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.

Green Oakmoss (Soivohle)

I've been thinking that there's a bigger difference between formula and formulaic than the addition of a two-letter suffix. A chypre, for instance, is a fragrance predicated on a fixed set of ingredients, namely oakmoss, labdanum, and bergamot. This is its formula, which cannot be omitted or substantially altered without disqualifying the resultant fragrance from membership in the genre. But so long as you've got oakmoss, labdanum, and bergamot, you can add just about anything else and achieve incredibly diverse results without corrupting the chypre's essential nature. There are patchouli chypres, vetiver chypres, tobacco chypres, leather chypres, floral chypres, hesperidic chypres, aldehydic chypres, animalic chypres, sweet chypres, dry chypres... and on and on and on. These fragrances rely on a formula, but they are not formulaic. You see what I mean?

The opposite of this vast spectrum of fragrant effects stemming from a common basis would be a portfolio of fragrances that all smell alike despite each boasting its own unique and singular notes list. There's no other way to explain what makes me reject the work of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and embrace that of Liz Zorn-- not that they are rivals, or even competitors. I just prefer one to the other, that's all.

So while a sample of DSH's much-lauded Pandora left me utterly indifferent, Zorn's Green Oakmoss moved me to my core. Why? Both fragrances are recognizably classic chypres of mighty earth-shaking proportions. But while Pandora smelled (as usual) like every other damn DSH fragrance in existence, Green Oakmoss resembled no other Soivohle and no other chypre-- and with so many chypres in my Scent Cabinet to stoke a thorough point-by-point comparison, this really says something.

What makes Green Oakmoss so memorable? That novel clove note, the minty-cold quality of the geranium leaf essence, the incredible clarity of the whole as it slowly unfolds? Or is it the marvel inherent in something that cleaves to its formula, yet transcends it? I don't know. But I could wear a chypre a day until Armageddon, and Green Oakmoss would still remain completely itself, separate and indissoluble, an idol of beauty and a bulwark against uniformity all in one.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, clove, tuberose, geranium leaf, carnation, oakmoss accord, leather, animalic musk, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum, woods

Portrait of Marguerite Moreno, Joseph Granié, 1899 (Musée d'Orsay)

Rivertown Road Pour Homme (Soivohle)

Sometimes a perfume calls to mind a snatch of melody, a ripple of color, a thread of memory. Sometimes it evokes even more fully-realized parallel creations: a beloved symphony, a well-known painting, a verse committed to heart. And sometimes you're just sitting there with an empty head the first time you hit the sprayer. Lacking prior associations, the perfume that comes out latches on to whatever happens to be at hand-- and like it or not, that's what sticks.

I was half-watching Chocolat on cable the first time I wore Liz Zorn's Rivertown Road. Roux, a roving Gypsy boat pilot, drifts downriver into the stuffy Gascogne hamlet of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where few welcome him aside from the town's more obvious outcasts. Prickly and defiant, Roux demonstrates the sort of feral swagger and smouldering charm that does little to fend off female admirers. (Those mean manouche guitar licks don't help very much, either.)

Then you have the way the man dresses, for godsake. Despite the fact that director Lasse Hallström situates Chocolat in the mid-1950s, Roux (as portrayed by Johnny Depp) is all Joshua Tree-era Bono-- sleek ponytail, leather vest, and all. (Even a Northside Dublin accent, bless yiz!) His perfect cheekbones appear subtly streaked with engine grease and campfire smoke; dried black silt perpetually cakes his fingernails. I question whether he bathes in anything other than cold river water; I doubt he smells as lovely as he looks. But since this is a movie, and my imagination can run with it in any direction it wants, I like to think that Roux (and Johnny Depp, too; sure, why not?) smells like Rivertown Road.

"Inspired by rivers grand and small... a complex yet modern Bay Rum Fougère", Rivertown Road (isn't a river a road, in its way?) is a lighter, sweeter version of Riverwalk, with whom it shares not only a birth year (2011) but a base. The two fragrances clearly came into existence together, as intimately related as a stream to its banks. But while Riverwalk is opulent, weighty, and serious -- and believe me, I love it for these qualities, no matter the season -- Rivertown Road is more laid-back, loose, even insouciant in the way it lets its layered notes float free. Here is a scent whose natural habitat is miles from gravitas. (Ashore is where all the thorns and tangles are found-- isn't it better to relax and dream on deck, lulled by the rhythmic lapping of water on wood?)

