Monday, March 28, 2011

PureDistance 1 -- A Full Bottle Giveaway -- week two

One more week to enter the drawing for the full bottle of “PureDistance 1 Perfume!” See last week's post for details. Leave a comment, either here or on last week’s post, to enter.

Not all of us can be Grace Kelly. Actually, none of us can be Grace Kelly. 
Kelly, according to movie legend and lore, was Alfred Hitchcock’s ultimate goddess, as she appeared in “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief.” Supposedly he became obsessed with her, and, after she retired from filmmaking to become Princess Grace, he tried to find her again in actress after actress, but never could. 
I chose this photograph of Kelly because she’s, well, soaked, but her makeup (and be assured: she’s wearing it) is perfect. This is no doubt because she had a makeup man, or woman, or both, or crew, waiting poolside to touch her up, another privilege us mere mortals don’t enjoy. And her mascara is...perfect.
I usually don’t write about beauty products, although I do use them, and have never endorsed one before. But today I want to tell you all about the single best makeup product I’ve ever found: Clarins Fix Mascara.
I have slightly deep-set eyes. Because of this, each time I blink my lashes, they brush the skin underneath. As a result, I’ve gone around with mascara smudges under them, forever, until now.
“Fix Mascara” is a transparent gel you apply, with a mascara wand, over any mascara you want. It instantly becomes smudgeproof and waterproof, and stays on until you take it off. To me, this is a revelation. No more panda! No more pulling at the skin under my eyes -- and we all know this is a BIG no-no -- to wipe the smudges off!  No more repairing eye makeup!
I’ve tried many kinds of mascara in my rather long life. Many, many, many. Some have claimed to be waterproof, others smudgeproof, others both, but none ever really were. This stuff works. I haven’t (yet) gone body-surfing in it, you understand, or lived through a Southern July or watched “Sophie’s Choice,” but for general day-to-day, including naps, it works beautifully.
One of the advantages of perfume blogging is getting exposed to reviews of makeup and skin care products, from other perfume sites and from forums. I heard about Mascara Fix after pleading on Perfume Posse: has anybody ever used a mascara that actually stayed on?!  Someone had used this, and she told me about it.
So, I got myself some Mascara Fix, and some eye makeup primer -- another wonderful product, which I read about on The Non-Blonde. I put my eye makeup on once now, and it’s there all day.  It will never make me look like Grace Kelly, but even a trip to Lourdes wouldn’t do that. It does, however, make me look better at 3:00 in the afternoon than I did before. This is about as much as one can ever expect from a cosmetic product, notwithstanding the claims of the gazillion-dollar makeup business. It won’t turn you into Grace, but you won’t need a makeup crew, either.
Clarins Mascara Fix is available from the Clarins website or the usual online shopping sites for around $22.00, and probably at department stores, too.
I’m not affiliated in any way with Clarins. I bought this product.
I’ve been using “Stay Don’t Stray” eye makeup primer from Benefit, which seems to work very well. Not affiliated with them, either.
The photo came from a Grace Kelly fansite. It was also used as the cover of one of the books written about her. I haven't yet found a photo credit, but I bet it was Bud Fraker, who took many of the iconic photos of Kelly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

PureDistance 1 -- A Full Bottle Giveaway

The kind people at PureDistance Master Perfumes have honored me with a full bottle to give away to one lucky reader!  Leave a comment by midnight, April 4, U.S. Eastern Daylight Time. I’ll chose one commenter, using, and announce the winner by 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 5th.
At my first sniff of “PureDistance 1,” I thought “Hitchcock blonde.”
The great film director Alfred Hitchcock was obsessed with the kind of cool, sophisticated blonde whose calm demeanor hid...well...a lot. There were many -- Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak -- but the best personification of the Hitchcock blonde has always been, to me at least, Tippi Hedren, as the secretive socialite Melanie Daniels in “The Birds.” 
“PureDistance” is a green floral perfume that starts out in the cool spectrum and ends up warm and a little musky, but never loses its aplomb. Released in late 2008, it was the first perfume from Vienna-based PureDistance. The perfumer, Annie Buzantian of Firmenich, has said in interviews that this was the one she would have made for herself, and that her fragrances tend to be “joyful, with a very fluid signature”(Osmoz, 2008.) Romanian by birth, American by choice, she is a Lifetime Achievement Award winner -- American Society of Perfumers, 2003 -- and her other creations include Estee Lauder’s “Sensuous” and Ralph Lauren’s “Pure Turquoise.”
My guess is that Buzantian jumped at a chance to create something as high-end as this, without the common denominator constraints of the mass market. There is nothing common about this fragrance. It is, like a Hitchcock blonde, a little secretive. It doesn’t stray much. It announces its presence quietly, but isn’t afraid to stay late.
The initial reviews for “PureDistance 1” were glowing, but the mention of a slightly watery, slightly ozonic top note scared some of the original commenters. I personally dislike ozonic florals. This scent has nothing in common with that unfortunate 90’s fad. It opens with a slight, warm citrus, and a subtle floral note, meandering through magnolia, mimosa, and a little bit of rose. It finishes with a warm amber and white musk.
This scent is subtle. It’s very much a close-to-the-skin fragrance, but it never gets sharp or powdery. If you’re looking for a va-va-voom “Here I Am, World!” fragrance, this one probably isn’t for you. It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Melanie Daniels, not, say, reality TV’s Snooki -- actually, it’s about as far away from Snooki as a perfume can get, and for that, I am grateful.
“PureDistance 1” is extrait strength, at 32% perfume oils. The bottle holds 17.5 mls, quite generous for a niche extrait
I’ll be very happy for whoever wins this!
Disclosure time: The bottle of “PureDistance1,” and a sample for me to use for review, were given to me by PureDistance Master Perfumes.
The photo of Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels is a taken from the Hitchcock film “The Birds.”
“Notes” for “PureDistance 1” include tangerine blossom, cassis, neroli bigarade, magnolia, rose wardia (a trademarked Firmenich composition), jasmine, natural mimosa, sweet amber, vetiver and musk.
To enter the drawing, click on the word “Comments” at the bottom, just above the “Labels” statement, and a comment screen will open. If you comment as “anonymous,” make sure there’s a name there somewhere, so I can identify you if you win!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Olfactory Art: The.Next.Big.Thing?

