Love Coconut (Honoré des Prés)

When I lived in Manhattan, I had to work hard daily to keep from becoming as cold and hard as my city home. Walking down the street, jostled by the neverending crowd, I'd ponder my own inner vulnerabilities. We build so many defenses around ourselves just to survive. Is the softness at our core worth preserving against the ravages and challenges of urban life? Or is it better -- more generous, less cynical -- to just let the world in when we hear it knocking?

If I'd allowed the miserable Vamp à NY to completely jaundice my attitude toward Honoré des Prés, I might never have found the answer to this question. (Could Vamp ever really have made me dislike Olivia Giacobetti? Come what may, her work interests me; perhaps one tiny misstep here and there does not entirely ruin the tango.) For anyone who pounds cold hard pavement day after day, this mellow and graceful coconut fragrance is a reminder to stay kind inside. After all, what's best about a coconut is its sweet, pure interior-- which just happens to be protected by a very stubborn husk. An amazing amount of toil, trouble, and tools (machetes, hammers, crowbars!) is needed to break through, yet people around the world routinely reach that sweet, sweet goal.

Love Coconut is pure Cocos nucifera tinged with sea salt and palm fronds rather than sugar syrup and cheap little paper umbrellas. Its "husk" -- the tricky part you have to get through to reach the sweet -- is a distinctive, lifelike, and unapologetically weird cilantro note that may well turn away those unused to so spicy-soapy a scent in a perfume. (I happen to adore it.) Giacobetti describes Love Coconut as "unconventional... It opens up the fibers: very ravaging, very pungent, very sensuous." Well-chosen words, for this fragrance really does force an almost physical reaction out of me: a gasp, a widening of my eyes, an oh-no-you-did-NOT! balanced by the sudden forward lean that communicates that I really, really hope that you DID.

I wouldn't exactly call Love Coconut tropical, but one forgets that Manhattan IS an island. Now and again, even its most hardened inhabitant is entitled to a dream of balmy breezes, gentle sunlight, and a sky unscraped by anything higher than a palm tree.

Scent Elements: Coconut milk and essence, coriander seed and leaf (cilantro), tonka bean, Bourbon vanilla, white cedar

Oiro and Chamarré (Mona di Orio)

Many perfumistas, myself included, have marveled at Luca Turin's boorish behavior toward the late, lamented perfumer Mona di Orio. But before her heart-rending death from surgical complications in 2012, di Orio exacted the best form of revenge: success. With the triumphant release of the critically lauded Les Nombres d'Or series, she (and every critic who praised her work) forced Turin to eat his words. Now he can't take them back even if he wants to.

The only thing is... when I wear Oiro and Chamarré, I understand where he was coming from. True, they're early works. But both of these fragrances smell, well, hasty-- as if di Orio felt rushed to launch them in the wake of her own marvelous Nuit Noire.

Now, I don't mind a good fecal jasmine, but Oiro actually smells like diapers-- a sickly, infantile odor designed to make the perceiver so uncomfortable they can't justify NOT changing the baby. Chamarré smells exactly halfway between this and Nuit Noire, quite as though di Orio had wondered what might happen if she mixed the two perfumes together in a 50/50 ratio. The answer: nothing much good.

I'm truly sorry, Mona, god rest your sweet soul. But you went on to create bigger and better perfumes than Oiro and Chamarré, and therein lies the blessing of your legacy.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, lavender, rose, violet, lily, opopanax, amber (Chamarré); green mandarin, sweet pea, jasmine absolute, frankincense, heliotrope, vetiver, ylang-ylang, immortelle absolute, cedarwood, musk, amber, spices (Oiro)

Madame Rochas Vintage Eau de Cologne

At first Madame Rochas EdC reminded me of Elizabeth Arden's Blue Grass Flower Mist-- pale, conventional, nothing like that other Rochas, the plummy powerhouse Femme. But then little quirks began to show themselves, borne forward on a ribbon of aldehydes. One by one, I discovered the double entendres in this seeming one-liner.

Tart, peppery, dry and witty, Madame Rochas EdC may not open on a strong note. But that note is only the first (Good times and bum times, I've seen them all and my dear...) of a show-stopping blockbuster (Lord knows at least I was there, and I'M HERE!)

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, neroli, rose, tuberose, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, iris, ylang-ylang, violet, narcissus, vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka, musk

Par Amour (Clarins)

Who likes their fresh summertime berries with a touch of pepper? The very notion may cause an instinctive recoil (You want me to put what on WHAT?!) until you try it-- and then you're hooked. Somehow, a dusting of freshly-ground black, white, or green Piper nigrum or pink Schinus molle beautifully complements the acid-sweet quality of ripe strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Sure, it's counterintuitive, maybe even a bit reckless so far as taste pairings go. But we initiates know what we know-- and what we know is mmm-mmmm good.

So how does pink pepper get along with blackcurrant? Like gangbusters. The combination is best exemplified by Odin New York's Petrana, a celestially lovely fragrance whose parts are as perfectly calibrated as the innards of a Swiss clock maker's masterwork. Yet there's a remoteness to Petrana, an unshakeable sense of detachment that I ascribe to its iris and vetiver. Whether solo or in tandem, these two notes act to "lower the temperature" of a fragrance's emotional message. As a result, Petrana seems to me like the classic "friendly alien" who comes in peace from a terra firma far from our own. However well-meaning it may be, it will never be mistaken for human-- it's just not made that way.