I've gotten myself in trouble before wearing Riverwalk during the summer. Now that I have a hot-weather alternative, I'll be rolling on the river all year round.

Scent Elements: French and Seville lavender absolutes, bay rum, key lime, bergamot, jasmine sambac, rose, Saigon cinnamon, mimosa absolute, tobacco absolute, carnation, foin coupé (fresh-cut hay) accord, tonka bean tincture, balsam Tolu, animalic musk, cedar, sandalwood, frankincense, Haitian vetiver, ambergris, Liquidambar, nutmeg absolute, oakmoss accord, aged patchouli

Parfum du Jour: Néroli (Yves Rocher)

Why wear it? Well, a blizzard professing to be "historic" is upon the doorstep. The National Weather Service is shivering in its fur-lined boots, and the Library closed all of its branches today after only four frantic hours of pre-apocalypse business. Obviously what's wanted now is sunlight and sugar and a tropical wind that wipes the conscious mind clean of worry.

What does it do? Néroli divests one of the thousand layers of fleeces, woolens, denims, and flannels whose weight (especially when wet) is the defining misery of winter. In their place, the scent of orange blossoms offers the wearer a celestial suit of solar gold raiments that wear lighter than air.

How do I feel? Ready. Just ready.

Paris Eau de Toilette (Yves Saint Laurent)

There are fragrances far more profound than Paris. Its primary notes -- rose, violet, iris, hawthorn -- have occupied perfumes containing more melancholy, more poetry, more drama per droplet. On its surface, Paris appears wistful and wan-- but is it only play-acting? True, its eyes brim with the tears that are requisite to all sentimental florals. But the corners of its mouth turn up instead of down, so what are we to make of this enigma?

Paris infuriates and infatuates me by its refusal to embrace the part of mourner. All of its lamentations come out sounding like lyrics to some upbeat foot-tapper that packs the dance floor. Even its bottle -- that gorgeous faceted plaything which is impossible to stop touching and turning in one's fingers -- refuses to look sufficiently dour. It keeps catching the light, sending up sparks of rainbow hope.

Paris is no Après L'Ondée. But maybe I like it better that way. Whatever's in the forecast for the future, this petal-drenching rain shower will not last for long.

Scent Elements: Mimosa, geranium, bergamot, mayflower, hawthorn, juniper, rose, violet, sandalwood, iris, amber and musk

Frankincense & Myrrh (Kuumba Made)

Threading its way through the news, the tail end of a new trend waits to be taken in hand-- or on wrist. Long dismissed as hippie fare, perfume oils are now being touted as the next Must-Have, with Le Labo, Tom Ford, Malin & Goetz, Byredo, and Elizabeth & James all vying to win big at the fragrance counter. But why go there? Chances are, your local health food store offers a tidy selection of perfume oils at a fraction of niche cost.

Right now, I'm wearing KM Frankincense & Myrrh, a trustworthy incense oil with a zingy touch of cedar in the mix. Though I paid only ten dollars for this 1/8 ounce rollerball, I feel as satisfied wearing it as I might if I paid three and a half times that amount for Nirvana Black huile parfumée. Plus, since when does Sephora offer kombucha and baked-tofu pita pockets to go?

Scent Elements: Frankincense, myrrh, woods

Parfum du Jour: Excess (Tokyo Milk)

Why wear it? Within five minutes of spraying an excess of Excess upon my person this morning, I asked myself the very same question. That beautiful blood orange accord which normally stirs up Christmas-morning joyfulness smelled rank and nauseating to my nose; instead of the usual choirs of angels, the masterful blend of wood and incense notes only summoned up visions of unclean guinea pig cages. It being too late to scrub, I left for work feeling as though I had been damned for all eternity. Thank god Excess sorted itself out by the time I arrived; now I'm sitting pretty in a halo of woodsy goodness, back in heaven where I belong.

What does it do? Plays tricks, but we knew that already. Then it does penance, to its benefit-- and to ours.

How do I feel? Like maybe the world isn't half as bad as they say.

Parfum du Jour: Pour Un Homme (Caron)

Why wear it? Because you're a man. Spelled M... A, child!...N! A full-grown man! A natural-born lover man! You're a rollin' stone. A hoochie-coochie man. Yes, you're a man... even though you're a woman.

