Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Best (and Worst) of Scent in 2010 -- a group blog

I wasn't sure if I should participate in this, as I'm still a relative neophyte in such stellar company. And the choices here are from things I actually have smelled, seen or noticed, as opposed to the entire universe of what's out there -- don't know much about those celeb scents, for example (mainly because I don't have to) but here goes:

Perfumer of the year: Bertrand Duchafour

In memoriam  (discontinued): What does that really mean now? If I had to pick one it would be “Safari.” Not on the Lauren website now, but easily found elsewhere on the Web. Same with YSL’s “Nu,” another favorite. 
The (new) fragrance I loved: by Kilian Love & Tears (Surrender). The best jasmine I’ve tried yet.

Perfume of the year: L’Artisan "Nuit de Tubéreuse", for skillful groundwork and acceptance of the online perfume community as a viable facet of product development. Smells good too.
Trend we can do without: Ambrox/Ambroxan overdose -- like a little too much salt in the soup.

Best vetiver: Le Labo’s “Vetiver 46” 

Most ridiculous celebrity for a scent:  Any, but Matthew McConaughey, who  is rumored to eschew deodorant and most bathing, comes to mind.  
Best celebrity scent: If I have to pick one, “Like This” Tilda Swinton, Etat Libre d’Orange
Best Buzz: L’Artisan’s "Nuit de Tubéreuse" -- they did buzz right

I would have liked to see more of: visually oriented creative marketing like the Atelier Cologne postcards -- conceptual, blessedly free of silly softcore, writhing models and smarmy, heavy-breathing voice-overs

Best new fragrance concept: Calling an aromachemical an aromachemical (as in Escentric Molecules “Molecule 03”) 

Worst ad: Any print ad featuring a greasy naked man -- as in Marc Jacobs

Best ad: The Quay brothers short film for CDG's “Wonderwood” (as an art piece — I doubt that it would move much product)

Favorite Flacon: “Bang” -- it actually looks like a pocket flask that took a bullet, and I hear it wobbles a lot, too

Best natural scent: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz “Eau Natural” (limited edition for the “Mystery of Musk” event) 

Best name of a fragrance company: Escentric Molecules

Best Flanker: Estee Lauder "Sensuous Noir"

Rising star of 2010: Liz Zorn
Best  masculine department store fragrance:  “Midnight in Paris” Van Cleef & Arpels
Best shared niche (unisex): “Eau d’Épices” Tauer Perfumes
Best  feminine department store fragrance: “Kalimantan” Chantecaille

 Best fragrance under $50:  Estee Lauder “Sensuous Noir” 30 ml. size. 
(But really, any. There are so many more alternatives to buying perfume now: online, online discounters, auction sites and flea markets for vintage, decanters, travel sizes, bottle splits: the days when prices were “set” by a manufacturer are long gone.) Meanwhile, here's to Lauder for keeping their prices sane.
Other participating blogs are:
Thanks to Michelyn Camen for coordinating this event!

Pitcher plants image from Google Images. Image may be subject to copyright.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Bourbon Balls

(Last week’s discussion about the cost of perfume (“Sore Subject”) turned out to be much more comprehensive than I’d imagined! Thanks, all of you commenters out there, for your very interesting and well thought-out remarks.) 
This week, I was going to give readers an erudite and accurate look at the history of one of my region’s finest products, Bourbon whiskey, to go with a favorite Christmas recipe. Until I started researching this morning, that is. (I might have known there would be disagreements amongst booze historians.) So that’s another post, another day. Here’s what I know: it’s made in Kentucky, or should be, and has a legal definition involving the percentage of corn used -- 50% or thereabouts -- used to make it. 
I do know that good Bourbon has a beautifully complex and unmistakable bouquet. I can’t drink much of it, because all dark liquors give me migraines, but I can make a favorite Christmas confection with it, which I do on Christmas Eve. 
In traditional Southern households, “dropping by,” or visiting, takes place on Christmas day, in the afternoon. Food and drink are part of the ritual, including the serving of Aunt Mary’s fruitcake, the jokes about Aunt Mary’s fruitcake, and these, the perfect alternative. In this way, you can experience two of the best things about Christmas in the South -- good whiskey and even better treats.
This recipe uses Vanilla Wafers, a packaged cookie (“biscuit” to those of you in the U.K.) but any shortbread can be substituted. Pecans are traditionally Southern for baking but if you don’t have them, use whatever unsalted nuts you do have. Any sweet and sticky syrup could be substituted for the Karo, as it  is simply the glue that holds the dough together. Any decent Bourbon will do, but the better the whiskey, the better these taste. And if you absolutely have to, it’s OK to use dark rum instead of Bourbon. 
Classic Southern Bourbon Balls
3 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (about 1 box) or shortbread crumbs, crushed thoroughly 
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
1/2 to 3/4 cup good Bourbon whiskey
3 tablespoons light corn syrup (“Karo” in the U.S.)
salt, if desired
In a large bowl, combine the crumbs, pecans, cocoa, 1 cup confectioners' sugar, bourbon, corn syrup and a dash of salt, if desired. This will make a stiff dough. Mix until well combined.
Spread the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar on a flat surface. Take spoonfuls of the dough and roll  into 1-inch balls, using hands, wet if necessary. Roll each ball in confectioners' sugar.
Chill several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Makes 5 dozen.

