Monthly Archives: January 2013

Chopping Down Chypres

It is something of a dodged bullet, I suppose.  For a long time the SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety), the advisory body to the EU, has been toying with a whole slew of ingredients that may be problematic for some people.

This is the news that fueled the stories of Chanel No. 5’s demise, but the real trouble is that IFRA, the Industry’s own organization that sets consumer safety standards for perfume, tends to adopt such recommendations as a matter of course.  Could this be the end of No. 5?

Probably not, but if adopted, it will be the end of all oakmoss based chypres.  You can’t make a chypre without oakmoss.  There are some feeble attempts, from time to time, but they all lack the “guts”,  the darkness and depth, the basso profundo resonance, that chypres need. Continue reading

The Oriental in All of Us

Once in an idle interval, I remember toting up all the perfumes worn by every member of my extended family according to scent families. An idiotic little game of parallelisms and no doubt OCD as all get out, but bear with me.

What I discovered was that of about a dozen of us, only one of us wore Orientals, and that was my Mom with…drum roll… Tabu.

Even Chypres were better represented (by me), but of Orientals there were, well, only that one .

Why was that? Now that there are more of us, and several of us are a good deal younger than the original test sample, I find the exact same thing.  The ladies in my family wear fruity florals, and aldehydic florals and the odd citrus perfume but now, only one Oriental, namely Poivre, worn by me. No one else wears them at all.  Continue reading

Busting a Mauve

The flowers that are supposed to have the strongest scents are white. But the second most wonderfully scented group, to my nose, are the purple flowers. Consider lavender, lilac, violet, wisteria, iris, and heliotrope – all of them are beautiful fragrances, and all of them incidentally, are almost more beautiful in their white forms.

But it’s hard to track down the exact scent of purpleness.  Whereas perfumers can tell you that ionone beta is responsible for the smell of yellow in flowers*, there is nothing so homogenous to conjure up the scent of purple.  There is ionone, a very early synthetic used to recreate the smell of violets, there is heliotropin or piperonal, a chemical that is responsible for the smell of heliotrope and that’s derived from pepper oil. Notice though that we haven’t accounted for lilac or iris or lavender not to mention wisteria.  The smells of purple flowers are diverse. Continue reading

Speaking Allegorically

The Aqua Allegorias, the series of simpler, less expensive fragrances that Guerlain released beginning in 1999, has continued as a series up to the present day.  The quality of the series has varied considerably from the nearly irresistible, Flora Nerolia of 2000, to the messy collision between vanilla pine and fir that is Winter Delice of 2001, to the undetectable (by me) Laurier Reglisse.

Of all of them, the one that appears to cause the most consternation by its loss is Foliflora of 2003.  That one was a garland of flowers, a feminine floral meant to recall sweet pea.

It didn’t.  Nothing does, but the scent was a floral featuring principally freesia and gardenia notes, and the effect was charming and about as harmlessly female as a fragrance can get.  You would not believe the prices that this one commands on ebay.  It’s routinely in three figures, let’s put it that way. Continue reading

The Allegoricals

“Their heads are green
and their hands are blue
and they went to sea in a sieve.”

The Aqua Allegoria series really was among the best launches that the venerable firm of Guerlain ever had.  The releases addressed a demographic issue with the older, grander, perfumes,  which were on average too complicated, too heavy, too rich, for the  young buyer.  How were these young consumers, lacking an insistent Guerlain wearing Maman, to learn which of the great classics they could wear?  The answer was that they should meet the Guerlain  great-grandchildren lounging on the corner (or at Sephora), bumming cigarettes and moaning that their “weekend était épouvantable.” Continue reading


Having recently written about myrrh, I’ve had it somewhat on the brain.   Myrrh is one of those notes that you think you know or think you like, except, I find, when it’s actually under your nose and then you remember:  “Oh yes, there’s that note.”

I’m not sure if all myrrh worth discussing is bitter, but the two myrrh notes that I know best are.  They are inside two veteran perfumes, Coty’s L’Aimant and Jean Patou’s Caline. It was Meg of Parfumieren who first introduced me to L’Aimant.  It’s an aldehydic floral that is, to my way of thinking, much easier to wear than No 5.

I know, that’s an outrageous statement, but in my experience the old Cotys are almost flawlessly wearable.  There’s no insistence on being avant garde, or opinionated.  The Cotys are simply lovely on skin. But to return to my point about myrrh, about ½ way through the evaporation of L’Aimant, you get the note. Continue reading

Casta Diva

We always got them in February in Rome, silly fluffy little bouquets that made some people sneeze but which delighted others.  They were so bright and saffron and yellow, after a Roman winter of greige and beige and gray, mimosas in flower markets signaled an abrupt change of season.

To this day, mimosas are the true heralds of spring to me.  I may appreciate snowdrops, but they are northern flowers, and go along with winter jasmine, in dense yellow starred hedges, and primroses.  None of them have much scent.  The yellow winter jasmine has no scent that I can detect.  Every year I try to smell snow drops, but it is an undignified exercise at best, with me bending nearly double and failing to smell anything after all.  If I’m going to pretzel myself, it’s probably a better bet to wait until the lilies of the valley are  in bloom, then I’m sure to get a payoff for my impromptu yoga position.  It should be called the Ostrich. Continue reading

Upscale, Downscale

What is that odor wafting from the butler, the dignified Mr. Treadcarpet as he paces noiselessly over the hall runner on his way to open the front door?  It is discreet, for butlers cannot drench themselves in scent.  Mr. Treadcarpet leaves that sort of vulgarity to the inaptly named gentlemen’s gentlemen.  Mr. Treadcarpet allows himself a single drop of Coty’s Chypre on his pocket handkerchief, and he quite enjoys a bar of their soap as well in the bath, but beyond this he will not venture.  That way lies the dissolution of those firm traditional values of which Mr. Treadcarpet, and butlers generally, are the domestic guardians. Continue reading


Recently I read a review on I Smell Therefore I Am, of Alien Essence Absolue.  Brian, who does most of the writing over there, is a man who knows his perfume, and when he says that something is worth smelling and spending your time with, then I take him seriously, and make some sort of an effort.

Alien, though, was heavy weather for me.  As I’ve said- more than once, I fear– it’s popular in my part of Jersey, and to be smelled in virtually every mall.  I did have a small sample of Alien Essence Absolue, so I went and exhumed it and spent a morning trying to live with – and like – Alien.  Continue reading

In Which I Grow Wings

As a logical progression to trying to understand the Mugler perfume house, I decided the only way to understand something is to live with something, to stay in close proximity to something, basically, to wear it.  So that’s what I did.

A little back story is necessary. Relax, nothing like The Hobbit’s, just the fact that I don’t wear A) loud perfume or B) orientals, and Angel is either an oriental or a gourmand, and really I don’t wear those categories being much more of a woody/ floral/citrus kind of individual.  So I approached Angel with some trepidation. And what would my husband think?  Generally he doesn’t have too much to say about my perfume experiments.  He lets most of them pass with that good natured male refusal to get riled about much of anything bar tax rises. Continue reading