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Monday, August 31, 2009

Tocade by Rochas: A cologne in search of a perfume

By Donna

I am a big fan of Rochas and its opulent perfumes; the name of one of them, Byzantine, seems to describe the house’s ornate style perfectly. I greatly admire Byzance, I currently own Absolu and Alchimie, and I am trying to decide if I want to spring for the modern formulations of Madame Rochas and/or Femme, since I know what the vintage versions were like. I mourn the original Lumière, and I have no idea why it “needed” to be reformulated. But there is one I had never tried, since I assumed it was inferior due to its eternal presence in the discount bins. Surprisingly I found on a recent visit that it is carried at my favorite upscale perfume shop, so after all this time I finally got around to trying Tocade.

One could easily be put off by the odd bottle; it looks like it was designed by a James Bond villain in partnership with a fast-food franchise, with its incongruous proportions (the similar packaging of its sister scent Tocadilly nearly requires eye-bleach to get past the psychedelic outward appearance) and tippy zaniness. Never mind about that, just close your eyes and sniff, for this is a really nice scent, a soft vanillic rose and iris that is hazy and romantic. One interesting feature is that the further away from the skin my nose gets, the more vanilla I smell, while if I press close I get rose and green notes; yet all I have to do is move a few inches away and there is the vanilla, refined and very pretty and not gourmand at all. Tocade is not a heavy hitter like most scents in the Rochas repertoire, but it stands up well against them, at least the modern ones. (Not sure what could hope to compete with vintage Femme!)

What puzzles me about this 1994 fragrance created by the great Maurice Roucel, now discontinued, is why it’s only available in an Eau de Toilette; it is crying out for a more concentrated formula, at least an Eau de Parfum if not a Parfum. The floral part of it is just shy of being too thin, especially since the “rose” note is actually geranium, and I think it would be luscious and gloriously rounded if it had the chance. As it is, my nose keeps “reaching” for more and finding it just out of range. I have looked high and low, on every discount site and auction listing I could find, and it is only available in the EDT, in the 1.7 oz size or the huge 3.4 oz. bottle, except for one .25 oz bottle of Parfum I located which I suspect was a limited edition or else discontinued long before the EDT was. (It was expensive, too!) It’s very good the way it is, and highly wearable for any situation, but I am at a loss to figure out why Rochas, of all houses, did not make a more intense fragrance when that is where their strength lies. I wonder if it would have succeeded in the marketplace with the added punch of an EDP to offer instead of being relegated mostly to the discounters. It’s everywhere, and can easily be had for under $25 and frequently much less, even for the big bottle. This is really a “what might have been” scent for me. I like it very much and I might even buy it, considering the price, but it could have been true love if it had a much-deserved upgrade.

Image credit: Tocade bottle and box from

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Friday, August 28, 2009

L'Artisan Parfumeur Havana Vanille: Perfume Review

If I were to come up with a two-word description for Havana Vanille à la Perfumes: The Guide, I would have opted for strange vanilla or raw vanilla or bearded vanilla or thinking person's vanilla (OK, that's three words). Which is to say that I think that Havana Vanille is odd, it smells raw/rooty/earthy, is not girly by any stretch of imagination and, like most Duchaufour's creations, is cerebral.

I am not sure to which combination of ingredients to attribute the remarkably raw quality of the composition. My guess is that it is immortelle and narcissus which lend Havana Vanille the haunting aroma of something freshly dug out of clean, moist soil...of something "dirty" in a vegetable-mineral, not animalic sense. This raw component is more predominant, on my skin, then the title note of vanilla. The latter is, of course, present at all times, but isn't quite like its usual self. It's not sweet and it's not even abstractly gourmand. The very slightly tarry leather, the smoky woods, the boozy rum note lead to a sort of androgen excess in the vanilla accord. I would not label the scent as "masculine", but neither is it in any way "feminine". Let's call it androgynous.

This might easily be one of the most interesting recent releases and certainly the most unusual vanilla fragrance that I have ever encountered. If I had to compare it to another perfume, I'd say that it vaguely reminds me of Duchaufour's raw masterpiece from last year, Baume du Doge...with a lot of smoky, dirty and drunken vanilla added to the mix.

Havana Vanille is available wherever L'Artisan is sold, $115.00-$155.00; the fragrance has been renamed and is now called Vanille Absolument.

Image credit, Ellen Von Unwerth

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Winner of Gettin' Figgy With It Sample Draw lutefisk. Please email us your address using the "contact me" link on the right. Thank you, everybody, for playing!

Indulgence by JoAnne Bassett Natural Perfumes

By Tom

Blunda, the Los Angeles store specializing in natural and botanical perfumes hosted JoAnne Bassett this Saturday and I jumped at the chance to meet her. She is of course the perfumer of her own house, combining a love of botanicals and aromatics with a firm knowledge of the basics of fine French perfumery. I'd always been impressed with her French, Divine, and Royal collections; they all manage the feat of being almost impossibly suave using the structure of classic perfumery, but with ingredients that seem garden-fresh.

Her new scent Indulgence, was there. I copied the notes from her onto my iPhone: (an aside- you can email your notes to yourself to cut and paste later. Whee!)
Top notes: lime lavender Clementine blood Orange
Middle: cabbage rose tuberose neroli ylang-ylang nutmeg cardamom palarosa
Base: frankincense vanilla Mysore sandalwood
On me the citrus is silky-smooth and underscored by the lavender, the flowers subtle and the creamy vanilla drydown accented by the woods and frankincense, The other notes don’t seem to completely disappear on me, they only add depth. I wrote about this effect in an earlier review of Miss Dior, comparing it to a Fugue. Indulgence is a symphony.

