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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Life Well Lived!

By Beth

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

George Bernard Shaw

This is a story about the power of scent, my mother and her final hours in this world. Several weeks ago I walked into my parents home to discover that my 86 year old mother had suffered a massive right brain stroke. My 89 year old father was in the hospital at the time, having just endured gall bladder surgery. When I saw my mother I knew. When the paramedics took her from the home that she’d built lovingly with my father over 60 years ago I sobbed, brokenhearted with the sureness of knowing that she would never return. There is a smell to is surely the fragrance of the flesh becoming earth.

The next day I found myself in a still and deeply saddened state, confused about what actions to take next. Then I read Flora’s deeply moving post about Houbigant’s Demi- Jour.
I was suddenly flooded with feelings, remembering my mother and all of her influences on me. She loved pansies and violets and when I was a little girl I played in her jewelry box where she kept the little bottle of “Attar of Violets” that had been her mothers. It is still the perfume that I define all fragrance by. I would greedily open the little bottle and take a deep breath, loving every moment, feeling very grown up. With her passing I have become the keeper of that jewelry box and the bottle of violet perfume is still there. It is still beautiful but the fragrance is fleeting. it is at least 100 years old, but just as thrilling, forever a mysterious elixir! My mother also adored lovely lavender perfumes, her first real job was as the Yardley English Lavender girl for the May Company, a beautiful old Cleveland department store. Her other favorite was Shalimar and she wore it abundantly with her opera length pearls and silk.

That same day Chaya replied to my comments and my experience of caring for my mother was completely altered because of her kindness. She reminded me that my mother was still alive and that I had a chance to help her heal, regardless of the outcome. We had six wonderful days with my mother before she died that Friday. Although she never regained consciousness, I decided that day that that if she was going to die that she would have the best dying ever.

For the next six days, my sister and I filled her room with her favorites things. My husband brought her a Bose sound system with which to listen to her beloved Cleveland Orchestra and her favorite National Public Radio! I anointed her upper lip with Sali Oguri’s gorgeous “Persephone” and it filled the room with the most delightful fragrance of deep rich chocolate and pomegranates.

We continued this all week, even spraying the curtains in the room and her blankets with her current favorite, l’occitane’s “Vanilla”. Her friend’s brought beautiful flowers for the room and I bathed her everyday with French Lavender and roses.
I put on her makeup, fixed her hair and gave her at least 3 massages a day with fragrant oils , gorgeous creams and spent hours doing reiki, soul retrieval and energy work with her. Everyone participated in the celebration!

My sister brought her favorite French blanket and 4711 cologne, my nephew brought her favorite cd’s and my son Alex was steadfast by her side. My brother in law meditated often in her room, filling the space with a continuous peace.

We served cookies , M & M’s and drinks in her room for the enjoyment of all of her grandchildren, nurses and friends. I learned so much about how to live through her dying. I learned that even though my mother was deeply comatose, every time I touched her body she responded with utter relaxation. Every time I perfumed her with something wonderful she would take a deep breath and sigh. I learned that the best way to have her well taken care of was to care deeply for the people who were caring for her. Her nurses came into the room often to talk and relax. Even though it was obvious that she would not recover, they never stopped treating her well. I realized early on that the suctioning and comfort care my mother was receiving was frightening to the younger nurses and they commented that everything that we did allowed them know my mother better and that they were transformed by the experience of caring for her in such pleasantly fragrant surroundings. In all honesty, I really enjoyed myself and I don’t ever think about those 6 days without smiling. Friends and family came to see her and in the intimacy of that space were able to say goodbye without fear. It was an extraordinary process, one which I will never forget.

During that week my mother got phone call after phone call and we held the phone to her ear so that everyone could talk to her, knowing that although she wasn’t conscious she somehow heard every word. When her doctors determined the following Friday that there was nothing further to be done, they discharged her and she was taken into hospice in the nursing home where my 89 year old father was currently recovering after his surgery. She had barely been there for 45 minutes when the nurses came to get me because she was dying. I was with her when she took her last breaths and was able to kiss her and tell her what an incredible mother she’d been. It was then I was able to say “I love you Mother, Thank you so much. It was such an honor”.

My sister had been in mom’s garden during that time , picking flowers to bring to what we knew would be her last room. We covered her body from head to toe with the fragrant blooms, yarrow and roses, daisies and comfrey and her favorites, the lovely stargazer lilies that she planted and tended with such loving care. We placed her small cloth dog in her arms and covered her with a beautiful French blanket that we’d placed on her in the hospital and two cards from dear friends. I called the funeral director and told him to pick her up but not to remove any of it. My mom was cremated the other day in nothing but a cardboard box with everything that we’d sent. No Funeral, no embalming , no grotesque maquillage. Nothing but her and her flowers because that was the way she wanted it.

Chaya and Flora’s words helped me to remember during my deepest grief that the most important thing was to honor the essence of her. My mom was a Cleveland society maven with a very public face and the community outpouring of sorrow for her passing is enormous and sometimes too intense to bear. We held an enormous party at a beautiful manor house which we filled with gorgeous flowers, fine wines, bagpipers and beautiful foods. Over 500 people showed up with cards and beautiful words of tribute, but what I know is that we were able to grant her deepest, most intimate final desire and she went peacefully into the fire like the Viking queen she truly was. We scattered her ashes on Labor Day along the beautiful River Road amidst the sunshine, flowers and the birdsong that she loved. I placed her Barack Obama button in the hollow of the old willow tree that grows by that bend in the river. I know her...she’ll be needing it.

The night that she died I curled up against my husband, hungry for his warmth and desperately missing my mothers laughter. Suddenly there was a break in the energy, the night less still. I felt a cool softness caress my face and I woke with my nostrils drenched with the scent of her vanilla. I have smelled it since in the oddest places and times, always before a thought of her. It has become a touchstone for me, my mother surrounding me with the native wisdom that we are far vaster creatures than we understand. Of all things that she has shared with me, it has been her most generous gift.

