A scent worth scrapping over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

"Are these being held for her?"

"No, but..."

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

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

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

"MINE!" Shirley barks.

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

"RRRRRRRRrrrrrrr!"

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

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

Carolina (Olympic Orchids)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obsession (Calvin Klein)

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

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

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

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

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

Khaki Cologne (Love Cosmetics)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Autumn Vintage Cologne (Prince Matchabelli)

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

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

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

Mata Hari (DSH Perfumes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fougère Nakh (Soivohle)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm open. Come on in.

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

Fair Verona Pure Perfume (Strange Invisible Perfumes)

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

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

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

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

And with that, it was love.

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

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

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

M (Puredistance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kai Eau de Parfum (Kai)

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

Wait. Scratch that. Try again.

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

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

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

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

Good times, good times-- but I digress.

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

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

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

Juste un Rêve (Parfums de Nicolaï)

When I hear the name of this perfume, I think of that Nelly video in which he and his girlfriend break up in a car floating fifty feet over the ocean. Now, that doesn't make me cry. But for some reason, the breathtakingly beautiful Nelly/Mars mashup performed by Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect completely reduces me to helpless, snot-nosed weeping.

A song can do that to you-- pierce you with its sweetness, then vanish. A movie can do that to you-- like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when Clementine whispers "Meet me in Montauk..." seconds before she's erased from Joel's memory forever. But a ditzy little tropical fantasy floral perfume isn't supposed to make you cry. Is it?

Who knows. When you consider that strange phantom feeling of melancholic regret that can hover like a sudden cloud-shadow over the end of summer, maybe it can after all.
So I traveled back down that road
Will she come back? No one knows
And I realize
It was only just a dream

Scent Elements: Apricot, coconut, tuberose, jasmine, hyacinth, iris, sandalwood, vanilla

Cannabis Santal (Fresh)

The other night, I excavated no fewer than seventy (SEVENTY!) uncataloged perfume samples -- gifts from Lisa and Colleen -- from the way-back of the Scent Cabinet. Those arrivals must have induced quite the panic attack, for it appears that I stuffed them whole into the Cabinet's deepest recesses. Unearthing them stirs up once more that strange feeling of guilt-- even more keen now, since many of the samples have evaporated to nothing.

The angels will take their share, after all.

In sorting and logging this rediscovered hoard, I made a point of setting aside the samples most visited by the seraphim. Only about a quarter milliliter of Fresh Cannabis Santal remained, so I spritzed it on right away. What a lark! There was nothing santal about it, and very little cannabis (but again, that could be the fault of the proverbial angels, those midnight tokers). Rather, it smelled compellingly of a sweet treat I'd enjoyed this past Sunday.

After our foray into Shore Antiques, my spouse and I ducked around the corner to Cravings Bakery, where I selected a chocolate walnut square from the display case. A sort of Betty Crockerized version of the traditional Australian "millionaire's shortbread", it consisted of a base of rich pâte sablée layered with soft toffee and dark chocolate ganache, both studded liberally with chopped walnuts, and all ridiculously delicious. However, like most delicacies of its kind, it left me feeling ever so slightly logy-- and my fingers smelled most lastingly of brown butter, an aroma not easily vanquished by scrubbings with everyday soap.

In the end, Cannabis Santal had the same effect-- a heightening of appetite, followed by swift satiation and the rueful wish that one had indulged a bit less. (I wonder if angels suffer from heartburn... or, conversely, the munchies?)

Scent Elements: Bergamot, orange, plum, patchouli, cannabis accord, rose, chocolate, vetiver, musk, vanilla

Requiem for a dreamscape.

As a New Jerseyan, I have learned -- like so many New Jerseyans before me -- to remain stoic in the face of a multitude of insults. Like the tide, public opinion rises and falls... but every so it washes in a bit of flotsam so offensive that one simply must take action.

This story begins innocuously enough-- with the launch of a perfume. The 2012 debut of Chanel Jersey touched off an upsurge of smack talk delivered by cultural pundits who, for as little they know about New Jersey, ought at least to have known better. (Note to Simon Doonan: I care not a whit if your husband hails from Bridgeton; you are not qualified to judge us, you insufferable prick.) Now, as both a local and a perfumista, I am heartily tired of hearing people make jokes about how much New Jersey "stinks". Pride moved me to declare my abiding love for my home state... and so I wrote and posted the following essay.

