Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Miles on Vials

Anyone who’s been a fragrance enthusiast for a while has one. It may be a bucket or a cigar box or a plastic bag. I know it’s there somewhere, lurking, like those jeans in the way-back back of the closet (you know the ones). Like the photo album with all those pictures of you when you were fourteen and in full 80’s gear. Like those, er, Polaroids in the shoe box.
Swap etiquette is a curious thing. Because it often takes place between women who don’t know each other, there are certain unwritten rules. (It has occurred to me that these same unwritten rules, and there are many of them, are precisely what drives the opposite sex to distraction, but maybe that’s another topic.)
Anyway, one of the rules is that you always include langiappe, pronounced “lawn-yawp,” which is a Louisiana term for “a little something extra.” To not do so could be seen as crude, gross, selfish, greedy or all these. So one generally throws that little something extra into the package, typically something you tried and didn’t much like. Often it’s the langiappe you got from somebody else. 
Some of these vials have more miles on them than George Clooney’s itinerant hatchet-man character in “Up in the Air.”  I’ve gotten swap vials with glass worn so thin that they break when dropped. Some have seen the world; some have seen it more than once. Some have labels so stained and blurred that I can’t tell what’s in them. Some, however, are treasures; perfumes from the truly generous, or, occasionally, the newbie passing along a sample with has no idea what she has.
So let’s take a random sampling from my (plastic, Zip-Loc, quart-sized) swaps bag and see what’s in there.
Chanel Chance. Cute little roll-on bottle with a pink lid. About half a ml of cloudy juice that smells the same to me as every other mass-market “frag.” What is that stuff they put in there? And cloudy juice in a roll-on = somebody else’s shed skin cells, yuck. This one goes in the trash.
Annick Goutal Sables. Of maple-syrup fame. Not bad if you love immortelle, but I’d rather not smell like the short stack at IHOP.
Bulgari Omnia Crystalline. One of the endless Omnia flankers, not bad particularly, but there’s no reason to wear it.
Patou Adieu Sagasse EDT. What is this doing in the swaps bag? I’m keeping this one. Based on carnation but soft, not sharp. Maybe one of the 90’s reissues?
Outrageous! One of the (few) missteps from Frederick Malle. A focused, cynical attempt to lure the kiddies, apparently, with notes of Caipirinha -- which is a fire-water sugar-based sneaks-up-on-ya liquor I’ve been known to imbibe at Brazilian steakhouses -- clean laundry (white musk), etc. In general, any fragrance with an exclamation mark in the name should be avoided.
Comptoir Sud Pacifique Le Rose Santal -- about 1 ml in one of those vials that looks like it’s seen the world. Neither rose nor santal, just something (very) vaguely floral.
Parfums DelRae Amoureuse -- Partially peeled-off label; long dark hair (not mine) stuck to it. Lots of people love this. I’m just not much of a lily fan.
Donna Karan Gold -- A nifty manufacturer’s spray vial with about 1 ml in it. Another lily fragrance, though. Oh well.
Bond No. 9 Saks Fifth Avenue for Her -- A good sized manufacturer’s vial with about 1 ml of the nastiest, waxiest, room-clearingest TUBEROSE! I’ve yet experienced.
Juicy Couture Viva La Juicy -- Somewhere in the world there is a tank farm containing what is apparently the fragrance base for every aimed-at-the-young elixir on the market. This smells a lot like “Chance” which smells a lot like “Beyonce Heat” which smells a lot like...well, every other bolted-to-the-shelf tester bottle I saw at Target last week. 
Rochas Tocade -  About half a mil in a 3 ml sprayer. Hey, I like Tocade a lot, especially in winter, especially for sleeping. But, dear anonymous swapper, spring for some 1 ml vials, willya? To put a few drops of fragrance in a big container makes you look stingy.
Perry Ellis 360 White EDT -- Smells something like a men’s fragrance -- I swear there’s some dihydromercanol in there. “White” must be label-speak for “white musk.” Generic “designer” stuff, meh.
I haven’t been swapping much lately, and none at all with strangers, so I haven’t looked in my swaps bag for quite some time. I was surprised at its contents. Not all of it was Viva La Juicy -- there’s some pretty good stuff in there. Buried treasure, one might say. 
So...what’s in yours?