Barbara Lowenstern Schreibman 1921- 2008


Monday, September 29, 2008

Perfume Review: Puredistance I

Before we start, a short list of things to know about Puredistance: it is "one of the world's most exclusive perfumes", created by Annie Buzantian for a Viennese company that sells nothing but this one perfume, in a Lounge especially dedicated to it...and most important of all, the collection includes a Crystal Column, into which the bottle of Puredistance I can be embedded ("a mysterious and complicated perfume set in a clear crystal flacon...") and about which you will read over and over again, if you download Puredistance 2008 book. Out of 107 pages, 2,5 is dedicated to perfume, 1 to the perfumer, and the rest is an ode to the bottle design, pictures of the "Column" and the Lounge. I find it to be unfair to the perfume, which happens to be exquisite.

Allegedly first created by Buzantian for herself, Puredistance I is a fresh, green floral scent with subtle fruity overtones and a dry, musky base. A touch of black currant and citrus blossoms in the top notes lends rich juiciness to the cold, breezy aroma of jasmine and mimosa, adding softness but not sweetness to the crisp composition. The subtly fruity leitmotif is carried on in the heart of the scent by magnolia, which puts the palest blush of pink on the otherwise snow-white face of Puredistance. The cool, earthy base of vetiver and musk hides a hint of ambery warmth, which is like a flame embedded (there you go!) deep within a cube of ice...The overall impression is that of an impeccable, classical structure, of elegant coldness and dazzling whiteness...There has never been a perfume more bridal. I see it worn with a pure white gown with long train and cathedral-length veil...and then perhaps never again, like a wedding dress...a perfume purchased for one special occasion, a concept the creators of an exclusive fragrance should heartily approve.

Puredistance is available in a Crystal & Gold limited edition Column, 17,5ml for 2750 euro, in a Crystal & Steel limited edition Column, 17,5ml for 1750 euro and in a perfume spray with gold or silver cap, 17.5ml for 165 euro. Of the three, the latter is my favorite, and not because of its bargain price. I find the phial-like simplicity of the bottle much more attractive than the complicated minimalism of the Column.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Other People’s Perfume Part I: Smoke

By Alyssa

When I first fell in love with perfume I was shy about my new affair, but since then I have become a perfume nerd-evangelist, offering up my wrists to all and sundry, and preaching adventure and free samples to the willing victims friends who volunteer for a sniffing session. Along the way I’ve developed a small coterie of enthusiastic converts. Some of these folks started from ground zero I-hate-perfume territory, but most wandered over from stage left, where they were hoarding a small collection of essential oils, or scented candles or that one bottle. You know. The one they bought on a whim, or were given by a fondly remembered lover or stole from a roommate and have been wearing off and on for years, or that they stopped wearing but couldn’t bring themselves to throw away. The bottle you probably had before you tippled over into a world where having ten or more bottles makes perfect sense. That one.

Inevitably, my friends want to know what I think of that one perfume. It’s a delicate question, requiring tact and grace, so of course I’ve generally run for the hills. Recently, though, I broke with my tradition of cowardice and gave one of these treasured scents a serious trial run. I learned a lot from the experience. So much that I’ve decided to tackle a few others and share the results with you all in a little series I’m calling Other People’s Perfume. Cross your fingers for my social life.

And off we go, with Valentino’s Very Valentino pour Homme. Basenotes lists the following as the notes—

Top: Sri Lankan Nutmeg, Crisp Sage, Anise
Middle: Virginian Pipe Tobacco, Coriander, Thyme
Base: Indian Sandalwood, Amber, Musk

—to which I can only say, you wish, Valentino. Or rather, I wish, because this sounds like a really striking perfume and I’d like someone to make it and deliver it to my doorstep. I feel a little uncertain about where the anise fits in, but anything with nutmeg, tobacco and sandalwood in it has got my vote.

Alas, it is not what I smell. What I get instead is a bright, herbal opening that just might have something to do with…let’s just say it’s the coriander, shall we? And maybe, just maybe, the “crisp sage,” whatever that is. (If I were Chandler Burr I’d be regaling you with long, impossible-to-remember chemical names, for this opening wears its synthetic origins proudly.) It’s a traditionally manly opening. Not in a chest-pounding sweat and big muscles way, just a lot of freshly showered glad-handing: “Nothing to see here folks. No weirdness, nothing too pretty, just crisply ironed shirts and a new haircut. Move right along.”

And so we do, after about twenty or thirty minutes, when the brightness mellows and bits of woody-sweet, dry tobacco come forward under the green, at which point I start to like VV much better. By the time the coriander/sage fades into the background (it never completely goes away) and the dry, transparent vanillic amber of the base emerges, I start thinking about the great-looking square, cobalt blue glass mini bottle of VV I’ve seen on **bay. It’s nothing earthshaking, but it’s delicious. The tobacco and coriander keep it from getting too sweet or foody, and the gentle sillage wafts around me for hours. I’d love to smell it on a man at this stage, but it’s happily unisex in a cashmere sweaters, leather boots and well-worn courdoroy blazer kind of way. I find it comforting, and just a little sexy.

So much for my opinion. It was interesting getting to know a perfume I never would have picked up on my own, but the real fun began when I went for a walk on a hot, muggy July 5th morning. The heat and humidity made VV much more diffusive and sped up the opening considerably, and I was suddenly surrounded by the most beautiful combination of its bright top mellowed by smoke. I was very puzzled—how did I miss this bit?—until I realized that the smoke was hanging in the air, a combination of someone’s just-begun pit barbecue project and the gunpowder aftermath of the 4th of July (I do live in Texas, after all). It just got better and better as the development sped along and I was sniffing deeply and thinking about what sort of smoky thing I could send to my friend to layer with VV when I suddenly realized: a) that wouldn’t be necessary and b) why VV worked for him in the first place.