It began life as a review of Superworldunknown, LUSH perfumer Simon Constantine's affectionate olfactory portrait of a seaside carnival town. It turned out to be more than merely a product critique-- and while a more measured statement of allegiance may yet show up on this blog one fine day, I still feel proud to have publicly strapped my heart to my sleeve on behalf of the Garden State.

Four months after the Chanel Jersey debacle, Superstorm Sandy devastated the mid-Atlantic coastline from Cape May to Montauk. My home county suffered widespread destruction from the wind and tide... yet it seemed to me that few people beyond our region actually knew or cared about the disaster. (Wherefore wert
thou, Simon Doonan, in our hour of darkest need? Dining in the dark?) Already stunned by the storm's aftereffects on my community (which had already been long beset by some of the worst levels of unemployment and homelessness in our history), I felt frankly shocked by the offhanded reactions of some of my perfumista peers to this disaster. Less than two weeks afterward, more than few blithely chirped at me, "But certainly everything is back to normal by now, isn't it?" The harsh future we faced could not penetrate such sunny ignorance, where what is out-of-sight stays blissfully out-of-mind.

Anyhoo. We knuckled down, buckled up, and started the painful task of reconstruction. Tourist revenue being so indispensable to our county, it seemed natural that the Seaside Boardwalks be rebuilt immediately. Our beaches were reopened for one summer only-- and then on September 12th of this year, a stray spark caused by Sandy-damaged electrical wiring turned into an inferno which completely destroyed the boardwalks it had cost us $3 million to rebuild. Fun Town Pier, the Berkeley Sweet Shoppe, Kohr's Frozen Custard, and dozens of other landmarks of our collective childhood-- all gone.

Again.

So for what it's worth, I'm posting this
cri de coeur once more. We who live at the Jersey Shore will never again see it as we once knew it, but the memories we keep fixed in our minds will have to serve as our homing beacon, drawing our thoughts to a faraway shore now forever out of reach.

Peace.



There are places only locals know-- down beach, away from the noise and flash, away from the Boardwalk lights, away from the unruly tourists and curbside fistfights. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the invaders own this patch of oceanfront.

Let them have it. We know another shore.

Out here, the water is as clear and green as glass. It spreads over the sand like a sheet of crystal laminate, edging the strandline with foam, dispersing polished pink pebbles and quartz diamonds amongst glossy black devil's purses and violet-edged fragments of shell. Out here, peace lies so deep even the gulls cease their crying, lulled into silence by the waves' white noise. The sound and fury left behind are not exactly forgotten-- just made moot, signifying nothing.

Even in the winter, the sound of a perfect summer song coming over a handheld transistor puts all the past season's wrongs to right:
To dance beneath the diamond sky
with one hand waving free
silhouetted by the sea
circled by the circus sands
with all memory and fate
driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today
until tomorrow
The scent of warm cotton candy, fresh-pulled saltwater taffy, and Kohr's orangeade reaches you from far away, borne down the beach and dispersed by a kind breeze. All traces of rank and rude humanity have been mercifully filtered out; what's left in this accord -- composed of equal parts spun sugar, sea breeze and sunlight -- is all summers, past, present, future, real, imagined, hoped-for, lost and found again.

As you stand at the edge of all this beauty, your love finally requited, a new song comes across the radio and brings a curious pang to your heart:
There's no need for living in the past
Now I've found good loving gonna make it last
I tell the others don't bother me
Cause when they look at you they don't see what I see
No I don't listen to their wasted lines
Got my eyes wide open and I see the signs
They don't know about us
They've never heard of love
Each summer the tide comes in, strewing trash; each winter, the tide recedes again, and we are washed clean. We reclaim what is ours: a beach that belongs only to us, an innocence no interloper can touch.

Scent Elements: Lemon, lime, neroli, juniper, petitgrain, ylang-ylang, cacao absolute, rose absolute, cassia, Australian sandalwood, tonka, vanilla, benzoin

Sample purchased from LUSH.. Quotes from "Mr. Tambourine Man" / BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME (1966), lyrics/music: Bob Dylan; "They Don't Know" / YOU BROKE MY HEART IN 17 PLACES (1983), performed by Tracy Ullman, lyrics/music: Kirsty MacColl.

