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