Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Special Edition: Winner!

Alas, I did not hear from "Chi" by the deadline, which was Dec. 29th. SO the new winner, second position in the randomization listing, is:
Get in touch with me at olfactarama at gmail dot com with your postal info, and I'll send it to you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 - Year One

For me, the best perfume event of 2008 has been this sense of community. Like Ozzy used to say, before he cleaned up his act, sort of, “I Loooove You ALL!” (I came back from a Christmas trip with a bad cold. This isn’t just the cold medicine talking, honest.)

So, without ado, here are my recollections from The Planet Nyquill.

For me, 2008 really was Year One. It was only last January that I discovered Basenotes, and, shortly thereafter, most of you (and the decanters, thank God, otherwise, I'd be writing this from a library.)

“Olfactarama” is more an armchair travelogue-by-scent than a review site. I started with the hypothesis that perfume has such power to elicit memory, but is not easy to write about; why is that? I decided to go exploring. I discovered all of you, and then “The Guide” came out. Chandler Burr came to my town for a book festival, gave one of those storied scent dinners, and I went. And so on.

“I’ve discovered a new world,” I say to friends who are giving me odd looks when I confess this to them (and they always give me those odd looks. You know that look.) But I don’t think we’re odd at all. I think we are cultured, worldly, witty and lovely people. I’m so happy to be included. (Thank you, Helg!)

So, here are some observations.

New loves: Rose. I used to think I hated rose. Now I realize that rose is the secret.

The Rosines. Am eagerly exploring the line. And…reasonable prices!

Black Cashmere. Goes with me.

Opium. A rediscovery. Knocks you off your feet, pal.

L’Air du desert Marocain. Yeah, it wears me for awhile. And then I wear IT.

…and others. So many. A lifetime’s worth, I hope.


Not many, but: CDG’s Luxe Champaca; $295 for 50 mls? And it’s mostly tuberose? I have one word for you Benjamin: Fracas.

Chanel’s Beige. Well-named.

Vetiver Dance in winter. (I’m sorry Andy.) Just hay on me; I want to give it a try in our steamy summer, though.


The perfumers are starting to get credit as the artists they are.

Meeting Chandler Burr and discovering that he’s a nice guy; funny and down-to-earth.


What I call The Marketing Problem applies to this industry as it does to most others: disdain for the customer.

Eons ago, I was in the music business. In that business and (even more so) in film, it was common to refer to everybody not in New York or L.A. as “flyover land.” Meaning, Those People Down There are a bunch of easily manipulated, developmentally disabled sheep.

That’s not necessarily true. But, IMHO, it’s that talk-down-to-the-masses attitude that has given us so much of the crap product we endure today.

Hey, here's a thought, Smart Marketing Guys and Gals. Try giving the people something worth having. They might surprise you.

Things I’m thankful for:

I just got back from visiting my large extended family in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. If you remember Hurricane Katrina, you may remember that the storm veered to the east at the last minute, and plowed into Bay St. Louis like a tsunami.

They lost everything. A house that had stood since 1870, scraped off its foundation. No one has anything from before the storm. Not a coffee cup, not a photograph. But they’ve come back. More than that. They’ve helped rebuild their town. And they’re once again having weddings and showers and parties with that indomitable New Orleans come-what-may attitude.

Most of all, I’m thankful for my family, my new electronic community, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

Happy New Year Everybody!

Other 2008 wrapups:

Perfume Shrine at
Ars Aromatica at
A Rose Beyond the Thames at
Bitter Grace Notes at
Grain de Musc at
I Smell Therefore I Am at
Legerdenez at
Notes From the Ledge at
The Savvy Thinker at
The Non-Blonde at
Tuilleries at
1000 Fragrances at

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dreck the Halls (off topic)

One of our greatest traditions is the Tacky Christmas Yard Display. For your perusal!

In America, we never dim our holiday exuberance. inflatable Nativity!

Santa. Too much eggnog.

What could be more festive than plastic deer in the yard?

Christmas in Southern California, where things are a little, uh, different.
Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays, everybody!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winner of "What The Nose Knows" is....

The winner of "What the Nose Knows" (chosen using is:
Get in touch with me at pborow at comcast dot net to claim your book (no later than Dec 29th, please) and I'll send it to you.
Vote fer Meeeeee!
OlfactaRama has been nominated for the Fragrantica Perfume Blog Awards and the Basenotes Awards. Both require registration, but that's easy. If you like reading this blog, let the universe know, ok? Here are the links:
These are interesting sites with large and active communities, so, if you are a perfume fan and are not reading them already, consider signing up.
I'll be back with a "real" post later this week.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

About Cinnamon (and a recipe for Olfacta's Mulled Wine)

(Deadline for the drawing for Avery Gilbert’s book “What the Nose Knows” is Monday night, Dec 15th, at midnight US EST. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered!)

“Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.” Song of Solomon, 4:14

Cinnamon is the Queen of the “Christmas” spices; these include others like cloves, nutmeg and mace (which is the inner “skin” of the nutmeg.) All common cinnamons are ground from bark, but what we think of as cinnamon, at least in the U.S., isn’t really cinnamon. It’s cassia, a related plant with a tougher, thicker bark. Harvested in Southeast Asia, it’s simpler in composition than true cinnamon, and contains a bit of coumarin, a controversial perfume ingredient. (This is why children are generally not allowed to eat cinnamon sticks.)

Other types of cinnamons and cassias in general use include Vietnamese – the flavor of the American candy the “Red-Hot” – and is it ever! – and Chinese cassia, even stronger than the common cassia. A sub-species of that type, Korintje, is also a Chinese cassia (but is a little smoother.) Finally, there is Ceylon cinnamon. This is the “true” cinnamon, used in the UK and Mexico primarily, and is a bit citrusy and more complex than the other types. It’s also quite crumbly. If you see “cinnamon sticks,” they’re cassia. True cinnamon would crumble to bits during the packing and shipping process.

Mulled wine has been around for a long time, too. In Europe, most of the wine of the medieval period was so awful that spices were used to disguise its taste. (This is one reason spices were so highly prized in trade.) The nobility drank spiced wine routinely. Everybody else got beer or some sort of home-brew, and, if they ever got their hands on any spices, they saved them for use during the Christmas season.

A quick check at Basenotes reveals a number of perfumes that use cinnamon as an ingredient: Chaos, Cinnabar, CDG’s Parfum and White, Musc Ravageur, Noir Epices, Youth Dew and (have you guessed this one already?) Opium. (One of my favorites, Donna Karan’s “Black Cashmere,” isn’t listed, but I bet there’s some cinnamon in there somewhere.)

Here’s a recipe for Christmas Cheer, otherwise known as Mulled Wine, otherwise known as “Olfacta’s Holiday Punch.”

(I use Penzey’s ( “Mulling Spices,” but you could just mix your own, which would include:

Cracked cassia (cinnamon sticks) (crack them with a mallet) or cinnamon of your choice
Cracked Cloves
Allspice berries, slightly cracked
Cracked Cardamom Seed (or cardamom powder)
Mace (powdered)

(If you’re making your own mix, just remember that cloves are much stronger than the other spices here and adjust accordingly; also, use a light hand with the powdered ones.)

The Penzey’s recipe calls for 1 TBSP spices per bottle of wine, but I use twice that much, at least.

Some people use one of those little cheesecloth bags for the spices, but I prefer to just throw them in. Crush them slightly, inhale deeply, and then mix them into:

1.5 liter bottle of ordinary red table wine (or more, just increase all the other stuff too)
Brown sugar to taste (I use about 1/2 cup) per large bottle of wine
1 cup ordinary brandy per large bottle of wine (Olfacta’s secret ingredient)

(The brandy can be warmed separately and used to spike the mulled wine to taste.)

Simmer over low heat in a covered pot for at least 20 minutes, or keep warm in a crock-pot. Don’t let it boil, ever! (For a party, simmer uncovered and refresh everything once in a while.)

Pour through a tea strainer into coffee mugs, garnished with a cinnamon stick.

Holiday visitors love this!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rose, reconsidered

Deadline for the drawing for “What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life” by Avery Gilbert is midnight US EST, December 15th. Leave a comment – any comment -- and you’ll be automatically entered!

Back in the wonderfulness that is July in the South – July 27, to be precise – I wrote five short reviews of rose-based perfumes here. I was a neophyte then, and like most neophytes was convinced that mine was a fresh and authentic view. “I’ll pass on the rose,” I wrote.

Well, wipe the egg off my face; I didn’t know what I was talking about.

It’s not as though I have had an “aha!” experience. It was more like an “aahhhh” experience. Somewhere, I read about Rosine’s “Folie de Rose.” It sounded intriguing enough for a sample order. You know the rest: (1st spray) “OMG, where have you been all my life?!” Followed by deep, prolonged and frequent sniffing. Followed by wearing it out on the town and introducing it to friends. Followed by searching for, and ordering, a Full Bottle, the fragrance equivalent of a Serious Relationship. Something I never do casually.

