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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



Blogger popcarts said...

I could not live without vintage Bandit. Every time I wear it I fall in love with it all over again. I am a serious fan of classical French perfumery and tend to love vintage scents from the great old houses, most notably Guerlain, among them Mitsuko, Shalimar, Nahema, L'Heure Bleue, and Apres l'Ondee. All of these are in extrait form, and all are vintage. In addition to my beloved Bandit, I also love other vintage fragrances by Germaine Cellier, namely Jolie Madame, Vent Vert, and the gorgeous Le Fuites des Heures, which I recently discovered in parfum form and has me swooning on a regular basis. From Caron the one I love most is Violette Precieuse in the vintage formulation.

In modern perfumery, Serge Lutens' Iris Silver Mist, Bois de Violette, and Tubereuse Criminelle are the ones I can't live without. I love Carnal Flower from Editions, and Manoumalia, Turtle Vetiver, Let Me Play the Lion and L'Animatiere are all in frequent rotation depending on my mood and the season.

But of all my new loves, Homage Attar is the one that just rocks my world. I want to marry it, I love it so much and without it I might just die of a broken heart.

12:48 AM EDT  
Blogger popcarts said...

Oh, dear, how could I have forgotten Patricia de Nicolai? Please add Odalisque, Fete, and Sacrebleu to that list up there. As I said, classical French perfumery, just can't live without it.

12:53 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Popcarts, I love your list! Of course I love Jolie Madame and the other Celliers - never having tried Les Fruites des Heures it is now on my life list to try, since Germaine Cellier was such a genius!

I think I am almost afraid to try Homage Attar and the new Amouage, Epic. If they are half as good as Gold and Ubar I am in deep trouble....

1:00 AM EDT  
Blogger popcarts said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:24 AM EDT  
Blogger popcarts said...

Thank you! La Fuites is hard to come by, but the bottle of parfum I have fell into my lap for a mere $50 on eBay, so it isn't beyond reach if you can find it. But I know what you mean about the Amouage frags -- HA set me back big-time and I was almost angry with myself for not being able to resist buying it. Still, no regrets! How could one regret roses such as these?

1:31 AM EDT  
Anonymous Parfymerad said...

Thanks for a great post! I have exactly that habit of proclaiming 'it's my favourite' about three different things in a row, whether it's food, scents, books or whatever...rather than seeing it as contradictory, I find that multiple favourites expand my enjoyment of life.

As to favourite perfumes, I have two main categories: favourites I wear and favourites whose existence I rely on even though I don't wear them. In the former: Philosykos, Coromandel, vintage Miss Dior, Joy parfum, Bois des Iles parfum. In the latter, Jicky, L'Heure Bleue, No. 5, Yvresse/Champagne, and many others.

5:11 AM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Ok, so Carter and I are scent twins, because my list includes:
Bois de Violette
Tubéreuse Criminelle
Cuir de Russie
Une Fleur de Cassie

Oh God, and so many others! I'm like you guys, my new "favorites" change constantly, but I'm pretty sure those will stay up there.

5:42 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

Donna, I don't know whether to laugh or cry-
But I love you.

I can't begin to enumerate; probably everything on your list, Denyse's, Parfymerad's...

Classic Guerlains [ ALL of them !], Patous, Carons, Amouages,many TF's, Rosines, SL's....Hermes'.

Ava-Luxe's spectacular Madame X, Mousse de Chine, Royal Parvati, Midnight Violet,Kama, Kretek.

Ay yi.

7:17 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hoorah! Donna, I love your writing, as I've said before.

But reading this post got a bit spooky - I share very many of your favourites: Jean Patou is my favourite line (I've gone berserk recently and acquired Colony, L'Heure Attendue, Normandie, Que Sais-Je... If I HAD to choose a signature scent it would be 1000 (although I don't think of it as woody). I was reviving my interest in "my other favourite" Caron last week on holiday - I love the pepperiness of Parfum Sacre, over the rich, creamy base. Green? Yep; lilies? Yep. And I, too, love the fact that scent is such an understated luxury that I can enjoy in secret if I choose.

Am off to hunt down Sand & Sable now. Thanks! - Emma

8:08 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.s. Oh, yes, popcarts. I would have to have a chypre favourite, too! I can't decide between Cabochard or Jolie Madame.

Oh, and I have a weakness for Le Dix as a favourite aldehydic scent... - Emma

8:15 AM EDT  
Blogger c* said...

