Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Down the Drain

I’ve been haunting a particular antique store lately. I would call this a second-tier place, up from the flea markets, down from the fine-English-antiques emporia that cater to those who didn’t inherit anything from Grandmother but would like people to think that they did. This one has all kinds of great stuff. Lots of costume jewelry that reminds me of “Mad Men.” Some furniture, hats, knick-knacks, handbags, china, you know. 

The reason I’ve been hanging around there is that I’ve been looking for a new perfume cabinet. To say I’ve outgrown the last one is just a, um, slight understatement. I’ve searched for six months now, and finally found The One. I had more in mind something funkier and, er, less expensive, but they had a nice Heywood-Wakefield cabinet, and although I don’t know that much about mid-century furniture, I know enough to realize that the price on this one was a steal. So,the routine: check the prices online, authenticate, then stop by the store, measure it surreptitiously, go home, measure the space, go back to the store, pretend to be casually looking around, ask questions, bargain a little -- the proprietor looked at me like, “Are you kidding me?” -- a steal, like I said, but hey, one always tries.

So I went home and I said to the DH, “It’s got three drawers. You could have two of them and I’ll take the cabinets.” (He’s always complaining that he doesn’t have enough drawer space. When the guys have to own twenty brassieres to go with every conceivable style of clothing, not to mention all the other underwear, and stockings and socks and all those nightgowns and gym clothes and swimsuits, well, then they can have more drawer space. But I digress.) Anyway, it worked. I went back to the store and bought it and it’s being delivered today.

In my ever-so-casual looking around, I noticed that the proprietor had a bottle of Wind Song that looked like it was in pretty good shape. There were also many empty bottles, some quite recognizable, in cabinets and on shelves behind glass. Many. The only one with perfume in it was the Wind Song, in the little crown-shaped bottle. I began to wonder what had happened to all the perfume. I asked her.

“Oh,” she said. “That stuff’s old. I pour it down the drain.”

Stop my heart, why don’t you? I had visions of vintage Mitsouko, Joy, Shalimar, perhaps a birthday or anniversary gift, kept in its box in a drawer, maybe never opened or maybe just dabbed once or twice for the most special nights, still golden and luscious, glug, glug, glug down the drain.

Should we tell them?

This is something I wonder about. What will happen to all those $2 bottles at estate sales if the antiques network finds out that “old” doesn’t necessarily mean “spoiled?” What if they discover the new ingredients regulations and realize that there isn’t going to be any more deep-voiced oakmossy perfume? I think some have already. Witness the skyrocketing prices on fleabay. That could be what-the-market-will-bear thing, but I don’t think that’s all it is. 

I gave her my card. I told her I had a vintage perfume collection. I asked her to call me the next time she was preparing to pour something out.

I see some truly shocking prices for vintage perfumes now on fleabay, especially for things in perfume strength. Sixty or eighty dollars for a quarter ounce of something, not necessarily the best of the best, either; those go for many hundreds, sometimes well over a thousand, dollars. Bottles of eau de toilette I could’ve had for $10 two years ago are now $40 or $50. In a time when so many people are pinching nickels until they scream, I’m not sure what this means. Nostalgia? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I suspect that it’s the start of a run on the vintage perfume market, which would be nothing unusual in a time of scarcity.

Or maybe it’s you. Are we bidding against each other, this few hundred of the converted, the true fragrance freaks? Are you cruising fleabay every day? Are you "r****a"? 

Damn it, r****a, knock it off, willya? I’m trying to complete my collection here!

I’m just not good at rummaging.  I never find anything. Dirty shirts. Electric skillets with heat elements that don’t work or don’t have a cord. A yogurt maker without any jars. Tupperware stained with Aunt Effie's spaghetti sauce. Moldy books hiding hundreds of silverfish. And I just can’t seem to haul my behind out of the bed at six on Saturday morning. When somebody on my street has a sale, the Early Birds start ringing and knocking at five a.m. They park in front of (sometimes in) our driveway. They bring the dogs and kids. And it looks like a demolition derby out there.

So what does one do?

I guess I’m going to have to get creative.

