Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Roses, or: Who Wants to Smell Like a Flower?

Years ago, when I was, um, eighteen, I wore a drugstore scent called “Love’s Fresh Lemon.”

Oh, it was wonderful. It smelled exactly like lemon zest, real lemon zest like when you rip up a lemon peel for some summer vodka drink (not that I’ve made any of those lately). I would spray it all over myself and walk around in a state of citrus-induced bliss.

Then my boyfriend, who was somewhat older and more worldly than I was, then, said, “You know, if I wanted to (have Biblical knowledge of) a lemon, I’d (have Biblical knowledge of) a lemon.”

And that was the end of Love’s Fresh Lemon for me. At least when he was around.

But enough about lemons. Let’s talk about roses. Roses are nice. Everybody likes getting a dozen of them. Do we want to smell like one though? Lots of us must, because there are hundreds and hundreds of rose fragrances! Here are five of them, some much more interesting than others.

Eau de Rose by Comptoir Sud Pacifique: It’s an “Eau” so of course I get alcohol at first, lots of it. And, yeah, it smells like a rose, all right. A red one. Dark red, like a Mr. Lincoln. Some sweetness in the mid-notes, and a surprise later: it blooms. Darker, redder, a little more herbaceous. I can find nothing on this fragrance, except a two-line review on Perfume Posse. It came to me as a sample, part of a “perfume introduction” package, as an exemplary soliflore. That it is. It’s a rose, pure, simple, and if I was a bee, I’d love it.

Fleur de The’ Rose Bulgare by Creed: Some say 1890, some say 1959, some say this was made in the late Forties for Ava Gardner (and, if that’s true, it’s worth its own post; I’ll get around to it soon!) Oh, this is nice. Clear and somewhat lemony. Sure enough, the notes include bergamot, lemon, Mandarin, and Bulgarian rose. (Bulgarian rose is a sort of industrial rose, which can be the size of a dinner plate and is used to scent all those rose waters and lotions of the Near East.) Supposedly, there’s tea, which I don’t smell at all, and a base of ambergris, rose (again) and musk. Comes only in big bottles which cost over $300. Well, whaddaya want, it’s a Creed.

Voleur de Roses by L’Artisan: A rose by any other name would smell as…dark? This is a brunette scent; I can’t imagine any blonde in it. Well, maybe Courtney Love. It’s a scary Goth girl in a basement club at 3 am. The notes are: Of course, patchouli. No wonder. Right out front, too. Plum? Don’t smell any, but I’m not in the habit of eating, or smelling, plums (skin’s too sour). Rose – there it is! Sandalwood and amber. Eat ‘em alive. Not for me, but it’ll smell perfect on somebody. Joan Jett?

A Rose Poivree (The Different Company) Jean-Claude Ellena’s take on rose; the Master has a sense of humor! This is Perv Rose.

It starts out with a blast of white pepper – not a pleasant scent, but here it kind of works –
and then a clear, carmine rose. Now, this fragrance is infamous for its skank, supposedly bursting with civet, which is why I own it. It’s rumored to have been reformulated, and, if so, that’s a shame. Wow. Redone or not, it’s right-in-your-face. Wear it to a party, if you dare.

Notes include pepper, Damascus rose, rose bay, coriander (and how!), vetiver, and lots of civet.

Tea Rose: Perfumer’s Workshop: IMO: Yuck. Sharp and sour. Full disclosure: this is a review from memory. I had a big bottle of this that I bought unsniffed at TJ Maxx. I gave it away, to a lady I know who is in her eighties and wore it for years. She was thrilled, and so was I. Classified as a “green rose,” the notes include bergamot, rose, cedar, jasmine, amber and sandalwood. Might make a nice room spray, for somebody, not me, and it’s everywhere, and it’s cheap.

Conclusion: If I had dyed black hair and was and filled with angst, it would be Voleur de Rose; if I was filthy rich it would be the Creed, and if I was just filthy, A Rose Poivree would be just about perfect. Since I’m none of those, I’ll pass on the rose.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Have I Lost It?

