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Monday, October 31, 2005

Perfume Review: Comme des Garcons Zagorsk

The snow below the bluish skies,
Like a majestic carpet lies,
And in the light of day it shimmers.
The woods are dusky. Through the frost
The greenish fir-trees are exposed;
And under ice, a river glitters.

Winter Morning, Alexandr Pushkin

Под голубыми небесами
Великолепными коврами,
Блестя на солнце, снег лежит;
Прозрачный лес один чернеет,
И ель сквозь иней зеленеет,
И речка подо льдом блестит.

Зимнее утро, Александр Пушкин

Comme des Garcons’ pilgrimage to various “incense centers” of the world (Avignon, Ouarzazate, Jaisalmer, and Kyoto) would not have been complete without an Orthodox landmark. The choice fell on Zagorsk, a small town about an hour from Moscow. In fact, this town was known as Zagorsk only during the Soviet times; it has been previously called Posad, Sergiev, and, since 1992, Sergiev Posad. Sergiev Posad is most famous for its spectacular fortress monastery, the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra, an important center in the Orthodox world.

Zagorsk the fragrance starts with an incense note that is almost immediately joined and somewhat overwhelmed by a woody note that smells to me like birch bark. There is also a slight “nuttiness” to the scent at this point, reminiscent of cedar nuts. Before long, the incense note become stronger and is joined by a pine accord, from then on Zagorsk is the combination of these three notes, birch, incense and pine, to my nose, much like a church standing in the middle of a forest. It is a winter forest, with pine needles lying on the snow and birches standing bare; having said that, I don’t actually perceive Zagorsk as a cold scent, rather, it is crystal-clear, like a frosty but sunny day famously described by Pushkin in a poem cited above.

Zagorsk is a quiet, contemplative, melancholy fragrance that, rather predictably, brings to my mind Andrey Rublev’s famous icon, Svyataya Troitsia (Holy Trinity), which was painted by him for the Trinity Cathedral in Posad (it is now kept in The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow). In depicting the Trinity as an indivisible essence without beginning and without end, this much revered image strikes the balance between the soul and the body, the endless and the mortal. With its combination of solid woody notes and ethereal incense ones, Comme des Garcons’ creation seems to have been built upon the same principle of harmony between the corporeal and the spiritual.

Zagorsk is available at Luckyscent, $54.00 for 1,7oz.

*The photo of the Assumption Cathedral is from
*The icon is Holy Trinity by Andrey Rublev, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Friday, October 28, 2005

Perfume Review: Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’Eau and Virgilio

Dacha (Russian: дача) is a name for summer home or vacation house in Russia and CIS countries where people spend their summer holidays and grow fruits and vegetables for their own use. Dachas began to appear after WWII owing to the desire of city people, all living in blocks of flats, to spend some time close to nature, and to grow their own produce. Dachas are usually situated on the city outskirts, or near villages located close to a city. The common term for a dacha owner is 'dachnik' (Russian: дачник).
From Wikipedia and my own memories.

Continuing with the scents that remind me of my childhood, L’Ombre dans L’Eau and Virgilio bring back the memories of my great grandparents and their dacha. Diptyque’s Virgilio, with notes of cedar, basil, thyme, and vetiver, was created by Diptyque to evoke the clear morning of a classical Latin landscape. The landscape it brings to my mind is Russian, not Latin, but it is fresh, green and idyllic nevertheless. Smelling Virgilio is akin to standing in the farthest and the darkest corner of my great-grandparents garden, by the wormwood overgrowth. Virgilio to me is that dark green, earthy and bitter scent of wormwood. This isn’t an easy fragrance for me to wear, as I am not really a fan of herbal and green scents, but I am holding on to my bottle if only for the incredible, heartbreaking evocativeness of this scent.

Another “scent of Dacha” is L’Ombre dans L’Eau, described by Diptyque as the scent of a green riverside garden. L’Ombre dans L’Eau (definitely one of the most beautiful perfume names out there) starts as an amazingly real scent of blackcurrant leaves, slowly a rose note develops, and it is a “young” rose, practically a bud, it smells almost “green” to my nose. Both notes are incredibly true to life, smelling just like the real berries, leaves and buds warmed by the sun. L’Ombre dans L’Eau brings back the memories of hot summers, of picking blackcurrants from the bush, of dear people long gone, of the place that doesn't exist anymore, and of absolute happiness.

I will leave you with the wonderful poem by my beloved Pablo Neruda, called Lost in the Forest.

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood---
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.
Pablo Neruda

*The picture of blackcurrants is from the wonderful site , the picture of wormwood is from .

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Quel Amour by Annick Goutal

Quel Amour was created by Annick Goutal’s daughter, Camille, as both homage to her mother, and a valentine to her fiancé. This is one of my favorite Goutal creations, a beautiful, effervescent blend of floral (wild rose, peony, and geranium) and fruity (cranberry, red-currant, pomegranate, cherry, and wine peaches) notes. I am not a “pink” kind of a girl and shy away from fragrances that evoke that color, and Quel Amour is one of the very few pink scents that I love and wear. But then this is not a girly twirly pink a la Elle Woods, Quel Amour is a tender pink, the hue of the peonies, delicate, romantic and innocent.

The year I was born, my great-grandfather planted a new shrub of peonies in my honor, in the garden of his country house; every summer, long after his death, they would bloom for me…one of the most touching and loving gifts I have ever received. I see those creamy-pink peonies everytime I smell Quel Amour. There is another reason why Quel Amour is one of the perfumes that remind me of my childhood. It is very reminescent of the candies I used to love as a child, called Barbaris, made with the barberries or berberries, bright red berries about the size of a pomegranate seed, with a tart, fruity flavour. They tasted sweet and yet also mouthwateringly sour, just the way Quel Amour smells. I find that tart and sweet quality absolutely irresistible; Quel Amour is truly one of the prettiest scents I have ever experienced.

