Lighten up!

A good Oriental perfume need not be as dense as iridium to be taken seriously. L'Erbolario Méharées is a lighter-than-air gourmand amber with an exotic, sun-saturated quality well-matched to its name (a méharée is a camelback sojourn through the Algerian Desert). Imagine œufs à la neige eaten in a wadi by moonlight, and you have some clue as to the charm of this insouciant sweet thing. If sugar and romance aren't to your taste, L'Occitane's Labdanum offers a clean, blue-green pine resin note enfolded in a cloud of soft, powdery benzoin. It's drier and more expansive, blooming dramatically on skin and lifting the heart straight into the troposphere on a thermal gust of joy.

Shed your ballast and soar!

Scent Elements: Citrus fruits, spices, labdanum, benzoin, vanilla (Labdanum); myrrh, dates, spices (Méharées)

Fleurs de Nuit (Badgley Mischka)

Before she was Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre posed for a camera in her mother's rose garden in Montgomery, Alabama. Nineteen but looking about twelve, she wore a costume designed for a society ballet in which she played the timely role of "Folly". This couldn't have been more fitting, for in Montgomery she was recognized as a notorious "boodler"-- a flirt, a cut-up, a gum-cracking-gin-drinking Confederate hellcat. But she was also the most popular debutante in town, revered, cosseted, and pursued by all.

Did they know they could never have her? Fitzgerald's engagement ring already graced her finger. Even he would fail to pin her down. In ten years' time, she'd be well on her way to madness, that Mount Olympus beyond all mortal reach, where demons dissemble and gods disguise themselves as hospital orderlies.

Fleurs de Nuit has got me thinking of Zelda today. This beautiful white floral (in which magnolia predominates with the irresistible force of a typical Southern lady, powerful yet curiously yielding) overcomes all of my notions about the genre. I'd convinced myself that white florals are too indolic or deathly-sweet or delicately bridal-- that they're "not for the likes of me". But then I think of Zelda, and Edna Millay, and Sylvia Plath, and Diane Arbus, and Edie Sedgwick, all those doomed girls who burned like phosphorus before their fateful hour, and I find that Fleurs de Nuit IS for the likes of me.... so long as I'm the likes of them.

Scent Elements: Magnolia, quince blossom, bergamot, greens, jasmine, orange blossom, peach, woods, amber


When I feel somewhat feral, a little savage, a little ungovernable, I seem to reach most predictably for Estée Lauder Private Collection. A fern freshly picked from a woodland floor and crushed between the fingers might smell as thrilling and immediate as this; nothing refocuses me quite like it.

One wonders how so elegant and patrician a lady as Estée came to commission for herself a scent so visceral. Under her polished exterior, did the atavistic spirit of a shamaness roil and bare its teeth? I certainly sympathize. Trapped in day-to-day bureaucracy, surrounded by machines (and very often mistaken for one myself-- particularly over the telephone, where I am often asked "Are you a robot?") I desperately wish to be reconnected to my naked self-- hide-clad, redolent of the forest and of my own beastly nature.

When I cannot find the forest for the trees, I reach instead for a bottle... and it delivers to me my lost talons, resharpened and ready for the task of survival.

L'Ambre des Merveilles Eau de Parfum (Hermès)

Anger is not one of those emotions any sane person seeks to perpetuate. At some point, respite must be sought, if only to recharge one's batteries for the fresh hell that awaits when Monday rolls around.

In an attempt to bring some mercy to my mood, I'm spritzing Hermès L'Ambre des Merveilles like there's no tomorrow. It seems to be working, for I feel much less combative today under the tranquilizing sorcery of Jean-Claude Ellena's gentle, expansive amber. It has much the same rage-blunting effect as Opus Amouage I, but at half the price. Better yet, I could simply purchase a bottle of Dior Dune-- the most ozonic, oceanic, ambergris-laden labdanum on the market, and by far the most affordable.

Hour for hour, any of these "amber marvels" beats office psychotherapy hands-down. It makes no small difference that they bring vicarious pleasure to others, as well. I am reminded of the phenomenon that Toni Morrison termed "devil's confusion": He lets me look good long as I feel bad. Swap out the visual for the olfactory with a dose of L'Ambre des Merveilles, and you can trail a sillage like heaven while carrying around your hell.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, labdanum, vanilla, black pepper, patchouli, cedar, ambergris

Slow burn.

