Ça Sent Beau (Kenzo)

Ça sent beau means "this smells lovely"-- so lovely that the perfume shop owner who sold me two boxed minis of this much-mourned classic almost demanded a thousand-word essay on why I thought I should be their owner. I did my darndest to present a convincing argument, and in the end (with a great show of reluctance, like a man forced to marry off his favorite daughter) my argumentative, obstinate, but ultimately lovable attar-wallah relented.

If he'd played his cards a little more wisely, he could have had his lawn mowed, socks darned, and dishes washed for a year.

Ça Sent Beau (1989) is a miniature symphony in which each different section of the olfactory orchestra -- the citrus chypres, the peachy florals, the gentle woods -- plays its movement separately. Then all join together for a heart-swelling rendition of the composition's central theme, which is a doozy and carries you straight into paradise. By the time the final notes sound, you'll feel as though you've attended an all-day ritual rāga concert and raised your blissful face just in time to feel the first monsoon raindrops patter like a benediction on your brow.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, neroli, gardenia, tuberose, magnolia, ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, peach, plum, coriander, cardamom, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss, vanilla, musk, amber

Iris Noir (Yves Rocher)

In Iris Noir, "noir" is not used in the cinematic or literary sense; there are no fedora brims shadowing mysterious strangers' eyes in lonely pools of streetlight. Instead, the usual pellucid iris accord finds itself at Otakon, cosplaying its little heart out for the Gothic Vampire team.

It's all here-- the witchy paper-pale complexion, the overdramatic eyeliner, the black lace half-mittens, the violet velvet all hanging in shreds. But since only teenagers can really get away with this kind of dress-up, Iris Noir is also packed with sweet purple-berry syrup and the warm-pie innocence of a tonka-styrax drydown.

If you find it adorable, as I do, keep those sentiments to yourself-- you know how sulky vampires get when their moms call them out in a crowd.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, coriander, carrotseed, iris, tonka bean, patchouli, styrax

Iris Nobile Eau de Parfum (Acqua di Parma)

If this is the first time anyone's thought to introduce iris to anise, all I can say is Che bella! And if there is such a quality in perfume as essere Italiani, Iris Nobile has got it in abbondanza. In fact, upon first application, my first thought was of Vicolo Fiori, an fifteen-year-old composition by an entirely different perfume house-- Italian, of course. I could say that Iris Nobile is derivative of the ideas and emotions expressed in Etro's splendid older fragrance, but the spirit of sunny Italy calls forth only benevolence from me today. This rich, buttery floral with a licorice twist is uncharacteristically optimistic for an iris perfume, and who am I to complain? Breathing in this beauty, I want only to smile, accelerate my Vespa into the traffic circumnavigating the Coliseum, and murmur, "Eccezionale."

Scent Elements: Bergamot, tangerine, iris, star anise, ylang ylang, oakmoss, vanilla, amber crystals, patchouli.

Donna Karan Iris (Donna Karan)

I imagine this spare fragrance is meant to project both sophistication and functionality, much like Karan's 1985 Seven Easy Pieces prêt-à-porter line, which hard-eyed Manhattan women trotted around town for years. Yet it feels beachy and easygoing to me-- in short, a world apart from that which Karan's urban devotees inhabit. Ambrette makes a nice playmate for this standoffish iris, lending it ballast and cutting its chill. The result is a sort of toned-down Dior Dune for those who consider a low profile their Number One fashion accessory. I imagine it makes a great masculine, too-- especially in the city, where people pretend they won't give an inch, yet everything is allowed.

Scent Elements: Iris, violet, magnolia, rose de mai, vetiver, ambrette seed.

Alliage (Estée Lauder)

Alliage (1972) and Private Collection (1973) are similar enough to count as variations on the same thought process-- interesting, when you consider that both exist on the same continuum as Azurée (1968). However, if feeling clean and cool are your objectives, Private Collection's greenery is simply too lush. It emanates (as forest thickets often do) a dense, almost palpable humidity which mixes ill with actual hot weather. Ditto Azurée-- who in their right mind wears leather in thick-and-sticky August?

Alliage, on the other hand, feels like a lemon-pine deodorant that never quits. Its cleanliness is powerful, persistent, and remarkably frank, as if created to address a very particular hygiene problem head-on. This, more than anything, qualifies Alliage for the functional rather than fine fragrance category. You're not meant to find poetry here, nor sensitivity, nor tact.