What does it do? It works on everybody. Everybody. Male, female, young, old, gay, straight, innocent or jaded. Some spoil-sports advance the opinion that Pour Un Homme rightly belongs only to men. But the rest of us just keep doing what we do, wearing whatever strikes our fancy and saying "What?! Speak up! We can't hear you!"

How do I feel? More rough-and-ready than fine-and-dandy, but that's as it should be. I have too many years and too many scars to qualify for that perpetual jeunesse dorée Monsieur de Mouchoir... but give me five years, and I'll be une femme d'un certain âge and finally ready for full-time Jicky.

Tobacco & Tulle Demi-Absolute (Soivohle)

Aromatherapists seem most comfortable working with aerial essences-- oils derived from leaf, stem, flower, bark, bud, berry, rind, and seed, all the visible portions of the plant which grow in the full light of the sun. Perfumers, on the other hand, traffic in dark, hidden, decadent, unwholesome properties. Earthy, dirty, secretive roots; oils of murky provenance; resins which trickle from the wounded plant like blood; heartwood whose harvest demands the death of the tree. And don't even get me started on animalics! Many a nice vegan aromatherapist has foresworn all dealings with such foul substances as musk, civet, castoreum, ambergris, or hyraceum... But by god, these things make a difference. They lend depth, definition, mystery, and sex to what would otherwise just be an offshoot of herbal medicine.

Liz Zorn is a natural perfumer who does not shy away from the dark side. All those who believe that Serge Lutens' Muscs Koublaï Khän is the sine qua non of animalic experiences have clearly never crossed paths with Tobacco & Tulle, her seamless ode to unseemly smells. True, MKK is a zoo in a bottle. But T&T trumps its fabled raunch with a single word: hyraceum.

Like most other animalics, hyraceum is a product of a bodily function one doesn't discuss at the dinner table. Being a creature of deeply ingrained habits, the African rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) deposits its waste in the same spot visited by thousands of its own kind over the centuries. The accumulated mixture of urine, feces, and pheromones eventually petrifies in the equatorial air, acquiring (as does ambergris floating on the open sea) a peculiar olfactory resonance. By itself, hyraceum smells (to put it mildly) ripe-- half verdure, half manure, wholly unsettling. But its ability to complement, boost, and integrate all other scents -- animal, vegetal, floral, oceanic, indolic, skatolic -- is magical. It burnishes smooth all that it touches.

In Tobacco & Tulle, one finds a strange and potentially contradictory mixture of masculine (leather, tobacco, cumin) and feminine (tuberose, cassis, jasmine) mulling about over a modern chypre base. Playing hide-and-go-seek in the shadows are those fey ambassadors of marine biology, ambergris and choya nakh (roasted clamshell absolute, blood-rich and iodinic). It would all be a hot mess but for hyraceum. Dazzling and disturbing, this liaison dangereuse works the room, gets everyone talking, steers those who should meet together and keeps those who would clash apart-- all with an air of benevolence that radiates to every corner. (Have you ever seen a hyrax? That little critter wears a permanent smile-- and now it's clear why. It's the host with the mostest.)

Let an unlikely test subject declare the ultimate verdict. As I wrote today to Liz Zorn:
This morning I adorned myself with two spritzes of Tobacco & Tulle, after which something quite extraordinary occurred. Our new cat Hiro -- a two-year old male Tuxedo, recently rescued from the mean streets and still in the "getting-to-know-you" stage -- opened first one eye, then the other, then sat straight up with a look of intense interest. I allowed him to sniff my wrist, and he started purring lustily. I went to sit at the computer; he followed me, jumped straight up onto my lap, turned belly-up in my arms like a blissful infant, and gazed lovingly into my eyes. What a powerful and unforgettable bonding moment! A loving friend may be the key to sweet Hiro's heart... but I truly believe that a touch of T&T's hyraceum unlocked the door.
Many thanks, indeed. I am one smitten kitten.

Scent Elements: Orange, orange fraction, bergamot, jasmine absolute, tobacco absolute, tuberose absolute, rose absolute, spices, nutmeg, cassis, cumin, ambrette, guaiacwood, oakmoss, choya nakh, rectified birch tar, valerian, almond, orris butter, vanilla, hyraceum, musk, ambergris

Parfum du Jour: Vetiver Dance (Tauer)

Why wear it? Well, in my case, because it was the random sample I fished out of the drawer. I'd gone without scent this morning because I had a doctor's appointment, after which I had a mini-seizure that left me reeling with nausea and dizziness. Once my head and stomach quit spinning, I decided a dab of something might do something for my mood. Of all the perfumes it might have been, it was Vetiver Dance-- and I was glad.