Another intense work week, and my day-by-day perfume selections reflect the intensifying heat. To hell with merciful flowers and forgiving spices: I've moved on to forest fires and resins on the roast.

Today's choice, the pine smoke/burnt apple wonderfume Wazamba, clings tenaciously to my hair after twelve hours. Tomorrow I'll walk into work liberally cloaked in Hindu Kush-- a fearsome wall of incense to drive back mine enemies. And if that doesn't smoke 'em out, I'll unleash the atavistic terror, the Lambeg-drum-in-perfume-form that is Union Celtic Fire.

You wait and see. If I don't get burned as a witch by five o'clock on Friday -- or at least force a new no-fragrance-in-the-workplace policy to be submitted for the next commission vote -- it will not be my fault.

Whips & Roses (Kerosene)

On the Kerosene website, perfume-reviewer-turned-perfumer John Pegg describes his creation thus:
...The first spritz reveals a sharp citrus and rose scream. It’s at this time, the floral shop is empty of patrons until an hour later a biker chick enters the fray. Slowly, her black jacket begins to collide and become one with the flowers, until all that remains is musk and leather.
Now that is some purple perfume prose. I'd nominate it for the Prix Eau Faux if I didn't have so many other pressing questions. Why is the biker chick's jacket colliding with things? Is she having a seizure? Why is it happening 'slowly'? Are the laws of relativity suspended in this florist shop? Is that why the rose is screaming? How can there be a 'fray' to enter when the shop is 'empty of patrons'? Where did they all go? How does this place stay in business, anyway, selling flowers that scream?

Even more mysterious to me is how everybody else seems to get roses and leather from this thing, when I get plastic, dried oregano, and Robitussin (impressions seconded by my husband, who characterized what he was smelling with the words "pleather pizza"). Is Kerosene like Le Labo, supplying descriptions that are the exact opposite of what's in the bottle? By those standards, I should expect Unknown Pleasures (Pegg's Joy-Division-inspired fragrance) to smell less like Earl Grey tea and waffles and more like rubbish-strewn Manchester during the Winter of Discontent.

And you know what? After wearing Whips & Roses, listening to Joy Division has never seemed more appropriate.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, blood orange, rose, jasmine, gardenia, iris, sandalwood, musk, leather.

Tom Ford Noir (Tom Ford)

It is possible to call a man a "prettyboy" without insult, referring strictly to the grace of his manners or the delicacy of his features. But one must also acknowledge the danger inherent in both the epithet and the man. Haven't banks been robbed at gunpoint by handsome, apple-cheeked lads whose youth and charm were their greatest defining features? Nothing becomes a pair of blue eyes better than one word in 200-point typeface: WANTED.

Tom Ford Noir is a very pretty fragrance for our poster child. Other reviewers have astutely observed that it's essentially an homage to Guerlain; if you're looking, you can certainly find strong elements of Shalimar, Mouchoir de Monsieur, and Habit Rouge in this bottle. The latter in particular is evoked by a spicy, blushing rose-geranium that stretches across the heavens like a hazy pink sunrise. The celestial event ends in a Pixar-worthy panorama of vanilla cumulus clouds-- only these are made of barbershop lather, sweet and creamy-smooth.

The irony: between two equal-sized (3.4 fl.oz.) bottles of Tom Ford Noir and Guerlain Habit Rouge, one is priced a third over the cost of the other-- and it's not the one you think. No matter how sincere a tribute Noir might be, it seems strange to me that the facsimile should cost so much more ($125) than the stunning original ($96). Fame, history, exclusivity, quality, art-- has Ford eclipsed Guerlain in all of these?

Nahhhh. Don't get me wrong: Tom Ford Noir is a very nice perfume. But given the choice between a cocky upstart and a made man, I know where to lay my bets.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, verbena, caraway, pink and black pepper, violet, nutmeg, iris, geranium, rose, clary sage, opoponax, amber, patchouli, vetiver, civet, vanilla.