But in terms of straightforward prose, Alliage is very well stated indeed.

Scent Elements: Galbanum, peach, citrus, jasmine, rosewood, pine, thyme, caraway, oakmoss, vetiver, myrrh, musk

Private Collection (Estée Lauder)

Private Collection (1973) is a spirited chypre overflowing with verve, wit, sex, and magic. Whereas some chypres broadcast hard-edged cosmopolitan chic, this one radiates a softness and benevolence worthy of an Earth Mother. The goddess upon whom Private Collection is predicated was, of course, the late Estée Lauder-- a woman famous for her serene self-confidence and feminine allure, not to mention a forceful character capable of throwing quite a scare into those unwise enough to cross her. Full-bodied, dignified, and just a bit remote, Private Collection mirrors that age-old dichotomy: Lady Bountiful to her friends and lovers, Gorgon to her foes.

Like fraternal (but not identical) twins, Private Collection and Azurée share the sturdy armature of the classic chypre: bright citrus, intense moss, buxom woody amber, sly and sexy indoles. But while many of their features are to some degree interchangeable, the personality, comportment, and apparel of these two fragrances are resolutely individual. (After all, what lady of fashion likes to appear in public wearing the costume of another?) Whereas Azurée harbors a penchant for smartly-tailored leather, Private Collection prefers to go skyclad, clothed only in moonlight. Instead of smoky birch tar, she enlists galbanum, pine and reseda (mignonette) to entice the wearer into a labyrinth of scent associations as emotional as they are hypnotic.

Owing to the perfect harmony of Private Collection's composition, what could swerve in the direction of witchy theatrics instead leads one to the chypre's quiet, meditative center-- a place of deep peace and restful separation from the mundane world. One might be sitting in the twilight of the forest floor-- or at the bottom of the deepest lake, the sky but a pale glimmer overhead. No wonder Estée Lauder was prepared to keep Private Collection all to herself. Luckily, she chose to pass Nirvana on to all of us... and I for one am proud to be a member of her coven.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, honeysuckle, linden, hyacinth, jasmine, rose, chrysanthemum, neroli, ylang-ylang, coriander, galbanum, pine, reseda, heliotrope, sandalwood, patchouli, musk, amber

ViVi Patchouli Musk Vintage Perfume Oil (New York Pencil Company)

When I picked up this delightful relic at the antique store, it had been mellowing in its curvy little bottle (still emblazoned with a Woolworth's price label) for about as long as I've been alive. Produced by the charmingly-yclept and most assuredly defunct New York Pencil Company Inc. (doesn't that sound like a Janis Joplin side project?) Vivi Patchouli Musk must have screamed 'Lower East Side Yippie' way back in the day. But age has refined this wild-child fragrance into a scent which speaks with quiet authority... and maybe even a fair amount of poetry.

Believe what you've heard about patchouli maturing in a manner similar to wine. Whoo, this is the stuff! Smooth, chocolatey, indolic as all get-out, Vivi is a surprisingly mellow perfume oil that has benefited from its long sojourn on the shelf. All of that in-your-face acridity for which patchouli is so notorious is gone, baby, gone-- replaced by beautiful, shadowy nuances, like a Rembrandt for your nose.

Though I retained a sample for myself, I packed ViVi off to Carol of WAFT, a true patchouli connoisseur whom I knew would give it a good home. I agree with her assessment that ViVi puts hair on your chest-- but that's no reason for my earth-mother cleavage to pass up on the benefits!

Scent Elements: Patchouli and musk, exactly as advertised.

Wanted (Helena Rubenstein)

Demi Moore is a dark, dignified beauty with steely eyes and a voice like raspy honey. Even though she hails from parts untrammeled by Spanish moss, there's something inexpressibly Southern about her-- that creamy, pale allure which evokes a magnolia flower in deep shade; that tough survivor's armor upheld by perfect beauty-queen posture. Strong, graceful, uncompromising, she strikes me as a paragon of feminine self-possession-- in short, the perfect candidate to front an aspirational fragrance.

