Exotic Coral (Judith Lieber)

Like Fhloston Paradise -- the interplanetary pleasure dome of The Fifth Element fame -- Judith Lieber Exotic Coral is an elaborately-staged fantasy containing nothing of the real tropics. All of its lei flowers are made of polyester. All of its daiquiris originated as powdered mix. Its ocean air is piped in through vents, accompanied by the helpful, hopeful sound of pre-recorded surf. Running rampant over it all is a thoroughly obnoxious, in-your-face tiare that DJ Ruby Rhod would undoubtedly LOVE. And that in itself should be enough to warn a reasonable person to pick another vacation destination.

Scent Elements: Clementine, key lime, rum, sea breeze accord, jasmine, violet leaves, tiare, sandalwood, coconut milk, heliotrope

Dead Sexy (Tokyo Milk) and Zombie for Him (Demeter)

With the season finale AMC's Walking Dead set to air tonight, it seems important to select a fragrance suitable for the occasion. The question is: should I aim to smell like a walker, or like a survivor?

This issue is (ahem) sticky even for those with brains enough to make a decision. Rick, Darryl, Maggie and Michonne are often seen smearing themselves with a walker-derived unguent that looks like blackstrap molasses and probably reeks like the world's end. They do so in order to "pass" among herds of roving zombies. Apparently, if you smell dead enough, the UNdead will mistake you for one of their own. Seconding this tactic is the American Chemical Society, whose proposed "corpse perfume" Eau de Death contains putrescine, cadaverine, methane, and other toxic compounds known to exude from rotting flesh. Yummy!

Me, I like my walkers still fairly fresh and ZomRomCom-ready... like R from Warm Bodies. As played by the adorkable Nicholas Hoult, R (real name Romeo, I presume?) has barely been deceased long enough to have reached rigor mortis. He's cloudy-eyed, cyanotic, and cold to the touch... but his heart is in the right place, and red-hot besides. I cannot imagine he smells like Eau de Death... not yet, anyway.

Instead, let's scent R with Demeter's Zombie for Him. Cold rain on river shale, fresh fungi sprouting from black loam, oak leaves decaying on ancient beds of moss-- Zombie for Him ties all of these scents together with a peculiar, chilly incense note that staves off putrefaction with a morgue-like drop in temperature. You might complain that there's nothing especially comforting or even human about this scent; it doesn't sit on warm skin with ease, and it might take a long time for it to grow on you. But Zombie for Him is surprisingly handsome-- an earthy, weird wunder-pong that proves bizarrely addictive once it's had a chance to win your heart.

As Warm Bodies demonstrates, every young zombie lad needs a warm-blooded love interest to keep him shambling toward salvation. R has Julie, a courageous, pragmatic, and battle-ready maiden who manages to overlook his non-living status on a number of levels-- emotional, intellectual, and olfactory. (I mean, he keeps smearing her with his own juices to camouflage her from roving zombies, and she lets him! If that ain't a metaphor for love!)

For Julie, I'm looking at Tokyo Milk's Dead Sexy. Perfumer Margot Elena has tackled the vanilla gourmand genre before in Tainted Love, but Dead Sexy's vanilla sheds all those old cozy-kitchen connotations and becomes something remote, quiet, elegaic. Could this be due to ebony wood, that spooky-dusty scent element which transforms Lubin Idole from heavy saffron pudding into weightless meringue?

The best news: Dead Sexy layered over Zombie for Him is fabulous. The former cheers up the latter, while the latter lends the former gravitas; together they make quite a couple, with admirable tenacity and sillage. Call it a marriage made to outlast the apocalypse!

There is, of course, a third option: Lancôme Magnifique. This is the perfume that Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) tentatively sprays on himself during a gift shop pit-stop in Zombieland. Thorny fellow traveler Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) susses out both the fragrance and its intended target in seconds flat. "Oh my God. You're thinking about fucking Wichita," he drawls (referring, of course, to the lissome outlaw played by Emma Stone). "Good luck now, Petunia!"

