Fixing a Hole

Back when Guts and I were first married, I got to have one of the things I wanted most: a garden.  We had a ramshackle old house in a small Vermont town, and although the house was really no bargain, and the lot sloped off to a river bank fully forty feet below, we got two wonderful benefits: a view down to a fast moving creek, and remarkably fertile soil because some of the preceding owners had kept chickens.

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Incarnality

Mona di Orio has had a hard time of it.  She received catastrophically bad reviews from that de facto dean of perfume critics Luca Turin who described her perfume Oiro as : “Third world air freshener for the price of a flight to where they could sell it for 25 cents.”  Somebody definitely got out of the wrong side of the coffin that evening.

It was intriguing, though.  I mean, if something is that bad, it has to at least be original in its egregiousness.  So I ordered a couple of samples, namely Oiro and Chamarre, and was surprised. They came in a bundle of others including, Lubin’s Idole, Parfumerie Generale’s Cologne Grand Siecle, Comme des Garcons Luxe Champaca, Knize’s Knize Sec, and Solange’s Stoned.  The di Orios I put aside as likely to be a fumic screamfest, and I wanted, shall we say, control and composure before I confronted them.

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The Emperor’s New Scent

It was Mrs. Bonaparte who turned the general on to scent.  Left to his own devices, Napoleon might have preferred the smell of gunpowder in the morning, but he was besotted by Josephine and perfume was – civilizing.

It is something of a stretch to say that he brought perfume back into fashion.  Those who survived the Terror needed some cheering up, and if that meant champagne and perfume,  so be it.  He certainly did nothing to stop it, as a more dour sort of dictator might have done.  The coast was officially clear, the old royal perfume house of Houbigant returned to Paris, and the good times began to role once more.

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International Woman of Mystery

Another in my series of scents that are outrageously priced, I’m considering one of the limited edition Guerlains: Elixir Charnel Oriental Brulant.  It was in the neighborhood of 255.00 per 75 mls.  On Ebay the last price I saw listed was on the order of 355.00 which is an even pricier neighborhood. Is it worth it?

Well, no.  Briefly put there are other fragrances out there that do this same thing at a fraction of the cost.  On average they may have more synthetics in their formulae but not enough to knock them out of competition.

You see, Oriental Brulant is a vanilla amber perfume like Obsession (Calvin Klein) and Anne Pliska (Anne Pliska) and Fifi Chachnil (Fifi Chachnil) and that’s only to list a few of  its rivals in a crowded market.  It is very nice and has a natural smelling cedarwood drydown but I’m just not sure that justifies such a dizzying price hike.  This is an example of a relatively inexpensive formula that has been re-organized along lavish lines in order to please the luxury market.

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Boozeless Barflies

You wouldn’t think that drinking is an allusive pleasure, would you?  It is, but in a strange manner. If we do go down to the well on any given night and drink our fill, it seems that we do like to sit around thinking about it later, and we even like to smell of it – unless that is, we hit a speed trap on I-95.

The subject of beery perfumes is one for another day, but for those who enjoy, say, vodka, there is always Ambre Russe by Parfums d’Empire.  The perfume has gathered a bunch of rave reviews over time but unfortunately doesn’t  with me because I am anosmic to a particular synthetic used in high end amber perfumes.

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The Chypre’s Child

It was 1917 and François Coty invented something new – a perfume that was floral, but also woody, light but also dark, sexy but also restrained, and, like Jicky,  a fragrance that could be worn by women or by men.

Naturally it was a hit.  Coty – or Spoturno, to use the name he was born under -  was a natural perfume impresario.  Like P.T. Barnum then, like Simon Cowell nowadays, he had an instinct for what attracts the public’s attention and – the real trick – holds it.

He’d done this before, with Le Rose Jacqueminot in 1904 and L’Origan in 1905,  but Chypre, the 1917 perfume, was something new, what the French call Le chef du ligne, the head of the line.  Every other chypre fragrance ever produced looks back to that initial release (now discontinued) during World War One.

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The Green Two Stroke Engine

There are whole genres of perfumes out there which are supposedly familiar terrain, only I find that in fact they’re almost completely uncharted territory, I’ve never really explored  them properly at all.

Take, for instance, the green floral.  The very first one was supposedly Vent Vert composed  by Germaine Cellier in 1947.  I had a bottle of the 1992 reconstruction and never found it wearable because there was a tendency towards thinness.  In fact, I’ve always noticed this in regards to green florals, and it wasn’t until the other month or so when I read an interview with Pierre Guillaume the perfumer and founder of Parfumerie Generale on Grain de Musc that I understood why.

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What a Fougère Wears Under Its Kilt

Some time ago,  Alan Cumming decided to join the group of celebrities releasing a scent.  Arguably, he and Jane Birkin were the only two celebrities to back interesting ones.  Everyone else seemed to be pushing a synthetic variant of something else provided that the something else in question had sold well in the target demographic. These are the parameters of originality and creativity in the commercial world.  Cumming the Fragrance though, was different. I mean, quite different.

To understand what I mean here, you must put the perfume into context.  Compared with Jane Birkin’s perfume done by Miller Harris, Cumming the Fragrance was radical.  Birkin’s L’Air de Rien is a play on Bal a Versailles and Youth Dew, it strips down their formulae, but their neroli note is prominent, followed by a lot of earthy woods and ambers.  They are both animalic perfumes but nothing in comparison with Cumming. Continue reading

Josephine and Caporal Violette

The subject is violets, Napoleon, and Josephine Beauharnais, the original  trophy wife.

Well, highly decorative wife, at any rate, and she would have been rich – “rich as a Creole” was the expression in pre-Revolutionary France – had her  sugar baron father not gone bankrupt.

She was born in 1763 in Martinique, “Ile aux Fleurs” , where perfume is more or less superfluous.   When the flowers are in bloom – and when are they ever not? – the competing scent rides on the sea breezes and permeates the air.  A veritable onslaught of porcelaine rose, heliconias, flamboyants and who knows what else. Not quite enough to put her off perfume entirely, but by some accounts, it seems to have created a taste for simpler things.  For her garden, roses.  For her perfume,  violets.* Continue reading

The Non-Speaking Perfume

What if you want to affirm your elegance in a work-a-day world without revealing anything else about yourself?

It sounds like a pretty familiar proposition. Anonymity can be a powerful thing, come to think of it, and that’s why in contrast to the speaking perfume which I wrote about previously, you also need to have the silent one.

Chanel was the first company really to foster the conceptual in scent.  Whether this was the choice originally of Ernest Beaux, Chanel’s Russian émigré perfumer, or her own preference, we shall never know.  No. 5 is famously at once specific and general, flowers and aldehydes, a snow covered landscape, an empty urban space.  It was probably the variant of a perfume Beaux had already created in Russia, but its most salient characteristic was its abstraction.  It was like Malevich’s painting White on White, something new, something which defied category, something which referred only to itself. Continue reading