He’s a smoker, of course. A serious, dedicated one, of the sort who seem to be increasingly rare these days. He doesn’t smell of cigarettes—which is how I managed to forget that factor in the first place—but clearly smoke is part of the palette of his skin. When I last saw him we tested Osmanthe Yunnan together and it was lovely and deep on him, the tannic smoke of the tea present right from the beginning, when it was still all stewed apricots on me. I will, of course, want to factor smoke into any future recommendations for my friend, but I also found myself thinking more generally about how the shave-and-a-haircut tonic freshness of many classic men’s colognes comes from a time when smoke was everywhere, and how much better they would smell on men redolent with cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, not to mention good shoe leather and wool coats rich with the scent of smoke-filled bars and city streets. I thought about how smoke might marry with various of my own perfumes (it’s an occasional indulgence for me) and how some of my favorites—Coco for example—seem to imply I have already been smoking without my ever having to light up. And then I went into a sort of daydream about the scent of cigarettes and perfume swirling past me in cold winter air from the hair and coats of grown-up women in a dimly remembered or imagined past…

I also thought, with some embarrassment, about how I would have to pay much sharper attention for the next round of testing Other People’s Perfume. Smoke is easy. What about those less tangible factors that make a perfume beautiful on someone—timing, place, attitude, love?

Note: After I had finished this piece I came across a link to Luca Turin’s August NZZ article about his nostalgia for smoke in public places and the way some classic perfumes seem to call out for a background of cigarettes. He confirms my feeling that Etat Libre’s Jasmin et Cigarette is more nostalgic than provocative—the perfect perfume for an increasingly smoke-free world.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

On a break... and a prize draw

We are taking a short break. Please tune in for a new post on Monday, September 29th. Meanwhile, if you would like to enter into a prize draw for a sample of Andy Tauer's new Vetiver Dance, let us know in your comment. Five winners will be announced on Monday, 29th. Have a great week, everybody!

"New" from Lubin: L de Lubin and Nuit de Longchamp

Lubin re-introduces two classics, L de Lubin and Nuit de Longchamp.

L de Lubin, "the heady scent from the seventies," is said to have been "favoured by the pop idols on the disco dance floors." It has notes of lemon, bergamot, gardenia, black pepper, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, iris, lily, cloves, tonka bean, rosewood, tatchouli, sandalwood, heliotrope, hanilla and musk.

Nuit de Longchamp "has graced the shoulders of elegant women since 1934, like a magnificent garden of white flowers blooming in the twilight." Notes: bergamot, orange blossom, nutmeg, cardamom, ylang ylang, rose, jasmine, iris, sandalwood, broom absolute, patchouli, vetiver, Tolu and Peruvian balsam, labdanum, oakmoss.

Both will be available at

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Montale Musk to Musk

By Tom

As most of you know I have a love of musks, even though I tend to suck the life out of them. On others, Muscs Koublai Khan is mind-blowingly unwashed, on me it's a pussycat. Annick Goutal Musc Nomade is a glorious skin scent, SIP's Musc Botanique is a glorious take on verdant dirrtiness and CB I Hate Perfume Musk is akin to porn-berries jubilee. I am always on the lookout for the next thing and I was happy to find that Montale's Musk to Musk fit the bill.

Luckyscent writes of it as spicy and resinous, but on me it doesn't much go there: there is a whisper of nutmeg and woods but nothing that can be called overly spicy. Tamara points out in her blog that it starts with Montale's trademark Aoud. It does, and even if I wrote in a comment of that this one died on me when I tried it, this one that's an argument to always try, try again. I'd dismissed it because amongst the others I'd tried when sampling this it was rolled over by something stronger; it's quietly silky-smooth beauty can't stand up to some of the, let's say louder things at ScentBar. The aoud whispers along with the spicy woods that results in something that makes me think of clean whiteness; not the dreaded clean sheets accord nor even clean skin. There's enough in there that this is identifiable as perfume that's wholly wonderful. So much so that I am almost dreading falling more in love with the Montale line, especially since Kelley has let me know in no uncertain terms that his are under lock and key...

Musk to Musk is available at all places that sell Montale, $90 for 50ML

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The winner of the Ex Vinis sample draw

Is dleep. Please send us your mailing address using the link on the right. Thank you, everybody, for playing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Perfume Review: Calvin Klein Secret Obsession

If I didn't happen to actually like Secret Obsession, I would have made myself like it. These days, when the threat of Palin is upon us, any mention of censure or banning or denial of one's choice in anything at all makes me see red. Whereas I want to see blue. Anyhow, elections and much ado about not especially provocative video notwithstanding, I do like Secret Obsession. To those who know my hatred for Obsession, this will come as a shock. But the two are very different animals, so much so that I don't think they share much in common except for the name and the fragrance family.

Secret Obsession, says Klein, inhabits the territory "between love and madness". It is a story about "being taunted with illicit thoughts and compelled with seeking pleasure". I wouldn't know anything about madness and illicit thoughts, and it must be this innocence of mine that makes me see in Secret Obsession a comfort perfume, not a forbiden elixir of passion. It is a fairly robust (but not NEARLY as heavy as Obsession), fluffy woody scent with vaguely fruity (plum) and subtly floral (oramge blossom, tuberose) undertones. The fruits are very abstract, which is the only way I can tolerate them, and pleasantly candied, the flowers creamy, the woods indeed cashmere-like in feel. Overall, the slightly fruity, powdery-velvety woodiness of Secret Obsession reminded me of Evening Edged in Gold by Ineke.

