Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best-of-the-best for 2009

I've been asked to participate in this group blog, thanks to Perfume Shrine! Other participants are mentioned at the end of this post.

As an aside, though: At the moment, I can’t smell anything, or talk at all. I’m grouchy. I have some kind of horrible flu. A hoarsely whispered plea to modern parents: puh-leeeze don’t bring little Colebrook or Morgan to Christmas parties, if they’re sick! Even if their sniffles are adorable. Some of us just don’t have much resistance to these day-care epidemics. OK, ‘nuff said.

On to more pleasant things!

Best Perfume Trends:

It appears as though the market share of the mainstream anybody-famous-will-do celeb-scent is beginning to diminish...right? Hello? Hello?

Best in Niche:

Does Amaranthine count? How about Citizen Queen from Juliette Has a Gun? Manoumalia? Le Labo, well, just about anything? Patricia de Nicolai? It has been a pretty good year for niche. 

Best Mainstream:

Um, wait, don’t tell me....don’t tell me! Ok....I hear the new Cartiers are pretty good but I haven’t had a chance to smell them yet.

Best Vintage Finds this year:

It was a very good year. Real Joy perfume. My Sin in perfume -- I’ve said it before and will again: a mink stole in a bottle. Teatro Alla Scala from Krizia, a new discontinued discovery. Woodhue: orange, sandalwood and a glorious drydown that is so not-modern. Old Cotys like L’Origan (in perfume) and L’Aimant (in any form). Finally, some vintage Cabochard perfume (a mini). I’m collecting. Not hoarding, just collecting.

My mother’s (and grandmother’s) elaborate costume jewelry from the 60’s, a la “Mad Men.” I never thought I'd wear it. But it's so amusing, a little campy, especially at parties.

Best Packaging/Advertising:

I love the bottle and box for Field Notes From Paris. And I think that virtually all perfume advertising (especially television) is silly at best, gag-inducing at worst (here’s looking at ya, Parisienne!)

Best in Home-Scenting:

Diptyque’s Opoponax, hands down, thank you Elena!

DIY: a favorite fragrance in an aromatherapy diffuser, with a base of Neutrogena's fragrance-free body oil. (A hint: works on skin, and hair, too.)

Notable Perfumers for their Excellence in 2009:

Sandrine Videault for Manoumalia: I love the idea of anthropological perfume. I hope there will be more from her.

Andy Tauer: Still the smartest one, the most linked-into the early adopters (that’s you, btw, if you’re reading this.)

Best Brand Revival:

Penhaglion, for Amaranthine.

Um, not exactly a revival, but it sort of feels like one, doesn't it? From staid and stuffy to Amaranthigh?

Best Hype:

Tom Ford. Tom Ford. Tom Ford. Tom Ford. Tom Ford. Can you hear me yet? Tom Ford. Tom Ford!

Best scent-related realization:

That I’m different now, because of this constant luxury.

That it is possible to feel glamorous at 3 in the afternoon while wearing flannel pajama pants and a paint-stained T-shirt (and perfume).

Best Admission from within the industry:

That the IFRA just might have gone a lee-tle bit overboard when they put vanillin in the crosshairs. (Hey, wait a second; don’t we put this stuff in food, by the ton!?) Ooops. We don’t really want to mess with the likes of of Archer/Daniels/Midland, do we? Um, no. Never mind.

For immediate release: Regulations pushed back to April.

And an honorary Worst Piece of News:

Is this news? Or just a rumor? Have the Patricia de Nicolai fragrances been reformulated as per the new regs?

Best Perfume Term Coined this year:

“Hiney.” From Perfume Posse. (As an example of the use of “Hiney” in a sentence: “It’s a very fine floral, with top notes of bergamot and aldehyde, followed by rose, a bit of musk, beautifully rounded and anchored with that ever-so-subtle note of Hiney.”)

Best Inexpensive Finds (beauty & scent-related):
Cucumber and white musk shower gel, at Walgreen's.

