-Wave-feminist backbone, and a dash of aldehydes to keep things perky and bright. And best of all there's a wonderfully dry and peppery rose which lasts and lasts like a sweet sixteen dream.

I never wore any Love's products during my high school days -- by that time they'd been replaced by Lauren, Poison, and LouLou -- but had I known about Khaki, I would have adopted it without hesitation. Had the powers of foresight and judicious hoarding been mine, I'd have spent a pretty percentage of my babysitting wages laying in a surplus that I might still be enjoying today Ah, misspent youth!

Scent Elements: Rose, leather, galbanum, oakmoss, vetiver, incense, sandalwood, aldehydes

Golden Autumn Vintage Cologne (Prince Matchabelli)

I know that people have enjoyed poking fun at the Prince Matchabelli brand ever since it came down in the world-- and honestly, it never seemed that high up to begin with. But decent perfume at an affordable price is a lovely democratic principle to consider.

Golden Autumn is a nice little Oriental with a hint of wood smoke and a welcome rasp of ambergris in its voice. Women used to be able to obtain it simply by going "downtown" -- not to the city, nor to another country, but simply to the center of their community, where they could pick up their dry-cleaning, visit the public library, and -- yes -- vote. Now all they can get is crapwater by Faith Hill and Katy Perry. No wonder civic duty is dead.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, carnation, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, cedar, vetiver, benzoin, labdanum, ambergris, civet, musk

Mata Hari (DSH Perfumes)

Hindsight is a strange beast. To some features of the past, it brings sharper focus, greater clarity. To others, it brings the muddying effects of doubt. Who can really trust human perception to represent the truth?

While consolidating old blog posts, I came upon my original reviews of a group of natural fragrance samples I'd won in a raffle back in 2010. These perfumes -- Amazing by Joanne Bassett, Daphne by Adam Gottschalk, Rose of Cimarron by Elise Pearlstine, Cannabis by Alfredo Dupetit-Bernardi, and Mata Hari by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz -- represented the best of the Natural Perfumers Guild's Outlaw Perfume Project, a venture dedicated to highlighting the impact of EU/IFRA restrictions on the age-old art of perfumery. Among the samples, two -- Daphne and Mata Hari -- stood out. Their richness, beauty, and sense of being imbued with life force left me stunned; I gave both top marks and proclaimed myself thoroughly infatuated.

Three years later, my admiration of Daphne remains constant-- perhaps even intensified by the heartbreaking knowledge that multiple sclerosis has forced Adam Gottschalk to abjure the life of a perfumer, perhaps forever. As for Mata Hari, I still enjoy it. But repeated exposure to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's other works has compelled me to add a fairly stern caveat to that praise.

The first time I wore Mata Hari, I felt utterly bowled over by sensory pleasure. Such a first impression ought to herald lifelong loyalty. Mine got off to a good start, bolstered by the positive experience I'd had with Hurwitz's oud-rich Inner Sanctum. But then I tried December. And then I tried Prophecy. And then I tried Hippie Chic, Essenza dell'Ibisco, the Secrets of Egypt series, and Cimabue. Slowly, uncomfortably, I came to opine that Mata Hari -- true to her notorious namesake -- was operating under a number of aliases.

Now, it is neither uncommon nor a crime for a fragrance line to pick an alibi and stick with it. Many a scent collection revolves around a unifying theme (Hermès' Jardins) or note (Bulgari's Eaux Parfumées de Thés, Serge Lutens' Eaux des Boisées). Companies like Caron use a proprietary base because they want consumers to recognize the house signature underneath all the top-note frippery. A sole perfumer can make the same choice-- heck, some people swear that they can identify Geza Schöen's work at fifty paces thanks to all that Iso E Super he dumps in there.

But when a perfumer appears to keep producing the same scent over and over and over, consistently arriving at the same result not because of one or two overused notes but in spite of the DOZENS UPON DOZENS of notes she shoehorns into each formula, one wonders.

Mata Hari still gives me pleasure, but of a diluted, wary sort. I no longer trust her, or my own perceptions about her. I'm sure that in a blind sniff test of the DSH line, I'd be able to confidently state that one person composed all of these fragrances-- but I would not be able to tell any of them apart. Whatever shades of difference distinguish them is negligible to my nose. I would never be able to pick Mata Hari out from this lineup-- and this really, really bothers me, because it means that she is not special, not unique.

And still, I want her to be... even after all that.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, neroli, orange blossom absolute, mandarin, tarragon, sweet and blood oranges, davana, tagetes, galbanum, carrot seed, black pepper, mimosa absolute, jonquil absolute, orris butter, rose de mai absolute, damascena rose otto, sambac jasmine absolute, tuberose absolute, ylang ylang, champaca absolute, osmanthus absolute, nutmeg, cinnamon leaf, cinnamon bark, clove bud, honey absolute, angelica root absolute, ambrette seed co2, benzoin, cistus, costus root, oakmoss absolute, Peru balsam, Australian sandalwood, styrax absolute, tonka bean absolute, vanilla absolute, cumin, patchouli, Java vetiver, buddahwood, Texas cedarwood, cassis absolute, myrrh gum, tabac absolute, cade.

