Boo! In a Bottle

Witches in costume

Witches in costume

Halloween is almost here, and in the grand tradition of Jersey which takes Halloween quite seriously, I am thinking about the very darkest fragrances and how well  they play with the public these days? Or whether, and I’d lay odds on this, they simply spook them?

Darkness was in once.  People wore extremely strong and heavy fragrances and no one thought twice about it, Cabochard for instance, or Guerlain’s old heavy hitter Djedi, or the original Ungaro which I recall had a very dark sillage, sort of like a black hole altering the time space continuum  as it came down the street, sucking in every other fragrance for yards around into its impossibly dense core.  Come to think of it, the original Must de Cartier did that too.  But then, once upon a time, it was the eighties and nineties.

You get a lot of perfumes called black or noir now, but the reality is often a tame backing off from animalic musks or woods, or Heaven preserve us! Oakmoss!! Continue reading

Truly Madly Oddly

Guerlain's pamplelune

Guerlain’s pamplelune

Originality is risky.  You may have observed this yourself in the matter of wardrobe selection.  You may be creative and a free spirit, and completely unrestrained by those tiresome things called conventions, but that’s not the point, the point is, what about everyone else?

When it comes to scent convention tends to control what we wear and where we wear it.  A pervasive oriental to the office? A titanic white floral to a dinner party?  Perfume no matter how romantic in essence, has to fit in with its olfactory surroundings and those tend to be the set pieces of existence everything from the dry cleaner’s to the doctor’s office. Continue reading

Perfumers of Note : Yves Cassar

Pure White Linen

Pure White Linen

The lives of perfumers have changed so much in the past twenty years. They used to be invisible entities, people who engineered liquids in bottles so that we would all be enchanted, and their work was ascribed to designers,  “Bigdeal Designer, for his new perfume…” In fact Big had licensing agreements.  Nowadays it’s much more civilized.  We recognize that perfumes are worked out like watery equations by perfumers.

Maybe it’s naive to pay too much attention to the work of perfumers simply because they are themselves at the mercy of briefs and of the clients who present said briefs, but now and again, the fumes clear and you can see an individual at work who is clearly highly talented. Continue reading

The Shock of Recognition

“A truly great perfume, however,  is one which provokes genuine emotion in the person who smells it for the first time….The best perfumes are ones which ‘give us a shock’.”

from Perfume by Elizabeth Barille and Catherine Laroze

Lightning Strike

Lightning Strike

If you’re a perfumista long enough you begin to drift away from the days in which you frequently got shocks from perfume.  But I still experience them and the wonderful part of each shock is that it is completely unpredictable.  I can wear something artisanal and unprepossessing and I can put on something from the CVS (Canoe actually) or I can put on some perfume that I was pretty sure I disliked, only to find the formula opening out brilliantly on skin- to my surprise.  I’m blown off my feet by a few scent molecules, and not for the first time. Continue reading

Ripeness Is All

Fig Fruit

Fig Fruit

The fig note in perfumes, now fairly widespread, was an innovation of the 1990′s. Olivia Giacobetti’s Premier Figuier for L’Artisan Parfumeur dates back to 1994 and with it was born a perfect craze for figs.  For a while they became the only green fragrances that were in vogue.  You could smell leafy and edible at one and the same time, which I suppose was the point.

There is also the enduring connection between human sexuality and figs, and therefore the use of fig leaves.  Walk through a Vatican statue gallery, and a perfect gale of marble leaves apppears to have been stripped off stone trees, blown in, and hit the nudes with unerring accuracy all in the same spot. They are the Renaissance answer to Speedos. Continue reading

The Mortal Flower of Immortality

Picking Chrysanthemums

Picking Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums smell of cemeteries that’s the conventional judgement of Western Europe.  My sister who spent the most impressionable years of her childhood in Italy still cannot  bring anyone a bouquet of chrysanthemums.  She just can’t. The flowers are bad luck to her, so often seen as blackening bundles in front of the small Italian tombs. Continue reading

Sex Positive Parure

Anouk Aimee the quintessential Parisienne

Anouk Aimee the quintessential Parisienne

Most people when they write about the chypres of Guerlain do tend to go on (and on) about Mitsouko.  If you knew Mitsouko, like they knew Mitsouko, your whole outlook on life would change. There is a kind of mystic union between the wearer and the perfume, and if you love peaches and bergamots and lilacs, vetiver, amber and oakmoss , not forgetting a bit of cinnamon, you will indeed love Mitsouko.

Still Mitsouko is not the whole story in terms of chypres chez Guerlain.  There is always Chant d’Aromes (a sort of back crossing of Mitsouko with Ma Griffe) and Sous le Vent which is a skinny chypre with herbs and lavender in the beginning and less going on its dry down than in Mitsouko,rather like a girl with no behind, and then…there’s Parure. Continue reading

George in Amber

George Sand

George Sand

Some folk leave a large sillage behind them.  They were not small characters try as they might to behave as though they were. The gale of life, as A.E. Housman wrote, blew high through them.  George Sand of course is a case in point.

It’s sort of too bad about George.  She was so famous in the 19th century for her writing and is now famous mostly for the unapologetic originality of her life.  She did not prosper at the career then considered appropriate for all women, marriage.  In her writing George has a great deal to say about bad marriages and the trouble they cause, and since she believed in the interconnectedness of human beings, the far reaching consequences of these troubles.  George was the first to point out that a society that is unhappy in its molecular form, is unhappy in the aggregate as well. Continue reading

High Price Point = Quality Perfume?

The Galeries Lafayette in Paris

The Galeries Lafayette in Paris

You can guess from the way that I formulated this question that I am skeptical.  It’s an open secret that the perfume business has very high margins.  Only the handbag industry has higher ones which is why both are sold on the bottom floors of department stores where the foot traffic is heaviest. You have a large number of people getting into the scent business assuming that they will make their fortunes on the buoyancy of scent molecules.

This got me thinking though.  Do we really do a good job selecting quality perfume for our hard earned dollars?  If we’re buying luxury, what exactly is that?  What constitutes luxury these days, and what constitutes a good price for it?  Continue reading

And One More Word on Vanilla

Three dimensional  Vanillin

Three dimensional Vanillin

The word I have in mind is vanillin. Vanillin is one of the earliest synthetics from 1874 actually when first produced by the firm of Haarmann & Reimer, and you would recognize the smell even if you were not fascinated by fragrance because vanillin, like the SPECTRE organization in James Bond stories is everywhere, though mostly these days in food, along with its close associate ethylvanillin. If you’ve eaten candy bars you’ve eaten vanillin. Continue reading