Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On "Safari"


People often ask me  “How in the world do you think of something to write about perfume, every week?” I just sort of mumble that something comes along. Those of you who also write about perfume are familiar with the question, and the answer: it just does. It is sometimes difficult to discuss a business seemingly so intent on shooting itself in the foot, but sometimes, a fragrance seems to find me, and makes me feel genuinely inspired.
I went to an estate sale, groaning at my own hope-springs-eternal foolishness -- I never find anything but cracked orange crockpots. But here was a bottle,  with about 5 mls left in it, of Ralph Lauren’s Safari for Women EDP.  I’d managed to miss this when it came out about 20 years ago. It cost $2.00, which I balked at paying, as I usually avoid Lauren products. Too much preppie imagery, along with the “Let’s take the Gulfstream to Kenya and bag a rhino” colonial-era-worshipping silliness. Then I took the cap off and sprayed a little on my hand.
If I had to use one word to describe this scent it would be “heady.” I’d never smelled anything like it. That’s aldehydes and galbanum, but there is something else here, too, so grassy and sweet and dry at once that I have to say the name fits, perfectly. Not that I’ve been to Africa or plan to go any time soon. In my own experience, it reminds me of the western hills in dry season -- arid, the color yellow ochre, dotted with black oaks. Dry, dusty grass that sweetens over time, like the California summers of my memory.
I started doing research, and hunting around for another vintage bottle. To my utter astonishment, I snagged a half-ounce of the perfume -- parfum -- on fleabay, for $2.99. Oh, stuff of myth! My best auction score ev-ah! I even felt a little guilty, like I was stealing, but the seller’s store was full of things like used bicycle seat covers, antique playing cards and old hood ornaments, and, like an afterthought, this one bottle of perfume. I was expecting the worst, but the heavy crystal, silver-topped bottle came boxed in its own, faux-crocodile coffin, lined with quilted white satin. (I found a vintage bottle of EDP, too, btw, for a very reasonable price.)
“Safari” was concocted by Dominque Ropion (“Carnal Flower” and many others) and features hyacinth as a floral in the topnotes, and black currant and mandarin along with the galbanum. I think it may be the combination of these that gave me that “gottahaveit” rush. This scent has a life, a clear beginning, middle and end. The midnotes are floral and the base means business, ambers and vetiver, styrax and musk. I would bet that the bottle from the estate sale is the original 1990 formula, because the base is a little richer. I think the other bottle contains a slight remix -- nothing like what is being done to perfumes now, just a little more emphasis on the top notes. The parfum stretches out the black currant and the midlife florals quite a bit, and is sweeter in the drydown, too. All have great longevity. A generous spraying of the EDP lasted all day, unusual for me. Combining these two reminds me of an ensemble you can wear to the office, then to a party, with a simple change of jewelry. Very American, practical but aspirational; easy; perfect.
So, anyway, in preparation for this post I began to check  the availability of “Safari.” I had heard that it was discontinued, discontinued but brought back, permanently discontinued, still in production -- depends on who you ask, I guess. None of that means much, since it’s everywhere online. The department stores, if they have it at all, stock only the men’s version, apparently a fougere. Sephora doesn’t have “Safari for Women.” Perfumania does. One version of Lauren’s website doesn’t show it, another does (in listings only), and gives a $60 price for 2.5 oz, which isn’t too bad. Vintage bottles on fleabay are priced from reasonable to ridiculous. I’ve seen soap and body products and even a 32-oz “refill” size on discount sites. And so on. This seems to be the end-of-life trajectory of fragrances now. As confusing as anything -- make that everything -- else. 
I have a few other green floral fragrances. Compared to classics like “Private Collection” and sleepers like “Silences,” this is sweeter, more haylike, more floral. But it is accessible, in keeping with the Lauren marketing imagery, as much as it pains me to admit that. I think it may have been an anomaly in its time, a kind of bridge fragrance, coming off the power-hitter 80’s as they shrank back into the timid, watery 90‘s. Whatever the intent, “Safari” is unique.
Photo © Keith M. Borow, all rights reserved.
Perfumer Dominique Ropion’s creations include “Amariage,” “Carnal Flower,” “Une Fleur de Cassie,” “Ysatis,” “Dune” (with Jean-Louis Sieuzac), and the new "Portrait of a Lady." 

Notes for “Safari For Women” include galbanum, “green notes,” mandarin, aldehydes, hyacinth, orange, daffodil, black currant (top); mugnet, rose, narcissus, carnation, orchid, honey, jasmine (middle); and cedar, musk, vetiver, styrax, vanilla, amber, tonka and patchouli (bottom).

20 comments:

Josephine said...

