Tailspin, on fire.

Lucien Lelong Tailspin blooms in the summer sun like it never did in winter. That spicy chypre, with its Tabu-like patchouli and balancing note of soapy-green cilantro, never flared so in the ice of February. Gorgeous, crazy, alive-- was it only hibernating before? All this time, and I'd been wearing it in the wrong half of the year! And now I learn that Tailspin was only its stateside name. For the French market, it was christened Passionnement. Perfect!

Infini Vintage Eau de Cologne (Caron)

There's a difference between 'clean' and 'soapy'.

With this quip, my husband summarized his likes and dislikes where perfume is concerned. I'd just spritzed on some '70s vintage Infini EdC prior to an afternoon outing, and I worried that it might not be to his taste. On the contrary: when I gave him my wrist to sniff, he proclaimed Infini 'clean' and therefore acceptable to his nose. I'd already deemed it so myself, but what he said kept me thinking. What really drives the difference between 'clean' and 'soapy'? And why is one preferable to the other?

I theorize that the answer can be found in a fragrance's ratio of lactones to aldehydes. These two aromachemical families are often called upon to work in tandem; when in balance, they create olfactory magic (as in YSL Champagne or Paco Rabanne Calandre). But an overdose of one is vastly different than an overdose of the other.

Lactonic fragrances such as Givenchy L'Interdit seem warm and welcoming, even nourishing, if somewhat blurred around the edges. They offer the wearer that freshly-bathed feeling that my husband and I call "clean". On the other hand, strongly aldehydic fragrances such as Patou Vacances or Evyan White Shoulders come off as chilly and distant, unrelenting in the sharpness of their focus. Rather than clean, aldehydes are "soapy", suggestive of a cleaning agent, inorganic and undiluted. Neither of us prefer this. We are more likely than not to react with alarm to such a fragrance, or to characterize it as unfriendly.

Tania Sanchez borrowed the "cloth mother/wire mother" model from psychologist Harry Harlow's primate deprivation study to characterize this difference in feminine fragrance. I agree with her metaphor, though I'd like to propose one of my own, expressed in quality of light. I would say that lactones are incandescent, causing a perfume to shine softly as if through opal milk glass. Aldehydes, on the other hand, favor a decidedly fluorescent spectrum-- as glittering cold as a winter's day. When tempered with warm animalic and ambery notes (as in Chanel No. 5), there's relief from the frost. But if not, you feel the cold clean down to your bones.

There is no danger of hypothermia in Infini. First appearing in 1912 as an aldehydic jasmine-iris composed by Ernest Daltroff, Infini underwent a makeover in 1970 at the hands of perfumer Gerard Lefortis, who modernized and mellowed the formula with a slug of peach lactones and green coriander. It reminds me of a slightly higher-watt L'Interdit, with a similar milky feel to its florals and an equal measure of buttery sandalwood in the drydown. The more I wear it, the more kicky, lively, and au courant Infini seems to me-- a forward-thinking fragrance that has gracefully stood the test of one hundred years.

In the interest of obtaining a third opinion, I introduced Infini to my pal Nan, a long-term L'Interdit fangirl who shares Scott's aversion to aldehydes. On that day, outdoor temperatures verged on ninety degrees, which you'd think would call for an aldehydic cool-down. Not for us: Infini soothed us in its diffuse alabaster glow, something you could never get from Vacances. For Nan it was an instant hit-- so much so that parting her from her new friend seemed too cruel. I ended up giving her my own decant and making up a matching one for myself.

Lactone lovers, unite!

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, peach, neroli, coriander, rose, jasmine, tuberose, hyacinth, lily-of-the-valley, iris, ylang-ylang, carnation, vetiver, sandalwood, ambrette, tonka, musk, civet.

Mythique (Parfums Del Rae)

The niche perfumery playbook is a formulaic affair. First, a daring symphonic floral to get everyone's attention. Then a spice market amber to show that there will be something for everyone. After that, the gourmand-with-a-wink. The white-sand beach tropical. The manly eau de cologne. The innocent bridal bouquet. The sexy "skin scent" inspired by that erotic novel. The edgy leather. The textbook oud. And so on, and so on, until all the remaining perfumery tropes are exhausted.