Fougère Nakh (Soivohle)

Most people live their lives in a state of unconsciousness until awakened by a certain sound. If they are crooked, the sound sets them straight. If they're confused, the sound sorts them out. If off-course, the sound reorients them. They will know it when they hear it, because afterward they'll feel more whole, more themselves somehow.

For many, the sound is made by nature: the rumble of thunder, the sough of wind over prairie. For others, it's produced by hand: a flute, a drum, an electric guitar. But for those like me, the one sacred sound is the human voice. No other compass compares.

For twenty years, his has been the voice of my due north. Other voices, siren-like, have lured me off-course, led me toward the rocks, or beached me high and dry. Never his; not once. I hear it and remember instantly who I am, where I am, what to do. We will never meet, and that's all right. It is enough that he let the sound out, and that my ears were open to hear it.

I've always thought that if I were in the same hundred square feet as him, my first instinct would be to leave. Really. Just clear out. Make space. Slip reverently and unobtrusively through the nearest doorway like a silent geisha . Not because he frightens me. But he gives so much of himself already, what more of him do I need? And conversely, what use would he have for my ballast? Even unspoken, my emotions would agitate the very ether-- and to disturb his hard-won peace is the absolute last thing I'd wish to do. So through the door or out the window I'd go. Good night, and good luck.

Back when I devised some fantasy bespoke scents for a few of my heroes, I felt almost too bashful to include Ed Vedder-- yet I knew exactly which tones from the olfactive scale would play his song. Music may be the medium in which he creates, but ocean is the medium in which this lifelong surfer truly lives. It's here that he instinctively retreats between albums and tours, conceivably to catch his breath if only so that he can expend it again at full strength, calling like a muezzin to the faithful. My written notes for his composition -- ambergris, kombu, sea salt, oakmoss, vetiver, organic tobacco -- read like a clumsy poem in tribute to smoke-on-the-water.

But before I could write about it, I actually WORE it-- and it was so much better than anything my inadequate imagination had dreamt.

I first managed to procure a scant milliliter of Fougère Nakh as part of a manufacturer's sample lot from The Perfumed Court. After wearing it once, I think I would have been willing to spend a year's budget on the same amount and pass on all the rest. But Fougère Nakh is already extinct: a deep sea creature long retreated to the briny depths of perfumedom. Relegated to Zorn's 'retirement' list this past March, it exists only in legend now, like one of those draconic denizens of old maritime charts, the sort who defiantly spout plumes of water skyward wherever ships are too fearful to travel.

Yet such creatures have an uncanny habit of surfacing when least expected... and most needed.

Such was the case one June evening in 2012. Sitting slumped in my computer chair, I browsed on over to the Soivohle blog... and straightened up as if electrocuted. Liz had posted news of a house-cleaning sale, and one of the "disappearing fast" items was her very last stock of Fougère Nakh. Without even thinking, I fumbled zombie-like in my purse for my wallet. Before there was any time to reflect on what I was doing, I made an impulse purchase so swift and decisive my pulse rate stayed in the upper registers for about an hour.

A few days later, I'd begun to worry. I still hadn't gotten any sort of confirmation from Soivohle and had started to question everything from my memory (had it all been a fever dream?) to my internet connection (did it somehow fizzle out on me at the crucial moment?). Finally I broke down and called the customer service phone number listed on the Soivohle site. What happened next went something like this:

Liz Zorn (answering her own phone like any normal person): Hello; Liz Zorn.

Me: (after five-second stunned pause): Like hell you are.

That's a fib; I said nothing of the sort. But to be honest, I was so flustered, I'm not really sure what came out of my mouth. For what seemed like nine years, I wibbled foolishly on and on whilst Ms. Zorn listened with remarkable forbearance to this phone call from Fangirl Bedlam. (She must get them all the time.) She confirmed that my order had indeed shipped, explained that an email glitch had most likely swallowed my invoice, and pledged to send me another copy of it. I thanked her, hung up, and immediately started kicking myself. Stupidstupidstupid!