Rare Mimosa Eau de Toilette (Henri Bendel)

Want to see some feathers fly? Walk up to a group of international perfumistas and throw down the word "mimosa". This is the name by which Europeans know Acacia farnesiana and Americans know Albizia julibrissin, two separate (yet formerly related) species of flowering tree. One has yellow blossoms, the other pink. One is strongly fragrant, the other somewhat less so. They used to share a common taxonomy; now no one can agree on their legitimacy.

If you're European, Acacia farnesiana is the only mimosa worth knowing. If you're American, you're an idiot (at least so far as your European colleagues are concerned). If you're a good-natured Australian, you smile and stay the hell out of it-- seeing as how the whole orchard originated in your neck of the woods, you can damn well afford to. And if you're a botanist of any national origin, you can expound for hours on the complete insanity of the mimosa situation, witness to as many trade-offs as a particularly vicious season of fantasy football.

You still with me? 'Cause this shit's about to get real.

The vast (19,000+ species) legume/bean/pea family of Fabaceae includes the subfamily Mimosoideae, which encompasses the tribes Acaciae, Ingeae and Mimoseae. The Acaciae includes the genera Acacia and Vachellia. The Ingeae includes the genera Albizia and Paraserianthes. The Mimoseae includes (quite logically) the genus Mimosa. Acacia farnesiana used to be a member of Acacia, but is now a member of Vachellia. It bears the nicknames "mimosa", "acacia", and "wattle"; its fragrant extract is known as "cassie" (which is quite distinct from "cassia" or cinnamon.) Albizia julibrissin used to be a member of Mimoseae (which explains why it's called "mimosa" in America) but is now a member of Ingeae. So is the Paraserianthes lophantha or Cape Wattle, which is called "albizia" in Australia-- unlike the similarly-named Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), which is oft yclept "mimosa" by locals, but whose fragrant extract is known as "cassie"... just like that of Acacia/Vachellia farnesiana.

Get it. Got it? Good.

Here's a thought: let's hug it out, bitches. What's the point of all this sparring and wrestling, anyway? How about we head over to no-man's-land, spritz ourselves with some Rare Mimosa and quit fighting wars that none of us started?

Rare Mimosa is an appealing mash-up of mimosa, melon, baby powder, and the sort of smoky vetiver that smells like an outdoor hibachi at the height of a cookout. It doesn't care whether you call it a member of Acaciae, Ingeae or Mimoseae, and it could give a crap less whether Farnesiana, Mimosa Pour Moi, or Une Fleur de Cassie wins the "best mimosa ever" toss-up. It would much rather pitch its tent in the weird-but-good camp presided over by Breath of God-- who belongs to no known species on earth, but whose never-ending block parties are legendary.

In fact, let's us up and move there... 'cause this patch of ground is starting to feel a little crowded.

Scent Elements: Mimosa, vetiver, patchouli

Violette Précieuse (Caron)

The closest to a soliflore of all the violets I've sampled thus far, Violette Précieuse is violet at its most arresting-- for about two seconds.

I curse my epithelium for copping out, because ooooohh! The maddeningly short-lived bit of scent that precedes the system overload is pure amethyst tumbled smooth, offering up a single soul-stopping glisten before it sinks below the surface of Caron's patented woody pudding.

Don't go! I cry. Does it ever listen?

Scent Elements: Violet flowers and leaves, iris, orange blossom, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, raspberry, vetiver, nutmeg, sandalwood

Florentia 24 (I Profumi di Firenze)

According to their website, I Profumi di Firenze's entire perfume catalog is based on "secret" formulae commissioned by Catherine de'Medici in the 16th century and recreated by an Italian chemist in the 1960's. Now, either they invented AirWick during the Renaissance, or all this historical background is a crock of malarkey for tourists-- because this perfume smells like nothing more than cheap room deodorant spray, tinny and synthetic and utterly ghastly.

There's really nothing more to say except that Catherine de'Medici deserves a better legacy than this-- unless of course it was really her cut-throat ruthlessness I Profumi di Firenze was attempting to capture. Or maybe they've got her mixed up with Lucrezia Borgia. Or Erzsébet Báthory. My jury's still out.