So last night I’m at this party, and a friend, whose opinions I respect, says to me after I’ve attempted to explain this obsession, “Cosmetics? That’s what you’re into now?” This, accompanied by a quizzical and somewhat disappointed look.

Well, uh, yeah.

The thing is he’s not the first. More than one friend has changed the subject, after giving me that look.

What we’re talking about here is frivolity. I mean, just turn on the TV or the radio. Everything is going to hell in a hand basket. Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I should go estate sale-ing to hunt down, oh, maybe some Mitsouko? Which spent its last years on elderly lady’s vanity table? Whose oblivious heir might sell it to me, if I’m lucky, for a couple of bucks?

Is this healthy?

Why wouldn’t it be?

I’m a beginner, really, a noob. I only have oh, maybe a dozen full bottles, and had half of those pre-Olfactarama. I have 40 or 50 1 ml samples and 20 or so decants (thank you TPC) and have just recently begun to realize that it is the classic chypre that appeals to me most (this month. Last month was incense.) I have a low self-imposed limit on fleabay and realize that an auction is just a big poker game and there will always be another bottle of black and white box Miss Dior for sale, probably tomorrow. I know that I shouldn’t get caught up in a bidding war over a couple of mills of old Diorella ($76.49? Are they out of their minds?) and let’s not even go there about those little black bottles of vintage Joy, so, I’m OK. Really, I am. I mean, I read those people’s “fragrance wardrobes” on Basenotes. Fifty, a hundred, two hundred bottles? I’m not there. Nowhere near there. Not yet.

Well, there are, um, these little lists all over the house with strange French words written on them. I get more e-mail from E-bay than anywhere else. I check the regular mail a lot, too. Spouse has begun eye the Amex bill. You all, you budding, midline and veteran perfuministas, you know. Cosmetic? No way.

This isn’t about cosmetics. They’re something you do wear appeal to others. I wear perfume to lift my mood, make a black-and-white day colorful, and fascinate myself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All About Joan (sort of)

Joan is the redhead on "Mad Men."

(For the uninitiated, see the link at the bottom of the page.)

When I noticed last year that AMC was debuting a show about a Madison Avenue ad agency in 1960, I thought, well, sounds interesting, it'll probably be worth watching for the art direction, anyway. Whatever.

Now, I'm in love with it. And (oh joy!)the second season starts this Sunday.

As deep as it is slick, "Mad Men" is a perfect triumph of style and content. These nicotine-crazed, half-swacked ad men and their secretaries, their "girls," are creating the consumer culture we live in now, and we get to watch.

Joan is The Sterling-Cooper Agency's office manager. She's the one who trains all the new girls that come in pouring into Grand Central from the hinterlands and the secretarial schools. She shows them the ropes of mid-century Manhattan, hooks them up with the junior account guys, finds them doctors who don't ask too many questions, and teaches them how to juggle their bosses' wives and mistresses. Joan knows the score. She has one or two secrets, but that wised-up, made-up exterior never cracks. Almost never.

She spends spare time in hotel rooms with Roger Sterling, one of the (married, of course) agency's owners. She has no illusions about him, doesn't pretend to, although he has plenty about her, and himself.

What does this have to do with perfume? Well, just look at her. Voluptuous, girdled, assured, bored, too smart for her job, but playing the hand she's been dealt with skill and style. I'm thinking Chanel No. 5 -- that's what Marilyn wore -- at the office; or a classic chypre like Miss Dior or maybe even Arpege. Roger's gifts to her have included a caged bird. What perfume would he buy for "Joanie?"

"My Sin," of course.

We have come a long way.

The second season of "Mad Men" picks up in 1962, the year "The Feminine Mystique" came out. There are three main characters who are women -- more later.

Should be interesting!

"My Sin," (Lanvin) now discontinued, was an aldehydic floral with indolic jasmine, ylang-ylang, a base of sandalwood and other woods, musk, styrax and, of course, civet.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What To Wear To The Gym

I’m getting dressed (slowly, it’s Monday) to go work out, and the usual question has come up. Do I dare?