I figured a great big syrupy white floral would be a no-brainer for Ms. Moore. Yet when Wanted debuted in 2009, its magazine scent strips smelled more like sticky prune pastry; layer it with a coffee fragrance, and you'd have a Continental breakfast to go. Such were my doubts that I didn't actually wear Wanted until it was already discontinued. More's the pity... because this stuff is downright marvelous.

My brand-new-in-the-box bottle was given to me by a friend who had scored several of them at a local cosmetic outlet with rock-bottom wholesale prices. Now, before you start riffing on the phrase "rock-bottom", please remember: all that is gold does not glitter. A perfume need not be designed by Serge Lutens nor sell for a small fortune in order to be good-- and Wanted is exactly that. A slightly richer, more full-fleshed magnolia riff on CK Euphoria's plum-and-incense theme, it radiates a graceful femininity that suits any mood, circumstance, or season. All of my misgivings vanished in a warm, cashmere-soft haze of vanilla-infused sandalwood that lasted like a dream. Surprise, surprise!

But don't just take my word for it; let the vox populi cast the final vote. When I spray-tested a tiny amount of Wanted at my office, ladies of all ages and backgrounds literally came running. They lined up to heft that heavy glass hand-grenade of a bottle in their palms, oohing and aahing at the way the cap snaps onto its base as if magnetized. They sprayed and sniffed, sniffed and sprayed, expressions suffused with delight. If that doesn't prove this fragrance's worth, what does?

For Demi's sake, I wish that Wanted had been more successful. But had it gone the route of blockbuster ubiquity like Lancôme Trésor or Jennifer Aniston, we'd all be bored to tears with it already. Better that this flower should bloom once and melt away, leaving behind a memory of pleasure that lasts for all time.

Scent Elements: Magnolia, ylang-ylang, iris, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla

Two Goth beauties.

The house I lived in on Maui years ago was surrounded by live gardenias-- in my opinion the only kind of gardenia worth smelling. So long as one left them undisturbed on the stem, those waxy, double-petaled blossoms filled the air with a heavenly ambience. But once plucked, the blossoms would lose their scent rapidly, as if in passive protest.

Perhaps this is why Annick Goutal's Gardénia Passion is no gardenia at all, but a tuberose (as many before me have remarked). I admit that the tuberose has never been a favorite of mine; I've always found it morbid, possibly owing to its frequent appearance in funeral arrangements. Waxy, bloodless, deathly sweet, it's the flower most likely to show up on a vampire's banquet table-- but Annick Goutal's well-crafted chypre setting does much to relieve its innate pallor and chill. With orangeflower to lighten its mood and jasmine to teach it the art of flirtation, Gardénia Passion's tuberose sheds its Goth shrouds and learns how to live it up.

Idole de Lubin, on the other hand, resists all attempts to goad her into her joviality. It's her party, and she'll cry if she wants to! In keeping with Olivia Giacobetti's yen for creating not-quite-identical twinned perfumes, Idole is Safran Troublant's vampire sister-- the spooky Snow White to her sunny Rose Red. I have never had the opportunity to smell kuroyaki, the fabled wood-ash sachets used by Kyoto geisha to perfume their kimono, but I imagine them to smell exactly this way: silken, quiet, and just a touch mournful. Idole's accord of almond milk, honey, and wood dust strikes just the balance between soft plush and dark shadow dear to many a manga-loving teen. (If only we could teach them to reach for this instead of Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Lovers!)

Scent Elements: Rum absolute, saffron, bigarade, black cumin, doum palm, smoked ebony, sugarcane, red sandalwood, leather (Idole); gardenia, tuberose, jasmine, neroli, oakmoss (Gardénia Passion)

Vicolo Fiori (Etro)

Wherever flowers grow in overwhelming profusion, the mind ceases to distinguish individual blossoms and begins to view the whole as a single entity-- a sort of tutelary goddess who embodies every pleasure and joy that flowers have to offer. Inhaling her perfume makes a person happy without even knowing why.

Wearing the charmingly-named Vicolo Fiori ("Alley Flowers"), I feel ridiculously optimistic even though a busy day looms ahead. All the skepticism I might harbor towards the perfumer's notes (bluebell? waterlily? seriously?) dissolves in a sweetly penetrating creme floral that fairly drips with spring rain. The deliciously peachy drydown that follows vanquishes the last traces of doubt. I'm a believer!