What does it do? Today it performs very differently than it did the last several times I wore it, or even when I first reviewed it four-odd years ago. Back then, I compared Vetiver Dance to a Tri-Omino in that it "treats its main ingredients much like these game pieces, tripling them after a pattern that bolsters each element's natural tendency best". Well, la di da! Today it was all vetiver, ambergris, and tonka-- a straight line from smoky to sexy to soapy, bam bam bam like plain old dominoes. Forget all the other ingredients; forget my highfalutin theory; this thing is really very simple. No dice required.

How do I feel? Like no matter how jaded I think I've gotten about fragrance, it still has so much to teach me.

Parfum du Jour: Botrytis (Ginestet)

Why wear it? To evoke the radiant warmth of September in the glacial darkness of January.

What does it do? It does what a perfume named after the spirit of Sauternes should do: it intoxicates, warms, fortifies, and infuses the wearer with a courage as vast as the sun.

How do I feel? Like I wasn't too far off the mark with this perfume in the first place. Sometimes you wear a fragrance again after too long a lapse in usage, and it doesn't strike you as nearly unique as it previously did. But Botrytis passes easily through the strait gate. It remains itself, sumptuous and smooth, reminiscent of many things broadly but nothing else exactly. How could one wear this, except on rare and special occasions? Certain pleasures can never be pedestrian. They must remain golden through and through.

Parfum du Jour: 1725: Casanova (Histoires de Parfums)

Why wear it? After a night of very little sleep which left me in a mood of very little patience, I prefer to keep my ill humor undercover. A spritz of this pale, clandestine fragrance (halfway between a grapefruit cologne and a licorice fougère) ought to keep everyone around me off my true scent.

What does it do? As I described in my original review, 1725: Casanova gets its dirty work done by pretending to be the paragon of virtue. Notes this fresh and a profile this clean can only mean one thing:  this scent must be up to no good.  Tell the truth-- when did you ever see genuine innocence wear so blatant a mask?

How do I feel? I wish I could say I felt serene, composed, at ease. Instead I feel like a choirboy of hell.

Ariane Vintage Perfume (Avon)

This holiday, my friend Toni offered me a most unique gift out of her sizable stash of vintage Avon collectibles. As we speak, I'm wearing a silvertone metal cylinder (highly polished, starkly modernist) designed to conceal a standard 1ml. perfume vial. Slender silver chains allow this ornament to hang level with my heart. Etched onto its back are the words ARIANE '77-- the Avon fragrance with which this conversation piece is filled.

A potpourri of dried petals, spices, and woods revitalized with a juicy drizzle of golden fruit, Ariane (1977) aligns very neatly with the aesthetic put forth by Cacharel's Anaïs Anaïs, which debuted the same year. Normally Avon fragrances fall somewhat short of the originals they emulate, but in this case, I find that the substitute profits from its differences. (That dry, smoky vetiver, for instance-- and the tiniest touch of Mitsouko's peach aldehyde! Delightful!) At once ultramodern and archaic, the combo of fragrance and pendant projects a nifty New Age vibe which I'm enjoying to the hilt.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, peach, rosewood, pimiento, coriander, cinnamon, carnation, ylang-ylang, iris, jasmine, orchid, lily-of-the-valley, rose, vetiver, sandalwood, benzoin, musk

Parfum du Jour: Arabie (Serge Lutens)

Why wear it? Because I was only kidding yesterday when I declared that I could reserve some modicum of steely-eyed stoicism for today. I barely slept at all for anxiety and dread, and as the rectangle of the bedroom window began to lighten to dove grey, I knew that it would be hopeless to pretend to a strength which I did not feel. Hence, Arabie.

What does it do? It enfolds me in a floating fantasy of scent that manages to draw all of the other senses into its spell: taste (mead infused with cumin and caraway; honey-soaked baklava), touch (a silk djellabah whispering against bare skin); sight (river reeds undulating in the breeze); sound (the rhythmic tok-tok of a doumbek beckoning from the other bank), movement (the delicacy of gesturing hands, the staccato shimmy of hips and shoulders, the fluidity of  pose as if one is wading through a shimmering current).

How do I feel? Sheltered in the palm of a divine hand.

Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses, John William Waterhouse, 1891 (Gallery Oldham)