Audace and audacity.

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

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

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

Une Rose Chyprée (Tauer)

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

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

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

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

But which?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blossom (Robert Piguet)

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

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

Juliet Eau de Parfum (Juliet Stewart)

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

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

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

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

Playing it tough.

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

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

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

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

I, not he, must wear this heavy armor.

Norell Vintage Pure Parfum (Revlon)

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

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

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

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

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

Now step aside... or feel her lash.

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

A Sunday sort of scent.

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