The Know.

So there was this concept that Bob Fosse used to dance around, literally. His leading lady Ann Reinking called it "the Know". Drawn from the theater of Brecht (who dubbed it Verfremdungseffekte, "alienation effect"), the Know flattens every gesture, replacing passion with deliberation, empathy with distance. The Know hands you horror with a smirk; it plays a taunting rimshot -- Ba-dum-TCH! -- when the rug's pulled out from under you. It portrays all tragedy as comedy and all comedy as cruelty. There's nothing noble in suffering. Just showbiz.

I was gone; where did I go? I was getting to know the Know.

Here is everything I wrote before, during, and after, for whatever it is worth. The way things are going, someday I might forget I wrote it or where I put it. I figure I'd better leave it where someone else might find it. If it gets in your way, I beg your pardon; if it gives you something to laugh at or think about, I'll be content that it wasn't all in vain.

My thanks to JC, DC, Suzanne, JoanElaine, BloodyFrida, Carol of WAFT, Ari, Blacknall, Patty, Olfacta and Olfactoria, Montmorency, Natalie, Vanessa, Undina, Mals, Colleen, Lisa, Nan, Toni, KV, Glynis, and Miss Mary, all of those who showed me so much generosity, forbearance, and friendship along the road. Strangely, I must also thank Mephisto. Even if he is one of the reasons I stopped, he is also the reason I started. And always, I thank my husband, who knows me and my nose best.



November 11, 2015

Lucky me.

Last week on Friday morning, I wore Cabochard-- just a tiny bit, applied in the same spirit that drives me to drink coffee to start the morning. And then I ended up in the emergency room.

Hospitals smell like decay. There is no escaping that fact. Spend any time in one, whether as a patient or as a visitor, and you walk away with an unmistakeable odor clinging to your clothes and the insides of your nostrils, a sweet, fetid stench that makes you queasy and uneasy in a way that's hard to shake.

For two days after my ER adventure, I felt deeply, viscerally nauseated-- sick not just to my stomach but to the roots of my existence. I couldn't eat; hell, I couldn't even think of food without wanting to vomit. My body smelled strange to me; I kept sniffing my skin, distressed at its deathly odor. I felt infected, invaded, colonized by molecules of hospital air. Not even a hot, soapy shower could expunge its miasma.

And I couldn't bear the slightest whiff of Cabochard. How do you like that?

Every perfumista fears losing their favorite perfume to tragic circumstance. You hear about it all the time. An unpleasant shock, a traumatic accident, a prolonged illness occurs-- and the fragrance you happened to be wearing at that time instantly becomes unbearable, off-limits, relegated forevermore to the realm of bad memories. You didn't want it to happen, but now your comfort scent, your courage scent, your signature scent is a symbol of anxiety and pain. Could anything short of the life crisis itself be any more distressing?

But this morning, I felt better. I drank my cup of coffee and kept it down. And I picked up my hairbrush (always kept liberally scented with Cabochard) and gave it a tentative sniff.

Good lord, it was heavenly.  That's when I knew that everything was going to be all right, including me.

The last perfume.

Today I picked up my new bifocals and realized that there is no going back. I'm forty-six years old. Irreversible things are afoot. My eyesight is failing. My gums are receding. Threads of silver run through the red of my hair. My brain tumor proceeds apace; I have trouble talking, typing, spelling words correctly, and remembering things. With every passing month, my ovaries tell me with increasing stridency that they're tired and would like to stop now. So would I.

I've given it some thought and come to a conclusion: I've gone about as far with perfume as I want to go. I have what I need, and I love what I have. The search, the insatiable desire to acquire and experience more, has run itself out. The neverending has ended. So I asked myself, if I could have just one more bottle to add to the Scent Cabinet -- an earth-shattering bottle, a drop-dead divine bottle -- which would I choose? But the only reason I asked the question was because I already knew the answer. I just wanted to say its name.

So after leaving the optometrist's, I drove over to the Mall and got me some Dior Dune. I'm serious, I just plonked down my credit card and walked out of Macy's swinging a little bag. I figure I can swallow my first-ever pair of bifocals with some heavenly, sunlit ambergris-and-ocean-breeze to wash it down. The matter-of-fact speed of the whole transaction -- I want it. Do you have it? I'll take it. -- was exhilarating, as was the not-unreasonable-but-also-not-quite-sensible amount I spent to experience that thrill. (Am I becoming a reckless spendthrift in my dotage? Who gives a good goddamn? Another benefit of getting old: any salty quip can pop out of your mouth, and they can't put you in the penalty box until you're really, TRULY done playing.)

There's no fragrance in the world quite like Dune, and now I have enough to wear until the wheels fall off. Finis.

Gender bender.

Women in close workplace quarters can be either supportive or contemptuous of one another depending on the weather, the temperature, the time of day, or (sad but true!) the time of the month. Unless one turns to extraordinary means to avoid them, personality clashes are inevitable... yet everyone fawns and fusses over our male colleague no matter what the conditions. Hm! How to tap into that without subverting the whole planet?

Today I wore Or Black by Pascal Morabito. Cloaking myself in a scent that triggers an instinctive recognition of "maleness" was both an experiment and a risk. How would all these women react to my olfactory disguise? Favorably, as it happens. Opinions on my fragrance included words like clean, comforting, reassuring.  I didn't attract a single snide comment all day. In fact, my coworkers seemed more impelled than usual to engage me in small talk or seek my opinion. At the end of the day -- holy moley! -- they all pitched in to help me with closing procedures.  All because I smelled like a man!?

Normally I don't give much credence to the concept of gendered perfume, but this -- along with the disrespect I get when I wear an girly "pushover" perfume -- leads me to think there's more to psychology, sexism, and scent than I believed.

Parfum du Jour: Ô de Lancôme (Lancôme)

Why wear it? For good old spritzy fun on a day which is no fun at all, meteorologically speaking. Right now it's pushing ninety, dishearteningly humid, and so bright it feels as though the sun itself is giving us the stink-eye.  Later (if the weather forecaster isn't fibbing) we'll have violent thunderstorms, high winds, and the possibility of a tornado. A tornado. Spritz now or forever end up in Oz.

What does it do? It cools skin on contact, for a start. Then an aura of lemony-freshness settles down all around me, and instantly I feel less sticky and sluggish. A zing of green basil increases the overall happy, while the drydown is a nice, dry vetiver. Let me have just one more spritz, and I'll be well on my way to surviving 'til five.

How do I feel? Rather apprehensive about that whole tornado thing. I can't help thinking about the massive old oak tree in our neighbor's yard-- fifty feet high, I'll wager. With every brisk breeze, I find myself straying to the kitchen window to stare out at it and nibble nervously on my fingernails. If a microburst brought the giant down, where would it land?

Panthère de Cartier Original Parfum (Cartier)

Launched in 1986 and (if you will excuse my phraseology, which I admit may be as tasteless as this perfume) put to sleep in the mid-1990s, Panthère follows in the footsteps of Poison and Giorgio, both supremely rude perfumes with no respect for pedestrian noses. Backed up with syrupy peach and a chokingly thick sandalwood, this massive tuberose tyrant refuses to be ignored. It's too big for its britches, its bottle, the room, and maybe even the planet. It creates an atmosphere so impenetrable that Reagan could have used it for the Strategic Defense Initiative. Giant asteroids bounce off of it and ricochet right back into space.

This is a perfume that fires its entire staff on Christmas Eve. This is a perfume that heaves a crystal paperweight at your head and screams, You LOOK at me when I'm talking to you. This is a perfume that owns 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags, and 1,060 pairs of shoes. This is a perfume that backs dictators and arms rogue nations at a profit. This is a perfume on trial in absentia for crimes against humanity. This perfume hasn't just violated the Clean Air Act-- it's condemned under the Geneva Protocol for its use of chemical warfare.

Don't misunderstand me-- I kinda-sorta enjoyed being in its clutches for twenty-four hours or so, until I found a bar of soap powerful enough to tame it.  It has charisma in spite of itself.  But clearly Panthère is not meant for everyone. You really have to ask yourself if you're wicked enough to merit it-- and if you are, god help us all.

Scent Elements: Peach, coriander, mace, tuberose, karo karounde, jasmine, gardenia, marigold, rose, heliotrope, carnation, ylang-ylang, oakmoss, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, amber, vanilla, tonka bean, civet, musk

Parfum du Jour: The Afternoon of a Faun (État Libre d'Orange)

Why wear it? For its complex, mercurial, tumultuous nature, ideal for a day of thunderstorms and torrential rain.

What does it do? It commences with a peal of rosy geranium -- a note I most often equate with courage, but which I am now forced to reframe in my own perception as the aroma of carnal passion. This tricksy sprite of a scent surrounds itself with moody suede and moss, which causes its piquant nature to seem even more intense and fiery in contrast. The immediate effect is to evoke cries of "You smell delicious! DELICIOUS!!" from one's coworkers.  How often does that happen?

How do I feel? Very self-congratulatory for having purchased such a sizable decant.  If I can, I may even invest in a full bottle the next time I happen through Bergdorf Goodman.  Throw in a bottle of Like This for makeweight, and you've got yourself a deal.

Parfum du Jour: Réglisse Noire (1000 Flowers)

Why wear it? Because for something predicated on one of the world's stickiest and most dense confections, Réglisse Noire is as sheer as voile and as cooling as the fine mist thrown off by an epic waterfall.

What does it do? Initially, it really, really, really makes me mourn for Callard & Bowser licorice toffees (a sweet enjoyed by the British side of my family and oft-lamented now that it's no longer available stateside). But at some point, Réglisse Noire takes a subversive little turn into patchouli territory, landing on something akin to Lucien Lelong Tailspin, only sweeter and more transparent. And you know how I feel about Tailspin in weather as hot as we're having today, so... Call this a double triumph, for licorice and all its lovers.

How do I feel? Oh, so relaxed and composed in my veil of soft, anisic tranquility.

Parfum du Jour: L'Heure Fougueuse (Cartier)

Why wear it? Because Annick Goutal's Duel is still fresh in my mind, and I crave some more of that strange, horse-pasture-meets-teatime scent that is yerba maté.

What does it do? It evokes a luminous melancholy that is difficult to describe. I offered my wrist for Nan to sniff, and she said, "At first it was love, and then all of a sudden it turned to sadness." I agreed and added that it invariably reminds me of a moody black-and-white art film that disturbs the mind, dazzles the eye, and tugs at the heart.

How do I feel? Very satisfied myself, but I do wonder what others around me make of my scent. It does smell a mite horsey-- which of course I love, but which might cause another to do a double-take.