Drain image © Valdore from Dreamstime.com.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Perfume Bottle

Winners of the "Teatro Alla Scala" drawing, chosen using random.org, are: Chayaruchama and Weegee! Please get in touch with me at Olfactarama at ATT dot net with your postal information and I’ll get the samples out to you posthaste. Congratulations!

Do you ever wonder about trivial, random things and how they might have shaped your life?

When I was eight, I lived with my family in Japan. We lived near a huge U.S. Air Force base, Tachikawa, about forty miles from Tokyo. On a clear day, as I rode my bicycle to school, I could see a postcard-perfect view of Mt. Fujiyama, so beautifully blue, crowned with white in winter. One day I got off the bike and simply stood and stared at it, transfixed. I understood, in that way that children do, that there was something sacred about it.

Although my father was not actually in the military, we had some military privileges, including the schools, the BX and the Officers’ Club. Our house was just off base, in a little compound of stucco cottages called American Village. (The base is now a park, but the compound is still there. I looked it up on Google Earth. A Japanese student I met at a party years ago told me that it had been maintained as a sort of artists’ colony. I hope it still is.)

In the way of the military, family members were given opportunities to participate in the local culture. We toured silk factories filled with white caterpillars. We learned flower arranging, which I still remember how to do. Making origami cranes, painting with brushes and cakes of ink, how to properly wear a kimono. My mother belonged to the Officers Wives Bowling League, and every year, they had a mother-daughter luncheon. It wasn’t my favorite thing -- I was a rangy kid who loved to roam and disliked dresses -- but I went, all dressed up, wearing patent-leather shoes. They always had a door prize. One year I won. I still remember the thrill of hearing my name called, my mother’s delight, going shyly up to the front to pick up my prize.

It was a perfume bottle. It’s pictured to the left.

Since then, I’ve moved many times, and sometimes it seems as though I’ve had many lives, but I still have the perfume bottle. It’s the oldest object from my own life that I possess. Sometimes it’s been filled with perfume, sometimes not. I tend to break things, but somehow this bottle has remained intact.

My mother is gone now, Tachikawa Air Force Base is gone, and even its site has been swallowed by Tokyo. (I find it fitting that the former headquarters of the big bad US military, occupying a country we’d defeated, is now reserved for Japanese urban dwellers’ relaxation.) But, as in anyone’s life, so much is gone. The bottle, though, is still here.

I’m wondering now if needing perfume to fill it is was part of the reason why I became a perfume fan. That was why when, one day, I heard about buying fragrance online, I googled my favorite one, found the perfume blogs, became fascinated with them and, ultimately, started one of my own, which you are reading.

I know now that it’s better to keep perfume in the dark, but I didn’t want to hide this bottle away, so I emptied it. It now sits in the place of honor atop my perfume cabinet. Every time I look at it, which is often, I remember how, and where, I got it.

“Door prize,” I think, is a good description. For me, this perfume bottle, now a door to the past, was a secret glimpse into the future.

Photo by Olfactarama, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back in Business, sort of

Don't forget to enter the drawing for a sample of Krizia's "Teatro Alla Scala" which ends at midnight, Monday Jan 18th, US Eastern Time!

Thanks to all of you who sent me “get well soon” wishes! I’ve made some wonderful new friends here.

I can now type, but only in short bursts so...hello, random!

Has anyone seen the new show “Men of a Certain Age?” It’s on TNT, on Monday night. Remember Andre Braugher, Lt. Pemberton from “Homicide: Life on the Street?” He plays the oldest of three pals, all well over 40, all facing the diminishing returns of middle age. The other two are Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Scott Bakula (“Boston Legal” and a hundred other things).

Men have gotten a bad rap about a lot of things in the last 40 years or so. Enough preaching. Watch the show. It’s beautifully written and painfully real.

More TV news (can you tell what I’ve been doing while immobilized?) Anthony Bourdain is back with another season of “No Reservations.” I had serious reservations about last season. If last night’s show on Panama is any indication, welcome back Tony!