Photo by Pat Borow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Making Stuff

I’m a painter, and have just moved my studio from the “bonus room” in my house to a space at a new arts center. For the first time in years, I have room to work. I’ve played around with making room scents before, but it helps, a lot, to have a good-sized space.
Like many of you, I’m in a strange position regarding perfume reviews. The mainstream fragrances coming out now are deteriorating in quality. Just as perfume bloggers predicted a couple of years ago upon hearing about the new IFRA regulations, much of it is purely synthetic, and in spite of that, it doesn’t last long. Niche perfume, once the alternative, is often priced in the stratosphere now. Sure, I can order little tiny samples (.7 mls, something of a new standard). I don’t think these do a scent justice, though. They’re certainly not enough for a proper review, in which one experiences the scent for at least a few hours. So I’ve become more resourceful, trading and buying splits, and swapping.
Lately I’ve become more interested in essential oils. I’ve been mixing custom blends with them. I still have the vexing problem with botanicals; they don’t last on my skin. But these are ambient scents that can be used as hair or body oil, in a room diffuser, and so on.
Most people I know who “do” essential oils wear one or the other. It might be patchouli or lavender -- the two most common I’ve seen -- and they stick to that one. It might be an aromatherapy concept, like the use of lavender as a relaxant. They buy them already mixed, usually at health-food stores. 

I began to wonder about mixing custom blends. That’s what I’ve begun to do, combining botanicals I already have and even some aromachemicals for longevity, with jojoba oil, and testing the mixes in a small diffuser. Mine is about the size of a doughnut, with a warming element that plugs into an electrical outlet and a shallow well for the oil. It takes awhile, but I can scent a good-sized room this way. (In the case of orange blossom, a good-sized house!) When it’s time to leave, I’ll often pick up a few drops of the mixture on my fingertips and apply it to my hair or skin. Or I’ll wipe the well out with a paper towel, and crumple it to put into a drawer as a sachet, or just leave it on the entryway table as a sort of room sachet.
I’ve experimented with making a chypre base from the classic chypre ingredients -- landanum, oakmoss and bergamot, with a drop of patchouli. Or ambers, using the resins, and vanilla. Rose-based scents. And so on. It’s fun. It feels like play. 
There are all kinds of references and resources available; recipes, discussions of the ingredients and so on. There are botanicals companies who will sell you a sample, sometimes just a drop, for a couple of bucks. Since these are pure and can be mixed with quite a bit of perfumers alcohol or oil, it’s an economical way to learn. (I can’t imagine paying the going rate for quantity on orris butter, but I can afford a drop of it!) I think it also teaches you what professional perfumers have to go through, with their tiny ingredients budgets. 
I suspect that I’m not the only perfume blogger who does this. Once you get used to a life surrounded by fragrance, exploration just happens. 
How about you? Do any of you mix your own?

Resources for botanicals and essential oils: (there are many, these are just the ones I’ve used): Eden Botanicals, Anatolian Treasures and Snowdrift Farms (for perfumers alcohol) and The Perfumer's Apprentice, for just about everything. 
The photo is from the classic Mel Brooks film "Young Frankenstein."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Perfume and the Post Office

