Monday, March 29, 2010

In the White Room

There is something about the phrase “white flowers” which sounds so pure and innocent to the uninitiated. I certainly didn’t know what these sweet white flowers were really about until I began to explore perfumery, but now I do: they’re a drug.
If you were to visualize yourself in a white-walled room with big vases full of jasmine, and orange blossom and tuberose and oh, gardenia, stretched out on a comfortable bed dressed in white cotton, more white drapery at the window, a slow-turning ceiling fan, a gentle breeze and the kind of light that only reflects off water, where would you be?
Physically, maybe in a beach house somewhere. Psychologically, you might be in as ordinary a place as I am now: sitting in an armchair in my living room, in my bathrobe, drinking coffee, lifting my hand to my nose every now and then for another white-flower hit.
Some scents have this power to transport. The more challenging ones, the concepts, the oudhs, the reflections on dirt, roots, sweat or wet concrete excite the intellect, the power of analysis, push the boundaries of the word “perfume.” Not these. They are nature’s. Their targets, of course, are not us; they’re insects, without whose endless poking and flitting these flowers, and the bushes, trees or vines on which they grow, could not exist.
These are the perfumes I smell and wear when I want to be transported, lifted, to some other place. To my own white room.
I chose three scents: Serge Lutens’ “A la Nuit” for jasmine, Estee Lauder Private Collection “Tuberose Gardenia” for, well, tuberose and gardenia, and Bourbon French’s “Orange Blossom” perfume. 
What I would do, if I had unlimited amounts of these three, is to spray them all on my white sheets, put on a white cotton floor-length nightgown, spritz that with them and  into my hair. I’d then lie down for a midday nap, or an afternoon siesta, both big no-no’s in the modern culture of busyness. What a delightful sin that would be: silence, indolence, nobody around. No cellphone, no iPhone, no computer beeping in the next room, no demands, just solitude. The initials form an acronym: silence, indolence, nobody: SIN. Which, incidentally, in Spanish means “without.”
When I think about the real reasons we wear perfumes at a time in which we don’t need them to mask odors, I keep returning to a phrase from some forgotten poem: “she walks in beauty…” The advertising, the marketing for modern fragrances have got it so wrong. Kate Moss writhing around in the back seat of a limo, holding a bottle of...what was it? I’ve already forgotten. 
We live in a crass time. Wearing perfume is about walking in beauty. And, if you are, the rest of it is easier to take.
So I’m glad that these white flowers cast a spell. They bewitch in ways that the “c’mere you’!” musks and cumin-y skanksters can’t. In an orange grove in the spring, you can see bumblebees, their bodies heavy with pollen, drunkenly somersaulting from flower to flower in utter euphoria. I think that we can do that, too.
I think that’s another reason why the white flower scents exist.
White Room Photo © Olfacta, all rights reserved.
The perfumes I used for this post are “a la Nuit,” by by Serge Lutens Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido, a jasmine floral with jasmines from Egypt, India, and Morocco, and white honey, benzoin and musk. The perfumer was Christopher Sheldrake. There is talk of IFRA-compliant reformulation of this scent. I believe that the decant I have, a gift,  was from an older bottle.
Estee Lauder Private Collection “Tuberose Gardenia” is part of their niche-like higher end line. The notes include neroli, lilac, rosewood, tuberose, gardenia, orange flower, jasmine, white lily, carnation and vanilla bourbon. The perfumer was Harry Fremont. My decant was purchased from The Perfumed Court.
Bourbon French “Orange Blossom” is from the venerated perfumery, founded in 1748, in New Orleans. All of their perfumes are compounded in-house. This one is perfume strength, and while there is no official list of “notes” that I could find, I smell honey and a bit of spice in the darkish drydown. I purchased this very grown-up orange blossom scent from Bourbon French.
For further explorations of Orange Blossom scents, go here.
For another look at New Orleans, go to this post.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Comforting Scents for Uncomfortable Times -- A Group Blog