This one's the Oriental, complete with a regulation quasi-mystical name. Unlike most others of its type, its volume dial has been turned down halfway between zero and one. Rather than total silence, it produces just enough noise to make you think there are coherent words to be found amidst the background murmur. Stop straining to listen. This is not the language of angels. Sometimes babble is just babble-- by default or by design.

Scent Elements: Mandarin, Italian bergamot, ivy, peony, jasmine sambac concrete, Florentine orris butter, sandalwood, Indonesian patchouli, ambrette

The effects of sun and unwashed hair on Yves Rocher Verbena.

Doesn't that sound like either a one-act play, or a science project, or both? (Sincerest apologies to Staten Island's own Paul Zindel, may he rest with the angels.) But it's true. I only reached for Yves Rocher Verbena (or Verveine, comme elle est appelée en français) because I wanted something pleasant but quick to fade on a very hectic day. But today was not one of my hair-washing days; consequently I ended up spraying Verveine on my long locks-- and oh boy, did that change the game.

Normally fleeting, this very simple fragrance suddenly comes across as rich, spicy-musky, and complex when combined with the scent of warm human hair given a day's reprieve from shampoo and a good airing out under old Sol. Even the color of my hair -- a natural chestnut -- seemed brighter, more fiery, really almost auburn. I felt positively pre-Raphaelite. I'll never spray Verveine on skin again, now that I know where it's meant to go.

Yuzu Man (Caron)

There is a distinct color/temperature divide between citrus essences. The sweeter pink-red-orange varieties are best suited to "warm" compositions -- ambery orientals, zesty fruity florals, and spicy tea gourmands. On the other hand, the bitter/tart quality of yellow-green lemon, lime, grapefruit, and yuzu is what makes colognes, fougères, and aquatics so beautifully cooling. Sometimes odd crossovers occur, as when lemon zest appears next to a robust coffee note. But in hot weather, the best part of the citrus color spectrum is green, green, green.

Yuzu Man lacks the distinctive, plaintive aroma of the fruit from which it borrows its name-- but we won't hold that against such an affable summer scent. It's all wood and water and fresh green herbs with a very pale lemon riding on top. There much about it that I find pleasing, though its charms don't last very long. You could do both better and worse, 'tis true-- but that's the precise nature of the middle of the road.

Scent Elements: Yuzu, verbena, basil, mastic, fig, cedar, sandalwood.

Cologne du Parfumeur (Guerlain)

Just over three years ago, I wrote a less-than-lukewarm review of Idylle, a wan floral composition by Guerlain in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser. I knew little about Wasser except that his 2008 appointment (which ended four unbroken generations of Guerlain family stewardship) created a conspicuous stir. Apparently, so entrenched was Guerlain's misogyny that they would sooner hand the reins to a outsider (albeit one with a penis!) than to their own kinswoman, the fully-qualified and divinely talented Patricia de Nicolaï.

Being accustomed to such misogyny, de Nicolaï merely shrugged it off-- but I did not. My indignation unconsciously chilled my perception of Idylle-- and thereafter, I always felt a little bit guilty about it. Had I unfairly rejected Mr. Wasser out of hand? Should I have given him more of a chance? I have since found the answer to these questions in Cologne du Parfumeur.

Every Guerlain nose, from founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain (we'll call him PFP for short) to Wasser, has contributed a signature eau de cologne to the house collection. PFP created Eau de Cologne Impériale for Empress Eugenie in 1853; his son and successor Aimé Guerlain composed Eau de Cologne du Coq in 1894. Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat -- composed by Aimé's nephew, the great Jacques Guerlain -- followed in 1920. The world had to wait over five decades for the next installment in the series, Jean-Paul Guerlain's 1974 Eau de Guerlain; after this, another three decades would pass until Wasser signed off on his own eau. About it, he stated: “Originally, I created (Cologne du Parfumeur) for myself... it was my way of taking time out. I wanted a cologne that would perpetuate the classic heritage, but with a modern twist."