Quel Amour was last seen on scentiments for as little as $37.38 for 1,7 oz

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Zenzero by i Profumi di Firenze

Florentine perfumer and founder of i Profumi di Firenze, Dr. Giovanni di Massimo allegedly discovered Medici perfume formulas in 1966, in his apothecary’s basement, in the aftermath of a flood. The fragrances in the i Profumi di Firenze collection are therefore based on actual Medici formulations or on blends popular among the Renaissance nobility. Zenzero (Ginger) is the latest scent in the i Profumi di Firenze fragrance line. According to Isabella Imports, the distributor of i Profumi di Firenze in the US, ginger was a favorite spice ingredient of the Medici family. In Zenzero, white ginger is paired with vanilla to create a perfume that is “as luxurious as the finest cashmere wrap and captures the sensual glamour of a beautiful fall evening.”

Ginger is a spice whose flavor is a combination of sweet and peppery. In the beginning of Zenzero’s development on my skin, ginger shows its peppery side. Zenzero starts rather spicy and dry, almost harsh; however this piquancy subsides within seconds and the ginger note become sweeter as vanilla comes into play. At this point it smells the way crystallized ginger tastes, like ginger that has been cooked in sugar syrup. Unfortunately, in no time at all, ginger practically disappears on my skin, and Zenzero becomes practically a vanilla-only scent. It is pleasant, warm, comforting, not overly foody, in fact a very nice vanilla fragrance. However, Zenzero is the name of this perfume, not Vaniglia, so I would have liked for the title note to stay around longer.

I wouldn’t argue with the official description that likens Zenzero to a cashmere wrap, but I would respectfully disagree that there is anything glamorous in this fragrance. Zenzero is a very enjoyable scent, it is comforting, warm, and pretty, but nothing in it suggests glamour. It is a mystery to me, why this simple two-note comfort scent was described in these terms, but marketing people do move in mysterious ways and anyway the lack of glamour was not the reason of my disappointment with Zenzero. I cannot get over the fact that ginger note disappears completely on my skin; there already exists a very nice vanilla scent in the i Profumi di Firenze Collection, Vaniglia del Madagascar and this is what I would rather buy, should the vanilla mood strike me. For now, Talco Delicato remains my favorite in the line, a fine example of a subtly gourmand comfort scent. As for ginger, for now I will stick with my Mandragore by Annick Goutal.

Any suggestions of scents with the prominent (and lasting) ginger note are most welcome!

Zenzero is available exclusively at Barneys and retails for $79.00 for 1,7oz. Samples of all I Profumi di Firenze scents can be purchased from Isabella Imports for $1.50 each.

*The photo of iPdF scents is from The photo of crystallized ginger is from the wonderful site

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fleur d'Oranger by L'Artisan

Fleur d’Oranger, L’Artisan’s latest and “very" limited edition fragrance, was built around the 2004 harvest of orange blossom from Nabeul in Tunisia. Nabeul is apparently well known for the distillation of perfumes using orange blossom and even hosts an orange blossom festival, every year from the late March to the early April. Exceptional olfactive qualities of 2004 harvest inspired the creator Anne Flipo and marked a rather novel approach in the perfumery, which binds a perfume to the year of a harvest. By definition, L’Artisan’s Fleur d’Oranger can only be a limited edition. Only 2990 bottles will be available in L’Artisan Parfumeur boutiques and selected stores; it comes in the signature L’Artisan bottle, which in this case is beautifully engraved with flowers of orange tree and is set up in a wooden coffret, much like an expensive vintage wine bottle.

Fleur d’Oranger is a beautiful, slightly green and dewy scent. It starts very citrusy on my skin; this citrus accord becomes greener and greener, leaving an impression of a leaf being rubbed in one’s hands. A floral note meanwhile gathers momentum and by the middle stage it is very much a floral scent, albeit with delicate citrus undercurrent. Orange blossom note becomes sweeter, creamier and more luscious by the minute, sometimes almost turning tuberose-like on my skin. It reaches the apogee of intensity and sweetness and then gradually begins to settle into a more subtle fragrance, with almost a tea-like note to it that reminded me of another L’Artisan, Thé Pour Un Été. This is my favorite stage; when the drydown comes, Fleur d’Oranger is everything I want in an orange blossom scent; it is light, delicate, almost ethereal and very summery.

This is not a complex scent in any respect, and however unique the marvelous qualities of the 2004 orange blossom harvest in Nabeul may be, in my very humble opinion, the price of this fragrance is still rather exorbitant ($250.00). Fleur d’Oranger is essentially a linear scent, a light Eau de Toilette to be applied generously in hot weather or indeed in winter, to dispel the gloom and cold. It is lovely and pleasant, but that is all there is to it. The engravery and the wooden coffret seem a little over the top where this pretty but simple fragrance is concerned.

Fleur d’Oranger is available in L’Artisan boutiques and selected stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys.

*The photo of Fleur d’Oranger is from

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Perfume Review. Daim Brun: Armani Privé Ambre Soie by Giorgio Armani

Armani Privé line of fragrances was the result of Armani’s (very understandable) desire to own a scent nobody else was wearing; it was meant to be a private collection of fragrances to be worn by Armani and his close friends. Price was no object; Armani wanted only the finest, purest ingredients, as natural as possible. The perfumes were to be complex compositions, a unisex “haute couture” line. All his life Armani has enjoyed traveling to the East, exploring Tunisia and Morocco, so of course he required a touch of the exotic in his new exclusive scents. Armani Privé line was meant to stimulate memories, evoke past times and faraway places. Eventually Armani was persuaded to start selling his Privé scents, but exclusively in Armani boutiques and selected stores. The line right now consists of four scents, Ambre Soie, Bois d'Encens, Eau de Jade, and Pierre de Lune; according to people in the know, a fifth scent, Armani Privé Amethyst, is about to be released in the UK.

