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.

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

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

"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.