Scent Elements: Bluebell, tangerine, waterlily, cyclamen, rose, ylang-ylang, melon, white peach, amber, vanilla

Colonia (Acqua di Parma)

A cologne that smells like almond milk soap? Color me flummoxed (and/or hungry)!

There is a decided alkaline creaminess to this scent that contradicts the very definition (in my mind) of a cologne: light, fresh, acerbic. But the citrus aspect of Colonia, if not these things, is at least sweet, bright, legible, and not in the slightest bit bogged down by the underlying milkiness. Think of a Meyer lemon curd tart with a hidden layer of frangipane cream-- acid set like a jewel against lactonic.

(Only a tiny sliver more, please, or it'll go straight to my hips.)

Scent Elements: Citrus, lavender, rosemary, verbena, Bulgarian rose, sandalwood, vetiver, cedar, ylang-ylang

Deux oranges vertes.

Composed in 1979, recalibrated and renamed Eau d'Orange Verte in 1997, and reissued once more as a Concentré in 2004, Eau de Cologne d'Hermès is one of my very favorite eaux-- cool, fresh, and pacifying. I imagine it as a pousse-café composed entirely of scent elements in the yellow-green spectrum, through which the wearer blissfully descends en route to intoxication.

It seems to me that more recent versions follow the same basic mixology, with bolder colors but fewer layers to get you there faster. This proves especially true of Concentré d'Orange Verte. A good solid cologne, with bright orange top notes riding a rather outdoorsy wood-and-herb heart, it follows the progression of the original at seemingly three times the speed. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose... pedal-to-the-metal style.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, mandarin, coriander, basil, mint, rosemary, lavender, petitgrain, neroli, lily-of-the-valley, cedar, oakmoss, sandalwood, patchouli, musk (Eau de Cologne d'Hermès); bergamot, lemon, mandarin, mint, jasmine, orange blossom, patchouli, moss, cedar (Concentré d'Orange Verte)

Tommy Girl (Tommy Hilfiger)

Up top there's a nice, slightly astringent herbal note, quickly supplanted by a piercing white floral that never seems to dissolve or diminish. It reminded me of a cup of tea with fourteen spoonsful of sugar in it: no matter how good a brand of tea you use, the grainy sweet sludge at the bottom of the cup is what it all comes down to.

Still, that first sip makes the whole cup worth brewing. If only one could order just that, and send the rest back...

Scent Elements: Black currant, camellia, mandarin, apple blossom, honeysuckle, lily, violet, mint, grapefruit, rose, magnolia, leather, sandalwood, jasmine, cedar

Misetu (Soivohle)

With all its sourness and sulphur, grapefruit continues to be a note I find personally challenging. I may never deliberately seek it out nor permit it to wholly win me over (as has cassis, to my intense guilty pleasure). But over time, our relationship has lost its contentiousness-- that acidic squirt-in-the-eye, so to speak.

In short, I can live with grapefruit... so long as it minds its damn manners.

Misetu is one of several fragrances that has helped me and grapefruit achieve a truce. Striking a perfect balance between tart and syrupy, it lends some well-rounded fun to a fruit that I have always associated with bitterness, self-denial, and doubt. Here's our friendly rubyfruit presented as a jazzy sangria, or else cooked down into marmalade, dense and jewel-toned, a true Southern treat. I liked the way magnolia and grapefruit held hands in Institut Très Bien's Cologne à la Française, but here they're front and center on the wedding altar, pledging their troth in a long sweet kiss for all the world to see.

You may now salute the bride!

Scent Elements: Red grapefruit, magnolia, ylang-ylang, clove, elemi, white lotus, rose absolute, tobacco, jasmine sambac, lavender absolute, champaca wood, vetiver

Transcendental Musc (Soivohle)

I'm speechless. Honestly. Just speechless.

Celestial orange blossom. Minty brilliant basil. Ocean-ozone freshness. Mellow elemi. The sunlit honey-hay of genêt.

It's not the first time I've cried hosannah. But this time, I sing hosannah in the highest.