Parfum du Jour: Réplique Spray Mist (Raphael)

Why wear it? It's luscious, luscious, luscious! I snapped up this vintage marvel at the Columbus Antiques Mall-- a full bottle, and a good thing too, because I cannot seem to stop spraying. Precious is the perfume that compels you to reapply every hour or so for the fun of it, yet is so sheer and unobtrusive that no one around you catches on.

What does it do? It takes the original Réplique theme (green bergamot over green herbs over green leather) and boosts the bergamot up to heavenly heights. That clary sage note is no slouch, either-- resulting in the driest version of Réplique I have yet to encounter, ideal for stormy, humid early-summer days.

How do I feel? Very confident. Each re-spritz gives my mood a noticeable boost without undermining the effect with an overstrong sillage. When I ask for more, my flacon answers, "Say when." Une réplique si bien parlée.

Jules (Dior)

I think I understand now why certain perfume blog readers (and writers!) get so bent out of shape when you review a discontinued classic. It's unfair, they say, to get a person all fired up about a fragrance and then leave them out in the cold. Why torment us with lush descriptions of what we can't have? they complain. If we can't go right out and buy it, why review it at all?

Maybe they're right. I always thought it was my prerogative to review whatever the hell I wanted, and damn your rules. But wearing Jules, I can see now how frustrating it might be. Because Jules has vanished from these parts-- relegated to some bucket list of shy and elusive species, like the dwarf cassowary or the ghost orchid. And its comeliness makes its flight from the shelves of non-Parisian stockists that much more intolerable.

In the wunderkammer of perfume specimens, Jules joins Eau Sauvage, Caron Yatagan, and Pascal Morabito Black in a little drawer helpfully labeled "Fougères - Animalic (Sharp/Filthy)". This would differentiate it from those comforting barbershop fougères which are more tonka-heavy, or the zesty sort of fougère which relies mainly on aromatic herbs and pale blue or green coloring to suggest "freshness". The fragrances in this drawer are all sex and leather-- and Jules, with its sage-and-cumin suggestiveness, is the rarest of them all. And also the most beautiful.

The teaser has become the teased. Serves me right.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, basil, artemisia, lavender, sage, cumin, cyclamen, jasmine, rose, cedar, sandalwood, amber, tonka bean, oakmoss, leather, castoreum, musk

Duel (Annick Goutal)

Remember Tirador, that bespoke scent I envisioned for Viggo Mortensen? This is it, or as close to it as I'm ever going to get.

As I envisioned it, Tirador would incorporate notes of tobacco, maté, sweetgrass, sage, and animalic leather to be worn by a travel-worn outdoorsman (hell, let's call him Aragorn son of Arathorn). Duel takes maté to the red carpet by introducing it to elegant iris and absinthe-- and yet, it's still strangely redolent of time spent in the saddle. That it reminds me strongly of Cartier's L'Heure Fougueuse is no accident; it clearly provided inspiration.

So Duel is the perfume of my bespoke dream-- at least the press junket version. It's tailored to more formal standards but still has a uniquely lived-in quality, like a made-to-measure suit that does not sacrifice cut, fabric or fit for plain old indispensable comfort. That's why you've worn that suit for years. It looks as new on you as it did when it really was.

Scent Elements: Yerba maté absolute, petitgrain, iris, absinthe, guaiac, leather, musk

Cumming: The Fragrance (CB I Hate Perfume)

It does not smell peaty.
It does not smell boozy.
It does not smell heathery.
It does not smell woodsy.
It does not smell rubbery.
It does not smell leathery.
It does not smell tobaccoey.
It does not smell earthy.
It does not smell fiery.
It does not smell truffly.
It does not smell risky.
It does not smell sexy.
It does not smell transgressive.
It smells like YSL La Nuit de l'Homme, which I really like, but which I can buy at the Macy's near my house.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, black pepper, Scotch pine, malt whiskey, cigar, heather, Douglas fir, worn leather, Highland mud, peat fire, white truffle. All of which I think is a load of crap. Aye, ah do!

Parfum du Jour: Eau d'Hadrien (Annick Goutal)

Why wear it? It's a dry citrus. A very dry citrus. A triple-sec citrus. So if you (like me) have a temporary aversion to moisture on account of insane recent rainfall totals, this one will hand you no dew-drops.

What does it do? With tart, peppery notes of cypress and grapefruit mingled with sour lemon, Eau d'Hadrien puts the pith in perfume. I love bitter tastes, so it should follow that a bitter smell would be attractive to me. Side note: I could swear there's a rose hiding somewhere in that lemon grove, but it may be a mirage conjured from all those sharp essences.

How do I feel? Rather sunny today, as my spouse and I hit the road for an afternoon of thrifting. Sometimes it's a bust and sometimes it's must; for us it was the latter. My clothing find of the day: an official Beastie Boys shirt from their last tour before MCA passed away. It had never been worn (in fact, the price tag was still attached!) and it came in green, my favorite color. My book finds of the day: a brand new, pristine copy of Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey (I snapped it up before it had even been priced!) and a biography of E.M. Forster that I never knew existed. I also scored a glass bowl in which I hope to display my 1ml. perfume samples once I convince the Grist Mill to let me consign them. Wish me luck.

Épices Marine (Hermès)

Hermès Épices Marine is a sent-bon, a good smell. Light and unassuming, breezy and bright, it sits on skin nicely and sends up pleasing little puffs of citrus and salt air for an hour or two. It is not even slightly original, but something tells me it wouldn't be a sent-bon if it were. It reminds you, and to do so, it must be a reflection of things other than itself.

I don't smell any roasted spices, whiskey or smoke in Épices Marine. I do smell citrus, salt, seaweed, and vetiver, but in no very innovative combination. Like Tauer Incense Extrême, Heeley Sel Marin, and Histoires de Parfums 1828 Jules Verne, Épices Marine is simply a pleasure to wear. I don't need any other reason to enjoy it, so I will resist the urge to read anything into it-- or to bemoan that which it lacks.

Let other songs of the sea be sung. This glad beauty is merely made to hum.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mint, roasted cumin, pimiento, Sichuan pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, algae, smoke, salt, oakmoss, vetiver, whiskey accord

Parfum du Jour: Capricci (Nina Ricci)

Why wear it? It's hot and dry outside, requiring a blast of arctic archness from the land of aldehydes and oakmoss. Plus, Capricci is my favorite Nina Ricci thus far, so time spent with a friend -- however stern and forbidding -- is always enjoyable. I'm on my second application of the day and feeling well pleased.

What does it do? Capricci looks directly at the sun, and the sun begins to sweat. Where she walks, flowers grow in her footprints-- but also frost, so mind your manners.

How do I feel? Generally relaxed. I sampled a taste of freedom this Memorial Day weekend, which included burgers and corn-on-the-cob (obligatory) and a jaunt to the movie theater to see Mad Max: Fury Road (entirely voluntary. Tom Hardy blows shit up, you say? I am so there). Now I'm two days away from a nine-day vacation during which I'll be running at full throttle along several different (but complementary) tracks. My job hunt will begin in earnest, as will a round of heavy housecleaning. I've just started a diet/exercise program in the hopes of replacing ten pounds of fat with lean muscle. I have goals to achieve, resources to marshal, and eyes to keep on the prize. Like a tough-but-fair coach, Capricci puts the starch in my resolve; when I think I might falter, she's there to inform me that quitting is out of the question.

Parfum du Jour: Evening in Paris (Bourjois)

Why wear it? For the thrill of it! Oh, how glad I was to be reintroduced to this exquisite floral ode to romance. My first meeting was facilitated by my friend Teija, who gifted me with a 1950's-era vintage bottle filled with pristine jus. I loved it from the first. What's more, I admired its principles. Despite its dimestore provenance, Evening in Paris offered all the women in the world a chance to feel like women of the world... for less than ten dollars.

What does it do? In less than an hour, it modulates from newly-poured champagne to a stroll along the Seine to satin sheets entwined around well-satisfied lovers. Lay the blame (or the accolades, if you prefer) at the feet of aldehydes, tilleul, and powder-soft styrax.

How do I feel? Glorious; elegant; enveloped by grace. Really! I mean it!

A bizarre bouquet.

While wading through the Scent Cabinet to cull out consignables, I came across all those Olympic Orchids that Colleen sent me ever so long ago. And once again, I ended up berating myself for not giving them a fair chance even though I know precisely where that will get me-- nursing an exquisite migraine from that frighteningly powerful synthetic wood accord that must be perfumer Ellen Covey's go-to base. So This is IT, I promise. All but the final two vials have gone into the huge pile of 1ml. samples I've culled for a trip to the Grist Mill. I'm thinking that 25¢ apiece or five for a dollar is a fair asking price; at any rate, they'll become someone else's headache instead of mine.


Luzonica
A strange tropical fruity floral reminiscent of Sweet Anthem’s Roslin, but not as good. Opens on an intense, almost sickening fruit jam accord halfway between papaya and pineapple, then trails off into sweet smoke. Not novel enough to be worth it.

Scent Elements: Tuberose, pineapple, vanilla


Kyphi
This modern reconstruction of Egypt’s sacred incense is flat, waxy, and linear—evoking furniture polish more than ancient ceremony. After lending skin a brief, spicy topcoat, it proves quick to fade—no tragedy, since this is essentially an unattractive fragrance best left to the Ptolemaic Dynasty, or whatever’s left of it.

Scent Elements: Frankincense, myrrh, labdanum, calamus, beeswax, spices


Arizona
"Pine Tree" Scratch ‘n’ Sniff, and a stunted example at that.

Scent Elements: Ponderosa pine, juniper, sagebrush, wildflower accord


Olympic Rainforest
For a fragrance predicated on one of the wettest woodlands in North America, Olympic Rainforest is a mighty dry article—but its weirdness marks it as a likely occupant of the Seattle-Portland circuit. Where else could evergreen boughs and fresh-picked morels intersect with Vicks Vap-O-Rub—and make it work? This is Arizona done right—with a sense of humor.

Scent Elements: Cedar, ferns, rhododendron, cepes, oakmoss, wildflower accord


Bay Rum
Owing to its proximity to parts Caribbean, the East Coast is awash with bay rum fragrances—which is why a reinterpretation by a Westerner is so refreshing. Ellen Covey’s Bay Rum is a savory delight with a pronounced (and very proper) cinnamon note and a good plug of salted butter melting away in that sweet hot rum. (Remember, the Pacific Northwest has its ports of call!) Bay Rum’s balance and persistence make it the most effective fragrance of the whole lot; its handsomeness is the reason it’s the only one I would wear again—and if I had a full bottle, I might empty it.

Scent Elements: Bay rum, rum accord, laurel, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, orange blossom, citrus, Javanol (synthetic sandalwood), balsams

Parfum du Jour: Ligaea la Sirena (Carthusia)

Why wear it? Because the very last of it is about to evaporate from the spray vial, churning up a wake of salty tears.

