Trouble magnet.

There was a time when L'Aimant ("The Magnet") spoke to me only of mystical attraction. I shared my first two L'Aimants -- parfum de toilette and eau de cologne, both vintage numbers with gold crown caps -- with two friends who liked it so much they felt compelled to score bottles of their own. Thereafter we wore L'Aimant and thought of each other: a nice confluence of scent and sentiment.

The third L'Aimant broke my lucky streak. I spotted it in an antique store-- a mint-condition 1970 gift set consisting of matched flacons of pure parfum and EdC in a gorgeous ivory moiré box lined with hot pink velveteen and embossed with gold lettering. I bought it for a friend, cash on the barrelhead, no returns or refunds... but she changed her mind. Another friend accepted it with joy, but something about the whole thing unsettled me, and I stopped wearing L'Aimant for a long time.

The fourth L'Aimant also came from an antique store. A 1950s vintage extrait in pristine condition, its tiny flacon resides in a cunning presentation box of hot-pink-and-gold imitation shagreen. It expends its first minute on skin in a lusty, full-throated aldehydic bellow echoing that of its sibling rival, Chanel No. 5. But despite their visible similarity, it is possible to prefer one over another using personality as the distinguishing factor. L'Aimant is friendlier, more approachable, more good-humored. She offers the warm handshake, the courteous welcome, the mixed drink; she makes an effort to put you at ease-- while Chanel No. 5 keeps to her corner and eyes you with cold indifference. These twins are not at all identical, and thank god for it.

It's fitting, I think, that I should end VintageFest 2014 with a fragrance that has been a part of my collection almost from the first. It's also fitting to end this difficult year with a perfume which (though it smells sweet) invariably reminds me how ambivalent and unpredictable life is. You reach for and hope to touch the simpatico. I wish that for myself and for everyone this coming year.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, peach, strawberry, neroli, jasmine, rose, geranium, ylang-ylang, orchid, vetiver, sandalwood, cedar, vanilla, amber, tonka bean, civet, musk

Lys Bleu Eau de Toilette (Prince Henri d'Orléans)

Today I'd planned a critical coronation for an entirely different fragrance, but a pretender to the throne has staged a royal coup. Please forgive Lys Bleu for jumping the line of succession, but once you hear its backstory, you'll understand why I pardoned its lèse-majesté.

On Christmas Day, I received a 5ml. mini of Lys Bleu from my mother-in-law, who scored it in an online auction without knowing anything about its provenance. I, too, was stumped-- but I can understand why this graceful little bottle caught her eye. Crèe par le Prince Henri Pierre d'Orléans, the royal blue packaging proclaimed. Frankly, I suspected that the Prince himself might be crèe par les relations publiques. Could he perhaps be a figment of the same imagination that cooked up Albert Fouquet, the hapless aristocrat of Eight & Bob fame?

Nope: this royal is real!

Born in 1933, Henri Philippe Pierre Marie d'Orléans is an author, artist, banker, war hero, Légion d'Honneur recipient, Comte de Paris, Duc de France, current claimant to the Bourbon throne... and perfumer! At this final goal, he's no pretender, for Lys Bleu (1980) turns out to be a lovely bouquet of hyacinth backed with the winning combination of moss and blackcurrant in the style of Magie Noire or Chamade. (Coincidentally, the latter happens to be the perfume I threw over for Lys Bleu today; I don't feel at all cheated in this exchange.)

According to a 1983 Sydney Morning Herald article, Lys Bleu is "a generous perfume composed of over 100 separate essences"-- presumably expensive ones worthy of a Prince of the Blood. (Look at that price tag! Even allowing for historical inflation and the US/Australian exchange rate, that's some chunk o' change!) Along with the aforementioned hyacinth and cassis, Lys Bleu features verbena, rose de Mai, tuberose, ylang-ylang, crocus, clove, "a most precious wood" (probably santal), ambergris and musk. If my nose can be trusted, there may also be narcissus, galbanum, and civet in there, as well as contrasting touches of salty lily and sweet muguet. I imagine the bottle is even prettier when it has a crystal stopper rather than plastic, but so what? It's the contents that give me joy.

My only question: does championing Lys Bleu make me plus royaliste que le roi? I trow a sample of Royalissime (d'Orléans' other creation) might impel me to swear eternal fealty on bended knee.

Scent Elements: Verbena, galbanum, rose, tuberose, ylang-ylang, hyacinth, narcissus, crocus, lily-of-the-valley, lily, iris, cassis, clove, woods, civet, ambergris, musk

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Intimate (Revlon)

Why wear it? What on earth is stopping you? You're a mammal, I presume. If not, you are hands-down the smartest amphibian I've ever met. Look at you sitting there all web-footed, surfing the internet and everything! Whatever you happen to be, if you've got a pulse, Intimate is the adorable floral you were put on this earth to worship body and soul.

What does it do? It delights. Really. No matter what version you own (I myself own EdC, EdT, PdT, and huile, and I have also sampled the parfum spray with my pal DC) the pleasure is all yours. Intimate's aldehydes are more champagne punch than chemical iceberg, and they give way readily to a delicious skin scent redolent of the grand triumvirate of warm-blooded animalics-- civet, castoreum, musk. I could wear Intimate every day for a year, and there's not a season, reason, or sentiment it wouldn't suit.

How do I feel? Mmmmmrrrrreoooow.

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Via Lanvin (Lanvin)

Why wear it? "In celebration of going", as an early-1970s advertisement for this chic galbanum floral proclaimed. "For the woman who lives and lives and brings a breath of fresh air into every place she walks." Or in my case, a fog of fear sweat as I struggled to run an understaffed Saturday shift on the tail end of a countywide ILS crash.

What does it do? With a blast of galbanum and lemon, it keeps a lady cool under pressure, while jasmine and sandalwood remind her that there's a soft end in sight. But more: emotionally, it girds a girl's fortitude-- a tangible effect on an intangible inner resource, without which one would flop like a ragdoll.

How do I feel? Oy. I have long adored Via, but today my love goes beyond simple appreciation of its merits and borders on helpless gratitude. Without it, I don't know how I would have gotten to five o'clock.

Émeraude Vintage Pure Parfum and Parfum de Toilette (Coty)

I can't believe it's taken me this long to write up Émeraude! True, I reviewed the EdC almost three years ago-- but that was before I obtained the extrait I'm currently wearing. I first spotted it in an locked vitrine at the antique store. I coveted that tiny bottle desperately but refrained from purchasing it due to what I felt was an obscenely high price tag. (Forty dollars for something no bigger than my thumbnail?! huffed I.) Eventually, it disappeared from the display, and I imagined -- with tears streaming down my face, naturally -- that a smarter someone had claimed this treasure. But the consigner had merely moved it to another vitrine... and marked it down to $22.

This time, no dithering. My wallet and I chorused Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. And in a way, we're STILL saying it.

You won't catch me making the same mistake twice-- which is why I pounced upon a specimen of the parfum de toilette with scarcely a first (let alone second) thought eighteen months ago. Full, untouched, in perfect condition, and the most gorgeous shade of sprout green within its gold-crown-capped mini-flacon, it sat in an indoor display case at the Columbus Farmers Market quite as if it had been expecting me. I was the first person to open it... and it was the very scent of paradise.

What is the difference between the extrait and the parfum de toilette? Well, I suppose if hell has layers, heaven does, too. The extrait might be described as one storey above the PdT. But the PdT is on the 1,000th floor, and the elevator walls were mural-painted by Marc Chagall, and when you step off into the penthouse vestibule, Saint Peter himself hands you the mail and offers to take your coat. To reach the extrait, you'll have to go up, up, up-- past the Russell Hotel, past the Jellicle Moon, to the Heaviside Layer.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, orange, lemon, tarragon, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, patchouli, opopanax, amber, benzoin, vanilla

L'Heure Bleue Vintage Extrait and Eau de Parfum (Guerlain)

I shall come back without fanfaronade
Of wailing wind and graveyard panoply;
But, trembling, slip from cool Eternity-
A mild and most bewildered little shade.
I shall not make sepulchral midnight raid,
But softly come where I had longed to be
In April twilight's unsung melody,
And I, not you, shall be the one afraid.

Strange, that from lovely dreamings of the dead
I shall come back to you, who hurt me most.
You may not feel my hand upon your head,
I'll be so new and inexpert a ghost.
Perhaps you will not know that I am near-
And that will break my ghostly heart, my dear.

--Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
L'Heure Bleue -- that heart-breakingly beautiful dirge of a perfume -- has numbered amongst my favorites from the earliest days of my perfumistahood. But as time passes, what I find most astonishing about it is not its fabled tears and twilight. Like its sister scent Après L'Ondée, L'Heure Bleue makes a dramatic entrance with its shiver-inducing fanfare of anise, neroli, and heliotrope. For those who prefer tragedy to comedy, that's all very well. But what L'Heure has that L'Ondée does not is a sturdy base of pure animalic raunch-- an unmistakeable whiff of sex beneath those widow's weeds. One divines that her diaphanous shrouds are temporary; mentally, spiritually, and above all physically, she is too well-anchored to Mother Earth to lose herself in the incorporeal world of eternal bereavement.

Mourn she may, but not for long-- and not alone.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, aniseed, carnation, neroli, orange blossom, iris, violet, jasmine, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, Bulgarian rose, tuberose, vanilla, benzoin, tonka bean, incense, musk

Vintage Parfum du Jour: DiBorghese Vintage Cologne Vivant (Princess Marcella DiBorghese)

Why wear it? Because every woman from my childhood who sported a dry galbanum chypre like this one was so inexpressibly sophistiquée, how could I not want to emulate her? Plus, consider that the finest galbanum came from the mountains of Persia. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and all the trade sanctions that followed, it seems to me that women in the West stopped smelling quite so imperious-- humbled by history, as it were. Sharp, fierce, and intractable, DiBorghese returns me to an era when goddesses roamed the earth.

What does it do? It juxtaposes cool (galbanum, oakmoss, iris) against hot (sandalwood, civet, leather) against cool (Are you talking to ME?) against hot (Strike a pose!) until the line between tension and pleasure dissolves. Stupid line... who needs it anyway?

How do I feel? Like I've just gotten home from an exhilarating night at Studio 54 instead of a tedious day of labor at a public library.

Capricci Vintage Eau de Toilette

As fragrance houses go, Maison Nina Ricci -- the venture launched by the great couturière and her son Robert in 1946 -- is somewhat of a cipher. Some houses churn out works so recognizably of a piece, you can identify them at a hundred paces. Not Nina Ricci. So many wildly different scents -- L'Air du Temps (a classic fresh green floral), Fille d'Eve (a slyly suggestive parfum de peau), Deci Delà (an upscale fruit salad), Signoricci (Incontestably Male! as the advertisement states), Fleur de Fleurs (a bizarre blend of nectar and bilge), and Les Belles de Ricci (the Breakfast Club of teen perfume collections) -- under one roof is remarkable. It shows a willingness to adapt, explore, renew, reinvent, and always keep pace with the times.

