Stash (Sarah Jessica Parker)

This (and not Covet; my mistake) is the fragrance Sarah Jessica Parker wanted to make before Coty insisted on a mainstream girlish floral. It was worth the wait. Stash is everything SJP wanted according to Chandler Burr in The Perfect Scent: a complicated, raunchy, friendly tapestry of incense and animalics; a true and beautiful "body scent" suited to warm, musky, maybe even not-quite-clean skin. It wouldn't matter whether that skin belonged to a male or female; I imagine this might smell equally enticing on anyone who wears it. Heck, even one's own self, judging from the way I keep compulsively snorting the scented inside of my elbow. No shame in that, is there? I think that's what Sarah Jessica Parker wanted us know. Stash is her mash note to mammals everywhere. Thank you, Sarah J.

Scent Elements: Grapefruit zest, black pepper, sage, Atlas cedar, patchouli, ginger lily, pistachio, olibanum, massoia wood, vetiver and musk

À la Nuit (Serge Lutens)

At this moment, I am contemplating Georgia O'Keeffe's Cow Skull With Calico Roses (1931). A less sentimental still-life would be challenging to find. It's hard to imagine (though such a thing exists) Cow Skull on a coffee mug or t-shirt; however they monetize it, it defies commodification because it does not offer kitsch a foothold.

Milan Kundera defined kitsch as "the aesthetic ideal (of) a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist... Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion." You would be right in surmising that he (along with E.M. Forster's dictum "Only connect...") influenced me to distrust kitsch and to seek the personal, the solitary, the brutally honest instead.

Read this review of Serge Lutens' À la Nuit by Normand Cardella of The Perfume Chronicles. Being intensely confessional (not to mention critical!) it can't be called kitsch writing, though it makes a case for À la Nuit being a kitsch perfume. I agree-- partway. I understand the point Normand's art professor was trying to make by deriding Canaletto's Venetian vedute as soulless, impersonal, lacking in that abstraction which indicates some kind of internal reaction on the part of the artist to what he or she is seeing. But all things being relative, aren't there degrees of abstraction, reaction, even -- gulp! -- kitsch? After all, you can smirk at any old piece of crappy novelty art and say, This is nothing; I've seen worse.

I have. Its name is Clair de Musc. Oh come on, I hear you saying. Clair de Musc is a perfectly nice fragrance. At least it isn't NIONA. To which I reply, AHA! You see what happened there? I tricked you into abandoning impartiality and got you to compare two things and find them inequal-- the exact antithesis of kitsch. That's just what I'm doing with À la Nuit. It might be (as Normand says) boring, but it's got more depth and dimension than Clair de Musc-- not a real Georgia O'Keeffe canvas, but at least a good-quality print rather than a greeting-card.

All would pale in comparison to the bona fide flower, of course. But we take what we can get.

Scent Elements: Egyptian, Indian, and Moroccan jasmine, green shoots, cloves, white honey, benzoin, musk

Clair de Musc (Serge Lutens)

The trial's hardly started. The prosecution has only just begun presenting evidence; the defense is hours away from making its rebuttals. It seems premature to send the jury out for deliberations, let alone for lunch. But while we idle in the gallery praying for recess, I might as well whisper my impressions of the accused.

Clair de Musc has so many elements that I don't like (white musk, white florals, cleanliness next to Godliness) that I ought to despise it outright. I'm certainly capable of keeping an open mind, but I find it hard to unclench my teeth when faced with so oversanitized a scent. It's the antithesis of the rich, animalic, spicy perfumes I prefer, and yet, am I being fair? Surely it hasn't been upon my wrists long enough to judge...

The path to understanding is best trod in someone else's shoes. What kind of person do I think I'd need to be in order to wear Clair de Musc? A bridesmaid. A beauty queen. A babysitter. A ballerina. Immediately I think of the Hunyak, the only innocent Merry Murderess to dance Chicago's "Cell Block Tango". Her pleading refrain echoes in my ears: Uh-uh.

You said it, sister. Case closed.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, iris, neroli, jasmine, orange blossom, sandalwood, musk

Serge Noire (Serge Lutens)

The first thing I thought was: Frankincense and aged Parmesan. The second thing I thought was: Burnt-black wicks and sooty smoke. The third thing I thought was: It's weird, but I rather like it. Others emphatically do not.