Before I started doing this, I’d gotten my visits to the Post Office down to a few per year. But fumephreaks send stuff out. Swaps, gifts, winners of drawings; little vials, bigger vials, spray atomizers for decants. There’s much confusion about this. Is it legal, illegal, sorta legal, what?
Read on.
The closest Post Office to me is ruled by Vera the Queen. You know her. About 20 minutes to retirement. Has worked there somewhere around 50 years. Thick glasses. Sour expression. Carpal-tunnel braces on both arms. Absolutely certain that you are sending anthrax to terrorist friends.
Vera the Queen -- and she’s always the only clerk at the counter  -- rules her little PO with absolute authority. She stares down everyone who dares walk through her door, more eagle-eyed than 50 TSA agents -- make that 100, since the TSA is where Beavis & Butthead finally got jobs -- put together. The first and last time I attempted to deal with Vera the Queen went something like this.
EXT. DAY -- I approach the Post Office, joyfully realizing that there isn’t a line. I am holding a carefully sealed padded plastic envelope containing two 1 ml. samples to send to England. Ever efficient, I’ve already filled out the customs form, stating “cosmetics samples” in the appropriate box. 
INT. POST OFFICE DAY - I approach the counter. Vera the Queen is staring at me like I’m one of the people on the FBI’s 10-most-wanted list, posted prominently on the wall.
“I’d like to send this international priority, please.”
Vera the Queen takes the package, feels it, turns it over several times, peers at me.
Vera the Queen
 “What kind of cosmetics samples?”
Olfacta: (taken back, no one’s ever asked before) 
“Uh, rouge.”
(Behind me I hear several people come in and get in line.)
Vera the Queen: 
“What KIND of rouge?”
“Just, y’know, rouge. The solid kind.”
Vera the Queen (feeling vials):
“I don’t think I can let you can mail this.”
 “But I mail these all the time!”
Vera the Queen: 
“Well, maybe that other Post Office’s lazy. Not doin’ their job.”
She turns and takes a huge manual down off a shelf. Behind me, I hear the people in line start to sigh and hiss. Slowly, she puts on a rubber finger cap, and begins paging through the manual.
Vera the Queen:
 “Lemmee see. Now what did you say that was?”
Olfacta: “ROUGE.” 
The sighs turn to grumbles. 
Vera the Queen:
(continues paging, slowly)
Olfacta: (retrieving package) 
“You know what? I’ll just take this somewhere else.”
Vera the Queen: 
“Now, don’t you get impatient with me. You take it somewhere else, somebody’s layin’ down on the job, you prob’bly get it back anyway….” (continues paging). 
The grumbling has become a dull roar.
Olfacta: (Backing away from counter, package in hand:)
“Never mind!” 
This is what Vera the Queen would have found if she’d gone through the manual (hint: it’s well-hidden):
Section 12.16, United States Post Office Mailability Manual:
A fragrance advertising sample (39 USC 3001(g)), i.e., any matter normally acceptable in the mail but containing a fragrance advertising sample, is permitted in the mail only if it is sealed, wrapped, treated, or otherwise prepared in a manner reasonably designed to prevent individuals from being unknowingly or involuntarily exposed to the sample. A sample meets this requirement if it uses paper stocks with a maximum porosity of 20 Sheffield units or 172 Gurley-Hill units treated exclusively with microencapsulated oils, and if the sample is produced so that it cannot be activated except by opening a glued flap or binder or by removing an overlying ply of paper.
I’m going to print this and keep It in my car, just in case I ever meet Vera the Queen, or any of her loyal subjects, again!
And here is the entire mailability manual, should you wish to torture yourself.
Post Office photo, from the Bridge and Tunnel club website, via Google Images. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who Won "PureDistance 1"...and a favorite from the archives

The winner of the PureDistance 1 perfume is:


(Winner was chosen using random.org.) 

Get in touch with me at olfactarama at att dot net and I will send it to you...congratulations! (Note: if I haven't heard from the winner by April 19, I'll pick another winner.)

And thanks, everybody, for entering, and for reading!

Reprint time: the post below is from the first few months of Olfactarama. It's one of my favorites.

(C'mon, you 
know you want some Yatagan!) 

Okay, this is going to take courage.

Today, readers, we are going to talk about Yatagan.

I have two indoor cats. (One of them, the purty one, is pictured. For you purebred feline fans, he’s a Natural Mink Tonkinese. Beautiful, isn’t he? But you’d better not question his position as Genetically Ordained Ruler, or he’ll make you 
so very sorry.)

Like all indoor cats, his, uh, output is prodigious.

Have I mentioned that I’m a relative noob at perfume analysis? I ordered my sample of Yatagan a few months ago, after reading Dr. Turin’s five-star review of it in The Guide. It arrived. Breathless, I ripped the package open and sprayed some on my wrist.

First thought was, “
Are you kidding me?” And then, “Hmmm…did I change the cat box?”

I mean, there are some fragrances that really test one’s self-appointed status as a 
perfumista. This is one of them. And yet…maybe it’s my skin, again; on the blotter it smells nice, kind of pine-y and herbal and dry. But on my skin, well, I just have to say it.

It has that “uniquely strange, high-pitched hissing tone…” (Dr. Turin.) Interesting choice of words, that. “Hissing tone.” I thought, maybe it’s me. So I thrust my scented wrist under the increasingly fatigued nose of my long-suffering husband. “Jesus!” he said, recoiling, “that smells like cat pee!”

This should have reassured me, but instead, it filled me with doubt.

What business do I really have, I thought, doing this? I mean, look at all the people who can take a quick sniff and then recite long lists of “notes.” Who 
lurve Bulgari Black and Angel and Musc Koublai Khan -- and this. How long is will it take for me to reach that level of skill and chutzpah? To proudly spray myself with Yatagan, and then go out into the world, smelling like…well, you know.

Or (duck and cover), is this all just some form of mass hysteria? Does Yatagan really stink of feline musk, and nobody wants to admit it, because, for God's sake this is one of the classics, etc., etc.?

Tell me, 
perfumistas. I know that (some of, well, maybe one or two of) you read this twice-weekly ooze. Your choice; reassure me, or else say “forget it, Olfacta; you are not one of us. Anybody who can’t appreciate Yatagan doesn’t have the nose for this.”

