Monthly Archives: November 2011

Queen Marie of Roumania and the Ghost of a Scent

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.”

Dorothy Parker

One of the backstage tools for this blog lets us see where the readership is coming from.    Third highest numbers are from Roumania.  An interesting and wonderful country, particularly to the historian in me, but not a place I would have associated with perfume.  This bore investigation.

Not much on perfume per se, but I did come across the story of Pelisor castle, Queen Marie of Roumania, and the lingering scent of violets of India.

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Aztec Two-step

Cortez was the first European to notice the vanilla orchid.  Apparently, while he was otherwise occupied with the conquest of Mexico, he spotted one out of the corner of his eye. He also found out about the local brew in Meso-america as well, which was xocoatl, aka chocolate.  The curious fact of these two Central American natives was that they were already known as world beating scents and flavors to the Aztecs, Olmecs and Mayans.  The Spanish merely came late to a culinary cult revolving around two of the world’s favorite flavors.

Both chocolate and vanilla were brought back to Spain, and both were enjoyed in various permutations.  While the Aztecs liked to spike their cocoa with chilis and achiote, Europeans preferred to mix it with milk, vanilla and eventually sugar creating the milk chocolate we all know and love.

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Forest Floorlevel

It has not escaped the attention of certain perfumers that a lot of the public likes the smell of dirt.  We tend to like it instinctively, e.g.  my daughter and her friends and our cellar, and often gravitate to “something earthy in perfumes”.  You might as well add to this observation that earthy smelling scents can and have been great sellers for decades.  Consider my mother’s old favorite Tabu.

Sometimes, however, perfumers take a direct route to the unconscious via the smell of the actual dirt, or the closest approximation of it that you can bottle.  They know we love it.  We read it – or Rupert Murdoch would have gone out of business a long time ago- and cultivate it – or ditto Scotts– and so why shouldn’t we smell of it?

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RIP Jean Laporte

Once upon a time there were no niches in the perfume market. There were celebrity fragrances, which have never ceased coming into existence or amazing me  (rarely in a good way), there were the big makers, and there were fashion designer scents.

What there weren’t were perfumers wacky or quirky enough to go out on their own.  There are now, of course, so many that I find at least two or three such ranges debuting in any given year. Back in the day – not.

And then, in 1976,  Jean-Francois Laporte founded L’Artisan Parfumeur.

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Another Day in Deauville

Sometimes you just feel like an idiot.  Maybe I do more often than the generality of mankind, but anyway yesterday was one of those moments, when your id starts calling your ego names and you feel like a bystander at a bar fight.

I had been thinking of Chanel No 19, a classic green floral, and the release of a new flanker No 19 Eau Poudre. I smelled the new perfume and it is really nothing special – a little synthetic musk, some iris, reminiscent of laundromats.

It also does not smell like 19.

It is, in other words, one of those flankers that have nothing whatsoever to do with the original scent. Or, to be blunt, if you’ve got the slightest interest in the original perfume, this new scent is entirely unrelated and is not a flanker.

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Drier Than a Dirtbath in Dallas

It’s not the sort of description that you find often. Perfume is supposed to smell sweet, or floral, or spicy, or woody. But dry? Hmm….

The dryness of perfume, however, is sometimes a great selling point. Consider Hermes best selling Terre d’Hermes. Since its introduction in 2006, Terre has become the business perfume du jour. It is what European executives – both real and aspirational – now wear. The also-rans wear something that smells macho, or brisk but not unflappable. The completely effortless aplomb of Terre d’Hermes is what makes it the business parfum par excellence.

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Sometimes perfume houses get on the wrong sides of critics.  For reasons that aren’t entirely obvious, this seems to have happened with the house of Creed.  I’ve read some truly vituperative reviews of Creed scents on perfume sites.  It was unclear just why the writers were so angry.  Was it the price?  Creed is expensive in general, but quite frankly, so are a lot of other perfumes on the market these days.  In fact I sometimes think that the complaints about quality and luxury have resulted in a rash of scents priced around the $200.00 mark, whether or not they deserve such a figure.  So what makes Creed stand out?

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Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

When Alexander McQueen made his untimely exit from this world, there was an unprecedented amount of recognition for his legacy.  Here, said the fashion world, is the empty shell of genius with nothing left but a calciferous structure lined in opalescent mother of pearl to show where it was housed. It was a lining McQueen had managed to externalize during his short life in his extraordinary body of work.

That body includes the supremely strange perfume Kingdom.  I had, and went through, a sample of the stuff a couple of years ago, and what stuck in my mind was that it was one of those perfumes that are identikits of missing ingredients.  In this case, it was Indian sandalwood, on which an APB had been put out by the perfume community.  Santalum album is now rare, although it is beginning to be grown commercially in Australia, so that at some point in this decade it will probably be back on the menu of fine perfumery.

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A Moon for the Impecunious

Since I have started a series on stratospherically priced perfumes, I feel an obligation to examine an equal number of inexpensive ones.  Although the gap between expensive and inexpensive is growing these days, it’s still not hard to come up with lots of good options that don’t cost much.

One such candidate is Karl Lagerfeld’s Sun Moon Stars.  It’s an intriguing perfume for a couple of different reasons, but let’s begin with the fact that it was created by Sophia Grosjman, who also did Paris for YSL, Eternity for Calvin Klein, Tresor for Lancome – in short, one of the greats of the perfume world.

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