Pre-apocalypse, perhaps Tallahassee had swotted up on Luca Turin, who gave Magnifique a dismal two stars. But who knows? If Luca Turin turns zombie one of these days, Lancôme Magnifique layered on living flesh might smell a great deal more appetizing.

Scent Elements: Vanilla, orchid, ebony woods (Dead Sexy); dried leaves, mushrooms, mildew, moss, and earth (Zombie for Him)

Om (Miller et Bertaux)

It's very difficult to call an sweet Oriental fragrance "bad", but it is possible to call it "boring". This one's exceedingly so. Yes, it's very pretty, but what does it do to advance, overturn, or reinterpret the genre? Nothing-- not even with items as intriguing as clove leaf and wood smoke mixed into the usual baklava syrup. It makes no impression and leaves behind no strong desire to wear it again. In fact, the only measurable effect it had on me was to increase my desire to wear something else-- and that's exactly what I ended up doing.

Scent Elements: Myrrh, clove leaf, patchouli, peppercorn, hot pepper, flowers, wood smoke, incense and vanilla.

Jacomo de Jacomo Original Eau de Toilette Pour Homme (Jacomo)

The mysteries of espionage-- its codes, evasions, and end-game maneuvers -- have fascinated us for centuries. Even more, we love the agents -- those dangerous, dashing figures armed with fancy gadgets and a limitless supply of savoir-faire. But the reality is less Ethan Hunt or Emma Peel and more George Smiley-- drab, inconspicuous, self-effacing to a fault. How else to hide in plain sight?

A seasoned Cold Warrior would tell you to follow the Moscow Rules. This legendary (and largely unofficial) collection of dictums serves as the playbook for covert operatives everywhere. From it, one learns to dress, speak, and behave inconspicuously in any setting, ever-mindful of those who may be watching. And someone is always watching. It's the first Rule.

So what's your story? Are you a tourist from the Twin Cities, recently retired after thirty-two years at H&R Block and "loving every minute"? Ditch the Rolex and Luger, James Bond-- you're packing bifocals, cardigans, golf shorts, and Tums for this trip. Everything right down to your shoes and brand of toothpaste must serve your non-official cover identity, or NOC.

And for god's sake, wear the right fragrance, or the enemy will sniff you out in a Moscow minute!

Jacomo de Jacomo is the ideal scent for deep camouflage. By this, I don't mean to imply that this classic 1980 aromatic fougère does not possess character. Rather, it possesses many characters-- absorbing the best features of a dozen other like-minded fougères and blending them into one very pleasant (and totally forgettable) composite. It's Everyman in a bottle, a virtual disguise kit of a fragrance, perfect for passing through checkpoints unnoticed. While you breeze through, Kouros, Antaeus, and Drakkar Noir will be summarily wrestled to the ground, while the Pour Hommes -- Chanel, Caron, and Paco Rabanne -- will be forced to bribe the guards from their very own wallets.

Relax. Blend in. Act like you belong. Don't attract attention. Memorize your legend. Vary your pattern. Always keep moving. Don't take unnecessary risks. Don't provoke the opposition. Lull them into complacency. Go with the flow.

And wear Jacomo de Jacomo. Don't NOC it until you've tried it.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, rosemary, basil, marjoram, lavender, geranium, coriander, caraway, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, cumin, galbanum, petitgrain, rosewood, patchouli, oakmoss, sandalwood, cedar, leather, amber, musk, vanilla

Boyfriend (Kate Walsh)

He came to me already secondhand. On his label, a friend had written, I swear I'm not nuts. Ridiculous-- why would I think it? But no sooner did I let him out of the vial than I understood why the parting had left her a little frazzled.

Heavy-lidded and a little bit louche, smelling of warm skin and sleep, he made himself instantly at home on my pulse points. Really, the way he draped himself all around, you'd think he owned the place and everything in it... including me. And after not so very long, he did.