Why does Serge Noire attract so much hatred? Its musk is goaty, 'tis true, but not the ugliest of bugbears to afflict an otherwise decent perfume. Some perfumistas damn that dusty clove note by comparing it to the dentist's office; others praise it as the jewel of Uncle Serge's spice cabinet. The rest of Serge Noire is incense, warm wax, wood ash, and a shade of melancholy which I suppose represents the noire. I shrug; it doesn't trouble me at all. In fact, I place Serge Noire in the same category as Muscs Koublaï Khän-- a relatively meek fragrance whose terrifying reputation produces a sort of smiling bewilderment once you actually try it.

Look, everyone is entitled to their impressions, as well as to their subsequent expressions of delight or dismay. At times, the flood of abuse applied to a fragrance goes so over-the-top it reaches the stratosphere-- but then, so might the acclaim. The only alternative is to meet in the middle and say, It's weird, but I rather like it.

Scent Elements: Patchouli, cinnamon, clove, incense, amber, musk, woods

Parfum du Jour: Rare Mimosa (Henri Bendel)

Today I've got a method to my mimosa. I've had this slim little purse sprayer of Henri Bendel's Rare Mimosa for many a year now; I bought it from a thrift store (beats me which one, though I suspect it was Jennifer's) and have worn it whenever the occasion calls for a touch of goof. It remains the sole specimen of mimosa perfume that I tolerate, maybe even like; the rest mostly bore the tits off me, with several actually evoking honest-to-god disgust. Mimosa, you see, reminds me of babies and all that comes out of them-- shit, drool, reflux, cutesy gurgling sounds, and intermittent demonic screams. This troublingly infantile trait becomes even more pronounced when opoponax and vanilla join the play date. While you're at it, invite guava, peony, heliotrope, and lilac over and then we'll really have ourselves a time-- complete with baby powder, feather pillow fights, and a thousand tears shed over spilt milk.

Parfum du Jour: Harbinger (Soivohle)

I need to use up all these 1ml. Soivohle samples I've hoarded before they all evaporate. So today I'm wearing Harbinger, Liz Zorn's peach-and-café-caramel gourmand take on Mitsouko.

In contrast to Mitsouko's glimmering dawn, Harbinger projects a full-noon blaze well-suited to summer, when harsh moods like mine may be softened in an everpresent haze of blood-warm, sweetly-scented air. I appreciate this atmosphere today more than I can express. Sure, it's ninety degrees outside, but as we speak, a gentle, constant breeze is riffling the leaves of the sycamores outside my window and the sky burgeons with perfectly gorgeous billowing white clouds. The world is a hard place, and we have to take our softness where we find it.

And I'd rather July than January, I tell you what-- so I'm content.

Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate (Hermès)

I've hit the wall of fatigue, both in life and with fragrance. A brand-spanking-new perfume has been in my possession for-- what, three weeks?-- and I've formed no opinion of it whatsoever. I have nothing to say about it, yet still I feel I must bestir myself, and for what? For what?

Perfumer Christine Nagel must have begun working on Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate as soon as UK fragrance oracle SevenScent named rhubarb, tea, and rose as key notes for 2015. But it's 2016, and rhubarb, tea, and rose are last year's news, and so Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate smells a little sad-- a clumsy attempt to be youthful and "on trend", as they say in the biz. Hermès ought not to stoop to ploys like this. They and their fragrances should stay as they are: crisp, patrician, middle-aged and riskless.

Scent Elements: Hesperides, rose, rhubarb accord, redcurrant, green tea, white musk

Lagerfeld Cologne (Karl Lagerfeld)

Some kind of serendipity keeps leading me back to Karl Lagerfeld. By no means have I sampled all of his offerings, and I hesitate to try his latter-day wares, which all look frankly cheap and cheesy. But his bygone aesthetic-- which informed fragrances such as classic Chloé, KL, Sun Moon Stars, Lagerfeld and Lagerfeld Photo -- remains solid.

I once had a bottle of Lagerfeld EdT which I enjoyed for a time. But I knew I'd never wear it often enough to justify the space it occupied in the Scent Cabinet, so I let it get swept away in the Great Purge of 2015. Recently, I scored a mini-bottle of vintage Lagerfeld Cologne, which I actually like better than the EdT. Spicy and full-bodied, with a unisex softness, it occupies the same "lazy Sunday morning" reality as La Nuit de l'Homme. Following a crisp citrus overture, mellow tobacco and tarragon interplay beautifully with a sharp, fresh nutmeg accord that perks up the senses before coumarin smooths it to a shine. It starts with a sunburst, proceeds like a dream, and fades down to a satisfied sigh.

