Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sniffapalooza, vol. 1

Not quite sure how this happened, but I haven’t been to New York in twenty years.
I was there for Sniffapalooza, Mr. Olfacta in tow. A series of Keystone Cops-like events kept me from experiencing some of the product presentations. Go to WAFT if you’d like to read about them (I’ll get to the samples, I promise, hey, we just got back last night night before last!) My reportage is more a succession of images, of impressions, the first one being this: as soon as my feet hit the pavement of Fifth Avenue I thought: have I been asleep all this time? Because that river of humanity never stops moving, and it moves quick quick quick, past some of the grandest buildings in the world, never looking up, been there done that, but I just couldn’t help it, sometimes, feeling awestruck by these accomplishments of a bygone era. Then, even more visual dazzle; drinks at a rooftop bar overlooking the Queensboro Bridge with two new favorite friends. Like something from a dream.
My friend and guide, Carol -- how can I thank her enough? -- saw this newbie through the Bergdorf’s breakfast presentations; a series of beautiful and beautifully dressed men and woman with varying degrees of showmanship skill. I guess my favorite one was a lovely older lady from Van Cleef and Arpels presenting their “Midnight in Paris” who told an erotic story ending with a beginning -- a leather-scented bear hug -- but there were others, too, who made it feel more like a show and less like let’s trap ‘em in a room. I’d be amiss if I didn’t say that element was there. Or if I didn’t wonder: who are we, exactly, to these people? To the niche sellers especially, it would seem that we are the ones they want; the early adopters, the reviewers and writers, the hardcore perfume fans who’ll do your brand awareness campaign for you out of love, and so: at least be nice already! Most were. Others, especially some reps from the big companies, clearly were crossing us off a things-to-do list. 
Out on the Beauty Floor, a throng, not my favorite thing. I plunged in nevertheless. Samples were scarce. I know, I know, it’s all about fear of dupes, understandable, but a shame. Like most perfume lovers, I like to try things at leisure, on skin, not sprayed on a card surrounded by 300 people while suffering a monumental case of olfactory fatigue, but I guess that’s the rebop, in these cautious days. The result? A pile of scent strips all mixed together in the bottom of a bag. I don’t have a clear memory of, for example, the new...what was it? Sometimes, stinginess felt like the this year’s theme. But I figured out a use for all those strips -- the best-smelling collage I’ve ever made.
Back out on the street, I could see the Apple store over there looking like the I.M. Pei pyramid in front of the Louvre. Big, no, huge, wow factor. Fountains, concrete canyons, sultry weather.  A walk back to the hotel, Keystone Cops event # 1 -- a misplaced card key -- kept me there for a bit, and then the extracurricular activity commenced. For us, it was back out on the street, walk and walk and walk, another new friend, great talk at a funky tavern, and then a walk through Times Square, with a huge throng of teenagers and tourists bathed in neon light. Theme scent: Donna Karen’s Iris, fresh and fine for anything, anywhere, the fragrance that finally changed my mind about iris. 
Part 2  -- more thoughts on Sniffa and New York -- on Tuesday!

Scent Strip New York collage by Pat Hall Borow, all rights reserved.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Greetings from NYC

I'm in New York for Sniffapalooza, among (many) other things...back soon with lots of samples and impressions! The photo is the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park...more soon

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's That Smell?

Gleanings from around the web:

“…. fragrance free zone signs will be  posted in Detroit, where City employees will be urged not to wear perfume, cologne or aftershave.  This came about  as a result of a settlement in a federal lawsuit, where the plaintiff was awarded $100,00 to a city employee who said a colleague’s perfume 'made it challenging for her to do her 
job' ..."

“Picture the scene; one minute you are fine and breathing normally and the next you are struggling to breathe and feeling dizzy with no real signs as to why. You could actually be suffering from an allergy to perfume, and it could be the person sat right next to you on the train or at work that is causing your problem…”

“Does Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) Cause Cancer?”