Having sincerely adored Guerlain's earlier eaux, I was disposed to greet this one with similar enthusiasm. Yet within the first minute of wear, I felt an instinctive revulsion which would be neither ignored nor denied. I scrubbed, and scrubbed fast-- and then looked up Cologne du Perfumeur online. At the sight of Monsieur Wasser's arrogant mug staring back at me, I knew that he had succeeded in encapsulating himself in a scent-- and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Have you ever extended your hand to a smiling stranger only to find your fingers nearly broken in a deliberately sadistic grip? That's how Cologne du Parfumeur presents itself from the get-go. Even my knowledge of orange blossom's furtive skunky quality did not prepare me for the full-on note of garbage which stretches out interminably over this fragrance's opening phase. (Lest I have not been sufficiently clear, by garbage I mean the rank, wet, decaying stuff that you park in a can at the curb for weekly pickup.) The dandified musk which follows adds insult to injury, invoking the vision of some insufferable nastyboy decked out in a trendy slim-cut suit. He regards himself as naturally superior to you, an opinion reflected in every smug look and condescending word. While willing to honor you with the priceless gift of his presence, he retains the right to mock and belittle you at will. This is what passes for flirtation in his mindset. Do you really want to spend another five minutes with this guy? I didn't think so.

Just to be fair, I wore Cologne du Parfumeur once more and found it just as hateful the second time. There won't be a third-- and that extends to Thierry Wasser, as well. After this and Idylle, I do believe I've learned my lesson.

Scent Elements: Hesperides, Amalfi lemon, orange blossom, peppermint, rosemary, lavender

Eau Duelle (Diptyque)

Thus far, my experience with Diptyque fragrances has been polarized between Awesome and Boring with no middle ground. (Please note that I specify "Boring" as the negative value rather than "Awful". I have yet to encounter a truly crappy Diptyque, though one might still be hiding among the many fragrances of theirs that I have yet to try.)

Eau Duelle joins Eau Lente and Virgilio in the column devoted to Boring Diptyques I HAVE Tried. Ameliorating my disappointment is the fact that even these are vaguely comforting-- and Eau Duelle does not break this mold. A by-the-book vanilla supplied with a very slight masculine edge courtesy of cardamom and musk, it smells familiar and reassuring, like really nice shaving cream used by a man you know and trust. And hell, even that guy has been known to live it up... and when he does, that's when he wears the everfabulous L'Eau. He might even layer it over the mellow Eau Duelle, making both smell better in one fell swoop.

Scent Elements: Bourbon vanilla, bergamot, cardamom, pink pepper, juniper berry, elemi, frankincense, saffron, black tea, musk, ambergris

Bouquet (Gabriel's Aunt)

By the time she reached the age of fifty, the accomplished grande horizontale known as La Belle Otéro (1868-1965) had amassed a fortune worth over $25 million. A substantial portion of this wealth took the form of precious gems-- material proof of the great courtesan's many exalted liaisons. Otéro delighted in wearing the entire priceless collection all at once. "Her bosom is more covered with jewels than a Chief of Protocol's chest is with medals and crosses," reported Le Figaro. "They are in her hair, on her shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and legs, and dangle from her ears, and when she ends the dance, the boards continue to glitter as if a crystal chandelier had been pulverised on them." Bling!

For the sake of context, it should be noted that in those days, courtesans were not the only ones flaunting ice past the point of decency. Empresses and queens habitually layered parure on top of parure, stacking priceless necklaces from bosom to chin and filling in the blank spots with random brooches, stomachers, and stray royal orders. Such reckless extravagance was designed to provoke shock and awe, leaving onlookers in no doubt of the magnitude of power that lay behind all the glitter. But bigger and more do not necessarily mean better, do they? Monarchies fall; empires crumble. The jewel-encrusted life is still subject to tarnish. La Belle Otéro learned this lesson over the course of many painful decades, ending (as she began) in abject poverty. She might have grasped it sooner if she hadn't been blinded by all those diamonds.

