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)