What does it do? It smells more -- a LOT more -- like Shalimar than I remember. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't pick up on the resemblance sooner. In previous wearings, it reminded me of Etro Vicolo Fiori and Jean Nate, and with good reason.  All four fragrances embody the sum of a single equation: lemon plus thyme plus opopanax equals pure sunshine.

How do I feel? Cheered up during a time of local mourning: it's Memorial Day Weekend once again. Traffic is up, internet speed is down, and idiocy looms over the same horizon whence originates that stream of luggage-laden cars we all know and despise. Calm and lovely, Ligaea la Sirena responds to all of this hullabaloo by swimming further out to sea, where the noise and rudeness cannot touch her. (Take me with you, I beg!)

De Profundis (Serge Lutens)

In E. M. Forster's Howards End, Margaret Schlegel brings "a sheaf of tawny chrysanthemums" to her friend Ruth Wilcox's funeral. They didn't ought to have coloured flowers at buryings, a young cemetery worker muses. But he can't help it: he feels compelled to pluck a blossom and take it home to his lady love.

The chrysanthemums trigger a similar ambivalence for the the grieving Wilcox children. By custom of the country, only white flowers may bedeck a grave; hence Miss Schlegel's colorful Trauerstrauß offends British propriety and pride. Surprisingly, their newly widowed father defends Miss Schlegel: The flowers-- certainly we should not have sent such flowers, but they may have seemed the right thing to her...

This minute shift of Mr. Wilcox's sympathy outside the tribe proves the thin edge of the wedge. Within a year, he will marry Margaret. Like it or not, life goes on. Margaret in particular is sensitive to this fact:
A funeral is not death, any more than baptism is birth or marriage union... (Ruth Wilcox) had gone out of life vividly, her own way, and no dust was so truly dust as the contents of that heavy coffin, lowered with ceremonial until it rested on the dust of the earth, no flowers so utterly wasted as the chrysanthemums that the frost must have withered before morning... (Margaret) saw a little more clearly than hitherto what a human being is, and to what he may aspire. Truer relationships gleamed. Perhaps the last word would be hope--hope even on this side of the grave.
True-- and this is why I choose a riotously colorful mental image of chrysanthemums to represent Serge Lutens' De Profundis. The name of this perfume derives from Psalm 130 (From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord) but also hearkens to Oscar Wilde's prison missive of the same title (A pillory is a terrific reality... and to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing). The choice of notes -- chrysanthemums, incense, earth -- are meant to evoke mourning. Yet the perfume, in its finished form, does not. It says, Vita mutatur, non tollitur-- life is changed, not taken away. Flowers still grow, even atop a grave.

I own a full bottle of Arabie, and that's all; up to now, no other Lutens/Sheldrake creation ever tempted me to "go big". I've idly toyed with the idea of buying a large decant -- say fifteen milliliters -- of Un Bois Vanille or Fille en Aiguilles, but I've never acted on this impulse, so it can't be serious. But De Profundis gripped me so quickly, so completely, as to force my hand. I've worn it three days in a row, growing to love it more and more with each sunset that passes. I spray repeatedly to reexperience that one-two punch of bitter chrysanthemum flowers and freshly-broken green stems; then I go to bed and pillow my cheek on warm hair that smells of frankincense and flouve.

A "bell jar" flacon of De Profundis costs $300, which places it well out of my reach. It's ample cause for mourning... but every time I think De Profundis has breathed its last sigh, the idea of that decant resurrects itself. It reminds me that heaven is here on earth, not in some far-off afterlife where one's credit card is no good.

Scent Elements: Chrysanthemum, violet, lily, chamomile, peony, greens, incense, earth accord, hay, woods

Parfum du Jour: Amanda (Amanda Lepore)

Why wear it? It's gone, baby, gone-- an original and curiously affecting perfume, now nearly extinct. Completely eclipsed by its namesake's reputation for glitz and glamour, this unlikely comfort scent composed of bready iris, sweet tangerine, and cooked-rice steam is the last thing anyone would expect from a Manhattan socialite. But there you have it (or rather, had it). With scarcely a sixteenth of an inch of fragrance left in the sprayer, I declare that I have enjoyed every atom of Amanda Lepore, and I'd do her all over again if I could.

What does it do? It enfolds you against its ample breast, murmuring soothing syllables to drive the tears away. After inhaling my sillage, an enraptured library colleague practically dragged every person in the office over to huff my wrists. All agreed that Amanda was a calming, comforting presence-- and honey, we need us some of that-all.

How do I feel? Wistful to see Amanda go. Amouage Opus I, Hermès L'Ambre des Merveilles EdP, and Les Néréides Opopanax are all extremely compassionate fragrances, but I like a bit of strangeness with my solace. The closest thing to Amanda I can think of is Daliflor by Parfums Salvador Dalí. Just days ago, a tidal wave of organizational fever compelled me to put my bottle of Daliflor in the box of fragrances destined for consignment. But now I know that's simply impossible. I may not be able to get my hands on Amanda again -- at $900 a bottle, she's no cheap date -- but at least I can keep her memory alive with a less expensive cousin.

Escape (Calvin Klein)

I pick up the purse spray to study its simplicity-- the clear, fluted glass, the columnar silver cap. I hold it to the light and admire the color of the jus-- sherry, citrine, Baltic amber. I turn it over to look at the manufacturer's sticker. Calvin Klein Escape, it reads. I pull off the cap, sniff the spray nozzle, and recoil in horror. Calone, I thought. That cucumber-and-acetylene-torch odor that works my nerves like nails scraping against sheet metal.

According to Luca Turin, that's a good thing. Apparently, the reworked version is pitiful. This one is not, and it takes some doing to induce me to say it, for I have never, never, I repeat, NEVER been able to stand calone at any strength. Even when it's not alone.

Various notes I've seen listed for Escape include lychee, mandarin, apple, peach, plum, apricot, bergamot, blackcurrant, coriander, clove, chamomile, rose, muguet, iris, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, carnation, jasmine, rosewood, cedar, sandalwood, oakmoss, amber, musk, and vanilla. Impressive, but improbable-- unless more is less instead of the other way around. My nose pares the roster down to only the things it can actually detect-- reductive, I know, but I trust its judgment implicitly. It says calone, lychee, peach, coriander, cyclamen, cedar, vanilla, and (white) musk. Done.

I'm astounded to find myself capable of such a thing, but I enjoyed wearing Escape today. Past the cantaloupe-and-sledgehammer opening, there's an blessedly pale and subtle fruity-floral with a salutary hint of sea salt and cilantro. I'd wear it again. (What is HAPPENING to me!?)

Scent Elements: Calone, lychee, peach, coriander, cyclamen, muguet, cedar, vanilla, white musk

Parfum du Jour: The Scout

Why wear it? Since I first wrote about the Undercover Angels more than two years ago, I've hardly worn The Scout at all. I only recently dug it up from the depths of the Scent Cabinet and figured I ought to give it another go before I consign it to the sample bin at the Grist Mill.

What does it do? Stops planets in their orbit? Bench-presses the Verrazano Bridge? Whatever its talents, subtlety isn't one of them. It's much stronger and farther-reaching than I remember. (Did I really once consider this delicate?) I only spritzed twice, and it has annexed the atmosphere of this entire room and made all breathable air its bitch. If it only consisted of the pretty, sparkling tea-lemon-rose accord that first greets the nose, all would end well. But beneath that, there lurks a fiendishly powerful (and surprisingly masculine) musk that never, ever says "uncle" (though I eventually might). These two halves somehow make more than a whole. They're like a pair of conjoined twin giants who, contrary to their mighty stature, are perfectly behaved and polite... for now. The unspoken menace they project is centered on the thought that someday they might quarrel-- and on that day, God help us all.

How do I feel? Like taking a long, steamy, and very thorough shower with a can of Bon-Ami.

Vitriol d’Œillet (Serge Lutens)

All right, I was Googling Necco® Wafers (like you do) to confirm the alignment of colors and flavors. The official combinations are lemon/yellow, lime/green, orange/orange (obviously), cinnamon/white, wintergreen/pink, licorice/black (rather, chalky grey) chocolate/brown (rather, a strange mauve-tinted tan), and clove/purple. (Personally, I would have swapped the colors for cinnamon and wintergreen, but it's not my place to interfere.) Now, as always, the clove wafers are my favorite kind. I could refer to them as "carnation" wafers, since both cloves and carnations derive their spicy quality from eugenol. (Not for nothing are wild carnations called "clove pinks".)

Eugenol intersects well with rose, geranium, anise, violet, pepper (pink or black), cinnamon and other "hot" spices. Serge Lutens' Vitriol d’Œillet (roughly, Carnation Rage) contains many of these, plus a curious incense-smoke note that sends me right to church. Or maybe it sends me right to this absolutely hilarious blog post by Kitty Lapin Agile, who makes a startling observation which (once you get used to it) seems as though it's been obvious all along: Necco® Wafers strongly resemble communion wafers. Sweet sacrilege! Enter Picasa's image-tinkering tools, and there you have it: violet holy wafers to appease a violent-sounding perfume.

Let Serge Lutens himself describe the smackdown your nose is about to receive:
Je vais tout vous dire mon enfant : prenez un œillet, du poivre de Cayenne en quantités suffisante ma foi. Enfoncez le bien, au centre de lui-même par des clous de girofle puis, avant de passer à l’acte, pour conclure, augmentez cela d’une paire de gifles offerte par la giroflée. (Listen, my child, and I will tell you everything. Take a carnation and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper. Firmly drive it into the very center, using the "nails" of a clove. Before committing the final act of violence, let wallflower throw in a few punches.)
Whoop! That's some back-alley prizefight you're running there, Uncle Serge. He continues:
No more ghostly than a train, nor more sudden than death, nor quicker than the opening of a grave, my vitriol is distilled from carnations. After a moment of hesitation, the carnation -- alias the clove pink -– is what I am in every sense: this fragrance fraught with anger is my riposte. Its petals, laced with tiny teeth, hold out the solution: a burst of fragrant spikes... Yet the carnation is an obsessive and intrepid flower. When it doesn’t bloom on market stalls and in open fields in southern France, the carnation -– blood red, as if bitten by a dapper criminal with a fox-like smile -– perishes.
Thenceforth follows a rather lurid description of a film noir heroine meeting a gruesome fate. I don't want to see her come to a bad end; I'd rather she summon up the moxie to belt her shadowy adversary upside his head. Hard. But if a hint is wanted, she's not likely to get it from Vitriol d’Œillet.

Despite the provocation inherent in both its brief and its name, Vitriol d’Œillet is not a very forceful fragrance. It's no Poivre. It's no Parfum Sacre, nor a Sacrebleu. It's not even Bellodgia, bless its heart. It's a meek, hazy, charming little confection with absolutely no injurious designs on the wearer. From its elusive violet incense opening, it meanders into a typical carnation accord whose complementary peppercorn blend is unexpectedly bright and fruity. From there, it's soft, dry, Grey-Flannel-esque woods all the way down.