Ambre Soie, allegedly inspired by the sensual feel of silk (soie) and the exotic markets of the East and North Africa, was the Privé scent I wanted to try the most. An amber scent in another très exclusif collection, Ambre Narguile by Hermes, is one of my absolute favorites. In anticipation of something perhaps even more wonderful, I sprayed on some Ambre Soie…It starts rich and dark and surprisingly similar to Serge Lutens Daim Blond, a sweet, warm scent that evokes suede. Whatever that note is, it vanishes within seconds and now it is a very sweet amber scent, almost chewy caramel-like in its sweetness. Cinnamon is quite apparent here, adding yet more warmth to the composition.

This might sound strange coming from someone who enjoys Ambre Narguile, definitely a sweet scent, but Ambre Soie is a tad too sweet at this point even for my taste. When the drydown comes, the inexplicable suede note appears again, this time accompanied by a darkly elegant patchouli accord. Again, I am reminded of Daim Blond and also of Poivre Samarcade by Hermes, both suede-based scents. I am unable to find anything silk-like in Ambre Soie; this is a much richer, heavier, more substantial fragrance than one that would evoke that smooth, lustrous material. On my skin and to my nose, Ambre Soie is sumptuous dark brown suede.

This is a beautiful, rich scent, however, since it reminds me so much of the two of my favorites, one of which I already own, I don’t think I will be buying a bottle of Ambre Soie. This is not a bad thing, taking into account that Privé Eaux de Parfum retail for $185 for 1.7 oz. If you can find them, that is. As far as I know, Armani Privé line of fragrance is carried by Saks; at the moment though, only Bois d'Encens and Pierre de Lune come up when you search the site.

* A “group portrait” of Armani Privé scents are from The photo of Ambre Soie is from


Friday, October 21, 2005

Le Parfum de Therese by Frederic Malle

If a perfume could have a face, Le Parfum de Thérèse’s would be one of those non-conforming faces described by Adorno and Horkheimer, faces that, like Greta Garbo's, do not look as if you could say "Hello sister!'' to them. Le Parfum de Thérèse was created in the early 1950s by Edmond Roudnitska for his wife Thérèse, who at that time was the only person allowed to wear it; in my mind, Le Parfum de Thérèse is associated with Greta Garbo. This perfume has Garbo’s husky voice, perfect bone structure and mesmerizing, impenetrable eyes.

I file it, along with Chanel’s Bois des Iles and Guerlain’s Chamade, under the category of "Golden Perfumes”, because the image of shimmering warm gold is the one they evoke in my adoring mind. Le Parfum de Thérèse is vivid, but it is still an intimate perfume; to borrow Luca Turin’s phrase, it is full of shadowy recesses, as if illuminated by a candle (“Des parfums intimes, pleins de recoins sombres, comme éclairés à la bougie,“ from Le Guide). I would have never thought that a fragrance containing melon and jasmine could work so well on my skin, but it does; the blend is so smooth, not a single note stands out as too loud, yet the perfume keeps developing, changing from the darkly ripe fruity beginning to lovely understated green jasmine, to stunning rose, to the elegant woody- leathery drydown.

The face of Garbo is an idea”, said Roland Barthes. Le Parfum de Thérèse is Edmond Roudnitska’s concept of olfactory beauty, incandescent, ever-changing composition that is both soulful and awe-inspiring.

Le Parfum de Thérèse is available from Editions de Parfum or from Barneys, $160.00 for 3,4oz.

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"I'm afraid of nothing except being bored."
Greta Garbo

"I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be left alone.' There is all the difference."

Greta Garbo

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bandit by Robert Piguet

I am at heart a gentleman.
Marlene Dietrich

Bandit is another Piguet scent that for me has always been associated with Marlene Dietrich; whenever I smell it, I see Dietrich in her trademark suit, with a cigarette-holder casually and elegantly smouldering in her hand. According to Jan Moran, this scent was in fact one of the star’s favorites; Dietrich had the kind of confidence and insouciance that must have made fragrances like Fracas, Bandit and Tabac Blonde seem absolutely stunning and natural on her.

In my opinion, Bandit requires even more flair and chic from its wearer than its sibling Fracas and it is not an easy scent for me to wear. The beginning is harsh and potent, mostly a smoky and viciously green galbanum with a vague citrus accord hidden somewhere within that smoke, however, the scent subsides, it is quite shocking, how it changes and becomes much quieter. Within five minutes or so after the application, Bandit is an elegant, refined fragrance with notes of peppery rose and green jasmine, with the leather note being just sharp enough to keep the scent true to its provocative name. The drydown is moss-green and animalic and très sensuel; it is perhaps my favourite part of the fragrance. There must be some magic in both Piguet scents to make me like them as much as I do; apart from Fracas and Bandit I don’t really “do” heady white florals and chypres.

Bandit is a stunning scent, the one that works exceptionally well when one is dressed especially sharp and is in a mood to act rather aloof. Chanel said, "elegance is refusal", and that describes Bandit perfectly to me; it is an elegant perfume that says No.

Bandit is available at Nordstom Online, $65.00-$190.00

Tomorrow, Greta Garbo and Le Parfum de Therese

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Fracas by Robert Piguet

They call me Lola.
Lola Lola (Marlen Dietrich),
Der Blaue Engel

Whenever I smell Fracas, the line from Raymond Chandler's Farewell My Lovely comes to my mind: "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window." Fracas is an olfactory equivalent of a stunning, strong-willed, supremely confident, sharply dressed blonde; to me, it is one of the olfactory portraits of Marlene Dietrich who, according to Jan Moran, did in fact wear Fracas.

Fracas starts deceivingly low-key on my skin, almost citrusy, gradually the scents becomes sweeter and sweeter, the fragrance gathers momentum, with the orange blossom note heralding the arrival of the queen tuberose…and suddenly there she is, immense tubéreuse rose à bandes orange (Luca Turin), in all her carnal glory. Tuberose takes the limelight and puts all other notes into the shade, even the usually equally ferocious ones, jasmine and gardenia. The only note able to stand up to tuberose is, unexpectedly, lily of the valley, that note is like a cold silvery streak running through the creamy, luscious middle stage of the perfume. The drydown is vaguely mossy and slightly animalic (musky) to my nose.