Maker's Mark Bourbon photo from Google images. May be subject to copyright.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sore Subject

I was working, doing consumer counseling, the day in autumn, 2008 that Lehman Brothers fell apart. The phones lit up with calls from elderly people begging us to reassure them that their retirement savings would be safe. I went home that day, fixed myself a nice big cocktail, and wrote "Fiddling While Rome Burns" for this blog.

The post was really about my own feelings of guilt, writing and obsessing about a luxury item while it felt like the sky was falling. We don’t talk about money much here. It’s taboo, in a way. We all know perfume is a luxury item, and if you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk. But I’m not much of a spender, myself, especially since I’ve amassed a pretty sizable collection, mostly though bottle splits, fleabay, discounters and the like, and an even larger collection of decants and samples, through purchases and swaps. I laugh now when I think about my sticker shock -- just over 2  years ago -- at the sight of a $150 price tag for a bottle of EDP; that seems quaint now, since Barney’s New York is charging $300 (plus ever-obscene New York taxes, and shipping) -- for 100 mls of  Frederic Malle’s “Portrait of a Lady.”
Here’s the thing though. “Portrait” sounds like something I’d love, and I plan to sample it. So a little while ago, I went to my favorite samples/decants site to order some. And saw that their price for a 1 ml sample is (are you ready?) $8.99
You know, I don’t really think I can spend that on 1 ml  -- of anything. I have the $8.99, (plus shipping) but it just doesn’t seem right.
So I did a little price-checking around here and there. “Portrait” can be had in 50 mls, though not at Barney’s, apparently. Les Senteurs, in London, has it. At the equivalent of today’s Euro/dollar exchange rate, the cost would be $181.70, plus  overseas shipping, no doubt; my guess would be pretty close to $200 total. LuckyScent doesn’t carry Malle.  They do carry “by Killian” though, whose newish “Love & Tears Surrender” will set you back around $225 if you buy it from them and $228 from by Killian’s online site, for 50 mls, plus shipping. Samples on fleabay? None, except for a few of the more popular Malle scents like “Carnal Flower,” which is selling at $19.99 for 2 mls. Courtesy of “Fell Off a Truck, Inc.,” I suspect.
The quandry here, for a perfume collector, is this: it’s increasingly silly for me to buy a full bottle of anything. No matter how much I love it, I have quite a few bottles of things I also love, and I doubt if I’ll ever use up all the decants and samples. If you like perfume, some, and like to wear a “signature” scent, then a $300 bottle might just make sense; at $3/ml, sprayed generously every single day, it’s going to last you nearly a year; with normal use patterns, probably closer to two. The Love & Tears by Kilian --  the one that costs $225-8 plus tax &; shipping -- is an outlay of 75% of the cost of 100 mls of the “Portrait,” for half as much fragrance. OK, so I’m splitting hairs; the point is, do you love it? Say you can’t live without it? Have the means to buy it? Do -- just don’t go into debt over it. Me, I’ll get a decant (probably not this one though!) or wait for a bottle split or manage to procure a bit of it in all the ways I’ve learned...or I’ll just live without it. Sacrilege! I know. Go ahead. Revoke my perfumista card. 
It may be that, if in fact we are all writing for each other (“preaching to the choir” as they say down he-ah) the high-end perfume companies know we aren’t the ones out there buying those $300 bottles (or $720 ones, in the case of Clive Christian).  We might buy one and -- the horror! -- split it, though.  I read somewhere recently that the fragrance market pie will ultimately be divided into a huge slice of cheap, synthetic “designer” and celebuscents for the hoi polloi, a smaller one of outrageously expensive niche fragrances for the tasteful wealthy, and a tiny slice for anyone in between -- a fitting metaphor for the state of things in general, imho. (I hope that the artisanal lines will be able to step in there, but the expense of the raw ingredients makes their product pretty pricey, too.) I see it happening now, when a fine-fragrance line blithely doubles their prices in two years. The price of a piece of cake loaf of bread has gone up, but not that much!
For this reason, I find myself more interested in and writing more about vintage perfume. It can still be found reasonably, although it’s a lot of work. But that's ok. This is still a labor of love. As in any long-term relationship, though, I’m seeing more flaws that I did at first.
How about you?