I envision Vitriol d’Œillet folding its little white-gloved hands nicely during Sunday Mass... and perhaps surreptitiously enjoying a sweet or two during the homily. No vitriol. Not a particle. But purple Necco® Wafers? An ample supply.

Scent Elements: Clove, nutmeg, black pepper, pink pepper, cayenne, œillet (carnation), wallflower, lily, ylang-ylang, woods

Flèches d'Or (Lancôme)

Today at the Grist Mill, I snapped up that vintage Lancôme Flèches d'Or mini I'd noticed on my last visit. (I also took home those aforementioned PdT minis of Coty L'Origan and Le Galion Sortilège, AND added in purse-sized perfume sprays of Revlon Intimate and Calvin Klein Escape. I mean, I'm not made of STONE.) Of course, when I went online to look up Flèches d'Or, I came across one of Cleopatra's flanker Boudoir blogs. Suppressing a grin, I clicked.

What did I learn? That Lancôme released Flèches d'Or in 1957; that its original flacon was designed by Georges Delhomme and manufactured by Verrières de la Bresle; that its notes included rose, jasmine, anise, cloves, and galbanum. Not much more. The post seemed uncharacteristically terse by Cleopatra standards, so next I visited The Vintage Perfume Vault, where Amelia... quoted Cleopatra. (Cue concealed grin #2.)

So anyway. Flèches d'Or was preceded by Flèches (1938), a typical floral arrangement consisting of rose, violet, lilac, and vanilla. Sounds like the precursor to YSL Paris, oui? By contrast, Flèches d'Or (Golden Arrows) is a spicy, tempestuous thing, more akin to L'Heure Bleue or L'Origan (I should know; I had a reference sample of the latter on hand to conduct an impromptu sniff test). I do smell bergamot, anise, and a powdery dried rose; while Cleo's notes list features cloves (the spice), I smell clove pinks (the flower), so I guess we'll split the difference. The dusky floral heart slowly gears down into a blurry chypre completely lacking in animalic qualities. But then, L'Origan and L'Heure Bleue end that way too-- on a bed of moss sans musk.

Scent Elements: Lemon, bergamot, verbena, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, carnation, lavender, anise, cardamom, galbanum, vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli, musk

Neroli (Attar Bazaar)

The species Citrus x aurantium is a veritable one-stop shop when it comes to flavor and fragrance. Itself a hybrid of pomelo (Citrus maxima) and mandarin (Citrus reticulata), it encompasses a host of subspecies and varieties in turn.

The peel of the otherwise inedible laraha (var. currassuviencis) is used for one purpose only: to produce Curaçao. The fruit of the myrtle-leaved orange (var. myrtifolia) flavors the popular Italian soft drink chinotto. Pectin-rich Seville oranges (var. bigaradia) are preferred for making marmalade, while their peel oil (known as bigarade) acts as a bittering agent in both mixed drinks and fragrance. The dried zest of the Asian sour orange (var. daidai) is eaten as a digestive tonic, while its flowers are used to sweeten black tea. Also used as a tea flavorant is bergamot (Citrus bergamia), a hybrid of bitter orange and sweet lime trees.

But the real main event is true bitter orange (subsp. amara), whose contribution to the olfactory and gustatory arts remains unmatched. Alembicate its leaves and twigs, and you end up with petitgrain oil, zesty and terpenous. Cold-express the peel of its fruit, and you end up with a singularly intense bigarade-- or better yet, steep the peel in cognac, and you're sipping Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Subject bitter orange blossoms to solvent extraction or enfleurage, and you have orange blossom absolute, airy and uplifting. Steam-distill them, and you end up with two products: orange flower water (the heart-and-soul of baklava syrup!) and an essential oil known as neroli (after the 17th century Princess of Nerola, Anne-Marie de la Tremouille de Noirmontier-- an early adopter of this heavenly scent element).

Attar Bazaar lets customers choose the four free samples that come with every order. In response to my request, they sent me about a quarter-milliliter of natural neroli oil. I realize now that I should have just heaved caution out the window and sprung for a full dram. After all, it only costs $8.95-- a pittance for so intense a pleasure.

I've encountered neroli in so many fragrances by now, we ought to be beyond the 'hail-well-met' and handshake stage. But I've never smelled it neat before, and now that it's on my wrists, I can't stop bending my head down for another stealthy sniff. Whereas the effect of buoyant orange blossom is mostly a matter of altitude, neroli adds heft and spin to the aerial dynamic. Fruitier, waxier, darker, and more honeyed than its counterpart, it's a complicated scent that lends purpose and staying power to a scent that would otherwise merrily disperse in all directions.

If another Attar Bazaar order is in order, I'll go for that full dram (as well as one of India Musk Connoisseur, to be reviewed here once I regain consciousness). Let summer rev its engines. With Neroli, I'll be road-ready.

Scent Elements: Nothing but what it says on the label.

Lotus Blossom (Attar Bazaar)

Attar Bazaar's Lotus Blossom is simultaneously a Big White Floral and a Little Nothing. It packs a syrupy-sweet wallop of your usual tropical white flowers, with gardenia way out in front. But grand, impressive, statuesque? Not so much. It may even contain a particle of prim muguet to provide self-restraint before things go over the top. It's pleasant, and I'm fine with that, for BWF's were never really my favorite genre. This one I could wear within hollering distance of the seashore, if not to the beach proper.

Scent Elements: Tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, possibly some coconut, and maybe a smidge of lily-of-the-valley.

Persian Lilac (Attar Bazaar)

More than most other aesthetic subjects, perfume forces an immediate response. It takes time to read a book, listen to music, or absorb the symbolism of a work of visual art, but it takes no time at all to accept or reject a fragrance. Despite the insistence of some that you stick with it from beginning to end or even wear it more than once before committing to an opinion, you know right away-- instantaneously. A perfume's notes, after all, advertise its personality. One screechy or false note, and the acquaintance is as good as over.

After you experience a hundred or so fragrances, reflex turns into reflection. It becomes possible to slow down, categorize, generalize, and identify what you like and don't like. Empirical knowledge authorizes me to state that I like leathers, chypres, woods, spicy or smoky fragrances, and animalics. The same accumulation of experience allows me to tell you that I dislike ditzy florals, sweet fruities, "fresh" odors, and aldehydics. I can use more specific language, if you wish: I like things that smell dirty, dense, and complicated; I dislike things that smell sanitized, deodorized, sugar-coated, and infantile. I am not likely to change these opinions. They have become hard-wired over time.

At first, Persian Lilac smells as clean and safe as anti-allergenic laundry detergent-- deceptive, since an unfortunate note of fecal matter is next to emerge. For all their color and spicy sweetness, lilacs are akin to white flowers in that they contain a hidden blast of indoles. It's enough to turn the clean dirty, but not dirty in the way I like it. Rather, this combination of sugar and poop morphs into a turnoff mighty fast. The drydown is dryer sheets all the way-- an ugly, sterile musk that sours quickly on the skin.

I wore Persian Lilac all day, and at no time could I accustom myself to its cloying presence. It made me smell like someone (or something) other than myself, a stranger. Unlike other Attar Bazaar samples I've parlayed into full-dram purchases, this one will henceforth remain corked.

Scent Elements: Lilac, white musk, and Desitin.

Parfum du Jour: Roslin (Sweet Anthem)

Why wear it? Yesterday's Un Bois Sépia proved a letdown, so today I wanted a sure shot. To date, Roslin has never let me down; it's like an old and faithful friend who inspires complete trust.

What does it do? Roslin's evergreen boughs, ripe red apples, and edgy patchouli smolder like a pagan festival in a bottle; on skin, it's beautiful savagery, a scent for the hunter rather than the hunted.

How do I feel? Not entirely discouraged. So I tried Un Bois Sépia first and got it out of the way-- that's how I choose to look at it. I have so many other newly-obtained scents to experience, the near future holds a wealth of olfactory discovery.

Un Bois Sépia (Serge Lutens)

What Serge Lutens wanted: "This fragrance, just like falling leaves, evokes the colors of autumn... More than a shade, sepia is the scent of moss and dead leaves that one only finds in the woods. As for the autumn sun, it often coincides with rain. Maybe my story should even include a scene about finding mushrooms... In a word, it's a fabulous chypre!"

What I wanted: Neither the painter's pigment known as sepia nor a chypre from the forest floor, but something organically marine in nature: the blood-rich, salty tang of ocean water and all the life that thrives in its depths. When I first smelled Un Bois Sépia at Sniffapalooza, I described it as "iodine smoke, inky ocean, weird wood"-- this is what I craved. (If a chypre could be predicated on kelp instead of oakmoss...)

What Serge and I got: Dessert. If Histoires de Parfum's 1828 Jules Verne and Viktor + Rolf's Spicebomb had a baby and then christened it in a baptismal font full of warm caramel, it would be Un Bois Sépia. I was unprepared for how sugary it is compared to the murky, complex scent I recalled from three years ago. Did Uncle Serge sweeten it up for the American market, or is my memory so faulty and fickle that it's attempting to spin a big fish tale?

What I'll wear instead: Liz Zorn's Fougère Nakh. This, at least, lays a legitimate claim to kinship with the 'wine-dark sea'.

Scent Elements: Vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, opoponax, cypress

Parfum du Jour: White Linen (Estée Lauder)

Why wear it? Because a forecasted temperature of 80°F is nothing to scoff at.

What does it do? It puts starch in your shirt, that's for sure.

How do I feel? Very stiff today, and a little unforgiving.  Not to mention short on words. I don't even have enough of those to tell you what's vexing me. Maybe by Saturday I'll have replenished my supply.

Ivoire de Balmain Eau de Toilette

Last weekend, my spouse and I drove westward to the Columbus Farmers Market-- a vast sprawl of outdoor tables and tents containing a dazzling collection of gently (or not-so-gently) used items priced super-cheap. Hatted and shrouded against the sun, I followed my husband up and down dusty pathways in search of secondhand comics and DVDs to add to his collection. For myself, I found a "sassy" suncatcher, a book about brain tumors, and a stainless steel ring to replace the broken one on my Þór's hammer necklace. It doesn't sound like much of a haul, but I was saving myself for the indoor antiques stores. I'd once scored a gorgeous Coty Emeraude mini-bottle in mint condition there. Would I be so lucky this time?