Call it an odd comparison, but it strikes me that the 'natural fragrance' community is similarly dazzled and disabled by its aspirations to Cleopatran splendor. Botanical perfumers often can be found shoehorning as many notes as they can into each formula, as if sheer density of design will forestall all questions of worth. The result: complexity at the cost of legibility. There's too much going on for the wearer to distinguish a lyric, a melody, something to unify cacaphony into harmonious chorus.

On her website, Seattle-based perfumer Nikki Sherritt-Lewis assures visitors of the natural, botanical, organic, vegan, cruelty-free, local, sustainable, artisanal, small-batch, hand-crafted, proprietary quality of her products, which are made only from "real and very costly essences" such as ancient kings and queens would wear. Sherritt-Lewis composed the now-discontinued Bouquet back when she was doing business as Gabriel's Aunt. It exemplifies the problems that arise when qualities such as 'natural' or 'botanical' or 'hand-crafted' are assigned greater value than compositional skill. For Bouquet is a dense, hot mess-- a heap of organic notes steaming away in the sun (and yes, a compost pile can also be described as 'artisanal'). With its welter of sickly-sweet flowers, bitter immortelle, and murky oud-like cepes, Bouquet is simultaneously too much and not enough. If it were a meal, it would be a haute cuisine extravaganza of caviar, cream, truffles, saffron threads, and every other pricey ingredient the chef could think to toss into the pot. Overthought, overcooked, overpriced and overdone, it offers the senses a minute or two of painful intensity. But it disappears from both skin and atmosphere shockingly fast, and you hardly even remember what made this tiny taste worth an entire day's wages.

Scent Elements: Yuzu, lemon, immortelle, carnation, rose, violet, white lotus, rosewood, saffron, oakmoss, mushroom

L'Origan Vintage Extrait and Parfum de Toilette (Coty)

Coty L'Origan (1905) is possibly the most influential carnation that ever blossomed in a bottle. It is the older sister of Guerlain Après L'Ondée (1906), mother of Guerlain L'Heure Bleue (1912), host to Spanish exchange student Myrurgia Maja (1921), grandmother of Coty Paris (1923) and Caron Bellodgia (1927), doting fairy godmother of Caron Poivre (1954), Houbigant Raffinée (1982), and Parfums De Nicolaï's Sacrebleu (1993), not to mention indulgent Auntie Mame to her boys Habit Rouge (1965) and Fendi Uomo (1988). If you wear all of those fragrances in the exact order in which I have listed them, you will understand what about L'Origan was deemed inspiring, unpleasant, divine, redundant, deeply missed, worthy of imitation, and later, deserving of revival. Head backwards in time from L'Origan, though, and you'll quite simply find yourself in a field of wildflowers. How many fragrances can say that?

Welcome to the floral primeval.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, orange, peach, coriander, pepper, nutmeg, clove, carnation, jasmine, orange blossom, heliotrope, violet, rose, ylang-ylang, benzoin, tarragon, cedar, incense, musk, sandalwood, vanilla, labdanum, civet, coumarin

The last Empress.

The label on the vial reads "Empress Chong Vintage Parfum". A fellow perfumista who confessed that she absolutely despises vintage fragrance sent it to me, more to get it off her hands than anything else. It came with no other provenance; no clues to its origins, no leads on what inspired its creation. Despite dogged searching, I can find no information whatsoever about this perfume or its maker online. For all I know, it might not even be all that vintage. It's possible that I am the only person on earth who has ever worn it. And I'm happy to be, because this is a vicious old-school nightclub chypre dressed up in silk and blowing spiteful dragon puffs of cigarette smoke directly in my face. I half expect her to grind her stiletto heel into my ankle under the table... and I love it. I love every minute of it. And even if no one else remembers her, I will never forget.

Scent Elements: A ton of good old-fashioned oakmoss, just as nature intended.

