Friday, November 7, 2008

Where There's Smoke

The first time I smelled CB’s I Hate Perfume “Burning Leaves,” I thought “L.A. Riots.”

I wanted to see if I could duplicate that experience conceptually, through scent. I layered it with some night-blooming jasmine, the signature scent of west Los Angeles. If I’d had Bulgari Black, I could’ve put that in there too, for the so very necessary burning-asphalt-shingle note. But how do you duplicate a fiery palm tree, burning like a torch? Tons of smoldering insulation? Exploding cars?

Christopher Brosius, the perfumer behind Burning Leaves, has been quoted as saying “perfume is the weather of our world, bringing life to an interior landscape.” Flashing on the smell of a burning city from a perfume meant to evoke peaceful autumns was not what I expected, either, but it was what I got. And it’s always good to be able to surprise yourself.

Now, though, I’m looking for that autumn scent. Burn. Whatever that molecule is. It’s the opposite of what most people think perfume is. You could say that it’s the opposite of “perfume.”

A few discoveries:

Black Cashmere (Donna Karan) – This reminds me of a log cabin in northern California, the logs themselves aromatic with the absorbed smoke of many fires. Someone is burning vaguely floral incense, and there’s a hint of patchouli somewhere, too – maybe on a pillow left there thirty years ago. There’s an oak fire going. I’m drinking spicy, hot mulled wine. It’s everything good about autumn.

This is a love it or hate it scent, and even those who love it caution the uninitiated. It’s been called “dark” and “ink” and even a “fierce, growling beast” (March – Perfume Posse). On me, though, it’s perfect; not too sweet, not too much, just right for autumn. Eureka! I have found it! (This month anyway.)

The notes for “Black Cashmere” vary, but include (depending on the source) saffron, clove, rose, white pepper, incense, patchouli and African wenge wood.

Sycomore (Chanel)

I just love this. It’s so weird. It opens with a citrusy blast, and then it’s a dash through the tall grass, just ahead of a brushfire. At first I couldn’t identify the burn note, but, apparently it’s a particularly smoky variation of the Vetiver root, from Haiti; other accords include “smoke” (now, that’s illuminating) and “burning woods.” It really doesn’t smell like anything else. I suppose a better arena for comparison would be with Tauer’s “Vetiver Dance,” but that one just isn’t this…smoky. Here’s what else: it lasts and lasts. It’s everything “Beige” isn’t. Unisex, risky, unique. I love it on myself. It’s one of those where you can’t stop smelling your wrist.

Notes (from various sources) for “Sycomore” include grapefruit; Haitian vetiver, licorice root, cypress, juniper, pink pepper, burning woods, smoke.

Lonestar Memories (Tauer Perfumes)

This is the big-mack-daddy of the smokes. The Gary Cooper/High Noon imagery is unmistakable, of course; its aim is true. It is a European vision of the American west. Like all of Andy Tauer’s perfumes, it’s complex, multilayered, anything but simple. I’ve heard it compared to a campfire, but that would be too easy. It’s Guy Stuff. An old Western saddle, black with age and horse sweat. A V-8 engine in pieces on the floor of a barn. Hay, wood, smoke, desert-plant resins, that chaparral sap. An olfactory Frederick Remington. I would love this on a man.

Notes: Geranium, carrot seed, clary sage; birch tar, cistus, jasmine, cedar wood; myrrh, Tonka, vetiver and sandalwood.

Of these three, I’m pretty sure that only Black Cashmere was supposed to be a “perfume” in the old sense; something to put on that makes you smell intriguing, or alluring, or shocking, or whatever, and it does. Sycomore is, well, something, exactly what is unclear; like a grapefruit tree on fire, it makes no sense, and to me, anyway, that’s its appeal. Lonestar Memories is a fully developed concept, a beautifully crafted and executed composition, a work of art.

Oh, and “Burning Leaves?’ That’s an electrode in the brain, the purest scent-memory I’ve had yet.

Winners of the “Heaven Sent” drawing: you have until November 19 to claim your prize! See the entry below for details.


ScentScelf said...

Greetings from one of those Black Cashmere lovers. In fact, that and YSL Nu are on the docket today, and I'm still deciding which to wear when it comes scent time.

I love smoke, though I tend to embrace the burning leaves/wood more than incense. CB Burning Leaves is an awesome potion; that was one of the scents that snagged me and pushed me toward this wacky side interest that is perfume.

I have yet to smell Lonestar Memories, or Sycomore. I do get a hint of smoke in Chergui...maybe I'll add that to potentials for the day.

the oblitterati said...

Me too! Burning Leaves, Doll's Head and Gingerale were the ones that did it for me....

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