Secret Obsession will not make fragrance history the way Obsession did way back when. Klein, like Lauder and Lancome, should, however, be thanked for abandoning the freshies and the fruities and focusing on woods. Again, like Sensuous and Magnifique, this new release is not staggeringly original, not a masterpiece. Like them, it is very wearable and very pretty. Of the three, it is my favorite...and the first CK perfume I like a lot. I see myself reaching for this comfort scent quite often during cold months.

Secret Obsession is available at Macy's, $72.00 for 3.4oz.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Lady Never Tells: Apercu by Houbigant

By Donna

Sometimes – often, in fact – you just need a perfume that you can wear anywhere. Not too strong, yet with good lasting power. Not too sweet, but unmistakably feminine and elegant. Well-mannered and easy to live with, but not so popular that everyone else is wearing it too. You might call it your “Goldilocks” scent – it’s a perfect fit. I discovered just such a one recently in the form of Aperçu by Houbigant.

I acquired my bottle of Eau de Parfum with some good luck in a prize draw. (Thank you, Sweet Diva!) I had read a couple of reviews of this fairly obscure perfume some time ago and I thought it sounded like something I would very much like to try. Lo and behold, soon I had the pretty round-shouldered bottle in my hot little hands. As soon as I tried it I knew I had found a winner.

Aperçu opens with just a little burst of spice, which subsides fairly quickly, only to show up later in the drydown. It’s clove and cinnamon, two of my favorite accords. Oakmoss is immediately apparent to me, but it is restrained. Once the spice retreats the scent becomes a lovely floral chypre, eventually transforming to a distinctly woody drydown, smoothed by silken sandalwood. I did not really expect this somewhat dry style of scent from Houbigant; there is none of the clingy powder that is so often found in perfumes from this house. A gentle sweet freshness comes from behind the veil of lemon and bergamot. I knew I detected ylang-ylang, white flowers and neroli, but the presence of cassis was a pleasant surprise. This is one of the fruity notes that is always welcome for me. It gives the scent a round ripeness that is nonetheless slightly astringent. This fragrance is one of those balanced blends that I really like, no single note dominating and no “overdose” of any one ingredient to throw the composition out of whack. (It is not until it has been on the skin for an hour or more that the patchouli even appears to me, and even then it’s just a whisper. Many scents with patchouli in the base make it known right away.) I find myself pressing my nose to my arm frequently to partake of the lingering woods and moss, even many hours after application.

I have been wearing this scent regularly and I have found that it is very well behaved even in the summer heat and humidity. The spice notes become a little more prominent when the temperature soars, but the overall effect is never sticky or sweet. I look forward to wearing it in the cooler weather to come when I hope it will reveal even more facets of its character.

I hope that I have not given anyone the impression that Aperçu is ordinary, or even austere. Subtle and refined, yes, but sexy in its own way. More of a Greta Garbo than a Jean Harlow, but sexy nonetheless. It conjures up a woman who might wear a severely tailored suit – with lacy lingerie underneath. A woman who does not advertise her charms freely, but saves their expression for her private time. As the product of a somewhat Victorian upbringing, I can really appreciate the hidden power that this approach entails. Only one who knows this woman very well will ever be invited to visit her inner sanctum, only one who is worthy of her will ever have this privilege, and that is just exactly the way she wants it.

I have my Fracas moments, to be sure, but for the most part I keep my light under a bushel, so to speak. When I am interested in someone romantically, I may not flaunt it openly, but when the time comes that I want that person to know I am interested, it will be made perfectly clear to him, but not necessarily everyone else in the world. I find that having a delicious little secret is just as sexy as “going public” with one’s amours. Aperçu appeals to me as a perfect scent for the woman with deep but quiet passions.

Fragrance description, from Aperçu by Houbigant is based on a 'lost' recipe. Launched in 2000 it is a sophisticated scent of citrus and with rich florals. Top notes: bergamot, neroli, jasmine, tuberose, lemon, green leaf, heart: bois de rose, geranium, cinnamon bark oil, ylang-ylang. Base: vetiver, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, clove, cassis. (This scent was first released in 1925 and re-formulated in 2000. I would so love to get my hands on a vintage bottle!)

It is widely available from Internet discounters, but you are unlikely to find it in any stores except dedicated perfume boutiques. It should be more popular of course, but like so many releases without designer cachet or celebrity endorsement, it will never get the attention it deserves. Too bad – this one could go a long way toward dispelling the anti-perfume backlash. Just think about it; one day everyone magically shows up to work wearing something like this instead of whatever Froot- Loopy horror is currently in vogue. That’s never going to happen, but I can do my own part by wearing it whenever the occasion calls for it – which is pretty much anytime.

Image credits: Aperçu bottle from Photo of actress Greta Garbo in 1924 from commons/

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Grumpy Monday: Ex Vinis Fragrances and a Prize Draw

From the least to the most unappealing:

Ribes Rubrum - S-Perfume 100% Love on steroids (the most interesting of the six scents- an appealing blend of drunken cranberries and fairly dirty musk)

Anthemis Nobilis - an overpriced budget version of Yatagan

Armeniaca Vulgaris - vanilla, in big doses probably indeed Vulgaris

Piper Officinarum - a fruity-woody scent spoiled by the presence of overly fresh notes, i.e. bergamot and lime, the duo that turned many a good composition into generic "drugstore" concoctions

Rubus Idaeus - Masculinus Genericus

Ananas Sativa - clean-smelling room freshener covering bathroom aromas

Moral of the story: gimmicks in perfume almost never work.