I could never live without:
Shalimar (it's heavenly depth, the fascinating way it envelopes the wearer and those around, the creamy vanilla. Oh Shalimar is a shelter to me)
Chanel N5 (perfection. It smells like skin, like nudity and sensuality to me)
Fracas (sophisticated and terribly sensual. A sparkling diamond amongst all the coal in the world)
Un Lys (lilies are my favorite flowers so I could only dream of smelling like them, perfectly warm and a little bit vulgar at times)
Songes (eroticism and narcotic beauty. Nobody could ever resist this perfume)
Gardenia by Chanel (elusive, cold, innocent and very delicate)
L'Air du Temps (this is the scent of angel tears)
Narcisse Noir parfum (every time I wear I think of Anais Nin, my favorite writer)
I could go on and on.

beautiful article!

9:35 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Loved the article!
I am so fickle that I'd be afraid to commit to saying that there are perfumes that I cannot imagine living without. There are a couple that I always must have for sentimental value, even if I don't wear them anymore. Other than that...right now I "can't live without" Acqua Fiorentina or Jasmine & White Moss, but, knowing myself :-), I realize that tomorrow it might be something else :-)

10:07 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

You are so lucky to have access to The Perfume House! I really think it's the ultimate perfume Mecca in this country.
I really can't pick favorites. It would be a tragically long list. But vintage Diors (especially Diorling), Caron extraits, many SLs, Yosh scents are all definitely ones I would race to save in case of a fire. And I'm basically addicted to scents in which base notes are dominant - woods, resins, leather, smoke, etc. all make me swoon. I admire many scents w/ strong top notes, but I never feel like they fit me - it's like wearing a gorgeous outfit, but one in the wrong color or size.

10:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Dixie said...

Thank you for a wonderful post! I adore Shalimar (vintage or parfum), Jicky(parfum), L'Heure Bleu, Feminite du Bois, Mazzolari Patchouli, AT LdDM & Mitsouko. These are all so mood altering for me. I may not wear them all out very often, but I do sniff them.

12:05 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you all have added many fragrances to my "must order a decant" list. I'm a novice, so still have a short "can't live without" list: it's headed by Chanel no 22 extrait. No 5 goes on the list too; I like it for winter and spring and no 22 for summer and fall (Northern California weather). I look forward to adding more to the list. . . Gretchen

12:41 PM EDT  
Anonymous Aparatchick said...

Just yesterday I was playing the "you can only have 10 perfumes" game. My list included:

#1 was Andy Tauer's masterpiece L'air du desert marocain. This was love at first sniff for me, and it works equally well in hot weather or cold.

Parfum d'Empire has two on my list - Ambre Russe and Osmanthus Interdite.

Two also for Parfums de Nicolai: Eau Exotique and Sacrebleu.

Chanel and Hermes were in the list as well - Coromandel and Un Jardin sur le Nil.

Ava Luxe was represented by No. 23 and Bois de Figue (she's not making Bois Exotique any longer or it would have been on the list).

Kenzo Jungle l'elephant let my freak flag fly, so it went on the list.

And finally, Rochas Femme is there. No, my bottle is isn't vintage, but it's still wonderful.

Of course, there are so many others that I'd never be able to give up: Vent Vert, 24 Faubourg, Zagorsk, Ambra del Nepal, a few more PdNs and Ava Luxes. So many favorites!

12:46 PM EDT  
Anonymous Trish said...

Donna, I love your shot of PH's Caron counter. I'll be at the Caron boutique in NY on Thursday...I can't wait. We'll have to do another meet-up when I get back!

12:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Parfymerad, I agree that there are some perfumes whose existence is essential even though I do not personally wear them, including L' Heure Bleue. I would also include Paloma Picasso's Mon Parfum in that class - I admire it, would hate to see a world without it, but it's not something I can really wear. Thank for writing!

3:41 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

D, Tubereuse Criminelle, Bandit and Une Fleur de Cassie are WAY up there on my love list - even though TC is so hard to wear in polite company - not that I keep that kind of company anyway. ;-)

3:44 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Dear Chaya: then my work here is done! :-D

I do adore Ava Luxe Midnight Violet, must try those others too, Madame X sounds intriguing!

3:47 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Emma - thank you, and I welcome my new Scent Twin!!!

3:48 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

C* - thank you so much, I adore your list, and watch for my take on Shalimar coming soon!

Having loved lilies for so long, when I finally smelled Un Lys I could hardly believe how beautiful it was, finally a perfume that really captured their essence.

3:53 PM EDT  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

At the moment, Chanel 22. But I, like you am very fickle (I phrase it a little less decently though ;-)) and have so many favorites, I would have to list at least 25, and revise it monthly or whenever I smell something new.