Pile of money photo by Olfacta. Use it if you like.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blood and Bourbon French

...and the winner of the “La Rose Jacqueminot” sample is: Olenska! Get in touch with me at the email address to the left and I’ll send it out posthaste.

I once wrote that New Orleans wasn’t really America. I still think that, in a more complicated way; it’s the city we almost lost. For some, it’s the Disneyland of debauchery. For me, New Orleans is not so much about debauchery as permission. 
Most of the locals carry a few extra pounds around with them. Here, it’s OK. Have another cocktail; it’s OK. Order your oysters fried; it’s OK. Stay out late, have some sugary fried beignets for breakfast, then go on home and, if you must, flog yourself, but don’t do it here. Guilt is boring. Here, in our nation of “No,” is the city that says “Yes.” That’s one of many reasons why New Orleans is a national treasure.
Some discoveries this time: Commander’s Palace. Can it be possible that I’ve never been there before? I was on a girls’ weekend with my Gulf Coast cousins, five of them, and one from London. We spent hours at brunch. (Why rush?) I had oysters with remoulade sauce, drum fish stuffed with crabmeat in a pool of creamy shellfish-based sauce and bread pudding souffle with whiskey sauce. There were three musicians, playing tableside, as accomplished as any I’ve ever heard, and the very fine trumpet player led us through a Second Line dance around the room -- something I’ll never forget. Later, we went to the the Bombay Club, a genuinely civilized lounge (translation: no loutish frat boys just in from Bourbon Street) with a real jazz trio. We ate at Irene’s, an of-the-moment fine Italian restaurant in the Upper Quarter. And I paid a visit to Bourbon French, the old perfumery on Royal Street in the Vieux Carre.
Royal Street is where the antiques are, fine little stores selling things like art glass and art prints and sets of Cartier silver. Bourbon French is a real perfumery, 167 years old, where the perfumes are mixed and made. They do custom scents as well as their own line of blends. I sampled some of those, and they were gentle, florals, mostly, some spice, the men’s line drier and tending to vetiver, and there were quite a few citrus-based blends. In other words, they were scents of a native’s New Orleans, from these and earlier times. In the brutal summer climate here, one needs citrus. And cooling vetiver. And fresh sweet florals, and lots of it all. These aren’t edgy or challenging perfumes, but clearly they’re meant to be worn, every day, as essential here as patience.
“Kus-kus,” the shop’s signature scent, is a soft and spicy fragrance created by original owner and perfumer August Doussan, in 1843. It goes to powder like a classic Chypre, a powder both soft and fresh. A 2007 blend, “La Vie Nouvelle” is a ladylike mixed floral. Soliflores are also available -- magnolia, gardenia, orange blossom, sweet olive, many others. (I already own their orange blossom perfume, which is wonderful.) All the scents can be mixed in various strengths. 
Supposedly, this shop was the inspiration for the Tom Robbins novel “Jitterbug Perfume,” although the two ladies working there -- everyone who works at this shop knows, really knows, perfume -- are quite modern. The prices are very reasonable.
I stopped by one of the perfume fora  earlier today, and found a discussion of a possible national meetup in New Orleans. If that happens, I might be back there sooner than I’d planned, but, whatever happens, I’ll be there, every year, to be with my family, renew those essential blood ties, and visit the city that’s also part of me now.
The drawing was conducted using random.org as usual.
Click here  to visit Bourbon French’s website. They ship.
Photo © Jennifer Stone|Dreamstime.com