Winner of the samples, chosen using is: Hilary!

Get in touch with me at the email on the left and I'll send them out posthaste!

Caro Verbeek is an art historian who specializes in art and the senses. In the most recent "ARTnews" magazine, she talks about how she became aware of the dearth of the olfactory sense’s place in contemporary art. In 1999,  she saw an exhibit  at the Venice Biennale which had an olfactory component.
“I smelled it way before I saw it, and I had no idea that this was a part of a work of art…." she says. "I thought, I am an art historian, but I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t know how to understand this. I have no frame for this.”
Somewhere along the line, olfaction became the dirty sense. It was primitive and animalistic, connecting us to the lower orders. When performance and conceptual art met installation art in the Sixties, olfaction, with its ephemerality, would have seemed a natural match. That didn’t happen. It may have been that perfume was already seen by the art world as a grooming product, too commercial even for Andy Warhol. Perfumes were and are marketed not as art or even craft, but as sexual attractants. This led to some pretty silly advertising, then to all those wonderful celeb-u-scents and the frivolous reputation personal fragrance enjoys even today.
 Olfaction-based art has made some inroads lately, though. In fact, it’s one of the lead stories in the March ARTnews, the venerable glossy publication aimed at those who buy, sell and (sometimes) make art. 
The article, titled “Scents & Sensibility,” has a broad reach. This piece covers many bases, from an artist’s eponymous perfume (Kiki Smith’s “Kiki,” which she created with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel), to an exhibit at the New Museum in New York, in which visitors are exposed to scents in the air and left alone to interpret them, to a performance piece in which artist Gayil Nalls infused cardboard pieces with scent and dropped them onto New Year’s Eve revelers in Times Square, to a retooling of old vending machines to dispense mood-altering essential oils, to the collection, then distillation, of dancers’ sweat.  And more.
There are some familiar names here. One is Chandler Burr, who is the curator of the new Center for Olfactory Art in New York, whose first show “The Art of Scent, 1889 - 2011,” will open in the fall of 2011. He states his intent to focus upon designer fragrances for this show. Such fragrances, he believes, meet the criteria by which the other arts -- sculpture, music, architecture and film -- are judged. 
Meanwhile, over in the fine-arts department, it appears that olfactory art is not completely new. Marcel Duchamp filled a room with burnt coffee grounds as part of a Surrealism exhibition in Paris. Ed Keinholtz’s reconstruction of the bar at the L.A. roadhouse Barney’s Beanery also used olfactory components: bar smells, like cigarette smoke, booze and urine (in this case, his own...uh-oh, here comes the goon-squad Right Wing: put the torches down, boys! Not a nickel of tax-pay-uhs’ money was spent. The exhibit is housed in Holland, okay?)
Ahem. Well, as with most installation/performance art I’ve seen -- and I’ve seen plenty -- these works range from profound to original to baffling to lame. Like most art of this type, the justifications -- the artists’ “statements” about their works -- tend to be written in tangled, esoteric verbiage that excludes ordinary mortals from understanding it. That comes with the art-world territory. I believe Verbeek meant that when she said she didn’t have a “frame” for olfaction’s place in art. 
Art magazines, and articles like this one, exist to “frame” a trend, or a movement; they legitimize it. They influence the pickers and choosers, the gallery owners and curators, who influence critics, collectors and each other. 
If the art is what happens in the viewer’s mind, which is one definition of conceptual art I’ve read, then olfactory art certainly fits that paradigm. Curator Yasmil Raymond’s thoughts link these ideas neatly. “The work, when it smells, enters the realm of a human being. This life component enters into it -- which is very different from looking at a Monet.”
Up to this point, olfactory art has been staged mostly in museums and alternative art spaces; after all, a gallery can’t sell a smell to match the sofa.  People who follow perfume know that there are small houses like Soivohle, CB I Hate Perfume and Etat Libre d’Orange who make concept scents as personal fragrances already. And, as the world will soon know, Lady Gaga plan her own celeb-u-sent to be based on blood and semen, assuming that her idea makes it past the first marketing meeting at Coty. (It’s been done -- ELdO's "Secretions Magnifiques" -- already, anyway.) So I’m wondering what the new Center for Olfactory Art will really be about and who will fund it. 
Any ideas, anybody?
The article “Scents and Sensibility,” by Barbara Pollack, appears in the current (March 2011) edition of “ARTNews (volume 110, Number 3). Quotes are directly from the article.
Sssshhhh...don’t tell anybody -- next week I’ll be starting a drawing for a brand-new full bottle of something new, gorgeous and very high-end; stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Two Odd Ones

