Paschal-tide and Paco Rabanne: Perfect Together!

First off, Happy Easter to all!... or Happy Eostre if that's your bent, ya big hippie, you. Either way, the name derives from Ostara, the Saxon goddess of springtime (and a second-cousin-once-removed of the Norse goddesses Freyja and Iðunn). Ostara's sacred time is dawn, when the moon and sun both occupy the sky; her totems -- redolent of fertility -- are the hare and the egg.

Sound familiar?

Throughout old pagan Europe, birds' eggs pulled double duty: as an obvious source of protein-rich sustenance, and as a mystical symbol of fruitfulness and transformation. Each tribe evolved its own traditions centered on the hiding, finding, breaking, throwing, or offering of eggs-- but certainly decorating them proved most satisfying to all, and nowhere more than in Eastern Europe where the custom achieved the level of high art. Of course, Peter Carl Fabergé really took it to the limit with his imperial confections ... but to me, eggs dyed and decorated at home hold far more spiritual power. Pysanky (Ukranian), pisanki (Polish/Belorussian), pisanice (Serbian/Croatian), pisano (Bulgarian), hímestojás (Hungarian), margučiai (Lithuanian), kraslice (Czech/Slovak), velikonočni pirhi (Slovenian), ouă vopsite (Romanian), and jejka pisać (Sorbian) all variously employ wax-resist dyeing, painting, and etching techniques to produce incredibly ornate patterns based on traditional (read: pagan) folk motifs.

I recently had the privilege of coordinating an art exhibit with a local Lithuanian-American civic group, one of whose members offered HUNDREDS of her own self-made margučiai for display. She kindly allowed me to handle several of them, and I was completely humbled by the experience. The exquisitely fine detail achieved by her knifepoint resulted in the most delicate bas-relief texture at which both my eyes and fingertips marveled. I confided in her that I hand-engrave Viking-style drinking horns with a steel etching stylus, and for a minute we engaged in some serious tool-geekery-- but my modest skills cannot hold a candle to hers, for in addition to pattern and texture she also works in color.

And WHAT color! Entirely derived from natural sources -- birch leaves, onion skins, wildflower petals, walnut shells, oak and alder bark, iron rust, and beet juice -- these russets, olives, fuchsias, azures, ochres and umbers harmonize together in a way that makes me long to renovate my house, my wardrobe, my whole world to match their subtle Earth-Mother spectrum. Ah!

Now, I promised you a perfume review... and I mean to make good. Let's say farewell to the subject of Easter eggs with a final mention of a charming custom from Hungary. On the day after Easter, decorated eggs are offered in exchange for sprinklings of Hungary water, the national eau de cologne. Isn't that beautiful? But it's Easter Sunday and Hungary water have I none... so instead I propose to anoint you with vintage Paco Rabanne Calandre pure parfum.

First of all, the figure on the price tag must remain unspoken. Let's say I paid for it in shoe leather. To afford this thumbnail-sized bottle of precious Calandre extrait, I parked my car miles and miles* from the Library every day for several weeks straight, eschewing a cushy metered parking space nearby in order to pocket a compensatory chunk o' change.

Now, I won't lie: I'm not so virtuous that I saved the money first and THEN bought the prize. Hell no: I claimed Calandre the minute I spotted it. The purpose of all that subsequent trudging-around** was to atone for my willful extravagance. If not moderation in all things, there can at least be accountability-- but I got to wear Calandre while I earned it, which made all the difference. You might say I walked it off with a spring in my step.

But the fact remains: I slogged. I sweated. I willingly hauled my weary, workaday ass around town to earn Calandre. And I would have gone farther, too. For Calandre parfum, as it happens, is a world apart from the Eau de Calandre whose chrome-plated vetiver I already know and love. The latter is Space Age, to be sure. But the parfum, by comparison, is pure Space Oddity.

Curling vines, spicy petals, caraway seeds, fresh butter, green suede, bitter herbs.... how to really describe it? It's a scent out of left field. It's deeply satisfying in and of itself, but perhaps even more so now because so hard-to-find (although if you happen to be in Japan...). It lasts for hours and hours, summoning waves of toe-curling delight with every passing tick of the clock. Going from Eau de Calandre to this is like graduating from grocery-store yogurt to the glory that is Greek giaoúrti, or ditching margarine-in-a-plastic-tub for Kerrygold or Plugrá, or receiving a windfall that allows you to transition in one heartbeat from made-for-Target readywear to 100% bespoke tailoring.

If you find it, do what I did. Pay anything. Stop at nothing. I am perfectly serious.

Here's some more Bowie, if you require him at this moment. I know I do.

*Okay... maybe a third of a mile.
**By which I mean I walked a REALLY VERY REASONABLE distance to work. I know, I know... I ought to do this every day. It's healthier, not to mention thriftier. FINE, I'll keep doing it, JEEZ. Twist my arm, why don't you? ;)

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, greens, rose, geranium, lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, iris, vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood, cedar, amber, musk

Turbulences (Revillon)

Reading Blacknall's lively couture-influenced ode to tuberose on A Perfume Blog today made me feel a little wistful. I know so many devotees of Polianthes tuberosa, I feel sad to confess that this flower and I seem always to be at odds. Some obsolete Victorian strand in my DNA detects a touch of the mortuary in those white petals and votes to give them wide berth... or perhaps a New World ghost whispered in my ear the Aztec name for tuberose (omixochitl, 'bone flower') and I took it too much to heart.

