Thursday, August 11, 2005

SF Sample Spree, Part Two

My sniffing adventure yesterday had at its apogee the four scents that make up the Nina Ricci "collector's fragrances." Although I have a bottle of L'Air du Temps, I've not worn it in fifteen years and it sits in Fragrance Siberia (i. e. the back of my closet). In high school it had been one of my favorites, but today it seems anachronistic to me, round where I am pointed, soft where I am sharp.

The NR collector's set comprises the house's first releases and offers them in stunning glass flacons. The quartet are intended to evoke facets of Paris; two of them are hearts, one is a love apple, and another a diamond.

NR's first scent was not L'Air du Temps; that is merely the most widely recognized. The distinction of being the first goes to Coeur Joie (1946, to celebrate the end of the war). Coeur Joie reminds one immediately of a Chanel scent; there is a distinct feel that is evocative of Chanel No. 5, without the hugely aldehydic top of the competing classic. Presenting iris as a main accord, Coeur Joie also seems to have an old-fashioned violet nosegay throughout. Marketed as an "eternal spring," the Chanel reference fades off in the heart notes where the violet takes over by dainty steps. Although powdery, this is quite a fresh (non-musty) fragrance that is best when liberated to the air.

Fille d'Eve ("The fragrance of Temptation") followed L'Air du Temps, having been released in 1952. This is presented in the glass apple and its relationship to L'Air is immediately apparent; it floats on the same ethereal wings and softened vision of femininity. A soft chypre, it is all sweet pastel-poudre muzziness and linen-like crispness towards the base of tender, springy moss.

Capricci, introduced in 1961, was called "The fragrance of seduction." Taken today, this statement seems to be missing the mark. Absent are accords that would lend themselves to such a statement; Capricci blends floral and fruit, without the association whereby seduction is rendered by heavy-handed use of dusky low notes. It's a carefree seduction and a non-sexual one, viewed in today's terms.

Finally, Farouche (1974), "The fragrance of secret splendors," which moves away from the rose/iris shyness of the former three and presents a scent that is more distinctly chypre than Fille d'Eve, and, while it is removed from the others (and also L'Air du Temps), this distance makes for only a slight incongruity in the collection taken as a whole. Farouche is not nearly so sweet and is a far more grounded scent, and also a soapier one; there is a tinge of saddle soap beneath its silk stockings.

All of these scents are presented through a sheer gauze that softens the edges of time and the features of the compositions; they are butterflies against a post-modern industrial landscape and the onward march of technological advancement. All are expressly feminine and seem to call for a certain manner of dress and attitude towards style and living that is long forgotten: politesse and social skill. On the whole, they are reference points to a mode of parfumerie that is non-existent in modern releases, and in that may be mistaken as naive. I prefer the Fille d'Eve since it takes the signature Ricci gossamer and beds it down more deeply than the other three (Farouche not having it in nearly so large quantities). All seem quite sweet, overly so, out of historical context. Compared with Chanel, Ricci had a softer vision, perhaps a more bashful one. They do not dictate so much as they support the wearer's overall image; they are satellites of the properly turned out woman. Chapeau scents that do not require such fussy accoutrements today, they will give the attitude of stylistic correctness without millinery adornment.

A trio of Miller Harris scents was next. I'd not encountered this line before other than in print and I came away with vials of:

Terre de Bois: Lemon verbena shines atop a wet verdancy of notes that include patchouli , galbanum (but without galbanum's sharpness), and a damp, mild vetiver that is along the lines of Guerlain's Vetiver. Usually husky and pungent clary sage is tempered here to the point that its customary aridity is rained upon; it is merely accent to a sweet green patchouli, which base note grows significantly over time, eventually overtaking the brightness of the verbena and rendering this first and foremost a patchouli scent, though one without sixties connotations. Pleasant enough, and wins points for pulling back from what could have been a model of mass-market drugstore colognery. Not terrible, but not terrific. Easily unisex, but because of a lack of floralcy, probably reads as a men's scent. For something along these lines I prefer MPG Route du Vetiver's clean, wet earth.

Noix de Tubereuse: Since I've been recently sampling a fair assortment of tuberose scents, this one took me by surprise. There is a lot more going on here than just a star role, or even a featured player one. Tuberose here is initially sublimated by mimosa and fig and clover notes of summer-lawn sweetness. Tuberose on its own is often so thick it is impenetrable (MPG), but here it has a wafty flutter from the top that wings light years away from the ghee note that flattens things like the MPG version. While not honeyed, there is still a sugared effect and I don't know that this fragrance smells as costly as it is. When the tuberose makes a game effort to wade through the busy sweetness at the top, the fragrance edges on being true to its name, but until that time it doesn't distinguish itself as much more than seem a sweetish "take" on Fracas, albeit without Fracas' signature sourness and complications.