JoAnne also does private fragrance consultation, and I one day hope to indulge myself in that luxury..

Available at Her Website

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An Island in the Stream: The Enduring Mystique of Shalimar

By Donna

So here’s what happened - I went into my local Nordstrom store to check out the summer Dior scents. Escale à Portofino was in; the new Escale à Pondichery I had hoped to find had yet to arrive. I sniffed the Portofino, I was under whelmed, and I was even more disheartened when the Dior SA said they did not even have the “regular” Miss Dior anymore. The only ones on the shelf were Miss Dior Cherie and the very latest one, Miss Dior Cherie “L’Eau”, an even more diluted shadow of the original. I did not even know it existed until then, and I really don’t care, if the truth were known. (They no longer carry Diorissimo either, only Saks has it.) I wandered over to the wall o’ scents to see if there was anything new or noteworthy I should try. Recalling the recent lamentations over the reformulation of Annick Goutal’s iconic Eau d’ Hadrien, I sprayed some of that on my wrist, and to my horror it was even worse than I had feared. I turned to find Cartier’s Roadster; its cold and metallic facelessness was almost frightening. What was wrong, that everything smelled off somehow, jarring and dissonant? I reached for the familiar comfort of Vera Wang, but found none in its bland, anonymous sweetness. The five new Dolce & Gabbana summer fragrances were in, but having read about how disappointing they were I was just not in the mood to go there. I needed a palate cleanser in a big way. The Hermès Jardin series scents were too transparent to clear my nose of the wreckage of the Eau d’ Hadrien impostor, as were the Pradas, what to do? In desperation I eyed the Guerlain lineup; looking for Mitsouko, but the tester bottle was gone. So I did the last thing I would have expected when I walked into the store – I grabbed the Shalimar tester and sprayed a healthy dose onto my arm.

What happened next will go down in my personal history as a pivotal moment. I had never been able to warm up to the Queen Of All Perfumes for some reason, finding it too sweet and heavy for my taste and reminiscent of the bejeweled and semi-fossilized ladies at the cosmetics counters of a long-gone downtown department store. I associated it with too much caked-on makeup, overdone rouge and ropes of fake pearls. I tried it from time to time and as I got older, I was able to appreciate it on the level of understanding that it was masterfully composed of high-quality materials, but not in an emotional sense. It never got to me. But standing in that crowded store surrounded by the fumes of inferior fragrance products, I had an epiphany – I finally “got” it! I pressed my nose to my arm and it was like everything else had gone away, and there was nothing but Shalimar and me, bonded together on an astral plane of escape.

I was so shocked that when I finally pried my face from my arm, I promptly sprayed some more on the other arm, just to be sure. Oh yes. It had finally happened; I loved Shalimar at last. Just to be sure I asked an SA to make me up a sample, and when I got home I put on some more, and then even more at bedtime, and when I woke up, there was no doubt remaining. The scent had spent the night bonding with my skin in an orgy of Guerlinade, and it was good.

I shouldn’t really be surprised that it happened now, since I have been working my way up the perfume food chain since my teen years, going from light girly florals to darker florals (including Guerlain’s Nahéma) to edgy chypres to sumptuous Orientals like my beloved Bal à Versailles, which would almost certainly not even exist but for Shalimar being there first; they have much in common, except the ratio of “skank” to vanilla is reversed, with Shalimar having rather less of the former. Something deep down inside the Shalimar seems almost smoky, and combined with the lushness of the rose and the sweetness of vanilla, amber and tonka bean, it somehow conjures up an image of burnished gold flickering in firelight – a magic lantern, perhaps? The deeply resonant animalic notes are barely kept in check by the beautiful iris note, but somehow the line is held – the one that Bal à Versailles gleefully crosses – and it never becomes dirty or vulgar, even as rich and redolent as it is. And this is just the Eau de Toilette! I never thought I would say this, but I believe that a bottle of Shalimar Eau de Parfum, or even Parfum, is in my future. (I don’t know how much any reformulation may have affected Shalimar, but it smells the same to me as it always has, it’s just my attitude that shifted.)

This experience really highlighted for me (again) how much of an abyss there is between the classic ideal of fine perfumes and what modern fragrance marketing has become. I tried one fragrance that day that was distinctive for literally fifteen seconds before it smelled like everything else; Shalimar has been outstanding in its class since 1925. Wave after wave of “new” scents are released into the consumer stream each year; how many are even worth spending your olfactory cells on in the pursuit of trying to keep up with all the latest trends? Meanwhile, standing firm against the torrent are the great ones, Shalimar and her sisters and brothers, the artistic icons of perfumery. Decades pass and still they endure, the longtime signature fragrances of Guerlain, Caron, Jean Patou, Rochas, Dior and the other great houses, quietly and steadily selling bottle after bottle to those who know they will never be disappointed by the contents. Maybe that’s why I finally understood it, surrounded by a river of mediocrity and finding one immovable monument to rescue me.