Kismet Perfume (Pierre Vivion)

Everything is a conceptual perfume by Dutch installation artists Lernert Engelberts and Sander Plug. It consists of the contents of nearly 1,400 sample vials representing every major fragrance launched during 2012. The blended result: 1.5 liters of über-fume. During a week-long installation, samples of Everything were decanted for visitors, who I imagine led extremely lonely existences after daring to wear it in public.

Do I want to smell Everything for myself? No, thank you. Something tells me that it -- like most of the 1,400 individual fragrances that went into it -- is more likely a great big Nothing.

Perhaps Lernert and Sander were inspired by this essay on "millefleurs" by Luca Turin to create their Frankenfragrance. Or perhaps they were inspired by Kismet Perfume by Pierre Vivion Inc. of New York. "Blended in U.S.A. with Perfume Imported From France," says Kismet's faux-riental packaging (emblazoned, of course, with gold-stamped Mughal onion domes). If so, "perfume" is a term used very loosely by both nations to describe the combined smells of tinfoil, halitosis, and sweet citrus, all whisked up together in a sickening witch's brew.

Again: no, thank you. Kismet is one fate I can't accept.

Scent Elements: Horror and degradation. And possibly a shot of FD&C Yellow #5-- seriously, it's the color of pee. I'm afraid to decant it into a spray vial, because people will think I'm in the habit of carrying urine samples around in my purse.

The Smell of Weather Turning (LUSH)

This morning brought the threat of a derecho, and indeed, for about fifteen minutes the conditions outside had my spouse and I anxiously eyeing the Emergency Box (wherein candles, blankets, and batteries are stored). But the storm passed, leaving only gently falling rain in its wake.

In tribute, I chose The Smell of Weather Turning by LUSH as today's perfume. This fragrance is a veritable marvel of aromatic, atmospheric, and emotional engineering. A drop or two triggers an entire 3-D pop-up book of summer evenings past to open on your skin.

Black earth. Green grass. Fireflies. Banked coals glowing in the chiminea. Fresh sage leaves in the lemonade. The first raindrops spattering on patio slate. The head-clearing, minty scent of ozone on the breeze. The perfume of fresh hay and chamomile emanating from meadows beyond the borders of your sight.

If Breath of God was Exhale times Inhale, then The Smell of Weather Turning is Breath of God served up with the swizzle stick of mighty Zeus. But it's also the penny sparkler with which your childhood self spelled out magic words against the dark backdrop of an August night.

Divinity. Drama. Innocence. Brilliance.

Cue the wild applause.

Scent Elements: Oakwood, beeswax, hay, bay oil, nettle, peppermint, mint absolute, Roman chamomile

Gold Rush (A Dozen Roses)

Glynis, JC, and I discovered A Dozen Roses at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball and eagerly split a set of rollerballs between us. Glynis opted for Electron ("the shocking scent with green tea, violet, cattleya orchid and neon musk") and Shakespeare In Love ("the romantic scent with jasmine, gardenia, ylang ylang and fresh pear"); JC took home Iced White ("the cool scent with white peony, white primrose and white musk"), and I voted for Gold Rush ("the sexy scent with blackberry, neroli and bittersweet chocolate").

To be honest, I chose Gold Rush because I could actually smell it (unlike Electron and Iced White, to whose musks I remain entirely anosmic). I also preferred it because it was the least "rosy" of the entire line (unlike Shakespeare in Love, which was by far the most). But aside from all these rationales, I just plain like Gold Rush. It's nothing fancy or overly high-class; it smells like dessert-- but if you only indulge occasionally, with full enjoyment and a sense of having earned it, the simplest dessert can seem sumptuous.

Scent Elements: Rose, blackberry, neroli, ylang-ylang, bittersweet chocolate accord, ebony woods

Geoffrey Beene Perfume and Grey Flannel (Geoffrey Beene)

As a library worker, I must confess that cataloging systems such as Dewey and LoC have a deathless appeal to my systemizing brain. Beneath their great overarching canopy, new topics receive new decimal codes, while established ones remain evergreen, nourished by a constant flow of fresh publications. Every item has its own unique ISBN and OCLC control numbers; upon acquisition, it will also receive an accession number which will never be reused or recycled even after the item is discarded.