I am a self-confessed white floral hater, but I adore Fracas. It is a grand scent, a diva, a heady, incredibly sensual perfume, tuberose extraordinaire, and yet it fails to intimidate me. I feel I can actually pull it off. Granted, I need an occasion to wear it, and I have to be dressed to the nines, in an uncluttered and flamboyant Piguet style, but when I do… just call me Lola.

Fracas is available at Nordstom Online, $65.00-$190.00

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Glamour is what I sell, it's my stock in trade.
Marlene Dietrich

I am not a myth.
Marlene Dietrich

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Angel Garden of Stars by Thierry Mugler

Thirteen years after bringing upon us the great Angel, Thierry Mugler introduced Garden of Stars, three floral versions of the classic, Angel Lily, Angel Peony and Angel Violet. I do not wear Angel often, it is a difficult scent for me to pull off, but I do admire its dark gourmand composition; it is undoubtedly a masterpiece and one that launched a thousand scents. I must admit that I thought that the new trio will not be original enough to actually justify their existence. I still find it somewhat ironic that, after receiving much acclaim for creating a non-floral composition, Mugler decided to add flowers to the blend.

I will start with the one Garden of Stars scent that confirmed my misgivings, Angel Violet (Top note: Violet Green, ‘Crystallized Sugar. Middle note: Violet, Woody Notes. Base note: Patchouli, Vanilla Notes). For some reason I expected to like it the most, but then I always imagine I would like violet fragrances and I am often wrong, perhaps the sad fact is, violets and I don’t like each other all that much after all. Do therefore take what I say with a grain of salt, but the fact remains that, on my skin, there is nothing left of Angel in Angel Violet, just dusty old violets that dry down to something reminiscent of the scent of sweaty skin…Angel Violet had a certain dull powderiness that I found rather disagreeable.

Angel Lily is a different story altogether. The image of lilies dripping with chocolate comes to my mind whenever I smell Angel Le Lys (Top note :”Dew” Note, Green Stem. Middle note: Nutmeg, Lily, Honey. Base note : Patchouli, Vanilla Notes) . The chocolate note is much stronger in this composition than it is in the original. Chocolate and lilies flourish side by side for quite a long time, which I found to be a great and unusual effect. The luminous cool scent of lilies and the dark warm scent of chocolate are stunning together. Unfortunately, Angel Lily dried down to a rather pale, vague smell of lilies more than anything else, thus somewhat spoiling the effect. Still, it is a lovely scent and I wouldn’t mind owning a bottle of it at some point.

I also like Angel Peony, in which Angel’s heady gourmand notes are made softer by the sparkly and delicate peonies (Top note : Airy Notes, Stem Green. Middle note : Peony, Pepper, Floral Notes. Base note : Patchouli, Vanilla Notes ). This is a pretty scent, no other word can describe it better. Pretty in a pink but not overly girly kind of way. Whereas lilies pick up and showcase the chocolate note of Angel, peonies emphasize vanilla and patchouli. This is a warm and soft composition, and I like the fact that does not lose its complexity in the drydown, the way Angel Le Lys does.

Angle Lily, however, is my favorite “Garden Angel”, despite the fact that I am not a fan of lilies in perfume (or indeed in real life) and regardless of the disappointingly bland drydown. I admire the way it contrasts the cold incandescent lilies and the warm opaque chocolate note making it possible to smell them simultaneously, side by side. I found the new floral versions of Angel to be significantly softer and thus much more wearable than Angel The First (or Angel The Terrible, for some people). They don’t last on the skin as long as their formidable ancestor, neither do they leave a fearsome trail of sillage. Like it or not, Angel has Presence and Charisma, both of which were sacrificed in the Garden of Stars to perhaps make the new scents more wearable (less feared?). As I mentioned before, I am unable to pull off Angel as often I would liked to, so for me this is a positive development.

Angel Garden of Stars scents are strangely expensive. They can be found at Nordstrom Online, $60.00 for 0,8oz each.

Next, the scents that remind me of my icon, the incomparable Marlene Dietrich.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Amber Vanilla by Regina Harris

Amber Vanilla has the richness of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, reminiscent of a jewel-encrusted medieval fabric, dark golden heavy velvet. According to various sites, the notes here are just those in the name, amber and vanilla, but I don’t believe that for a second, this is a complex albeit very smooth blend. Amber opens the composition and it is dark, warm and intense; there is a depth to it that is very incense-like to my nose and I suspect there is an incense note in Amber Vanilla. The fragrance becomes darker and more resinous as it settles on my skin, and even when the vanilla drydown comes, bringing some sweet softness to the blend, the perfume does not lose the vague churchy feel that, to me, is the essence of its uniqueness.

Like the first Regina Harris perfume oil, Amber Vanilla has a certain religious atmosphere yet it is an incredibly sensual fragrance. This scent reminded me of the story of St. Theresa of Avila, Roman Catholic mystic, who entered states of ecstasy while studying religious texts in a Carmelite cloister, and of Bernini’s sculpture, The Ecstasy of St Theresa. “I saw in his [angel’s] hand a long golden arrow, its metal point tipped with fire. With this he appeared to pierce my heart again and again, reaching into my insides and ripping them from me, leaving me embracing in the great love of God." Just like in the story of St Theresa and in Bernini’s magnificent work, in Amber Vanilla divinity interacts with matter and spiritual merges with corporal.

Amber Vanilla Perfume Oil can be found at Beautyhabit, $125.00 for 15ml

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Chinatown by Bond No. 9

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.

Li Bai

Described as an “intoxicating cross-cultural bouquet” (description remarkable for its mixture of habitual perfume-related vocabulary and sociological lingo), Chinatown has the notes of peach blossom, bergamot, gardenia, tuberose, peony, orange blossom, patchouli, cedar, vanilla, sandalwood, cardamom and Guaiac wood. In reality, it is neither particularly “intoxicating” nor a “bouquet”, to my nose (I am not paying much attention the “cross-cultural”, simply because all perfumes can be labeled with this term, if only for the fact that their ingredients usually originate from rather diverse places). Chinatown is a soft gourmand scent, smooth and comforting. It reminds me of Laura Tonatto’s Plaisir in a sense that both these perfumes have the same creamy, gentle feel to them, with the notes merging in perfect harmony, without a single note being particularly identifiable at any given stage of the fragrance development.