Image credit: A pavilion in the real Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in1641 A.D. From by GNU Free Documentation license, photo by Ali Imran.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Gettin' Figgy With It

I have always struggled with fig perfumes. Or rather, I have struggled with such paragons of green figgy-ness as Premier Figuier and Philosykos. To few notes have I such a strong, immediate negative reaction than to the powdery-green-coconutty fig of these two cult favorites. The only way for me to enjoy the scent of figs has so far been in perfumes which focus on the aroma of fruits, rather than on their leaves and the trees on which they grow. And there aren't many of those, so I've been delighted to discover Lisa Hoffman's Tuscan Fig. When I first smelled it, I thought, if figs were flowers, that's how they would smell, like very vanillic gardenias...then I googled and found out that "the fig is commonly thought of as fruit, but it is properly the flower of the fig tree". to Lisa Hoffman to, obviously, being aware of that fact and running away with it by giving her version of a tree a very appealing tropical, floral-gourmand twist. From start to finish, vanilla and gardenia are the main notes in the simple and yet very luxurious composition, with fig hiding under the creamy lushness of the two notes...and that is fine with me. Hoffman's scents come in four "variations": morning, daytime, evening and bedtime. The Tuscan Fig I tried was "daytime", "a richer, fuller-bodied version of the scent", and I would be curious to try "light and refreshing", "more sensual and provocative" and "soft, powdery" versions as well. (, $95.00 for a set of four oil roll-ons)

Sorting through the chaos of my sample drawer I have also discovered the Baudelairian gorgeousness that is Slatkin's Black Fig & Absinthe. Forgive me, perfume gods, for I have sinned by ignoring this dark, brooding beauty. The sweet verdancy of fig compliments so well the boozy greenness of absinthe. There is a certain almost tarry smokiness in the blend that contrasts beautifully with the cooling, mentholated aspect of absinthe. I "see" this perfume as the darkest of greens, a shimmering, decadently rich color. It's Figue de Mal. My punishment for not having tried Fig & Absinthe for so long? Not being able to find it. It appears to have been discontinued.

My third little fig is Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Coco Figue. This might be the only green fig that I have ever been able to enjoy. Perhaps, because the verdancy is rendered so delicately here... this is the greenness of young leaves and unripe fruits, a subtle, fresh, grassy accord that is delightful in summer. I also like the light touch with which coconut has been used in the composition, there is just a hint of it, just enough to create a realistic fig scent and to compliment the vanilla in the base. In turn, vanilla, balanced by the green fig note, doesn't appear too sweet. The overall effect is light, translucent and summery. A carefree, joyful scent to survive the heat or to fight off the winter blues. (, $85.00 for 100ml).

What is your favorite fig scent? If you would like to be in a prize draw for a set of samples of these three scents, please say so in your comment. The randomly chosen winner will be announced on Thursday.

Image credit, giusеppe mauriziо trеscоni on flickr.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Weekend Beauty - Nail Polish: Butter London Favorites

Butter London is a company from...Seattle, which specializes in "non-toxic lacquers and nail treatments". Nostalgic for Britain, I fell for the names of polishes in the collection. Having tried a couple of shades, I came back for more. I have no problems with texture or longevity of the lacquers. My only issue with Butter London are cumbursome caps on their bottles. It is very hard to hold the chuncky rectangle of plastic while trying to apply the polish. I must have been not the only one dispelased with the caps, as now the brand is replacing them. Newer bottles have a "double cap", rectangular cover and the actual, smaller, easier-to-hold cap.

As for the shades, here are my favorites, in alphabetical order:

Billy No Mates. Butter call it "pale dove grey", but really it is very light sky-blue-grey-whitish color, fit or a Snow Maiden, quite unique:

Dolly Bird. Absolutely misleadingly presented on the site in a bottle colored bluish pepto-pink, this is in fact that rare thing, a neon CORAL shade. Bright, summery, pure joy of a color:

Fash Pack. Every self-respecting line has to have a 'skanky'-dirty shade; Fash Pack is Butter's. A gray-taupe mushroom of a color. Again, misrepsented by a much grayer swatch on the site.

Muggins. Possibly my favorite in the collection, a slightly "dusty" light lavender-lilac. The swatch on the site is too blue; they really need to do something about the misrepresentation.

Swinger. Another favorite, a muted, slightly green gold that changes with the light and the angle.

Tea with the Queen, a yummy politically correct nude-pink-beige that reminds me of the color of condensed milk.

Thames. In my top 3 of Butters and definitely somewhere in the top 5 of favorite teals. Deep, dark, shimmer, a must have for the fans of the shade.

Are you familiar with this line? Please, share your impressions and favorites.

Available at, $14.00 a piece.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Yves Saint Laurent Parisienne: Perfume Review

I feel pretty,
Oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright!
And I pity
Any girl who isn't me tonight.

I feel charming,
Oh, so charming
It's alarming how charming I feel!
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I'm real.

I feel stunning
And entrancing,
Feel like running and dancing for joy,
For I'm loved
By a pretty wonderful boy!

Yves Saint Laurent's new Parisienne sings this songs, and it twirls, and it smiles, and it winks and it is so full of joy and so pleased with itself and the world that it might simply burst like a fantastic pink bubble and rain down in a myriad rose petals. Ah, so pretty!- I exclaimed the moment I smelled it. So romantic. So unashamedly feminine. So exactly like what I didn't know I really wanted.

The ad... and I can't remember last time I liked an advertising this much... the concept of "the glamour and seductive allure of a Parisian woman" and the list of notes, "with a vinyl accord, said to add a modern twist to the fragrance and evoke the gloss, varnish or metal of a spike heel" (source) present the fragrance as a little more sensual, darker and edgier than it is on my skin. I repeat, I adore the advertising for Parisienne and I don't think that it clashes with the fragrance, but the smell, to me, would be represented even better by a lighter, brighter, girlier visuals like those for Miss Dior Cherie (another campaign that I love).