Fleur Oriental: This third Miller Harris scent seems to be made of different stuff from the first two. Since I do not know the remainder of the line I will only say that this one at the top appears rather out of step; while the others have a definitive modern "naturalness" to them, Fleur Oriental blasts off the pad with what appears to be a very intimate relationship to Habanita! Same rose powder and vanillic sweetness on the outside, but minus the leather and rausch corset-boning of its great-grandmother. This is one aged lady here, or perhaps I should say updated, facelifted; it is not nearly so shockingly overbearing , but this is most defiantly (and I do mean "defiantly" and not the upsetting misspelling of "definitely," in case you are wondering) a copycatty of the highest order. This dries just as the Hab does, presenting a ghost image that is reflected back in the mirror. Tricky: There is a minor leather accord approaching the base. Scary. However, if you like Habanita, please do try this. Since I consider neither of these to approach what I consider an "oriental," do not take the name seriously unless your orientals are made of wax museum cosmetics. Vanilla doth not always an oriental make.

Note: Owing to the fair length of this post, I will forgo reviewing the Diptyque trio until tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

SF Sample Spree, Part One

After a few mentally grueling days, I promised myself that I would designate today as an "anything but" day, which meant that I had some long hours to fill and a need for an agenda. It didn't take me long to realize that I had a bag of samples I wanted to drop off with an SA in SF, so off I went.

I had not realized there was a Diptyque boutique in San Francisco. I'm not sure how this escaped me, since it is only a few yards from Neiman's, but escape me it did, until today. The little, two-tiered boutique sits in the middle of Maiden Lane, on the south side of the street. It's a jewel-box of a shop with two charming assistants (who say they do not get much traffic). The upper, street-level tier is dedicated to the house line: candles, room sprays, and eaux de toilette. Diptyque candles are famous for their unique and inspired scents and their ability to "throw" scent. If you have been disappointed in candles that smell intriguing when unlit and then fail to live up to that promise when burned, you will appreciate Diptyque's unique creations. I quickly zeroed in on the fabled Essence of John Galliano (candle and roomspray). I was aware that people were wearing the roomspray as a personal perfume and this insider information had piqued my interest. Unfortunately, this scent is far too baronial--it's the smoke off the logs of a giant Elizabethan hearth, before the flames settle in, that moment when log and flame are not quite united and the eye-burning smoke must be fanned up the chimney. A lovely scent for a large drawing room and a tipple of sherry, but not for my skin or my tiny living room.

Having tried this on the top tier, I walked downstairs to try some of the other candles. It was out of the question to try all; they are so full of scent that the nose was easily exhausted. These candles are akin to fine parfums and must be tried with reasonable restraint.

The way the staff show the candles calls to mind the Turin discussion of the idea rejected by the Patou boutique of spraying perfumes into glass bowls. At Diptyque, they tap the candle on a pillow and present the glass container for you to smell. It's all very refined, and since the oils from the candles adhere to the glass, the scent is encapsulated and without the interference of common air. I liked all that I smelled; unlike the firesmoke Galliano, I would not hesitate to purchase Tubereuse, Cedre, Santal, Chene, and the crisp Provencal Feuille de Lavande, which is the purest expression of lavender I have ever encountered.

Leaving Diptyque, I walked south to Nordstrom, where I dropped off the samples and took my time to sample a diverse and eclectic array of scents:

MPG Sanguine Muskissime: A musk that is not a true musk but a sandalwood scent, with a bitter orange top that surprisingly holds throughout the wear of the scent. This reminds me in spirit of the AA Pamplelune, with its bitter rind and shards of pith, but, unlike the AA, SM does not sharpen with the wearing. Additional citrus (lemon and grapefuit) add zing to a soft santal base. SM is interesting in that it recalls the most exquisite soap, and yet is not in the least sudsy.

MPG Fleur de Comores: I'd been wanting to sample this; a friend and I had been discussing it a week or so ago. The notes included red fruits, vanilla, orange blossom, passionfruit, jasmine, ambergris and musk, but the actual aroma perplexed me. Was it like X or Y? If not, then what was it, because it was very reminiscent of something. This type of association game always provides at least thirty minutes of stressful mental entertainment. On the way home it hit me: JuicyFruit gum and vanilla frosting. However, half an hour later I revised that to include banana taffy, more so than the gum stage. Synthetic banana flavoring, a twist of the JuicyFruit, and boxed vanilla frosting. While this initially gave off a jeune fille idea, it was clear that this was dressing up as a sophisticated jeune fille, as opposed to a cotton candy giggly one. Odd concept--a child's gummy bubble blown by a middle-aged woman--especially when this is the company responsible for the grown-up Secrete Datura. For a fruit frag, I prefer their Fraiche Passiflore.

