Monthly Archives: January 2012

Frankincensely, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn

Incense perfumes seem to be the dividing line between true perfume enthusiasts and everyone else.  For the great majority of the public, incense perfumes smell like Church- especially if they are Catholic- and, curiously, seem to have otherworldly associations even for people who are not religiously affiliated.

Frankincense is in the vanguard in this perfumed assault on heaven, although I find in reading the notes that one perfume on my list contains no frankincense.  This is Andy Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marrocain.  It does have everything else that he could crowd into a sacred conference room: coriander, petitgrain, lemon, bergamot, jasmine, cistus, geranium, cedar, vetiver, vanilla, patchouli and ambergris.  Wow.  I could swear that was frankincense in there out-whiffing everybody else – but no havana.

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Buzzed

The series about those scents so impossibly expensive that only the few, the financially unchallenged, and the totally mad would actually purchase them continues.  Today’s choice is Stoned, the perfume put out by the British jeweler, Solange Azagury Partridge . It retails for $US 285.00 for 50 mls and comes in a red glass bottle with a tiny little Buddha perched on the top.

What it smells like is Habanita. Well, it does!  Only I suspect that the Habanita referenced is not the Habanita that can be purchased these days.  This version has ingested more patchouli than is strictly healthy for it and mixed it with a double shot of simple syrup so as to call Angel to mind, and is ultra sweet.  It is also powdery and tends to be more than a little bit blurred about the edges.  In this case that merely means that it’s properly named.  This is definitely for those evenings when the ingestion of mood altering substances is on the program.  Not that this perfume would get with a program, twelve step or otherwise.

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The Year of the Dragon Lady Perfume

How do you interpret the phrase Dragon Lady? Is it the vamp of the 40’s B movies in her skin tight re-interpretation of the cheongsam, or is it the lady simply born in the Year of the Dragon?

If  the latter, you’re probably not really looking for the sexy perfume, you’re probably looking for the perfume that smells the way that dragons would smell.

But now that we’re on the subject, how do dragons smell?  J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit suggests that the smell was anything but nice; that is, if the phrase “vast reek” is anything to go by.

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The Drill Sergeant Perfume

Among the many tasks I have passed off to perfume in the recent decades, one is undeniably odd: the reinforcer of sagging will power.

It does sound peculiar and admittedly most people probably don’t associate perfume with effort but consider, where did all those sports fragrances come from a few years ago?  There were all sorts of scents named sport this or active that, presumably meant to be worn at the gym. None of them could have been hymns to couch potatoes.  These were things that helped you pick up chicks at the spa or the beach, or the weight room without making her respond to you as a lady allegedly did to Dr. Johnson (or Ben Jonson, or Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein – good anecdotes tend to get passed around). The great man was judged malodorous by the woman who complained to him that he smelled.

“No, Madam,” went the reply.  “You smell, and I stink.”

Presumably if Dr. Johnson had only worn Habit Rouge Sport, this alleged conversation would never have taken place.

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The Little Wood That Could

Notwithstanding my mother’s deep and abiding fondness for Tabu, and therefore also her latent appreciation of patchouli which is entirely consistent with being a Hippie-manque, she never liked sandalwood.  “Pew! “was, I believe, the descriptive most frequently employed to describe it.

I, on the other hand, liked it a lot, and liked just about any perfume that contained it.  We did not see eye to eye nor smell nose to nose on that subject.

Now, of course, I can wear whatever I like so long as it doesn’t annoy Guts, cause the daughter to gag or make the cat light out for destinations unknown.  Come to think of it, that’s a bit more restrictive than it used to be, but anyway, Bois des Isles is on the list of things no one objects to.  Its major component: Sandalwood.

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Chypre 2.0

Periodically perfume people mourn the death of the chypre.  It’s supposed to be down to the restrictions on oakmoss which was the constituent that gave the chypres so much salty depth and dryness.  Now you cannot use oakmoss in amounts large enough to produce the chypre effect, or you have to use low atranol oakmoss which is, from the chypre’s perspective, rather like trying to pass off a gelding as a stallion.  You just know something is missing.

Among those who comment about perfumes these days the positions on chypres are mixed.  Perfumistas sorrow over their absence but in practically the same sentence they also accuse them of formality, of masculinity, or of being difficult to wear. Still there are many good ones to be found on the internet. Continue reading

Real Men Don’t Wear Scent, Part II

So much for the the ancients and ocean travellers.  It happened that post-renaissance landlubbers, no less confident in their machismo, could also be comfortable with perfume.

We’re talking Louis XIV and Louis XV, who, despite the wigs, were no shrinking violets*; they beggared the country with war and jumped women like champions. Perhaps the two were connected.  Women seem to respond to a man in uniform. Continue reading

Real Men Don’t Wear Scent, Part I

“Suppose we go further,” said Callias, “and have some one bring us some perfume, so that we may dine in the midst of pleasant odours, also.” “No, indeed!” replied Socrates. “For just as one kind of dress looks well on a woman and another kind on a man, so the odours appropriate to men and to women are diverse. No man, surely, ever uses perfume for a man’s sake.”…

“That may do for young fellows,” observed Lycon; “but what of us who no longer exercise in the gymnasia? What should be our distinguishing scent?”

“Nobility of soul, surely!” replied Socrates.

“And where may a person get this ointment?”

“Certainly not from the perfumers,” said Socrates.

(Xenophon, Symposium)

There you have it.  Proof positive that the prejudice against men and scent is not limited to up-tight American WASPs of a certain age and background, but has in fact a long and pointed history.  Socrates believe that men should smell of “free labor and manly exercise”.

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The 1912 Overture Part III

Parfums Caron date back to the year 1904, making it therefore a decisively newer house than Guerlain (1828).  Ernest Daltroff, the young entrepreneur who had founded the business was looking for a perfume that would put him on the map.

He’d had some success with a release called Chantecler (1906), but Daltroff knew that a modest boost was not what a fledgling business needed. It needed a blockbuster.

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The 1912 Overture Part II

Not every perfume released in 1912 was actively influenced by Coty’s decade dominating hits.  Houbigant, which had left off the last century with an unprecedented perfume (Fougere Royale,1882) was due for another world beater.

Their business had begun in 1775.  Jean Francois Houbigant had opened a boutique called A la Corbeille de Fleurs on the rue Saint Honore.    Wigs were the fashion of the day (see The Powdering Gown), and for reasons that pass modern understanding,  people insisted on powdering them – maybe it put off lice? Whatever the reason, Houbigant supplied the powder.

He also sold hair pomade, and floral essences, which gets us back on familiar territory.  The making of him was the patronage of Madame du Barry, the equivalent of a thirty-dollar Good-time Girl, whom the aging king Louis XV had installed as maitresse en titre. Continue reading