The perfume had me at bonjour with its sweet-and-tangy accord of cranberry and rose. I have been looking for the mouthwatering sugary sourness in a perfume ever since I encountered it in Quel Amour. The Goutal's creation was a little too acidulated. I found some in Sophia Grojsman's earlier creation, 100% Love, but, although strikingly unique, it was ultimately too sweet. Parisienne strikes a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. The airy tanginess of cranberry is enhanced by peony and vetiver, the sweetness of rose is underscored by blackberry, violet and sandalwood.

The violet is another aspect of Parisienne that I enjoy; in fact, I think that it is the presence of the softly powdery note, vaguely evocative of lipsticks, powders and somehow, to me, of all things "French", that makes the perfume "Parisienne". And when violet is joined by a delicate hint of patchouli, the composition, although never, on me, achieving the vinyl edge, acquires that twilit, dusky, husky quality that is promised by the elegantly-suggestive commercial. In other words, girly as it is, Parisienne has depth. It is a proper perfume, with refined structure and the kind of harmonious complexity that is the testament to the talent of the creators.

One always dreams of finding an unexpected gem among the multitude of new luxe releases, and once in a while the dream comes true. Fans of the aforementioned Quel Amour and 100% Love as well as of such Grojsman classics as- of course!- Paris and Beautiful, along with lovers of the retro-chic, flirty creations like Drole de Rose, Lipstick Rose and Le Pot Aux Roses, please, take note of Parisienne.

I will leave you with the second commercial teaser for Parisienne, courtesy of YSL, click here for the first.

The fragrance is expected to arrive in the US in September.

Image source,, YSL.

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Winner of Fraîche & Easy Sample Draw ahsu. Please email us your address using the "contact me" link on the right. Thank you, everybody, for playing!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

You Can Stand Under My Amber-ella

This has been a rainy summer. At times, it felt that "all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened". And having a large vessel built just in case seemed like not a bad idea.

I've noticed that of all scents, amber ones seem to flourish in humid and wet weather. For whatever reason, they smell better to me and on me when it rains, and, of course, there are few notes more comforting than the balmy, sweet, slightly powdery amber. I started my perfume obsession with amber-mania, over-ambered myself, and haven't touched an amber "soliflore" or a scent with a pronounced amber accord for a couple of years. It was the great deluge of summer 2009 that revived my affection for the note. Having gone through a number of old amber favorites (for example, the sublime Anne Pliska) and having discovered some new amber fragrances, I narrowed my choice of ambers that I would bring with me on the ark to the following three:

Keiko Mecheri's new Crystal d'Ambre. I will say straightaway that I don't think it would satisfy a hardcore amber fanatic, somebody who loves, for instance, the formidable Ambre Precieux by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. Crystal d'Ambre is much tamer, a softer, somewhat more transparent take on the note (I suppose, thus the "crystal" in the name). Alongside the title ingredient, the almost chocolaty benzoin and vanilla are very apparent on my skin, as is the suede-like, very vaguely animalic accord. Everything is delicately rounded and refined; this is an amber that speaks in hushed tones, an elegant, infintely wearable and comforting creation. (, $115.00 for 75ml)

Fiore d'Ambra by Profumum left me underwhelmed in the past. This year, its piquant, honeyed warmth hit the spot. I don't know, if it really contains opium, but I do smell some spice along the lines of cloves, maybe even some cinnamon, and a certain floral piquancy that one finds in carnations. It is simultaneously less proper-perfumey and dressed-up than Crystal d'Ambre and much more sensual. The Mecheri is for rainy evenings out, the Profumum - for seductive nights in. One of my favorite characteristics of Fiori d'Ambra is the tarry, slightly burnt drydown; I find that smoky almost-leatheriness very appealing. (Luckyscent, $240.00 for 100ml)

Speaking of smoke, Neil Morris's Burnt Amber is a Guy Fawkes night in a bottle. Amber here is enveloped in the fumes of smoldering oak and oud, spiced up by pepper and sweetened by an addition of plum. Plum is always a plus, in my book. The plummy tarriness of the scent reminds me slightly of Marquis de Sade by Histoires de Parfums, only less leathery, more ambery. Having said that, Burnt Amber offers a unique take on the accord, and lovers of smoke and male readers should make a note of this perfume. Burnt Amber would definitely go with me on the ark, and I would insist on sharing it with my Noah. (, $70.00 for 30ml)

Are there any scents that you enjoy more in wet and humid weather? What amber favorites would you want to save in the Deluge?

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Serge Lutens Filles en Aiguilles: Perfume Review

By Tom

The newest Serge, available at Barneys. My French isn't nearly up to snuff for the ideography of the name (Girls in heels? Girls in needles? Huh?) I do get the idea of the needles as being pine. Growing up in New England I of course remember the smell of pine forests: the earthy smell of the resinous needles and the coldness of the brace of trees that stayed cool on the hottest summer day. We have pine trees in my neighborhood too, lining Coldwater Canyon Drive. Coming from the valley you can tell when you've entered Beverly Hills from Los Angeles by the canopy of the pines and the drop in temps.

According to Robin at Now Smell This the notes are "pine needles meld(ed) with vetiver, frankincense, fruit and spice notes”. I certainly get some of that but I think I also smell camphor in there: vetiver alone wouldn’t provide the forest-floor chill. There’s a part of pine that smells like creosote or turpentine and there’s just a dash in here too. It dances from hot to cool in a delightfully, well, Serge-y way that I find captivating. Yes, it’s an oriental, yes there are woods and yes there are fruits. But on me the fruits are a barely discernible sweetness and the woods are there to hold up the pine boughs. Oh, and that pine.. I used to love to steal off to the pines on a hot day with a book. I’d pick wild berries at the edge of the woods and could stay for hours in the shade with the slight breeze making what sunshine could manage its way in dappled. The flow of the Mill river a muted trickle, my afternoon reading “A La Recherche de Temps Perdu”, oh okay, Stephen King seemed Byronic because of the location. Uncle Serge never shies away from letting you smell the rot that produces a flower, and there’s a fair bit of skank in this one: cool earth, hot sunshine and fresh, resinous pine needles layering over the dried and going-to-mulch stratum of the previously shed.