Yes! After a mere fifteen-minute traipse through the cool, shady aisles of the antiques mall, I unearthed a nearly-full vintage spray bottle of Ivoire de Balmain Eau de Toilette. Now, if one were to compare the iterations of Ivoire to Depression glass -- in plentiful supply at Columbus, all you collectors! -- the pure parfum is the "milk" variety, dense and opacified, while the EdT is pale yellow-green "vaseline" glass complete with a mini-dose of uranium. Cut to sparkle in any light, it fluoresces under the ultraviolet; in other words, it truly glows, but only in the dark.

Ivoire pure parfum is a languid delight laced with bitter herbs and sweet honey. Where's all the galbanum, raspberry, and lemon, you ask? Answer: in a different bottle. Ivoire de Balmain Eau de Toilette is a classic "green goddess" fragrance-- tart and biting, as crisply sophisticated as Jeri Hall stepping out of a limousine. The creamy elements of the original have been shifted to the background-- not entirely out of sight, but just enough to let Ivoire remind us that she's a chypre. Her peppery blend of galbanum, tagetes, and acid red berries echoes all the Halstons, Missonis, and Magie Noires that were au courant back in those halcyon days. She's definitively a chypre of her era. Tonight, she parties at Studio 54; tomorrow, she's got finals at Barnard.

Of course she aces them both.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, mandarin, neroli, raspberry, galbanum, chamomile, violet, marigold, rose, jasmine, hyacinth, orchid, iris, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, carnation, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, artemisia, vetiver, patchouli, oakmoss, cedar, sandalwood, labdanum, tonka bean, incense, musk. Oh, and uranium.

Perfumy Konwalia: A mystery May Day muguet.

For today's Fête du Muguet, I test-drove a perplexing little Slavic trifle called Perfumy Konwalia-- Polish for "Muguet Perfume". (The 'Konwalia' derives from Convalleria majalis, muguet's maiden name; another option would be lilia doliny, lily-of-the-valley.) I have no information regarding its brand or manufacturer; I suspect it's the polski equivalent of a dimestore 'fume, inexpensive and easily obtained. Its bottle resembles the old Vigny Heure Intime "grenade", right down to the triangular label. I half wonder if it's a glass factory remainder-- or did a shipment of empty Vigny bottles mysteriously fall off the back of a truck somewhere between Paris and Kraków?

Good Christ, is this stuff musky!  Skank is not a quality I've ever associated with muguet, but there's a first time for everything, right? All the requisite sweetness of muguet is here, only sans Granny panties. Comparing Perfumy Konwalia wrist-to-wrist against the more vegetal Penhaligon's Lily of the Valley is like sighting a wildcat in the woods: the savage forest instantly seems tame in contrast to that yellow-eyed predator inching toward you on stealthy paws.

Scent Elements: Konwalia, jasne i proste, with a side of deliciously dark and beastly musk.

Parfum du Jour: Un Jardin Après la Mousson (Hermès)

Why wear it? The weather's getting warmer, the scent of flowers has begun to fill the air, the sky is full of birds on the wing... it's spring.

What does it do? In its milky-spicy-greenish way, Après la Mousson captures that moment after a thundershower when the emerging sun dazzles the eye and warms the skin. I wouldn't say it's as heartfelt and affecting as La Chasse aux Papillons by L’Artisan Parfumeur, but it gets the message of the season across.

How do I feel? Cheered somewhat. My husband bought me a light, portable folding lawn chair so that I can spend my lunch hours sitting under a shady tree in the park adjacent to the library. It really helps to be able to watch clouds pass and imagine that our earthly troubles will do the same.

Parfum du Jour: Hindu Kush (AbdesSalaam Attar)

Why wear it? I'd used it up nearly to the bottom of the sprayer, and I wanted to experience that last smoky quarter-milliter before it evaporated.  Plus, a branch visit from the Wicked Witch happened to be on the menu-- and I needed all the courage and resilience I could muster, olfactory or otherwise.

What does it do? Ears high and nostrils flared, it fixes you with an unwavering glare and ever so slightly curls its lip to show you its teeth. One false move and it will spring. Do you want to try your luck?

How do I feel? Impervious to witchcraft.

Parfum du Jour: Try and guess.

Why wear her? Because she is not taking any nonsense today.

What does she do? First she slams her purse down on YOUR desk, whips off her mink, and flings it at your face. You work for her, not the other way around. While you struggle with a coat hanger, she swans into her office and loudly declares that she's never known a fresh cup of coffee fail to be on time, unlike you. (This despite the fact that you're half an hour early to work every morning, smile fixed precipitously in place.) You're desperate for a cigarette and twelve mai-tais, but it's only 8:30 in the morning. Is this what Katy Gibbs meant by success? Welcome to the big time, kiddo!

How do I feel? Invincible, imperious-- so of course I'm wearing Cabochard. Now take a letter and be quick about it. What do I pay you for?

Parfum du Jour: Marine Sel (Tokyo Milk)

Why wear it? Because I feel adrift at sea, and I need an anchor. Plus, I have an entire bottle of Marine Sel (plus some extra that JC gave to me) so there's plenty of it to spare. No rationing necessary; I can really go to town on this fragrance.

What does it do? With its curious combination of salt, soot, green grass and cold, fresh maritime air, Marine Sel offers more than the usual bonfire vetiver. Not that I don't love bonfire vetivers. Heck, I love all sorts of vetivers. Inky vetivers. Elegant vetivers. Brutal vetivers. Silvery vetivers. Pale watery vetivers. Tisane vetivers. Dark rooty vetivers. Wild west vetivers. Kinky vetivers. I'll stop now.

How do I feel? Like the salt of the earth.

Parfum du Jour: Le Troisième Homme (Caron)

Why wear it? Wow, that's a tough question. I'd hoped that with time, I might eventually be able to perceive the charms which every fragrance lover on earth seems to see in Le Troisième Homme. Unfortunately, time has only made it seem more insipid (in the sense of 'lacking in vigor or interest'). The guy who wears this is nice. Very, very nice. So nice that you want to needle him just to see him behave with something less than perfect propriety. If you tried that on Pour Un Homme, he'd belt you upside the head, and you'd deserve it.

What does it do? Not all that much for me-- but then, that seems to be par for the course with Caron. Let me tally it up. LOVE: Bellodgia, Infini, Parfum Sacré, Poivre, Yatagan. HATE: Farnesiana, L'Accord Code 119, Narcisse Blanc, Nocturnes. MEH: Aimez Moi, Eau de Réglisse, Nuit de Noël, Tabac Blond, Violette Précieuse, Yuzu Man. The 'mehs' have it-- and that's not good. I want perfume to make me feel something more definite and polarized than just 'meh'.

How do I feel? Like Caron is not so much a hit-or-miss house as a middle-of-the-road house-- and everyone knows houses don't belong in the middle of the road.

Parfums du Jour: Ambre Rayonner (Soivohle) and Ariane (Avon)

Why wear them? The morning began with blue sky, a flood of sunlight, and a chorus of joyful birds. Ambre Rayonner's linden blossoms perfectly suited such a golden, sun-washed April day as this. As the afternoon progressed and blue twilight settled across the landscape, I found myself feeling a pleasurable chill-- at which point Ariane provided me with a delicate, insulating shawl composed of rose and sandalwood.

What do they do? They play nice together. Very often, two fragrances clash at the meeting point-- but in this case, Ambre Rayonner's drydown segues beautifully into the opening notes of Ariane. How often does that happen?

How do I feel? Well-pleased with my lot, and indecently happy to have crossed the border from Patou-land to liberation.

L'Heure Attendue and Divine Folie (Jean Patou)

I'm down to my last two samples of Ma Collection, and I have to admit I'm a little burnt out on Jean Patou. The aldehydic chypre Câline truly exceeded all expectations, and as a Mitsouko variant, Que Sais-Je? isn't too damn shabby-- but otherwise, no winners. Just a series of scents of middling merit. Ah, well.

I've decided to condense my opinions on L'Heure Attendue and Divine Folie into one review because there's so little to say about either of them. Neither inspires a zut alors! from the depths of my being; nor do they provoke the critic in me to whale away at them with all cylinders firing. L'Heure Attendue reminds me somewhat of Samsara, if you traded the jasmine out for lilac and retained the sandalwood drydown. Divine Folie is a romantic rose bordered in awkward clumps of orange blossom, like a lace peignoir set that looks naughty on the hanger but turns inexplicably frumpy when worn by a living, breathing woman. Of the two, I obviously like L'Heure Attendue better, but not enough to give it its own post. Again: ah, well.

So now I'm done, honorably discharged, free to go. I think I'll go back to plain old Parfums du Jour for a while and wear some of my old favorites. I feel as though I've earned it.

Scent Elements: Lily-of-the-valley, geranium, lilac, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, opopanax (L'Heure Attendue); neroli, orange blossom, jasmine, rose, iris, ylang-ylang, vetiver, vanilla, musk (Divine Folie)

Invitation (Jean Patou)

Sadly, I must decline.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, tangerine, cedar, sandalwood, thyme, mint, labdanum, oakmoss, musk

Colony (Jean Patou)

I've been wearing this one for several days, and I still haven't quite gotten the measure of it. It's clear, for instance, that Histoires de Parfums' 1804 George Sand (and, to a lesser extent, Milly-la-Forêt by Dior and Ladyboy by LUSH) derived inspiration from Colony. You couldn't get more pineapple-tastic than those top notes, and the chypre element embedded in the very center is vintage-smelling and delightful. But between them, you have to wade through yards and yards of flavorless, colorless acid candy, which is where I lose my taste for the whole enterprise. Weird me out as much as you want to, but please don't detour me through the Sour Patch.

Scent Elements: Pineapple, ylang-ylang, iris, carnation, oakmoss, vetiver, opopanax, leather, musk

Parfum du Jour: Orris Ochre (Soivohle)

Why wear it? Because my husband wore Grey Flannel today. After one embrace, I wanted his scent to remain with me all day-- but I also wanted to add my own signature. Liz Zorn's Orris Ochre has always struck me as a similar concept to Grey Flannel-- iris, violets and cedar, only backed with velvety suede instead of heathery brushed wool. Timeless, effortless, always a joy to wear.

What does it do? It lightly straddles the line between masculine and feminine, naturalness and artifice, simplicity and drop-dead elegance. I've worn it all around the town-- to work, to doctor's appointments, to art shows, to lunch. It fits in everywhere without even trying. I wish I had that talent.

How do I feel?  Filled with equanimity.

Normandie (Jean Patou)

This is a very serviceable carnation, not quite as enchanted as Bellodgia but still very nice. Its most remarkable feature is a cinnamon-liqueur quality that appears at the outset and keeps you compulsively sniffing your wrists until orange blossom and styrax turn everything into a Shalimaresque shimmery powder. If your senior prom featured a carnation corsage and a mini-bottle of Goldschläger tucked under your garter, you will feel right at home.