Capricci is an aldehydic chypre from 1961, a year in which the future seemed bigger, brighter, closer, and somehow scarier than ever before. Youthful, stylish, and idealistic, the Kennedys had just been inaugurated America's First Family-- and would soon usher us into a terrifying new age of ICBMs and Cuban crises. Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard cut the ribbon on the frontier of space, while the Civil Rights movement shook the foundations back home on Planet Earth. At Liverpool's Cavern Club, the Beatles fired their first shot across the bow of popular music; on bookstands, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 did likewise for literature. Like a prairie tumbleweed, a twenty-year-old skinnamarink name of Bob Dylan blew into Greenwich Village-- enough said. And while even he may not have known it yet, the times they were a-changin'-- growing more hopeful, more cynical, more polarized (and polarizing) by the day.

Apropos of such turbulent times, Capricci is both sparkling and bitter, verdant and metallic, memorable and fleeting. On one hand, its jasmine and narcissus have a dewy quality that puts me in mind of tender April. On the other hand, Vincent Millay called April an "idiot, babbling and strewing flowers"-- and brother, she knew the score.

Like other ambassadors of her small-yet-formidable genre, Capricci projects a severe sort of handsomeness, at once attractive and intimidating-- like someone you admire so much that the thought of their slightest displeasure makes you break out in a cold sweat. From the first hiss of her aldehydes to her glowering oakmoss drydown, she makes it clear that she prefers plain truth to bouquets of silly flowers. Were she a person rather than a fragrance, Capricci would be Galatea Dunkel from Kerouac's On The Road... or Mad Men's Peggy Olson, forever given the short shrift... or Inside Llewyn Davis' Jean, perpetually radiating incandescent rage at odds with the sweetness of her singing voice. In other words, one beautiful, whip-smart, angry chick.

I hear the sound of zeitgeist... and if I were you, I wouldn't give her any lip.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, rosemary, galbanum, rose, hyacinth, jasmine, gardenia, geranium, lily-of-the-valley, narcissus, iris, tuberose, ylang-ylang, benzoin, oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, musk

We Three Queens: A Vintage Gift in Triplicate from Bouquet Lenthéric.

I have before me a Bouquet Lenthéric "Three Silent Messengers" gift set found at one of my usual antique haunts. If the advertisement at left may be admitted as evidence, it dates back to 1937. Its hatbox-style presentation case is decorated with a panorama of happy, Jantzen-clad vacationers frolicking amid seashells, palm fronds, and lemon-yellow grosgrain ribbons. Inside: three nearly-full two-ounce flacons of Miracle (1924), À Bientôt (1930), and Tweed (1933).

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Lenthéric sold a dizzying selection of such trios priced at $1.95 ($32 today; far less than I paid for it). With evocative names such as "Exposition", "Bal Masque", "Crème Bouquet" and "Le Triangle de Fleurs", the Three Silent Messengers/Three Musketeers coffrets provided a handy introduction to the Lenthéric fragrance library: Tweed, Miracle, À Bientôt, Shanghai, Cabaña, Confetti, Repartée, Muguet, Gardenia, Red Lilac, Carnation, Jasmin, or Violette pour femme; Tanbark, Onyx, or High Hat pour homme.

Three classic perfumes in one gorgeous package, available for a pittance? Count me in!

Like Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass, Bourjois Evening in Paris, or Evyan White Shoulders, Tweed is one of those fragrances every modern perfumista knows about but few actually wear. Our grandmothers speak of it fondly, but then, they're ninety. With so few active adherents to its cause, Tweed has fallen to the status of profumum non grata in Perfumeland. I find that very sad, because it's the venerable ancestress of Imprévu, Azurée, and many other light "handbag leathers" we adore.

A peal of neroli starts Tweed off on a heavenly note, but you have to be quick to catch it-- it's as fleeting as the dawn, a gift meant only for the wearer at the moment of application. Henceforth, Tweed quickly settles into a powdery, carnation-tinged suede with a suggestion of somber woods. It doesn't produce much sillage-- but then, a sportswoman on a countryside ramble won't necessarily wish to throw off much scent. As its name implies, Tweed is uniquely designed to complement rather than vanquish the wilderness and can be worn without fear of offending the local flora and fauna (or polluting their airspace).

À Bientôt ("Until Next Time") leaves no doubt that there will be a next time, if only because the impression it makes is so compelling that one wants to renew the acquaintance again-- and soon. The citrus note with which it commences is bright and bell-toned, bergamot and lime with a soupçon of airy lavender blended in. But just as you think you've got a regulation herbal cologne on your hands (or rather, wrists) À Bientôt lets out a throaty growl of civet that even a jaded perfumista might find exciting. The drydown is a standard soft Oriental accord of vanillic resins, but it's that sybaritic civet that lingers, both on skin and in memory. If you like it -- and I mean really, REALLY like it -- you'll want to try Miracle, which is À Bientôt turned up to eleven. A bit much for me, but evidently not for its previous owner, judging from the fact that it's the only one of these Three Silent Messengers that appears to have gotten some play.

Lenthéric today is a sad-looking affair, hawking fragrances with names like Junkie and Hoity Toity in what look like hygiene product spray cans, like the French version of AXE. Grim, yes? Bien sûr! When you have a concrete example in front of you of what used to be, it makes you wish that this little hatbox doubled as a fully-operational time machine. But since that's silly, you can always spritz and dream.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, rose, violet, jasmine, carnation, iris, lilac, magnolia, sandalwood, civet, benzoin, leather (Tweed); bergamot, lavender, benzoin, opopanax, styrax, civet, sandalwood (À Bientôt); bergamot, iris, lavender, cedar, eucalyptus, civet (Miracle)

Sortilège Vintage Extrait de Parfum (Le Galion)

I first spotted this beauty in a vitrine at the antique shop downtown. Its lovely olive-green box embossed in white with a guipure lace motif charmed me instantly. Based on design value alone, I probably would have been smitten even if I hadn't seen the name emblazoned on the top.

Upon inspection, I found that the flacon was still sealed with old-fashioned baudruche and unsnipped gold thread, proof that it had never been breached. Its contents -- though diminished by time to approximately three-quarters of their initial volume --were of a healthy color and sure to be pristine. Priced at $50, the flacon was marked down 50% and would be subject to an additional discount based on a frequent-shopper coupon I'd accrued over time. (Hooray for vintage perfume addiction!)

Getting the flacon open was an multi-step adventure. As described here, I knew I must snip the cords, moisten and peel back the membrane, and apply gradual pressure to the stopper, rocking it gingerly in a clockwise fashion until it loosened and slid free. Predictably, everything worked like a charm except for that last part. I had to take the additional step of wrapping a rubber band around the outer rim of Sortilège's stopper to provide traction for one final, gentle twist. Voilà! The stopper came out in one piece, and the flacon released its very first dazzling exhale of fragrant vapors. As I had hoped, they were gorgeous-- a fitting reward for so much patience, diligence, and sweet anticipation.

Let me set one thing straight from the get-go: the Long Lost Perfumes version of Sortilège ain't nothing but a shadow of a dream of an unfulfilled wish to be anything, ANYTHING like the real deal. I'm not saying LLP's Sortilège is a bad perfume. I'm just saying that it is not Sortilège; it bears no relation or resemblance to the original perfume conceived in 1937 by Paul Vacher. True, it starts off with a similar Chanel No 5-ish breath of aldehydes-- as does Coty L'Aimant, and Lanvin Arpège, et al. But whereas LLP's dupe goes off in the direction of a mumsy opopanax accord reminiscent of Coty Émeraude, Sortilège lands on a gorgeous, buttery sandalwood-- cinnamon-dusted, dangerously heady, and fortified with a goodly helping of pure-D musk. The seductive quality of this accord must be experienced to be believed. It forces me to take back every imprecation I've lobbed at aldehydic florals for being prim, clean, and cold. In the dead of winter, I could wear Sortilège and nothing else-- thanks to that sandalwood, the snow all around me would hiss as it melted.

Despite the fact that it must have inspired more than a few others (Samsara, anyone?) I cannot say that I have experienced anything exactly like true vintage Sortilège. It literally made me bite my lip. How many perfumes -- Long Lost or not -- have the power to do that?

Scent Elements: Bergamot, peach, neroli, rose, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, ylang-ylang, iris, lilac, vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean, opopanax, amber, civet, musk

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Nuits de Scherrer (Jean-Louis Scherrer)

Why wear it? They don't build 'em like this anymore. There are heavy metals less dense, planets with lesser gravitational fields, suns that wish they could afford this brand of heat.

What does it do? It does for lilac what Sleeping Beauty's curse did for thorn bushes: triggers a growth spurt that would leave even the bravest knight feeling timid.  Then it unleashes the amber. Hoo, the amber.

How do I feel? A little overwhelmed myself. One spritz would have been sufficient, but three? I must have been in the throes of temporary insanity. Now I feel like Sisyphus rolling a giant spherical floral arrangement up a mountain. God help those who live on the other side of the summit!

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Tatiana (Diane von Furstenburg)

Why wear it? The world is hard and cruel, and this creamy-sweet, silky-smooth cup o' custard is not... or so it's fronting. For all I know, it might be a stone-cold bitch underneath all that satin. But I'm willing to be talked into anything.

What does it do? It weaves a hypnotic tapestry of white flowers and spun sugar and thereby perpetuates the illusion that the universe may contain a modicum of mercy. I buy the lie lock, stock, and barrel-- and yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I know it cannot last.

How do I feel? Today, I'd say "convinced". Tomorrow, I might say "deceived". Try me again on Wednesday, and I might tell you, "Willing to be taken for one more ride."

Le De Vintage Parfum (Givenchy)

Occasionally a perfume will cause a complete person -- real or fictional -- to spring up in your head like a hologram. For me, most aldehydic florals conjure up a chorus line of ingenues who play at prudery even if it's just for show. Le De Givenchy surprised me by producing an actual virgin, and a nun to boot: young Sister Cecily Scallon from Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede.

When we first meet Cecily, she has just entered Brede Abbey to pursue life as a Benedictine. Is her vocation real, or does it amount to an escape from her domineering bully of a mother? Timid, obedient, introverted to a fault, she quails in response to the slightest criticism. "A cloister within a cloister," the other nuns call her. "Touched by frost."

Yet even among the unworldly, Cecily's beauty stimulates the kind of idol worship that overrides stray doubts. Much ado is made over the nigella blue coat-dress she wears as a new arrival. It is, after all, 1957-- quite an exciting time for fashion. The ultra-feminine crinolined ballerina look is ceding to the more tailored silhouette typified by Yves Saint Laurent's "Trapeze" dress, designed for Christian Dior's Spring 1958 collection. It even comes in nigella blue! The very fact that Cecily is trading such youthful vibrancy for Benedictine black-and-white is perceived as a measure of her devotion. She isn't just playing nun; she really means it.