Lagerfeld Cologne is a sanguine fragrance which upholds old traditions faithfully without coming off as a vintage bore. It's an easy wear, and wear it I shall. In fact, I'm wearing it right now as I type-- and believe me, it's hard to type when you keep having to stop to huff your own wrists.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, sweet orange, tarragon, jasmine, iris, rose, nutmeg, tonka bean, tobacco, patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood, oak, amber, vanilla, musk

Kitty Girl Eau de Parfum (Preferred Fragrance)

How did I come by it? I bought it at Big Lots for fifty cents. It was marked down half-off. That should give you an idea of how seriously to take it.

Why did I come by it? It's simple. Now Smell This announced an upcoming challenge called Fake It Friday. Participants are to find, wear, and report back about a cheap dupe of an established (and more costly) perfume. You know, the kind whose name and packaging imitates those of its betters, with the addition of the cautionary tagline "Our impression of ( )" or If you like ( ), you'll love ( )!"

Well, I don't like Katy Perry Purr, and I don't love Kitty Girl, but that doesn't mean I can't have fun with them. Neither is reprehensible; Purr represents the youthful scent zeitgeist of this decade, and Kitty Girl mirrors it, and there you have it. They're harmless, hyper-sweetened, sexy-childish fruity florals with pastel packaging and all the fancy frosting this genre promises and delivers by the truckload.

Here's the specs on Katy Perry Purr, courtesy of Katy Perry Parfums: Frisky and feline, Purr's fruity, floral scent is ready to pounce. Top Notes: Peach Nectar, Forbidden Apple and Green Bamboo. Middle Notes: Jasmine Blossom, Pink Freesia, and Bulgarian Rose. Bottom* Notes: Vanilla Orchid, Creamy Sandlewood (sic) and White Amber.

Here's Kitty Girl, via Amazon: By being both playful and seductive this distinctive signature is soft enough for everyday use yet special enough for the most romantic evenings... Top note of fresh morning fruit with an abundance of peach nectar and granny smith (sic) apple. A middle floral note of jasmine and rose is warmed and rounded with elements of precious woods and amber. Kitty Girl is not associated with the maker of Purr by Katy Perry.

Alrighty then!

Kitty Girl doesn't smell as good as Purr, which is not saying much insofar as I don't really prefer Purr, but then again I'm not a nine-year-old girl, so there's that. I could just as easily say "Kitty Girl doesn't smell as good as Vera Wang Princess" or "Kitty Girl doesn't smell as good as Britney Spears Fantasy" for all that there's any distinctions between them. I will say that it smells better than Exceptional... Because You Are, but only just, and probably because it cost me a mere four bits for eight whole milliliters. (Eight milliliters! What on earth am I going to do with it all?)

Still, I expect that a grade-schooler with money to burn could do worse than Kitty Girl. If I were her mother, I wouldn't reflexively rush her into the bathtub after one application. Three applications within an hour, maybe. But I hope that by her age, any daughter of mine would have developed a taste for Arabie or vintage Miss Dior instead. I mean, honestly.

*Sure, they could have said "base notes", but "bottom" certainly leads one to imagine Ms. Perry's pert posterior (ahem).

Scent Elements: Peach, apple, jasmine, rose, woods, amber, white musk

Nag Champa (Nemat)

Yesterday and the day before, I wore a perfume oil almost three decades old. I purchased it in the summer of my twentieth year; we have matured together. It has outlasted ninety percent of my relationships, both friendly and familial. Not bad for a five-dollar souvenir.

I remember that long-ago summer well, when my sister and I joined a friend for a weekend in Cape May. We breakfasted on flapjacks and fresh blackberries at the famous Mad Batter, then took a meandering stroll along the waterfront. Beach weather more glorious you couldn't imagine-- wave after gentle wave scattering diamonds of sunlight on the sand. Somewhere along the way, we passed a kiosk peddling batik pareos and vials of perfume oil. I walked away with a tiny, gold-capped bottle of Nemat Nag Champa, a memento of summer joy and innocence.

But summers end, and so does innocence; nothing is immortal. Within a year the friendship would be over, wounded irreparably by selfishness and blame. Twenty-five years passed before I set foot in Cape May again-- this time without my sister, who is now a stranger. The temps that my bottle of Nag Champa represents are truly perdu, and I avoid painful recherche like the plague. Nemat Nag Champa has turned into something more than a sweet smell. It is my olfactory madeleine.

I would not trade it for gold or glory.