Scent Elements: Bulgarian, Damascene, and tea roses, Italian windflower (anemone)

Wonderwood (Comme des Garçons)

You know those bumper stickers that bravely assert, "So'n'So said it; I believe it; that settles it"? Wonderwood is the entire Comme des Garçons Incense Series all mixed together, with the wood notes predominating. It's nothing new, but nevertheless, it smells vast and rich and splendiferous. No matter how many times or in how many other fragrances I've already encountered its rather generalized charms, it just keeps on singing my song.

I find I can't dismiss something so penetratingly lovely just for being derivative. Plus, in these days of deforestation, I find Wonderwood's proud admission of the use of synthetic wood accords reassuring rather than disappointing. Perfumer Antoine Lie has created a forest from a chemistry set, proving that no old-growth tree populations need be decimated for the sake of art. Bravo!

Scent Elements: Bergamot, Madagascan pepper, caraway, nutmeg, Somalian incense, vetiver, oud, guaiac wood, Virginia cedar, cypress, Javanol (sandalwood/cream accord), Pachminol (sandalwood/rose accord) Cristalon (plum/rose accord), Cashmeran (musk/apple accord)

Ambra di Venezia (Montgomery Taylor)

This potentially exotic mixture of honeyed mango and sundry white flowers is marred by several dissonant notes. Two of them -- an odd toothpaste mint and an overly aggressive lime peel -- occur within the first minute, subtly eroding confidence. As it calms, Ambra di Venezia becomes more pleasant, less strident and "fresh", which implies a blessing to be eventually conferred upon the wearer.

Not so. Unfortunately, at this point the whole thing gears down (and I do mean DOWN) into a dank chlorine note tinged with unwholesome indoles, reminiscent of a dripping-wet and very much "used" bathing suit slung over a motel patio railing to mildew overnight.

In other words, the very part of summer you strive to forget come scrapbooking time.

Scent Elements: Narcissus, jasmine, mandarin, lime, sandalwood, mango

Omar Sharif Pour Femme Eau de Parfum (Omar Sharif)

A few years ago, my dear pal DC announced that she'd gotten us a joint present: a wee bottle of vintage Omar Sharif Eau de Parfum Pour Femme. Introduced in 1990, OSPF is a league apart from many of its contemporaries in the celebrity-fragrance arena. With a rich, indolic jasmine heart surrounded by clean, poetic green notes (courtesy of galbanum, the famed sacred ingredient of Egyptian incense, and narcissus, the flower of poets) and hints of juicy citrus, it proudly displays its affinity for Near Eastern romanticism while remaining firmly conventional in the Western Hemisphere sense.

Huddled with our heads together over the tiny open bottle, DC and I agreed we had the best of both worlds in our hands. If an early summer day spent reading a good English translation of the Rubáiyát under a shady tree is your idea of heaven, here's the perfume to save for the occasion.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, galbanum, neroli, rosewood, jasmine, narcissus, iris, rose, tuberose, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, amber, musk

Missoni Original (Missoni)

Once upon a time, my favorite thrift store was one managed by a delightful British ex-pat named Jennifer. She drove a Union-Jack-emblazoned Cooper Mini and harbored a perfume love as big as the globe. The first time I entered her shop (with its dedicated fragrance shelf, whence came my cherished bottles of Coty Chypre and Paris), we fell into friendly talk as easily as if we'd grown up next door to one another. I took the risk of giving her my phone number, which she only used once: to tell me that someone had just donated a full purse sprayer of vintage Missoni Original. Did I have any interest?

I nearly broke both ankles running to my car on my lunch hour, peeling out in midday traffic to reach Jennifer's sales counter within ten hot minutes.

Since then, the thrift shop has closed down, and Jennifer has seemingly vanished-- not merely from the county, but perhaps even from the country. Her recently widowed mother had been doing poorly back in Britain; perhaps she moved back across the Great Pond to be by her side. In its turn, Missoni's 1982 raspberry chypre has become a sort of "grail scent" for me-- one for which I endured many trials, including the time I accidentally dropped it on the ground in the county parking garage and suffered like Saint Sebastian until I could sprint back to rescue it. The fact that it sat there unscathed and unstolen all morning long is one of life's minor miracles, and positive proof that this scent travels under an air of enchantment.