Just yesterday, Natalie shared her take on Turbulences by Revillon on Another Perfume Blog, and glee filled my soul. Like Natalie, I'd received my sample from sweet Undina; having tucked it away carefully in the reserve box until VintageFest could be resurrected, I now felt prompted to bring it out for a test drive. Natalie describes it as an 'aldehydic rose' with a lemony tartness; to me, this sounded like just the ticket for a sluggish morning.

And so I wore it today, and all I got was tuberose -- wax-white and fleshy, shaded pale vegetal green at the petal's heart, dusted (as if by pollen) with clinging, soapy nutmeg. I felt sluggish, lulled, and still unsettled, as if caught in a strong undertow I couldn't fight. I will not pretend that I didn't sort of like this helpless languor; it seemed to me much like the descent into sleep-- but what I really wanted was a soprano-pure clarion call to wake me up, up, UP!

So once more, thoughts roiling, I stand regarding tuberose. Turbulences spoke eloquently on its behalf, I will concede. But where our two surfaces meet is that same old fundamental tension that nothing seems able to sweeten.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, greens, carnation, tuberose, iris, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, rose, mint, sage, caraway, nutmeg, pepper, vetiver, cedar, sandalwood, amber, musk, vanilla

Y Vintage Parfum (Yves Saint Laurent)

The first letter in a long, illustrious scented narrative spanning almost five decades, Y -- Yves Saint Laurent's inaugural perfume -- must have seemed like the last word in modern chic when it debuted in 1964. Feminine, stylish, yet just a touch unpredictable, it calls to mind the fashion models of that era: young women of expressive pose but pensive mien, whose direct unsmiling gazes broadcast a clear challenge to the spectator. Don't assume you know us, those eyes say. And keep your hands to yourself.

Impassive, yes; passive, no.

For such a woman, a spruce and self-possessed chypre made serious by a nice dose of galbanum-- but not too serious, as a honeyed note of yellow plum demonstrates. Perfumer Michel Hy (co-author of Fille d'Eve and eventual creator of smell-alikes Calandre and Rive Gauche) judged his audience perfectly; Y must have suited the zeitgeist to a T.

And now? Sure, why not? So long as women still struggle to be judged for their intellects rather than for their curves, we will always need smart chypres like Y-- the olfactory translation of "Eyes up HERE, fella."

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, peach, Mirabelle plum, galbanum, gardenia, honeysuckle, tuberose, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, Bulgarian rose, iris, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood, labdanum, benzoin, styrax, civet

Eau Bourrasque Vintage Eau de Toilette (Le Galion)

It starts off so wonderfully piquant and sparkling, I think to myself, "Ah, I'm going to love this!" But then Eau Bourrasque releases the Kraken.

Momentarily panicked, I thrust my wrist under a friend's nose. "Quick, does this smell fishy?" I demand of her. She says nothing, only looks up at me in pained sympathy.

This is a woman's worst nightmare. I feel horrified, self-conscious, almost tearful. It's really not me! I want to tell everyone within a ten-foot radius. But then suddenly the fishy smell vanishes, and Eau Bourrasque continues blithely along its original, pleasant Spice Route itinerary.

Now, to my knowledge, I have never before encountered such a smell in a perfume. I possess little in the way of scientific knowledge to support my basic suspicions. But something in me insists that the aldehydes are to blame. (Was it the familiar tingle of cold that directly preceded the seafood course? Go fish.)

Just for laughs, I Google "aldehydes fishy smell" and find dozens of hits-- many of them alluding to a bloom of freshwater algae (Uroglena americana) which infected Kyoto's Lake Biwa in 1995. The resulting low-tide miasma has been attributed to aldehydes present in (or produced by) the algae. A similar bloom in Calgary's Glenmore Reservoir has also been traced to "(v)olatile organic compounds (VOCs) derived from two significant algae" -- Dinobryon and Uroglena -- "(which) impart a fishy odor".


Clearly, the aldehydes in my sample of vintage Eau Bourrasque have gone a bit off-- veering perilously close to fruits de mer territory. I'm very glad that the fragrance as a whole was able to recalculate its course... otherwise, a Sea Monster might have run this Galion aground.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, plum, peach, aldehydes, ylang-ylang, rose, carnation, orchid, cyclamen, iris, patchouli, oakmoss, arnica, vetiver, cardamom, pepper, costus, sandalwood, incense, opopanax, vanilla

Cassini Eau de Parfum (Oleg Cassini)

No, you're not dreaming-- that's Alice Roosevelt, all right. Why, you ask? Well, since it takes only six degrees to get to Kevin Bacon, I'm going to see if I can't reach Alice's side in three spritzes of perfume.

The scent in question is the original pre-reformulation Cassini Eau de Parfum (1990). The name behind this perfume was Oleg Cassini, the couturier famed for clothing Jacqueline Kennedy during the Camelot years. Oleg Cassini was the son of Marguerite "Maggie" Cassini, a countess of mixed Russian-Italian descent and morganatic birth. When her father, the Marquis de Capuzzuchi di Bologna, was posted to Washington D.C. as Tsar Nicholas II's ambassador to the United States, it was only a matter of time before she fell in with President Theodore Roosevelt's sulky and disaffected eldest daughter.