In my mind I want Serge Lutens to shock me. But I think that’s sometimes not the essence of the house. Nuit de Cellophane was shocking in that he took on the fruity-floral and drove a stake through the heart of the whole genre: it’s sophisticated yet young, heartbreakingly lovely but flirty. Like the best of Lutens, it doesn’t come to meet you halfway, you have to come to it.

This is Lutens answer to those of us who wanted green. In this case, I am more than happy to come to him.

$140, at Barneys

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Sybarite’s Dilemma: Everything is my Favorite

By Donna

The world of luxury goods has changed immeasurably since I first realized how much I loved perfume and began to learn about the fine fragrance houses of the world and what each had to offer. In the days before the Internet, the only sources of information were fashion magazines and department stores, unless you were aware of industry publications (I certainly was not) or had inside information. My first bottle of Guerlain’s masterpiece Nahema was from a discount mail order cosmetics catalogue; when it as first released it was considered a commercial failure, so it showed up in a mass mailer along with press-on nails and gigantic tubs of hair gel. (Yes, really.) It was only because I had a little extra money that I took a chance and bought it for a song. Later I purchased Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s Tiare from the same source; they were just getting started back then. Today Nahema is almost always sold out at every online discounter I visit, and the Extrait is almost mythical in its elusiveness. How times have changed! I was fortunate to get a solid education in the classics at my local perfume shop, but I never could have foreseen the explosion of both new perfumes and perfume makers as well as the wealth of information in every area of life, including perfume/beauty blogs, the plethora of Internet merchants, and online communities such as Basenotes and Makeup Alley that can make or break a product when it is introduced. I used to get all my fashion and beauty tips from Vogue and Cosmopolitan, but anything that gets printed in a paper magazine is old news by the time it hits the stands. What are we to do with such an overwhelming amount of data?

I realized a long time ago that I could never keep up with all the new things, both for lack of time and a limited budget, and that most of them were forgettable anyway; time and time again I go back to my beloved classics when I feel disappointed in the mediocre fragrances being pushed at today’s consumers from all sides. It seems that the poorer the quality, the more frantic they hype. I don’t recall ever seeing anything more than a restrained and elegant print ad for anything by Caron, yet the media would have us think that a cheap, garishly boxed perfume from Britney Spears is more desirable. Needless to say, I disagree. Of course, it’s not all about the cost – some of my favorite perfumes are very inexpensive, such as Coty’s Sand & Sable, possibly the best mass-market drugstore scent of all time.

But how does one sift through all the noise to find the best of everything? That is my problem, you see; I truly love so many fragrances that I will never live long enough to wear them all, and this applies to other areas of life too. My friends and family laugh at me because I am always saying “Oh, I just love this one, it’s my favorite!” The trouble is, I say it all the time, and about a lot of things. Everything is my favorite at the time I am experiencing it, and I believe in taking the most pleasure as possible from what life has to offer.

I do have my standards of course. What I say the color green is my favorite I don’t mean pea soup or olive drab, I mean the rich shimmer of the Emerald City in the Land of Oz, a silk velvet gown in deepest viridian or the soothing blue-green of a spruce tree. When I say that lobster is my favorite seafood, I don’t mean a sadly overdone surf & turf platter at a chain restaurant, I mean a freshly caught Maine lobster boiled in seawater and eaten with both hands, on the actual Maine seashore. When I proclaim lilies to be my favorite flower, I am not thinking of those poor over-chilled bunches of buds in the supermarket case, I am dreaming of moonlit stems of trumpet lilies swaying in the evening breeze and spreading their heavy perfume all over the garden, calling the moths from miles around to drink their ambrosial nectar. (Then I smell a fragrant rose, and that’s my favorite flower.)

So where do I start with perfume? Do I have a favorite? Yes and no; it depends on the time of year, and what mood I am in, whether I am feeling wistful or hopeful, strong or vulnerable, romantic or playful. Perfume allows me to celebrate my sensual side in a way that may not be obvious to the casual observer. Wearing a little bit of something really sexy like Lelong pour Femme, Bal à Versailles or Nahema is rather like putting on slinky lingerie under a business suit – it’s your little secret unless you choose to share it by getting close to someone. (That sort of under-the- radar approach really appeals to me, as I have never been the type to be obvious in public.) Fragrance can be a journey to faraway places as well as a comforting blanket when solace is required. Each one speaks to the wearer in the language that is required at the time. Let me share a few of the scents that have stood the test of time for me along with some new ones that have risen above the crowds. Every one of them is my “favorite.”

I will always have a special place in my heart for the house of Jean Patou. The classic perfumes of Patou (pre-acquisition by Procter & Gamble, of which I still cannot bear to think too much about) speak to me in a way that few others ever have. Of course I love Joy, that perfect marriage of roses and jasmine, and if asked to name the finest woody floral perfume on Earth, I would not hesitate to name Patou’s 1000. My ardent admiration also applies to the scents of Ma Collection, the reissued set of twelve Patou vintage perfumes that is now gone again. I fell in love with the profoundly woody Normandie, named in honor of the great passenger ship of that name. The tropical hedonism of Colony evokes both sex and mystery, and above all there is Vacances, the finest green floral in all of French perfumery and a symphony of unequaled beauty that celebrates the heartbreakingly fleeting essence of spring.