Stability in the face of change:  what's not to love?

When Perfume Intelligence UK originally compiled its awe-inspiring online Encyclopedia, it classified fragrances according to the letter-number codes used by the Société Française des Parfumeurs. Unlike Michael Edwards' Fragrance Wheel -- whose transparent category names ("Soft Floral", "Dry Woods", "Citrus") can be easily understood by all -- the Société codes are incomprehensible to any but fragrance industry professionals. Like physicians' diagnostic codes or web designers' color hexadecimal numbers (or heck, the Dewey Decimal System), they are simply not made to be comprehended by outsiders.

Geoffrey Beene Perfume (1971; discontinued) had once been designated "B4F" by the Société Française des Parfumeurs. At that time, B4 referred to 'floral-green, flower-based scents with a sap or grassy note'. Perfect. But when the system had to be revised to include emerging fragrance trends, the B4 classification was suddenly and inexplicably swapped with that of B5, or aldehydic florals (featuring "the dryness of powder" -- not at all descriptive of the example at hand). Nowadays Geoffrey Beene Perfume would be classified "B5F":  'a fresh and predominantly green note... added to a floral complex to give a sharp freshness.'

Over in the men's department, conditions are no less confusing.  Grey Flannel used to be a "B6M"-- a masculine intense floral, which sounds more than a little off-target. The arrow lands even further away from the bullseye when we account for the shift in Société categories. B6 is now Floral Fruity Woody, a land where peach, apple, plum or apricot notes predominate-- but where Grey Flannel does not even set foot. If we shift it to "B7", which used to be Fruity Floral Woody, we're suddenly back on recognizable territory.  B7 now indicates a straight Floral Woody, in which 'the floral note... could be violet, jasmine, rose, lily of the valley or another flower. There are various top notes : citrus, herbaceous in particular... followed by mostly woody, powdery, vanilla like notes.' 

Home at last... but still, isn't it rather a long journey? 

In this instance, the shortcut isn't much better.  Michael Edwards deems Grey Flannel merely "Woody"-- and while this laconic solution satisfies the cedar-lovers among Grey Flannel's fan base, there's a whole meadow full of violets missing from that description.  Indeed, Grey Flannel involves a good deal of violets, as well as lemon peel, vetiver, and labdanum; in combination with the aforementioned cedar, all of these make for an entirely reliable fragrance enjoyed by both my spouse and (vicariously) myself. 

As for Geoffrey Beene Perfume, it's a galbanum chypre of the type which wears like a classic '70's wrap dress-- eternally chic, immune to the vicissitudes of fashion. I have wisely populated my collection with numerous examples of this ageless fragrance family (Alliage, Azuree, Private Collection, Imprevu, Norell, Via Lanvin, Galore, Di Borghese) which I wear with rock-solid confidence whenever I need to feel utterly secure.

Plus ça change...

Scent Elements: Galbanum, neroli, petitgrain, bergamot, lemon, mimosa, iris, violet, sage, rose, geranium, narcissus, tonka bean, almond, labdanum, vetiver, oakmoss, cedar (Grey Flannel); probably all the same things, with galbanum predominating (Geoffrey Beene Perfume).

Fleur Nocturne (Isabey)

In my early twenties, I slept alone in a bedroom on the ground floor of my parents' house. Everyone else slept on the second floor, so at night I found myself quite isolated. Being of anxious disposition, I embarked on nightly orgies of deadbolt checking and double-checking-- but on summer nights, in a contradiction of my own security policies, I left my bedroom window open.

Outside my window grew a marvelous shrub -- Mirabilis jalapa, AKA the "four-o'clock plant" -- whose night-blooming flowers produced a perfume which excelled that of any other blossom I knew. Imagine a soufflé flavored with vanilla, lemon, and saffron-- this is the celestial scent I inhaled all night long, so sweet and narcotic it would surely subdue any intruder who attempted to jimmy open my window screen.

Headspace technology notwithstanding, I am not sure that any perfumer could concoct an exact facsimile of those magical four-o'clocks-- and I'm not sure I'd want them to. There is something very attractive about the idea of a flower no computer can capture. And although I've left the old homestead far behind me, I smile to think of that enchanting odor lulling someone else to sleep in that little room on the ground floor.