Six months and ten days later, the community votes to receive Cecily for Simple Profession-- and even then the community "reads" her appearance as proof of her fortitude:
The weather did not smile for her as it had for Hilary; the sun and balmy warmth had gone; it was grey and cold with a sky full of rain... "I only hope you don't perish of cold," said Dame Clare, but nothing could have made Cecily feel chill that day, she was so lit with happiness, and as the procession came through the church door into the sanctuary, there was something more than the usual stir at the sight of the figure in white and a cloud of lace, walking between her matrons of honor...

Sister Cecily's that day was beauty no one could deny, like the wand of a lily, or a tree in white blossom... in the sheath of white satin she seemed slim and tall, her veil of fine lace making her look taller. Old Sister Priscilla became biblical and called her a pillar of cloud... She looked young, dignified as she walked, and the scent of the white freesias she carried -- given to her by her father -- came into the choir to the nuns.

Cecily knelt before the Bishop, facing the ranks of priests and monks. "What do you ask?"

"The mercy of God and the grace of the holy habit."

"Do you ask it with your whole heart?"

Her whole being seemed to breathe as she answered, "Yes, my lord, I do."
Le De could be construed as a wedding fragrance but for its coldness, its purity, its absolute lack of sensuality. These are not qualities oft sought in a bride, unless her groom's initials happened to be JC. However, like Sister Cecily, this perfume has a vocation-- and that vocation proves very winning. An aldehydic floral bouquet composed of muguet, violet, narcissus, lily and coriander, Le De overcomes its own icy nature to strike a chord of heartbreaking sincerity and youthful commitment. I am reminded of how the earliest and most tender spring flowers must force their way through a hard rime of frost to present their green buds to the sun. Nothing could be truly "touched by frost" that kindles such a flame of hope in the heart.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, mandarin, bergamot, coriander, clary sage, tarragon, violet, carnation, lilac, narcissus, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily, lily-of-the-valley, rose, oakmoss, vetiver, rosewood, sandalwood, guaiacwood, frankincense, amber, civet, musk

Vintage Parfum du Jour: My Sin (Lanvin)

Why wear it? Because a certain edgy, perverse mood has prompted it, and there's no arguing with that impulse once it's got its well-heeled foot in the door.

What does it do? It smells like stiff rustling glacé satin, sheer silk stockings, hairspray, face powder, lipstick, underarms, Old Fashioneds, cigarette smoke, mink stoles, sexual arousal, Fifth Avenue, December, and the plush back seat of an uptown-bound limousine at three-thirty in the morning.

How do I feel? Less exciting (and expensive) than the woman described above. Instead, try stretch knit cotton, Mennen Speed Stick deodorant, liquid dish detergent, balsam fir incense, coffee breath, and menthol migraine balm.

Vintage Parfum du Jour: White Christmas (Saravel)

Why wear it? For succor that does not seem to come.

What does it do? Oh, it's lovely-- really. It almost succeeds in dusting my sorrow with a faint, glimmering layer of hope. If it melts when the sun comes out, why, that's fine-- for then the sun will be there to finish the task of cheering me up. But if the sun doesn't come out... and if the snow continues to fall...

How do I feel? Fucking lousy. The idea of going to work (as I must fifteen minutes from now) and slapping on a prefabricated game face makes me sick to my stomach. I'd skip it altogether if I could, but since I have to go, my game face can bloody well stay at home for me.

Eau de Givenchy Vintage Eau de Toilette (Givenchy)

Today I'm wearing Eau de Givenchy as a eulogy to my friend Mary, who thrifted-and-gifted me the vintage mini-bottle now in my Scent Cabinet. Before, it was simply a magnificent fragrance for the hottest days of summer, a lavish little long-lasting treat. But on this day in cold December, it seems much less plentiful and permanent than before. I feel myself in the painful grip of a desire to keep Eau de Givenchy as a cherished memento of my friend. To do so, I realize that I will have to work very hard from this point forward not to use it up. But my preservationist impulse is not so great that I would refuse to wear it right now-- in tribute.

Right now I'm remembering being out and about with Mary-- the way we'd joke our way through jam-packed antique barns and thrift shops, me on the lookout for perfume, Mary on the make for pedestal cake plates on which to display her stupendous collection of vintage hats like a series of fancy pastries. We'd pick up one random item after another and endlessly crack wise; invariably our attitudes would soften, and many of these objects of ridicule would end up in our shared shopping basket. Once, we stood for almost forty-five minutes going through a basket of vintage photographs, making up names, backstories, captions to be spoken in customized funny voices for every single one. We could have gone for forty-five minutes longer, but there was more to see. Always more to see.
C'est si bon,
De partir n'importe où,
Bras dessus bras dessous,
En chantant des chansons.
C'est si bon....

Eau de Givenchy (1980) is an elegant, crisp floral eau de cologne for women. Packaged in blue, black, and silver, it may have reminded consumers of YSL Rive Gauche, but the scent within reads more like a tribute to Green Water-- logical, as Hubert de Givenchy received his early couture tutelage from the great Jacques Fath. Discontinued for a time, in 2007 Eau de Givenchy was added to the "Les Parfums Mythiques" collection, where it still appears to reside. I do not know if it has been reformulated. I can't imagine it hasn't... but I can hope. You see, it reminds me so much of Mary when she was alive: zingy, crisp, with a bit of bite up front for sweetness to hide slyly behind. A nonpareil. A keeper. A favorite.

C'est si bon.

Scent Elements: Grapefruit, mandarin, bergamot, mint, red fruit, ylang-ylang, honeysuckle, jasmine, narcissus, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, rose, cyclamen, iris, sandalwood, musk, cedar, oakmoss (Eau de Givenchy)

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Dolce & Gabbana (Dolce & Gabbana)

Why wear it? Nostalgia-- it's been at least a year since I donned this tragically discontinued gem. I guess that one year is just enough time to forget how yummy and rich it is. But in the twenty years that have elapsed since D&G's release, each successive fragrance from this house has shown evidence of declining standards. Used to be that the phrase "affordable couture" indicated the best of both worlds (thrift and luxury). Now the price is higher than ever, but poverty rules the creative director's roost.

What does it do? It reminds me that sometimes aldehydes work just fine. I often grouse about those which smell fishy or frosty, but here, they lend a delicious fatty candle-wax density to a powdery floral amber that might otherwise be blown flat to the ground by the next gust of wind.

How do I feel? Grateful for the satiny touch of grace on a dull and drowsy Friday.

Shalimar all over.

I'm a firm believer in the notion that beginner perfumistas ought to at least glance at the classics, even if they don't make a habit of wearing them. (They may leave that to me, if they wish.) Back in 2012, Angela of NowSmellThis posted a road map entitled 26 Vintage Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try. She prefaced the list by stating that she deliberately chose groundbreaking fragrances that have either been altered beyond recognition or discontinued altogether-- and then she hits us with the truth: Shalimar does not make the cut. "(It) is all right in its current incarnation," she explained, "so I don't mention it."

She was perfectly right to refrain. Whatever version of Shalimar you're wearing, all of its incarnations display a familial resemblance so striking as to render them both remarkable and redundant. Which is not to say you should ignore them. No, they ought to be worn, singly or simultaneously. Old and new blend together on the wrist with astounding native ease.

I own small amounts of Shalimar in a variety of concentrations and vintages -- extrait from both the 1950s "fan" flacon and the 1960s parapluie, 1980s parfum de toilette, and an eau de toilette from 2008. (I also have a goodly amount of what I believe to be WWII-era eau de parfum sealed forever in a broken-stoppered bottle from which only Armageddon can extract it.) The most recent addition to my Shalimar wardrobe is the parfum de toilette, a full mini-bottle of which my pal Mary gifted me after scoring it at a local thrift shop. (Merci beaucoup, ma sœur!) It's got pretty much everything that the extrait does, if not nearly as much of that animalic trifecta of civet, ambergris, and castoreum that makes my toes curl. (They still do-- perhaps not so tight, but enough to satisfy.)

Whether I layer PdT over EdT (or vice versa) and top it off with the extrait or wear all three at once willy-nilly, one thing I know. There's never any mistaking that creamy lemon-herb-tonka accord or the foundation which Ulrik Thomsen (AKA Monsieur Guerlain) calls "a pitchy, leathery mixture, zaftig, powdered, and musky beyond civility." In short, the collective Tribe of Shalimar possesses a certain something which no reformulation has yet extinguished.

Long may it waft.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, rose de Mai, iris, jasmine, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, opoponax, tonka bean, balsam Peru, benzoin, vanillin, civet, ambergris, castoreum

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Diorissimo Eau de Toilette (Christian Dior)

Why wear it? Because you need coolin'. Honey, I'm not foolin'.

What does it do? In keeping with the early East Coast bloom time of Convallaria majalis, Diorissimo's lily-of-the-valley blasts you with a March wind worthy of tempering the most tropical hot flash. What's not to apply hourly as needed?

How do I feel? Perimenopausal and bloody loving it.

Rive Gauche Vintage Eau de Toilette (Yves Saint Laurent)

Rive Gauche camps in a rented room in some benighted working-class arrondissement far from the heart of fashion. Subsisting on hand-rolled cigarettes and minimal sleep, she displays too much skin and too many bones in the tissue-thin secondhand clothes she washes by hand in the bathtub. The bathtub, in fact, is the centerpiece of her entire apartment-- logical, since her apartment is actually nothing other than a bathroom, leased by itself for a song. For lack of space to fit a proper bed, she sleeps in the bathtub, too-- so if this back-alley flower sometimes smells like chrome and cold porcelain, or icy water absorbing the flavor of metal pipes, is it any wonder?

Inspired by an actual girl I once met in NYC.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, greens, rose, peach, jasmine, geranium, lily-of-the-valley, iris, ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, oakmoss, tonka bean, musk, amber

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Réplique Parfum, EdT, and Huile Pour le Bain (Raphael & Revlon)

Why wear it? I've got quite a lot of it to use up! From the original Raphael parfum in its classic "R" flacon to the 1960s Revlon EdT version, I've accumulated a goodly amount of this rich coriander-laced leather chypre over the years. The one thing I do not have (and what's more, harbor no desire to try) is the Long Lost Perfumes version. With all this Réplique, whyever would I need a replica?

What does it do? Singly, these scents satisfy. Collectively, they knock your motherloving socks off. The EdT readies you for the parfum's intense pleasures the way that matte medium primes a canvas for the application of rich hues and textures. If you've got Réplique in multiple incarnations, wear 'em all, I say. If you don't do a thing thoroughly, why do it at all?

How do I feel? Under the influence of pure, uncut perfumista catnip.