Scent Elements: Neroli, orange blossom, carnation, rose, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, vetiver, styrax, moss, vanilla, musk

Parfum du Jour: Fougère Nakh (Soivohle)

Paris, April 1, 1922
A mile of clean sand.
I will write my name here, and the trouble that is in my heart.
I will write the name & place of my birth,
What I was to be,
And what I am.
I will write my forty sins, my thousand follies,
My four unspeakable acts. . . .
I will write the names of the cities I have fled from,
The names of men & women I have wronged.
I will write the holy name of her I serve,
And how I serve her ill.
And I will sit on the beach & let the tide come in.
I will watch with peace the great calm tongue of the tide
Licking from the sand the unclean story of my heart.


--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Adieu Sagesse (Jean Patou)

I didn't really believe Patou's hair-color hype when it came to Amour Amour or Que Sais-Je?... but as an auburn-haired woman descended from a long line of russet-tops, I really must protest about Adieu Sagesse. This is meant for a redhead?

Maybe I'm biased, but I expect a certain piquancy -- a verve -- from my type, and therefore also from anything marketed to my type. And Adieu Sagesse has not got it. It's wan. Faint. Sweet, I'll concede-- but a sort of diffuse windblown sweetness, such as one gets from a blooming garden four or five doors down. It's an atmosphere rather than a perfume. Chamade is a perfume, if cassis and narcissus are what you want.

And for getting what she wants in the end, commend me to a redhead every time.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, cassis, neroli, narcissus, lily, tuberose, rose, lily-of-the-valley, carnation, jasmine, vetiver, musk, civet

Black March Water Perfume (CB I Hate Perfume)

Yesterday I put on some Narcissus before going to the movies and promptly lost the vial in the parking lot. (If its scent had been more memorable, I might not have handled it so absent-mindedly.) Today I put on Black March, which is basically Zombie For Him reanimated-- possibly a little sweeter, greener, rootier, and prettier, but still recognizable. I'm wearing both at this very moment and can't tell where one ends and the other begins. It happens to be the perfect parfum du soir for watching the season finales of both The Walking Dead and The Talking Dead tonight. And since I have no plans to leave the house on this next-to-last blustery day of March, I'm not worried about misplacing it. It can't travel far without feet, can it? CAN IT?!

Scent Elements: "A fresh clean scent composed of Rain Drops, Leaf Buds, Wet Twigs, Tree Sap, Bark, Mossy Earth and the faintest hint of Spring." And zombies.

Que Sais-Je? (Jean Patou)

Here's one for all those perfumistas who find Mitsouko too tough of a taskmistress. If ever you've gotten lost in the labyrinth of Mitsy's serpentine mood swings, you'll find Que Sais-Je? a merciful substitute. Delicious peach note? Check. Glowing neroli? Check. Melancholy iris? Check. Animalic labdanum? Check. Oakmoss out the ying-yang? Check. So hush yourselves, people. There's more than one peach chypre in town. No one ever said you had to kneel trembling before the one that cracks a whip. Try the one who sheathes her pillows in satin.

Scent Elements: Neroli, apricot, peach, carnation, iris, jasmine, rose, honey, hazelnut, vanilla, oakmoss, labdanum, civet

Câline (Jean Patou)

Run the words "Mod girl" through Google Image, and it seems that all you get are pictures of Twiggy. True, she was exemplary of the late Mod look adopted by Swinging Londoners from 1966 onward and "liked" by loads of Pinners and Tumblrweeds today. But I'm talking about the original Mod subculture-- a world not made for delicate Twigs.

From the vintage pictures I've seen, early Mod girls favored a tough, androgynous look free of "soft" feminine touches. Boyish cropped hair, little if any makeup, men's Oxford shirts worn with pegged trousers or straight skirts, plus the obligatory anorak or London Fog raincoat to fend off the elements. No dreamy-eyed dollybirds here: these young women did not accept the usual passive, subordinate female role. They held their own jobs. They bought their own clothes. They danced with each other, or alone, if they chose. And forget riding pillion or bringing up the rear-- mod girls gunned the engines of their very own Vespas and claimed a place at the head of the formation.

In French, câline means 'affectionate'. God help the person who expects a cuddle from Câline by Jean Patou, billed as the first perfume designed explicitly for teenaged girls. Could perfumer Henri Giboulet have been thinking of Mod girls when he created this 1964 style-conscious aldehydic chypre? It seems he had somebody other than the regulation female-of-the-species in mind.

Câline explodes onto the scene with one of the most audacious bergamot openers I've ever encountered. This top note really takes no prisoners! It stands alongside Coty Imprévu for greenness, sharpness, and crystalline clarity-- but whereas Imprévu heads off into leather territory, Câline tears through the flower garden as if chased by angry bees. (Or is she the bee, hungry for nectar and disinclined to stand in line for it?) There's a good deal of herbal freshness and pretty petals camouflaging these mossy depths. In classic chypre style, they're unsettling and just a bit cruel. If you like that sort of thing -- lord knows I do -- you'll gladly (and carefully!) embrace Câline's brand of sublimated aggression.

Welcome to the bitch seat. Ready, steady, go.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, aldehydes, orange blossom, galbanum, rose de Mai, jasmine, iris, cyclamen, ylang-ylang, carnation, basil, coriander, spices, oakmoss, cedar, sandalwood, labdanum, musk

Ellen Tracy Eau de Parfum (Ellen Tracy)

A perfume whose brand is totally unfamiliar to you can teach a lesson in open-mindedness. The trick is avoiding the trap of assumption: just because you haven't heard of it doesn't automatically mean that it's obscure or no good.

I have no idea who Ellen Tracy is or was, if she ever existed in the first place. (Some poking around reveals that in fact she did-- and her real name was Herbert Gallen.) I have no idea if any of the eleven other fragrances released under her name are worth a damn-- but I know this one is, and I'm willing to tell you why. It's a note-perfect homage to the sunny early-to-mid-1970s, when both men and women followed their bliss, dressed identically in plaid wool pantsuits paired with mustard-yellow turtlenecks and Jonathan Livingston Seagull pendants from the Franklin Mint. You know, the good old days! Mood rings! "Venus Trines at Midnight"! Cher! If you never lived through it, you'll never love it as I do-- and though I was but knee-high to Gordon Lightfoot at the time, I remember and revere that '70's aesthetic:  so clunky, so awkward, so sincere.

Regardless of its actual vintage, Ellen Tracy EdP fits right in. If you were hosting a retro key party, you could reach into the Wayback Machine and pull out this perfect white floriental overlaid with peach nectar and loaded down with sexy musk. Goes great with rumaki, fondue, and Mateus wine bottles covered in rainbow-colored candlewax drips.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, peach, raspberry, plum, galbanum, osmanthus, hyacinth, tuberose, orchid, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, rose, freesia, rose, carnation, cinnamon, sandalwood, cedar, oakmoss, amber, tonka bean, musk

Chance Eau de Toilette (Chanel)

It's your chance... TAKE IT! blares the promo copy. A decidedly young scent for those who dare to dream. As for myself -- decidedly not young, and rather intolerant of bullshit -- I dare to dream of fragrances that actually fulfill the challenges they issue to me. If a perfume is going to hand me a bunch of sass, it had better back it up and not go all wobbly in the knees when it's time to stand up straight.

"Extreme freshness", I hear, is the name of Chance's game. True, its opening is the oddest combination of cucumber (Calone, is that you?) and patchouli. I'm not saying that cucumber and patchouli can't mix; it's that I wish they wouldn't. After awhile, they're joined by three notes of normally very distinct personality -- pineapple, pink pepper, and hyacinth -- which here have been watered down just shy of the line labeled "beyond recognition". The die-down (not even a drydown!) is a flat, woody-musky cardboard, unworthy of the house that gave it birth.

No worries. As soon as this accord gave up its last gasp, I replaced it with some Kenzo Parfum d'Été and had (to borrow a phrase from Stella Gibbons) "a nice time instead of a nasty one".


Scent Elements: Pink pepper, lemon, pineapple, hyacinth, jasmine, iris, patchouli, vetiver, amber, white musk

DKNY Women Energizing Eau de Parfum (Donna Karan)

Donna Karan DKNY Women Energizing EdP (what a mouthful!) debuted in 2011 as a flanker to 1999's DKNY Women. Fresh and zippy, it's meant to evoke Manhattan on a summer day. By this, I do not mean the usual exhaust fumes, fermented piss, ripening garbage, and fresh-baked pretzels. DKDKNYEEdP (why not?) instead relies upon an "iced vodka" note to please the overheated among us. Added to this cocktail, one finds other refreshments: tomato leaf (crisp and green, with a savory hint of cilantro), frosty limoncello, a touch of white birch wintergreen and shade-loving violet. If you're in the city at all, you're inside a temple of plate-glass walls and marble floors and central air jacked up as high as it can go-- and oh, do you feel cool and composed.

Scent Elements: Hesperides, iced vodka, violet, tomato leaf, lotus, green coral orchid, narcissus, white birch, tulip tree bark, ozone

Chaldée Eau de Toilette (Jean Patou)

I first encountered Jean Patou as a child, and for a long time Joy was the only Patou I knew. I happened upon a black lacquer "snuff" bottle of the parfum at the Grist Mill; this was soon followed by a crystal flacon of '60's vintage Eau de Joy. Then I scored a splash bottle of Amour Amour Parfum Cologne at yet another local antique store... and with that, I pressed the pause button on Patou.

My scent-swap friend Blacknall Allen hit the ignition again with a passel of samples culled from the 1984 Ma Collection coffret: Adieu Sagesse, Câline, Chaldée, Colony, Divine Folie, L'Heure Attendue, Normandie, Que Sais-Je? and Vacances. Lacking Cocktail and Moment Suprême, she threw in Invitation and Ma Liberté for makeweight. But I just couldn't latch onto any of them. I gave Vacances a try (for two days, even!) but found I could not relate to its air of aggressive cleanliness. I fared better with Ma Liberté, but only just. Aside from Joy, is there any Patou worth writing home about? (Something tells me it's 1000. If Anjelica Huston wears it, it cannot be wrong.)

Today I gave Chaldée a test drive. Designed by Henri Alméras in 1927, Chaldée offered an après-soleil option for fans of Huile de Chaldée, Jean Patou's popular suntan lotion ("bronzes and softens the skin"). Its popularity guaranteed it a place in Ma Collection... though not, sadly, in ma collection. Don't misunderstand me; I think it's quite nice-- shimmery orange blossoms made more serious by a blare of skin-scented jasmine, then softened by a hot-weather haze of opopanax. I can absolutely imagine the scent of this wafting up from the sands of a Mediterranean beach, where glamorous sunbathers soak in it en masse... But that's just not where I belong, and I know it.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, orange blossom, hyacinth, jasmine, lilac, narcissus, amber, opopanax, vanilla

Parfum du Jour: Black (Puredistance)

Why wear it? Because I ran out of By Kilian Back to Black.

