Monthly Archives: September 2012


The last week of summer I was in South Carolina. I love South Carolina, but  flying in from New York always astounds me because the atmosphere changes so much and by atmosphere, I mean the barometric pressure, the humidity levels – the whole meteorological enchilada.

New York was hot, and it was humid yes, but it was the customary played out heat of late summer in the city.  You could smell a little garbage, a lot of soot, a lot of diesel exhaust, some urine –  basically, New York smells.  (And please don’t get on my case if you are a resident New Yorker, because I was one too for years, and I know exactly how the city smells, and at all seasons. No matter what Laurice Rahme may market, the actual Smell de New York is perennially pee inflected.) Continue reading

Just What Is It About Vanilla?

Such a homely fragrance if you grew up anywhere in the West.  Vanilla – for us – is a flavoring that inhabits our kitchen shelf.  We bake with it, and the smell is reminiscent of childhood for a large number of people in the US and Canada.  It was hands-down my father’s favorite smell.  As a very small boy, he was once caught downing a bottle of the stuff in the pantry, much to his family’s amusement.

Marauding boys are the least of it, vanilla never seems to leave the roster of favorite scents.  Guerlain’s business is partially constructed on the cornerstone of vanilla in every dry down, and so are the business plans of Comptoir Sud Pacifique and Les Filles des Vanilles, and several others among which you might as well count Montale ( which Pierre Montale founded after Comptoir Sud Pacifique) . Continue reading

Roses on the Rocks

One of my favorite garden flowers has never done well for me.  Cistus ladanifer or just plain cistus, is a white flowering shrub that comes from the rocky dry countryside of Portugal and southern Spain.  The land of arid scrub and brilliant skyscapes most easily spotted in El Greco paintings and spaghetti or (paella?) westerns such as Cat Ballou and Viva Maria.  It is a land of jamon and mysticism, in about equal parts, and I have never gotten any closer to it than Malaga – which is not at all the same thing, and I really want to go some time.

Cistus though, is starred white by it s blossoms, each flower marked with a maroon blotch at the base of the petals, which gives it an exotic look.  I am a sucker for the color combination, that along with the wiry leaves, gives it a delicate appearance.  But, I‘ve never succeeded with it in a border.  The one time I tried, it died, having decided that clay was impossible, even though I had dug in a good deal of grit and lime, and it had plenty of sun. Continue reading

Nina and the Arpege Monster

My husband’s grandmother Nina was a pioneer.  She was unfailingly chic long before Anna Wintour had been born to make the rest of us feel fat and blowsy, she was anorexic in the days before that disorder had been recognized, and she was a perfectionist long before the rest of us had developed OCD.  She was also a killer raconteur, a dresser of effortless style, and briefly, a concert pianist.  If you could come up with a word to sum up Nina, it probably was “impeccable”.  Her perfume was Arpege,  of course.

Why of course?  Well, back in the day there were perfumes that smelt cheap and that smelt expensive and Arpege was one of the ones that unfailingly smelled expensive, that is, on the right person. If you’re reading perfume blogs there’s an excellent chance you already know Arpege well from one or another of its incarnations, and therefore are already acquainted, if so, disregard the description. Continue reading

The Ditzy Perfume Field Guide

Perfume is after all supposed to be fun.  Sometimes you just want to take a vacation from whatever it is that you wear and try something that is altogether lighter.  For this purpose, you need scent that is strictly un-strict.  Something that is the perfume equivalent of the talkative bird-brained girlfriend you can’t help enjoying because at the end of the day, she doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body.

I went looking for just such a fragrance the other week.  As everybody who lives in the Mid-West and East Coast of the US knows, it was an unusually hot and dry summer, at least at the outset.  It has definitely not been the time to wear heavy Orientals or smoky incense scents because either you feel that you’ll explode from the heat underneath that labdanum blanket you’ve foolishly smothered yourself in, or else you’ll convince the local Fire Department that someone has dropped a cigarette in the dry grass.  All of those  resins will have to wait until October.

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That Man!

Have you ever spent two hundred and some odd pages with a real bastard?  I just have, and by the way, the description is one that Charles Revson himself would have embraced.  In fact, he did embrace it. He got ahead in his business by being a bastard, and his life story bears that one out in spades.*

He was born the son of Jewish American parents in New Hampshire and got into the cosmetics trade by selling nail polish for a firm based in New Jersey.  Then came the Great Depression. Instead of being grateful to have a job at all, he was miffed when he lost out on a promotion.

He brooded. And he decided to do something about it.

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The Comfortable

This is the last in a series about the remark of Olivier Creed that every woman needs a perfume to make her fell brave, to make her feel beautiful, and to make her feel comfortable.  Today’s topic is the comfort perfume.

This is absolutely a matter of instinct.  Only you know what lowers your blood pressure.  It may smell of anything.  You may find the scent of tuna fish salad relaxing.  Whatever it is, if it works for you go ahead and buy it and use it.  There are no rights and wrongs here.  This is a case in which the opinion of scent critics is as pointless as anything can possibly be so if Luca or Tanya hated it – who cares?  It simply has to make you comfortable.  No one else even needs to smell it and if they do – so what?  An individual’s comfort perfume is their castle. Continue reading

The Beautiful

Pursuant  to the quote by Olivier Creed, a sixth generation perfume dynast, that every woman needs three perfumes, one to make her feel brave, one to make her feel beautiful, and one to make her feel comfortable, here is a discussion of the beautiful perfume.

Perhaps contrary to expectation, I will not suggest a particular scent family here because – and the caution is important – you have skin in the game.  Or you may, possibly have skin in the game later, because as the French say, love is largely a question of skin and always a game.  Anyway, as you have already guessed, the beautiful perfume is all about your skin and what sets it off. Continue reading

The Brave

Olivier Creed was quoted once as saying that a woman needed three perfumes: one to make her feel brave, one to make her feel comfortable, and one to make her feel beautiful.  Now, Creed is a firm that enjoys a chaotic reputation in the world of perfume (see Creedo). Probably the firm is more talked down than it deserves, and the mere repetition of the word “millesime” seems to infuriate certain perfume commentators, but still, I like this little saying of Mr. Creed’s and think it holds true. Continue reading

A Taste for Cashmere

 Knits are the obligatory accessory of Italian autumns.*  There’s that moment when all the treasured sweaters are unearthed from their estivation and placed back on the shelves of wardrobes lovingly. The reason is a distinct change in season that happens around September always heralded by mists which burn off early in the day.  Elizabeth Romer in The Tuscan Year describes it “… the days have a curious Technicolor depth and brilliance about them.  The colors of the landscape are deeper and richer…a sort of mini-spring has occurred.” Continue reading