Though known as the Progressive Era, Roosevelt's two terms were still ruled by deeply conservative societal standards which prized public decorum over all. But the "Three Graces" -- Alice, Maggie, and their bosom pal Eleanor Josephine Medill "Cissy" Patterson -- had no patience for Federal City etiquette. Fun-loving, rebellious, and contemptuous of their elders, these three prodigal daughters shopped, smoked, gambled, chewed gum, drank whiskey, flirted, danced, and raced around the District in Alice's own "red devil" speedster. Even when admiration came their way, they devised fiendish ways of turning praise into damnation. In one notorious incident, electricity scion George Westinghouse invited the Graces to dictate the guest list of his next ball. They invited so many people that Westinghouse was forced to build (in great haste, and at fearsome expense) an extension onto his ballroom. On the day of the soirée, the annex was still only half-complete-- so Westinghouse ordered in truckloads of costly orchids to festoon the unfinished walls. The Graces walked in, wrinkled their noses, declared the scent of the orchids as gloomy as a funeral... and did not deign to stay.

What glorious, scandalous, Olympian brats they were! Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton seem anemic and boring by comparison. So it is that when I wear Cassini, the Three Graces -- those miscreant young Misses! -- are duly summoned, pouting and fingering their gold cigarette cases out of deadly sense of boredom.

In her wonderful review on The Vintage Perfume Vault, Amelia declared that Cassini "smells most distinctly of strawberry incense and bubble gum". It's so true-- and even the mini-bottle I own is adorably shaped like a berry, plump and round, with a red translucent button for a cap. The nectar inside wallops one upside the head with the force of its sticky sweetness, but real joy can be found in the notes bookending all that fruit. On one side, you've got an angelic orange blossom, promising to behave like a proper young lady; on the other side, you have a tobacco-smoke chypre that has just spent the day at the racetrack and cares not who knows it. It's a Pushmi-pullyu of a fragrance, teetering between a childish taste for candy and far more mature peccadillos.

And though she'd sooner die than say something agreeable, I bet that Alice would approve.

Scent Elements: Orange blossom, mandarin, bergamot, osmanthus, freesia, gardenia, carnation, tuberose, chrysanthemum, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, coriander, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, coconut, incense, amber, leather, musk, civet

Theorema (Fendi)

I asked no other thing,
No other was denied.
I offered Being for it;
The mighty merchant smiled.

Brazil? He twirled a button,
Without a glance my way:
"But, madam, is there nothing else
That we can show to-day?"

--Emily Dickinson, from Complete Poems (Part One: Life)
"Does Fendi get easily bored with its own perfumes or don't the fragrances sell?" This question -- posed by NST's Kevin in his recent review of Fan di Fendi Pour Homme -- is one which I myself have often pondered.

Whether taken individually or as a quartet, the original lineup -- Fendi (1985), Fendi Uomo (1988), Asja (1992), and Theorema (1998) -- were unquestionably fine perfumes, well-made and distinctly individual. All now share the dustbin of history, while a number of inferior fragrances (some of which smell positively vile) have ended up doing wildly well. Why?

When LVMH acquired Fendi in 2005, they scrapped the entire fragrance line in one go. This mass divestiture amounted to a corporate version of remise de l'épouse-- an ancient rite whereby one strips a bride naked before presenting her to her new lord and master. In the mind of the groom, his bride ought to have no history at all... so like Marie Antoinette forced to disrobe on L'île aux Épis, Fendi had to enter the palace denuded of its past accomplishments.

In that light, Theorema -- like the hapless Dauphine -- can be viewed as a casualty of bureaucracy, the proverbial butterfly broken on the wheel. (Of course, that butterfly would have to be a Theorema eumenia, peacock-hued and impossibly fragile.)

Fendi's Theorema is not vintage, but it is nearly extinct. A gorgeous gourmand fragrance, orange-scented and subtly spiced, it displays a tendency toward creaminess in the drydown which saffron-lovers will surely appreciate. Lighter than many gourmands (notably its own relative, the two-ton honeybomb known as original Fendi), it has a gentle, wistful influence on the emotions that is hard even for a dedicated logophile to describe. It stays incredibly close to skin and is not tenacious (your average butterfly enjoys a longer lifespan, alas!) but while traces of it linger, you and the person sitting closest to you will heave plaintive sighs aplenty.

In that, you'll be joining perfumistas everywhere. From the numerous odes which can be read online, the Fendi fragrances in general (and Theorema in particular) are regretted with an intensity undiminished by the years. Newer Fendi releases have failed to assuage our grief. To give them their due, even these are not immune from their parent company's ruthless assassination methods. Palazzo (2007), LVMH's heir apparent to the Fendi title, survived for only two years before suffering the axe. It "didn't meet expectations", according to corporate. But then, it wasn't given much time-- an ominous fact which dangles over Fan di Fendi and all subsequent releases like the legendary sword of Damocles.

For now, LVMH can dispose of its Fendis as it will. But when Karma finally catches up... I'd love to be a butterfly on that wall.

Scent Elements: Jaffa orange, tangelo, orange blossom, jasmine, ylang-ylang, osmanthus, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, pink and black pepper, rose hips, sandalwood, guaiac wood, rosewood, patchouli, amber, benzoin, sweet cream accord, musk


Folks, I feel like a zombie today. Three hours of sleep and half a dozen looming deadlines make Meg a dull girl; I think I wore perfume of SOME sort today, but for the life of me, I can't exactly remember what it was. Have I lost my head somewhere? It's possible... so let's ask my spouse instead what's on the fragrant menu. His reply: Zombie For Him by Demeter Fragrance Library!