Carpathian Oud (Soivohle)

About this one, there's shockingly little to say. I've struggled for nearly a month to assemble a few descriptive words about it, but all I can come up with is "It's nice". I can tell you what I wanted: I wanted danger and desire. I wanted a raw sensual phenomenon seething with heat and mystery. I wanted the merest spritz of Carpathian Oud to summon up a lawless Romani lover in whose eyes I drown, in whose arms I find shelter as midnight closes in around our campfire...

Carpathian Oud is nice. I'll wear it. But it won't make me howl at the moon.

Scent Elements: Fir balsam absolute, rhododendron absolute, laurel, rose geranium, carnation accord, mountain poppy accord, ylang-ylang, orris butter, iris accord, wild violet accord, clove, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg absolute, oakmoss base, amyris, sandalwood, Indian and Laotion oud, oud accord, civet reconstruction, vetiver, opopanax, patchouli, castoreum reconstruction, muscone, amber base, benzoin

Parfum du Jour: Quadrille Vintage Eau de Cologne Fraiche (Balenciaga)

Why wear it? This week is Leather Week at Now Smell This, and I wanted a very light handbag SOTD as a lead-up to the heavier leathers (Casanova 1725, Jolie Madame, and of course Cabochard) which I mean to wear for the rest of the week.

What does it do? As I described to other NSTers, Quadrille smells "at first lemony-mossy, then rosy-fruity-spicy, then (concludes with) an unexpected slap of glove leather... The leather in mine pops up in the drydown-- delicate & almost prim against all the fruit..."

How do I feel? Rueful. I had a largish bottle of Quadrille which I convinced myself I didn't wear frequently enough, so I decanted a couple of milliliters before consigning it. Now I'll never get it back. I don't regret letting it go, but I wish I had decanted more of it before bidding it farewell.

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

Why wear it? Because twice is nice. I wore it yesterday and felt so enlivened by it that I decided that a reprise was in order.

What does it do? It turns a humdrum workplace into a sun-dappled glade, a cluttered office full of book carts into a poppy-strewn meadow, and all of one's patrons into revelers waiting for the bacchanal to begin. Its rose geranium accord is supremely dewy, but set off against moss, incense, and some seriously animalic leather, it burns, it burns!

How do I feel? Ready for the weekend. I so seldom do what I say I'm planning to do, but this time I must hold to my promise of cleaning the kitchen. Our little friends the sugar ants are back, woe is us. If I bust it out quickly enough, I will be free to do something frivolous-- jewelry making, perhaps, or working on a short story.

Gucci No. 3 Eau de Toilette (Gucci)

Thus far, my exposure to the Gucci fragrance line has been limited. The peony nightmare that is Gucci Flora sent me running; unless we count James Franco's "Goosey by Goosey!" commercial parody, there it ends. I've heard that Rush and Envy are pretty good, but having never smelled them weakens my credentials as a perfumista. What rock have I been hiding under?

Released in 1985, No. 3 is an aldehydic chypre with a mien as ebullient as a can-can girl's. I have no other Gucci experience to offer points of comparison, so I must pull another simile out of my hat. For a time, I found myself in danger of becoming addicted to Saint-Germain, a marvelous elderflower liqueur ideal for spritzy mixers. Now that I am prohibited from tippling, I can get my jollies from Gucci No. 3. It's fizzy, friendly, approachable, and right up my boulevard. Instead of pinot, prosecco, or Sauvignon blanc, pair it with flânerie, Toulouse-Lautrec, and raw oysters on the half-shell. Et voilà voilà!

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, coriander, greens, jasmine, narcissus, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, iris, amber, vetiver, patchouli, oakmoss, leather, musk

Fracas Vintage Parfum (Robert Piguet)

Have you ever, in a moment of self-pity or ghoulish glee, planned your own funeral? Ostensibly, what happens after we evanesce heavenward is out of our control. But the temptation to stage-manage it is irresistible-- especially the part when you assemble a deathbed playlist. (Mine includes Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Sigur Ros, and of course the voice of Vedder carrying me home to Valhalla.)

To me, the idea of being embalmed and displayed like a ventriloquist's dummy in a satin-lined box is thoroughly repugnant. I personally always wanted to be laid out in the wilderness and devoured by ravens, but I don't think my spouse would be too keen on this concept. The alternative is to be cremated as quickly and cheaply as possible. Commit my ashes to the wind and water off Cattus Island, and send no flowers, please.

Especially not tuberoses.