Scent Elements: Sweet orange oil, key lime, basil, cantaloupe, cut grass, coriander, basil absolute, petitgrain, Saigon cinnamon, allspice berry, ozone, champaca absolute, orange flower absolute, orange flower water absolute, genêt absolute, jasmine absolute, velvione, ambrettolide, sandalwood oil, amyris oil (elemi), Haitian vetiver, labdanum absolute, and accords of green moss, clean musk, coumarin/tonka, sandalwood, orange flower and jasmine

Domino Viole (Soivohle)

How fitting for its name: Domino Viole is violet masquerading as leather, a flower disguised as a bristling wild beast. I've been wearing my sample on and off for days now, and I still haven't clearly identified the beautiful stranger peering at me through the mask. Perhaps I am never meant to know.

Begin the begin: Domino's violet smells so minty, I mistook it at first for patchouli-- or perhaps catnip. As it wends its way towards an attractive, mossy-resinous heart, our mischievous flower picks up a rather unusual companion: an anomalous note (clearly oud-driven) that can only be likened to black-olive brine. Salty-metallic, biological as blood, complete with a disturbing tang of oceanic iodine, the sorcery of this strange element drew my nose back to my wrist over and over with a frequency bordering on obsession. The woody drydown that follows is disappointingly flat... but when so much that is delightful and mysterious has gone before it, who can blame this bal de masque for ending on a quiet note?

Let this review serve as my RSVP: Why, I would be delighted.

Scent Elements: Violet, oud, herbs, jasmine absolute, iris, rose, lavender, oakmoss, musk

Misadventure in scent.

Call me unfaithful to a cause: I absolutely could not wear any Soivohle today. A crappy night's sleep, anxiety surrounding my MRI/EEG results, the soul-grinding prospect of another Monday opening shift-- all these convinced me beyond any doubt that if I wore ANY perfume today, I would end up HATING IT FOREVER. Yet I couldn't go without, so into my stash I plunged-- emerging with my spray decant (courtesy of Sweet Suzanne) of Fumerie Turque clutched in one hand. Now, not that I ever want to dislike this splendid incense-and-tobacco-smoke fragrance; nothing short of the Apocalypse could make me think it smelled less than beautiful. But you try holding that thought after your fifth hot flash of the morning. At a certain point, all I could smell was my own flop sweat; no perfume, however bold, could break through that olfactory picket line.

Sorry, Fumerie Turque. Some battles you can't help but lose.

Lavande Legato Cologne (Soivohle)

As a gallery curator, I constantly seek to interact with artists whose work is intensely, inescapably personal. The immutable stamp of their life experience, their confusion and joy, everything they believe is true or reject as false-- all this must be present, like a pulse beneath the surface. This is the artist's point of view, and I believe it takes precedence over even the most superior technical finesse. All sorts of tricks go into cultivating a recognizable visual style; many artists I've met are incredibly proud of their gimmicks. But if the result is just another beachscape or bowl of fruit, my eye perceives it as all for nought-- a picture without a story, a memoir devoid of memory, a diary in which the author has been careful to talk about everything under the sun but herself.

Still, for students of art young and old, the practice of reproducing masterpieces has long been an accepted (and even recommended) exercise. One can take tutoring from the greats-- studying their use of proportion, shadow and light, experiencing the interplay of pigment and brush that led to such profound harmony. Committing your own soul to the canvas will come later and is much, much harder to do. For now, peering through the eyes of a master readies you to have a vision of your own.

Liz Zorn certainly has a vision; her work fairly vibrates with point of view. Wear a Soivohle fragrance, and you will feel the risks she has taken to invest it with her own nonpareil soul. But she is not so proud or solitary that she doesn't return to the classics. Lavande Legato is her equivalent of a reproduction artwork-- a copy of a well-known work, made for fun as a way to flex her creative muscles.

The inspiration here is a classic fougère, one of the most oft-reproduced accords in perfume history. Lavender, oakmoss, citrus, herbs: the basic ingredients are all here, with a Grey Flannel-ish violet and an Eau Sauvage-ish basil woven into the recipe and a low-key soapy vanilla-spice accord for a finish. I find Lavande Legato maybe just the tiniest bit metallic, but bright and cheerful nonetheless. Zorn has turned in a very nice, spare hommage to a genre not often represented in her portfolio.

Of course, I will always like her daring, exhilarating originals best. But every artist is guaranteed the right to experiment with the tools of those who have gone before-- and in Lavande Legato, we see the perfumer at play.