Anyone who knows my husband is aware of his all-consuming fascination with "walkers", as they're called on The Walking Dead, AMC's controversial TV drama based on the acclaimed zombie-apocalypse graphic novel series. We own them all (hardbound, even!) as well as scads of other books on that literally deathless subject; we consult them regularly on Sunday nights when new episodes of TWD air. To cover all the other nights of the week, we keep our DVD racks filled with more zom-dramas, zom-coms, romzomcoms and Rob Zombie dramedies than you can shake a stick at. Wherever the undead inhabit Pop Culture, we're there. Which is why I jumped for joy when I saw Robin's announcement of the Demeter limited edition fragrance on NowSmellThis. Ka-CHING!

What does Zombie for Him smell like? Petrichor, people! The notes pretty much translate to that thrilling scent of cold, moist earth that rises up directly after a rain. "Think forest floor," Demeter suggests, and they mean it-- there's a pine needle thing going on in here that makes a happy camper out of me, zompocalypse or no! Plus, you know how I love basements. Zombie for Him definitely smells like one, with a damp concrete floor and many hidden secrets.

But does it smell like ZOMBIES? I don't think so. A true undead fragrance would have to possess more of a definite fear factor; for me, that means one thing and one thing only: L'Artisan Patchouli Patch. When that smell hits me... I know the undead have caught up with us.

Scent Elements: Dried leaves, mushrooms, mildew, moss, earth (and maybe some spruce needles).

A Champagne toast.

Today is the one-year anniversary of what Peter Pan might have called "an awfully big adventure", had his medical team been any less superlative than mine. It's not an exaggeration to say that last March's ruptured appendix almost spelled 'curtains' for me. It is also not an exaggeration to say that I couldn't have remained in the land of the living without the incredible support and compassion of my friends and loved ones.

My husband Scott and I have discussed how we might mark this significant occasion. Dinner? A night at the movies? An evening of contemplative cocooning, side by side on the sofa? Of course, a lovely bonfire fueled by an entire year's worth of medical bills and insurance EOBs would be très cozy... but I'll settle for ordinary candlelight, and maybe a glass of champagne.

There are many occasions on which our joy is increased by the dramatic POP! of a cork: birthdays, anniversaries, and of course, the New Year. Every Eve, we chill a bottle of our favorite Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut, which is really a Spanish cava, and not a true champagne at all. ("Il n'est champagne que de la Champagne," proclaims the CIVC, which governs and guards that appellation d'origine contrôlée very strictly.) At 11:55 p.m., we pour just enough for a sparkling midnight toast-- but the real fun comes in the morning, when we hang up our brand new calendar and lounge around pajama-clad, sipping mimosas or (even better!) bellinis.

Those divinely refreshing cocktails (made of equal parts sparkling wine and peach nectar) sprang instantly to mind the first time I wore Yves Saint Laurent's Champagne (AKA Yvresse-- renamed thus to hush the loud doléances of that region's confederated winemakers). Long have I criticized Sophia Grojsman for reusing the same roses-and-stone-fruits theme in perfume after perfume-- but oh! that fresh peach note! And oh! that gorgeous rose, which puts the 'pink' in Champagne in exactly the same manner that a touch of strawberry purée brings a blush to a bellini's cheeks. By the time I hit that sumptuous woody-chypre drydown (if there isn't sandalwood in here somewhere, I'll eat my hat!), Ms. Grojsman may rest assured that however I may have bickered before, I take it all back.

Scent Elements:  Aldehydes, nectarine, peach, apricot, lychee, carnation, violet, rose otto, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, mint, caraway, cumin, anise, cinnamon, oakmoss, vetiver, cedar, patchouli, coconut, amber, benzoin, styrax, musk

Sophia Vintage Perfume Spray (Sophia Loren for Coty)

When I was growing up, my parents used to rhapsodize endlessly about the miracle of Sophia Loren's irregular face. Taken individually, every one of her features (big nose, receding chin, huge overbite, slightly esotropic gaze) is imperfect; all of them arranged together in a visage called "almost satanic" by Sir Richard Burton-- well, you'd think disaster would ensue. It doesn't, of course; some celestial trick brings all of these flaws into the perfect alignment known by some as fate, by others as beauty. This, my parents sighed, was what made Sophia Loren a goddess. Then they looked at twelve-year-old me (long face, enormous nose, mannishly cleft chin, thin lips) and told me, You're not ugly, honey. You're just sort of homely.

Thus it was that when I received this perfume sample from JoanElaine and read the label lovingly inscribed in her graceful hand, my brain immediately blocked out the one person who was most obviously its focus. What's this? A scented tribute to... Sophia, Electress of Hanover! Sophia of Prussia, Queen of the Hellenes! Sofia Coppola! Σοφíα, goddess of wisdom! Of course!

So what does Sophia smell like? Well, it smells like... like a bunch of irregular notes that come together and make magic, dammit... just like la diva Loren. And jaundiced though my attitude might be towards her... I love me some of her perfume.

A rich high-handed Turkish rose, a down-and-dirty Grasse jasmine, a menthol-tobacco accord (ciao, Jasmin et Cigarette! Tu vuò fà l'americano?) and some very plush emerald oakmoss all intersect in paradise, or Rome, or Monte Carlo, or someplace where Coty Inc. clearly hasn't lived (or even vacationed!) for thirty years. In other words, Sophia smells well-constructed and luxe-- not cheaply thrown together. It smells like a Fragrance Foundation award winner (which in 1981 it most certainly was). It smells the way no Coty perfume has smelled in absolute ages: like something a goddess would wear.

Time may find me still attempting to deny that this fragrance has anything to do with Sophia Loren. But don't let my fancy-dancing sway you: I recommend Sophia to you whole-heartedly.