Vintage Parfum du Jour: Chypre (Coty)

Why wear it? Because a vast family of fragrances descends from it. Because the history of Western civilization as I know it used this scent as a piped-in accompaniment. Because its beauty steals the breath from my lungs. And to borrow an inspired phrase from Stephen Crane, because it is my heart.

What does it do? Glares at you sternly with remote, green, feline eyes behind which resides a thousand-year-old soul.

How do I feel? To quote another poet who knew a thing or two about a thing or two, I feel

...austere, supreme,
A ghost in marble of a girl you knew
Who would have loved you in a day or two.

Nocturnes de Caron Vintage Eau de Toilette (Caron)

Goodness gracious me! Though this mini-bottle of Nocturnes de Caron is only thirty-odd years old, its contents leave me beached thirty years before that-- a moment in which feminism experienced a neap tide so extreme, women had actually been talked back into corsets. A riffle through Elizabeth Winder's Pain Parties Work or Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road spells out the entire swindle. Girls in gloves and hats and hose, bleeding invisibly through acres of touch-me-not crinoline, trudging from fête to fête until they'd won all the prizes -- the spouse, the house, the three kids, the washer/dryer, the coveted Junior League President's chair -- and hating it, hating it, hating it.

In and of itself, Nocturnes is not a terrible thing. It's sweet, virginal, as floucy and decorative as a bridal bouquet that takes both hands to hold, and exactly as impractical for getting on with the sticky stuff of real life. Sylvia Plath really nailed it: It can sew, it can cook,/It can talk, talk, talk./It works, there is nothing wrong with it.../My boy, it's your last resort./Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, tuberose, stephanotis, lily-of-the-valley, iris, cyclamen, vanilla, amber, musk, sandalwood, vetiver, benzoin

Parfum du Jour: Geisha Green (Aroma M)

Why wear it? For a boost in morale (and a suggestion of springtime) on a dull grey, almost-December day.

What does it do? Geisha Green takes Artemisia absinthium -- a note most often reserved for flinty-eyed masculine fougères -- gift-wraps it in layers of silk and brocade and teaches it to converse in a Gion Kōbu accent. Cassis shows itself only in gauzy hints of crimson glimpsed at collar and sleeve. Bewitching.

How do I feel? Heartened. Yesterday was difficult; today is easier, and tomorrow may be smoother still. Gambatte!

Quadrille Vintage Eau de Cologne Fraîche (Balenciaga)

Likened by various reviewers to Schiaparelli Shocking, Rochas Femme, or (in a more contemporary vein) Boucheron Jaïpur, Balenciaga Quadrille (1955) is described as a lush ambrosia of fruit and spices, with a lascivious bare-skin musk for ballast. According to Fragrantica, the parfum version of Quadrille features notes of plum, peach, lemon, jasmine, clove, cardamom, and amber. Sounds lovely-- but I'm here to write about a different beast altogether. Metaphorically speaking, Quadrille Eau de Cologne Fraîche is to its parfum counterpart what a daytime clutch is to a fully-stuffed Coach Gramercy shoulderbag. Only the bare essentials will fit... but by god, they're indispensable.

Though but a few of the parfum's constituents are readily discernable in the EdC, they have been well-chosen, their effect deliberately heightened. The lemon opener sparkles like sherbet candy and is followed by a damascenone which ably connotes a ripe, rosy plum. These two notes interact beautifully-- one bitingly tart and bright, the other dusky and jam-sweet. Whatever you're expecting next, it's probably not black leather. But that's exactly what meets the nose on the next inhale: a great waft of isobutyl quinoline, all bitter sophistication. (Surprise!)

A fleeting hint of soapy, cool cardamom blunts the harsh edges, and a friendly musk ends the experience on a hospitable note. But the message is clear: don't dare underestimate Madame.

Scent Elements: Lemon, plum, cardamom, leather, musk

Parfum du Jour: The Smell of Weather Turning (LUSH)

Why wear it? To mark the hesitant appearance of the first flakes of snow, glimpsed through the kitchen window this morning as the last of the Thanksgiving Nor'easter blew through our backyard.

What does it do? The Smell of Weather Turning offers the olfactory equivalent of a kaleidoscopic view, revolving through stormy blue-grey, startling green, lucent honey-amber, and smoky silver, with intermittent flashes of lightning designed to temporarily dazzle one speechless.

How do I feel? Not to toot my own horn, but at this moment, I feel quite accomplished. I started the morning by whipping up a gorgeous batch of pumpkin-bacon-date muffins. After watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade over coffee, I began prepping our evening feast. As we speak, a big pan of panko-crusted baked macaroni and cheese is browning in the oven. A delicious mixture of pecans, chopped dried fruits, and shallots sauteed in butter and cider waits to be stuffed into butterflied pork chops, then oven-baked in more cider, olive oil, and fresh sage leaf chiffonade. After that, all we have to do is pop the steam-in-the-bag green beans into the microwave, and it will be Bon Appétit! As promised, the pie (apple) and cream (whipped) are store-bought, and there's Maine Root Pumpkin Pie Soda for a digestif. But through all this, I remain grateful to the core for my spouse, who helped me do it all, as he always does. (That's why the biggest, juiciest pork chop is destined for his plate!)

Anne Klein II Vintage Parfum (Anne Klein)

My heart leapt with excitement and delight when I spotted a vintage mini of Anne Klein II in Mrs. Young's Sunday Stash. Here's a prime example (Opium and Cinnabar being two others) of a successful intersection between chypre and oriental-- two very distinct genres linked by their shared compatibility with fruity and floral notes. While Calvin Klein Obsession favors the oriental side of the bargain, AKII remains firmly in the chypre camp. It's drier (even its peach note speaks more of sueded skin than of sweet nectar) and features only a careful modicum of spice. But oh, the flowers, almost embarrassing in their plenitude! And oh, the civet and sandalwood on which this display is tabled! (Plus, that bottle, and that typeface-- did you ever see anything so nifty?)

If I had to arrange AKII and its kindred along a time continuum, I would say that Cinnabar occupies the bright optimistic morning... and Obsession the post-five-o'clock cocktail hour. Opium can be found lolling in late-night satin bedsheets, naturally dreaming of poppy fields and Emerald Cities. And Anne Klein II -- urbane, witty, and self-confident -- swings along the glittering boulevards during all hours in-between.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, galbanum, peach, rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, carnation, iris, sandalwood, rosewood, patchouli, amber, benzoin, civet, musk

Je Reviens Vintage Eau de Parfum (Worth)

I have absolutely no idea what year my bottle was produced. It's a white frosted glass boule flacon -- modeled after Worth's Dans La Nuit flacon in midnight blue, all stars and romance -- with a ground-glass stopper (oh so classic!) and a tiny metal 'W' pendant slung around its neck. The stopper alone would be considered anomalous for something new, so I'm content to imagine the word "vintage" as a description for twenty to forty years ago. The contents are a distillation of every spring flower imaginable, sweet and bright, tussled by a crisp northerly wind. There's a goodly slug of jasmine for sex appeal, and a drydown which veers into animalic territory without ever becoming vulgar.

All in all, Je Reviens is a complimentary portrait-- not of the couture for which the House of Worth is justly famed, but of the woman to be found inside all the silks and satins. She is not just a mannequin, but a warm-blooded individual with a point of view. I didn't think I'd like her as much as I do, but I'm glad I trusted my friend KV, for whom Je Reviens is a touchstone. Now I understand why.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, jasmine, hyacinth, lilac, orange blossom, violet, ylang ylang, narcissus, jonquil, oakmoss, sandalwood, balsam Tolu, vetiver, musk

Parfum du Jour: Amber Pour Homme (Prada)

Why wear it? For an extra protective layer between tender skin and scratchy winter woolens.

What does it do? It soothes nerves provoked to a frazzle on the sixth day of an interminably long work week. Waxy labdanum, slippery suede, oily saffron, soapy cardamom, and creamy tonka make for a most unctuous combination. If Prada made a balm version with a lanoline-and-beeswax base, winter (and work!) would never chap me again.

How do I feel? Ameliorated.

Parfum du Jour: Encre Noire (Lalique)

Why wear it? To scare the villagers into consulting the local copy of Malleus Maleficarium.

What does it do? It sets off a serious, long-burning bonfire that fills the cold air of November with a drear vetiver smoke cloud. Its mighty swell blocks out the very sun and causes ink-black rain to fall upon the land, spoiling crops and dyeing the local sheep flocks a somber grey. The umbra it casts is endless and apocalyptic, yet you walk within it as safe as a well-warded witch. Obviously you have friends in low places. VERY low places.

How do I feel? Defiant. Do you think I burn so easily? More torches and pitchforks, say I.

Incognito Vintage Fragrance (Cover Girl)

Certain fragrances smell as though you've known them all your life... even if you were formally introduced only a scant minute ago. Case in point: Incognito, Cover Girl's much-mourned 1992 floriental. I just brought home a full vintage mini-bottle from the antique store, yet I feel positive this isn't the first time this fragrance has meandered across my path. We met many years ago... but where?

Set the scene: I'm on the #28 NJ Transit bus (all local stops between Newark and Montclair) sitting across the aisle from a woman clad in Casual Friday office mufti. Homeward bound, we slump in our respective plastic seats-- faces expressionless, feet and shoulders sore. Her thousand-yard stare (a necessity on urban public transit) exactly mirrors my own; doubtless she would discourage prying questions from a total stranger. But my god, she smells good! What perfume is that? A cheap and cheerful domestic version of Fendi by Fendi, it pools around her like honey. I love it. I wish I had the guts to ask her its name, or even more, to wear such a thing with aplomb behind my own courtesy desk. Anyone can be an interchangeable worker bee-- yet who could pass unnoticed wearing a scent so feminine, so delirious?

They named this thing all wrong, I think. They should have called it Shameless, or Wanton, or Defiant-- if for no other reason than to raise service industry employee morale. Such names, and the fragrance attached to them, make being hitched to the grindstone bearable. To hell with your coworkers and their oversensitive nasal passages: this is survival, people. Do it in style, or don't do it at all.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, orange, lemon, bergamot, greens, basil, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, rose, carnation, iris, honey, cinnamon, patchouli, rosewood, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, benzoin, styrax, incense, civet, vanilla

Parfum du Jour: Fumerie Turque (Serge Lutens)

Why wear it? Again, the weather is unseasonably frigid, with a stiff breeze that lowers one's core temperature with merciless efficiency. Such a foe must be fought with fire.

What does it do? Fumerie Turque emanates an air of Victorian British cozy-corner done over as Oriental fantasy-- brocade draperies and throw pillows mixed together with Staffordshire bric-a-brac and back issues of Punch. Ornate, yet familiar and welcoming.

How do I feel? Girded against the dread polar vortex. Boreas, do your worst!

Parfum du Jour: Black Mark Eau de Parfum (Jack Black)

Why wear it? Because it's freezing goddamn cold outside.