This won’t be very well thought-out, because it’s coming to you from Planet Nyquil. I’ve got a bad cold. (I know there are worse things than sore throats, but when you have one, it doesn’t seem as though too many things are worse!) Anyway, I’ve been considering writing about two perfumes for a while, but haven’t, because I haven’t come to firm conclusions about either of them.
Tell me, fellow bloggers and forum posters. When you evaluate a perfume, do you look at what others said about it first? I have to confess that I often do. I have my favorites -- writers who know, without a doubt, more than I do. But sometimes I “poll” -- look at forum posts, blogs and retail review sites -- because I’m still just not sure. I don’t mean Good vs. Bad. I mean, is it one of those which can only be appreciated by the cognoscenti? Is it aimed at the mass market, and is that always bad? Or is it something too sophisticated, too haute, for my evaluative abilities? That kind of thing. In other words, peer pressure.
One of my favorite houses is Parfums de Nicolai, because they make good stuff and price it fairly. I’ve tried quite a few of their offerings. But a few months ago I screwed up while ordering a decant, and wrote “Maharadjah” instead of “Maharadjih,” a nice amber scent which I’d sampled and liked, on the order form. When the decant finally arrived -- well, you know the drill: rip, spray, squirm with deligh...WTF, is that lavender?
A little research revealed that I’d messed up the order, not the decant house, so I was stuck with it. And I couldn’t imagine why a perfumer would plop a big gob of lavender -- although it is a nice, heady lavender -- on top of an amber and spice scent, like pomegranate syrup on chocolate ice cream. Was this simply too advanced a perfume for me? I hit the (virtual) books.
Some loved it; others hated it; all mentioned the dissonance of the lavender. Well, that was a relief. Here’s the thing, though: I still haven’t made up my mind. A little more research reveals that the home fragrance versions of this outsell all Nicolai’s other home scents. I can see that. The personal fragrance? I’ll give it a five out of ten. I’m wearing it right now, and I still don’t know if I like it.
Another one is Nicolai’s  “Eau de Turquoise Eau Fraiche.” I bought a partial bottle of this, unsniffed. It truly was one of the strangest fragrances I’d ever smelled. It’s listed as a fruit-based scent, but is so unique that I imagine that label was a best guess. This is to a frooty floral as a peppery, grassy Sauvignon Blanc is to a White Zinfandel. The “notes” mention mango, peach, citrus and sage -- I don’t believe I’ve ever read a stranger “notes” list -- but it works. 
This is not to say I loved it. I traded an ounce of it right away. Then, I started getting compliments whenever I wore it. Lots of them. A woman at the gym made me write down the name of the scent and where she could get it, and that’s the only time that has ever happened.
I began to like “Eau de Turquoise Eau Fraiche” better.
Although there may be one or two out there who’d say “Oh, heavens, no. I never take anyone else’s opinion into account when reviewing a perfume. I am a tastemaker, a leader, not one of a herd!” I bet there are others who’d admit to just a little bit of what-does-so-and-so-think investigation. We are, after all, social beings.
Anybody want to a chance to try these? Tell me: how do you make up your mind?
Leave me a comment by midnight, March 14, US Eastern time. I’ll do a random drawing and announce the winner March 15th.
The photo is by Diane Arbus, “Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967.” 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vetting Vetivers