L'Oreal Original Voluminous Mascara. It really works.

Always and forever: Prestige Eyeliner Pencils. Lots of colors. Drugstore. Cheap.

Best Light Reading: Hmmmm. Don’t do much “light,” except for armchair travel, and the best of these are Paul Theroux's. Just finished “The Happy Isles of Oceania.” Dying to go native in the South Seas? Read this first!

Best Gift I Got: A bottle of Amouge Lyric for Women, from my beloved DH, for my birthday.

Best Episode of “Mad Men”: “The Grown-ups.” Where were you on November 22, 1963? Not born yet? No matter. You'll feel like you were there.

What were YOUR favorite finds this year?

Surprise packages from perfume pals. “You’ve gotta try this!” from people whose taste I trust and admire. In this way, I’ve discovered Le Labo’s Patchouli 24 and Le Poivre, Teatro Alla Scala, Torrente d’Or, Cuir Maresque, AL Midnight Violet, Rochas Mystere, vintage Balmain de Balmain, TF Japan Noir and many others.

Some real-life perfume pals. Some real life pals now getting seriously into perfume.

Scarves and gloves, from the back of my closet.

Rosine’s Rose d’Homme. Le Labo Patch 24. LL Rose 31. Coromandel. TF Arabian Wood. Creed's Bois de Portugal. And Timbuktu.

A long, midnight blue velvet dress I wore to a Christmas gala this year, with opera-length black velvet gloves.

That I still love vintage Bal a’ Versailles as much as I ever did.

More participating blogs on these links, please don't forget to visit:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stocking Stuffer

Points for originality, anyway, wouldn't you say?

(This is a real product. I actually possess a box of it.

Haven't tried the gum yet though.)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Smells Like Joy

Is this bottle half-empty or half-full?

The other week, I went with a couple of friends to a Sephora. I guess that chain has turned mainstream in recent years. The fragrance stock seems limited to the kind of thing you’d expect to find at an Ulta discount cosmetics store, with a few exceptions. We weren’t buying, though. We were on a smelling safari.

I don’t shop in malls much at all, so this was a rare experience for me. As I tried the new scents, it became obvious that much of the damage has already been done. Imagine a thunderstorm without any sound. No thunder. Flashes of silent, safe lightning. Opium, Coco, No. 22, the Diors -- pleasant enough, unless you remember what they’re supposed to do.

We were all so busy sweating the arrival of the new IFRA regulations in January April (read about the IFRA and Joy here, if you like) that we stepped right over the note slipped under the door.

My response? Makes me want to hoard the old stuff. Bad mojo? Maybe, but only natural.

I’m thinking about searching out those old drugstores, the indies that are barely in business, with their dust-caked boxes that list three ingredients: alcohol, water, fragrance. That’s it. Those are the ones you want, if you can find them. Rule of thumb: the longer the list on the back of the box, the more godawful the perfume will be. So I’ve been fleabay-ing again, trying to get the ones I’ve craved, before this news hits the mainstream media (if it ever does) and the sellers find out that there isn’t going to be any more.

I finally got myself a half ounce of vintage Joy, the perfume, because how can you call yourself a perfumista without it? (And, yeah, I got a deal -- still to be had, just not at the fleabay perfume “stores.” I look for indie sellers who have, for example, six antique plates, a felt-covered bobblehead dachshund from the 60’s (missing an eye), a box of plastic horses, a Hummel sheperd figure wearing lederhosen, a shoebox full of tintype postcards of somebody else’s ancestors and maybe one bottle of boxed, still-sealed perfume.) These big florals aren’t really my style, but since many of the jasmines are going away with the new rules recommendations, I figured it was now or never.

I’m glad I did. It’s not my first pick, hubby doesn’t like it (“I don’t understand the appeal,” he says; sweetheart, I don’t understand the appeal of the NFL, so there ya go, but I digress).

But what does it smell like? Well, it smells like Joy.