I actually own a bottle of Safari EDP that I found at TJ Maxx a year or so ago (not sure if it's a reformulation or not). For some reason, at the time, I couldn't wrap my mind around it and left it alone. Your review insures that I will revisit Safari and give it another shot. Thanks for the promting!

Anonymous said...

It's little finds like that at Estate Sales & "Fleabay" that keep us searching. I especially find it harder and harder to find vintage fragrances online because the prices have gone through the roof. The 1/2 oz. of Lancome Magie Noire parfum that went for over $700 just about put me into shock. It wasn't that long ago that I got (online) a HUGE bottle of vintage MN EDT for 25 bucks as well as an old, full bottle of No. 5 EDP for the same price. I am sad to think those days are almost over. I agree with you that Safari is easy to overlook until you wear it and realize how pretty it is. And Congrats on the perfume score!! Sometimes good things DO come to those who search!
-MELISCENTS-

brian said...

I LOVE this stuff. Abigail sent me the parfum last Christmas. Neither that or my EDP from TJ Max is vintage but I agree with you, however tweaked it's been since its original incarnation, whatever they did was respectfully done. This was the fragrance that committed me to Ropion. It does seem like such an all-American scent to me. So happy to be on you, strong and rich and kind of chatty but confident more than anything. Great to read this.

ScentScelf said...

Oh, you said you would bring the Safari...and so you did. Grassy, sweet, dry, galbanum...I now wonder if perhaps I could make it through the aldehydes. Especially if the reward is the base you describe.

Congratulations on a most excellent score. (Oh, bother, I just saw the narcissus in the official notes list...bother as in "getting sucked in"...)

Olfacta said...

Hi Josephine -- I wish my local TJM had things like Safari!

Olfacta said...

Hi Meliscents -- I heard about that bottle of MN when it was somewhere in the $300 range -- I can't imagine who would pay that. The vintage perfumes are getting more expensive, yeah -- I wish I'd started this a couple of years before I did. I think my "score" was more due to a law of averages than anything else -- I've bought a lot of perfume at auction in the last couple of years. Kind of like a slot machine, it pays off once in a while.

Olfacta said...

Hi Brian -- I'm so glad you like it too! I think it is about the most American -- in the positive sense, breezy, confident, all that as you say -- perfume I've ever smelled. It's still great to stumble upon things like this.

Olfacta said...

Hi Shelly -- So you're a narcissus freak? I have hundreds of them in my yard but still can't identify the note. I may recognize it one of these days. Stranger things have happened!

museinwoodenshoes said...

Oh! You say the drydown is sweeter in the parfum? That's the only version I have tried, and I liked it very much but found the drydown too sweet. Hm. Maybe I need some EDP - I really enjoyed the rest of it.

And there's always something to say about scent, isn't there? Easy peasy.

Olfacta said...

Hi Muse -- The drydown starts out sweeter. I have several strips of watercolor paper on which I tested the three versions, and now (after about 36 hours) it isn't so much sweet as rich and floral. Of course, that's not skin, but no perfume has ever lasted that long on mine, so I guess it's not completely fair as a test, but interesting, anyway.

Abigail said...

Safari!!! So happy you find out about her.

I have at least 4 bottles. I love it THAT much. I haven't noticed anything in regard to reformulation which is nice.

Rappleyea said...

This sounds similar to one of my personal favorites - Chamade (vintage of course!). I've got a sample of Safari somewhere, I'll pull it out and test it now. Thanks for an excellent review, and congratulations on your score!

Bloody Frida said...

Score! I wish I could find perfume at garage sales; I think that is going to be one of my New year's resolutions - to go attend more estate sales/garage sales in 2011! Thanks!~!!

Olfacta said...

Hi Abigail -- Yeah, I think I may have a backup bottle in my future. This was serendipity fer sure, because I don't think I would have smelled it had I not found it at the sale.

Olfacta said...

Hi Rappelyea -- I have a small decant of Chamade around here somewhere, maybe I'll find it. Thanks for reminding me!

Olfacta said...

Hi BF -- I wish you the best of luck with that! If it's an estate sale, show up right on time and make a beeline for the bathroom -- that's where the perfume usually is. There will be lots of White Diamonds and Red Door and stuff like that. At this sale, there were probably about 10 (empty) bottles (good stuff, too, such a shame -- I hope no one poured it down the drain) and the ones I bought that had a little bit left -- Coco and Safari. It's the first time I've ever gotten lucky at a sale.

KONAL said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lucy said...

Sounds like heaven! I love the grass head photo illustration too, perfect match.

Olfacta said...

Hi Lucy -- Thanks! I'll tell the DH. He took the picture.

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