What does it do? With the exception of a brief, strident burst of lavender early on, Black Mark muffles you up to the chin for hours in a friendly fever of fiery cedar and mellow saffron. Better than a sweater!

How do I feel? At least five degrees warmer. It doesn't seem like much, but in weather like this, it makes all the difference.

Parfum du Jour: Sandalwood & Ginger (The Body Shop)

Why wear it? Well, it's raining buckets outside, which is exactly how the weather looked the first time I reviewed S&G two and a half years ago. I suppose heavy precipitation triggers a need in me for warm and woody perfumes. If my fingers hadn't brushed against my sample vial of S&G first, I would probably have opted for Black Mark and ended up unhappy. (But talk to me again tomorrow, when the temperature plummets thirty degrees-- Black Mark will be more than welcome then!)

What does it do? A very basic thing in a very beautiful way.

How do I feel? Because I sprayed S&G in my freshly-washed hair as well as on my wrists, every time I turn my head I receive a fresh waft of mellow, buttery santal goodness.

Grev (Slumberhouse)

Here I am at the end of my Slumberhouse run, and I'm glad to report that I enjoyed relative good luck with this line. Out of eleven fragrances, only four disappointed me, which sets the ratio of good-to-bad at roughly 3:2 (or three-fifths).  In comparison to other lines, I'd rate Slumberhouse as "not nearly as good as Soivohle" but "far more interesting than Parfumerie Générale" and "leaves Olympic Orchids in the dust".

I reserved Grev for last because it wanted a wintry day to unlock what I have to say about it. The minty combination of evergreen and wintergreen (methyl salicylate derived from sweet birch buds) is simple yet obvious, like lyrics which prove inseparable from their original melody. Add the icewater chill of iris, and glittering hoarfrost limns the scenery in silver.  The whole world is awash in feathery flicks of Disney Fantasia pink and blue. It's so divine, I'm saving the remainder to wear on New Year's Eve, when it will complement two flutes of prosecco to perfection.

Scent Elements: Copaiba balsam, birch buds, fir, clove, iris, cedar

Calyx Vintage Fragrance (Prescriptives for Estée Lauder)

How best to sum up the repertoire of perfumer Sophia Grojsman? Too-too? That old synonym for 'overblown' may be outmoded, but it fits Prescriptives Calyx like a custom-made merry widow.

In the main, Grojsman's fragrances are very much like Grojsman herself-- hard-faced, a bit garish, yet uniquely sympathisch. For the same reason that I always watch The Fisher King for Mercedes Ruehl's poison-tongued sexpot Anne (and that astounding Grand Central Station waltz scene), I admire Sophia Grojsman's parfums de poitrine (Jaïpur, Spellbound, Trésor, Yvresse, Sun Moon Stars) for their patented, built-in OOMPH!. Yet it's equally easy to envision these dames bare-faced and denuded of glitz, staring into their dressing room mirrors in the harsh glare of a naked lightbulb. For such moments, Grojsman created White Linen, Paris, Eternity, and Calyx.

I'm not implying that Calyx lacks cleavage. How could it, with such an overdose of tropical fruit? Passionfruit, guava, and papaya all boast of a dizzying sweetness, but you truly have to be comfortable with rancidity and rot to tolerate their stomach-turning enzymatic quality. Luckily, Sophia Grojsman knows the value of a demure cover-up to balance a stunning décolletage. Cyclamen, muguet, and mint provide the "tulle tucker" effect that transforms Calyx from fermented fruitbomb to something cool, rain-dappled, remote-- the promised fragrance exaltante.

When this metamorphosis was first achieved in 1986, the trend for cloying, Giorgio-esque florientals wavered, then toppled. It seems we need Calyx (tweaked and rereleased by Clinique last year) to work its magic again. Hasn't the last decade been one endless parade of supersized dessert-cart perfumes? So long have we lived with fragrances that wear us instead of the other way around that a return to nature would be welcome. It needn't be red in tooth and claw. Just clean and green will do.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, bergamot, passionfruit, peach, mango, melon, papaya, grapefruit, guava, raspberry, cyclamen, lily of the valley, jasmine, rose, neroli, marigold, mint, cassia, vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood, musk.

Parfum du Jour: Cabochard (Parfums Grès)

Why wear it? For the pure don't-give-a-damn of it all.

What does it do? It renders you flinty and unfuckwithable, puts steel in your spine, and sharpens the twin points of your forked tongue to a fare-thee-well.

How do I feel? None of your beeswax. Now fetch me a nice scotch and soda-- there's a lamb.

Parfum du Jour: 1740 Marquis de Sade (Histoires de Parfums)

Why wear it? For certain defense against a cold, heartless world.

What does it do? Despite all that its name and notes imply, this fragrance overflows with tender compassion. I could rest my head on its broad shoulder all century long and never need to utter that pre-arranged safe word.

How do I feel? Like yielding-- utterly.

Vikt (Slumberhouse)

For days, I've struggled to pinpoint what exactly about Slumberhouse Vikt keeps me dipping into my rapidly diminishing supply of same. Not the oud, which for all its disturbing splendor proved to be the standard article. Not the laurel, though I love it in abundance (unlike my husband, who decries my tendency to lard a pot of chili with practically a whole tree's worth of bay leaves). Only today did I find myself wondering which of my coworkers would accidentally leave an apple to rot in their desk drawer... merely to realize that the sweet, yeasty scent of fermenting Malus domestica came from my own wrists.

Having long been a cidermaker, I confess to a fondness for the intoxicating pong peculiar to this hobby, though I remain unsure that anyone else finds it (or its fruits, so to speak) quite to their taste. I can't get enough... as the dwindling level of perfume in my sample vial of Vikt proves. That it's backed by an unworthy synthetic wood base remains moot. I love this stuff. It's Rume after aging ten years in a cellar. I feel unashamed to drain it to the very dregs.

Scent Elements: Oud, styrax, Madagascar laurel

Parfum du Jour: L'Interdit (Givenchy)

Why wear it? For a haze of fragrance on a foggy November day marked by unseasonable warmth.

What does it do? For one thing, it surrounds and soothes but does not suffocate. For another, it reminds me of childhood breakfasts consisting of sliced ripe peaches or nectarines and milk eaten with a spoon. No cereal, no sugar, no fuss. Just sweet, cold, creamy delight.

How do I feel? Cautiously optimistic.

Parfum du Jour: Cèdre Bleu (Yves Rocher)

Why wear it? To hide inside a cocoon of lovingkindness when circumstances seem rather less than hospitable.

What does it do? It starts off very woody indeed, austere with a hint of dry black tea leaves. Then in an eyeblink, it soufflés into a pillowy île flottante of saffron, guaiac and sweet cream-- the nicest fake-out you'll ever fall victim to.

How do I feel? Like somebody just handed me a hot mug of milk chai, an insanely soft microfiber blanket, and a doctor's prescription for thirty days' total R'n'R.

Fleur de Fleurs Vintage Parfum de Toilette (Nina Ricci)

After war, pestilence, famine, and dying single, smelling bad is arguably womankind's greatest fear. From adolescence clear through to old age, we field so many warnings about feminine odor that autophantosmia becomes a kneejerk reflex. We live in terror of offending the world around us-- not through any real fault of our own, unless being female really is the Original Sin.

Laboring under the assumption that women don't already obsess over their own bodies, Cosmopolitan has published this online slideshow to familiarize us with the six major pongs emitted by our own personal Down Unders. Musky, bleachy and sweet are deemed normal. Tinny (metallic) is also normal, but only during one's moontime. Yeasty and fishy are invariably bad. Baaaaaaaad. And even there, a distinction exists-- for while a yeast infection is undeniably inconvenient, wafting a mysterious odor of fresh-baked bread is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. You want horror? Try trimethylaminuria. This incurable metabolic condition causes its victims to smell like decaying seafood no matter how scrupulously clean they are. It's a devastating life sentence for which a strictly-modified diet provides only temporary reprieve. I mention it because I know full well that the complaint I'm about to deliver is totally frivolous by comparison. If a perfume makes me smell fishy, I can just scrub it. I put it on; I can take it off. Simple, right?

There's so much to like about Fleur de Fleurs, Nina Ricci's 1982 aldehydic springtime floral. First (and most obvious), there's that gorgeous Lalique-designed flacon. Inside, one finds nectared cyclamen and hyacinth underpinned with sandalwood and civet. It's fresh. It's sexy. It's eager to please. But then (oh god forgive me!) the pissy, fishy stench of stale feminine fluids rises up and just ruins everything.

I've come across this phenomenon before in other fragrances (Le Galion's Eau de Bourrasque still snaps at me from the briny deep!). What do they have in common? Aldehydes-- every damn time. But aldehydes don't always produce a marine stink. In some fragrances they sparkle like silver-gilt paillettes; in others, they generate a rich, soft, fatty sensation like cascades of melted candle wax. Could it be another scent element against which the aldehydes rebel? A citrus note? A floral molecule? What?

To give due credit, Fleur de Fleurs perfumer Betty Busse did compose the gorgeously louche-tastic original Chloé. On the other hand, we also have her to blame for 1968's Esteé Super, an aldehydic floral with one of the fishiest undercurrents I've ever encountered. My mother-in-law loves Esteé Super almost as much as she loves Hermès 24 Fauborg. But Hermès 24 Fauborg makes her smell like a wildflower bouquet-- and Esteé Super makes her smell like canned salmon. Fleur de Fleurs, I'm sad to say, would make her smell about halfway inbetween.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, greens, bergamot, lemon, cyclamen, rosemary, magnolia, iris, lilac, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, sandalwood, civet, musk

Parfum du Jour: Ma Griffe EdT (Carven)

Why wear it? To gear down from all the leather and segue into a slightly more forgiving frame of mind. Also, there's not much of it left in the sample vial.  The angels do take their share, don't they?

What does it do? Sets the teeth ever so slightly on edge. Between its prickly aldehydes and the mild rasp of sandalwood in its drydown, there's this jewel-like spring-green note that summons April even while dour Autumn soldiers onward.

How do I feel? A bit wistful, wearing this today. It's so out of season to both my mind and my nose, that I almost feel protective of it-- this tender green shoot about to feel the bite of winter frost.

Parfum du Jour: Jolie Madame (Balmain)

Why wear it? Because as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham could tell us, being a lady and busting balls are not mutually exclusive pursuits. And also, this fragrance co-authored the playbook that Cabochard carries in tiny, leather-gloved hand.

What does it do? It may smile, and smile, and be a villain... but it accomplishes this deed in full hat-and-heels with a purse cover to match and the most exquisitely perfect up-flicks of mascara on its artfully narrowed eyelids.

How do I feel? Like a cat who has captured both the canary and the cream.