Scent Elements: Jasmine, rose, oakmoss, amber

Eau Sauvage Vintage Eau de Toilette (Dior)

Gender seems to me a strange thing to assign to a mood or mindset. Take, for instance, the personality trait known as 'confidence'-- a manly trait in men, apparently, but a UNwomanly one for a woman. Yet I know too many timid men and ballsy women to believe that the trait is determined by gender. More likely it's determined by other people, who insert their own judgments accordingly.

By the same token, I tend not to think of fragrance as a gendered thing in itself. You can say that a fragrance was created with men or women in mind, or that it has been marketed to one or the other. But the scent itself cannot possibly be male or female-- can it? Any person can wear any fragrance-- this is what I have always firmly believed.

Today I wore Eau Sauvage and tried to square what I was inhaling with the ideas outlined above, along with the questions they raise. Eau Sauvage is a "men's fragrance", overtly intended for the sort of big-shouldered, cleft-chinned centaur featured in any number of René Gruau illustrations, narrow hips swathed in pure white bath towel.  But is Eau Sauvage male? Does it turn into something different when a woman wears it? Is the woman who wears it borrowing a man's power? Does she gain any extra dimension that she herself did not already possess?

Nah. I would say not. But I might say that Eau Sauvage would cause a shy person (whatever their gender) to raise their head -- or their voice -- just a bit more. This is a very confident, optimistic, uplifting scent-- all sunny citrus and herbs à la Méditerranée, with a squeaky-clean jasmine for that just-shaved-and-toweled aura, and a generous slug of musk to remind people you're a warm-blooded mammal, just like they are.  One is unlikely to turn inward or go all tongue-tied in mixed company while wearing something so frisky and frank; it chases away the snares of one's own inchoate thoughts and says to others, "Talk to me.  I'm open."

I don't feel more male, or less female, when I wear it. I just feel more friendly-- and that's what really counts.

Scent Elements: Lemon, basil, petitgrain, rosemary, jasmine, rose, iris, oakmoss, vetiver, musk

Madame Jōvan (Jōvan)

In a 1976 issue of the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, a drugstore advertised Madame Jōvan perfume ("a blend of the world's finest flowers interlaced with rich, dusky spices") at $7.50 for three fluid ounces. This made me ponder the last time I saw three ounces of perfume for anything approaching eight dollars.

Oh, wait. I remember.

Just out of curiosity, I consulted the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, which estimated that Madame Jōvan's 1976 price tag is equal to $30.35 in today's economy. With that amount of money in hand, you'd still come up short if you wanted to buy only one ounce of Taylor Swift's Wonderstruck ($32.99) at CVS Pharmacy. And you'd be entirely shut out of the low-end luxury league represented by Juicy Couture ($90). But most Jōvan fragrances still retail under $25, and require no more than a drive to the nearest drugstore.

Yes, Jōvan is still keeping it affordable-- an achievement to be commended, if you don't question too closely what "it" is they're making so easy to buy. Based on my encounters with this line over the years, the answer is "deeply flawed fragrance"-- and I'm sorry to say that Madame Jōvan poses no challenge to this conclusion.

Directly underneath an uneasy, shifting fog of aldehydes, one finds a floating slick of oily-woody-plastic-aromatic scent which persists for ages and triggers (in me, anyway) the most exquisite headache. I find no "finest flowers" or "rich, dusky spices" here. Nor do I believe that time or poor storage conditions have degraded something which was once superior. I have experienced the exact same blatant petrochemical quality from modern, factory-fresh Jōvans, so I have to assume it's a time-honored company standard, as mousse de Saxe is for Parfums Caron.

Temples throbbing, patience taxed, I almost give up on Madame Jōvan-- but suddenly a decent honeyed sandalwood accord starts clearing its throat, and I find myself listening. The drydown is so marvelous I sniff my wrists all evening long-- but the headache lasts longer, and pretty soon I just want the whole trip to be over, even the good parts.

If not for its first three-quarters, I could almost like Madame Jōvan. I try mightily to put myself into the mindset of a 1976 drugstore shopper-- some nice, suburban wife who just wants to eke a tiny bit of sophistication out of her tight household budget. Could she not find it in Madame Jōvan?

NO, declares my conscience. A hard-working woman deserves better. She has the right to a beautiful scent right away, not forty-five painful minutes in.

Verdict: when perfume gets off to a bad start, it's hard to give it a break-- even when it gets way, way better.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, citrus, greens, gardenia, lily-of-the-valley, rose, geranium, jasmine, iris, vetiver, sandalwood, tonka bean, musk, civet, honey, amber

Waxing Rhapsodic.

Rhapsodie is an odd little scent that I really like even though I know next to nothing about it. The person who sent it to me is someone I also really like, even though we've never spoken or met face to face.

Undina sent a sample of Rhapsodie to me (along with some other lovely vintage smellies) when I was laid up in the hospital. With her gift, she included the caveat that Rhapsodie may not be easy -- or even possible -- to identify. Her unlabeled mini-bottle would not disclose its maker; it resisted giving up its secrets, if not its scent. But I do love a mystery... so add Rhapsodie to the member roll of the League of Undercover Angels.