To be fair to my neophyte self of last July, I have to say that Folie de Rose is classified as a Chypre, my favorite family. The opening is bergamot and coriander, and the rest is the floral mix of jasmine, Tea rose, Bulgarian rose, Turkish rose absolute, Ylang-ylang and iris. The base notes are the usual Chypre suspects: oakmoss and patchouli. They’re complemented by vetiver, sandalwood and benzoin. I’m not sure I would have identified this as a rose scent at all, especially at the opening, which is high and dry. On wearing, the scent flows around in a subtle cloud. The rose note dominates the mid tones, humming along until the final drydown, when the oakmoss rises.

It makes sense that a house like Parfums de Rosine, which specializes in all the permutations and combinations of the noble rose, would make the one rose fragrance (so far) that has done this to me, made me hunt down the Amex, break into January’s perfume budget (and part of February’s, to be honest.) Eventually, I hope to try them all.

I have tried a couple of other Rosines: Diabolo Rose, which mixes rose with mint, truly fresh and cool, like a rose water and mint slushee. I bet it would be a really good summer rose fragrance, even in our beastly summers. And Rosa Flamenca; I’m having a little trouble with that one. There’s an odd sharpness verging on a sourness, in the opening, possibly some bitter orange pith -- the bitter oranges of Seville? -- but I can’t name it. Not that I’m much good at that.

But it could be, it just could be, that this is something I don’t get yet.

I’ll try again in six months.

Notes for Diabolo Rose (a “fresh floral”) include centafolia rose, bergamot, “peppered mint,” rose absolute, lily of the valley, peony, amber, musk, sandalwood, tomato leaf and mate leaf.

Notes for Rosa Flamenca (a “floral bouquet”) include neroli, bergamot, green orange peel, petitgrain, orange blossom, rose essence, May rose, jasmine, fig wood, sandalwood, white musk and benzoin resin.

The painting is “Abstraction White Rose 1927” by Georgia O’Keefe.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Remember: the drawing for a copy of “What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life” by Avery Gilbert ends midnight, U.S. EST, December 15. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered!

(Thanks to those who have let me know they already have the book. That’s nice, and it gives everybody else a better chance of winning it.)

Got a L’Artisan promotional booklet in the mail yesterday. Now, I know something about printing and what it costs and can only say that this is the most expensive-looking printed object I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s gorgeous, a keeper, but how did they find me? I mean my home address? Wow. I’m impressed.

The Perfume Retail Experience: Generally I never go to malls, but had to go to one Tuesday (don’t ask). So I decided to check out the perfume counters of an upscale department store.

Confusion! Loud Christmas music! Roving SA’s with push lists! One approaches me. I ask to test the Chanel 22. (More about that later.) She brings out a bottle of the Mademoiselle. No, I say, No. 22. A perplexed look, followed by retrieval of correct tester, followed by spray onto thin paper strip. Then she leads me over to another counter. Don’t I want to try (I think it was something by Harve Leger) this? It smells better than Chanel No. 22!

Uh, well, actually, no, it doesn’t.

(By the way, my Chanel 22, which is vintage around 1992, is not the same scent as the new one. At all. Mine is strong and incense-y and huge, and the new is lovely, pleasant, much lighter.) I mention this to the SA. She raises an eyebrow. “That,” she says just a bit dismissively, “is how they used to make perfume.”

Right! I get it. Not only am I uninitiated, I’m also Old. I run out of there as fast as my ancient legs will carry me. And they wonder why such places are not doing so well in the U.S. All this... and full retail pricing, too!

Never again.


Tried a sample of CDG’s new-ish Luxe Champaca. Lovely stuff, nice florals and tuberose. I was thinking of giving it to myself for Christmas. Then I saw the price. Well, geez, what did I think “Luxe” meant?


Got some Rochas Femme (a mini). Big ol’ skank, opens like a raunchier Mitsouko, but doesn’t last as long as I had hoped. I hear the vintage is better. So what else is new?


Opium. Yeah, yeah. I know, it’s 80’s. It’s dated. But, damn it, it smells fabulous, and it lasts, and I just got a great deal on a bottle from one of the online discounters (and I mean great.) Up yours, upscale department store and snotty SA!


Luca and Tania’s new newsletter is out. It costs $9.99 to download. People are bitching. C’mon, folks, $9.99? It’s a bargain. I just wish they’d reviewed a few more unsung classics, like Jean-Louis Scherrer. At least they did get to Black Cashmere, my new desert-island scent for winter. Yes! Enable me! A slew of samples to be ordered now. Who is this “B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful?” Sounds like Prince named the company. They sure do seem to love these guys. We’ll see.

Interesting comments on the “Smelling on the Right Side of the Brain” post – the one preceding this one. Fertile ground for further investigation!