Upmarket/Downmarket Perfume

"What do you smell?" Sherlock and friend from The Telegraph

“What do you smell?”
Sherlock and friend from The Telegraph

This issue used to strike me as very important long ago.Choice of brand was crucial.  Or so I thought at seventeen. Now this matters far less to me.  I smell all sorts of things and know that many releases are merely rehashes of earlier perfumes, and so  wear whatever strikes me as genuinely interesting pretty much wherever it came from.  But I am naive on this point because the truth is that brands and branding matter a lot.  During the Great Depression of the 1930’s the fatal error among perfume companies was to move downmarket.  You might think that this is counter-intuitive, but in fact it was vitally important.  If your image was exclusive you stood a good chance of surviving the economic wreck, if by contrast you decided to sell your scents in cheap retail outlets like discounters or drugstores, your chances of market share loss were pretty good.  It was Saks Fifth Avenue or bust for perfume companies then. Continue reading

Sandalwood Sisterhood

narniaOf course, it was obvious all along, but I never saw it.  Call it one of those annoying instances when your subconscious mind realized something from the get-go but chose not to share it with your waking consciousness.  Very irritating, very sneaky, very left brain of it, but then, as it is the left brain, very typical as well.

The apercu in this case is that the great classic  Chanel Bois des Iles is of course, a do-over of Caron’s Nuit de Noel.

Oh yeah! Right?  You always knew that. We always knew it, but critical opinion had a way of making us think that the two things were poles apart and probably at opposite ends of the good taste spectrum – well, not so much. Continue reading

An Explosion of Brands

 John Singer Sargent  Promenade during the uncrowded fin de Siecle

John Singer Sargent
Promenade during the uncrowded fin de Siecle

Believe it or not this happened once before.  You may think that nothing like the multiplication of perfume niche companies has ever been seen in the history of scent sales but back in the early twentieth century something very like this happened.

Frankly I’ve long since lost count of the number of new niche fragrance houses that have debuted in the last three years or so.  Some of them will survive of course, and many will not, but back in the teens and twenties the world of perfume was similarly flooded. Continue reading

Florals that Define Us

freesia for spring post

Is there a particular flower scent that is your signature floral? Something you return to over and over and find addictive, something that speaks to you on a molecular level especially in spring time?  Of course I know we’re supposed to be lovers of orientals, or florals, or chypres, and identifiable by all sorts of methods, but really, all of us have a floral that does a lot of our self definition for us even more effectively than pant cuts,  skirt lengths, or color choices, and that we return to with the warm weather, just like swallows to Capistrano. Continue reading

Dark Velvet Bouquets

Cat0In The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan is always looking for the longest day of the year, and then missing it, but in my case, it’s the shortest day of the year I look for and generally miss.  All cases of seasonal blues aside, this is the time of year loved by firelight and candlelight aficionados, that includes me, and my close associate the cat, who never saw a warm surface she wouldn’t nestle onto.

To go with all this man made illumination I enjoy cozy perfumes with something like a gourmand note.  Please notice this isn’t a gourmand.  That’s a different matter, and while I like gourmands, I don’t own any. 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

Keepers

keeperaThe world of perfume blogging dearly loves a list.  Who knows why we are so very fond of these sequential processions of names and titles, but I do know that nobody who loves perfume can resist them.  I thought it was time to compose a list of the best of the last ten years, a list of the perfumes that have struck me as lasting presences on the scene, keepers, potential classics, if you like.

A list like that should have kept me deliberating for days, but actually only kept me busy for one afternoon. Why?  Well, despite the enormous numbers of releases these days, not much really strikes me as all that durable.

So here is a list that includes perfumes I don’t necessarily like myself, but which I think are classics or potential classics in the making. Just because I don’t care for it personally, doesn’t mean it isn’t in the running. Continue reading

Paisley, Patchouli, and Paranoia

JanisThere’s this unfortunate thing about patchouli: she has baggage.  In fact patchouli has a past and the said past is not the sort you come by in front offices or middle class living rooms.  Patchouli used to live on a commune at some unspecified period in her existence (she’s fuzzy on dates) and she now operates strictly within the territories bounded by the Dew Drop Inn and the tat parlor.

Nowadays some perfumers would like to clean up patchouli and see if she can adapt to the high life.  They have a far harder job on their hands than Henry Higgins did with Eliza Doolittle, because, as we’ve already mentioned, Patchouli is not a good girl.  I don’t think realistically that she can do any better than an appearance at the Burning Man Festival and you can just forget about Embassy balls. Continue reading

Ante-Meridian

Sleeping womanGenerally, I don’t mess with perfume until the afternoon.  This is not a hard and fast rule so much as it is habit.  There is simply no point in trying to get yourself completely turned out at seven a.m. or earlier-which it often is around here-unless you have to catch a plane or something.

Still there are times when the morning fragrance is a helpful prop, literally, when you have to get up and get going pronto.  I have written about this phenomenon before, and then my choices were distinctly prickly perfumes, things that got you up and held up up at an early hour. But there are gentler ways of waking up as well. Continue reading

Allons Enfants!

We have been successfully hornswoggled by the French.  The fact that it is a very old and sophisticated form of hornswoggilification is no real excuse.    They have put one over on us, that’s the fact, and one of the greatest parts of this deception is the notion that only French perfume is great, or indeed worth wearing at all.  Not so.

Well, you knew that, of course. But what you may not know is that as long as four hundred years ago, it was the fixed policy of the French government to promote the luxury trades for export.  This all began, or probably began, with M. Colbert (Jean-Baptist, not Stephen)  the brilliant minister of Finances under Louis XIV.

Continue reading