According to the UK website Perfume Intelligence (doesn't that sound like the MI6 of fragrance?), six different houses produced perfumes named Rhapsodie between 1900 and 1970: Chouky, Richard Hudnut, Massenet, Mülhens (of 4711 fame) and Marcel Raffy. Although information on these houses is certainly on record, hard intel on the identically-named fragrances they each released is woefully scarce. Notes? Flacon? Advertisements? Keep walking. Sometimes, however, it's nice to be able to just like a thing without overanalyzing it. So while Rhapsodie defies me to pick it apart for clues, ours is by no means a contentious relationship. I wear it; it warms me; I'm satisfied.

The passage of time has concentrated Undina' sample to the consistency and color of blackstrap molasses: so dark, it stains; so thick, it sticks. You have to really rub it into your skin to get it to "take"-- and in a strange way, this feels very instinctive, as if Rhapsodie were ancient Egyptian kyphi. It smells like it, too: myrrh, benzoin, and evergreen resins melded with cinnamon and clove to produce an antique-seeming balm. Little of the head or heart notes are hinted; one can only guess what they might have been (aldehydes, perhaps a little sweet citrus). What remains of Rhapsodie is all base-- a deep, plush, indistinct, yet comforting sort of scent into which I can relax. For this reason, I like it best for bedtime, the very hour when one is supposed to lay down the day's cares and concerns and just drift.

There is not much left in this sample vial; there may not be much Rhapsodie left in this world. It's rare, unique, not easily defined or replicated. Just like the person who sent it to me, a true nonpareil.

Scent Elements: No clue. For once, the notes don't demand recognition-- just appreciation, which I offer readily.

Expression (Jacques Fath)

Today I am PMS-ing like Godzilla's mother. If I were a traffic signal, I'd be lit up red. If I had cigarettes, they’d all be smoked down to the filter. I yearn to slap every single person who comes within ten feet of me. If I did, the trajectory of my open hand would be marked by a trail of Expression, Jacques Fath's 1977 super-chypre. "But why?" my stunned victims would cry, their cheeks cartoonishly aflame with my hot-pink handprint... and my dry, unsmiling chypre would settle over them like a mocking laugh.

Perhaps IFRA's paranoid vendetta against real oakmoss contains a core of altruistic logic. Nothing intensifies the aura of a woman on the verge of a screaming fit more than a classic Queen Bitch chypre. For the good of civilization as we know it, they ought to be outlawed... at least during that time of the month.

Scent Elements: Oakmoss, a half-gallon tin of whup-ass, and a can opener.

Oh, the Joy.

Joy and I have always had a fraught history, but since I learned to love her without reserve, I've had marvelous luck finding her in antique stores. I found a vintage unopened flacon in a presentation case at the Point Pleasant Antique Center, which Nan and I sent as a gift for Carol of WAFT; I next found a cased black-and-red "snuff" bottle of the extrait at the Burlington City Antique Emporium and fell even more under Joy's spell. In what other forms will she come to me, and in what other colorful places will I happen upon her?...

Here's a story for you:

On Sunday, my man and I rise early, gear up, and hit the road for Englishtown. This vast glorified garage sale may not exactly be Les Puces, but it's the biggest and best bazaar in two counties.

Many years ago, Englishtown had a certain shabby charm, its outdoor tables festooned with exotic tchotchkes, hippie finery, and the odd antique. Today it's more like a 40-acre dollar store awash in cheap 'made-in-China' merchandise...and bootleg perfume. I count no fewer than seven vendors hawking Chanels, Gaultiers, Givenchys and Diors with cries of "Three for ten!" No need to ponder that pricing scale to guess that these fragrances -- stacks and stacks of them! -- are all fakes. Of course no one's fooled: who would ever fence the real deal at Englishtown?

While Scott cleans up in the used comic book aisle, I conserve both my money and my energy for our next stop: Englishtown Antiques and Used Furniture. A new, untested antique shop always fills me with a Stone Age hunter-gatherer's sense of imperative. What will I see? What's there to find? I MUST get my hands on it! I'm always prepared to have my enthusiasm seasoned with healthy doses of challenge, reality, and letdown... but when I walk through the doors of "the Largest 2nd Hand Shop in New Jersey", I feel like Indiana Jones in a Peruvian temple full of booby traps.

Ideally, an antique store should resemble a well-ordered Cabinet of Wonders-- but at this shop, floor-to-ceiling chaos rules the house. Never, ever have I seen a retail space filled with so much stuff, in so many varieties, with so little rhyme or reason to its classification or storage. Jam-packed to the tallest rafters, this dimly-lit rabbit warren lacks clear aisles, safety standards, and an organizing principle.

But they DO have a full bottle of vintage Patou Eau de Joy.

I find it while climbing/tripping/falling over an untied bundle of old LIFE magazines en route to what I hope will be a flat surface. I've just discovered a tray of mini-perfumes imprisoned in a display case so thoroughly entrenched in trash that only a rock climber could hope to scale it. While the saleslady curses and struggles to free the tray, a golden glint catches my eye from behind a stack of novelty ceramic ashtrays. At first I wonder if I hit my head stumbling around this place and just don't remember it. This must be a hallucination!

But no. I heft the crystal flacon in my hand, open it slowly and carefully... and all of heaven's seraphim are released.

At that moment, the saleslady returns with the tray, which turns out to be laden with dust-coated Prince Matchabellis and sundry Elizabeth Taylor minis. "If you like perfume," she pants, "ask the boss about the HUGE SHIPMENT we just got in!" She waves at something behind me; I turn to see a stack of cardboard boxes piled -- I'm not lying -- seven feet high.

My knees go all rubbery. I can hardly contain my excitement. Visions of a vintage hoard even greater than Carol's estate-sale 'fumescore explode in my imagination like fireworks.