I like to think that I am able to smell peach blossom in the beginning, but perhaps I am just imagining it. Gardenia and tuberose are very discrete, if not non-existent, to my nose, as are peony and patchouli. Cardamom is just about discernible, vanilla is very low-key and only bergamot is easy to pin point when it shows up here and there adding some liveliness and sparkle to the composition. Chinatown is a comfortably linear scent in a sense that all the notes appear simultaneously and stay together till the very drydown.

The description on Hampton Court site notes the way the drydown of Chinatown smells of Chinese lacquered boxes and I find that to be absolutely true. I only ever owned one lacquered trinket box and it was Russian, not Chinese, but it did smell exactly like the combination of sandalwood, cedar and cardamom in the drydown of Chinatown. If this sounds rather “chemical” and artificial to you, it really is not. The blend is very smooth here, the whole composition and each its note is muted, softened and rounded. Chinatown is, as of right now, the only Bond No 9 scent that I like enough to want a full bottle (and what a bottle!), and it is going to be one of my “comfort scents” this fall and winter.

Available in Bond No 9 stores or online from, among other places, Lusciouscargo, $110.00 for 1,7oz.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Soda Exquise a.k.a. Mandragore by Annick Goutal

"Give me to drink mandragora...
That I might sleep out this great gap of time
My Antony is away."

Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra

Mandragore, the new fragrance from Annick Goutal, created by the house perfumer, Isabelle Doyen, in collaboration with Camille Goutal, was inspired by mandrake. The latter is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family. Their roots, which vaguely resemble a human figure, have long been used in magical spells and witchcraft. Described as “a bewitching and mysterious fragrance, within which the feminine and masculine merge together in secret harmony”, Mandragore has the notes of bergamot, black pepper, spearmint, star anis oil, mint, boxwood, ginger and mandrake.

I will not be the first to do so, but I must note the disparity between the name and the perfume itself. The name "Mandragore" conjures certain dark, witchy images; Annick Goutal's version on the other hand is light and sparkly and not really mysterious. It starts bright and citrusy (bergamot), then star anis comes into play and that is the stage I probably could do without, but then ginger appears and Mandragore is transformed into a gently sweet almost gourmand scent.

The drydown reminds me of the scent of Fresh Index's Soda Shampoo (mint, lavender, grapefruit), which is a compliment, because I love that smell. Mandragore is an effervescent, invigorating fragrance that successfully balances bright spiciness and gentle sweetness. If it were up to me to come up with the packaging and the name for this perfume, I would have opted to stick with Goutal's regular creamy boxes and transparent bottles; lovely as the purple color of the Mandragore packaging is, it is not descriptive of the vibrant, almost frizzy juice inside. As for the name, how about Soda Exquise? On a more serious note, I really like this fragrance and it is undoubtedly “full bottle worthy” for me, even if the said bottle is deceivingly purple.

Mandragore can be found at, $69.00 for 1,7oz or $95.00 for 3,3oz.
*The ad for Mandragore is from; the photo of Soda Shampoo is from


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Perfume Review: Serge Lutens Cedre and Bois Oriental

Cèdre, another new scent from Serge Lutens, this time from the export line, is a tribute to his favorite tree, cedar. Cedar is the note on which Lutens based most of his Les Eaux Boisées from the non-export line (Bois Oriental, Bois et Fruits, Bois et Musc, Bois de Violette). The description on Senteurs d'Ailleurs site, which, I assume, quotes Serge Lutens himself, portraits Cèdre as a “wildcat” that “glides along, cautious and rhythmic with supple, velvety steps of steel. The forest watches… A heavy, restless silence, a tense moment, similar to those preceding the jury’s verdict to condemn the accused, guilty or even innocent… The embrace of life, the grip of death…once decided, it will bring peace. Time holds its breath…A rich, woody, animalistic, soft fragrance… harmonizes in full splendor with arrogant tuberose. A strong musk blended with amber, cloves and cinnamon adds the final touch to the regalia. An irrevocable verdict for this essential, profoundly original fragrance…"

Official perfume descriptions are notoriously prone to exaggeration and over-dramatization. Having said that, the description of Cèdre is one of the most over the top marketing endeavours I have ever read. Cèdre of that description is practically nothing like Cèdre on my skin. On my skin, it is very pleasant. There, I just used the word Lutens would probably absolutely hate in relation to his perfumes. Yet that’s what it is. Sweet-ish woods, lovely almost imperceptible tuberose, a tiny dash of cinnamon. Every note is understated, muted, almost demure. Rich and animalistic? Absolutely not. Soft? Definitely. Also, I must say, rather unremarkable. Cèdre is one of those neutral, elegant, “politically correct” scents that are appropriate anywhere, anytime. Désolé, Monsieur Lutens, I know you would have hated every single word of this review.

I must say I am a little surprised that Lutens deemed necessary to create yet another (and lesser) cedar-based scent, when he already has the wonderful Bois Oriental in his Exclusives collection, and all he had to do was to release it in the export line. Bois Oriental is an incredible edible wood. Emphasis on incredible. It is not an animalistic “wildcat” scent either, but to me, this is pretty much a definitive cedar fragrance, soft, almost creamy, slightly sweet, a little spicy bois, to which I compare all the others. Cèdre definitely pales and loses in comparison. If I haven’t tried Bois Oriental, Cèdre would have been “full bottle worthy” for me, but I have and I would much rather buy Bois Oriental. It would be harder to get, but hey, when did that stop us?