What does it do? Apes the above fragrance to an obscene degree, while subtly altering its recognizable black cherry/tobacco accord with a purloined soupçon of Poivre Piquant's pepper. Wow! A shameless ripoff of not one but TWO innovative fragrances! If they'd really wanted to push their plagiarism to the limit, they should've tinted it black with the same chemical used in Lady Gaga Fame.

How do I feel? Disappointed in Puredistance for opting into the overall laziness of the perfume industry, already rife with dupes. Annoyed at their cutesy-poo ploy of withholding the notes to preserve "the beauty of the unknown". And guilty-- because Black is still a very nice, very wearable fragrance which currently radiates from my hypocritical wrists. Damn it.

Sweet Dreams 2003 (A Lab On Fire)

There are artists one despises personally who create work one admires. There are artists one admires personally who create work one despises. Then there's Thierry Wasser. With others, I'm forced to judge who they are separately from what they do. But Wasser makes it easy on me by creating fragrances like Idylle, Cologne du Parfumeur, and Sweet Dreams 2003-- ugly, pugnacious things that wear out their welcome fast, as perhaps he might if ever we met.

Here's the PR blurb for Sweet Dreams:
Il était un fois (Once upon a time) a talented perfumer in New York City drafted one of his most prized creations, then left it behind with a friend when he escaped the city for a new beginning in Paris... His creation was safe guarded (sic), a priceless sliver of his past. Now, we can all visit that moment; we can all bask in his achievement.
CAN we now! Lucky us. Unfortunately, his achievement smells like cheap aftershave, laundry detergent, and raw, coppery blood blended together in an ungodly stew.  Sweet Dreams 2003 is neither as boring as Idylle nor as repulsive as Cologne du Parfumeur, but it far from pleases me. Its orange blossom is unpleasantly metallic, smelling for all the world as if it spent time in a tin can with an old-school soldered-lead seam. Its musk is disgustingly fetid, landing somewhere between parmigiano and smegma (and giving rise to keen embarrassment despite having been applied to meticulously clean skin). Its amber is of the deathless chemical variety so often found gracing he-man pulse points. Compared to Sanborns' celestial orange blossom or the paradise of Soivohle Transcendental Musc, this concoction seems the exact opposite of a "prized creation". You almost hope Thierry Wasser is joking.

Sweet Dreams purports to be an “ode to a better life”, encapsulating “the essence of stolen moments on a perfect beach, basking in the sunlight, listening to the Mediterranean lull”. And then you put the thing on and realize what a chump you are-- stranded without your luggage or passport in the perfume equivalent of a hostile tourist trap.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, neroli, petitgrain, orange flower, jasmine, musk, amber, castoreum

Electron and Iced White (A Dozen Roses)

Ever so long ago at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2012, I picked up two free spray samples by A Dozen Roses, a house I've discussed in previous posts. That ADR founders Lynn Emmolo and Sandy Cataldo are both former marketing executives* is evident in their strong emphasis of concept over content. First they trademarked the name for their line; then they developed its visual presentation (which is admittedly gorgeous). But the juice appears to have been an afterthought of sorts, wholly left up to Givaudan house noses to work out on their lonesome. Via quotable press release, we learn that "(p)erfumers were given free reign to create the fragrances in the collection based on original artwork and the emotion of roses that inspired them." The result, if not chaos, is only delicately skimming the edge of cohesion.

What connects the Dozen Roses? A "signature Rose Absolute", supposedly pure, natural, and responsibly-sourced, as well as "modern, precious and absolutely luxurious". Which is really funny, since with the exception of Shakespeare in Love, not a single one of the ADR fragrances I tested that day at Bergdorf Goodman even suggested roses. Given that roses are this line's raison d'etre, it makes you wonder, doesn't it? Honestly-- if the name that Lynn Emmolo and Sandy Cataldo went to such trouble to trademark is a conceit, then it is no small one. They can't say they never promised us a rose garden.

Electron is a crisp green tea laid over white musk. Iced White is a sheer osmanthus laid over white musk. If I find a rose in either of these two spray samples, you'll be the first to know.

*Emmolo worked for Avon, while Cataldo worked for YSL and Estee Lauder.

Scent Elements: Rose, green tea, violet, cattleya orchid, "neon" musk (Electron); rose, peony, primrose, osmanthus, vanilla, white musk (Iced White)

Anne Klein Parfum (Anne Klein)

I came across it in one of the many locked vitrines at the Grist Mill. Shaped like a flat oval and surmounted by a T-shaped plastic stopper, this tiny glass bottle looked timeless; it might have been produced forty years ago-- or yesterday. Delicate black print declared its name-- a name which instantly filled me with reassurance. "I'll take it," I said.

Hesitation is for runners-up... and that day, I felt like a winner. But I might not have been so confident if I'd seen this 1984 advertisement for Anne Klein Perfume. Good lord! It resembles nothing other than Part Deux of this 1979 Aviance ad-- only Ms. Business has added a Stock Jockey paramour to her portfolio!

Set the scene: a night ripe for upwardly mobile romance. There's a chrome-framed limited-edition Nagel on the wall... catalogs (Hammacher Schlemmer, The Sharper Image, J. Crew, Pottery Barn) strewn over a plate-glass coffee table... the glossy sound of synth-pop piped through huge, high-end stereo speakers. As our couple makes love via a sequence of highly photogenic poses, extra-strength salon-grade mousse keeps their hair cemented in place. Everything -- the mood, the scene, the people, the shoulder pads, the sex -- is Perfect.

Gag me with a spoon.

Anne Klein Parfum (AKA "Anne Klein I") is not, thank god, as spiritless and two-dimensional as the decade that spawned it. Nor is it as overbearing and strident as the big Eighties fragrances that surrounded it. I like it as I like few other 'fumes of its vintage-- largely because it owes a great deal of its charm to the dry, sophisticated perfumes of the previous decade. In its galbanum and gardenia, it's possible to divine the twin influences of Estee Lauder Private Collection and Halston by Halston... and there are definite hints of both Calandre and Raffinée in that wonderful, skin-musk-and-sandalwood base.

Yes, Anne Klein Parfum is Eighties-era Seventies nostalgia. I for one don't blame it for gazing backward to the past...seeing as how its present was nothing much to cherish.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, galbanum, bergamot, hyacinth, neroli, cassis, jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, ylang-ylang, orchid, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, civet, benzoin, amber, vanilla

Parfums du Jour: Via Lanvin (Lanvin) and Florida Water (Murray & Lanman)

Why wear them together? Well, funny you should ask. Long ago I picked up a very pretty, reusable, and empty Lanvin purse sprayer. I filled it with Florida Water and used it now and again. When I lucked into a quantity of Via Lanvin, I topped it off. The mixture of the two fragrances -- flowery/spicy and woody/lactonic -- has proven to be pretty fetching.

What do they do? Something about Florida Water's clove- and mace-imbued orange blossoms draws forth the cedarwood buried in Via's base so that it ends up resembling a zesty EdC version of L'Air du Désert Marocain. Sadly, it fades rather faster than Tauer's masterwork, but it's lovely while it lasts-- and I have enough of it to justify multiple reapplications throughout the day.

How do I feel? Better. My husband is home sick with a cold, and we're holed up with kitty Hiro in our cozy communal burrow. It snowed this morning -- no more than an inch -- and then the sun appeared. You see how little there is to report when peace and quiet reigns! This blissful lack of newsworthiness is what I'm striving toward in my life.

A wolf in women's wear.

He is in his late fifties, pasty-skinned, dead-eyed. He dresses invariably in black slacks and a white shirt sweat-stained yellow under the arms. He once was (and who knows? still may be) a lay deacon at my mother's old church. As a child, I'd see him assisting the priest with Holy Communion and assume he was a "man of God"-- inherently virtuous and trustworthy.

He has stalked me on and off for over twenty years.

You name it; he's done it. Roses. Proposals. Insults. Ass pats. Full-contact body checks. He's followed me from town to town, job to job, train car to train car, aisle to aisle. He's tailed me in his automobile as I walked stone-faced down the sidewalk; he's trailed me on foot to storerooms and bathrooms and back offices. He's jiggled the handles of locked doors while I cowered inside. He obtained my parents' phone number from parish records and called them over and over, asking for me. In front of witnesses, he's called me a bitch, a whore. I've gone to the police. I've called security. I've met with management. They all say the same thing: But he's a really nice guy, once you get to know him.

This past week was a very stressful one, filled with travel, worry, medical appointments, and recurring pre-seizure activity. By Friday, after scarce sleep all week long, I needed more courage than mere coffee could provide. I reached at first for LUSH Breath of God, but even this brave bombshell wasn't quite heartening enough. So I said What the hell... and sprayed on a quart of vintage Cabochard.

Who do you think showed up at my workplace come four o'clock?

A year or two ago, I might have quailed in horror at the sight of my stalker. I might have started trembling, become tongue-tied, run and hid. But a number of factors about this situation have changed. He's an old man now-- tired, corpulent, grey in the face. It's clear his intimidation game is pretty well played out; like a punched ticket, the threat he once posed to me is no longer viable. I've gotten older too, but in a different sense. I'm tougher. Angrier. Less apt to spook; more apt to speak out.

I have a brain tumor, a lifetime supply of Cabochard-- and Honey Badger, I just do not give a fuck.

I love this prose poem review of Cabochard by Le Coeur Gothique, which inspired me to look back over the many ways this fragrance has enabled me to access my own inner lone wolf.

Cleopatra (Tocca)

"Inspired by the Mediterranean seductress..." begins Tocca's description of Cleopatra, the 2007 version of what has now become their annual work-safe fruity floral. I might have expected a hypothetical mixture of bitter grapefruit peel, cassis, and greens to jack my eyebrows up at least half a centimeter. But this being Tocca, I know not to expect miracles.

Tocca is one of those outfits whose fragrances are so uniformly boring that they make real aficionados grit their teeth-- yet their "niceness" ruthlessly prevents a truly satisfying critical takedown. With each new variation on the house juice, you long to enumerate the ways in which Tocca disappoints-- the tissue-thin creative concepts enfolding beautiful bottles filled with sub-par pastel-tinted liquid; the paucity of imagination balanced by a headache-inducing white musk drydown that takes a dog's age to die and makes you forget every single note that came before it, etc. But just try to excoriate Tocca in print without feeling like a Grinch! How could you manage it anyway? Nothing about their products stands out enough to provide traction for your claws. Bland, smooth, and inoffensive, Tocca is truly the Teflon Perfume House.