A bit of aldehyde; and then: Man. Is this indolic jasmine or what? There’s that fine little note of rot in there. Rose and tuberose, of course. Sure, the top notes are a little degraded, but that’s over in minutes, and when it blooms...this stuff blooms. There’s something almost psychedelic about it. I think of huge fields of flowers, done in hand-colored animation a’ la “Fantasia”, cartoon flowers in pink and orange, blooming and blooming and blooming in superfast time lapse motion for hours, then collapsing in exhaustion. It’s not just from another era. It is one.

I suffer little nostalgia for the good ol’ days of girdles and dress shields, sleeping on hair rollers, or a bad reputation followed by eternity tethered to a typewriter. But this isn’t the fine new world we were promised, either. I get exhausted sometimes from the daily struggle with technology, and that endless hamster-on-a-wheel feeling of being permanently behind the curve. Faster and faster and faster we go. This is the future. Our stockings this Christmas will be filled with communications devices that do more and more and more, but we have less and less free time to do them; less than ever. This stuff was supposed to work for us. Instead, we work for it.

So: forgive me a little hoarding, a little bit of something beautiful from the past, when people called each other just to talk. When we accepted a party invitation delivered by phone or in person, not by an anonymous Facebook invite list. When we sat around laughing at each other’s stories.

Because I have this little suspicion that humans aren’t supposed to live this way.

Joy, released at the dawn of the depression in 1930, was once advertised as the “costliest perfume in the world,” a title that has been surpassed many times now. The notes include aldehyde, greens, peach, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, tuberose, musk, sandalwood and civet. The perfumer was Henri Almeras, who (it is said) worried that Patou had gone mad when he stated his intent to market this fragrance during such a dismal era.

Joy bottle image from

Monday, December 7, 2009


I carry an old Coach Soho handbag in the winter. I love it and know I’ll never find another one I love as much. It is made of fine, thick leather, with two brass buckles and broad straps like belts. It reminds me of a saddle -- a really good saddle -- and of days in my childhood that we had to clean the tack before we could ride.

Polishing is a meditation for me. Polishing metal, especially silver, that has come down to me from near and distant ancestors is a holiday ritual that grounds me. As I work, I think about my mother, from whom I inherited my table set, and my grandmother, whose few family pieces were included in it. Some of them are even older, marked with my great-grandmother’s maiden name, as was the custom with wedding silver once. They’re not valuable pieces, just spoons and things, but as I smell the acrid polish and rub the tarnish from them, I remember the people who once owned them.

Yesterday, I got out the brass polish and the leather cream, but noticed that my old Soho bag had faded in the corners. So I bought some Kiwi shoe polish, too, which contains a little color. I took the lid off that tin of polish and was slammed back into my chair with the most intense scent memory I’ve ever had.

My father came of age just in time for the second World War. He was someone who followed his own path, a solo one, and his role in the war was the solo yet not solo work of a fighter pilot escorting bombers over Germany. He never talked about it much until Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” glamorized the lone-warrior WWII pilots, and then he would, some, to my younger cousins who were enraptured by all the supposed glory. But that talk always seemed a little forced to me. I had a pretty good idea what war was all about.

He returned from Europe, met and married my mother, and eventually left the Air Force for a defense job, as they were called in those days, at an aircraft manufacturing corporation. When I was five, he went to work there, in a suit, and every single day he would polish his shoes with Kiwi Shoe Polish. He smelled of it sometimes, as did their bedroom. Some people remember a particular after-shave or cologne their father wore. I remember Kiwi.

Smelling it now, the tin on my knee, I know that it’s simply the smell of carnuba wax, aromatic and a little sour. It’s dark as ink. I suppose it is similar to what was once called bootblack, made from wax and coal, from days when you had one pair of shoes, two if you were lucky, and you took care of them.