Monolithic, carnivorous, chilly, morbid, waxy, bloodless, deathly sweet, overpowering, vegetal, funereal, unnerving. With these words, I have drawn past portraits of Polianthes tuberosa. Those who favor it use adjectives like buttery, creamy, opulent, velvety, voluptuous, luxurious, heady, sexy-- but to me, tuberose will always be the queen of the coffin, traditional witness to a million eulogies.

A recent gift added a few choice descriptors -- narcotic, menacing, masterful -- to my list. As we speak, I'm wearing two precious, golden drops of vintage Fracas, one on each wrist. They come from a thumbnail-sized bottle bestowed upon me by Toni, who IS a tuberose lover and cares not who knows it. I suspect that the ghost of Edie Sedgwick (whose favorite perfume Fracas purportedly was) whispered in her ear that I needed a crash course in classic BWFs. Or perhaps this is no mere apparition we're dealing with. Edie would make one hell of a vampire... with a perfume to match.

So often does one find tuberose swizzled up with coconut cream and white musk that it ought to come with a free tiki cocktail. Fracas, on the other hand, has never seen the sun; if she ever trod a white sand beach, it was by the rare light of a super blood moon. "Buttery", true; these petals come richly sauced. And yet this is no comfort food for the nose; Fracas' unsavory effect reinforces my disbelief that any consolation could be found in these blossoms. Sex and death, yes; sympathy, perhaps not.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, tuberose, hyacinth, gardenia, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, orange blossom, neroli, narcissus, violet, rose, iris, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, musk

Amberene, redux and redone.

On and off over the last few weeks, I've been wearing Soivohle Amberene. No special reason; I was pawing through my stash and gave in to the urge to get reacquainted. Had I known that Amberene has been not only renamed but reformulated by its creator, I would have worn it with more nostalgia.

Amberene was once a spicy, strongly vanillic amber kept from piercing sweetness by a touch of acerbic citrus. Now it is known as Burnt Pyrrole and is described by Liz Zorn as a "natural smoky amber-based essence with spice notes and a botanical musk". Perhaps you could say something similar about Amberene. But I can't help thinking that Burnt Pyrrole is an entirely separate and distinct fragrance. Surely it can't be Amberene masquerading under a new nom de parfum!

Now, I know you're not supposed to judge a perfume by its notes list. But compare the two fragrances' scent elements:

Amberene: Grapefruit, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, violet, heliotrope, tonka, benzoin, patchouli
Burnt Pyrrhole: Labdanum absolute, benzoin, Oman frankincense, balsam Tolu, spices, ambrette, smoked tea

Do those look like they would smell anything like one another? It will take a sample of Burnt Pyrrole for me to find out. Until then I will cherish my tiny vial of Amberene, such as it is-- or rather, was.

Aromatics in White and Black (Clinique)

Sometimes I worry about Estée Lauder. The company, I mean; not the grande dame (who is safe in her grave, though likely rolling over in it). During its first half-century, EL -- along with its subsidiaries Clinique and Aramis -- judiciously released one or two well-crafted fragrances per year. Many of these have been deemed classics of perfumery. But among the avalanche of flankers which followed Lauder's death in 2004, none came close to achieving that accolade. Most don't even try. Matters have only grown more troubling of late. With its systematic takeover of competing fragrance brands (Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Ermengildo Zegna, Jo Malone, Le Labo, Frédéric Malle, Tom Ford), EL now resembles that corporate Borg known as Coty, subduing and assimilating all who tremble in its path.

From this chaos emerges Aromatics in White (2014) and Black (2015), two sweet fruity-florientals which trade on the name of the 1971 Elixir without inheriting any of its gravitas. JC -- who adores the original Elixir to infinity and beyond -- purchased full bottles unsniffed and presented me with generous decants for my birthday. Even before I unpacked the gift bag, the buoyant golden scent of White's orange blossoms tickled my nose.  Its friendly florals seem squeaky-clean until they suddenly don't-- and when they don't is when things get interesting. Ambergris and labdanum give White a Dune-like dissonance and danger, at once sexy and glowering, successfully depositing its drydown yards beyond the expected goal post.

Like so many perfumes with 'Black' or 'Noir' in their names, Aromatics in Black is way too lighthearted to be dressed in that somber shade. It commences with a brassy blast of grapefruit and bergamot reminiscent of Chanel Coco Noir, which I believe it is meant to emulate. It's much nicer, though, in that diffuse unthreatening way of all Nice Lauders. I don't know what "plum leaf accord" is supposed to smell like, but the heart of Black smells like sweet red plum pulp, and that's fine with me. Like a stubborn compass needle, it keeps pointing toward By Kilian Back to Black, which I suppose is its North-- and maybe now I can finally stop accusing Puredistance Black of plagiarism now that I know Everybody's Doing It.