Caron is my other favorite line (see, I can’t stop!) with its unparalleled line of refined and original perfumes. This house makes my beloved Muguet de Bonheur, the best version of lily-of-the-valley that I know of, its only rival being Christian Dior’s Diorissimo, which I also adore. Caron’s Tubereuse is so good that I nearly wept when I tried it. The floridly romantic Bellodgia is the gold standard for a carnation bouquet scent, and the darkly carnal Narcisse Noir has never been equaled. Speaking of carnal, Yatagan is the most ahem, elemental masculine scent I have ever smelled, leaving no doubt as to what its mission in life is. If nothing else I worship Caron for bringing out Parfum Sacré in modern times, a perfume that captivated me instantly when it was released in 1990 and is considered to be one of the true greats by many experts as well as one of the greatest of all “memory” perfumes. This ingenious blend of rose, black pepper and incense is like a magical love potion on the skin and I hope I never have to be without it. Even more recent is the soft and feminine Lady Caron; so soft is it, in fact that it garnered a special award for being the softest fragrance ever produced by the French perfume industry. I love it peachy silkiness as much as I worship the fierce beauty of Narcisse Noir.

Many years ago I smelled the great Rochas Femme for the first time, and it changed the way I saw perfume forever. So that’s a chypre, I thought; where do I find more of those? Alas the great Femme has been reformulated, although it is still beautiful, but I did find a worthy chypre to fill that niche, the eponymous Scherrer by Jean-Louis Scherrer, a magnificently green and mossy modern chypre (1978) that could easily be from decades earlier when real women wore real perfume. I also loved Shocking by Schiaparelli; though the newer version is not quite the same as the vintage it’s still really good..

I cannot list my favorites without paying tribute to my beloved white flowers. What do I love more, Robert Piguet’s Fracas or Annick Goutal’s Gardenia Passion? Serge Lutens, one of the few modern houses to come close to the greats of the past, has gained my loyalty by creating the chilly perfection of Un Lys, the knockout jasmine perfection of A La Nuit and the narcotic, swampy danger of Datura Noir. I hope I never have to choose just one of them.

Other modern perfumers have garnered my heart as well. As soon as I tried my first Montale Aoud perfume I was hooked like an addict. If I must choose among them I might go with Aoud Queen Rose with its luscious candied heart, but I also love the cool austerity of Greyland, with not an iota of Aoud to its name. Like so many others, I fell hard for Andy Tauer’s fragrances right away, especially L’Air du Desert Marocain. I also jumped on the Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle bandwagon with my first sniff of the splendid Carnal Flower and the ethereal and otherworldly En Passant, which actually brought tears to my eyes with its exquisite lilac breath. Finally, the quality standard continues to be borne high by the house of Amouage, whose marvelous Gold for women and the inimitable Ubar (aka: sex in a bottle) are two of the best modern perfumes of the last several decades. (My definition of modern is roughly defined as “after I was born,” which was actually quite a while ago; Christian Dior was still alive.)

There are so many others too of course, both familiar and long gone. Nettie Rosenstein’s late and much lamented Odalisque smelled exactly like old money, by which I mean wealth, and JAR’s Golconda is the epitome of fiery clove carnation, though its price is beyond my reach so it way as well be out of production. A vintage Russian formula commissioned by the Romanov family (created by a French perfumer, of course) was as close as I could ever hope to find to my Holy Grail and I did have one precious bottle of it long ago before it went away forever. Don’t ask the name, for I never did get an accurate translation of it, but I will never forget its shimmering green beauty. Great fragrances come and go all the time, as evidenced by the great upheaval the industry is going through today with both the global recession and the new IFRA guidelines threatening the classic perfumes we all love so much. I do know of one constant, however. All of us who love perfume will keep falling in love with them over and over, and they will be old and new, classic and avant-garde, expensive and bargain bin. We just can’t help ourselves when we find one we love, and it ‘s destined to become our very favorite – until next time.

So what’s your favorite? Do tell which perfume(s) you simply cannot imagine living without. Maybe I can add them to my list too…

Image credit: The Caron and Patou counter, or “shrine” as I prefer to call it, at The Perfume House in Portland, Oregon, This is my favorite place to buy perfume, for obvious reasons


Monday, August 17, 2009

Fraîche & Easy

Last summer practically forced me to wear citrus scents. Ever since, my taste has been gradually becoming fresher and fresher. I learned to appreciate clean, fresh perfumes for three reasons: a) the noli me tangere quality, the icy, poker-faced feeling that they lend me; b) the cooling effect in the heat; and c) the easy, relaxing comfort that they provide. A good fresh scent to me is an olfactory equivalent of a good chillout tune. A no-brainer, calming sound/smell in the background. And if that seems like I am damning the genre with faint praise, I am not: being able to make to one's life easier without being obvious about it is a great quality in a perfume. Or indeed in a person.