He maddened me for a sweet season, good to his last drop. And then, that was that. I may never see the likes of him again. But forever -- and desperately -- I'll be searching for him everywhere I go.

Scent Elements: Plum, myrrh, lily, jasmine, patchouli, benzoin, musk, amber, vanilla, woods

Mirabella (DSH Perfumes)

I tried. I did. I gave it every chance. I laid down my sword and shield. I relinquished all of my prejudices. I tucked away this sample for over a year so as to allow its name and notes to fade from my memory. And then I picked Mirabella at random this morning-- and if it ain't the same goddamn perfume Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has been flogging forever, I'll eat my bonnet.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, genêt, castoreum, rose, civet, patchouli, beeswax, jasmine, oakmoss, labdanum, leather, orange blossom, iris, osmanthus, Siam benzoin, plum, tuberose, vanilla, ylang-ylang.

Baghari (Robert Piguet)

The month of March is approaching its conclusion. Spring has sprung, but with all this snow in the way, I couldn't tell you where it's landed. Temperatures soar and plummet -- nearly seventy degrees one day, barely hovering above twenty the next -- and society's collective tendons creak and groan in protest like a tallship's riggings in a heavy gale. As for me, I've given up figuring out whether to dress like a lion or a lamb-- just as long as the pelt du jour keeps out drafts.

For the last week or so, Robert Piguet's Baghari (original 1950; reissue 2006) has served me well as a stand-in for a mink coat whenever the mercury plunges. Indeed, this amber-laden floriental works wonders at capturing the plush insulation of a cold-climate life lived wholly enrobed in fur.

An initial surge of aldehydes and violets leads the way-- characteristically chilly, yet also enlivening. When the thaw comes, it is heralded by an intense, glowing neroli that lights this perfume's landscape and protects the soul against further frost. The wearer thaws, relaxing into the muffled warmth of orris butter, musk, and labdanum. A faint crackle of cold-weather static electricity haunts this perfume's heart, trapped like lightning; here, too, a cool, myrrh-like resinous quality stirs, evoking a vast stone cathedral filled with sacred smoke. One could be a Russian noblewoman, cloaked in sables, watching her own frosty breath commingling with prayers on the rise.

With yet another winter storm barreling in our direction, I may have to wear Baghari once or twice more. But I won't get too comfortable. Rich though its embrace may be, I will soon throw it off in favor of something light, bright, flowery, free...

Ecce gratum!

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, iris, violet, vetiver, amber, vanilla, musk

Nuda (Nasomatto)

Sometimes the vox populi is spot on; sometimes only half so. Conventional wisdom declares the offerings of niche house Nasomatto powerful to the point of overwhelming. The hyperindolic jasmine that rules Nuda's roost might (to quote Mr. Show) "knock your socks on their ass!"-- but that deliciously buttery saffron/blonde-woods base which underpins it is a far quieter thing than one might be led to believe.  Expect a siege; end up with a seduction. Nicely done, Nasomatto.

Scent Elements: Jasmine, saffron, cashmere woods.

Narcisse Blanc (Caron)

I'm back to random perfume picking from the jumble drawer-- rolling with the punches and accepting that not every selection is going to be a success. This one illustrates the situation perfectly, for I disliked Narcisse Blanc the moment I applied it. Of course, the moment I chose was the one immediately preceding my departure for work, which meant there was no time to "take it back" with a quick scrub. I wore it in a state of nagging discomfort half the day, then bravely reapplied to see if I felt any differently. I did not.

I will not say that Narcisse Blanc is a bad perfume; it really isn't. Nor will I blame it on those bridal orange blossoms; I enjoy them in far too many other perfumes to indict them here. Let me express it my unease mathematically, in an irreducible formula: indoles + powder = baby diaper. If that's your cup of tea, Narcisse Blanc's a well-constructed specimen... and by all means, help yourself. I won't stop you.

