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."

"Whoa."

"I know, right?"

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

"Hence the blonde smoking."

"Or the smokin' blonde-- OW!"

"Quiet."

"...@$#%& 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

Playing hide-and-seek with Sycomore.

In spiritualist parlance, an apport is a mystery object transferred by paranormal means from one place to another. The unnerving thing about apports is not what they are (most often everyday articles such as keys, buttons, tie tacks, or teaspoons) but how they got here-- and how conspicuously out of place they are wherever they wind up.

While sorting through my samples, I came upon a full 1ml. vial of Chanel Sycomore. What?! After my initial experience with this fickle fragrance (which ended with me dumping an entire sample over myself just to stop chasing it around the damn house), I certainly never reordered it. Where did it come from? From what dimension did it travel? I have no earthly idea... but I can propose a few unearthly ones.

Unfortunately, Sycomore offers no new impressions the second time around. It's one of the most abbreviated fragrances I can name: likable for as long as it lasts, which is no time at all. If it's vetiver I crave, I could opt instead to wear Encre Noire or Or Black, neither of which has the bad habit of cutting my pleasure short.

In the meantime, true to form, Sycomore has once more vanished into the woodwork. Undoubtedly it will reappear somewhere on the other side of the world, an aromatic phantom wafting through distant airspace... mysteriously manifesting in a random pocket... raising the hair on the back of someone else's neck.

Sana Parfum Extrait (Slumberhouse)

First came Wazamba by Parfum d'Empire, with its smoky notes of incense, balsam fir, and roasted apple. Next came Soivohle's Solstice, which achieved similar results with frankincense and pine. After that, Roslin by Sweet Anthem arrived, also featuring pine, but this time paired with a dark, delicious, honeyed magnolia. Then Olympic Orchid's Carolina showed up-- once more with the pine, now bolstered with tobacco and burnt sugar.

So what am I to say about Sana? It's the same fragrance I've loved four times before, only a whole lot sweeter, stronger, and more stubborn. Twenty-four hours after first application, it still clings tenaciously to my wrist, refusing to quit when I wish to god it would. And maybe I'm a little bit tired of it, impatient with it, over it. Enough already.

Once had a love, and it was a gas. Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass.

Scent Elements: Tagetes syrup, balsam fir, suede, magnolia, thorns, honey, red raspberry leaf absolute, sweet birch

Summer's end... Somer's beginning.

Here at the Shore, we've left the frying pan and ended up in the fire. A drastic turn toward moist, hot, windless weather has got us all groaning... but I imagine our island neighbors regard this sort of climate as old news. Described here as "energy-sapping, debilitating, chronic", Bermudan humidity makes a change of clothes every few hours a virtual imperative... but two spritzes of Lili Bermuda Somers puts you on the best-dressed list no matter what else you're (not) wearing. This spicy melange of licorice and woods is haunted by an elusive tobacco note like the Ghost of Monte Cristos Past. (It's probably that cigar-box cedarwood accord oft-used by Lili B., but here turned up just one handsome notch.) It wears lightly yet lasts forever, renewed to freshness by every errant breeze.

Need a hero for the duration of the the dog days? Somers may very well be your man.

Labor Day weekend with Sel Marin.

Today is Labor Day, the calendar square upon which Jersey Shore locals bank our prayers all summer long. As we speak, an awe-inspiring homeward migration of SUVs, Jeeps, four-door sedans and soccer-mom vans clogs the Parkway end to end. GOODBYE! we shriek inwardly as we watch the exodus from the nearest county-road overpass. For months we'll be finding your cigarette butts, used condoms, and dirty diapers buried in our sand... but at least YOU will be out of the picture.

Now begins what Mark DiIonno of the Newark Star-Ledger calls "the grown-ups' summer... where the shrieks of gulls, not children, pierce the clear salt air." Locals finally reach the beach via local roads unimpeded by bumper-to-bumper traffic. Heat and humidity abate, as do fistfights and drag races; a golden harvest moon oversees our tranquil comings and goings. No longer must we grapple with an imperative to get far from the madding crowd. It has left on its own, taking along all of its squalid hullabaloo.

When I first reviewed Heeley's Sel Marin back in May 2010, the occasion happened to be summer's other bookend holiday-- the one we dread the most, as it touches off the whole unpleasant tourist flood (cue the theme from Jaws). The words I wrote then are just as true today:
I know firsthand how it is to live "at the shore" yet never see the beach, to fill my lungs every day with salubrious salt air but never be able to get close to its source. Sel Marin is a true-to-life breath of wind from a salty emerald sea-- experienced as a sadly diminished allusion from far, far inland. Whatever beach Heeley modeled it on must be paradise-- I simply can't see it from where I live.
And yet neither the words nor the scent sting this time. We've been through so much worse... and now that both the calendar page and perfume vial are used up and ready for a change, so (blessedly) am I.