Monthly Archives: September 2013

Perfumer for a Perfect World

the_Perfume_MakerYou’ve seen this exercise before, the question is what perfumer living or dead, would you choose to make you a signature scent?  I’ve read the question and always think it depends on what it is, or was, that the perfumer did best ? Meaning, which genre of scent did they excel at composing?

If you choose to wear chypres, you’d have to resurrect Francois Coty as a composer.  Nobody knocked them out of the park the way he did.  And personally, I love chypres.  You could insist on Jacques Guerlain, but he was so good at orientals, that I kind of hate to make him budge. No, for chypres, in the dream of perfume enthusiasts, it would have to be Coty. Among the living, no question, Michel Roudnitska.  He does beautiful lasting ones. Continue reading

Sunshine Compressed

hayNot everyone grew up on a farm, so I can’t blame people for not recognizing August or the first week or two of September as the time when the second haying occurs.  Hay, for urbanites and suburbanites, is something abstract, something horses eat, something you once smelled while visiting cousins who had it in a barn.

For the rest of us, hay is a remarkably versatile product.  If your parents had the kind of hay bailers that bound up the hay in dense elongated cubes, then it was the basis of an impromptu architecture that you erected in the barn yourself.  You could make hay mansions, with windows, and look out onto your summertime world. Continue reading

What Claudette Really Wore

Claudette_ColbertBesides, of course, that famous pencil skirt she flipped up ever so slightly in order to hitch hike more efficiently in It Happened One Night.  I’ve always read that in perfume it was Vol de Nuit or some such impeccably elegant oriental, but it seems that later in life Claudette liked lilies of the valley.

She’s one of those actresses who really did understand all about clothes, too.  I can’t help but respect her for her hands on attitude towards fashion.  Claudette knew a thing or two about construction, and she did not hesitate to take an entire suit apart and lay it out, in order to correct something in the fit.  She was knowledgeable enough to do this, and improve the look in the process.  Imagine someone saying this to Selena Gomez now?  It would be, like, majorly not happening! is my guess. Continue reading


peachPeaches are still in the markets, and I’m happy.

Every year I look for them and every year their return is short, a few weeks in my part of the Eastern Seaboard.   But we make the most of them in my household: fresh peaches for breakfast, peaches in waffles, peach slices in glasses of white wine with peach schnapps (call it an American Bellini), peach cobbler, and – well, you get the idea.  Continue reading

Strange Partners

fontaine Tuberose is often considered the most feminine –  no, strike that, the most female scent going.

There may be many reasons for that, but the headiness of its white floral, the often commented upon smell of blood, or some people say iron, that is part of the flower, intrigue perfumers, and the result is a parade of scents, everything from Carnal Flower to Tubereuse Criminelle, that attempt to recreate the flower.

But what about tuberose in partnership?  Continue reading

Virginia and Versailles

tobaccoI know we’re not supposed to smoke.  Even if I had the faintest inclination to light up, my daughter would give me a stern lecture on the dangers of smoking, and she’d be right.  It’s a dirty habit, but…there’s something seductive about tobacco all the same.

You see, it’s partly a matter of generation.  I belong to one in which the memories of smoking, everyday smoking, smoking in the home, are still possible to retrieve.  People smoked then not in the furtive, cadging a smoke on the corner without making eye contact manner they do now, one foot hurriedly grinding out the evidence. They smoked openly.  I remember people smoking in droves in restaurants and cafes in Paris and Rome; I even have dim memories of going out to lunch with my father in Baltimore and having the waiter provide a heavy glass ash tray at the table!  In fact, Dad had his own silver ash trays at home,  with his initials etched on the bottom. Unthinkable now, such public displays, unless you consider the new smoke-less cigarettes a form of smoking, but that is how it was once upon a mid century. Continue reading

Coco Avant Numero Cinq?

Sem_Chanel_1919Yesterday I was in New York and of course I stopped off at the Plaza.

Well, I suppose there is no “of course” about this, as I had planned all along to stop at the Plaza  specifically so that I could go and sniff the perfumes at the Krigler kiosk there, but these are my vagaries and it is enough that my family puts up with them. They had already “put up” with stopping at Federic Malle’s on Madison. (“What’s this?” “Le Parfum de Therese.” “Okey-dokey, why is it here?” “Because a famous perfumer composed it for his wife.” “Um, OK, so why’s it here?” “Because he’s dead now and so is she, and the family decided it could be marketed.” “OK, so if it’s for Therese, why do the rest of you want it?” ”Mom, why are there, like, booths in there?” “For the perfume.” “Oh…That’s creepy.”) Continue reading

A Rose By Any Other Claim

Rose2Some people can’t pass Delis, some people can’t pass an Apple store, some people stop reflexively to look in the windows of jewelers, but my weakness is for flowers (when it isn’t for perfume) and so I have a hard time passing gardens by. I wonder what everything is, and, having this nose and this curiosity as constant companions, what everything smells like.

Roses are a particular hazard for me.  There is almost no rose I don’t like, although I’ll admit to battling black spot grumpily. (It’s the sprays. Nozzles, old technology that they are, always get twisted in the wrong direction, and I end up spritzing myself, which is a powerful motive for organic gardening chez moi.)

To return to flower beds, though – one in a commercial property near my neighborhood was neglected.  Continue reading

A Luxurious Trail of Ambergris

james_tissot_le_balThere’s just something about ambergris.  The smell is as conspicuously  consumptive as trailing Thai silk along  the ground, or lining your slippers with minks. It’s outrageous and  most people don’t even know how pricey the molecules they inhaled when you passed by  were.  Ambergris is stealth wealth indeed.

However, since ambergris is and was so prohibitively costly, the ingredient has never turned up all that frequently in perfumes. When it does, as in Cartier’s Panthere, or Hermes Caleche Eau  Delicate,  or old Miss Dior,  the entire dry down resonates with is extravagant tonality, somewhere in between leather and iris. Something in the resulting coda, has suffered a sea change into something rich, and strange.

The emphasis there is definitely on the rich side of the statement.  Ambergris in Miss Dior turned  the perfume into  a fur coat of a fragrance, every molecule  a velvet textured  delight Continue reading