I first smelled Cleopatra almost three years ago to this very day, and nothing about my original assessment has changed. Cleopatra is still flimsy and forgettable; it does not smell much like anything it claims to contain, except for the usual vague vanillic and THAT MUSK (but I knew that already, so I can't really complain). I don't dislike it; I mean that honestly. I could wear this to work, and no one would say boo. But what's the fun in that? I repeat: what's the fun in being flimsy and forgettable?

And why name it Cleopatra? Honestly-- Cleopatra herself would object. Or perhaps she wouldn't. Like me, she'd say to herself, "Oh, what's the harm in it?" and wear it anyway. Better than an asp bite, I'll give it that.

Scent Elements: Grapefruit, galbanum, cassis, jasmine, peach, tuberose, patchouli, amber, vanilla, white musk

Goodbye, Angel, it's been nice...

Today I dabbed my very last hoarded droplets of Angel onto my wrists. Hoarded? I can almost hear you say. But I thought you HATED that stuff.

True, an overzealous spray in Sephora nearly biased against me this bizarre gourmand for life. But that was five years ago. I've changed my mind on many things in that time. Cassis -- once my sworn enemy -- is now not even my frenemy, but my friend. I've smelled so many lousy Angel wannabes at Target or Kohls that the original on which they're based -- tart fruit layered over a patchouli-caramel-chocolate accord once deemed by me The Worst -- is actually really Some Kind of Wonderful. Maybe it's grown on me. Or maybe I've learned just how much Angel is enough (the tiniest, TINIEST dab; the barest swipe of the sample vial wand).

The point is this: I'm sad enough to see Angel go to want it to return-- even if I have to buy it outright.

I've come a long way, baby.

Parfum du Jour: Fleurs de Bulgarie (Creed)

Why wear it? Frigid winter is, for me, high time for the peppery-sweet appeal of roses. Fleurs de Bulgarie is an ideal rose, if you want to visit that neighborhood without straying into its more fusty, kitschy, clichéed culs-de-sac.

What does it do? It captures a very particular woman at the height of her glory-- an exaltation which owes less to power and position than to the simple fact that she loves and is loved in return. Bulgarian rose otto, bergamot, ambergris, and musk: a very humble recipe, but one that radiates all the self-confidence of a regal birthright. Isn't it funny-- all the hollering and baying which surround Creed's masculines, when this femme gem outshines them all?

How do I feel? I've been wearing Fleurs de Bulgarie for two days straight now. Against some fairly heavy odds, it has thus far enabled me to remain upright. Based on its success (which is balanced very precisely against the persistent nature of my malady) I may follow it up with similar hardy blooms: India Gulab, Quan Yin, Cordovan Rose, Moment de Bonheur, White Linen, Chanel No. 18, Parfum Sacré, L'Ombre dans L'Eau, Tumulte, La Rose Jacqueminot...

Parfum du Jour: Daring (Isabella Rossellini for Coty)

Why wear it? It's as familiar and welcome as an old friend-- and judging from the amount of perfume left in the sprayer, it's a friend I've visited more often than I realized.

What does it do? As I described once before, Daring really does smell like a perfume-imbued letter left to mellow for half a century. The stationery carries the curiously old-fashioned scent of daphne, a garden favorite whose flowers infuse the air with promises of honey for the bee.  At the time of this reunion, I'm struck by notes of cedar dust and black pepper which I never noticed before. What luck to have letter that keeps unfolding to reveal hidden paragraphs!

How do I feel? Well, today I'm kind of low. I woke up with the usual ever-present morning headache, and I can't seem to rouse myself to any level of energy higher than weary impatience. The world is a minefield of contradictions, secrets, and tensions; my own cranium isn't much more peaceful. I am so tired. And so I spray on a little more Daring and hum to myself snatches of that old Fats Waller tune:
I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter... and make believe it came from you.
I'm gonna write words oh, so sweet, they're gonna knock me off my feet;
Kisses on the bottom-- I'll be glad I got 'em!
And then I'll smile and say, "Hope you're feeling better"... and sign "With Love" the way you do.
I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter... and make believe it came from you.

A tale of two samples.

Five years have passed in a blink of an eye since I first sampled Histoires de Parfums' 1969 Revolte. I remember feeling instant adoration for this delicious candied peach slice of a perfume-- a reaction reinforced by many wearings. At that time, 1969 Revolte demonstrated every quality I thought a gourmand fragrance should possess; I predicted it might even supplant Mitsouko as my Peach Fragrance Supreme. It was only natural that I'd walk into Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2012 scheming to hit up Bergdorf's HdP kiosk for a full bottle.

Instead, I became transfixed en route by A Dozen Roses, a niche line driven more by visuals than by olfactory aesthetics. (In other words, they offer drop-dead gorgeous bottles filled with merely so-so jus.) Lured by the siren songs of art and luxury, flush with the thrill of the moment, Glynis, JC and I found ourselves eagerly divvying up the contents of a Dozen Roses coffret. (Wasn't the whole point to treat ourselves?)

Thus it was that I staked my claim on Gold Rush, a chocolate-and-blackberry confection rescued from stodginess by an airy, carefree hint of neroli. And that coveted full bottle of 1969 Revolte? Jilted. Spurned. Forgotten in the heat of runaway passion.

What came over me, you ask? The right instinct, it would appear. Today, I am more enamored of Gold Rush than I ever believed possible for a pure impulse buy. Its ganache-dipped wine-dark blackberry note gets me right where I live, while 1969 Revolte's plaintive peach -- once loved with all my soul -- now leaves me unmoved. I have no idea how this happened. Nothing has changed about either perfume, and yet... it must I who have changed. Over the course of five years, I've moved inexorably away from light, ambery nothings to embrace the dark and deep. (Which begs the continued question: why the hell didn't I visit HdP that day for a full bottle of 1740 Marquis de Sade? Ah, mystery eternal...)

So who's the real winner in all this? Mitsouko, of course. With the patience and self-possession of the centenarian it soon shall be, it waited on the sidelines until my infatuation with 1969 Revolte ran its course-- then calmly re-crowned itself Queen. This time, I swear my fealty is eternal. Vivat Regina! Persica quondam, persica futurus!

Parfum du Jour: 1876 Mata Hari (Histoires de Parfums)

Why wear it? Because it's my day off. 1876 Mata Hari is a delicate, yielding fragrance not made for a harsh and judgmental world. Simply out of regard for its welfare, I would hesitate to wear it to work-- but since I'm not there, I trust I may drop my defenses and permit myself one unguarded pleasure.

What does it do? It offers a rose without thorns, innocence without betrayal, sweetness without tooth decay, beauty without backlash.  At the very moment that my cynicism is cresting, Mata Hari 1876 reminds me that not everything in the world is out to get me.

How do I feel? As though a haze of blessed unreality has interposed itself between me and Monday.

Parfum du Jour: 1740 Marquis de Sade (Histoires de Parfums)

Why wear it? Because consolation follows punishment... and today I've been punished enough.

What does it do? 1740 Marquis de Sade behaves like a lined leather jacket-- tough and impermeable on the outside; soft and supple as old velvet on the inside. Its leathery immortelle accord comes off as resolutely bitter at a distance; only those up close can taste its latent fruit-compote sweetness.

How do I feel? Chastened and deeply in need of renewable sympathy. Thank god it comes in a spray bottle.

Parfum du Jour: 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel)

Why wear it? Because it's first on the list! No. Because 31 Rue Cambon is one of the lovelier fragrances that has ever emerged from the witch's cauldron chez Chanel.

What does it do? Via an unctuous combination of iris butter, ambrette, labdanum, and patchouli, 31 Rue Cambon creates an illusion of bitter dark xocolatl liberally imbued with fiery pepper. It's sweeter than Borneo 1834, drier than Bittersweet, darker than Coromandel, more tractable than Iris Taizo... and with the wind chill dipping below 0°F, it's ideal for anyone who's warm-blooded and wishes to stay that way.

How do I feel? Overstimulated. Dry, frigid winter days crackling with static electricity always trigger unreasonable phobias in me. The thought of anything scratchy, woolly, pebbly, rubbery, wispy, or wet brushing across my arms, legs, or shoulder blades causes me exquisite imaginary torment; the idea of taking a shower repulses me, and a stray fashion photograph of an accordion-pleated nylon dress actually makes me whimper out loud. When such nettlesome reactions rage within, a fragrance like 31 Rue Cambon soothes my jangled nerves. I imagine it flowing over me like liquid vitamin E, protecting me against the world's invisible prickles.

Parfum du Jour: J'Adore (Dior)

Why wear it? It's snowing, and a bitter, biting, unkind wind is blowing. I suppose I wanted to feel warm, and I had a vague (and possibly faulty) vision of J'Adore glowing down the long hallway of my memory like an antique lumière.

What does it do? In its cheerful synthetic way, J'Adore projects the sweetness of a deluxe restaurant desert-- albeit one served in a Philip K. Dick dystopian future, where even food is cultivated in a biochemical lab. Something in your brain says, This can't be real; this can't be RIGHT. But your stomach and tastebuds chorus, Nomnomnom!

How do I feel? Confused. Nauseated. Did I really like this so much back in the day? Now I smell nothing of what seemed so clear before: a rich, smooth, ambered-up tropical floral that wore like heavy satin and made the mundane seem gilded and special. All the time I've devoted exclusively to vintage and niche perfumes must have spoiled me for mainstream blockbusters like this.

Red Lilac Perfume and Toilet Water Spray Mist (Lenthéric)

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't think to style myself a completist when it comes to perfume. I don't harbor obsessions about owning every single fragrance by any single house; odds are they won't all be to my taste, so why bother? But recently I edged just a bit closer to peril with the acquisition of two vintage Lenthérics, bringing my total collection to six. SIX!

You see, every time I stopped by the Point Pavilion Antique Center over the course of the last six years, I kept spotting these two boxed flacons of 1958's Red Lilac. Cheap as they were, they simply wouldn't budge for love or money. As evidence of their lack of desirability, they'd been banished from a locked vitrine to a lonely shoebox on the floor. (Maybe the owners hoped someone would steal them.) Soon they'd be foisted as a "free gift with purchase" on an unsuspecting consumer-- a humiliating fate.

Look, I know I didn't want or need them. I felt sorry for them-- that's the truth. I simply couldn't watch them languish in the antique store equivalent of a Siberian gulag. So I shelled out eight bucks to bring them both home.

What was my reward for rescuing them? Well, the toilet water "mist" is pretty ghastly, with a nasty gasoline-fume quality attributable to old propellant. I know for sure I'll never wear it. The EdP is sweet, flowery, and classic in its columnar Art Deco splash bottle-- not at all unpleasant, yet not quite what I'd ever choose for my own use.

Most likely I'll only ever hold on to these two as reference samples. Yet I have no regrets. These Lenthérics are safe with me.

Scent Elements: Lilac, plus maybe some opopanax.