Monthly Archives: May 2013

An Homage to Amouage

BEDOUINSI spent Saturday in exotic company, my three companions were the Guerlains Rose Nacre du Desert, Songe d’un Bois d’Ete, and Encens Mythique.  They were startling to encounter because they all do what Guerlians used to do, namely last, have a sillage, and project an air of luxury.  A few posters on line have called this series Guerlain doing Montale, but I bet these three were Guerlain doing Amouage, and possibly doing Amouage better than Amouage does itself. Continue reading

Most Unlikely to Succeed

CHANEL_No5_parfumThat dubious distinction still seems to go to floral aldehydes, the unpopular but deserving members of the floral class.  Never mind that the class photo features No 5 sitting front and center, the attractive teacher, chicly conservative in her boxy little jacket, with a sprawling disparate group around her, some obviously not having paid attention  to the dress code laid down for picture day.  Some of the newcomers are in jeans, Clean’s Cotton T Shirt for instance.

Perhaps this unpopularity of late years has had to do with the perception of being unfashionable.  If so, then the unfashionable stigma on aldehydic florals dates from some time in the 1980s.  Not much came out in that decade that was recognizably aldehydic and floral. Nina Ricci’s Fleur de Fleurs dates from 1982, a green aldehydic scent that fell into the group by default, as did Bogner’s Sonia, and Shiseido’s cult hit Nombre Noir, and even such oddities as Italy’s Deborah Time. Only Amouage’s Gold really had much lasting impact, and that because it was a new spin on an old genre, mixing the aesthetics of middle eastern perfumery with French. Continue reading

Bearded Wonders

irisDoes anyone (else) remember the wonderful garden writer for the Washington Post, Henry Mitchell?  He wrote the Earthman column for years and his collection of essays on gardening, culled from old pieces, The Essential Earthman  is wonderful reading matter for arm chair gardeners everywhere.  The essential thing to know about Henry Clay Mitchell – besides his love of grubbing, building and garden planning – was his absolute passion for bearded iris. Continue reading

Perfume for a Wet Day in May

renoir-the-umbrellasThe day in question would be one of those puddle jumpers of late spring, you know, umbrella and Wellington boot weather.  This has been our lot for weeks on the eastern coast of the US, where the spring has been tardy and cold.

This unexpected weather has played hob with my usual perfume choices for this time of year.  Normally, I would have cracked my Carons, and it would have been a Bellodgia fest with a bit of En Avion and Narcisse Blanc to break up the rose/carnation cabal. That is what it might have been like.  However it’s been too raw for all those scents, and frequently too wet.  I kept Coty’s l’Aimant in rotation, as the sole floral, because that smells  dry and slightly peachy, a comforting perfume for cold, raw days. Continue reading

Perfumes for a Writer

coletteMaybe it all began with Baudelaire, or Zola, or Maupassant, or Huysmans;  certainly it carries over into the work of Proust, but arguably it was Colette who wrote about perfume with the greatest delicacy and exactitude of all French writers.

If perfume was entering artistic culture at the turn of the 19th century, then it was authors of her generation who helped usher it in.  The human response, simple but profound, to the ordinary stimulus of scent, was something Colette with her instincts, sensitive as feelers, understood.  For her, the mystery of this world was visual, palpable, smell-able.

“I recall,” she writes in Flora and Pomona about visiting a greenhouse at a Parisian flower show, “an extraordinary prodigality of irises, in May…thousands and thousands of iris, a clump of azure approaching a yellow clump, a velvety violet facing an extremely pale mauve, black iris…thousands and thousands of iris, occupied with their punctual births and deaths, without a pause, with mixing their perfume with the mysterious foulness of manure…”.   All this accompanied by “the sound of half opened fore wings, the sound of an insect’s delicate claw, the noise of a dead leaf’s dance, but it was the irises, in the propitious filtered light, loosening the desiccated membrane rolled at the base of their calyxes, the irises who in their thousands bloomed.” Continue reading

A Patou Revival

Jean_PatouLast week I went to Sniffapalooza, and among all the other things and people you could see there, I met the in house perfumer of Jean Patou, Thomas Fontaine.  Under ordinary circumstances this wouldn’t happen because in my zig- zagging about New Jersey, head perfumers don’t turn up all that often, but at the time, on the cosmetics floor of Bergdorf’s, I got a moment to speak to him and he was very interesting, perhaps particularly to me, as I love the history of perfumes, and not just the novelties.