MPG Ambre Precieux: Lovely, straightforward men's amber scent that reminds me of Ambre Sultan, although lightened and without the herbs and seasonings. Tends towards the smoky rather than the sweet (more power to it). A bit thin, but since amber can be so overpowering on its own this works in its favor. Daytime amber, efficient and business-like, without drama and parlor games.

MPG Santal Noble: Because I had tried Tam Dao at Diptyque, I was unimpressed with this sandalwood. I appreciate stripped santals more; those with other things going on (10 Corso Como) try to waylay the user with little tricks that detract rather than enhance. The santal here sits in a watery grave; there is too much thrown overboard. Patchouli gives the expected dampness; coffee beans, "spice oils," and vanilla a sort of French Vanilla Cafe creamer effect, and the oakmoss cancels the sandalwood out. Perhaps not bad when taken as something else, but not as a "sandalwood" as the name asserts. Sort of like the new Lutens Cedre--a misleading misnomer.

Keiko Mecheri Damascena: I keep dancing around this one, trying but not buying. And I did so again today, and was rewarded with the realization that this, for me, is the perfect rose. The problem I have with most rose fragrances is that they are heavily so, and either call to mind the noxious Tea Rose or maiden aunt rose, and are sort of consumptively near deathbeds. Although volleys have been hurled at KM for deriving ideas from other perfumes, I do not know what Damascena might be imitating (if anything). Here, the roses (three) are exactly in pitch with the mid-notes and the musk base. There is more to this deceptively simple list than meets the nose; there is a ripe, fruity accord in addition that makes me think there is peach skin in it as well. Far superior scent to SL Sa Majeste la Rose and also my former covet Ce Soir ou Jamais.

Made my way over to Whole Foods to look for a sandalwood lotion, failed, and ended up buying Nemat International Sandalwood oil. I've done a fair amount of oil sampling and subsequent puzzling--why is sandalwood so generically soapy and unpleasant? I had tried Attar Bazaar and Madini and been singularly unimpressed. Soap and wood are too incongruous for me. Nemat International Sandalwood avoids all of this; it's the oil version of Tam Dao and don't say I don't share secrets. I'm going to be looking into more of the Nemat line soon, although it is fairly hard to secure.

Tomorrow, a treat: a trio from Diptyque, a trio from Miller Harris, and some classic Nina Ricci.


And the winner of the first annual Big Black Nix Award is: Clive Christian.

Here's an excitingly priced line of perfumes! I approached it with absolutely no caution, picked up the quasi-Guerlain atomizers (read: Guerlain re-fill atomizers, minus the Russian Orthodox tops), and spritzed away at both X and No. 1 eaux de parfum, which retail for $210.00 and $600.00 respectively. And I put 'em right back down, because they reminded me of Estee Lauder. Not the woman, but her scents--Knowing in particular. For whatever reason, both of these had that signature 1970s Lauder accord that is the hallmark of Estee, Aliage, Azuree...and Knowing.

And I didn't even feel disappointed, because something about this line has always failed to excite any interest in me (nothing to do with the prohibitive cost either; the PR didn't win me over), so they were merely shrug-scents that went back to their little mirrored vanity display, but my kitchen now smells of the cracked-lip, Tangee red Knowing, which is a handkerchief scent nonpareil and dreadful on me.

XX Two Big Black Nixes. I wasn't even interested enough to pump out 1872.

Note to Friends and Folks

The five-month-old HP computer on which cognoscented is written is apparently dying an embarrassingly premature death of old age. Although the author does not trust the teenage boys at CompUsa, the HP is under warranty and will have to be shamefully returned for a revamp, sooner rather than later. Therefore, if cognoscented vanishes into the mists without appropriate warning, you will know the reason why.

If anyone would like to be notified when cognoscented is being published again (and it will be published again), please drop me an e-mail with your own e-mail address and I will cheerfully advise when I am back up and running.

Bonus: If anyone out there can resolve this fiasco there will be a lovely scented reward.

STOP MESSAGE 0X0000007A1. 0XE18DA3882. 0XC000000E3. 0XBF8D29D84. 0X0883860KERNEL DATA INPAGE ERRORWin32K.sys address BF8D29D8Base at BF8000000

I also receive a black screen asking me reboot. This system has a preconfined recovery setup (no disk) and I have already done two destructive recoveries.

And thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Trading Stamps

I have the following for trade:
Coty Wild Musk, 1/2 full spray bottle
Chanel No. 5 EdT, probably about 1/3 full

BBW Juniper Breeze Body Spray, 3/4 full
and lotion

I am looking for:
Coty Chypre, Chergui, Mitsouko body cream

Unfortunately, I have nothing for trade but would like that Fracas parfum you have on the swap page.

I see on your profile that you list Lipstick Rose, Penhaligon Ellenisia, and Gobin-Daude Sous le Buis. I'm dying to try them. Could I get a smidge of each?

I have a fabulous bottle of Chloe! What a wonderful scent--classic floral, Karl Lagerfeld, the essence of chic. Love it but already have two bottles. I'm interested in trading it for your Must parfum.

You aren't supposed to list fragrances you merely like. You have to own them.

I see you have a new bottle of Narciso Rodriguez EdT up for swap. Before you swap that, could you send me a decant? It's impossible to get in Poland/Brazil/New Jersey.

Ah, the perils of the public trade. Trading perfumes can be a delightful way of making new friends--both liquid and flesh--but there always seems to be an insidious and subversive urchin lurking just beneath the surface, waiting to make what henceforth will be called the Swap of Inequality. That SoI is a nasty bit of business, since it can take so many (and so many seemingly innocent) forms. Taking it from the top, we have:

1) The Dreamer: This person has absolutely nothing to offer you or anyone else, and yet charmingly and gamely lists Mary Kate and Ashley products, half-used sticky lotions, and depleted canisters of aroma-mall, in the hopes that someone will enthusiastically put out. This has a delightful aroma of naive desperation to it, and calls to mind a nebbish teenage boy panting after the head cheerleader in the hopes that she will throw him a bone(r). Such eagerness should be rewarded with at least a sample of the fragrance(s) the Dreamer dreams about. In a subset of the Dreamer, a converse action occurs. The Dreamer actually offers far more than she i seeking. However, the item being sought is always one that is subject to the strictest of swapping controls, so even if the Dreamer lists something that has a retail value of $90.00 and is looking for a decant of something with a retail value of $20.00, the Dreamer will continue dreaming.

2) Honest Indole: Who knows what they may or may not have to trade? The point is that they have nothing to trade with you. In other words, they are saying they would like your item for nothing and do not believe it has any reciprocal value. The ploy here is disarming upfront honesty ("I have nothing to trade just now"), but if you do some research you will see that they have offered something(s) in exchange for other, more desirable, swaps. Generally this HI occurs when they don't want to spend the forty bucks it would cost them to buy the same item at . Don't fall for it!

3) The Woe Is Me-er: They never can afford those fabulous scents that everyone else is trying. More's the peril to you for listing or discussing your ownership thereof. The WIMer will also publicly woe-is-me on forums, and will attract at least four to six generous souls who can send them just a bit of the item that was formerly beyond their reach. It is to be hoped that someone will come along and take pity, but in the meantime the WIMer will make polite little inquiries inviting your kind donations. Keep a record of this person; they rarely report having bought a darn thing and survive, like Blanche, on the kindness of strangers.

4) Pants on Fire: Pants on Fire gushes over a scent she has recently vociferously and publicly panned. Generally the scent has been received as the result of a mistaken eBay purchase. Pants on Fire then attempts to unload it on you, using the same verbiage as the eBay listing that resulted in the erroneous and unwanted purchase. It will be presented in the most glowing of terms, but here's the fun part: Read back a few pages. Find the rant about the "mistake" and quote it back verbatim. "I thought I was bidding on the pure parfum, but all I got was this crappy cologne." Put Pants on Fire on ignore immediately, or be prepared for a month's worth of hate mail.

5) This isn't an SoI event, but it is fun nonetheless. This is more honestly a member of the Perfume Police, handing out a violation.

6) Take Pity, Shipping is Expensive/Item is Unavailable: My, but what an awkward situation this is. You've got an NIB perfume that has some swap value, but the TPSIE/IIU wants you to open up, decant at least 8ml, and send it to Parsippany. Guilt is the operative word here. If you don't you are withholding evidence. If you do, you deflate the value of your swap. I once had an IIU person boldly ask me to decant something that was "unavailable here" (it certainly was not--the trouble was ten euros in shipping). The twist here was that the IIU was asking for a scent I did not own. I wrote to explain. The IIU challenged: Someone must then have your password in order to create a false listing. It happens all the time, I'm sure. After another round of mails, the IIU acceded that she had made a mistake and wanted the one I had listed (this latter mail included the words "my bad") and asked me to decant her a healthy round bottle of it before swapping elsewhere.