Fleur Nocturne comes close to the ideal without trespassing on hallowed memory. Heady and hypnotic, this white floral bouquet laden with peach and apricot notes smells like a summer night concentrated into a breath. At times I think it's a little too sweet for me, almost cloying-- but then I settle back with a sigh and let its cicada buzz wash over me. It's a pleasure that will never admit to guilt.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, apricot flower, white peach, jasmine, gardenia, magnolia, vanilla, patchouli

Néroli (Yves Rocher)

When Yves Rocher does things right, it's usually because they've done it simply, without frills, embellishments, or pretense. Néroli -- the newest fragrance in the Secret d'Essences collection -- is very, very simple and very, very right.

Composed by Véronique Nyberg, Néroli is a straightforward essay on the orange tree: primarily its blossoms, but also its buds, its fruit (juice and peel), its leaves, the scent of its wood, the glorious sunshine and crystalline dew which nourish it. That sounds like a lot, I know. But the result is simple, and also innately beautiful, not to mention a minor miracle-- for there are ways to fuck up orange blossom, though you will not find them here.

All of the objections, the recoiling, the feelings of derision that Ambre Noir stirred up in me are overturned by Néroli, neutralized by its olfactory benediction: a hosannah from the heart and soul of a flower.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, petitgrain, neroli, orange blossom, bigarade, white musk

So de la Renta (Oscar de la Renta)

Two minis of this fragrance came with the Memorial Day Hoard. Their only labeling (found on the bottom of the bottle, and printed in infinitesimal type) declared them the output of "Parfums Stern Neuilly Cedex". A Google search of these words first led me to this post by Carol of WAFT, who declared Parfums Stern Neuilly Cedex a "wonderful perfume". Though I seldom question Carol's perfume knowledge, that name still sounded more like that of a manufacturer than a fragrance, so I kept searching. Finally here at Gisellez I found visual confirmation of my find: So de la Renta (1997), distributed by Parfums Stern Neuilly Cedex.

Only then did I open it for a sniff-- and while I did not love it as Carol did, I feel I must leaven my opinion with an explanation.

Beauty being in the eye (or nose) of the beholder, I am certain a person who loves white florals (such as Carol, if I'm not mistaken) would enjoy So de la Renta to the hilt. A powerful blend of jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, and freesia carries this fragrance forward; only peripherally do you notice watermelon, kiwi, and a touch of warm coconut in the mix. All this spells out perfume perfection for those who love beaches, sunlight, and warm tropical weather... of which I am not one. For me, beauty remains in shadow. Vetiver, moss, galbanum, leather, incense smoke, evergreen, animalics and hard spices: these are more my speed.

By way of a coda to this tale, I gave one of my twin minis of So de la Renta to JC before my sniff test... and she felt the same way about it after conducting her own.  JC adores the beach, but in an entirely different context; she finds salt, smoke, and cedar accords closer to her own experience of the shore-- as do I.

It could be because we're Jersey girls... or maybe we're both scandalously overdue for a tropical island vacation.

Scent Elements: Clementine, kiwi, gardenia, freesia, mango, watermelon, cardamom, peony, tuberose, jasmine sambac, lotus, narcissus, plum, musk, vanilla

Florissa Eau de Toilette (Floris)

Florissa emerged in 1978, the same year that Cacharel launched its blockbuster hit Anaïs Anaïs. They share a similar dry quality, as if their flowers came from a jar of potpourri rather than a garden. They also hold in common an air of crisp-starched propriety, though not to an equal degree. Anaïs Anaïs could be called a little dirtier, duskier, and smokier than Florissa, which in turn is a little dirtier, duskier, and smokier than Ombre Rose, its subsequent next-of-kin. If the Eighties hadn't come along to crush us all under the weight of Poison and Giorgio, the 'clean rose-chypre' genre just would have gotten more and more anemic until it fell at last into an eternal swoon.

Now imagine that Florissa had been created a hundred years earlier. It would be available for purchase at the very time that Mrs. Newland Archer (the former May Mingott Welland of New York) begins to savor the London portion of her extended honeymoon abroad.