All my fragrances comfort me. They surround me with beauty and artistry. They let me move inside an invisible sphere. That sphere is where I live.
Pure vanilla extract is a kind of perfume. It scents foods and drinks, giving them an elusive deliciousness. I haven’t found my perfect vanilla perfume yet, but I’ve dabbed fine Madagascar vanilla extract on my pulse points as a scent. While it lasts, it smells like home -- an idealized home. Perhaps that is the true definition of comfort.
The only requirement for a comfort scent is that I own a bottle of it -- enough to use generously. I save samples for daytime, for evaluation and identification. These are the concept scents, the new, the niche, the challenging, the ones I chase, always behind the curve. Usually there is nothing comforting about them. I don’t think they’re meant to be.
I like to sleep in a bed of roses. 
My favorite rose for sleep -- or a nap (a midafternoon perfumed nap is the ultimate indulgence) is Rochas “Tocade,” that mixture of rose and boozy vanilla. When I wake up during the night, Tocade lulls me back to sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever worn it in the daytime. We’re strictly nocturnal, Tocade and me.
I’ve written a lot already about Cartier’s “So Pretty,” which is becoming a sleep favorite, too. It’s not challenging in any way, doesn’t insist on analysis. It’s just a rose, with soft berry and fruit, sweet, quiet and undemanding.
Rosine’s “Poussiere de Rose” is similar to “So Pretty,” -- I really have to compare them one of these days -- but, again, there is something about it that is relaxing. It’s soft, slightly sweet, a plummy rose, and when I apply it, I get a little delirious at first. It’s not as much a sleep scent as the other two, because there is also something ennervating about it, and I love to walk in its delightful haze.
Then there’s (vintage) YSL “Paris”. Somehow I missed this one during the Eighties. Violet is difficult note for me, too, but this scent....I haven’t yet actually worn it anywhere but to’s not exactly because I’m afraid to wear it out of the house you see, it’s just so in your face. ROSE and VIOLET. I am fascinated by it. By the bottle, designed to recline on its side, in front of the more upstanding ones. I reach for Paris more often than I ever thought I would. And, after a few hours spent melting into skin, it’s so much more cooperative.  And  it’s still there in the morning.
In summer, my tastes change a little. The American South is known for its humid nights, and I put away my heavy resin scents in April. Even cooled by air conditioning, the senses know it’s steamy outside. Thousands of tiny tree frogs roar all night, the bullfrogs drum and the grasshoppers rasp. Sometimes I hear owls hooting, cats fighting -- the natural world is wide awake. On the hottest nights I still love “Eau Parfumee au the vert,” with its light cardamom, tea (and a little bit of rose). Or “Anais Anais,” the coolest fresh-flowers scent I know. Or “Silences,” with its loads of galbanum green, just slightly bitter. These two layer beautifully, as fresh as morning. 

A recent vintage discovery is Coty’s “L’Aimant.” I bought a big bottle of the cologne. It has the old-fashioned aldehyde note, but it dries to the softest, most powdery floral I’ve yet found. It’s subtle, so if I want to punch it up a little, I wear the perfume, too. I haven’t tried this in summer yet, but will, and maybe as a sheets spray.
There are other summer sleep scents in my collection -- vintage “Intimate,” a soft and powdery Chypre; Lanvin’s “Oxygene,” an ozonic floral (never thought I’d like one of these, but I like this one) and the soft, incense-and-heliotrope Barbara Bui. For hot weather day wear, I’m partial to citrus and forthright greens. They bring something else to the party -- the sense of touch. Comfort for a July day: a cool spray on overheated skin. Like “4711” straight from the refrigerator, in that big bottle, enough for head to toe. “O de Lancome,” after a workout or before a class. Light citrus-patchouli “Eau de Rochas,” bone-dry vintage “Y,” the green leaves and violet “Eau de Cartier;” our summers are long. 
When I lived in Los Angeles, there was a jasmine vine under my bedroom window. The perfume from its blossoms wafted up and found its way to me on summer nights. The scent was intermittent, riding in on the breeze. Although some have come close, I’ve never found a jasmine perfume that matches it. 

But trying is so much fun.

This article's title is an homage to Michelyn Camen's original article of this same name on Sniffapalooza Magazine in 2008.

OTHER PARTICIPATING BLOGS: (Thanks to Ayala Moriel for organizing this!)
Katie Puckrik Smells
Savvy Thinker
Roxana's Illuminated Journal
BitterGrace Notes
Perfume Shrine
Notes from the Ledge
Scent Hive
The Non Blonde
Perfume in Progress
A Rose Beyond the Thames
I Smell Therefore I Am
Savvy Thinker

Monday, March 15, 2010


In last week’s post, I called Cartier’s “So Pretty” a rose chypre. 

That wasn’t quite right. It’s actually a (no!) fruity floral. I just couldn’t bring myself to use that dreaded term.

 I guess I have some ‘splainin’ to do.

In the world of fragrance minutiae, this teeny little corner of the universe that means so much to me and you, a Chypre has high cheekbones and a well-modulated if somewhat husky voice, whereas a fruity floral designation usually means one thing and one thing only: trailer trash. 

To me, a Chypre has what I call “the pinch.” It’s a nearly physical reaction to the dry, astringent quality that comes from -- and only from -- oakmoss. It’s like vinegrette salad dressing. Without the vinegar, the oil just tastes, well, oily. You can’t substitute for it. You can put in all the citrus juice and herbs and mustard you have, but it still won’t pinch. 