Scent Elements: Orange blossom, neroli, petitgrain, jasmine, rose, lime, vetiver, sandalwood, iris, amber, musk

Eight & Bob (Eight & Bob)

"Factoid" is a jewel of the American word-hoard. Coined in 1973 by Norman Mailer to describe the tabloid falsehoods knitted around Marilyn Monroe like an overtight sweater, this neologism describes any lie that gains popular support despite the absence of corroborating evidence. Appearing on our news feeds out of the blue (and occasionally found roosting in "official" press releases), factoids possess just enough believability to coax a gullible public on board. We all want to be privy to our idols' deepest secrets-- what sort of story nourishes this impulse better than a fiction served up as fact?

Here's the fiction about Eight & Bob. A perfume-loving young aristocrat named Albert enlists the help of the family butler to create homemade fragrances so divine that everyone in his milieu demands free samples. One night on the French Riviera, he meets a college-aged JFK, who immediately starts huffing his pulse points. He gifts the lad with full bottle of his personal cologne and tells him essentially to stop being so goshdarned American. At this point, any red-blooded Choate graduate would have fed this uppity Gaul a grade-A knuckle sandwich. Instead, JFK meekly takes the gift home and writes his new friend a lovely thank-you note. After describing what a splash the aristocrat's fragrance made back home, he requests eight more samples plus "another one for Bob" (ostensibly his younger brother Robert). According to his biographer, the noble Albert springs into action, sending the butler out to find gorgeous glass flacons while he himself designs the packaging to match JFK's shirt.

If your bullshit meter isn't beeping wildly at this moment, you really ought to have the batteries checked. But wait! There's more!

Within months, Albert is swamped with letters from various members of the American glitterati requesting colognes of their own. Unfortunately, Albert's success is short-lived, as he dies in a car accident near Biarritz in 1939. His faithful butler continues filling orders by hiding the perfume bottles inside cut-out books to foil the Nazis. Now this incredibly storied fragrance has resurfaced, to be enjoyed by history buffs worldwide!

When I first read this legend, I thought to myself, My god, what a great Wes Anderson movie this perfume would make! (Too late. Wes Anderson's latest movie already HAS a perfume.) Looking for a second opinion, I shared it with my husband. "That's crazy," he said. "The story fits the details, but the details don't fit the story. Or maybe it's the other way around."

True. The tale of Eight & Bob is built on a bedrock of fact into which I'll soon delve. But it's those details -- overly specific, neither provable nor disprovable -- between which this story is strung like a clothesline.

Let's return to what's real. During the summer of 1937, 20-year-old John F. Kennedy spent two months roaming around Europe with his pal Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings and a dachshund puppy named Dunker. During their tour, he kept a handwritten journal which is now archived at The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. In 2011, a Simmons College MLIS grad student named Jennifer Quan transcribed and annotated the journal , adding a helpful point-by-point itinerary which places Kennedy and Billings in the Côte d’Azur for all of three days.

On July 29, 1937, the two friends drove five hours from Toulouse through Carcassone to the balmy Ligurian coastline. "Arrived at Cannes around nine (PM) after a drive of 350 miles and stopped at a fairly expensive hotel 35 fr(ancs)," relates young Kennedy. "The service is 15% which is really robbery." They stayed in Cannes for two nights, then headed up the coast to Monte Carlo, where they secured another night's lodging for a more economical fifteen francs. Having been turned away from the Casino (a predicament which could only have stung his family pride!) Kennedy reports that he had better luck at the Sporting Club, where he "broke even after giving them a scare". The following afternoon -- August 1, 1937 -- he and Billings crossed the border into Italy.

But what of Albert Fouquet? Nowhere in his journal does Kennedy mention that electrifying individual who made such a forceful first impression (or offered such absurdly generous gifts to strangers). None of the famous players in this story -- JFK, RFK, their father, Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart -- are alive to vouch for Fouquet or the courageous Phillipe. Outside of the Eight & Bob press release, you'd think they never existed. Factoid spotters, binoculars up!