While Newland devotes his afternoons to the ministrations of the Regent Street tailors, May must have something to occupy her time. One can only write so many letters home without letting slip an inadvertent hint of one's boredom. So today, accompanied (naturally!) by Mrs. Carfry and Miss Harle, she allows herself to be coaxed down Jermyn Street and across the threshold of Floris. (Don't they hold a royal warrant? Surely this elevates them above the level of mere tradesmen...)

Here, she discovers Florissa-- and to a nose accustomed only to the sheerest St. Augustine orange-flower water, it's a revelation. Dabbing the tiniest droplet on the narrow field of exposed skin between glove and sleeve, May feels quite daring. Beneath her bravado, however, percolate doubts she cannot name and refuses to entertain. They seem to coalesce in a single person: May's aristocratic cousin, the Countess Olenska.

All her life, May has regarded 'dear Ellen' as a role model. Now -- at least subconsciously -- she recognizes in her cousin a sophisticated, even dangerous rival. Sniffing her wrist (incidentally, that of hand upon which her glove-hidden wedding ring gleams) she imagines herself to be Ellen's equal at long last...

Only Ellen would never wear Florissa. Why should she, with a standing order for the purest gülyağı from exotic Constantinople?

Pure soul that she is, May cannot grasp this distinction. The prim rose-chypre wafting from her wrist represents everything she can imagine of seduction, which is very little. It is just as well, for Florissa does not entice so much as merely tease-- flashing a fine hint of leather and moss, but then (like May) dropping "back into inexpressive girlishness" at closer scrutiny. Nevertheless (and much to the surprise of her companions, who find the notion of buying one's own scent "exceedingly modern") she purchases a bottle. Won't Newland think it brave of her?

No, but it would be a pity to spoil her lovely afternoon.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, greens, rose, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, hay, amyris, cedar, coumarin, musk, oakmoss

Ambre Noir (Yves Rocher)

You'd imagine that a fragrance called Ambre Noir would involve some sort of spice and incense, a modicum of the 'mystery of the Orient'. But look closely at the bottle (huge, like a skyscraper) and the font (boldface, like a shout). Appearances do not lie. Before you've even opened the bottle, it's clear what you're in for: a belt upside the head.

Ambre Noir is a thoroughly commonplace fougère of the sort deliberately designed to project overweening male superiority. Wearers of such fragrances do not want to smell good. They want to be objectionable-- to offend, to drive back, to take by brute force, to own all the space around them (and with sillage like this, that's a lot of real estate). In these strident, oily notes, a sort of rank contempt for other, 'lesser' beings is encapsulated. Breathe it in, and you can almost hear the chest-thumping challenge: You gonna disrespect ME?

In this, one may find an echo of the cult de soi-même practiced by 19th century 'gentlemen dandies', whose self-absorbed preening and love of bloody duels presaged the misbehavior of today's fashionable bastards. If each alpha male is an army of one, then a solipsistic fragrance like Ambre Noir will serve them well-- for they're destined to be very, very alone.

Scent Elements: Amber, patchouli, vetiver, tonka bean, cedar, lavender

Ezra's Poem Parfum Absolute (Soivohle)

Ezra Pound's poem "In a Station of the Metro" (1913) is a little treasure of understatement:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
In 2008, the editor of a blog called Memory and Desire speculated what might happen if this poem were offered to a perfumer in lieu of a brief. She ended up inviting fourteen independent/niche perfumers (including Ineke Ruhland, Michael Storer, Yosh Han, Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, and Liz Zorn) to weigh in with their interpretations of Pound's two lines. Zorn prefaced her contribution with a list of inspirations: the Lost Generation, the words 'sweet decay', Degas' painting The Absinthe Drinkers, old books, faded corsages. The aim of the resulting fragrance was to "pull our minds to a place of nostalgic reverence".

Ezra's Poem achieves the objective with studied, painterly grace. Here, the chiaroscuro quality of the last century's best powerhouse orientals (Tabu, Youth Dew, Schiaparelli Shocking) has been  reconstructed, layer upon layer, by the skillful hand of a master.