Strangely -- though marketed by the 20th century's most idiosyncratic textile design house outside of Pucci -- Missoni Original reminds me not at all of Missoni knitwear. Its two glowing accords (the rich carmine of raspberries and the deep teal of oakmoss) are positively pre-Raphaelite-- as close to a wearable William Morris Arts-and-Crafts wallpaper as one can find. Amid its brambles one finds needle-pricks of nostalgic pain... and sweet berries glowing like Burma rubies.

Such is memory. And wherever Jennifer may dwell today, I hope she knows she was far more sweetness than thorns to me.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, cassis, raspberry, hyacinth, bergamot, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, geranium, honey, amber, patchouli, civet, oakmoss, styrax 

Fresh Lime Shower Cologne (Shiseido)

This long-discontinued splash seems to have only been marketed in Asia-- or so I gather from the Japanese-language blogs found by the redoubtable JoanElaine. But there is another possibility. Perhaps Japan Air Lines handed out these mid-size minis (25 ml.) to executives traveling Los Angeles-to-Tokyo or vice versa-- a fresh little freebie intended to restore bleary-eyed suits to some form of sobriety after half a dozen passes of that devilish old beverage cart. At any rate, it's zesty, zingy, and elegant-- the perfect pick-me-up for those lucky souls who fly first class.

Scent Elements: Lime peel set against a backdrop of assorted other hesperidic notes, and a hint of black pepper which for the longest time I never detected, but which my spouse picked up on right away. As soon as he pointed it out to me, there was no UN-noticing it.

Ombre Rose (Jean-Charles Brosseau)

The previous owner of this bottle must have been a decant hound, or a librarian, or both. Rather than the exquisite octagonal vessel that originally housed it, the juice now resides in the most generic of splash bottles-- but one that has been "cataloged" with a carefully typed spine label, implying that it was part of a larger collection.

How I wish I knew more about its provenance. I imagine similar bottles arranged in rows, alphabetical first by house, then by name-- just like a real library.

Designed for Jean Patou by Jean-Charles Brosseau in 1981, Ombre Rose is a mildly smoky floral which approximates in scent the tone of that old-fashioned hue called "ashes of roses"-- a dry pinkish-mauve with a crepe-papery feel like that of dessicated petals. Its incense drydown shades off into powdery beige and office-safe grey. It's Anaïs Anaïs all grown up and graduated from the eyelet-lace ruffles of youth to mature suit dresses in low-key monochromes. I like it just fine and can easily imagine it as a perfume for the workplace-- clean-cut, corporate, and unobtrusive.

But maybe that's because I'm not seeing it in its resplendent original flacon, where all the mystery and shadow resided.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, peach, Brazilian rosewood, geranium, sandalwood, iris, rose, vetiver, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, cedar, honey, tonka bean, cinnamon, musk, vanilla, heliotrope

Tatiana (Diane von Furstenberg)

Well, color me confused. In trying to research the scent notes for this vintage baby, I've found worrying differences of opinion as to what really predominates its contents. Some say jasmine and narcissus; others say blackcurrant and basil. I smell bananas, tuberose, and sandalwood.

Is Tatiana a trickster? Maybe so.

When I put all contradictory accounts together, the three notes everyone seems to agree on are gardenia, orange blossom, and tuberose-- all of which match the tropical languor radiating from my wrist. I swear to god there's also some creamy ylang-ylang generating delectable banana-jam sweetness, but I can't really be certain. What I do know is this: a) I love the Serge Mansau bottle design, with its retrofabulous 1980 discothèque typeface. b) Tatiana smells good.

So let's stick with those facts, at least, and quit playing the perfume version of Rashomon.

Scent Elements: Orange blossom, bergamot, hyacinth, honeysuckle, jasmine, gardenia, narcissus, ylang-ylang, rose, tuberose, sandalwood, amber, musk.

Mon Parfum (Paloma Picasso)

When the original Mon Parfum print ads started making their way into his favorite magazines, a friend of mine suffered an unusual reaction... and not to the fragrance. Apparently, the sight of Paloma Picasso triggered an overwhelming Oedipal rage in him that could only be propitiated by cutting out her image and subjecting it to an avalanche of abuse. He drew mustaches, monocles, devil horns, and forked tongues on Paloma, poked out her eyes with a pencil, and glued cut-out letters spelling "BITCH" under her face by way of an editorial caption. Collaging layer upon layer of scorn over his foe, he could not rest until he had obliterated her. Then he hung her, trophy-like, on his wall.