Thankfully, the fragrance is real-- and despite all the shenanigans, it turns out to be an unexpected pleasure. Don't listen to a word they tell you about the eccentric Albert and his precious essences, or the "restoration project" which brought them back to life. This thing was made yesterday-- properly, in a nice, clean chemistry lab, and not by a dilettante holed up in a château . No attic-bound amateur would have known to lace zingy ginger and crisp lemon peel together so expressively, or to sneak in a touch of volatile anise to temper the rich oily effect of guaiac. The sandalwood that rounds Eight & Bob off is synthetic, of course-- but what else would you expect from a perfume with such an flimsy alibi?

In spite of this -- indeed, in spite of everything -- I like Eight & Bob. Of course it smells nothing like a fragrance from Kennedy's youth; it contains slightly too much post-'80s dihydromercenol to comfortably insert itself Forrest-Gump-style into a snapshot of bygone days. But who cares? After wading through so much PR sludge, it's a relief to find something so fresh and attractive waiting on the other side.

It may not be bona fide. But Lord, it sure ain't boring.

Scent Elements: Ginger, cardamom, lemon, bergamot, cedar, labdanum, guaiac, patchouli, sandalwood, ambergris, vanilla

Brown Sugar (Fresh)

It's been a long and arduous week graced by a cavalcade of headaches and very little sleep. My ambition to wear a different untried perfume every day has hit an undeniable wall. Lazy, uninspired, I reached today for Fresh Brown Sugar, a fragrance which personifies the meaning of same-old same-old. Or yadda-yadda-yadda. Or blasé-blasé, as a fancy lady of my acquaintance always substitutes for the more pedestrian blah-de-blah. (Listen, you gotta have your fun where you can find it.)

Anyway: citrus, yep. Caramel, yep. Spray it on; it's gone in a little less than ten minutes. Repeat ad nauseam until the sprayer is empty. It doesn't mean you liked Fresh Brown Sugar so much you had to use it all up. You were bored. It gave you something to do with your hands.

Scent Elements: Lemon, tangerine, red berries, magnolia, honeysuckle, peach, caramel, amber, cypress

Acqua di Parma Profumo (Acqua di Parma)

In my high school, the first letter of one's last name determined a lot of things-- assigned morning homeroom, locker location, and guidance counselor, to name a few. Only one other freshman shared a final initial with me, so for four years, my partner on all fronts was a charming young Italian named Enzo.

When I say 'Italian', I mean exactly that. With a green card proving he'd been born in Sicily and still technically belonged to that fabled volcanic isle, Enzo had the distinction of being the Real Thing among mere immigrants' sons. With their Chess King slacks, Ray Bans, and mall-bought gold-plated cornicello pendants, the local fourth-generation Giovanni-come-latelies never stood a chance.

Not that they had to. Being openly gay, Enzo had no interest in their gum-cracking girlfriends. But he had something they all wanted: Continental style. Even at age fourteen, Enzo wore impeccably tailored dress pants complete with blade-sharp center creases, matching leather loafers and belt, snug cashmere V-necks revealing a triangle of bare tanned skin adorned with a heavy curb chain in real 24K gold. When facial hair began to sprout, Enzo painstakingly manscaped it to match that of his idol, WHAM!'s George Michael. And when la Cosa Nostra whacked his oldest brother back in Siracusa, Enzo never broke stride. After a week's mysterious absence, he reappeared dressed as elegantly as ever-- but entirely in ink-black and soot-grey. We asked him how long before he could wore colors again.

"Never. I have respect," he declared.