If you would like to try the Ex Vinis fragrances for yourself, please say so in your comment. One randomly chosen commenter will receive a set of six samples.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

CJScents - a new etailer

A long-time fellow makeupalley member, Candice (cjj88) turned her love for fragrances into a creative outlet. Her site, CJScents, offers over a dozen fragrances. Candice strives "for simple scents with good lasting power", the kinds of blends that she can't find elsewhere. Visit her at

Friday, September 12, 2008

Perfume Review: Amouage Lyric Woman

"The search for a perfection beyond reality; the rare and exquisite nature of the lyric-spinto voice that inspires both awe and envy; the sacrifice made in the quest for immortality..." No, you are not reading a synopsis of a Lloyd Webber musical. This is how Amouage introduce their new "deliciously dramatic" fragrance, Lyric Woman. To be fair, the perfume is in fact dramatic. And delicious, in that tantalizingly odd way in which roses can be delicious when they are blended with spices and vanilla.

According to Amouage, "Lyric is a floral fragrance, but one that introduces dark intensity" to the genre. Simply put, it is a floral-oriental scent. Or rather oriental-floral, because the spices, the resins and the woods rule the composition. Do not expect a pure, naturalistic rose scent. When the (lyric-spinto?) voice of the rose IS heard in the passionate and perfectly harmonious chorus of other notes, it does sound wonderfully realistic. Those are the glimpses of roses in their natural habitat, in a luxurious garden, with dew glistening alluringly on their crimson petals (hey, I can do over-the-top marketing copy with the best of them!)...but most of the time, Lyric is a masterfully-woven tapestry, or perhaps more appropriately in this case - a carpet. At times you can recognize the flowers in the abstract ornaments but mostly they blend into the ornate, magnificently intricate design.

It may or may not be apparent from this review, but I am in love with Lyric. I don't like naturalistic rose scents and, as those close to me would unhappily confirm, I love drama. I also appreciate complex compositions. Lyric has a multitude of facets: there is a fresh, slightly sharp floral part fronted by jasmine and geranium, the mouthwatering spicy side of cardamom, cinnamon and ginger, the sweet, edible fluffiness of vanilla, tonka bean and orris, the dark sensuality of wood and frankincense...And this host of voices is tied together with the velvety ribbon of rose, and what could have been cacophony becomes breathtaking harmony.

Lyric Woman was created by Daniel Maurel. I would be curious to find out what other perfumes were done by Maurel and from now on will be eagerly awaiting his new scents. Lyric collection also includes a masculine scent, Lyric Man, by Daniel Visentin: a fresher, spicier and equally beautiful blend, which continues the Phantom of the Opera theme by recounting "the myth of a beautiful young woman and a powerful, mysterious man who seeks to immortalise the beauty of her voice." But more on that at a later date...

Lyric Woman and Man are available at, for €185-€220 and €165-€205 respectively.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Opus Oils Jitterbug Perfume

By Tom

Okay, I have to admit, I always told myself that I didn't like perfume oils. I think this prejudice comes from bad memories of growing up in the 70's in what can only be called a capital of hippie earthy-crunchiness: yes, there were the preps all over the place but there were also a big arty contingent that lived in incense-burning, patchouli-oiled, tofu-chomping, loft-dwelling splendor, making art out of old bathtubs and opening food co-ops. Lately however, thanks to Strange Invisible Perfumes, Ayala Sender (I will be reviewing your generous package soon, I promise) and Opus Oils, I think I am going to have to change my tune...

The lovely and talented Wendy was the impetus for my visit here, since she literally ran across the Hollywood Blvd. shop in her peripatetic travels. She set up a date for a bunch of us to drop in. Lazy putz that I am I decided to stop on my way home from work rather than stick around downtown until 8 or go home and come back. I'm just that way.

In any case, I stopped in at about 6-ish and was greeted by a strapping, handsome man who invited me in and introduced me to Kedra Hart, the strikingly attractive Master Blender behind the scents. She walked me through most of the line, including the Absinthe line (which smell of wisteria with a breath of wormwood, preferring not to go with the obvious anise, and I say "thank you" for that..), Burlesque and Fetish among others. I was happily surprised by the fact that these were wonderful to a scent: balancing bright and dark with depth and an almost ludicrous lushness to them that comes across as intense and yet wonderfully playful.

Then she brought out Jitterbug.

There are a few notes that I am a total sucker for if they're done well and jasmine is one of them. I adore the smell of it; it's one of those scents that I love about and associate with Los Angeles, as I've written about before. Unlike Sarrasins, the opening of Jitterbug seems to be more of the jasmine of the South than that of the Southland: it is more fulsome, with almost a bubblegum sweetness to its opening that's quite captivating but quickly becomes deeper with the addition of ambergris and brighter with orange blossom. I wrote of Serge Noir as reminding me of a sort of Summer's end at the Connecticut shore, in my minds eye this is what some lovely young thing in a fringed dress would smell like in Savannah in the 20's; a good girl enjoying the effect of her newly bobbed hair and Patou gown on the local boys. Blooming youth and innocent sexuality.

Would I wear it? You betcha. I find that the oil isn't a sillage monster (and if it is, please don't burst my bubble) so I can dab it on my wrist and have some olfactory armor against the daily attack of the drabs. Another spreadsheet? A PowerPoint? The car needs to get smogged? Fine. I've sniffed my wrist and I am in Jitterbug heaven...

Jitterbug is available in an array of sizes and products including scent, body butter (yum) and bath salts, all of which are available at the website. The store, if you are in Los Angeles is at 4959 Hollywood Boulevard near Barnsdall Art Park. This might be the perfect scent to wear there...