How did this happen? Since age thirteen, I have worn fragrance, following the rules my mother taught me: cologne during the day, eau de parfum if not too strong, the real perfumes only at night. These rules seemed to work. I don’t remember complaints, at school, in college, at work, anywhere…and then this anti-fragrance movement seemed to coalesce out of thin air – or, IMHO, thin skin.

I have read in “The Guide” and elsewhere that the culprit(s) are the knock-you-down, in-your-face-synthetic perfumes of The Eighties. Okay, well, that’s fair enough. But does anybody remember “Jungle Gardenia?” The hallways of my middle school stank of it. But nobody got detention for wearing it, or was told to go to the girls’ room to wash it off. No, the teachers just smiled gamely and opened a window.

Can it be that we’ve simply lost the ability to put up with each other?

Back to the gym. In mine, there is a sign near the entrance. It says, “in consideration of our pregnant members, please refrain from wearing colognes or perfumes.”


In ten years, I’ve seen two (2) visibly pregnant women at my gym. Here’s what I’ve smelled, however:

Farts, by the hundreds. Death-by-garlic. Chlorine. T-shirts that need washing, badly. Polyurethane floor varnish. New-carpet glue. Rubber. Plastic. Paint. Eucalyptus steam. Heavily scented sunscreen. And, of course, B.O. Every kind there is: the chicken-soup kind, the clam-chowder kind, the metallic kind, the cumin kind, the are-you-sure-you’re-not-dead kind. (Lots of that kind.)

My tiny little bit of citrus cologne is my best attempt at self-defense.

Have you ever wanted to shout at the guy on the treadmill next to yours, as he is doing his arm-raises: “For God’s sake, could you please take a shower once in a while?” But no, I smile gamely, try not to choke, and thank God I’m not pregnant.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who Is Miss Dior?

Who is Miss Dior?

In my exploration of the classics (try it kids) I kept coming across mention of this fragrance, over and over, each reference noting that the vintage version was best. So I bought a used bottle of the original formula Eau de Toilette on Ebay. And a little bit of the vintage perfume.

When I sprayed it on, I thought, I know this. I know it from somewhere.

Miss Dior is from a time when there was time. It reveals itself slowly, as if there was all the time needed to savor, well, anything. In the Sixties-era EDT I have, the top note of galbanum is the only fleeting one. It’s there for a few seconds, bitterness, then gone. The herbal notes arise for a few moments, longer in the extrait. Then the florals begin to appear, just beyond my reach. I think I smell gardenia, rose, something very powdery and sweet, something nearly milky, and something approaching dark. They shimmer and pulse like the Northern Lights, in no particular meter, flowing back and forth across the surface of my skin. And this goes on, and on and on, and each sniff is a little different than the last.

I woke up in the middle of the night, and sniffed and thought, here it is. The classic chypre, real oakmoss, real labdanum, had revealed itself. It had taken its time. Now, I smelled like I’d been born with chypre-scented skin. As though my pores had soaked it in and closed over it.

It could be said that “Miss Dior,” and the New Look that spawned it, marked the return of the corset; the wasp waist, the voluminous long skirt, woman-as-flower, as Dior himself said; the loose chemises of the Twenties would not return for forty years. Of course, getting Rosie the Riveter back into the kitchen after the war was more an American thing. The French were probably just glad to have enough unrationed fabric to make a flowing skirt like that, something that would rustle and twirl. After the war, that must have felt like luxury indeed.

What is luxury now? Time. The postwar Parisian ladies and their newly middle-class American counterparts could not have imagined how much stuff we have, and how much time we spend scrambling to service it.

So, for us, luxury is not unlimited yards of fabric, or wearing hats and gloves to lunch. Luxury now is having the time to sniff your own wrist, and to think about what that means.

Notes of the vintage Miss Dior include galbanum, bergamot, clary sage, gardenia, jasmine, narcissus, neroli, rose, patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum and sandalwood.