…"a drugstore perfume-counter employee here, backed up this assessment. 'You couldn't sell a bottle of fragrance if your life depended on it.' "
“Americans are living longer than ever, but a third of them develop chronic disease and disability....a major reason, claim advocates of tougher regulation of the cosmetics industry, is the cumulative effect of toxic chemicals that are absorbed through the skin (as opposed to breathing, drinking and eating)..."
“…clearly, IFRA is recklessly irresponsible…”
FMA Changes Name to the International Fragrance Association North America 
Reconfirms commitment to safety, advocacy, and collaboration on regional and global levels
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At the annual Fall Workshop and Luncheon in Teaneck, New Jersey, the Fragrance Materials Association announced its strategic realignment with the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) to become IFRA North America.  The event also marked the launch of the new website,, which contains in-depth information about fragrance industry and safety.
"IFRA North America has a strong 83-year history as the leading fragrance materials association in North America," said Jennifer Abril, Executive Director.  "Our new expanded global reach will serve not only our members, but also the public as we ensure the safety of fragrance ingredients and products through industry-wide compliance with the IFRA Code of Practice."
The name change reflects the growing need of IFRA North America's members to leverage global resources to strengthen its voice in North America.
About IFRA North America
IFRA North America ( represents the fragrance materials industry in the United States and Canada.  IFRA North America member companies create and manufacture perfumes and fragrances for personal care, home care, and home design products.  Companies that supply fragrance ingredients, such as essential oils and other raw materials, are also IFRA North America members.
IFRA North America advocates on behalf of the global fragrance industry.  We interact with legislative and regulatory bodies and other stakeholders in the US and Canada and worldwide – through our affiliation with IFRA Global.
By combining the art and science of making fragrances, our members bring to the world a universe of products enjoyed safely by millions every day.
…and the beat goes, um, on. What do y'all* think?

*an expression used in the American South to denote "more than one person." When speaking to a crowd, the correct plural is "All 'a y'all."

WCTU photo from Google Images; photo manipulation by Olfacta.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cherry Bomb

The real Runaways...(left) and the movie Runaways (at the end).

BTW: the winner of the Oro sample, chosen using, is Rappelyea! Get in touch with me at the email address to the left.

So I got this email from The Cherry Bomb Girls who asked if they could send me some samples. I replied sure, why not, I’d heard of this somewhere. When they came, with pink press release and “Cherry Bomb” button, it kind of cracked me up, because the imagery -- all of it -- for this very modern product actually comes from a time and place with which I’m quite familiar.

If you saw the film “The Runaways,” or remember them, you might recall that “Cherry Bomb” was the groundbreaking girl rock band’s first (ok, only) hit. I remember them well from that and a future time. As the Seventies went from Bad (bloated corporate rock) to Worse (disco) to Even Worse (the election of a faded B-movie actor whose sole skill, as it turned out, was acting presidential) there came to pass, in London, L.A. and a few other places a phenomenon known as “glam.”
This was a sort of double Venn diagram intersection between anthemic midSixties garage psychedelic/punk, guitar-god rock and roll, rampant gender confusion and the more acceptable elements of real punk -- spiky black hair, yes; vomit, no. They intersected for, oh, a couple of years, before the safe-for-the-suburbs ersatz punk-like, whatever, morphed into Industry-sanctioned “New Wave”.  And all that pink, and the buttons, and of course the fashion and a little bit of music and Rodney Bingenheimer’s club the English Disco and, later, his radio show on KROQ comprised it too. And Quaaludes. And Kim Fowley, who was much worse than he is in “The Runaways,” or so I’ve been told.
I had a wannabe glam roommate, for a while, in L.A. She was a tiny girl who drove a TransAm she could barely see out of, wore “french” jeans so tight she had to lie down to zip them, and worshipped this other girl who was better connected to the Strip scene than she was. She had shoes with eight-inch platforms, an eating disorder, and one prized possession, an acetate -- also known as a “test pressing” -- of some obscure B-side by the Who. (I guess she thought I was cool enough that she played it for me once.) Her biggest accomplishment was that she had once interned at Warner Bros. Records. A few years later, when I got a real job there, I thought of her, but not for long. She’d skipped and left me with the bills. I do remember thinking, though, that a creature like her could only have existed in a specific place and time: L.A., mid to late Seventies, the first time all this came around.

These perfumes, “Rebel Angel” and “Truth or Dare” speak to that time in the guise of speaking for this one. None of it has ever really gone away, well, the Quaaludes did, but  this is still a form the girls aspire to (with, one can hope, less victim-identification.) The fragrances themselves are sweet and strong and when I say sweet I mean sweet, but so what? They’re not aimed at me. All that guitar-goddess posing and running down those alleys all night makes one a bit, um, sweaty, so one would need knock em dead perfumes like these. 
A fellow blogger, IndiePerfumes, has already written about these fragrances in great detail, so there's no need for me to repeat. The press release calls them “bakery scents.” Certainly, they stand out! I have no teen kids and don’t really know the demo. It appears that Maria and Alexis do. If I had a daughter I’d be happier if she chose one of these than the latest celeb-scent horror. The packaging is great, too, heart-shaped bottles with keychain tops. Portable. Fits.
So what I’m getting at is this: it’s heartening, really, that this imagery, which should be as iconic as any but for some reason is not, is being mined for its power now. More power to ‘em.
A bare-bones Glam primer:
 “Velvet Goldmine” -- with an early performance by Christian Bale 
“Almost Famous” -- with one of the best screenplays ever, by Cameron Crowe
“The Runaways” -- pretty accurate, especially the dust-bowl Valley settings
“”Mayor of Sunset Strip” -- about Rodney Bingenheimer; perversely fascinating
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (uncut version) kids raising each other in the Valley
“Foxes” Awful music, great performances from Jodie Foster and ex-Runaway Cherie Curie
The Runaways records -- there are many versions
David Bowie’s early 70’s records
T. Rex (Marc Bolan) anything
Iggy Pop/Stooges
Sweet (“Ballroom Blitz”)
Slade (England)
New York Dolls
Lou Reed (for awhile)

The late Lester Bangs, compilation books, or anything he ever wrote, really, including his pieces for Creem Magazine; imho the best, maybe the only, music writer who ever really got it.