Scent Elements: Lavender, basil, petitgrain, hesperides, spices, sweet bay, violets, tea, patchouli, oakmoss

Journeyman (Soivohle)

The Hard Rock Cafe on Hollywood Boulevard keeps Jim Morrison's leather pants sealed behind glass for more than just the obvious reason. Sure, they're an priceless part of rock 'n' roll history, iconic of an era lionized and a hero lamented. I don't doubt they're worth their weight in gold. But they also reek. They have to!

Think about it: Morrison danced orgiastically under hot stage lights, had Olympian sex, skipped showers, tripped in alleyways and deserts, and happily wore the same clothing for weeks. After so many years of Dionysian activity, what other outcome could be reached? The combined scents of unwashed skin and hair, marijuana, incense, Bushmills Irish whiskey, sweaty rockstar ass... Christ, I can almost smell those pants from here. (Are you sure that glass is thick enough?)

One can only imagine the Morrison Pong as being mammalian, powerful, and intimidating. Yet I've also read that women found his B.O. utterly irresistible, possibly even addictive-- a sort of hardcore catnip that dazzled their hippie senses. I believe them. Would this golden rock god have been mourned so keenly if his only legacy had been a foul rotgut stench?

Journeyman is what I like to think Jimbo smelled like, whether following a holy vision quest or a Chateau Marmont freakout. In this January 2011 post, Nathan Branch called it "a very wearable and arguably masculine mixture of amber, patchouli and leather. A rich, deep scent... (that) radiates beautifully in the heat, like sun-baked timber." Well said. But it leaves out the part of this fragrance that moves me the most: the man-skank. When Journeyman was first composed, oud -- which has been flogged like a dead horse in every possible way over the last two years -- was still a relatively new silhouette on the horizon. How unbelievably dirty it must have seemed at the time! How unbelievably dirty even now!

If the Hard Rock Cafe (or heck, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located in Liz Zorn's adoptive homestate) wanted to present visitors with the genuine scent of the Lizard King's leathers, they wouldn't have to look very far for a facsimile. I wish they'd consider it... and give this fabulous discontinued scent a second charmed life.

Scent Elements: Suede, oud, amber, castoreum, opopanax, saffron, tobacco, cedar, angelica, rosewood, birch tar, ambergris, spices, incense, vanilla, musk.

What a difference a year makes...

When last I wore Sunset Rider, I declared it the sole Soivohle that did not agree with me, blaming the August heat for interacting disastrously with its megadose of jasmine. I thought it might take at least six months before I'd essay to try it again. That was ten days shy of a year ago.

So here we are in August again, the humidity lying heavy as a dripping, hot washcloth. I'm wearing Sunset Rider and, this time, loving it. Its jasmine is still Joylike, but all the "soapy sugar" I decried in 2012 is gone-- replaced by a lovely chypre that leads like terraced steps down into mysterious woods. (Where was all this the last time I visited?)

With its newfound restraint and classic sense of elegance, Sunset Rider has changed my mind, not to mention the number of stars I'm awarding it (increased from two to three). But now it's my husband who complains of its soapiness and sugariness. I guess I don't like jasmine, he says. Really, honey? You just wait.

Return ticket to VanillaVille.

As a child, I used to eagerly wait for the neighborhood sassafras trees to turn color in early autumn. The flame-red hue of a fall sassafras seems to broadcast a warning -- step back! -- but if you pluck one leaf and crease it with your thumbnail, you're rewarded with an unlikely gift: the sweet, appetizing scent of a vanilla ice-cream root beer float.

Today I've received a similar gift from a completely unexpected source: VanillaVille, a perfume I thought I knew well. With every wearing up until this moment, it has knocked me backwards with its deep, dark potency. But today, it has chosen to speak quietly rather than shout-- and I'm able to understand it better. Unanticipated notes (sweet myrrh, benzoin, anise, dried herbs) and dimensions (balsamic, medicinal) keep rising to the fore. Second by second, I'm discovering something new about a scent I thought I had figured out: a lissome, wistful, innocent side hidden behind the bravado.

Yin Hao, on occasion.

It has long been my belief that anyone can wear any fragrance anywhere, any time, as they desire. I have worn many a precious vintage extrait to the grocery store or gas station-- and conversely sported the cheapest, silliest scent in my collection to such formal events as weddings or gallery openings, with good results.