Since the unfortunate and, imho, dubious death of oakmoss as a perfume ingredient, there are lots of “Modern Chypres” like Ralph Lauren’s “Turquoise” and Lauder’s “Jasmine White Moss.” Pleasant as they may be, they don’t have the pinch. There’s a certain desperation in the combining of patchouli and whatever else they can find on the shelf to duplicate a real Chypre. It doesn’t work.

As for “So Pretty,” I did find a vintage mini I had, and I’m comparing the vintage and the modern as I write this. It is a little drier. The modern is a little lusher and -- dare I say it? -- fruitier. Even the vintage, though, doesn’t pinch. Therefore, not a Chypre. Not in my book. 

Along with other perfume bloggers, I can’t imagine why the industry continues to use the term; a fond look back, perhaps? Uh, no. Unless one is something of a scent analyst, this is beyond esoteric; the public could hardly care less. So who are the manufacturers naming for? Us? Themselves? And, why? Confusion, or a lack of imagination?

I have a suggestion.

Let’s use "Chypre" for buying or describing vintage perfumes only. For the “modern” (ie Not) Chypres, well, hmmm...we can call them “Chypish.” Pronounced “Sheepish.” In honor of the bravery, iconoclasm and, well, chutzpah the modern fragrance industry has shown as it steadfastly resists the denigration of its five-star classics.

As for florals with fruit: one comparison that came to my admittedly lowbrow mind is television’s “Situation Comedy” or “sitcom” as it is better known. “Sitcom” is usually used in a derogatory way. That deserves its own continum too, though. From “I Love Lucy,” a landmark for all time, to “All In the Family,” a landmark of its time, to...well...wait a second. It’ll come to me. OK. I’ve got one. “The Office.” 

“Nahema” would occupy the landmark category, and it is a floral with fruit notes.  So is “So Pretty, “ which, while not a landmark for all time, feels a lot like its time and lives up to its name rather well. The floral is primarily rose, whereas the fruits vary, berries, peaches, plums. The fragrance is mixed with skill and some restraint. And, in spite of all that, it is a fruity floral.

What has give this unfortunate category its bad reputation is the screaming, hair-pulling girlfighting reality-show-contestant modern “fruity floral;” -- screechy, sugary, synthetic liquid neon designed to keep some celebrity’s name out there and, incidentally, convince the 12-24 female demo buy it by the barrel. 

Let’s call this type the“Frooty Floral.” (Many already do.) This designation says what it needs to say without insulting an entire fragrance sub-family. It’s code, sure. Nothing wrong with that. It’s not as though the larger world is waiting. And it’s not as though anything perfume bloggers say is going to influence the Suits at the big conglomerates. But I’ll feel better about the whole thing.

And I’ll be able to use the term “fruity floral” without flinching.

Photo used under license © Coccon |

More discussion about these issues can be found at the blogs (links to left) Grain de Musc and Now Smell This.

