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.