On a ground of classic chypre, strokes of deep shadow appear in the form of cepes and agarwood. Earthy, moist, and profound, these notes perfectly complement the rich, 'retro' patchouli-leather which makes up Ezra's heart. Heliotropin applies a transient, silvery gleam to the whole, alluding both to Pound's springtime scene and Guerlain's "blue hour". Lest we take on a chill, sweet vanillic resins offer shelter from the April rain, returning us to the warmth of home and hearth.

Ezra's Poem is full of moody things-- wood, water, mushrooms, burning sap, old leather, and yes, the fragile papery petals of a forgotten corsage hidden in a bureau drawer. Once worn, it lingers long, both on skin and in memory. Evidently, it haunts its own maker as well. Two years after creating Ezra's Poem, Zorn was still thinking about it. In 2011 -- once more in response to a challenge -- she composed the exhilarating Riverwalk, a journey through extremes of shade and brilliant sunshine. Indeed, when the eye adjusts, one might recognize Ezra's Poem flickering deep within Riverwalk-- a fragrant revenant spirit walking an old, familiar byway.

Though both fragrances have been discontinued, there is always the hope that their tale will be told again. Fresh beginnings, melancholy endings, eternal returns: the very fabric of reinvention.

Scent Elements: Oakmoss, labdanum, atlas cedar, heliotropin, agarwood, birch tar, cepes, vanilla, frankincense, sandalwood, amber, orris tincture

Covet (Sarah Jessica Parker for Coty)

On an average day, the Point Pavilion Antique Center on Arnold Avenue is as tranquil as a museum. The trio of older ladies who work there are friendly, well-mannered, and above all, quiet; a shopper can normally browse undisturbed for hours. I have traveled here this morning (despite a sky full of ominous thunderclouds) in anticipation of a relaxing stroll through the vendor booths. Instead, I find myself in the middle of a Constitutional crisis.

The minute I open the door, a furious flood of invective pours out onto the street. Its source: an obese woman with brassy yellow hair and a short, middle-aged man with an overdone spray-tan. (We'll call him Napoleon.) While the nice ladies watch from the relative safety of the cashwrap, these two stand there bellowing at one another... about Monica Lewinsky.

Yes, even after a decade and a half, the Clinton impeachment scandal is still running full tilt in this corner of the universe. From every corner of the store -- and believe me, I investigate them all in search of a hidden exit -- I clearly hear Napoleon proclaim (in a North Jersey accent and at an impressive decibel level) that Clinton was a NASSHOLE and Lewinsky was a NUGLY DAWG and they BOTH SHOULDA BIN STRUNG UP, ENDA STORY.

JEEZIS, the brassy blonde shouts. GIVER A BREAK, SAL, SHE WUZ ONLY TWENNY-TOO.

And that was fifteen years ago, I long to interject. So for the love of humanity, LET IT GO.

Stung thus by the hornets of political strife, I accomplish my first pass-through in record time, with disappointing results. I see the exact same bottles of Youth Dew, Brut, and Lenthéric Red Lilac gathering dust; it seems the Pavilion no longer enjoys the swift turnover in vintage fragrances it once boasted. And since the argument up at the front counter seems in no danger of losing steam, I figure it's time to go. At this very moment -- as I plot a clandestine exit that will NOT take me near the cashwrap -- I spot it. Forgotten on a shelf, full to the brim, a store tester bottle of Sarah Jessica Parker Covet.

Before testers such as this one disappeared from department stores, I would steal a sniff of Covet and puzzle over what made it different from the other fragrances on the display. A wonderfully weird femme fougère overlaid with chocolatey patchouli and tobacco-tinged vanilla, it's really too good to account for its discontinuation. For that, I blame the arrogance of a perfume industry which maintains that all women want ditzy florals when many us -- not least SJP -- flat-out don't.