Mermaid's Carnation (Esscentual Alchemy)

As a child, I used to spend hours poring through my mother's copy of Book Brownie's Book. This charming 1935 school primer included a riveting tale about a mermaid who accidentally leaves a jeweled comb upon a tidal ledge. When the comb is pocketed by a greedy mortal child, our outraged Undine forms a posse of wailing sirens to clamor for the return of her pilfered property.

Something about this story struck a chord with me. Even at that age, I preferred my sirens with a touch of mythological menace. Neither the Reverend Kingsley's morally superior Water-Babies nor Hans Christian Andersen's passive, self-sacrificing naiad appealed to me. A real mermaid wouldn't fixate on landlubbers, impart valuable life lessons, or submit silently to the theft of her treasures. Her kind prey upon and plunder us-- not the other way around.

She sits quietly upon the shore, untangling her locks of hair. She has a shell full of treasures. Within lays a small pink flower... Sweetly scented, it makes her wonder what exactly it is that humans do...

This is the brief for Mermaid's Carnation, described as "a natural botanical perfume which has clean, light florals, with a bit of spice". What an understatement! This furious pink carnation rises like Venus from a haze of salty sea-foam, then explodes into bloom like fireworks over the ocean. I haven't encountered a Dianthus soliflore this devastating since vintage Caron Bellodgia-- and to find that this scent really does tell an imaginative story excites me. It's been a while since a perfume made me feel as though I were opening a magical book of fables... or receiving a gift from beyond.

The fact that its creator is so humble and unassuming just adds to my amazement. A self-taught perfumer with a background in opera, Amanda Feeley maintains modest shops on Etsy and Supadupa and eschews self-promotion to a degree remarkable in this age of niche divas. Like Liz Zorn, Feeley acts as a composer rather than a performer; her creations -- and not her ego -- take center stage. No cult of personality here. Just a small pink flower, sweetly scented.

Mermaid's Carnation being the first of several Esscentual Alchemy fragrances I'm fixing to sample, I anticipate the discovery of other compelling narratives -- whether borrowed from myth, music, or mermaid -- woven into Feeley's creations.

Scent Elements: Grapefruit, bergamot, carnation, rose, lavender, cassis, genêt, balsam Peru, rosewood, sandalwood

Vacances (Jean Patou)

Well, here I am, finally on vacation and wearing Vacances (natch). No sooner do I get done talking about the type of perfume my husband and I both despise than I end up having to wear one for two whole days. Oh sorrow, sorrow!

Vacances is clean. Soapy clean. Scouring pad clean. Scrubbin' bubbles clean. Next-to-Godliness clean. I half imagine it percolating on my skin like hydrogen peroxide, disinfecting my soul as the minutes pass. It's got its job cut out for it, to be sure, what with all the furtive, sinister chypres I've been favoring of late. But Vacances is SO upright, SO missionary, it could turn Maleficent herself into Sleeping Beauty-- eternal snoring and all.

There are vacations that involve dust and danger and tent pegs and sudden squalls-- and then there are those which take place in nice, quiet hotels where every day unfolds according to a preprinted agenda and the rooms are so ruthlessly tidy you feel like you've checked into rehab. Vacances is one of the latter. I hear that Jean Patou shuffled off this mortal coil the year it came out. I don't blame him one bit. Vacances smells like a nursing home. Who'd want to linger?

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, hawthorn, hyacinth, mimosa, lilac, galbanum, musk

A*Men Pure Coffee (Thierry Mugler)

For those who love the original A*Men as I do, the prospect of sampling a flanker holds a distinct hint of peril... but in this instance, fear not, fellow Muglerphile. Creamy, dreamy, A*Men Pure Coffee is a cup of fragrant, addictive java served up sweet-- maybe whipped into a frappé and poured into a crushed dark chocolate biscotti shell like a very sophisticated ice cream pie. Except that from the first bite, there's a bitter, deeply-roasted savory kick that rescues the palate from pure glucose overload. Doubt me? Try it if you can find it. Your first cup will not be your last.

Scent Elements: Arabica coffee, patchouli, musk, moss, cedar vetiver