And yet I find I cannot just wear Yin Hao any old way. Like a piece of labradorite which appears dull grey from every angle but one, Yin Hao will only leap into spectral flame when the atmosphere is exactly right.

Yesterday afternoon, I climbed crickety wooden stairs to the hayloft of the antiques barn, there to poke through assemblages of the very type of oddities I love: silk parasols, Depression glass, novelty figurines, tarnished daguerrotypes, panne velvet, openwork crochet, blonde straw, Bakelite. The smell (dust, furniture polish, brittle yellow doilies, rotting leather) produced the most utterly perfect environ for Yin Hao. In this setting, as in no other, its "shameless" green jasmine glowed like a mystical jewel.

It's a rare perfume that requires such a precise alignment of propitious stars. Can you blame me for obeying to the letter?

Yin Hao is not an everyday perfume. One neither encounters nor wears such a scent often; it naturally clashes with the mundane. Nor is Yin Hao a modern perfume, though it was created only six years ago. There's something indescribably anachronistic about this peridot-colored liquid and the uses to which it is destined to be put. It knows neither chrome nor silicone; it moves at a pace we of today might find maddeningly slow. In fountain-pen ink on a deckle-edged note card stamped with Rennie Mackintosh roses, it inscribes a billet-doux from a forgotten past-- a strange and beautiful Brigadoon only visible in passing.

Figgy Plum (Soivohle)

It's strange, isn't it? No sooner do I get done bashing Chrysalis than along comes Figgy Plum. I had almost forgotten that Liz Zorn never quite gives up on any accord, however difficult or uncooperative it might be-- and Figgy Plum shows evidence of being Chrysalis after a good, long, hard think. Here we have the same pairing of figs and butter, only this time amalgated into a smooth and balanced blend. No booze fumes, no rancidity, nothing that smacks of steaming hot landfill. In short, no fear factor. It IS a bit on the sugary side, and maybe a little reminscent of shampoo... but I'll take both of those over olfactory terror any day of the week. Wouldn't you?

Scent Elements: Fig, fig leaf, plum blossom, jasmine, violets, tobacco, labdanum, "dark sugar" accord, balsam Tolu, musk

Marron Caramel (Soivohle)

The bottle designed by Baccarat to house Caron's Nuit de Noël always struck me as a little bit off. Obsidian seems so heavy and morose for this delicate, creamy little chypre. I would have chosen a glass resembling milky green alabaster, chatoyant moonstone, moss agate-- and dyed that shagreen box black instead.

Marron Caramel unabashedly celebrates the color brown in shades graduating from palest panna cotta to the rich sienna of burnt sugar. Its creamy, cool nougat sweetness is faithful to the original Nuit de Noël's marron glacé theme, which contemporary reformulations have rendered somewhat less gorgeously opaque than in days of yore. Also absent is mousse de Saxe, to whose muted green quality my imagination pinned the vision of that fictional moss agate flacon.

But no matter. My nose declares Marron Caramel interesting-- and in such matters, I defer at once to its authority.

Scent Elements: Brown sugar, caramel, vanilla, musk, amber, angelica, ambrette, benzoin, labdanum

Riding the range with Cordovan Rose.

A few days ago, I wore Yves Rocher Thé Vert to my MRI appointment, theorizing that its "healthy" qualities would put me in the right mindframe (snurk!) to have my brain scanned six ways to a Sunday. I'm not sure why I felt differently about my subsequent EEG; it's not that Thé Vert failed to soothe me in my hour of need, and I definitely still felt in need of olfactory comfort. But I felt off-kilter. I needed to get back in the Soivohle saddle. And having traversed it once, I had no inclination to take the Tea Road again.

Originally, I'd intended to wear an obtrusive fragrance with very little sillage and even less persistence, out of deference to my fellow medical patients. Why, then, Cordovan Rose-- a fragrance which refuses to be quiet and demure, and which would never consent to disappear without a trace? Perhaps it was the weather (cool, grey, drizzling). Perhaps it was my mood (restless, anxious, uncertain). Perhaps it was my instinct that staring mortality in the face is not an activity best accomplished in the company of a fragrance as vague and ephemeral as Thé Vert.

I wanted ballast. I wanted courage. I wanted leather and roses.

I got them, too-- sure as shootin'.