I wait impatiently for the owner to abseil her way down from the summit of a tall utility ladder. Batting cobwebs out of her hair, she squints at me with a look that tells me I better not have made her get down for nothing. Pretending a nonchalance I certainly do not feel, I inquire about the Great Tower of Fragrance-- when it's to be received, priced, displayed for sale. Should I leave my name, perhaps? Or would it be easier to have me call at the end of the week?

"Don't bother. I can tell you right now what's in every one of those boxes," the owner sighs.

Reaching below the counter, she pulls out a conspicuously non-deluxe white cardboard box, pries open its flaps, and extracts a simply humongous bottle of Amarige-- the exact same model they'd been peddling (Three for ten!) back at the flea market.

"Brand new-- got about hundred of them," she tells me, sounding strangely proud of this accomplishment. Then she casts a pitying glance at my poor, benighted, not-brand-new Eau de Joy and shrugs.

"Four bucks," she says.

Scent Elements: Bulgarian rose otto, rose de Mai, jasmine, ylang-ylang, calyx, peach, orchid, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, iris, civet, sandalwood, musk, aldehydes

Le Dix Vintage Parfum (Balenciaga)

There's a scene in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette which I always anticipate with a lump in my throat. It's simple-- so simple that you might wonder why it affects me so.

Marie Thérèse Charlotte, the two-year-old Madame Royale of France, stands in a flower bed on the grounds of Versailles. She is small and alone, yet utterly unafraid of the garden's other denizens. O petite abeille! she coos. Oh, little bumblebee! She toddles across the lawn toward her mother the Queen, the panniers of her miniaturized lady's gown wobbling sweetly with each baby step.

Marie Antoinette lies supine in the tall grass, dreaming away the midday quiet and heat. As her daughter approaches, she smiles and reaches her arms out to catch the little interloper-- without success, and yet also without rancor. The day is mild. She and her child are safe. If such a thing as loss exists in this world, it happens out of sight, far from this blessed corner of creation.

Sweetness without need of further translation, a moment so pure it seems to last forever: this is Le Dix. They could very well have named it Le Doux.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, peach, coriander, rose, lilac, lily-of-the-valley, ylang-ylang, jasmine, iris, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, rosewood, balsam Peru, benzoin, labdanum, vanilla, tonka bean, civet, musk

Two by Germaine Monteil: Royal Secret and Galore

There's nothing like perfume to send women mixed messages. Germaine Monteil's 2012 comeback fragrance, Le Nouveau Parfum, is described as "exciting femininity in perfection". It personifies (we are told) a paragon who is "both strong and sensitive... extravagant and powerful while at the same time sensuous and gentle." That's one tall order! What scent are you going to give us to achieve it? (Hint: it's colored tutu pink.)

Now, I know we're not supposed to judge a perfume by its notes list, but do light citrus, white blossoms, vanilla notes, and amber crystals suggest that great and mighty things are expected of us? I don't much think so. If there is a language to perfumery notes as there is for flowers, someone in Germaine Monteil's R&D department is telling us we're pretty feeble. Yet it wasn't always so. Royal Secret and Galore are the proof-- two vivid perfumes overflowing with personality, made to be worn by a woman with backbone.

Royal Secret's position on the great continuum of scent is quite clear. Following Tabu by three years, it takes after that grand parfum de puta too strongly to pretend there's no relation. Then again, so does Youth-Dew, which has a strong character all its own. You could say the song's the same, but it's being sung in different voices, each with its own timbre and pitch.

So what makes Royal Secret different, special, unique? Just as deep, dark patchouli is Tabu's signature, and Youth-Dew's is the richness of sweet balsams, Royal Secret's secret is a mega-dose of geranium. Nice, right? Now ponder what Jolie Madame did for violets... only imagine fiery, rosy, in-your-face geranium on the receiving end of the leather. Yow!

In addition to parfum extrait and EdC concentrations, Royal Secret -- like Youth-Dew -- came in an affordably-priced parfum pour le bain, which is what I own. According to Gaia the Non-Blonde, it smells identical to the extrait-- a terrific deal for a femme on a frugal budget!

There's a mention of Galore at Vintage Perfume Vault, accompanied by a photo which Amelia credits to eBay seller ASenseforScents. Coincidentally, when I first wrote about Galore (or as I called her then, "The Sleeper"), JoanElaine -- who is a genius at perfume bottle identification, with too many bullseyes under her belt for me to ever second-guess her -- spotted a different photo of a similar perfume from the same buyer and tipped me off tout de suite.

Galore does remind me of several other "green" greats: on the dark end, Réplique with its piquant coriander note; on the light and crisp end, Estée Lauder's Private Collection. Age has soured its top notes somewhat, but they fade quickly, making way for a dignified chypre touched with vetiver and early-spring flowers. Though not necessarily unprecedented, it is very chic and calls to mind the tradition of self-possessed elegance of which all Manhattanites claim their share.