So, where's the fun in this? Well, believe it or not, there are people who swap and share just for the pleasure of it, dollar value be damned. It's exciting to surprise someone with a few ml's, just because, or to send them a whole bottle of something you just aren't going to use. It's this other stuff that causes the problems--another microcosmic moment. But using a bit of street smarts and not succumbing to the above plots can go a long way towards helping the cream rise to the top(notes).

Monday, August 08, 2005

Not Created Equal

I usually buy eaux de parfum, forgoing both parfum and EdT strengths. Parfum has always seemed wasteful to me; while obviously the purest intent of the parfumeur the juice itself leaves little wake (nary a ripple) and fades off rather quickly. And you certainly aren't meant to coat yourself with it, like wax. EdT, which is by nature designed to be in brevis, often lacks the depths and inner core of the actual scent and hints only fleetingly at what might have been intended, and acts as a veiled tease with a gypsy's sleight of hand. In short, major possiblity for frustration.

Occasionally, the EdT formulation is actually the most pleasing; Mitsouko comes to mind. But then there are some special fragrances where the EdT is actually in a different creature altogether from the EdP/parfum, and is well worth seeking out on its own merits.

Coco Mademoiselle: Chanel comes right out and announces that the EdT is a different interpretation of the scent. The EdT (fruity chypre) contains more citrus than the EdP (floral chypre), and adds an additional fruity accord in the form of lychee. The EdP is more floral and rosier, and lacks the sparkling qualities in the "lesser" formulation. Both present equally well and both have roughly the same longevity. Though both considered chypres by virtue of patchouli and vetiver, the EdT also contains a faint vanillic base and a dash of musk. EdT develops further; EdP wears at times like a rubber raincoat on a hot day.

Chanel No. 19: EdT is closer to the spirit of the parfum, offsetting chapped breeches against spiky, freshly cut greens. EdP, which is no longer marketed in America, was designed as more floral and misses the snappy verdancy of the lighter concentration. The sharpness of the EdT nearly results in the urge to sniffle; there is a zestiness that does not settle and blend, an incongruity of balance that works here where it would not elsewhere. As far as I am concerned No. 19 is the archetypal green.

Coco: While it is not broadcast that there is a difference in the formulations, the EdT is the better of the two, and, like the rest of the Chanels, equally as long-lived. The EdP suffers from an overdose of clove (like Mitsouko's cyclone of the same element) that results in a mock masculinity and Chaplinesque bowler-swagger--a joke, a petty amusement of a small mustache drawn upon the strong-boned countenance of the wearer--a bit horsey.

Opium: EdT possesses a brighter mandarin top and a lighter balance of carnation, which in the EdP is assuredly a force to be reckoned. So potent is the middle and base of the EdP that without the sunspray citrus at the top the EdP becomes heavy-handed and too perseverant, obvious to one-step-removed vulgarity.

Must de Cartier: Originally created with inequality in mind, the EdT was deliberately set apart from the parfum, in an effort to blend day and night. The two might be worn at various hours; the parfum was too dramatic for sunshine. Day waned, and the EdT was reformulated to reflect the parfum, albeit in lighter concentration. In doing so, Cartier stripped the concoction rather than streamlining it; it has been ironed of its elegant sandalwood underpinning and left with an omnipresent wet hair tonic note (galbanum) that fails to mesh with what is given of the base. The best representation of this scent is in the body cream. The original "daytime" formula, although discontinued, is available for high prices on eBay.

Jicky: Here is a true criminal act. The horse-stall quality of the EdP/parfum, that swanky old- racing-money aesthetic, is slaughtered in the worthless EdT. While I wouldn't normally dissuade anyone from purchasing something (chacun a son gout and so forth), the EdT is a thin metallic weakening of this grand old favorite; the scent has been oxidized and its raw, dung-sweat quality removed entirely. What remains is desiccated lavender and tin.

Caron: Since Caron has discontinued the manufacture of EdP strengths, the choice is both EdT and parfum, always. The EdT are so light as to release any base note to the winds; they are suitable for layering only. Tabac Blond in the EdT should particularly be given a miss. The lighter blends are merely hints of what might be, and not remotely indicative of the basso profundo of the parfums.

The only real way of discerning which formulation will work is to roadtest them side by side, over a period of time, paying attention to which qualities are the most appreciated. In the case of the Chanels, my feeling is that any of the strengths are worthy, and are even worth layering. EdP can play out as dull-witted, ponderous aromas that are mentally weighty. Once you've identified which houses do which formulation best, the choice should be aromatically clear.