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Perfume Review: Lancome Magnifique

I am very fond of Lancôme. When I was little, my mom's Climat and Magie Noire seemed to me incredibly sophisticated, belonging to a different, almost fairy-tale-like world. Years later, jaded by this hobby and work of mine, whenever I see the stylized rose sign on a Lancôme bottle, my heart still skips a beat in anticipation of Magic. I would not call Magnifique, Lancôme's new release fronted by Anne Hathaway, magical, but much like the spokesperson, it is charming. And kudos to Lancôme for blending their beloved rose with spices and woods and not, say, fruits, and giving a West-meets-East feel to the composition.

Saffron gives the roses in the top notes of Magnifique a piquantly candied quality...think spicy rose jam, Turkish Delight and all things sweet in an exotic sort of way. The scent becomes more intensely honeyed as it progresses. The woody accord, which includes the allegedly aphrodisiacal nagarmota, does not make the sugared roses to appear less sweet but counteracts their gourmand floralcy by infusing the scent with rich, velvety darkness. I can't help but wish for a generous dose of oud in Magnifique. Saffron and roses are begging for it. Oud would have made the exotic vision behind the composition more complete, but the note, with its medicinal undertone, might be just a little too daring for what is after all a mass release.

If I encountered Magnifique twenty or so years ago, when all I knew of the perfume world was my mother's dresser with its small but elegant collection, when I haven't known about Arabian Oud or Montale, when rose notes seemed breathtakinng and not ubiquitous and when saffron would have smelled to my unsophisticated nose thrillingly odd...if I encountered Magnifique then, I would have been blown away. I still think that it is pretty, harmonious, grown up and elegant, and that is a no small achievement.

Magnifique is available at Lancôme counters and at, $65.00-$85.00.

Image source, Lancôme.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Twosome for Autumn: Short Reviews of Bvlgari’s Jasmin Noir and Estee Lauder’s Sensuous

By Marla

It’s hard to imagine lonely strolls through autumnal forests in the 100-degree plus humidity of Florida, whilst fanning myself furiously under the coconut palms. But autumn is only a few months away and a glorious time it is. So I was very pleased to find not one, but two new autumnal perfumes, thanks to the charming Wendy at my local Nordie’s, who first had to listen to my 100 winges about ubiquitous fruity florals. One of these newbies may even find a space on my overcrowded perfume shelf next to Feminite du Bois and Theorema. They are Bvlgari’s Jasmin Noir and Estee Lauder’s Sensuous.

I must disclose I do not “get” Estee Lauder. After reading Luca Turin’s book, I tried, I really did. But I couldn’t find one that seemed to suit me. Sensuous is a different story and, along with Bronze Goddess (also scrumptious), they seem like outliers in the EL line. Sensuous has many notes but the ones I picked out immediately are honey, mandarin, black pepper, woods, and amber. Though lily, magnolia, and jasmine are listed, they are barely present. There’s also some spice in the mix, something like a tiny smidge of cinnamon, though it’s not listed. It’s not at all gourmand but it’s pure comfort. Sillage is minimal but the lasting power is impressive. I found the overall impression more cuddly than sensuous, but then, in these stressful times, cuddly is often very sensuous, so I suppose the name fits.

Bvlgari’s Jasmin Noir is very similar in the emphasis on warm woods and very soft florals. The notes are green sap (couldn’t smell it), gardenia and sambac jasmine (caught a whiff in the head notes), almond (strong), woods, tonka (also strong) and licorice (subtle). Another skin scent like Sensuous, this one has good longevity also, but the pepper/cinnamon is absent; and though not sweet, I’d say it borders on the gourmand. It's one of those "I can't stop sniffing my arm!" scents.

So in conclusion, I’m pleased to report that there is hope for 2008 after all. Sensuous has recently appeared everywhere, and Jasmin Noir is slowly arriving at the big department stores. They’re both worth a test stroll.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Perfume Review: Chanel Beige

Beige is the new addition to Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection of fragrances. Inspired by Chanel's love for the color ("I take refuge in beige because it's natural," said Mademoiselle), the fragrance is meant to evoke all shades of the elusive hue: from honey to whitish... I have heard several complaints about the name being boring, and by the admission of the Chanel people themselves: "beige may seem quite ordinary." Personally, I am a big fan of the color; stepping into my wardrobe is akin to falling into a sandpit...Like Chanel, I think that "behind this apparent simplicity, it [beige] hides a discreet sensuality."

It seems to me that the composition focuses on this sensuality rather than the everyday versatility of the color. The white floral blend of Beige is a silk evening gown, not a practical jersey jacket. Jacques Polge interprets the slinky aspect of beige by using luscious floral notes of freesia and frangipani enriched by a touch of honey. The combination could have been too heady were it not balanced by a sharper note of hawthorn. The silky intensity of Beige, reminiscent of Gardenia, is roughed up by this slightly bitter, angular note, and the smooth-and-jagged effect is very attractive, an olfactory equivalent of raw silk. I particularly love the bitter quality of flowers, the quality that reminds me a little of Hermes's majestic 24, Faubourg.

Beige is as elegant and ladylike as it gets (note the emphasis on the discreteness of its sensuality). It is a cold, somewhat arrogant beauty, a "better than thou" scent. It smells like a Proper Perfume in that it is abstract, complex, and, regardless of whether it is full of natural ingredients or totally synthetic, it, for a lack of a better term. It is, in short, very Chanel; and I can't help but admire Polge's ability to keep his creations so very much in spirit of the House. I happen to adore this kind of dressed-up, ladylike, slightly bitchy, coldly intense floral fragrances, so I am thrilled to see one more in Chanel's collection. If I were not a fan of this particular style, I might have questioned the necessity of a very classic smelling white floral in the line that already includes Gardenia.

Whether you are attracted by this concept or not, you should smell Beige anyway, if only to refresh a memory of what a Perfume is supposed to be like. In this age of Smells, when perfumes are not supposed to be perfumey anymore, Chanel should be applauded for sticking to their guns and (once in a while) doing what they do best- timeless classics.