Now, in all other respects, my friend was a perfectly reasonable and liberal gentleman, sensitive to women's rights and no stranger to the intricacies of Freudian thought. Granted, he had some pretty profound mommy issues brewing in that great brain of his, for which he'd found a number of outlets far more constructive than the one detailed above. Yet for him, the sphinx-like visage of Paloma Picasso constituted a feminine threat not to be borne. Why? Was it her direct, unflinching gaze? Her bold, carnivorous red lips? The fact that she was famous enough (both for her own design work and her legendary patronymic) to merit a self-named fragrance? Who was this modern Medusa?

If Mon Parfum is a mirror of its maker, then Paloma Picasso must be a supremely confident and self-assured lady-- not apt to blush, simper, or flutter her eyelashes to win others over. Many women are conditioned to behave as though their very existence is something to apologize for. Not Paloma, and by extension, not Mon Parfum-- a rich, mature jasmine chypre with an air of chinoiserie about it. One wears it like a Mandarin cheongsam-- a high-collared, close-fitting satin gown seemingly engineered to stiffen the wearer's spine. The unyielding severity of its cut is ameliorated by the rich coloration of its silk embroidery (and the single peony blossom in the wearer's hair). Thus clad, one feels a bit like Madame Liang, the fierce and resilient "steel camellia" of Pearl S. Buck's final novel.

In all, this is a proud, almost savage fragrance; a serious scent for a serious woman, and flawless-- except for that damned bottle. As innovative as its design may be, prying that ridiculous plastic doughnut shape apart is a hazard to the very juice it contains. Unless carefully done, spillage is inevitable-- and unless you are that friend of mine, believe me, you will not want a single drop of this perfume to go to waste.

Scent Elements: Hyacinth, ylang-ylang, bergamot, angelica, rose, lemon, mimosa, coriander, jasmine, honey, iris, oakmoss, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, musk

K de Krizia (Krizia)

I do not wish to sound accusatory. My instincts here may be completely unfounded. But I now have reason to believe I know the true identity of the grail Sophia Grojsman has been questing after for thirty years.

Maurice Roucel designed K de Krizia in 1981 as a sum complexity from which others might either learn or subtract, but upon which no one could ever improve. All of the ingredients (peach, rose, vanilla) made so monotonous in Grojsman's hands are here-- but woven together with so much innovation, feeling, and revelatory delight that they may as well have been discovered an hour ago. On skin, K de Krizia plays like the most intricate Baroque chamber music you've ever heard, yet it wears like the simplest and softest cashmere shawl. Luca Turin counts it amongst his favorite perfumes of all time; from him, I borrow the descriptive phrase "a gentle grace... that beggars belief". To this, I add that Sophia G. (incomparable as she is) does well to aspire to K de Krizia-- though as all grails do, it may forever remain just outside of her grasp.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, peach, hyacinth, bergamot, neroli, jasmine, narcissus, orange blossom, rose, carnation, orchid, lily of the valley, orris, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, amber, moss, civet, vanilla, styrax, leather

Raffinée (Houbigant)

Before handing me this decidedly vintage carded sample, my pal Nan described Raffinée's bouquet as reminiscent of a black leather handbag carried by a harsh, red-lipsticked lady of yore. While this spectre gave me pause, the handbag warning posed less of a deterrent, as there's nothing I like more than a perfume redolent of pocketbook leather. (See Jolie Madame, Norell, and Bottega Veneta.)

Produced in 1982 by Haute Parfumerie Houbigant Paris before Dana/Renaissance destroyed it, Raffinée reveals the sentimental dame behind every harsh taskmistress. Yes, there's leather-- but also carnations, roses, and a rich sandalwood finish. In short, more Kathleen Turner as a husky-voiced femme fatale than Cruella DeVil, animated OR live-action version.

There aren't too many impressions that I can add to Kay's wonderful writeup over at That Smell, except to affirm that Raffinée is a plush-and-lush powerhouse whose groove I can get into without hesitation. And though Raffinée didn't turn out to be Nan's idea of a good time, I'm grateful to her for introducing us.

Somehow, she must have known we'd get along like gangbusters.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, plum, carnation, orange blossom, jasmine, rose, mimosa, tuberose, orchid, osmanthus, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, clary sage, cypress, vetiver, sandalwood, tonka, cinnamon, musk, vanilla, incense, spices