Rume (Slumberhouse)

I don't think Rume is anything original. It reminds me quite plainly of several other fragrances (Soivohle Solstice, Sweet Anthem Roslin, Smell Bent Otter Luvr) which approximate the scent of harvest apples without listing them as an ingredient. But oh, how well they console my hurting heart and warm it up when it's taken on a chill. So: original, no. But special? Indubitably so.

Scent Elements: Bay leaf, myrrh, hay, labdanum, hazelnut, "clay" accord

Jeke Parfum Extrait (Slumberhouse)

My pal DC recently told me that a cousin of hers has embraced a new career as a designer of artisanal eLiquid. (That's the elixir -- and honestly, wouldn't "eLixir" be a better name? -- composed of propylene glycol, flavorings, and nicotine which is aerosolized in a personal vaporizer or eCigarette.) By DC's description, her cousin's craft sounds a lot like perfumery, which got me thinking. What perfumes would I smoke, if smoking perfume were possible? Well, Cabochard, of course... Liz Zorn's Meerschaum... Puredistance M... Aramis Havana... Jasmin et Cigarette... the indispensible Fumerie Turque... and Jeke by Slumberhouse.

If there existed a tobacco whose smoke smelled just like Jeke, I'd be back in the habit in the blink of an eye. Here's an aroma as fruity-meaty-smoky-sweet as pemmican, as dense and Christmas-y as mince, more meal than after-dinner smoke. When you've got a labdanum this rich, a patchouli this dirty, a cade this infernal, a tobacco this earthy, you need a note that lassoes it all together. Here, it's clove-- an additive I love in both 'fume and fumum. We're not talking about some pale apothecary tincture reminiscent of doctors' or dentists' offices. Jeke's clove essence is fiery, caustic and pure. A drop of it on your skin would leave a tiny blister. But cut with all of Jeke's other constituent elements, its heat is diffused and broadened, changed by alchemy and art into something that embraces the wearer and boosts their well-being. I feel uplifted by Jeke... and to my knowledge, it's not due to a nicotine rush.

Still, a scent this profound and mystical can't be delivered in a flimsy rolling paper or an electronically dosed vapor. Jeke possesses weight and presence beyond the medium it's meant to represent; it seems to deserve (nay, earn!) a pipe -- preferably briar-burl or red catlinite, solid and weighty and satisfying to hold in the hand. All the ritual required to fill, light, and smoke it would serve as a testament to the worthiness of this addictive scent.

Scent Elements: Cade, tobacco, patchouli, benzoin, labdanum, lapsang souchong tea, clove, vanilla

Norne (Slumberhouse)

A "guilty pleasure" is defined as a form of entertainment which produces equal amounts of enjoyment and shame. As ridicule may follow on the heels of exposure, we hide our devotion to protect its object.

One of my guiltiest pleasures is Ridley Scott's Legend, a deliriously silly fairy tale starring Tom Cruise and Mia Sara as-- god, what are they? Super friends, foster siblings, doe-eyed lovers? Whatever. Jack and Lili rendezvous daily to pick flowers in a soft-focus forest primeval while Tim Curry (resplendent in delicious demon drag) plots to harsh their hippie lovefest. It's all so glitter-dusted and overblown, even I want to mock it... except for faithful Jack. This chaste nature boy kills me with his depthless innocence and tousled hair and moss-green eyes and revealing tatters and well-muscled young shoulders... Sorry, what was I saying?

Norne by Slumberhouse seems to me the ideal approximation of Jack's scent-- something feral and forest-born, nourished on morning dew and daubed with the soot of a Walpurgisnacht bonfire. Balsam fir (with its curious undertone of burnt sugar) makes up the heart of this chypre, which ought to list menace, mystery, and magick right alongside. This is truly a forest encapsulated in scent, ancient and implacable, with neither a particle of decay omitted nor a hint of Disney added. To ward off peril, a frankincense note peals forth as clear and sanctified as church bells-- but Norne's tutelary demon cannot be banished, for this is its home. You are the one out of place. Twigs snap, shadows lurk, and predatory eyes glow at you from every thicket as you turn and turn, trying to recall the exact moment when the trail disappeared from under your feet...

Is your love strong enough?

Scent Elements: Lichen, fern, oakmoss, balsam fir, hemlock, incense

Pear & Olive Parfum Extrait (Slumberhouse)

Would that it were mostly olive, but no: it is that same predictable pear that graces storebought shampoo, plus a number of ingredients (massoia, aglaia, calamus, zdravets) seemingly chosen more for the exotic quality of their names than for their importance to the formula. The one ingredient not included in the roll call is coconut, which is abundantly present, almost to the point of hijacking the whole. Sadly redundant. Or is that redundantly sad?

Scent Elements: Pear, cognac, chamomile, aglaia, zdravets (geranium), olive, massoia, calamus. And coconut. SO much coconut.

Chloé Narcisse Parfum (Chloé)

A babe-in-the-woods when it comes to Chloé Narcisse, I went off in search of clues and found a welter of warnings instead. The author of the Fragrantica page devoted to this turbo-charged fruity floral cautions us to "be careful about the amount you use" as it is "very intense". (Would you expect any less from a relative of Chloé?) Shaped by troubles suffered during wear, the tale of woe told by Gaia the Non-Blonde is necessarily biased; I for one don't blame her for being a hostile witness. But a baggage-free newcomer such as myself should have no qualms, right? Right?

I normally wouldn't use the words "blast radius" in a perfume review, but man, they were not kidding when they told us to go light. Barely a trace of perfume made it onto my wrist, and I'm completely intimidated by the strength, the volume, the height and weight and breadth of this thing. It places me at Ground Zero of some kind of sensory apocalypse painted in the loud catwalk colors of the Nineties: shocking pink, candy-apple red, neon green and yellow, ultramarine blue. Against this backdrop, Chloé Narcisse's molecules are supersized, towering over me in golden, leggy, blank-faced splendor like a platoon of über-femme Dr. Manhattans. They can see me from space. There's nowhere to hide.

Do I struggle? Do I run? Of course not. I will take the advice of explorers before me and apply sparingly... but other than that, what can I tell you? Earth girls are easy.

Scent Elements: Peach, pineapple, orange blossom, daffodil, violet, gardenia, carnation, jasmine, rose, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, musk

Longing (Coty)

An initial glance at both notes list and bottle design gives the impression of a cheap drugstore retread of Guerlain Champs-Elysées. You prepare to cringe as the first syrupy-sweet drop makes contact with your skin; for a nanosecond, disappointment seems inescapable. Then a pert, prickly ribbon of oakmoss muscles its way to the foreground, and suddenly you're face to face with something more interesting and individual than you dreamed-- a real personality, flaws and all. You like her. You didn't think you would, but you do-- and you suddenly realize that true charm is a dangerous balancing act, and any person's fate can teeter precisely on the center line between a sharp tongue and a heart-melting smile.

Scent Elements: Orange, violet, mimosa, rose, vanilla, musk, oakmoss, amber

Ambush Vintage Eau de Cologne (Dana)

This past weekend found me working a Sunday shift back in my old stomping grounds... an arduous task, but not without reward. Lo and behold, my old pal Mrs. Young greeted me at the circulation desk with a sweet selection of vintage perfumes! She sent me home happy with mini-bottles of Anne Klein II Parfum (1985), Chloé (1975) and Chloé Narcisse (1992), Coty Longing (1994), and Dana Ambush Eau de Cologne (1955).

Ambush's predecessor (by two decades) is that grand succès, Canoe (or Canoé, as charmingly upmarketed by Basenotes). Canoe began its tenure as a feminine fragrance and then (in a sort of reverse Jicky maneuver) was annexed by the menfolk, who recognized in its soapy vanilla-tinged lavender all that could be desired in an aromatic fougère. Canoe had indeed been ambushed... but with a name change and a femmed-up formula, Dana managed to restore the scoreboard to even-steven.

Most notes lists for Ambush feature only six scent elements: bergamot, lavender, heliotrope, jasmine, orchid, and oakmoss. This is rather disappointingly reductive for a copy based on a complex original. I've smelled them both in vintage form, and I'm fairly certain that Ambush has got everything Canoe's got, and then some. The entire fougère arsenal is in there, la toute chose absolument, PLUS purty flowers and what my nose perceives as an extra dose of hazy Shalimaresque resins. Mama like!

Along with Old Spice, Canoe is quite the hit amongst aging Barnegat Bay crab-boat captains. Many a salty octogenarian carries its scent on his frayed collar-- but what about the Missus? I rather think that Ambush's masculine tailoring is all wrong for her day-to-day life. From what I understand, Revlon Ciara is more her style: full-skirted, womanly, as soft and comfortable as a chenille honeymoon bathrobe in its fifth decade of wear. As they say, age ain't nothin' but a number.

Scent Elements: Lavender, lemon, clary sage, carnation, geranium, heliotrope, jasmine, orchid, cloves, patchouli, cedar, tonka bean, styrax, opopanax, benzoin, vanilla, oakmoss, musk

Flou Parfum Extrait (Slumberhouse)

Ivy, grape, morning glory, sweet pea, pole bean, honeysuckle, wisteria. Vine plants have always struck me as unnerving evidence of Mother Nature's avarice. Driven by a nameless volition, their serpentine tendrils worm through walls, suffocate forests, and engulf the world in ever-tightening spirals. If this sounds like the stuff of B-movie screamfests, it ought to. What's more terrifying than a mindless parasite that slowly strangles its prey... then spills cascades of lovely blossoms over the crime scene?

Flou combines the nectar of summer honeysuckle, the tannic bouquet of ripe Concord grapes, and the Southern Gothic menace of kudzu all in one intoxicating wave of fruity florality. It's extrait strength, so go easy... and ruthlessly prune back stray runners lest they overtake the neighborhood.

Scent Elements: Grapes, honey, orchid, musk

Menthe Fraiche (Heeley)

No. No, no, no. Toothpaste, mouthwash, and breath mints smell like this, with success-- but a perfume based solely on mint is destined for misidentification as a dental product. As nice the scent of mint may be, it does not belong on the wrists, the nape of the neck, the bend of the elbow, or any points which you might expect your beloved to kiss... unless you're dating a dentist.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, spearmint, peppermint, green tea, freesia, cedar

Photo Vintage Eau de Cologne (Karl Lagerfeld)

Photo (1990) is an affable Oriental fougère in the Fendi Uomo mode-- all bracing herbs and spicy flowers against a backdrop of tonka and cedarwood. If this sounds a bit butch to you, please know that my seatmate at this morning's library workshop actually moved closer to me to get away from her neighbor, who reeked of Jessica Simpson Dessert Treats. (Which one? Couldn't say. All of them, maybe?) She said I smelled wonderful, possibly because she couldn't taste my sparingly-applied fragrance on the roof of her mouth. Score one for the old-school wrist dab!

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, mandarin, bergamot, lemon, lavender, coriander, caraway, galbanum, cyclamen, carnation, rose, jasmine, honey, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, patchouli, oakmoss, benzoin, cedar, guaiacwood

Kitsch and witchery.