Beige will be available in October, at first exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue, 200ml for $190.

The quotes and the image of the bottle are from Chanel press release.

Our reviews of other Les Exclusif fragrances:
31, Rue Cambon, Bel Respiro, Bois des Iles, Chanel No. 18, Chanel No. 22, Coromandel.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Perfume Review: Gucci Pour Homme

"The woman, inhaling the perfumes employed by the man, becomes intoxicated; and the use of scents has often proved a strong help to man, and assisted him in getting possession of a woman." The Perfumed Garden, Sheikh Nefzaoui.

If Gucci Pour Homme came to life, he would have been someone I'd fall head over heels for, because, let's see...of course, he would be tall, dark and gorgeous...I might not like him right from the start, in fact I might hate him first, the arrogant son of a gun...and the relationship wouldn't be easy at all, as he would be intense, moody and the "my way or no way" kind of guy... but hey, there is nothing like a little bit of hate to prevent passion from settling into the too-comfortable ever-after. Having said that, although I imagine that Gucci Pour Homme Personified would have been irresistibly attractive but difficult, someone I'd want to hate but wouldn't be able not to relationship with the perfume is nothing but uncomplicated love. And although I imagine it coming to life as a man and although it smells Fantastic on a male, Gucci Pour Homme is a scent I enjoy wearing and would recommend to any woman who loves her fragrances dark, intense and smoky.

It starts with an accord that is lighter in feel that the rest of the fragrance, but already fairly dark: a sweetly-piquant mix of spices, with the tingly deliciousness of ginger being especially apparent to my nose. The light is being continuously dimmed...the orris, which keeps the potentially sharp angles of this spicy-incensey composition soft, is a twilight note, compelling, elusive and full of whispered promises..the amber note is darker still, a rich note with an earthy, leathery undertone that is tres sexy...and when the heavy curtain of incense, the star note in the blend, falls, it cuts off the light completely, and nowhere would I'd rather be than in this beautiful darkness. I adore the incense in Gucci Pour Homme. The usually ascetic note is made sensual here by orris and amber, and the hints of sweet spice, which linger long into the drydown, add a vaguely gourmand undertone to the perfume...I can think of very few masculine scents that are this alluring (and, paradoxically, given the unquestionable, darkly-seductive masculinity, this wearable for a woman).

Gucci Pour Homme is available at Sephora, $65.00 for 3.4oz.

Coming next week: review of Chanel Beige.

(To those who have been wondering, the image is by the bad boy of photography, Terry Richardson, from Vogue Nippon, the editorial entitled The Life Style of the Rich and Famous. The models are Julia Stegner and Evandro Soldai.)

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

New from Parfumerie Generale: Felanilla and Drama Nuui

In October, Parfumerie Generale will launch two new creations: PG21 FELANILLA and PG23 DRAMA NUUÏ.

FELANILLA is describes as "an oriental scent softly spiced based on Saffron, Absolute of Tahitian Vanilla, Absolute of Italian Iris, Absolute of Hay, Banana Wood and Amber."

DRAMA NUUÏ is "a contemporary "Bitter Jasminade" based on Absinthe, Woods and Spices..."

PG21 & PG23 will arrive at PG's partners and retailers on October 21/23, and at the end of September they will be available at PG online boutique.

Meanwhile, the following are reviews of some of our favorite Parfumerie Generale fragrances so far:

L'Ombre Fauve


Bois de Copaiba


Tubereuse Couture

Musc Maori

Perfume Review: Hermès Eau d'Orange Verte

By Tom

I must write that the holiday weekend kind of crept up upon me, leaving me high and dry in a couple of ways. I lazily left that Saturday to hanging out, going to SIP to pick up my bottle of Musc Botanique (which was not available at the time that I visited). This visit went from "pop in for two minutes" to a long chat about everything from ice cream to whether LA has seasons. Suddenly it was 5pm, and I still had to get to Pasadena to feed my friends cats since she was away for the weekend. I've put more miles on my car this weekend than I think I have in the three previous weeks. But hey, gas dropped to under $4 and it's good to log some freeway miles once in a while, right?

Of course having wasted so much time this weekend there were a couple things that slipped my mind. Like getting the car smogged. I don't know how the car inspections are where you live, but in California you must get your car smog tested every two years. It actually seems to be the only thing that needs to be tested; I remember in Massachusetts they inspected the headlights, brakes and other mechanical systems. In CA, it's smog. Fine, but I forgot about it and it's due Tuesday. Being a government sponsored thing, they basically have bankers hours. Grrr.

The other thing I missed is that some stores have the gall to close on labor day. Don't they know it's all about me? Grrr.

So, after lazing away the weekend with "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" on DVD I realised that I needed to review something. Looking in my closet I espied the green bottle of Hermes Eau de Cologne and lo and behold I've never written about it. Much.

My bottle is the older version, apparently it was renamed Eau d'Orange Vert in 1997. Like Annick Goutal Eau d'Hadrien, it's a light and refreshing citrus, this time bergamot and orange peel with a touch of mint and barely discernible jasmine. Actually most of the listed notes (including patch, oakmoss and cedar) are barely discernible; this is as finely blended as a good whiskey. It's as refined as it is refreshing and as coolly chic as a seersucker suit. However, unlike that suit, I will be wearing this long after Labor Day. So should you.

Eau d'Orange Verte is available at various etailers at some great prices, I've seen the gigantic 13 oz splash bottle for as little as $60, which should allay the fears that the cologne is fairly fleeting. Note: I find the top notes are, the rest is just very close to the skin.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Perfume Review: Cartier Roadster

This September, Cartier is launching a new men's fragrance, Roadster, inspired by one of the brand's iconic watches. Created by Mathilde Laurent (also the nose behind Guerlain's sublime Guet-Apens), the scent is meant for "a hedonist caught up in the challenges of style with a refined and deliberate appreciation of the unexpected", for "an impeccable aristocrat that stakes his all on a throw of the dice for the mere thrill of it, intoxicated with the exhilaration of the play yet firmly under control." In other words, for exactly my type of a guy.