Consider the "fragrant, dark, musky, rich concoction" she pitched to Coty fragrance executives, as described in Chandler Burr's The Perfect Scent:
What did she like? Well, first there was body odor. (They stared at her. She stared right back. Yes, body odor. "I think that we all secretly really like it," she told them forthrightly, "and we're just afraid to admit it.") She liked dark scents, mustiness, slightly serpentine complex greens, labdanum, opopanax. She liked masculine notes, and the team watched her inhale them eagerly and intently. They shot each other a few glances. They were all for avoiding the clichés, sure, and it was good -- in fact it was surprising and terrific -- that she was so intensely interested, but she had very, very strong opinions, and her olfactory preferences didn't accord much with her girlish, fresh-faced public image. Parker's perfume from the very start was looking like it was going to be something unexpected (pg. 30).
But Coty doesn't do unexpected any more than it does dark or serpentine -- at least since it discontinued Chypre-- and so SJP ended up fronting Lovely, one of the ditziest florals on the market. Her bold brief did eventually have its day, but in a flacon so unforgivably ugly it could only have been a corporate attempt at sabotage. Such a rebuke must have been painful for Sarah Jessica Parker. To see her "true" scent marginalized, rejected, and disavowed in this way-- no wonder it's not even listed on her website. One would think it never existed.

For this reason, I decide what the hell-- I'll give this handsome fragrance in its lonely bottle a home. But when I approach the cashwrap with Covet in hand, I find Napoleon actually standing with folded arms behind the counter. To my horror, I realize that he works here-- and from the peremptory manner in which he takes Covet out of my hands and thrusts it at one of the nice ladies, it's possible he may even own this place.

The lady left holding my bottle raises it up to her nose. Ah, she says, that smells so good!

Fast as lightning, Napoleon barks, WIMMEN shoulden be ALLOWED ta JUDGE those sorta things.

I stare at him in amazement. I beg your pardon?!

MEN should be the judge of whatcha wear. WE'RE who you wear it for, am I right? I'm still staring at him, so he ventures to explain further. Like ya hair. You dunno how ta wear it unless we TELL ya, 'cause we're the ones who hafta LOOKET it.

I have no idea what you're talking about, I tell him. I'm sure he sees my expression of disgust; he, too, shakes his head in amazement that I've failed to understand this very simple concept.

Ah FAGEDDIT, he says, handing me my change. I guess it's OVAH YA HEAD.

Scent Elements: Greens, geranium leaf, Sicilian lemon, lavender, chocolate, honeysuckle, magnolia, muguet, musk, vetiver, cashmeran, teakwood, amber

Harbinger (Soivohle)

You fell into bed, still in your clothes;
kicking your shoes off half without thinking,
but leaving all your jewelry on.

Sometime before dawn
you must have wriggled out of your dress;
you awaken with one hand dangling over the mattress,
fingers still hooked around an errant bra strap.

He brings you coffee and a ripe peach.

Bare legs twine lazily against a field of rumpled cotton;
skin smelling of sleep,
of last night's club and taxi and brandy,
of cigarettes smoked,
of love well-requited.

Scent Elements: Cumin, honey absolute, white rose, cinnamon, peach aldehyde, orchid musk, coffee bean, civet, castoreum, caramel, vetiver, oakmoss

Royall Lyme Cologne (Royall Lyme Bermuda)

Despite the fact that today begins a long-awaited vacation, I don't feel like celebrating. My last day at work proved rocky, as many days have lately; not for the first or last time, I exited the building in furious tears. At home, several glasses of white wine offered inadequate consolation; predictably, morning brought the grinding ache of hangover, intolerable in the early-summer heatwave.

Today I am wearing vintage Royall Lyme Bermuda in an attempt to cool my temper. I picked up this two-fluid-ounce bottle at the Columbus Farmers Market for three dollars after passing up a 10-ml. mini of the same priced at an aspirational eight bucks. The day had been cloudless, the sun brilliant and unrelenting; Royall Lyme might have boiled away in its bottle if I hadn't impulsively rescued it from that unshaded table. From that day to this one, I have never regretted this split-second decision. Every so often, rash acts pay off.

Royall Lyme is perhaps the best representation of natural lime I have yet encountered in a perfume. It is intensely acerbic, not at all sweet; it requires only minimal support from the purported seventy-seven other ingredients it contains (of which, thank god, coconut is not one-- the piña colada fragrance genre being populous enough). In hot weather, it lowers body temperature practically on contact. Add to all this the fact that lime essence suggests sun, salt air, relaxation, a return to health; aromatherapeutically speaking, it lifts the spirits and wards off black moods.

And by god, today I need it-- for that last reason, if for no other.

Scent Elements: West Indian lime peel, clove, cinnamon, bay rum, benzoin