(A drawing then ensued. I'm removing that text so as not to confuse anyone.) Comments are from the original entry, and they were so interesting I left them in. New comments can be left in the usual way.


bookishredhead said...
I am so completely intrigued I can't stand it. Being the owner of a cat who also has a "prodigious output" I am quite well acquainted with that particular odor. I hate it when this happens with perfumes. When you read the notes about them and you think THIS is the ULTIMATE perfume for ME. They MUST have created it with me in mind. Then you smell it and you can't get away from it fast enough. And what if Yatagan DOES smell fantastic on me. What does that mean? Does it put me one step closer to being a Crazy Cat Lady who has birthday parties for her cats and consults them for finacial and meteorological advice?
Anonymous said...
What an experience! i'm a 'fume kindergartener, with only 3 or 4 samples to my name. but i have had a similar experience with Joy - after about 10 minutes it just smelled like pure sweat. not b.o., not sour, just lotsa hardworkin' sweat. the joke was that after about 1/2 hour of this, a soapy note started to dominate......... i have a little more experience with wine, being 40 minutes from the Napa valley, where my mom lives. many wines have truly strange tastes and odors that aren't considered faults - graphite and eucalyptus in cabernet sauvignon, for example, can really taste great. as it happens, a trace of 'cat pee' (they don't have some euphemism for it, just call it like it is) is considered to enhance the 'racy' and 'lively' flavors of sauvignon blanc, especially when made as Sancerre in France. however, they do draw the line at 'a trace'. at least you can take comfort in the fact that there is no shortage of other perfumes out there to try.... ; ) have fun, lunarose
ScentScelf said...
oh, dear heavens...I got out of cat box duty when pregnant, and a decade later, thanks to the magic that my spouse calls habit, he still attends to that chore. Perhaps I have a chance to relive the "glory days" every time I smell my wrist??? Catagain, indeed. ;)
carina said...
I can't imagine anyone passing up a chance to win a sample of a touted perfume that might smell like cat piss... I would love to be able to smell it, and then relay a complete amateur's description. Who knows - might introduce some new words to the perfume-sniffing lexicon.
Anonymous said...
You got me to come out of the woodwork with this post -- I've been reading since you started, but this one just rang so true! I'm a new-ish fragrance fan and, like you, have not come to grips with some smells. Miel du Bois is as far as I've gotten in the wavery line of nasal pain/pleasure. This one has quite an opening with a "hissing tone" that takes a while to die down. My mind is not made up on this, but I'm not quite refusing further exposure. Catagin, though, may be too much for me. You're a bold one to test this out! Eileen
tania said...
It didn't smell like cat pee to me - it reminded me instead of the time my neighbour creosoted his fence on the hottest day of the year! But though I can't wear Yatagan, I can sort of see why others admire it. In a good light. If I squint & turn my head to the side a bit....
Anonymous said...
I'm completely ignorant when it comes to perfumes, which is why I find this blog so enlightening! So of course I want to experiment with the cat piss perfume! Who knows, maybe I'll come to love the scent and not feel the need to obsessively clean out the litter box. Thank you!
Perfumeshrine said...
Of course you're on to something: in a way I think any perfumista worth his/her salt is usually "trying" to get all these classics and difficult fumes. Someone is playing a cruel joke! ;-) Seriously though, I do believe Yatagan is quite difficult to pull of. It smells weird and it makes one search for that unidentifiable source of effluvium; and if that doesn't prove one is man enough to be assured of himself, I don't know what is. Having said that, I think many took its message and progressed: Kouros being one of them, which I personally find very pleasant in small amounts. I never had any trouble with Muscs Kublai Khan, though, so maybe I'm genetically/culturally lax in those matters. Or need my head examined. Take it any which way you prefer :-) Great entry!
mark42 said...
I love the idea of fragrances that are 'difficult' to appreciate. They add another level of intellectual fascination - pondering what the perfumer meant, why this or that note? Did they intentionally overdose an ingredient? After a while you really get to appreciate the beauty of the creation - even if it stinks! I had no such fun with Muscs Kublai Khan, though - that was simply beautiful from the first time I sprayed it. Mark
BlossomingTree said...
This is really interesting. In an effort to not sound excited about smelling cat pee, I now have to try this.:)
marchlion said...
I wonder if there is a skin chemistry/nose perception thing going on? I don't own cats, but I think I know that smell you are talking about. I own a bottle of Yatagan and wear it periodically (my husband doesn't love it, but more because it smells "masculine" to him than unpleasant.) I *hate* that pee smell, but Yatagan to/on me smells more sexy -- I mean, like sex. That musky human body smell. Okay, maybe not the stuff everyone's fragrance dreams are made of, but not urine-y. :-) Nice blog!
the oblitterati said...
What a gorgeous beast! What;s his name?