In White, Perfumer Nicholas Beaulieu promised a modern fragrance evoking the same "attraction on skin" as its august predecessor. I suppose the concept of attraction has undergone as many redefinitions over time as have popular perfume tastes. That being said, I do find both new Aromatics to be attractive on my skin... though I wouldn't say that either of them redefine Elixir, or (for that matter) Estée Lauder.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, pink grapefruit, "plum leaf accord", osmanthus, jasmine, neroli, myrrh, vetiver, tonka (Black); Sichuan pepper, violet leaf, labdanum, rose, orange blossom, patchouli, leather, white musk, ambergris, benzoin, vanilla (White)

KL Eau de Toilette (Karl Lagerfeld)

KL was introduced in 1983. That's almost all you need to know. Big! Brash! Ballsy! Think of it as the jasmine cousin to Chloé's tuberose-- caked with eyeliner, hairsprayed to the limit, and showing off maximum leg.

I actually prefer KL to Chloé, truth be told; tuberose has never quite been a friend of mine. But jasmine jibes just right with my preferences, and KL's is a delicious one-- sultry, not too sugary, tempered with a velvety amber. In the main, KL lies far closer to the skin than its cousin, which is still not saying much. It's like a civil defense siren whose sound radius only measures three miles instead of five. Let that be a warning to you.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, orange, Jamaican pepper, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, orchid, patchouli, cinnamon, cloves, benzoin, amber, vanilla

Parfume du Jour: Chamade (Guerlain)

Why wear it? It snowed again today, and spring feels very, very far away.

What does it do? It presents in one package a sophisticated chypre, a sleek modern floral, a tender suede-soft leather, and an indescribable feeling of youth and newness. It whispers optimism in one's ear at the very moment when one might falter.

How do I feel? Weary and in need of a lift. Yesterday I wore Florineige Cuir de Russie and felt infused with a rakish energy that carried me through my night shift with ease. But even after having slept rather deeply last night, I woke feeling as if I'd spent the night in a state of bleak alertness. Cuir de Russie's elegant iris might have proved too unsubstantial to support me as I needed. But Chamade's narcissus laid rightful claim to all the vigor I lacked today.  I let it carry me, and I feel no shame at my own weakness.  Sometimes it's too much to pretend to be strong.

Must de Cartier Vintage Eau de Toilette (Cartier)

Last week, my downstairs neighbor -- a former regional sales rep for a fragrance corporation -- gave me a handful of manufacturer's minis she'd been using as Christmas tree ornaments. A loop of gold lamé ribbon around the neck of each little bottle, et voilà! I really admired her ingenuity in finding a purpose for these perfume-filled bibelots. I'm almost regretting having consigned mine. Almost.

The offerings included several negligible Avons, vintage Chloe, Karl Lagerfeld KL, Coco de Chanel, Gucci No. 3, Worth Je Reviens, and Must de Cartier. Tuberose remains a tricky note for me; I already own (and never wear) Chloe, and KL smells so similar that I may let them both go. The Worth smells like hot dog water, but its cobalt glass bottle is topped by an adorable gilt cherub which just screams Christmas; it has a fighting chance of getting repurposed once more as an ornament. Coco's always welcome, and I found the Gucci No. 3 really quite lovely, a sort of floral pousse-cafe for the nose. And then we come to Must de Cartier.

The heart of MdC (the name "Must" alone begs to be followed by "...and Mildew") reads like Dutched cocoa dust. This, I like. But to get to it, you have to start at the very beginning-- a bilious acid-fruit accord which swerves at reckless speed directly into a "fresh deodorant" ice patch. Now, unless we're talking about a York Peppermint Patty, "fresh" and "chocolate" generally don't belong in the same sentence. Just when it seems that the only way to get from here to there is to crash through the railing and over the cliff's edge, MdC jerks the wheel and forces the vehicle back on course. And thank god for that, because for a minute there, I thought for sure we'd end up in Rampage Pour Femme territory, where all tow trucks fear to tread.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, mandarin, peach, galbanum, neroli, jasmine, iris, carnation, narcissus, orchid, ylang-ylang, lily, vanilla, amber, benzoin Siam, opoponax, tonka, oakmoss, leather, Brazilian rosewood, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, civet