Not so Clarins' Par Amour. Simply by swapping out "cold" iris and vetiver for "warm" rose and sandalwood, it renounces the Uncanny Valley and pledges full allegiance to Planet Earth. Something about it brings out the scent of warm skin like nobody's business; it makes you feel aware of your essential nakedness even when you're weighted down by layers of winter clothes. It's delicious from start to far-off finish and packs a nice little kick of thermal energy for cold, rainy late-February days. My sample being small, I'm already plotting an experiment whereby I layer Poivre Piquant on top of Badgely Mischka to see if I can keep the feast going.

So why, then, don't I award it Petrana's five stars? Well, for a very simple reason: Par Amour is to Petrana what a Porsche Spyder is to an actual UFO. The former might be an uncommon sight on the street, but the latter is even more rare-- and where it came from, they don't need roads.

Scent Elements: Pink pepper, blackcurrant, rose, vanilla, sandalwood, benzoin

Nocturne (2 Note Botanical Perfumery)

Evocative of night... a sultry ensemble. So says this perfume's creator, and from its list of seductive scent notes, one might be led to expect something along those lines. But insofar as a note list provides a one-dimensional perfume with a three-dimensional mask behind which to hide, the truth is that Nocturne is immortelle and nothing more. Now, immortelle is not the most multi-faceted smell in the world; it doesn't give in to other scents easily, nor does it allow room for variation. You can pair it with any number of other notes, and it will vanquish them all in the end. This is what seems to have happened to Nocturne: all those other enticing scent notes may have gone into the vat, but they certainly never came back out. I imagine that after a minute, they simply became moot by default. So wear this if you really, really like immortelle... and don't ask questions about where the rest of the "ensemble" went. Maybe they stepped outside for a cigarette.

Scent Elements: Black tea, cardamom, Moroccan rose, ginger, rosewood, green pepper (capiscum), cognac, honey, vetiver

Germaine Vintage Bath Perfume (Germaine Monteil)

In terms of scent, the Space Race began with Paco Rabanne Calandre, perfumer Michael Hy's metallic take on the classic floral chypre. In 1969, this iconic mashup -- as weird, dissonant, and fascinating as the Moonlight Sonata performed on a Theremin -- nudged that pipe dream called The Future within hands' reach for real. Coveting both Calandre's scent and success, Yves Saint Laurent's people put Jacques Polge on the task. Within two years he produced Rive Gauche-- a copy of Calandre so nearly note-for-note that Europe's courtrooms soon rang with clameurs.

Across the Atlantic, Germaine Monteil took advantage of the judicial din to sneak her own humble copy of Calandre onto Manhattan perfume counters. Who could blame her? It makes no sense to withhold a fragrance this good while a bunch of contentious suits take their sweet time settling out of court.

Germaine (1971) has everything that made both Calandre and Rive Gauche memorable, priced for the budget of an urban girl-a-go-go and bottled in an ultra-modern faceted cube which fairly twinkles with modern pop-art wit. Crisp citrus, spirited rose, zesty aldehydes, pensive oakmoss, and ultra-chic vetiver-- all here, so far as my nose proclaims, along with maybe just a touch of sophisticated skank a la Revlon Intimate. Like Youth Dew, it's perfumed bath oil, so it's meant to be enjoyed full strength. And yet it's also pedestrian enough to warrant happy, careless, lavish wear, unencumbered by thoughts of propriety or parsimony.

So go ahead-- trip that light fandango. The space age, as it turns out, IS a friendly place.

Scent Elements: No telling, but I guess rose, bergamot, lemon, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, and civet.

Lily, Lily.

The last time I wore Lys Fume, I felt extremely negative-- bad day, bad brain, bad life. I blamed Lys Fume for a goodly portion of the letdown I experienced that day, reasoning that if I'd chosen to smell like a weakling, I deserved to be treated like one.

Since that day, I have (as Princess Merida would say) "changed m'fate"-- taking a different library job which (after the usual bureaucratic resistance) promises to let me move on from the unhealthy conditions that have for so long mired me in misery. Perhaps in acknowledgement of the turmoil which once clouded my perceptions, I chose to wear Lys Fume to the new workplace today... and I loved it! So sweet, salty, smoky, purifying-- how did I not recognize this before? Had the penetrating reek of brimstone from my own personal hell gotten in the way?

A rose in winter.

Today a passing whim led me to wear the Sophia Grojsman-designed Sun Moon Stars by Karl Lagerfeld. Why? It's only twenty-five degrees out; there's yet another snow-spewing winter 'event' heading our way, and I've reached the limit of my patience with man, beast, and Mother Nature. I want little more out of life than a warm sweater and soup heated to the near-boiling point... but the soul requires its own nourishment, and so I must add a peachy, spiced-up rose to the pile.

"I am not sorry," said I when I first obtained this fragrance from the antique store-- and I am not sorry now. The woody, golden, warm timbre of this rose says to me, You may not be happy now, but you will be again. Spring will come. Nothing can stop it.

I believe every syllable.