I wonder now what kind of work environment would require spitshined shoes. I never saw my father’s office. No one without a high security clearance ever did. I can visualize it though; open rooms, banks of gray metal government desks, florescent lights, ancient manual typewriters, carbon paper. He loved irony and disliked herds. I wonder how much of himself he had to bury to exist in an environment like that. But he didn’t complain. He had a family. He’d come home, watch the news, read the paper, have his scotch with water, and go to bed early. He’d get up early, too. It was the only time he ever got to be alone.

I know that there were many times my father was unhappy in what he called “The Plant.” Months would go by in which we weren’t allowed to make noise -- any noise -- for at least an hour after he got home. I guess you could say that we, even as children, were expected to have some self-discipline.

My father died eight years ago today. He was lucky; it was quick. I was surprised at how many people at his funeral mentioned the timing of his dying, on Pearl Harbor day. As though he was some living icon of an era. I don’t think he saw himself as any sort of icon. I think he saw that there was a job to be done, and he did it.

I wonder how many people even own a tin of shoe polish now. When something wears out, we just throw it away and buy a new one. We’re encouraged to do that. It keeps the economy humming.

I get out my old handbag and polish it each winter. I don’t ever want another one. I’ll fix it up and carry it until it falls apart, because I know that they’re not making them like this one any more.

The figure in the middle is my father. The photo was taken in Italy in 1945.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


When I was in college, I lived near a cookie factory. Also smoked a lot of pot. Can you guess what happened?

Ever notice that people stand and sit closer to you when you’re wearing perfume? Lately I have. Odd that it took me so long.

Bad Technology Days: yesterday my Ipod fried. Okay, it was old. Six years! Apparently this is quite unusual. The MP3 equivalent of reaching one’s 100th birthday. I will give it a decent burial and then get a Nano. Um, isn’t that what Mork used to say? NanoNano?

Hey, the new Nano has a little video camera in it! How cool is that!

The imagination reels at the possibilities.

Over the fields and through the woods to the Apple Store I go. Hello, Mikey the Genius!

Bought a bottle of Ineke’s Field Notes from Paris. (This is the perfume equivalent of letting a newish object of one’s affection move in.) I wish I’d known FNP a little better first. We get along fine but there’s not that, y’know, mystery.

Loved and lost: my sample of Le Labo’s Patchouli 24. I’ve even looked under the bed. It’s just gone. But that one sniff was really interesting. Smoky and complex and anything but hippie patch.

Not so interesting: Le Labo Musc 25 Los Angeles. OK it’s a nice musk. But I used to live in Los Angeles and, trust me, it doesn’t smell like pretty musk. What do these two have in common? Only that they’re expensive.

Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir. I was going to break the news that there is dihydromyrcenol in this! (You know, that aftershave aromachemical that’s in every drugstore men’s fragrance.) Perfume Posse beat me to the scoop. But, fergodsake what is the world coming to?

The Futur re-issue from Piguet: a nice green green green opening. I would’ve held this release until spring. Well, in the Northern hemisphere anyway.

Musc Maori from Parfumerie Generale: Why did I order this sample? I truly do not know. It’s chocolate musk. Synaesthesia? Not in this case. Why would one want to wear Nestle’s Quik?

Nicolai Number One (I am going to resist the urge to mention the crude meaning of this phrase in America, oh, damn: I mentioned it! Good thing it doesn’t smell like Yatagan) A really pretty floral; that rarity, a lightish tuberose, greens, maybe a little citrus? Very alluring and a possible FB candidate for spring.

Nicolai Sacrebleu: This one smell a lot like L’Huere Bleu, only without that note that makes me feel ill. A heavy oriental, suitable for wearing to the Opera, as definitely not-American as my first sniff of Bal a’ Versailles all those years ago. A chignon, long gloves, jewels and this.

A Greek perfume pal, whom many of you know as Helg, turned me on to Diptyque’s Opoponax Spray. OMG, the ambery, resinous warmth of this stuff! And it works on clothing. And drapery. On table linens in the cedar chest. Throw pillows. Closets. Oh, and skin. And it’s more reasonably priced than one of those money-to-burn candles. Majorly recommended:

Trust me.

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