This will be brief, because it is half past four in the morning and I really ought to be asleep; eloquence at this hour is in short supply. Basically, I'm writing to keep my mind off of other things, and this is the subject that presents itself. It's not very complex, but it will have to do.

The first Esscentual Alchemy perfume I ever tried made me wild with enthusiasm. This was Mermaid's Carnation, which combines some of my most-loved perfumery tropes (peppery carnation! mystical backstory! the salt of the eternal sea!) and for which I retain a distinct soft spot. I can't begrudge my zeal for not stretching to cover the other four Esscentual samples I possess. Though pleasant, they simply didn't tell me the same ripping yarn as Mermaid's Carnation.

Of the four, I found Carry My Heart to be the least noteworthy-- a fun, blowsy, deshabille rose, all Victorian picture-postcard sentiment. Kama appears to have been modeled after an Indian hina attar, with its dozens of ingredients steeped in sandalwood oil; unfortunately, a overbearing oud note takes over and won't give anyone else a chance at the wheel. Orange Chocolate Roses is precisely what its name itemizes-- a bit of tasty-yet-unoriginal kitsch, a novelty item without much novelty. But Dvora, now-- Dvora is something different. She could be Puredistance M's gourmandise offspring-- a big-boned Julia Child of a fragrance, whose kitchen is perpetually redolent of desserts past, present, and future, most of them involving hearty -- and not strictly necessary -- slugs of Cointreau. Over the top in a benevolent, bursting-with-goodness sense, Dvora is the one I found myself reapplying most. (What do you want? Sometimes you can't stop at one bite.)

Scent Elements: White rose attar, frankincense, ambergris, rose hydrosol, rosewood, petitgrain, lavender (Carry My Heart); orange blossom, neroli, white rose attar, rose Damascena, Moroccan rose, pink pepper, tangerine, bergamot, citron, blood orange, amber (Dvora); saffron, ambergris, vetiver, sandalwood, ambrette, oud, frankincense, myrrh, patchouli, davana, cinnamon, jasmine, lotus, rose, nag champa, tuberose, neroli, clove, nutmeg, coriander, mimosa, carnation, cardamom, frangipani (Kama); labdanum, ambergris, benzoin, cacao absolute, gardenia, rose, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, rosewood, bitter almond, blood orange, mandarin (Orange Chocolate Roses)

Sova Parfum Extrait (Slumberhouse)

A little olfactory ode to bucolic contentment, Sova puts me in mind of Omar Khayyám's most famous passage from the Rubáiyát, in which "wilderness is paradise enow" so long as one's Best Beloved attends the picnic. In this translation, heaven smells like a sampler of different types of honey-- locust, clover, black gum, chestnut -- in glass jars spread out upon the blanket and sparkling like Baltic amber in the sun. A fingertip is all that's needed for the feast.

Scent Elements: Poplar bud, tonka bean, hay, vanilla, castoreum, amber, broom, beeswax, black locust, clover, hops

Burberry for Women Eau de Parfum (Burberry)

Burberry is one of those lines I've never truly taken the time to investigate. If I wanted an exploratory huff, all I had to do was hug my friend Glynis, a devotee of the line. She smelled good; end of story. I never felt the need to delve deeper. Where's the incentive, when those tartan bottles all look the same and their contents generally smell the same?

Burberry for Women does not come in a tartan bottle, thank goodness; this is the first tip-off that it will be different than the legion of the generic woody florals whose name it shares. I received a boxed mini of this 1995 fruity floral as a stocking-stuffer two Christmases ago. It was presented to me by my mother-in-law, along with an infinity scarf in whisper-soft cranberry wool. I would not have chosen either for myself, but I appreciated the thoughtfulness of these gifts and resolved to wear them in tribute to the shared regard which they represented. Nearly two years later, the scarf has adorned my neck countless times, but the perfume remains unopened. Not deliberately, you understand; a lot has happened in that stretch of time, and it's all too easy for things to fall through the cracks.

Today I resurrected my MiL's gift and gave it a belated whirl. I find it to be a perfectly pleasant fruit salad of a fragrance laced with vanilla and crème de cassis, more suitable for a romantic evening à deux than any other occasion. The sharp, biting quality of blackcurrant nicely balances the warm, expansive vanilla; between these two poles is every fruit you can think of, stewing nicely in a medley of nectars. I vastly prefer it to most others of its genre (not to mention its brand). Given its potency, I wouldn't wear too much Burberry for Women to a candlelit dinner lest it interfere with the flavors of the meal. But for a cozy coffee-and-dessert date... I wouldn't hesitate.

Scent Elements: Peach, apricot, pear, apple, cassis, jasmine, cedar, oakmoss, sandalwood, musk, vanilla

Lagerfeld Classic Vintage Eau de Toilette (Karl Lagerfeld)

Lagerfeld Classic (1978) belongs to the same League of Extraordinary Gentleman as Habit Rouge, Pierre Cardin, and de Nicolaï New York-- a hazy, soft floral dosed with aromatic herbs, all presented under a hopeful citrus sunrise. It is so easy to wear, so accommodating and optimistic, I sense that if I keep wearing it I might find the memory of Oktoberfail completely scrubbed from my memory. O sweet amnesia!

Now, I'm aware that I'm supposed to prefer natural niche over mainstream designer. But after my recent tribulations, gentle treatment feels like more than just luxury. It feels, quite bluntly, like a right. Shouldn't I be able to relax into a fragrance without fearing a potential sensory ambush? If so, Lagerfeld Classic is my square one, the first step back to health and sanity.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, sweet orange, tarragon, nutmeg, jasmine, iris, rose, sandalwood, cedar, patchouli, tobacco, amber, musk, tonka bean, vanilla

Fleurs De Glace (Olympic Orchids)

Fleurs de glace, or "frost flowers", are crystal formations which appear on the Arctic Ocean only when precise conditions are achieved. Slight temperature fluctuations cause them to collapse-- yet it is theorized that the same means which cause them to appear today helped to boost life onto the shores of yesteryear. In essence, we humans are descendents of the original fleurs de glace: given the right circumstances, we flourish... but look at us sidelong, and we dissolve.

How I wish I could say as much of the experience of wearing this perfume. As that promising initial accord of pepper, ozone, and cyclamen dissipated -- which it did right quick! -- I did not yield. I merely recognized the same base that Ellen Covey used for Osafume, the perfume I only just recently wore and disliked. This hint of trickery disappoints me. Was I not supposed to notice? Or was I just supposed to melt on contact?

Scent Elements: Galbanum, black pepper, cyclamen, ozonic accord, vanilla, white musk

Osafume (Olympic Orchids)

There's something to be said for the argument that reading about a perfume before a first wearing (or even knowing its name, as per Chandler Burr) can skew one's perceptions beyond the reach of objectivity. Based on information found in magazines, on websites, or in blog posts, one forms expectations which are fated for either disappointment or vindication; the only way to break through this envelope is to take a cold approach. With that in mind -- and in a state of total ignorance as to its notes, its backstory, or the meaning of its name -- I wore Osafume. It smelled exactly like Strawberry Nesquik. Then I perused the notes list and several other bloggers' reviews, which assured me that Osafume was all anise. So I went back and tried it again, and presto: anise. But although I do like anise, I still don't like Osafume. I trust my perceptions and tastes, and to be honest, pink milk was never my thing. I know some people love it, and they're welcome to it. I guess it's a taste some of us just never acquired.

Scent Elements: Anise, star anise, magnolia, heliotrope, vanilla, white musk

Siam Proun (Olympic Orchids)

Here's October, and so begins Olympic Oktoberfest-- a random sampling of Olympic Orchids fragrances untrammeled by rules and regulations. I've got 'em and I'll wear 'em-- but I'll write about them on my own schedule, and damn the leftovers.

Perfumer Ellen Covey composed Siam Proun as a tribute to Provence, where her family once resided. Even if the story does smack of pure PR fantasy, it's a comely bit of scenery against which to showcase a fragrance. (Side note: in Provençal, siam proun means "we are sufficient". However, the word proun is also an acronym coined by Russian artist El Lissitzky for the phrase proekt utverzhdenya novogo, "project for the affirmation of the new". Interesting, no?)

A readymade image of sun-baked garrigue harried by an everpresent wind: this is exactly the Provence that Siam Proun references. If it delivered a bite of tart hesperides or a cucurbitous zing of calone, I'd call it "marine fresh" and leave it at that. If its orange blossom and lavender were turned up a notch, I'd surrender it to the eau de cologne camp without demur. But this unusual fragrance is neither refreshing or relaxing; the acre of wild thyme at its heart may give off a therapeutic aroma, but an elusive touch of smoked sea salt evokes oceanic turbulence, overturning all notion of cool composure.

Siam Proun is an arid, unsettling scent which teeters between earth and sky with nonchalance, as if the cliff's edge has always been its home. If you possess the same fortitude, wear it... but whatever you do, don't look down.

Scent Elements: Orange blossom, bergamot, mint, lavender, rosemary, thyme, heather, yuzu, amber

Marcco Demi-Absolute (Soivohle)

I am acquainted with a number of people who strongly dislike cilantro in their food. Administered with too free a hand in a sautéed or simmered dish, cilantro contributes little but a slimy-soapy mouthfeel which is easy to deem unpleasant, even if you like the taste. But my theory is that they've chosen the wrong temperature for this zesty greenleaf herb. Minced raw for insalata mista or juiced for an emerald-green swirl through the heart of a detoxifying smoothie, cilantro shows its best side fresh from the garden and untouched by any heat save that of the light of the sun.

Marcco (as in Polo!) is a re-release from Liz Zorn's original scent catalog. As such, it gives us a hindsight peek at her early promise (by now fully come to fruition) as a perfumer. Spicy cilantro is Marcco's focal point, but Zorn juxtaposes its charms against a mint-and-basil accord which lends just the right level of frost to the concoction. Sweetened ever so subtly with golden honeylike chamomile, Marcco is summer in a bottle preserved with a chilly future in mind. Uncork it on a grey day and watch a garden grow.

Scent Elements: Coriander, basil absolute, ginger, chamomile, geranium leaf, spearmint, osmanthus absolute, tuberose absolute, guaiac, balsam copaiba, vanilla, amber

Amun Re: The Tears of Ra (Soivohle)

Here's a battered suitcase covered in faded travel stickers. When it was brand-new, it shone with emergent promise. But now? Inside, it's jam-packed with silk négligées, clove cigarettes, sticks of kohl and face-powder compacts. Outside, it wears a patina of soot, grime, spilled coffee, dents and scratches. In these signs of use and abuse, the story of where its owner has been and all she has witnessed is plainly, proudly told.

Ambre Rayonner was that suitcase pristine and empty. Amun Re is the same suitcase three months and thousands of miles later.