LDDM is up near the top(though, strangely, I don't find I wear it that often), Ava Luxe Madame X and Rasa, Montale Golden and Red Oud, Micallef Homme, Chanel Sycomore and Coromandel, FM Musc Ravageur, Diorella, Guerlain Vétiver pour Elle and Vol de Nuit, Amouage Jubilation XXV, L'Artisan Dzongkha and Timbuktu, and so many more, including several already mentioned. Oh, how could I forget Lanvin Scandal? Love, love, love.

3:53 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you Marina, your choices of the moment are lovely. I can't wait to find out what you will love next!

3:55 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Elle, I know how lucky I am to live near The Perfume House, it's all I can do to stay away!

I have really come to love base-heavy scents much more than I used to - much of it influenced by fellow perfume lovers and such things as discovering Jolie Madame and the Montales. Even the White Flower Queen can love Aoud and leather!

(And, as Dave Barry would say, don't you think "Jolie Madame & The Montales" would be a great name for a rock band?) :-D

4:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you Dixie! Excellent selections!

4:01 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Gretchen, I am here for all your perfume enabling needs! :-)

4:02 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Aparatchick, some of yours would be on my list as well - assuming I could ever whittle it down to 10! The L'Air du Desert Marocain for sure.

4:05 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Trish, that would be great, I want to hear all about your trip!!

I can't take credit for the photo, it's from their Web site, but it's my favorite part of the shop, my HG of perfume!

4:07 PM EDT  
Blogger klavaza said...

This is a statement on classics vs. fads, knowledge vs. consummerism and personal inclinations vs. mass-marketed fragances. "...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.". Oh! I love that. I am still mourning Jean Patou's (Jean Kerleo I mean) Lacoste's Eau de Sport. A pre P&G Patou's creation and a total classic. Today the industry looks to sell something as new as forgettable ASAP and the same goes for cars, garments, books, movies, bla, bla, bla... Excellent post!

4:21 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. Nahema, L'Heure Bleue are favorites and how could I not mention my beloved Goutal's Heure Exquise!! But, then of course, there is 1000 and Joy. Deborah in Texas

7:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous ScentRed said...

My beloveds are: Donna Karan Gold, Divine by Divine, Narciso for Her, AG Eau de Sud, Iris Nobile and Fracas.

I'm pretty new to all of this, so my list is based on my experience to date. Reading the other evocative tributes listed here has inspired me to explore more classic, vintage fragrances and the Carons. Thanks to all.

9:36 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Leon, thank you so much for commenting, it is good to know that there are so many people who feel the same way! I have a friend who also wants the Lacoste back - Jean Kerleo created such wonderful fragrances.

10:09 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you, Deborah, your favorites are superb!

10:10 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

ScentRed, I really like your list too, and for a "newbie" you are starting out with some excellent perfumes. I hope you will try some of the iconic ones, it really helps to get a feel for them and realize what an abyss exists between such classic scents and say,CK One or the latest JLo release. Some of the new ones are very good, but when you understand true quality, it will be easier to sort out the ones you need not bother with more quickly.

I don't wear masterpieces every day, but it's always something I love, regardless of its price or rarity. It's all about the enjoyment - hence the Sybarite reference in the title. :-D

10:17 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Elizabeth, your list is very impressive, full of heavy hitters! You must have the dressing table of a Queen! :-)

12:37 AM EDT  
Anonymous hotlanta linda said...

Oh, just every house-of-scent you named, but EVERY scent from each house!!Add Balmain and Balenciaga, plus classic Givenchy, please! And a largely whispered `PSSSSTTT!`~ to fellow Annick Goutal gurus - Camille is working on the release of a tribute scent for her dearly missed mom - maybe next year...

1:54 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I enjoy the title so much that I may even dare disclose my tastes: Noir Epices in F.Malle, good quality and original L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain, Amouage Gold and Ubar, Tabac Blond, En Avion, Or et Noir and Tubereuse by Caron, Phylosikos by Dyptique, Fleurissimo, Fleur de The Rose Bulgare by Creed, Noix de Tubereuse by Miller Harris, Ta'if, Ormonde Woman and Tolu by Ormonde Jayne, Bois des Iles by Chanel, Bandit by Cellier, Eau d'Hermes, Brin de Reglisse and Vanille Galante, the original Eau d'Hadrien by AG, and assorted Serge Lutens. Can one choose at all? Attrape-Coeur, Farnesiana, Peau de Peche by Keiko Mecheri...and all those olfactory monuments you posted with such grace

3:02 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Hotlanta linda, I love the way you think! And I can't wait for that new Goutal!

6:02 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

EEM, do I detect another Scent Twin? :-)

Love your list, and thanks for the kind words. You can never have too many "favorites!"

6:04 PM EDT  

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