Cèdre retails at Aedes, $120.00 for 50ml; Bois Oriental can be found on, 100 Euros for 75ml.
*Photo of Cèdre is from Photo of Bois Oriental is from Salons Shiseido website.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Theatre of Shadows: Borneo 1834 by Serge Lutens

You throw yourself, oh blind one, upon something non-existent
Even as upon a mirage evoked before your eyes,
Upon a golden tree appearing in a dream
A shadow play amidst a human crowd
Buddhist Therigata, first century B.C.

Borneo 1834, the latest scent in Serge Lutens non-export line is his homage to patchouli. “1834” in the name supposedly refers to the year when patchouli, brought to Europe wrapped with the bales of silk to scare off moths, became popular with the chic Parisiennes. Described as “the dry and silky scent of patchouli leaves” and “a memory of waltzing Paris”, Borneo 1834 has the notes of “florals”, galbanum, Indonesian patchouli, cacao, camphor, cardamom, cistus, and labdanum. The design on the Limited Edition bottle was inspired by the wayang, Indonesian theatre of shadows, where the stories about gods, kings, and ordinary mortals are acted behind a cloth screen and presented to the audience through the shadows cast by puppets. The fragrance itself is shadowy too, it is a dark scent in which no note is particularly distinct. It starts as a blast of something vaguely medicinal and chocolatey, a slightly minty, somewhat nose burning accord follows and is in turn replaced by an opaque, warm note of patchouli in the drydown.

Despite the fact that Borneo 1834 is meant to be a patchouli-heavy scent, the main note, to my nose, is actually that of another moth repellant, camphor. I believe its strong, penetrating, pungent, aromatic odor adds that medicinal and cold-minty accord to the perfume. Incidentally, one of the varieties of camphor comes from Borneo and is called Borneol. Combined with the cacao accord, this note makes Borneo 1834 one of the strangest scents I have ever experienced. Not being overly fond of patchouli, I was surprised at how much I liked that dreaded note, when it finally flourished on my skin during the drydown. Patchouli in Borneo is both warm and dry and is made especially attractive by the almost unpalatable and most probably, for me, unwearable top and middle notes. This is the same effect that was used by the master puppeteers Lutens and Sheldrake in Tuberose Criminelle, in which the tuberose note was made heartbreakingly delicate and beautiful by the sheer strangeness of the cold and minty notes that preceded it.

Kipling’s colonial romaticism of Borneo appeals to me immensely, I admire the patchouli note in this scent and do not particularly mind the cold pungency of camphor in the beginning. What renders the scent unwearable for me is the cacao accord. Were it more distinct, perhaps the effect could have been more striking. As it is, the cacao note here is rather blurry, self-conscious and shy; its insipid sweetness only muddies what otherwhise could have been a remarkably dry and dark scent. Still, Borneo is undoubtedly a unique scent and the one that will be always fondly remembered by me as a fragrance that made patchouli attractive to my patchouli-phobic nose. Being a part of the non-export collection, Borneo 1834 is available only in Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris, where it retails for 100 Euros for 75ml.
* The picture of Borneo 1834 is from A Theatre of Shadow scene is from this wonderful site

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Farewell Tuberose: Do Son by Diptyque

Do Son, Diptyque’s new eau de toilette, was inspired by one of its founder’s childhood memories of Vietnam, back in the 1930s. Yves Coueslant grew up in Haiphong, where his father had a small pagoda built by the seaside, in Do Son. The sea breeze on the terrace used to blend with his mother’s fragrance (she loved tuberose) and the scents of flowers in the heat.

Diptyque is one of my favorite fragrance lines; along with Serge Lutens’s, Diptyque’s are the most evocative scents, the quality that I admire and cherish in perfumes the most. I also must add that I have never been a fan of tuberose note in perfumes. I did admire some tuberose-based scents (the sadly discontinued Mea Culpa by Les Parfums de Rosine comes to mind here, with it warm, languorous, sunny tuberose), however I am mostly unable to wear them. Given my love for all the things Diptyque, I hoped that theirs would finally be a tuberose for me, especially after seeing it being described as a delicate and misty tuberose.

Unfortunately, even Diptyque failed to make a tuberose scent wearable for this white -floral-phobic. Do Son is a heady, sweet, warm tuberose one me, a sensuous fragrance of flowers lingering in the hot, humid air of an exotic land. Moreover, there is an aquatic note in Do Son, successfully evoking the Do Son beach of Yves Coueslant’s childhood, and while I admire the way this note transports me to the seaside in Vietnam, I am incapable of wearing a perfume with marine undertones.

That being said, Do Son is a beautiful scent, full of wonderful summery and exotic images. It is everything that Diptyque’s official description promises it to be: “The evening breeze still carries all its mysteries along, soft lulling exhalation, when the scents of heavy flowers and the seaside wind gently mingle at the end of the day.” Please don’t let my personal skin chemistry issues prevent you from seeking out this gorgeous fragrance. As for me, I will sadly say farewell to my hope of ever finding a tuberose scent after my own heart and will leave you with this beautiful poem called Images, by a Vietnamese poet Van Cao-Pham Duy:

Here our steps falter
Her eyes are like boats mirrored in the water
Here clouds and mountains extend forever
Poplars dry their golden hair in the sun...
Mist has covered the blue mountains
A brown sail rides the springtime waves
A wanderer listens to the birds' trills
A swallow glides in the clouds
Memories of love past...

* The photo of Do Son beach is from The photo of Do Son the fragrance is from Diptyque site

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Pinup No 2: Iris Poudre by Frederic Malle

The description on Frederic Malle site portrays Iris Poudre as a "raw classical beauty"; I respectfully disagree. Beauty- undoubtedly, classical- yes, perhaps more classical than modern, raw- not at all. For raw, rooty iris may I recommend you try Jean-Claude Ellena's Bois d'Iris. Iris Poudre is a pampered iris, grown in the most luxurious surroundings, a spoiled, coddled and cherished belle.

Iris Poudre is a warm, sweet, dark-golden scent; aldehydes don't bother me here at all, I will go so far as to say that they are practically a no-show, to my nose’s delight. I love the musk note in the drydown, it brings a hint of “animalic” to the whole composition, adding a certain sensuality and a risqué feel to what otherwise could have been a rather tame albeit imposing perfume. I must add that, despite the name, the fragrance is not powdery at all, on my skin.