He’s a busy man these days since he works for the parent company of Jean Patou Designer Perfumes, and they own more than one older brand. Jean Louis Scherrer is also on the roster.  Thomas Fontaine has the task of keeping up the older formulas, and in the age of restrictions, this is no easy thing.  You never know when IFRA will put out an APB on desperate scent villains such as jasmine. If you are responsible for keeping up Joy’s appearances, this sort of interdiction could constitute the coup de grâce for the old classic. Continue reading

Witches’ Berries, Fairies, and a Pot of Jam

Baba_YagaCassis is a note that French perfumers are very partial to.  The smell of the little black berries puzzles me a bit, though, since cassis is rare in US markets.  We just don’t use it, and the reason is that various species of currants are “alternate hosts to the white pine blister rust disease” and as a result, there are restrictions on growing them laid down by Federal Quarantine Acts.  This no doubt explains why it is that currants aren’t seen frequently at American farmer’s markets.  These days you can grow currants in some Eastern states – New York is an example – if you plant rust resistant cultivars.  The end result is, we don’t get many currants.

This is why cassis dominant perfumes seem odd at first to my American nose.  I think I’m smelling blackberry with some sort of twist to it.  Actually, I’m smelling cassis.  In liquor it’s comprehensible, especially if you are in the habit of drinking a Kir in summer, which is generally a glass of white Bordeaux with a teaspoon or two of Crème de Cassis in it.  The whole concoction turns a pretty shade of lavender and is very refreshing.  Continue reading

You Must Like It, And It Must Like You

BottomThe oddity of body chemistry is one of those imponderables that never cease to amaze me.  We all know the scenario by now, how two people can try on the same perfume and it will coalesce into a beautiful flower arrangement on one wearer’s skin, and devolve on the other’s, into a rotten soggy mess.  Hard to believe, but it does happen.

Sometimes the quality of the perfume is at fault.  If a formula is harsh or thin, then skin will not save it. Conversely, even well made scents can fall apart on an epidermis like an under rehearsed ballet on stage. Chandler Burr in The Perfect Scent laments the formulation of fragrances to perform best on paper, which isn’t very useful, he remarks – unless you are made of paper.  Continue reading

Hot! Hot! Hot!

5_market_19One of the Hub’s guilty television pleasures is Heat Seekers, a little program in which two chefs go in search of incendiary food all over the US map. Roger Mooking and Aaron Sanchez can take on just about anything measured by the Scoville Scale, up to and including the dreaded Ghost Chili.

The Hub who is extremely fond of a good dose of chemical heat in his food, finds in the program pleasure by proxy.  He himself cannot take things quite as fiery as all that.  I know, because of an unfortunate experiment in cooking that involved a super hot South American pork stew some years ago.  Five bites in and the Hub’s throat barred access to his stomach.  He claims that it had been a glorious five bites before indigestion called a halt to the whole operation, but he still likes to watch other guys break into a sweat over a bowl of chili. Continue reading

Flooring an Amouage

roadster1Amouages do not waste time when it comes to opening up.  Even more than Montales, and certainly more than Serge Lutens perfumes, they hit the road- that road being the Silk Road-at high speeds.  The trouble with all that acceleration,all that pick up, is their power.  Some of the Amouages are simply overwhelming.  They feel like one of those sports cars with way too much horsepower under the hood.  You can’t get the feel of the accelerator because every time you press down a centimeter or two, the car zooms half way to sixty, scares the lights out of you,  and you were just trying to back out of the driveway.  Amouage gets me like that. Yeah, I like a Maserati.  A lot, but do I think I can drive one credibly?

Um, no. Continue reading