Alright already, perfume. I finally got around to trying Le Labo’s “Patchouli 24,” with a new method of sampling: take the whole vial, empty into hand, apply to neck, wrists and chest and wear all day. Take occasional notes. Here they are:

“Patchouli 24 by Le Labo It’s true! Smoke and leather and a little, tiny bit of patch. Put on around 10:25 am, about 1 1/2 mls. 2:45 pm - smokiness only. 5:30 pm - ash. (How do they do that?) Ends with smoke and a little vanilla. I’d love this on a man. A real good fragrance, for a guy.”

Which is another way of saying not everything is for everybody.

Interesting how my blog hit counter breaks down Olfactarama readership by operating system, and around 50% of you use a MAC, which is much higher than the general population. When I first made the switch to MAC, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have time for geekery. I just needed to get stuff done.

Now, having read and implemented the content of “Mac OS X Snow Leopard -- The Missing Manual” I can say that I had no idea what I was doing. This is a fab-u-lous operating system. And, believe it or not, some of us still need a book to help us fully utilize its capabilities. This one is by New York Times computer columnist David Pogue, and the ISBN is ISBN-13: 978-0-596-15328-1.

OMG! Is this beginning to sound like advertising! It is! But let me assure you: no media company is paying me and no perfume or publishing company is sending me any freebies! This silly issue has apparently raised its ugly head, again.

Here’s the scoop: so far, only one small and one very small perfume company have sent me so much as a 1 ml. vial of anything. We bloggers still get our product the old-fashioned way. We send it to our friends. Then they send things to us. If all else fails, we pay for our itsy-bitsy samples, just like everybody else...

I mean, have you tried to get a free sample out of any SA lately? I hear they still give them out in New York. But here? No way.

The world of schwag is much smaller now. When I worked in music all those years ago, I needed a moving crew to carry it all out to the car. Now? Fuggetaboutit. The bean-counters, the ink still drying on their MBA’s, have figured out yet another way to Keep Tabs.

Mmmmm....My Sin. I got some of the real perfume the other day. Wore it all day. What is in this stuff! It’s a dark aldehydic floral, mixed so well it resists deconstruction, other than to whisper “Lush” and “This is what Joan Holloway on Mad Men would wear” and “Why in the world did Lanvin ever discontinue this?!”

And...on a final note...speaking of Joan Holloway, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a man, any, um, straight man, with whom I’ve ever discussed “Mad Men,” who didn’t say in some way or another that he’d really like to, well, you know, know her.

And still the twenty-somethings continue to starve themselves.


Photo copyright ArieLiona, used under license from Dreamstime.com.

"Men of a Certain Age" is on TNT (basic cable) at 10 pm on Monday night (on the US East Coast, anyway).

"No Reservations" starring Anthony Bourdain is on The Travel Channel (basic cable) at 9 pm on Monday night, also East Coast time.

No freebies were accepted for the writing of this post.

Notes for Le Labo's Patchouli 24 EDP, concocted by Annick Menardo, include birch, styrax, patchouli and vanilla.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Out of Service

I have sprained my shoulder and, unlike many veterans of the Web I never learned to type with one hand.

Back soon, in a couple of days I hope! (In the meantime don't forget to enter the sample drawing -- see last week's post!)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sugar vs. Spice

A Secret Santa swap introduced me to Krizia’s Teatro Alla Scala. On first sniff, I knew it was right up my alley; lush, heavy, spicy, rosy, with a dark base. I started reading up on it and looking for a bottle.

Everybody was comparing it to Chanel’s Coco. Luca Turin even said in the new Guide that, although no one has improved on Coco, “Krizia’s Teatro alla Scala came close.” This made me wonder about Coco, too. I have a bit of vintage EDT, nearly twenty years old, and the Secret Santa (thank you Sandra!) thoughtfully included a generous amount of Coco in my package, too. Then, Brian of “Now Smell This” mentioned Cinnabar, in a comment, and I remembered that I had a sample of it. So you know where this is going, right?

Although I’m not sure that the Coco included in my swap package was brand-new, one sniff tells me it’s not as old as mine. In fact, these could be two different scents. My old bottle has degraded a bit -- yes, it’s true, I used to keep perfume out on the dresser -- and the first sniff is “old aldehyde,” but this vintage asserts itself in a way that the new one simply doesn’t -- or can’t.