Iris Poudre demands to be worn in cold weather, accessorized with cashmere (but of course!), or in any weather at all for a posh evening out. It may also deign to help you out and make you feel like you are comfortably sitting in the very lap of luxury, even if you are at the moment dressed in your old pajamas. Then again, it may not.

In an interview, Pierre Bourdon revealed that his favorite artistic style is the period between impressionism and fauvism, characterized by a balance between figurative interpretation and transcendental reality. I apologize to M. Bourdon for not perceiving his wonderful Iris Poudre as one of the paintings of that period. To me, this scent is an idealized version of what a beautiful woman should look like, a stunning pinup. To illustrate my point, please take a closer look at these paintings by Elvgren, Vargas and Runci. Each of those stunners looks the way Iris Poudre smells.

Iris Poudre is available from Editions de Parfum or Barneys, $160.00 for 100ml

*Painting No 1 - Suzette by Gil Elvgren; Painting No 2 – Beauty by Alberto Vargas; Painting No 3 – Sheer Delight by Edward Runci

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pinup No 1: Lipstick Rose by Frederic Malle

A pinup is a woman whose physical attractiveness would entice one to place a picture of her on a wall. The pinup images could be cut out of magazines or newspapers, or be from postcard or chromo-lithographs. Such photos often appear on calendars or mass produced posters. Other pinups were artwork, often depicting idealized versions of what a beautiful woman should look like. The genre gave rise to several well-known artists specializing in the field, including Alberto Vargas and George Petty, and numerous lesser artists such as Art Frahm.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Lipstick Rose is so true to its name, smelling like an expensive, somewhat old-fashioned lipstick, it is almost a novelty scent, almost something a Demeter would produce...Almost, but not quite. To use Andy Warhol's words, this is "a deeply superficial" perfume. Lipstick Rose is a pinup vixen who knows exactly what she is doing and, even before the drydown comes, she drops all the pretence of simplicity and innocence and has us when she wants us, wrapped around her little manicured finger.

The description on the Malle site proves my point about it being a pinup scent (idealized version of a beautiful woman) when it says that Lipstick Rose is the perfumer Ralf Schwieger's vision of glamorized femininity. Lipstick Rose is indeed oh so pretty, appealingly sweet and comfortably powdery, mostly violets on my skin, with a flirty hint of roses. Lasting power is very good on me, over 6 hours, and when the drydown comes, it is a sensual, slightly musky vanilla and amber mix.

This perhaps is not a scent to wear everyday, she is a little bit of a high maintenance, with that sweetness and powderiness, but Lipstick Rose would be just the right accomplice when you want to go, see, conquer and wrap them around your little finger.

Lipstick Rose is available from Editions de Parfum or Barneys, $140.00 for 100ml

* The Paintings: first, name unknown, by Billy de Vorss, second, Real Cute by Al Buell

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Comfort and Pinup: Teint de Neige by Lorenzo Villoresi

Teint de Neige perhaps should have been called Fond de Teint, and Lorenzo Villoresi said it all himself describing this perfume: “…the rosy hue of a powdered face. The unmistakable scent of perfumed powders, the fragrance of face powder, the perfume of talc, a soft, gentle, enveloping eau de toilette. An aroma delicately permeated by the richness of the natural extracts of precious flowers, recalling the light, images and atmosphere of the belle-époque".

So why Color of Snow, surely that would imply transparency, wateriness, coldness, pure whiteness...Teint de Neige is none of those things, it is a powdery, warm, creamy-pink scent. It is somewhat similar to Malle's Lipstick Rose, sharing with it that “fragrance of expensive retro cosmetics” concept. However, whereas rose and violet bring some juiciness to Lipstick Rose, Teint de Neige, though also (somewhat) floral, is a drier, more powdery scent, with heliotrope adding a lovely almondy feel to the drydown.

Teint de Neige is rather an intense fragrance. I wouldn’t be able to wear it often or spray it generously. However, when the mood calls for it, when the weather is cold and life is miserable, nothing can comfort quite like Teint de Neige. It would be unfair though to only categorize it as a comfort scent. In my (admittedly random and unprofessional) classification of scents, it is also filed as a Pinup Perfume. Teint de Neige is extremely attractive, perfectly made up (all that powder), sexily attired, it strikes a pose, it smiles suggestively. It is a bombshell. To illustrate my point, here is May by Alberto Vargas, Teint de Neige personified.

Next, two more Pinup Perfumes, both by Frederic Malle.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Talco Delicato by i Profumi di Firenze

Florentine perfumer and founder of i Profumi di Firenze, Dr. Giovanni di Massimo allegedly discovered Catherine de Medici's perfume recipes and other Medici fragrance formulas in 1966 in his apothecary’s basement, in the aftermath of a flood. The fragrances in the i Profumi di Firenze collection are consequently based on actual Medici formulations discovered in the manuscript or on blends popular among the Renaissance nobility.

Talco Delicato, my so far favorite of the line and one of my comfort scents, is a delicate blend of vanilla and musk with a little spiciness and a gentle powdery feel. Official description calls it “seductive and serene” and promises it to be a “real head-turner.” While still being cuddly, delicate and cozy, Talco Delicato does indeed step up a notch in the direction of “sexy”; compared to the innocently gourmand Plaisir, this has a little more playfulness.

Talco Delicato is soft and creamy-white; putting it on is like falling into a fluffy cloud. This is the scent that little chubby cupids wear on all the paintings. And just like those little rascals, this perfume is “not that innocent”. Don’t let the word “talc” deceive you, this is not a scent for children or in any way childish. Something among the notes (perhaps the unidentified “spice”) adds a certain oomph and ooh la la to the composition. While Talco Delicato is very a much a warm comfort scent, feels very satisfying on a cold rainy day and suits the book-reading-curled-up-on-a-sofa mood to perfection, I would also caution you to beware of the cupids hiding arrows behind their plump backs. Wear Talco Delicato at bedtime and let the little Amours do their work for you; they guarantee the success.

