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.