If you don’t count New Orleans or Mexico, I haven’t spent much time in the Tropics, but my family did. My mother grew up there, in Panama Canal Zone. She’d tell me about the way it would rain, as a sort of watery silk that would drench you momentarily, but once it was over the tropical breeze would dry you so quickly you’d never know you’d been wet. (That’s my great-grandfather, looking like a Graham Greene character in his white linen suit, taken in 1916 on some veranda in Panama.)
I had never heard of the tropical vetiver root until I began to explore perfume. The idea that fascinated me most was that window blinds and floor mats could be woven out of this tangled rooty mass, and, when dampened, would release an earthy, cooling scent. I love the earthiness of vetiver root. It’s cheap and plentiful, so still appears in fragrance as a natural ingredient, which is heartening nowadays. I wonder if you can get vetiver floor mats now. Anybody know? In the meantime, I’ve gone through my ever-expanding samples collection, looking for vetivers to, er, vet. Here are a few, some new and some not.
Vetiver Extract: I have this as part of an aromachemicals kit I bought a couple of years ago. It doesn’t list the type of vetiver used, but my guess is Haitian. I found it to be useful in comparing the various vetiver-based scents I tried. This scent on its own opens sweetish and a little nutty, with an “umami” (meaty) mid -- a surprise -- and a slightly sour drydown. It’s earthy, rooty and green.
Guerlain Vetiver: How could I skip this one, and why would I want to? My decant is about two and a half years old, so may be an older formula than what’s available now. A couple of months ago, I saw several big bottles of this at TJ Maxx, which can signal a reformulation. I wish I’d bought one now!
This is the reference vetiver for men, proper anywhere. Lots of citrus notes on top make it smell clean, freshly bathed and shaved. It seems much more British than French, somehow. It’s beautifully cooling, rooty but never dirty, and approaches floral but never quite gets there. Guerlain makes a vetiver for women -- Vetiver Pour Elle -- which adds jasmine and other florals, but the original couldn’t be more perfect in a hot humid climate, which makes it perfectly unisex, too. Perfumer: Jean-Paul Guerlain.
Christian Dior La Couturier Vetiver: One of the newish “La Collection” Diors. A slight, transparent thing. Reticent, especially when compared to other vetiver scents, but that might be a plus for some. I’d call it Vetiver Lite, and it doesn’t last long on me. It’s pleasant, true to the root in its way, slightly sweeter on drydown -- supposedly due to a robusta coffee note --  but I can’t think of a really good reason for its existence other than having a vetiver in the “La Collection” line. Perfumer: Francois Demachy.
Tom Ford Grey Vetiver: Another one you can wear to your job at the bank. Easily the most “masculine” of these. Bracing, with lots of alcohol up front, and lots of grapefruit. It reminds me (a little) of Chanel’s “Sycomore” but without that one’s grapefruit-on-fire cojones. That being said, it’s a very pleasant, slightly smoky manly vetiver, and apparently was a big hit for Ford. Other “notes” include sage, nutmeg, pimiento, “amber woods” and oakmoss, which may be why it lasts well. A great Father’s Day present. Concocted by a group at Firmenich.
Bourbon French Kus-Kus:  I included this one because khus-khus is one of the names for vetiver. This is a very old fragrance, from the Bourbon French perfumery in New Orleans. That city’s history of heavy trade with the Caribbean makes it likely that a Haitian vetiver was originally used. What I smell in my sample is heliotrope, with only a slight edge of vetiver, but lots -- and lots -- of powder, which eventually retreats somewhat. The company doesn’t name the perfumer, but it was likely to have been August Dussan, the founder.
Tauer Perfumes Vetiver Dance: This is beautifully blended, and the vetiver is just part of the mix. It came out with great perfume-community fanfare a couple of years ago. Tauer’s reputation for using the best ingredients is confirmed here, as I can actually smell the clary sage, cistus and ambergris that give this scent its body-but-better drydown. It has held up well. Perfumer: Andy Tauer.
Le Labo Vetiver 46: This one is smoky and meaty and, although I’ve read elsewhere that it doesn’t smell much like vetiver, it sure does to me! The opening is cool and a little bit minty to my nose, although the “notes” don’t mention mint. The do mention clove and cedar, bergamot and black pepper, frankincense, gaiac wood and amber. It’s a chewy, woody, take-no prisoners vetiver, and my favorite of the newer vetivers I’ve tried. Perfumer: Mark Buxton.
There are so many vetivers I haven’t tried. I’d love to explore some from the natural perfumers (note to self: place order) and, of course, Frederick Malle’s. I’ll get around to it. It’s warm and stormy out. The treetops are swirling, just a little. Time to batten down.

Do you wear vetiver fragrances? Do you have a favorite one and, if so, what is it? 
"Robusta" coffee is common but full-bodied, made from lower-grade beans. Supermarket coffee, like Maxwell House, is generally made from robusta beans. 

The photo is of Elwyn Greene, my great-grandfather, who went to Panama in 1912 to work on the Canal. 

Disclosure: the samples and decants are from my collection, bought or received as gifts or in swaps.