Hedonists are hard if not impossible to please, so would Roadster live up to their high standards of quality and originality? I think it would. The perfume is elegant without trying too hard, understated but full of character. I have never expected to like a masculine composition built on an "icy mint" accord, but as you can see, I am smitten. There seems to be a trend right now, for fragrances that I will call watery-woody or watery-woody-floral. Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, Magnolia Romana and Fleur de Liane are representative of that trend, and now Roadster joins them, featuring more of woods and none of flowers (unless we count lavender) and including that "watery" accord, which I can't describe other than by saying obscurely that it is "wet" but not "aquatic". And I love that accord.

Cartier categorizes Roadster as "a mineral fougère", and I suppose "mineral" is a good adjective to use for this or the three fragrances that I mentioned. There is something at once urbane and natural about it. The mint note, kept from being too fresh by vanilla, labdanum and patchouli, is delectable in a very abstract manner. The duo of bergamot and lavender, the bane of masculine scents, is subdued. Together with pepper, the two notes contribute to the cool feel of the scent but do not overtake the blend. The woody base has that indescribably, subtly salty powderiness which I also encounter in Eau des Merveilles and Navegar and a bit of earthy smokiness from patchouli. Roadster is, overall, as classic as it is über contemporary, and I think that it is superb. When I wear it, it makes me feel aloof and tranquil. On male skin it smells smokier, woodier and more arrogant...just the way I like 'em.

The fragrance will debut in Cartier boutiques and Bloomingdale's on September 1st, and will retail for $105.00(3.3 fl oz).

Image source, Cartier.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Unnatural acts with natural ingredients: experiments in perfumery

By Linda

As some of you have heard, like Marla, I have launched myself into DIY perfumery. I am neither as experienced, nor as well educated as Marla with respect to ingredients, and am relying entirely on natural fragrant components (essential oils and absolutes) rather than sallying forth into the world of synthetics. This limitation to natural perfume ingredients is not yet an ethical commitment if ever it will be: so far, it is just my way of dipping a toe into the pool.

The prettiest single materials are also the hardest to work with, like prima donnas of the fragrance universe. Jasmine grandiflorum, high-altitude Grasse lavender, Canadian fir balsam, tarragon, and hay absolute are so magnificent that it seems almost a shame to mingle them with lesser glories, and those experiments that do not pay off are really heartbreaking when they do not live up to the heightened expectations that their raw ingredients promise.

Most of my experiments are little more than accords of three to five elements, which will be cannibalized and altered when I build more complex fragrances. Nine-tenths of my experiments involve me spoiling the potential of two or more exquisite aromas by harnessing them to one another in unappealing ways. The other tenth are the lucky, simple combinations that really work together, such as carrot-and-vanilla (my signature if there is one, so far), or immortelle-and-fenugreek.

However, I am fiddling with a few more sophisticated combinations that I think will be quite wearable when they are finished.

Floral absolutes in particular are shockingly easy to be inspired by. A simple dilution of a floral absolute would be sufficient perfume for any occasion where a soliflore would do: provided that you like the flower from which they are produced, they are magnificently lovely. Accordingly, I have been playing largely with absolutes of jasmine and orange blossoms.

I have one perfume that is nearly finished: I made alterations to its balance last night and am waiting for it to mature before I adjudge how finished it really is. I am a big fan of facetious working titles, and its working title is “all this used to be orange fields”– which is what I say when I'm feeling or pretending to be querulous about changes in the world, since I have returned to the region of coastal California where I was raised and found it very much altered.

As one might predict from the playful working title, it's a fragrance based on the magnificent contrast between birch tar (breathtakingly smoky, slightly tarry), juicy tangerine (which is a stunningly pretty citrus, even on my citrus-hating skin), and orange blossoms (sweet, creamy, divinely fragrant, with a sappy bitter green undertone). My goal has been to connect, unify, and magnify these disparate aromas, but it was a hollow contrast until my partner suggested I balance it with an austere touch of spice. Even before maturation, it was breathing with new life last night, and wears beautifully on the skin, drying down into cuddly, slightly incense-like warmth only barely kissed by smoke, and clasped by the ghostly trace of soft orange blossoms.

I am pleased, but it almost certainly needs a little more work. Overall, if I were to change it, I might give it a woodier and drier aspect to offset its sweet creaminess. Yet there is something tender about that very sweetness, and I am loath to lose that mood.

Decisions, decisions.

The other promising scent I am working on is the "bold black vertical slash" built to emphasize the sizzle of black pepper that I have described elsewhere. It was inspired by my stylish friend Jes and her love for things antiquarian and unconventional. (Also, she asked if perfume could be based on black pepper – inspiration doesn’t get more direct than that!) I cannot wait to bring this scent to its full potential, as the preliminary rough blend is pleasingly dry and vivid. Rooty vetiver is the center of this composition; I am doing my best to emphasize its wild and earthy depths, rather than to favoring its more usual aspect, the ethereal, almost citrus-zest freshness that I love so much in Sel de Vetiver. We shall see. For now, it’s very early to tell how this one will develop.

Perfumery is an easy hobby to love, and one that intrigues (and sometimes horrifies) one’s friends. I am having the time of my life. Like all my favorite hobbies, it is best taken in intense, relatively brief doses, punctuated by frenzies of washing-up, and separated by hours of obsessive brooding and daydreaming. Scents are my passion, as I know they are yours, and I hope to create something really beautiful. Wish me luck!

Image source,

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