One final way in which Enzo cleaved to European customs was in the area of personal hygiene. One often overhears Americans marveling at the infrequency with which other nations bathe; we never seem to ask ourselves whether our own habits are excessive. Many of my peers admitted showering twice and even three times a day -- in the morning, after gym, and before bed -- in an effort to remain perpetually "fresh" and inoffensive. They applied copious amounts of scented shower gel, multiple applications of antiperspirant, and buckets of cheap cologne to cope with the horror of having a smell in the first place. Not Enzo. He demonstrated perfect comfort in his own healthy pong-- a ripe mixture of musk, sebum, fresh sweat, fine leather, and olive oil soap accentuated with fleeting hints of saffron, rosemary, and fennel courtesy of Mama's cucina. Enzo showered only every two or three days, with splashy bathroom-sink ablutions inbetween; he never wore deodorant and scorned the idea of aftershave. His hair was glossy, his skin glowed, and did he smell good? Abbi pietà, ti prego!

I haven't seen Enzo in over two decades, but Acqua di Parma Profumo brings him instantly to mind. I can't imagine what kept me from trying this sample (kindly gifted to me by JoanElaine over two years ago) for so very long, but only one day-long wearing has me scheming for new opportunities and scenes in which to sport this distinctly Italian scent.

A floral chypre with an animalic purr, Profumo smells at once pretty and dirty, attractive and repulsive, compelling and discomfiting. The power of its constituent parts (oakmoss, civet, labdanum, jasmine) draws my thoughts to some very specific examples: how, for instance, my husband's body odor is far more enticing to me before he takes his morning shower than after; how I come home from a long day at work complaining that I "smell like a monkey" only to find my spouse nuzzling my hair with loving fascination; how my cat's fur emits a wonderful musky aroma when he's sleeping, and how he hurries to blissfully sniff and then curl up in any chair or bed we've recently vacated. As a family unit, the three of us maintain a miniature scent "culture" which reassures us, and maybe only us. I don't know if outsiders think we smell funny, different, unfamiliar. But we -- like Enzo, enmeshed in the comforting matrix of tradition -- like our own scent just fine.

Is it for this reason that Acqua di Parma developed Profumo (or Yves Saint Laurent Kouros, or Chanel Antaeus, or Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir)-- to bottle the subtle identifying signal of one's tribe? If so, I beg this one to count me as a member.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, jasmine, rose, iris, ylang-ylang, sage, patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum, civet, musk, sandalwood, spices

L'Arbre (Iunx)

Mysore? Mysortof.

Scent Elements: Sandalwood

Black (Puredistance)

Last autumn, Puredistance mailed me a sample of their newest creation, a fruity-tobacco Oriental named Black. This was nice of them, given that I'd already closed up shop. Amidst the StressFest of my life at that time, even a bona fide masterpiece would simply not have registered. And even after I got around to wearing Black, more than simple malaise discouraged me from reviewing it. You see, Black resembles By Kilian's Back to Black too closely for it to be a mistake. The name, the smell, all the elements are there. I'm left puzzled by this move, and maybe others are, too.

Puredistance itself doesn't help. "Envision. Smell. Feel. Don’t analyse," founder Jan Ewoud Vos scolds visitors to his company's website. He declares that no notes list will be issued for Black and lectures us about society's lamentable tendency "to know everything and to show everything". At this point, duly chastened, society shamefacedly slides its credit card back into its purse.

With previous releases, Puredistance's refusal to itemize ingredients came off as playful, mysterious, a sort of guessing game for fragrance aficionados. Now it just seems lazy, as if they assume that our devotion to their product line is already so sure a bet that it needs neither to be earned nor maintained. This is not so. From its eponymous first fragrance right up to 2012's demure Opardu, Puredistance has demonstrated an absolute commitment to its customer base. I hope they will again.

Scent Elements: Who's to say?

Bell'Antonio (Hilde Soliani)

I hope Hilde Soliani and Blacknell Allen are happy: I broke my own one-new-fragrance-a-day rule for Bell'Antonio. This week I've worn it three entire days in a row, huffing as much of it into my lungs as possible before personal ethics force me to move on. I walk away from the experience believing Bell'Antonio to be not only the most splendid tobacco-leaf fragrance but also one of the best masculines I've yet to sample. Elegant, cultured, impeccable... sounds like a date.

Scent Elements: Tobacco and coffee essences. Assoluta semplicità.