The “real Runaways” photo came from LatinoFilmChatter.
The “movie Runaways” photo (below)  is a publicity still from the 2010 film.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Speaking Bespoke in Atlanta

A month or so ago, a friend and I were talking about perfume at the gym. A petite blonde standing nearby overheard us, came up and introduced herself as a perfumer, specializing in custom blends.
I don’t think of my city as particularly perfume-conscious. That is surprising, as the American South is so linked with images of belles in hoop skirts with their gentleman callers, but the fact is that at least half the people here are from somewhere else, and the natives tend to be low-key about what they wear, whether that be clothing, shoes or scent (TV’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta” notwithstanding).
So I went to see the perfumer, Susan, at her studio last week. Her company, Blend Custom Parfum Studio, does bespoke perfumes for individuals, bridal parties -- imagine having your own bride’s blend! -- couples, gifts, and so on. This was my first sight of a real perfume organ, and I thought “I could easily live here.” 
Susan trained for this profession in Grasse, at Galimar, one of the oldest perfumeries. She took me through the process of creating a custom fragrance by making me a sample of my own. 

 In creating a perfume for someone, the perfumer must be able to size up the client quickly. Sometimes, there are surprises, she explained -- like a hard-driving career woman who comes in asking for a come-hither oriental as a signature scent. It’s a delicate process. “Scent tells the truth,” she said; very succinct. And very accurate.
If you were to make a list of all the perfumes you loved most when in middle and high school, often there will be enough similarities between them to identify your fragrance “family.” Mine turned out to be Chypre, so that’s where we started. Susan uses an interesting proprietary system, designed by Galimar, in which the client sniffs from a collection of fourteen essences, eliminating them one by one until a favorite appears (three of them, in my case, as I simply can’t be monogamous when it comes to fragrance). Anyway, she explained as we talked that, for most people, perfume is about an individual style, the creation of an image, your persona.
We talked a bit about the modern fragrance “climate” -- the big-business, overwhelming  celebrity scents and the modern no-perfume movement, which I believe are linked, as she worked. She’d hand me bottles of blends and essences to evaluate, combining them on scent strips for me to try. Her Grasse training emphasizes the base notes, which I thought was interesting, especially in comparison to the way mainstream scents are sold now, like everything else, instant. Five seconds, a quick sniff from a card, no time (or need) for the scent to develop; what you smell is what you get. What she does is very different. 
I’m wondering if we perfume devotees, with our large collections, are really looking for that sense of identity in a bottle.
 If I read about the newest Parfumerie Generale or Amouge and immediately start examining the “notes,” what am I really doing? For example, I don’t particularly like lily for my own wearing, and, even though I can tell a great lily-based scent from a thoughtless knockoff, I wouldn’t choose to wear it. It’s easy enough to say “I don’t like it, that’s all” but what does that really mean? Does it mean I had a bad encounter with a bouquet of Stargazers as a child, or what? Conversely, if I adore the earthy essence of iris root, what might be the source of that feeling? Good memories, perhaps, of planting bulbs with a mother, or grandmother, long ago? This, I think, is what custom perfuming is really all about; the winnowing and choosing and winnowing and choosing until you arrive The uniqueness of your own life’s experience.
So I’m smelling a bit of my custom blend, an EDP, right now. Perfume takes about two weeks to fully “meld,” Susan explained, but I’m in that vial even now. Here's the Chypre quality I love, with smooth, greenish heart notes, but, more important, I’m thinking “I could wear this anywhere.” To the office or gym or theatre, to places I’d usually think twice about wearing fragrance at all, because this one seems to be emanating from my own skin, as natural as breath.
As the fragrance industry splits like an amoeba between the mainstream/celeb and the niche/exclusive -- it seems that there is more of a divide between them than ever before -- perhaps this kind of perfumery will step forward.
 In the never-ending battle of Art vs. Commerce, this is the Art part.
The photo is of Susan Sexton, perfumer.

If you leave a comment here, you'll be eligible for the drawing for Roberto Cavalli "Oro," deadline October 12, midnight U.S. Eastern Daylight time. See last week's post for details.