This summer my fresh scent wardrobe (already including L'Eau de L'Hermine, Vanille Galante, Puredistance, Lotus Blossom & Water Lily, Eau de Fleur Magnolia and Cristalle) benefited from the discovery of the following:

Cristalle Eau Verte by Chanel. Sweeter, more floral, in no way a chypre and significantly softer and gentler than actual Cristalle, this is basically...a different scent entirely. Please, don't look in it for a variation on Cristalle that will still be recognisable as the classic favorite. Taken on its own merit, however, it is a lovely, harmonious, incredibly easy-to-wear citrus fragrance with a pretty magnolia note in the heart. The citruses in the top are slightly sugary, with a floral accent added by neroli; the heart enhances the floralcy with jasmine, honeysuckle and the aforementioned magnolia; and there is something dry and green in the base that lasts, discreetly, all day, long after the citrus sparkle is gone, and adds some of that hard, brisk Chanel-y edge to the overall very easy-going composition. Elegant, versatile, much of a little white dress (a summer must-have) as the original Cristalle. Only, while the latter I imagine as a somewhat haughty shift dress, Eau Verte is, perhaps, more of an egalitarian and more flirty baby-doll. (Bergdorf Goodman, $105.00 for 3.4oz.)

Eau Divine by Divine offers the dry, spicy freshness that I love in summer. Anise, ginger and nutmeg add an interesting twist to what could have been a rather ordinary unisex blend. I also love the unexpected presence of violet in the heart. The slightly powdery solidity of the note adds body to the fairly transparent mix and a certain retro feel. It smells "French" and a little old-fashioned to me. It should come in a huge retro splash bottle (oh, wait, it does!) and a tome of Bonjour Tristesse, because the Sagan's France is where Eau Divine takes me. And that is one of my favorite places. (, 50€-145€)

Cote d'Amour by L'Artisan Parfumeur inhabits approximately the same territory, but very now. Celine Ellena's characteristically gauzy and modern composition is the smell of skin heated by the sun, salty from the sea, with a saline, weedy undertone that seems to stick to one after a day on the beach. In that respect, I find this quiet, chilled out scent quite sexy. With its spa-like, herbal ambiance, in reminds me a lot of L'Eau de Jatamansi, however, Côte d'Amour has much less of that "I am natural and choke-full of the ingredients that are good for you" feel that I resented in Jatamansi, although there is still some in the blend of immortelle, rosemary and pine...still, when I am in Côte d'Amour, I am not aware of wearing an ORGANIC blend, but of wearing a perfume. A very non-perfumey one, but still. (Luckyscent, $155.00 for 8.4oz)

Bigarade Concentree by Editions de Parfums. There are perfumes with an animalic undertone. Jean-Claude Ellena's citrus masterpiece smells...human. I can't describe it in any other way. Few citrus scents easily blend with the wearer's skin. They tend to sit on top, sparkling as if in a myriad of tiny unmeltable crystals. Bigarade Concentree melts into the skin. A friend with a very keen nose suspects that there might be some cumin, and I agree. Nothing humanizes a perfume like that warm, dirty spice. Put too much of it, and -voila!- the scent is animalic. Clearly, only a touch (might have) been added to the bitter orange overdose of Bigarade C. It also might be hay, with its strangely fleshy aroma. In any case, a unique take on citrus that I couldn't get enough of this summer. Men should be forced to wear this, as the perfume smells even more human on them. (Barneys, $85.00-$200.00)

Eau des Lagons by Comptoir sud Pacifique is another scent to be shared with a male. It is, perhaps, more unisex that any of the scents described here; read: it is rather masculine. Like Côte d'Amour, it manages to be evocative of the sea without smelling too obviously aquatic. Unlike the quietly languid Côte d'Amour, Eau des Lagons is brisk. I would even call it sharp, but in a good way. It is a wake up scent, a "I need to be alert at work" scent. A friendly sort of slap on a cheek that would prevent one from nodding off in the heat and the boredom. The beginning of the scent is momentarily fruity; immediately, the sweetness disappears, and it becomes all about rind, zest, sap, salt, driftwood and very white musk after that. I see Eau des Lagons as transparent white. Pure, almost sterile white...If you need a politically correct, but not boring office scent, this is the one. (, $85.00 for 3.3oz)

What are your fresh perfume favorites? Do share. If you would like to be in a draw for samples of Eau Divine, Cote d'Amour and Eau des Lagons, please say so in your comment. The winner will be announced on Friday.

Image credits, Numero, Miles Aldrgidge.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weekend Beauty: Makeup Miscellanea - New Discoveries

Discovery 1: Jouer Cosmetics. A new name to me, a line created by "makeup stylist" Christina Zilber. The favorite within the line- Moisturizing Lip Gloss in Wind, a nude beige-pink, a little softer than NARS's Orgasm. Might actually be another "universal" shade that suit "everybody". I apply it over Jouer's Lip Enhancer, "a nourishing and conditioning lip treatment with clinically proven Maxi-Lip™ to naturally increase the fullness of your lips while decreasing fine lines". I don't know if it is actually working, I'll report when the required 29 days have passed, if my cosmetics ADD does not flare up, but usually I wipe things like that off almost involuntary ("what's this grease on my lips?!"), and Jouer's actually does not feel "heavy" at all. I also like Mineral Powder Blush in Rose, a dusty rose shade; the Powder Eyeshadows in Pink Champagne, Amaretto and Chocolate and Cream Eyeshadow in Cashmere. The latter is good for those "I have nothing on, I am just naturally this dewy and sparkly" kinds of makeups. The fun (albeit gimmicky) thing about Jouer packaging is that containers can be attached to one another thus allowing you to create your own "palette" (which, when everything is attached, becomes too bulcky for the handbag, but whatever). Price range: $14.00-$24.00. Available at and Henri Bendel.