Unapologetically rich, Royal Secret and Galore demonstrate why perfume has been intrinsic to women's wardrobes since Nefertiti was on the throne. Femininity, by this account, is a panorama of epic scope... which brings me back to my original thesis. How have we fallen so far out of consequence with those who design our perfumes for us? So many fragrances now appearing on the market confine us to tiny (albeit cozy) cubbyholes. We're women with spending power who have been sized down to the level of little girls. The history of fragrance is a bending, changing, and sometimes cyclical affair, but by god, we're due for a reprise of scents like Royal Secret and Galore: upright, definite perfumes that pull no punches and send no mixed messages, to us or anyone else.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, orange blossom, violet, geranium, rose, lily-of-the-valley, lavender, galbanum, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, vanilla (Royal Secret); aldehydes, bergamot, mandarin, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, narcissus, lily-of-the-valley, oakmoss, vetiver, amber, vanilla, spices, incense (Galore)

Bellodgia, Old and New (Caron)

I remember my childhood disappointment upon learning that January's birthstone was the lowly garnet.* Disliking its bull's-blood hue, I experienced pinpricks of jealousy towards those destined (by just a week!) to wear the delicate violet amethyst of February. However, when I began to delve into mineralogy I discovered almandine, spessartine, pyrope, demantoid, tsavorite, uvarovite, and topazolite. All garnets... and all gorgeous. Now I could choose any color of the rainbow -- amethyst violet, emerald green, or the sunset pink of a padparadscha sapphire -- and revel in the added satisfaction that my birthstone wouldn't bankrupt me.

Coming to terms with the garnet took some effort, but I never had any such doubts about the carnation. I love January's birth flower-- and I don't mean the bio-engineered variety found in florists' refrigerators. Genus Dianthus -- also known as pinks, sweet Williams, and gillyflowers (from the French œillet-giroflée)-- are most beautiful and most fragrant when allowed to grow nearly wild; the sight of hundreds of tiny, ruffly boutonnières exploding from a barely-tended garden patch makes me purely happy.

Like the garnet, the inexpensive carnation is regarded as common, even low-class-- a beggar's flower worth a dime a dozen. But they come in so many dazzling gemlike hues, who could despise their genealogy? This is why Ellen Olenska angrily rejected Julius Beaufort's "extraordinarily large bouquet of crimson roses" but kept Mr. and Mrs. van der Luydens' humble, handgrown Skuytercliff carnations. These were the blossoms that truly reflected her innermost Gypsy heart.

Traditional American flower lore assigns the wan snowdrop to January babies. More contemporary sources try to sell us on exotica such as sea holly, bird-of-paradise, protea, yucca, aloe, arum lily, orchid, jack-in-the-pulpit, pitcher plant, cornflower, Solomon's seal, trillium, or gladiolus. Cornflowers I wouldn't mind; with their fringed petals, they look enough like Dianthus, and they come in the only color carnations can't (due to the latter's inability to produce the blue pigment delphinidin). But cornflowers' fragrance is negligibly light-- nothing like carnations' assertive scent, reminiscent of old-fashioned pastel candy hearts liberally imbued with essences of violet, clove, and black pepper.

Sweet flower, bold spice: this is the soul of Bellodgia.

I have before me three versions of Caron's 1927 floral classic: a modern EdT courtesy of Blacknall Allen, a vintage EdP courtesy of APB's Natalie, and a vintage extrait which Blacknall and I discovered together at the Red Bank Antique Emporium. From the first incarnation (ha!) to the last, Bellodgia's blossom deepens in scent and becomes more concentrated-- and each calls a different floral vision to my mind's eye.

The EdT strikes me as a single, pale-apricot carnation pillowed in a few sprays of baby's breath (coincidentally also a member of the Caryophyllaceae) and shimmering with florists' iridescent glitter. This is by far the sweetest of the trio, a sugar-dusted dream flower that imposes itself upon one's senses no more than a transient blush does upon one's complexion.

The EdP is a bouquet of "spray" carnations from the garden -- smaller but more profuse and peppery-fresh, and of a more saturated color palette.  Not as sweet but somehow more appetizing than the EdT, its pronounced notes of violet, almond, and vanilla make it the most gourmand Bellodgia of the three.

The extrait is an overflowing armful of wild-gathered meadow pinks, their carmine hue glowing so hotly that their foliage appears slate-blue by contrast. In these tiny Fauvist flowers, the greatest concentration of clovelike scent awaits; the warmth of bare skin releases it in a heady, spicy swirl that leaves me dizzy. It is also sweet, but bear in mind that a cordial's dulcet flavor only serves to seduce while the true work of intoxication is carried out.** Other versions of Bellodgia may provide soft, romantic backdrop; this one demands the foreground and holds it unchallenged for several blissful hours.

Humble though it may seem, the carnation is a flower of power. I can't help but be fascinated. You too, you say? Œillet, œillet!

Here's some paeans to the pink that you'll be sure to love:

Blacknall Allen of A Perfume Blog: The Carnation Factotum and The Christmas Flower
Mals of Muse in Wooden Shoes:An Explosion of Scented Petals: Carnation Scents Part I and Part II
Annie of BlogdorfGoodman: 40 Days and 40 Nights of Fragrance: Carnation
Victoria of Bois de Jasmin tackles the genre!

*I say "lowly" because most garnets are pulverized for use in industrial abrasives. The most precious stones -- like emeralds, sapphires, or pearls -- seem to be those for which there are few uses except the purely decorative; even those garnets fine enough to qualify as gemstones are considered only SEMI-precious by this standard.

**Carnations are edible, and recipes incorporating their petals abound; the simplest recipe for carnation liqueur I have found calls for macerating freshly-picked fragrant clove-pink petals along with cloves and cinnamon in good vodka for a month, then adding simple syrup to taste before bottling it. I would like to try my hand at making this liqueur with organically-grown clove-pinks, which surely must be grown
somewhere in this great Garden State.

Scent Elements: Carnation, rose, jasmine, violet, lily-of-the-valley, clove, vanilla, sandalwood, musk