On the bright side, the intense heat generated by my continuing blush of embarrassment amplifies Fougère Nakh's marvelous scent threefold. True to both halves of its name, it combines the austere elegance of the classic men's fougère with the novelty of choya nakh-- an accord achieved by roasting clam shells over a wood fire until they blacken and exude a dark oily absolute. This essence encompasses a dark, curiously biological tang like that of blood or iodine, a rich accumulation of smoke that calls to mind paleolithic cave fires, and the eternal hiss and pound of heavy ocean surf. If ever a scent existed for selkies and mermen, it would be choya nakh. Fougère Nakh employs it to intoxicating effect. Anoint yourself with this holy oil, and feel strands of sargasso reach up to wind around your limbs, drawing you down to the darkest and riskiest of depths, where visions exist only for the brave.

Yet not all is danger here. Fougère Nakh is straightforward and stark, but its beauty does not lack mercy. There is so much raw nature in its character that even when it most overwhelms, it still brings a pang to the heart-- a sense of continuity, as when one surveys a magnificent landscape and still is able to imagine being an intrinsic part of it.

Like Vedder's voice, it slips into my bloodstream with native ease. Who am I to deny it?

I'm open. Come on in.

Scent Elements: Lavender, patchouli, tonka bean, choya nakh, spices

Fair Verona Pure Perfume (Strange Invisible Perfumes)

I once had an aunt named Verona, the only truly light heart on my mother's side of the family. Legend has it she'd been a card-carrying, cakewalking, gin-toting flapper-- and marriage was no reason to retire her flask and ukulele.

Two factors ameliorated Verona's induction into our tribe: her new husband Artie and his twin sister Viola, two gentle, phlegmatic people who stood out like lambs among a pride of lions. You could say that zany, uninhibited Verona was their opposite, but she could have asked for no better temperaments as a foil to her own. Their alliance resulted in lifelong friendship-- not to mention my mother's middle name. For Viola was my grandmother, and 'Veronica' (as a diminutive of 'Verona') was a good and decent saint's name. The family priest need never know that its true inspiration was as far from sainthood as a gal could get.

I met Verona only once, when I was fifteen and she ninety. I took one look at this tiny, frail lady with her sharp little Diana Vreeland beak of a nose and thought, So this is the family menace? Poker-faced, Verona looked us kids up and down as if surveying us for weaknesses. Then she bustled over to a nearby cupboard and rummaged around, emerging with an Chinese silk fan in hand. She unfurled it in front of her deeply weathered face... then peeked over the top, coquettishly batting her eyelashes. Disarmed, we all giggled.

Verona dove into the cupboard again, this time coming up with a brightly-colored novelty harmonica. Blowing one experimental note, she hacked and hawed to clear her throat. "My... dog... has... FLEEEEEEAS!" she croaked*. "They... jumped... on... MEEEEE!" Then she looked around in mock alarm. "Where are they? The fleas! YOU see 'em, don'tcha?"

And with that, it was love.

I'm remembering her now, while wearing Fair Verona-- a crazy-cakes jasmine turbo-loaded with vim! and moxie! and twenty-three skiddoo! Just when you think she's going turn irritating and wear out her welcome, Fair Verona pulls another trick out of that little cloche hat. You try mighty hard to keep to your seat, but pretty soon she's got you up and doing the Black Bottom, the Turkey Trot, the Lindy Hop. Hellzapoppin!

*Proof that she really did strum a ukulele in her day!

Scent Elements: Pink grapefruit, cardamom, jasmine, myrtle, mimosa, sandalwood, hesperides

M (Puredistance)

Two years ago, the gracious folks at Puredistance wrote me to inquire if they might include two essays I'd written in an anthology devoted to their beautiful perfumes. I assented most readily, as I felt very fortunate to have experienced the collection firsthand. I offered my words with joy and no notion of any reward (really, hadn't I already enjoyed the prize?) Imagine my surprise, then, when Puredistance recontacted me to propose not one but two holiday gifts: a miniature trilogy of samples, plus the 17.5ml perfume spray of my choice housed in a beautiful brushed-metal flacon.

There is a saying in the ancient Hávamál: Gjalda gjöf við gjöf ("gift is fee for gift", or put more delicately, "give in return for getting"). Just as my original Puredistance samples had come to me serendipitously from the lovely Suzanne (to whom I reciprocated with decants of my best vintage marvels), I could now arrange a similar tribute for others whom I held dear. The sample trio, therefore, went to JoanElaine-- and I requested a 17.5ml sprayer full of M as a Yuletide gift for my husband.

Created by fragrance aficionado Roja Dove, M claims as its point of reference "the stylish comforts of the interior of a grey Aston Martin". This, of course, is immediately recognizable as James Bond's vehicle of choice. Yet the personage riding cool in the back seat of this baby isn't 007. Whether you wish to envision Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Dame Judi Dench, or the newly deputized Ralph Fiennes in the role, M -- Bond's superior, high sacerdote of MI6 -- is the ideal recipient for Puredistance's first departure from florals. (As for me, I love to imagine that M is actually Mission: Impossible's sublime arms dealer Max during her off hours. "I don't have to tell you what a comfort anonymity can be in my profession," she purrs. "It's like a warm blanket.")