Discovery 2: an everything-proof eye-liner, Ink Artliner in Indigo Charm by Lancome. And I mean, everything-and-anything-proof. Hysterical "I don't care how I look right now, I will wipe my eyes with my hands if I want to" kind of sobbing, diving, sweating, you name it, it can withstand it. It stays on even when you WANT to wash it off. Yes, one of those "panda-eyes after repeated washing" products, but hey, it is great for a somewhat softer (because it is blue, not black) take on the Babette look that I seem to be drawn to 60% of the time, and it is indispensable in the heat of summer, on a vacation (to those of us who just have to wear at least some makeup on a beach) and for persons prone to chronic tearfulness. The latter wouldn't be me, of course. Available wherever Lancome is sold, $23.50.

Discovery 3: Isomers Fast Lift Eye Serum. Also indispensable for the dramatic types, who toss and turn or cry or indeed party all night but want to look in the morning fresher and smoother than Bar Rafaeli. It has the more immediate smoothing effect than my previously beloved Chanel Precision. I don't know (yet) how it would prove itself long-term, and I might not be the best subject for such experiments, because I mostly remember to use it only after I've been, um, dramatic. Which, I suppose, is often enough, actually. Sold at, for a very reasonable $25.75.

Discovery 4: a rather perfect tinted moisturizer, Dr. Denese HydroShield Tinted Moisturizer in Medium. I struggle with moisturizers in general, as everything feels too heavy to me, and with tinted ones in particular, because it is impossible to find a suitable shade. This one is quite perfect (it "self-adjusts", you know), feels light but nourishing and is SPF 15. One irrelevant complain though, and I might be in the minority here, but I don't like seeing "Dr." on my skincare or makeup products. It makes me feel that I must be looking excessively unwell, so much so that only a prescription treatment would do. Dear future deneses, hauschkas, perricones and brandts, when seen on comsetics packaging, those abbreviations do not impress me much. Only on golden plaques next to neurosurgeons' names. HydroShield Tinted Moisturizer is available at, $27.50.

What new products did you discover lately? Do share!

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Weekend Beauty - Nail Polish: Mojito and Matte

The lime-mint green was on Chanel Autumn-Winter 2009 runway, and what's good for Chanel is almost always good for me. But- and it is not that I ammuch into seasonality of scents or polishes- I am more drawn to cool greens like that when the weather is hot. So here are the "mojito-green" favorites, with which I have been shocking innocent bystanders this summer:

Orly Mojito Green. Goes on smooth, is thick enough in two coats, and as for the notoriously long drying time of Orly polishes, I can't comment on that anymore. Fast dry top coat is my new best friend.

OPI Hey, Get in Lime! A cool, ethereal-green perfection of a color. Mermaids should wear this. Impeccable application.

OPI Gargantuan Green Grape in matte (pictured on top too). That's right, I jumped on the bandwagon. And I will be happily riding it, with one single complaint: application! It is tricky, toput it mildly, especially in lighter shade like the Grape. It's bad enough with a light-colored cream, now imagine it in matte! I figured out that, to avoid bumps and streaks, the polish needs to be applied thickly and spread super-fast, as it dries almost immediately. But the shade is beautiful, and the nails with matte polish have such an oddly appealing "velvety" look and feel not at all coarse but "powdery-smooth" to the touch.

And, although green it is not, here is another matte favorite of mine, as a bonus- OPI Lincoln Park After Dark.

Black-purple perfection of a shade. Striking and stylish (perhaps better suited for nails slightly shorter, as it gives the longer ones a witchy what, right?). Application of a dark matte polish was much easier, but...and I rarely complain about how long a polish lasts without chipping and peeling off , simply because I change shades so often...LPAD matte was chipping at the tips within hours of application. Still, it is a new vampy favorite.

All available at

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Caron Les Plus Belles Lavandes: Perfume Review

This year, I have been rediscovering lavender, and, of course, summer is the perfect season to enjoy the genre. Czech & Speake's Oxford & Cambridge is my "traditional", straight-up, cold and brisk lavender of choice. I also enjoy the note in the context of two Caron masculines, Le 3ème Homme, where it is is served with moss and amber, and L'Anarchiste, which mixes it into an "icy fruity" cocktail. And of course, my top lavender choice (and the main summer fave) is Lostmarh'c's L'Eau de L'Hermine, where lavender is soft, slightly sugared and brightened by the presence of a honeyed citrus accord.

With Less Plus Belles Lavandes Caron adds to my small collection of lavenders something that has been missing there: an oriental lavender. Blended with quite a bit of vanilla and a fairly generous dose of amber, this is how the scent manifests itself on my skin - as a fresh oriental. At times, that vanilla-amber-musk accord even tricks me into thinking, for a shocked half a second, that I am wearing CK Obsession. No, really! But forgive me for describing the scent in reverse chronology. Less Belles Plus Lavandes starts with as realistically a lavender as it gets, almost out-shining the herbal-fresh Oxford & Cambridge in its chilly verdancy. Then vanilla tiptoes in, softening the blend delicately. Its presence becomes more and more noticeable and finally culminates in that oriental base, which keeps surprising me every time I wear this fragrance.

I have only one negative thing to say about Less Belles Plus Lavandes: I dislike its bottle. This lavender is complex enough and fancy enough to warrant something a little more elegant than the utilitarian and unremarkable container. I wish the scent came in one of Caron's rectangular splash flacons with a tall stopper...So in protest against the bottle, I am not posting its image as an accompaniment to the text. Instead, you are forced to look at yours truly, giddy among the "samovars". Is the new Caron The Most Beautiful Lavender? Well, it is one of the very, very attractive once for sure. But visiting the well-hidden Caron boutique in NYC and spending time with delightful Diane is the most beautiful experience.

You can find it inside Phyto Universe, 715 Lexington Ave (58th St).

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