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

Guerlain Vanillas

Decadent Vanilla

Decadent Vanilla

You can’t wear Guerlain without wearing vanilla.  It’s not even worth making the experiment because Guerlain equals vanilla, and there is no version of vanilla that Guerlain hasn’t whipped up, baked up, brewed up or macerated in just about endless variations during its nearly two hundred year history.*

First a disclaimer, I’m not a vanilliac.  But I like the note .  When I was younger I was sure I didn’t, and avoided Guerlains, but time Continue reading

Love- But Not at First Sniff

James Macneil Whistler

James Macneil Whistler

Some of my very favorite and most enduring loves in the perfume world began with serious dislike.  You might almost call some of those encounters Beatrice and Benedict  run ins*, and even though smelling a perfume is a great deal less complex than a human friendship-or feud- there were times when I really felt as if I was the last person to know my own likes and dislikes.

The converse may also be true.  You may love  a perfume from the very first time you encounter it, but my experience is that such easy affairs seldom involve the heart, and wind up being boring in the end.  I want, not drama exactly, but twists and turns that indicate a little complexity in a formula.  I don’t want to guess every move a fragrance is going to make long before it makes one. Continue reading

Warm Fuzzies: Narciso and Guerlain Eau de Cashmere

Marshmallow Fluff

Marshmallow Fluff

Not so long ago I was writing about influential perfumes and one of the two names which landed on the top of the pile was Narciso For Her.  The whole floral woody musk genre probably dates back to that perfume.  Anyway, the musk and flowers and a little bit of wood recipe has proven so popular that nowadays several releases a year fall into the fuzzily soft fabric (or fabric softener) of the fwm.  Everyone likes this plush toy formula, well everyone who does not require a little backbone in a perfume. Put it this way, floral woody musks are proof that in the perfume world the invertebrates can survive and thrive- even proliferate.

Of course the Narciso people could not let a success like Narciso For her go without progeny.  There have been several scents by now, all in the beautifully designed minimalist bottles that the brand is justly famous for, modern, streamlined and an ornament to any vanity though the contents are Fluff. Continue reading