Monday, March 8, 2010

So In Like

A couple of months ago, I walked past a perfume counter at a department store. I spotted a tray of Cartier testers. The one in front was “So Pretty.” “Too bad about that name,” I thought, but picked it up anyway, and sprayed. 
I nearly swooned with pleasure. I kept walking toward the parking garage, in a much better mood than I had been before. “Why,” I thought, “didn’t I know about this perfume?” And then “This must have rose in it somewhere. Yeah. There it is.”
I got home and hit the blogs. 
Sure enough, “So Pretty” is a floral mix with rose. I’ve gotten to the point where I might be able to choose a perfume by reading the “notes.” If it’s called a “rose chypre,” as this is, I’m there. I began to wonder: why?
Why does one fragrance send you to the stratosphere and another one leaves you cold? 
The obvious answer, of course, would be that good ol’ emotional memory triggered by a smell. While it is true that the olfactory receptors have a sort of all-access pass to the brain’s referees of emotion, just the recall of a specific a memory would indicate cognitive involvement too, and evidence supports that idea. By this reasoning, Something About Roses, some loaded memory, would be responsible for my near-swoon.
Except that it isn’t.
I never cared much for roses. I never grew them, nor did my mother, nor did anyone else I knew. (I have a couple of bushes now and they are a pain to maintain. Besides, modern roses hardly smell at all.) My only memory of a rose garden had to do with my “planting” of artificial rosebushes for a garden scene in a film. I dug holes all day. This is not a particularly fond recollection. No smitten lover ever brought me dozens. Etc. In other words, that’s not it. So I looked up some stuff on psychology and individual preference. I might as well have asked “Why is the sun?” 
Are we talking about perception -- am I smelling the same thing that anyone else might be smelling? Or is it cognition -- where does this scent fit into my world view? Psychoanalysis (Freudian version) -- could it be an unconscious memory involving attachment to a parent? (Jungian version) -- is it an archetype, a symbol, that has come down to me from prehistory? And so on. Every school of psychology has its answer to my question. All of them could be right, or wrong. Or some combination, like ordering from a menu in a Chinese restaurant: one from column A; two from column B; Eureka, I have Found The Answer!
At first, I had concentrated on olfaction, individual preference, and emotion in my research. But then it occured to me: it’s not really emotion I’m dealing with here. It’s pleasure. Is pleasure an emotion? 
I don’t know the answer to that one, either.
Adding to the confusion, most of us know that the “rose” in modern perfume often has little to do with an actual flower. It’s an aromachemical, synthesized in a lab somewhere. And, depending on the other essences in the perfume’s formula, that aromachemical might form an accord with one or more of them that is unique. 
So much for the emotional memory theory.
Then I thought, well, it was a Cartier display, and I like the Cartier fragrances I’ve tried, as long as you don’t count “Delices.” In fact, one of the scents that made me love perfume was the original 1981 “Must.” Could my judgment have been influenced by that? Possibly, at least insofar as it made me pick up the bottle. But I would be the last person on earth to swoon over a brand.
So, I just don’t know.  Do I have to know?
Not necessarily.
“So Pretty” came out in 1995. I bought tester bottles, of the EDP and the EDT, from an online discounter. I don’t think they’re all that different, though some say they are -- the EDT is a little greener and feels more spacious, somehow. The notes are listed on the bottles: Neroli, Iris, Rose, “Diamond Orchid,” Sandalwood and Musk. Another list I found, an older one I think, also mentions “Italian” mandarin, “Clear” jasmine, “Exotic” dewberry, “Rose Centofolia from Grasse,” “Osmanthus from China”  -- let’s drop the ad-copy folderol, shall we? -- vetiver, white peach, oakmoss and benzoin. 
In the final analysis, if you can call it that, none of this stuff really matters. In my own life, there have been just a few perfumes out of the hundreds I’ve tried that have done this to me, and this is one of them. I wear it to do laundry. I wear it to sleep. Right now, it’s my favorite mood manager. No matter what I’m doing when it wear it, it’s better than it would have been without it. For me, it has transcended analysis. 
Is there a fragrance, or more than one, that does this for you?
The perfumer for “So Pretty” was Jean Guichard, who also created “Obsession,” “Loulou” “Poison” and “Asja.”

The nebula photo is one I’ve had hanging around in my photo files for a long time. I never recorded who the photographer was, so can’t give proper credit here. 

Monday, March 1, 2010


See that big dip in the second line?

That's (mostly) meeeeee!

“Olfactarama” is down 131% according to Avery Gilbert’s “Smelly Web Index” (pictured).
Is it my reach?  Is it my frequency? Is it because I posted on Tuesday, not Monday, last week? Did my huge drop bring the rest of you solo bloggers down with me? Sorry, y’all. Gonna go do hari-kiri for it on YouTube!
That should get the ratings up. 
Besides, it’s got electrolytes!
Mecca Balsalm -- Why would I want to smell like campfire smoke? There’s already been an Ourzrate Oozerate Ozeraate arrrragh! You know. That stuff CDG makes that’s supposed to evoke a camel-dung campfire on a moonless Saharan night.
“Relocate.” What’s wrong with “move?” “Relocate” is corporatespeak.
“Yeah, the company’s relocating us to Detroit,” said Alicia, 36, with a sigh.
“Caleb and I are relocating to L.A. Right after we’re done with acting school!” squealed Morgan, 22. 
Big difference. Huge.
Went to an Ulta store (what happened to the “3,” by the way?) the other day. Smelled some of the new releases. Without naming names, they were uniformly godawful. I noticed that several had life-size die-cut standup displays featuring the associated celebrity. 
I’ve had these made. They’re insanely expensive. If you’re wondering why so many new fragrances smell like Tropical Punch’s (part of) your answer!
The money has to come from somewhere, folks. 
Sometimes I want to relocate move to, oh, I dunno...Easter Island.

I wonder if they have wi-fi there though.
Rochas “Mystere”. The mystery to me is why a 50 ml bottle of the EDP, albeit discontinued, was going for $187 on fleabay last week.
I have some. It’s a nice, nothing-special chypre. What is up with this?
“Big Love” fans...does anybody else think it’s turning into a silly soap? The pinnacle  was last night’s show, featuring Bill playing a game of ball-on-a-pole with Margene’s new faux-husband himbo, a’ la the wrestling scene in “Women in Love,” Salt Lake City suburb style. Barb stands on the sidelines, mouth hanging open as usual.
Mine was, too, but for an entirely different reason. 

Grasshoppah. What is the sound of one shark jumping?
Bill Maher is back, though, thank you God! With a suspicious lack of fanfare on the part of HBO.
I guess he didn’t pull in the big numbers last year.