Not that the new one is bad. It’s not. (I’m thinking about the time I actually got corralled into talking to a Bloomingdale’s SA about No. 22; when I mentioned my very incense-heavy vintage version, she gave the air a delicate sniff and declared, “that is how they used to make perfume.” Well, yeah, I get it, I’m old, okay.) The new Coco is all about flowers and a little spice; nothing wrong with that, but the old one had much more gravitas. Looking at the notes from Basenotes, I see some dead giveaways: clove, sandalwood, civet, amber. That’s got to be the old formula. This one has more jasmine, more orange blossom, more vanilla. My bottle is too old to be Coco, and certainly not young enough to be Coco Madamoiselle. In other words, it, and I, am out of the demo.

I don’t know how old my sample of Cinnabar is, but, on first sniff I thought “Youth-Dew Lite.” If Youth-Dew was vintage Coco, this would be modern Coco. That basalmic thang is there right away, and it doesn’t change much, except to get drier, cooler, with a little more patchouli. Supposedly, Cinnabar was concocted before the launch of Opium (and don’t even get me started on Opium unless you want to be bored to death with yet another reformulation rant) but released after it, thereby doomed to forever be Opium’s mousy younger sister. Not fair, but hey, what is?

So now we get to Teatro Alla Scala. It’s one of those mink-coat fragrances, well-named, from the 80’s of course, and discontinued. But it’s available all over the place -- most of the online discounters have it and fleabay has lots, and this made me wonder: how can this be? Turns out Krizia has been licensed out at least twice. Morris Profumi, who owned the license for a while, is now the property of the Italian investment group Investindustrial, a mid-sized group doing business mostly in Europe, which also owns the licenses for Ducati motorcycles, Ruffino wines, La Perla fragraces, and Selective Beauty, a cosmetics and fragrance distributor (aha!) Looking at their annual report, I see that they’ve been divesting themselves of nonperforming divisions lately. This fact alone makes me think seriously about ordering another bottle.

And...oh yeah, I almost forgot: it’s reasonable. Very reasonable.

When you get to the final drydown, the Teatro and the vintage Coco do have a lot in common -- the spices and the unmistakable animalic base -- while the modern Coco is still throwing that bridal bouquet, and the Cinnabar hasn’t changed much except for revealing the patch. (The vintage Coco, truth be told, lasted longer.)

When I got my bottle of Teatro from fleabay, printed on the back of the box was the Holy Trinity of modern perfume shopping: (ethyl) alcohol, (Teatro Alla Scala) fragrance, (purified) water. Adjectives aside, this is an occasion for rejoicing; pre-reformulation! And oooh, does it smell good -- if lush and spicy rose is what you like. (A hint: if you’re not comfortable in evening clothes, you probably won’t like it.)

Want to try some? Leave me a comment; I’ll pick two of you at random and send you each a sample. Deadline is Monday, Jan. 18th, midnight US Eastern time.

photos: Thandie Newton photo courtesy of saviodisilva. Reese Witherspoon photo (converted to black/white by me) is from People.

Perfumers: Coco: Jacques Polge. Cinnabar is listed everywhere I could find as “Estee Lauder.” I have not been able to find out who the perfumer was for Teatro Alla Scala.

Notes for Teatro Alla Scala include aldehydes, coriander, fruity notes and bergamot; carnation, tuberose, orris root, jasmine, beeswax, ylang-ylang, rose and geranium; patchouli, musk, benzoin, civet, oakmoss, vetiver and incense (from Fragrantica).

Notes for Coco (old formula, I believe) include are mandarin, coriander, peach, orange blossom, mimosa, clove, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, civet and amber (from Basenotes/Ozmoz).

Notes for Cinnabar include orange, mandarin, aldehydes, bergamot, clove, rose, cinnamon, carnation, jasmine, ylang-ylang, patchouli, incense, sandalwood, vanilla and vetiver (from Basenotes/Osmoz).