A top-shelf chypre tempered with animalic leather and plenty of spice, M does not include pipe tobacco among its scent notes, yet everything about it suggests a life in which the name of Alfred Dunhill is intoned with reverence. The suits in the closet? Dunhill as well, and naturally bespoke-- yet what's this? They hang elbow to elbow beside Eddie Bauer cotton twill shirts worn frowsy at their collars. The single-malt whisky on the sideboard is Macallan 55-Year, but not enclosed in Lalique crystal-- too showy, too silly. It has been transferred instead into a vintage glass decanter of plainest make and profile, obtained without fuss for a pound on Portobello Road. This strange blend of exceptional quality and low-key comfort is M's primary jist. It costs an arm and a leg, but wears like second skin. It speaks of luxury, but sotto voce.

Now, my husband drives a mail truck, not an Aston Martin; his tastes run to the simple and satisfying (and rarely sport big price tags). During the hot-and-humid summer season, he generally reaches for Grey Flannel, whose cool violet-and-cedar notes provide a sense of shady relief. But for the crisper months of autumn and winter, when our mammal natures crave warmth and closeness, he wears M. On a day like today -- our 15th wedding anniversary -- he knows all too well what an irresistible draw I find him, but an extra touch of M makes sure of it.

Bond's boss may possess veins that run with super-distilled icewater... but not my best-beloved, and certainly not me.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, patchouli, mosses, cistus labdanum, vetiver, patchouli, vanilla, leather, musk

Kai Eau de Parfum (Kai)

Every once in a while, it's instructive to see how the Other Half lives...

Wait. Scratch that. Try again.

Instead of the Other Half, try the One Percent. And in place of see, substitute imagine-- because there's no way you can see where they live from where you live. (The electrified security fence makes sure of that.) And since they sure as hell ain't never gonna come to you, all you can count on are those priceless gold nuggets of lifestyle largesse they occasionally toss to little people like you... from a safe distance enforced by Krav Maga-trained bodyguards.

Featured among Oprah's Favorite Things and Gwyneth's... um... GOOP, Kai is one of those trendy, idealistic brands that every modern-day Marie Antoinette happily endorses. Visit the Kai website (the internet being a free country, it's not like they can keep the likes of us out) and you can actually view a list of all the celebrity "devotees" who have affixed their imperial warrants to the product line. Though uniformly glamorous beyond any doubt, they strike me as a group of people so dulled by a surfeit of entitlement that their companionship would probably bore me to tears. The gulf between our experiences -- hell, between our household grocery budgets! -- would be too vast to bridge even with the help of Drs. Oz and Phil.

A case in point: the first thing we learn about Kai founder Gaye Straza Rappaport is that she spent all her childhood summers in the tropics. (Didn't we all?) There’s nothing like the scent of exotic flowers, she states-- casually, confidently, as if this was a fact of which most human beings hardly need to be reminded. Plumeria, pikake, gardenia and jasmine seemed to grow everywhere (on Hawai'i, her parents' vacation-spot-of-choice). Every time I smell one of those flowers I'm instantly back on the islands surrounded by loved ones.

Wow. I for one find that totally relatable-- so long as you omit the plumeria, pikake, gardenia, jasmine, islands, and loved ones. My childhood summers were spent scrubbing my great-aunt's kitchen linoleum and getting slapped upside the head for not putting my back into it. Use some elbow grease! she'd shout, brandishing the back of her hand at me. After several more hours of scrubbing, shouting, and slapping, she'd release me into the backyard, where I was instructed to "let the wind blow the stink off".

Good times, good times-- but I digress.

Kai is sold in the sort of boutique described as a "jewel box", in which every item appears to have been individually curated by the heir to an aristocratic title, and where no discernable price tags can be spotted for love or lucre. I have visited one or two of these boutiques, where I played the role of Penniless Slumdog Looky-Lou. The fact that said boutiques are located in New Jersey is most likely a source of discomfort to Malibu native Rappaport, whose daddy was an aerospace billionaire with a private yacht docked at Kona Kai (catch the reference?). Her Eau de Parfum reeks of all of the tropical flowers she named above, sans parabens, sulfates, phthalates, phosphates, or animal testing. It retails at $75 per 1.7 oz. bottle, which puts it within the reach of aspirational purchasers, provided they eat nought but ramen noodles for a month to save up.

In short, Kai is the very smell of privilege, which does not mean it's even remotely interesting. This, more than anything else, is what I wish Gaye, Martha, Oprah, and Gwyneth understood. Just because you insist on rubbing our noses in your lifestyle doesn't mean we can't recognize it for what it is: a great big steaming pile of waste.

Scent Elements: Gardenia, tuberose, lily, jasmine, musk