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.

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