Talco Delicato is available, among other places, from lusciouscargo, $79.00 for 50ml.

*The painting is Les Avances de l’Amour by Guillaume Seignac.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Plaisir by Laura Tonatto

The definition of a comfort scent can only ever be subjective; it is also bound to change with one’s mood, hormonal balance and weather. On a hot summer day nothing is more comforting than a spritz of a clear lemon scent like Eau d’Hadrien. In certain dark moments of the soul only an incense scent like Passage d’Enfer is capable of bringing me consolation and peace. Typically though, for me, to qualify as a comforting scent, a perfume has to be fairly sweet, more often than not gourmand, and even rather powdery. There are many scents that would fall under these categories in my collection; I will review three of them, my relatively recent discoveries in the warm and dreamy land of comfort perfumes.

First, the most favorite one, Plaisir by Laura Tonatto.

On Laura Tonatto’s website, Plaisir is described in sensual and exotic terms: “Recollecting the alcove: the passionateness of patchouly dressed with an exotic and bitter-sweet note of pink grapefruit and vanilla.” Truth to be told, I don’t think of Plaisir as a sexy scent, least of all as a passionate one. That is not to say that it is bland and cold, not at all, it is just not about “the alcove” for me, or not in the sense that I assume they are implying. Plaisir is a cuddly scent, a perfume to make you feel snug as a bug on a cold rainy day, curled up with a book or with your cat, you child, your significant other, anything and anyone who would compliment this scent’s gentle warmth and coziness.

The other thing about Plaisir is that the official notes do not prepare you for the luscious deliciousness that is this fragrance. Orange, grapefruit, rose, cinnamon, vanilla, white musk, amber … They could describe an insipid citrus scent for all we know, nothing here warns about the incredible edibleness of this scent. And edible it certainly is. Plaisir reminds me of a wonderful layered cake called Napoleon, one of my mum’s masterpieces. Don’t be scared by foody references though, Plaisir is not overly heavy on vanilla or cloying, no one would ask you if you were baking. Imagine Taint de Neige or Talco Delicato without all the powder, with creaminess instead of powderiness…In fact, if you asked me to describe Plaisir in one word, it would be “creamy”.

According to Laura Tonatto site, Plaisir can be found at Takashimaya, Art et Maison and Bigelow’s (New York); Kuhl Linscomb (Texas); Beauty Collection Apothecary (LA); Martin Richard (San Francisco); Luminaire (Chicago). It also seems to be available from, $72.50 for 100ml (with 4 weeks stock delay).


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Next: Comfort Scents

The melancholy days have come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.

William Cullen Bryant, The Death of the Flowers

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Lightness of the Dark: Pomegranate Noir by Jo Malone

New Jo Malone scent is described as a fruity composition with notes of raspberry, plum and pink pepper, combined with patchouli, frankincense and spicy woods. Some of these notes sounded very appealing to me, some of them made me hesitant to try it (yes, I am referring to you, patchouli). Good news for people like me, the fruity- and /or patchouli-shy, no need to worry…Bad news…there are no bad news apart from the fact that I will need a full bottle of Pomegranate Noir and soon.

Pomegranate noir starts as a burst of a plum note on my skin. Almost instantly the notes merge to evoke what I perceive to be a dry, almost leathery scent of pomegranate skin. This is a fruity scent at this point, but in the driest, most abstract sense of the word. After a while the pepper note becomes more obvious to my nose. For those familiar with IUNX Burning Water or Comme des Garcons Harissa, this pepper kick is somewhat reminiscent of the “feel” of those two scents to me. Both of these stages are wonderful, but the third one is my favorite, this is where the promised frankincense (very light) and woods (I think it is mostly cedar, but I may be mistaken) are most prominent. Patchouli is simply absent on my skin; I am sure it plays an important role in the composition, adding the dark depth to it, but it does so very discreetly.

I love the way the fragrance keeps developing, each stage smoothly extending into the next. I also admire the fact that the top notes never disappear completely, that incredible dark, somewhat astringent, almost leathery “pomegranate skin note” is perceivable till the very end. Unlike so many other Jo Malone scents, Pomegranate Noir is long-lasting on my skin; I can still smell it six hours after application.

I cannot really compare Pomegranate Noir to any other scent out there, apart from the middle stage reminding me of Harissa and Burning Water, but even then the similarity is not so much about the notes as about a certain ethos shared by the three scents. Having said that, there is something incredibly familiar in Pomegranate Noir, especially in the drydown, a note that reminded me about happy poignant days of my past, and I don’t know what that note is. In any case, there is something in Pomegranate Noir that made me react to it in the most visceral way.

In his article, The Unbearable Lightness of Scent, Chandler Burr describes Pomegranate Noir as a massless scent and very deservedly titles Jo Malone as a queen of light. Burr perceives her new perfume to be “the scent of the darkness that inhabits the corners of paintings by the Dutch masters. Think of Rubens’s self-portrait. The rich, luscious dark that surrounds the illuminated head, the bright white collar floating in the warm blackness. Rubens’s dark is not the cold heaviness of the void. It is the deep warmth of all that is there, but is simply unseen.”

Pomegranate Noir is definitely a dark scent, however, in my opinion, this is not a deep, warm and impenetrable darkness of Rubens and Rembrandt, the dark here is weightless, transparent. Aubrey Beardlsey’s black-and-white ink drawings immediately come to my mind when I smell Pomegranate Noir. To me, this is a smell of twilight, of that place between sleep and awake, memory and oblivion, where you can still remember your dreams before they dissolve in the morning light.

Pomegranate Noir will hit the stores in October, at the moment it seems to be already available at Neiman Marcus Online, $50.00 for 30ml, $85.00 for 100ml.

* The picture of Pomegranate Noir comes from Neiman Marcus Online.
* The painting is The Woman in the Moon, 1893, by Aubrey Beardsley, Fogg Art Museum

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