Back in May, when I ordered a bottle of Ambre Rayonner from Soivohle's online store, I added a note to the webform to express my appreciation for that delicious fragrance. In answer, Liz Zorn tucked a generous sample of Amun Re into my shipment. This thoughtful gesture deepens in meaning once you realize that both fragrances are predicated on the golden champagne-like scent of linden blossoms. It was as if Liz had whispered, "See what else tilleul can do."

Ambre Rayonner and Amun Re may share a common scent element (not to mention a monogram-- a nifty touch that gives away their secret relation). But as hinted above, the most remarkable difference between them is the latter's 'lived-in' quality, its settled equanimity, the mark of a matured nature. Ambre Rayonner fizzes, sparkles, and lifts the spirits; Amun Re gently but deliberately presses you down with its slick, satiny weight, pooling like nectar where its sister fragrance would drift as heedlessly as airborne pollen.

One is innocence, the other is wisdom. Try both, and see if you can make out which is which. Gravity will be your key.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, citron, tilleul, ylang-ylang, hawthorn, angelica root, cassia, opopanax, guaiac, vanilla, honey, amber, hina, ambrette

Bill Blass (Bill Blass)

I have never liked Bill Blass. No, let me amend that: I liked him from 1965 to 1967, when his fashions were spare and subdued-- youthful enough not to be patrician, but characterized by the type of serene, grownup composure that comes with having A Checkbook Of One's Own. However, somebody must have talked Mr. Blass into taking the Brown Acid, because thenceforth spewed forth a river of cringe-inducing frocks that made grown women look like certifiable circus clowns. (Four words: multicolored maribou feather hems. Phyllis Diller was a huge fan!)

For the next thirteen years, whatever Yves Saint Laurent, Geoffrey Beene, or Halston did beautifully, Bill Blass managed to turn into a patronizing punchline: fashion designed to undercut feminist self-esteem. But when Nancy Reagan achieved First Ladyhood, you could hear him breathe a sigh of relief. No longer would he need to pander to Women's Lib while subtly working to erode it. From here on out, it would be nothing but dowdy frumpwear for aging Smith alumnae who had ascended to the halls of conservative power-- a place where (despite all the early psychedelia) Bill Blass probably wanted to be all along.

Blass' attitude toward women is best summed up by this infuriating advertisement for his eponymous perfume, ably skewered by Barbara of Yesterday's Perfume. Just reading it makes me want to punch him in his self-satisfied, smirking face. (Is that too much?) The only thing I agree with is the tagline, squeezed in down at the bottom like an afterthought: It really is wonderful.

I recently found two vintage carded samples of said fragrance sitting on the display counter of a local thrift store. The cards themselves are fashioned from satin ivory stock embossed with Blass' distinctive monogram. In black ink appears the tagline: "Fashion, drop by drop. By drop." (Classic Blass overkill! Any other designer would have stopped after the second "drop"-- but not the Dean of American Fashion!) Immediately I knew two things: I had to try this nifty old '70's chypre, and I would include it in Sssseptember on account of it being Blasssss.

Verdict? It really is wonderful. Bill Blass by Bill Blass manages to graft together two dominant perfume trends of the 1970s -- the milky-metallic lactonic floral (à la Caron Infini) and the bitchy, take-no-bullshit galbanum (à la pretty much every other fragrance of the period) -- while adding to it the tender, sexy, tropical scent of meltingly ripe pineapple. This green queen can bring home the bacon... but as she's frying it up in the pan, she's wearing a silk muu-muu and toking a big old spliff while Desmond Dekker plays on the eight-track.

Damn you, Blass. It figures that you'd get to me through my nose.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, pineapple, hyacinth, tuberose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, carnation, iris, galbanum, cedar, oakmoss, sandalwood, amber, musk

Ore (Slumberhouse)

I once received a private message from a Basenotes user (notice I don't say fellow user; after establishing a user account to look in on all the hubbub, I quickly tired of BN's tenor and rarely logged in afterward). Here's what this total stranger had to say for themselves: Your blog lists a sample of Slumberhouse Ore. You don't understand I have to have it. Send it to me I want it. Send it OK? Email me for address. The FUH!?

What can one say to such a outpouring of gimme? And sincerely, what is there to want so damn much in this cheap white chocolate Easter bunny of a fragrance? If you're going to accost total strangers over the internet, at least approach Margot Elena for a bottle of Bittersweet. That way, you'll end up with a treat worth compromising your dignity for.

Scent Elements: Palmarosa, clary sage, dittany of Crete, black pepper, whiskey accord, oakwood, mahogany, guaiac, balsam Peru, cacao, oud, vanilla

Eki (Slumberhouse)

Artisanal. The word conjures images of rustic cottage workshops or hip Brooklyn loft-labs where ancient traditions live on in infinitesimally small batches. Artisanal joins the adjectives organic, natural, botanical, wildcrafted, local, sustainable and unique in appealing to our inner aficionado, who loves nothing better than a treasure that will never see the light of day again after next Tuesday.

To differing degrees of sincerity and success, independent perfumers such as LUSH, Ineke, Union Fragrance, DS & Durga, Le Labo, MCMC, Soivohle, BPAL, Rebel & Mercury, Sonoma Scent Studio, Aftelier, DSH, Juniper Ridge, Rich Hippie, Smell Bent, Sweet Anthem have all played the artisanal game. Homemade tinctures from obscure native plants. Curatorial coffrets. Here-today-gone-tomorrow limited editions. Gimmicks upon gimmicks... or else no gimmicks at all, which (bizarrely) is a gimmick in itself.

From what I can make out, Slumberhouse is a Portlandia comedy sketch disguised as a perfumery. They make quaint fragrances with peculiar names reminiscent of Vonlenska, the song-glossolalia of Sigur Rós. Their product descriptions are equally twee, evoking rather embarrassing poems secretly scribed by me as an eighth-grader. I have yet to find an authenticated image of Slumberhouse founder Josh Lobb, but I envision a textbook hipster: skinny jeans, horn-rimmed glasses, emo side part, mustache waxed into saucy Pirate King spirals. Surely he sources his own organic jasmine and performs the enfleurage himself, like a modern-day pagan priest.

Yet here's Eki, which is nothing but a chemical white musk with no graceful flourishes to suggest even the most remote natural origins. It's cleaner than Philosophy Pure Grace, more minimalist than L'Eau Serge Lutens; the only thing holding it back from smelling like Clorox bleach is a fleeting tinge of mint, like toothpaste. In my mind's eye, Eki is a lavatory (or is that laboratory?): blindingly white, obsessively clean, never used except by guests, who visit conspicuously seldom. It gives new meaning to the word "spare". It sends chills down my spine. (Pardon me. Is this bathroom occupied... or haunted?)

Either Slumberhouse has missed the point of artisanal perfumery, or they're taking it in a subversive new direction: Open chemical bottle, decant it unaltered into smaller bottles, label by hand.

Scent Elements: Synthetic, functional, white laundry-soap musk. That's it. Forget the jasmine, the magnolia, the "natural damascenones"-- it's just white musk. Finito.

Spiritueuse Double Vanille (Guerlain)

"What's with the blonde?"

"Oh, I needed a photo of one to inspire me to write about the perfume I'm sampling today."

"No brunettes allowed?"

"Aside from me? Nope-- only a blonde will do."

"Uh huh. So why is she smoking a cigarette?"

"Well, it's a sweet vanilla-custard gourmand, but it also smells to me like there's a tobacco note hidden somewhere in there. Here, have a sniff."


"I know, right?"

"It's just like you described. Vanilla and tobacco."

"Hence the blonde smoking."

"Or the smokin' blonde-- OW!"


"...@$#%& brunettes..."

Scent Elements: Bergamot, pink pepper, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, benzoin, frankincense, vanilla, rum

Espresso Royale (Sebastiane)

Perfume-wise, Espresso Royale benefits from one of the best openers I've experienced in a long time. Triangulated somewhere between Yohji Yamamoto's Yohji Homme, Serge Lutens' Un Bois Vanille, and Thierry Mugler's A*Men Pure Coffee, this intense, roasted coffee-bean essence jolts the senses precisely like the substance after which it is named. It even conceals a fleeting, marvelous tinge of anise biscotti... but then, pray tell, where does it all go? Never did the effects of a shot of real espresso fade so quickly, or with so much self-effacement. Besides reapplication, I wish there was a way to make it stick around forever. If only it came in a concentrate, like Folger's Crystals. It wouldn't even need to be fancy... just as long as it wasn't decaffeinated.

Scent Elements: Rum, coffee, hazelnut, caramel, tonka

English Leather Vintage Cologne (Mem)

Tabu, Chantilly, Jovan Musk, Ciara, Stetson, Vanilla Fields, Navy, Emeraude, Drakkar Noir, Wind Song, White Shoulders, Amarige, Giorgio. What do these fragrances have in common? You can find them all at Rite Aid, CVS, Duane Reade, and Walgreens. You pass by them on your way to the dairy cooler for your quart of milk or run your eyes over them while you wait for the pharmacist to fill your script. Occasionally, you wonder what's inside those shrink-wrapped boxes kept ludicrously locked up. (Really, now, who would shoplift any of them?) Sometimes the store provides testers; a sniff or two quickly strips you of your curiosity.

A new-minted perfumista might not realize it, but several of these stinkers used to have pedigree. Constructed out of top-notch materials and sold in proper department stores, these fragrant icons fell on hard times -- new ownership; new formula; declining sales; changing fads -- and came to bitter ends.

Until recently, I regarded English Leather as a joke, the sort of cheesy fragrance a man would buy if the "brick and mortar store" (what aficionados call the pharmacy when they don't want anyone to know they shop on the cheap) ran out of Old Spice. Its sour, sad scent reminded me of the neighborhood bar my father used to frequent-- a murky place filled with the accumulated odors of rotgut, hard pretzels, and human despair. But the vintage bottle I recently acquired (labeled "Mem Company, Inc., Northvale, NJ", the original maker of this 1949 stalwart) smelled nothing like I expected. It smells like real leather.

Russian leather (Chanel Cuir de Russie, of course, but also the sleeper brand Florineige I keep in my arsenal) has an elegant iris overtone. Western leather (Tauer Lonestar Memories, Annick Goutal Duel) features sagebrush and a touch of creosote. Patent leather (Knize Ten, Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, Chanel Égoïste) carries a soupçon of plastic and maraschino cherry. Handbag leather (there will never be enough room in the world to list them all) is all suede interior and beige face powder. English Leather smells like riding tack-- straight-up leather conditioned with saddle soap and old-fashioned mink oil with its costus-like intimacy. It has been calibrated so that no single element of its formula stands out overmuch; I don't think to myself, "The lemon note is stronger than the bergamot," or "Oh, there's the vetiver." I just smell leather-- cool, slightly bitter, subtly animalic, a little risky, a lot sophisticated.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, rosemary, iris, rose, cedar, vetiver, leather, musk