20 January 2011

Two Things that Make Me Happy (and One That Doesn't)

1) The packaging of Annick Goutal's upcoming Le Mimosa - Yes, the latest Goutal limited edition soliflore comes in the same fluted bottle as any old Goutal, but is anyone else kind of swooning for that dotted ribbon like I am? If I were a woman -- well, let's not go that far. But I encourage all my spring-loving female friends, come March, to buy a bottle of this, have a healthy spritz and repurpose the ribbon around the wrist or wherever it can be worn most saucily. (The fragrance, by the way, sounds nice as well: the eponymous ingredient backed up by iris, peach and sandalwood; green / fruity / powdery / milky seems to be the intended effect.)
2) The availability of Chanel's entire Les Exclusifs collection in a 75 ml size for $110 - I've always been impressed with how reasonably priced Les Exclusifs are ($210 for 200 ml) relative to other limited-release prestige lines like the Hermessence collection ($235 for 125 ml) or Tom Ford's Private Blend ($185 for 50 ml or *$480* for 250 ml in what looks like a brown glass whiskey decanter). But $210 is still a hefty amount to part with, and prior to now, Chanel's 200 ml-or-nothing! sizing has been pretty much the only deterrent to Sycomore and Cuir de Russie hopping right off the Saks counter into my man-tote. In other words, thank goodness Chanel finally caught on.

3) The new "Glee" fragrances to be made available soon by Boots in the UK - I am an unabashed anglophile, I love Boots, and I"m even addicted to "Glee" (addicted in the way one is addicted to crystal meth, I'll warn you), but I couldn't fight a wave of genuine depression at the thought of plucky British 12-year-olds sullying their (and everyone else's) noses with a £10 novelty spray called Divas Free your Glee. Yes, I know perfume needn't be haughty or expensive to be enjoyed, but nevertheless suspect that with these, there's definitely a reason they're only £10...

16 January 2011

The Smell of Cuernavaca, the City of Eternal Spring

Tropical flora + wood + warm stone + saddle leather + sweet spice = the most fragrant wedding I've ever had the pleasure of attending. Felicitaciones por su boda, Elizabeth and Josh!

12 January 2011

The Nightmare of Anosmia

Pavia Rosati lost her sense of smell when she suffered a head trauma four years ago. Profiled briefly for a New York Times series about New Yorkers who have lost a sense, Rosati claims to be relieved that she no longer smells garbage lining the street, but also talks about getting a dulled impression of anything she eats (she can still taste food, but without her nose, misses out on the fuller flavor created by spices, herbs or other aromatics). She also misses her Jardin sur le Nil.

I think New York would be an awfully depressing place to be anosmic, and not just because of the food. As ‘bad’ as many city smells are considered, I think the olfactory landscape at street level is a great democratizer – a visceral reminder of how little space so many of us share, and that billionaires smell the same dog shit as panhandlers.

10 January 2011

Winter Wardrobe, Part 3: The Gift Certificate

(In which I solicit the sage advice of my dear readers)

Update: The winner, by one vote, is Cozé. Thanks to everyone who voted!

You read it right. My big holiday gift this year was a generous gift certificate to Lucky Scent, run by the good people behind L.A.’s brick-and-mortar Scent Bar, where I once spent almost three hours on a stool sniffing whatever the patient ‘bartender’ could think to hand me before I made off with a bottle of Sel de Vetiver (it was December, but Celine Ellena’s beach-skin and salted caramel miracle made enough sense on the West Coast to warrant the splurge).

But now I need your help, reader. As I mentioned in my last post, I hate making decisions, so I’ve turned to you (and to Polldaddy) to help me decide how I should spend my Lucky Scent dollars. I’ve already winnowed down my initial list of around two dozen candidates by eliminating any scents I can buy locally in New York (Fille en Aiguilles, Sienne L’Hiver, Shiloh, anything from Le Labo or CB I Hate Perfume) and, in a mostly gestural nod to practicality, anything that’s occasional, extravagant or simply expensive enough that I couldn’t bring myself to drop my own hard-earned dollars on it, much less 'free' money (Absolue Pour le Soir, Stoned, Comme des Garçons x Stephen Jones, etc.). Maybe that’s the kind of thing gift certificates are for, but I’m determined to buy something I’ll get a lot of mileage out of, so to speak, rather than something merely to prove what a robust aficionado I am.

The elimination process has left me, bizarrely, with a choice between two scents from the same house: Pierre Guillaume’s Parfumerie Générale.  I’ve been acquainting myself slowly with Guillaume’s numbered portfolio and “Private Collection” of fragrances, and have grown to recognize the ultra high-quality sense of cohesion in them, which no doubt arises from his background as a skilled chemist. His technical prowess goes beyond the expert linking of disparate ingredients to the interaction of those ingredients with environmental factors like light and heat; many of his scents utilize a proprietary process called “photo-affinage,” whereby “olfactory peaks”  are smoothed out by ultraviolet radiation. He’s also the pioneering beneficiary of a new extraction technology that’s enabled him to plant alarmingly accurate fresh fruit accords among the "olfactory spheres" in his newly-launched second brand, Huitième Art Parfums.

Guillaume’s body of work appeals to me not because it’s the work of a “rockstar” like Francis Kurkdjian or even an avant-gardist like Geza Schoen or the Antoines (Lie & Maisondieu), but because it’s the work of a committed nerd – albeit a French nerd, meaning a sexy one. Rather than proposing the sort of arch-cerebral, almost confrontational ideas that sprout incessantly in the overcrowded world of niche perfumery (ambrox trend, anyone?), he reserves his skill and talent for exploring subtle, precious moods and emotions with a cartographer's precision.

And with apologies for that sycophantic introduction, here are the two candidates:

Private Collection: L’Ombre Fauve
Its name translates to something like “beastly shadow”, and true to form, this scent is dark, dense and alternately scary and cuddly. The official list of five notes (amber, musks, wood, incense and patchouli) suggests a simple, minimal construction – a notion quickly belied by the sheer opulence of the experience, from the first spray to the lingering whiff you’ll get on your coat collar two days later. Animalic musks and patchouli do much to expand the powdery amber and wood, but the true heart of L’Ombre Fauve is an otherworldly tint or texture that repeatedly makes the quietest of entrances and exits. Many fans call it the “fur” or “wild animal” note. Some call it “metallic.” Luca Turin (a fan himself) calls it “raspy.” Whatever it is, however he did it, Guillaume managed to make a sweet ambery oriental that doesn’t bore me to tears after ten minutes.

02: Cozé
Despite its salutatorian name, Cozé is actually the fragrance that launched Parfumerie Générale. Originally a blend that Guillaume had created solely for his own and his father’s personal use, it caught the attention of a Swiss art collector and perfume enthusiast who all but demanded it for himself and his circle of connoisseurs. Surprisingly easy to wear, Cozé subjects the dozy herbal funk of PG’s exclusive hemp seed oil extraction to a Kevyn Aucoin-worthy makeover involving heady pimento, camphoreous patchouli and an especially bitter dose of coffee and chocolate. A heavily-refined mossiness sets the overall tone – somewhere between a misty forest and a hotboxed Bentley. “Hippie luxury,” this scent seems to argue, is not a contradiction.

And now to the poll! Thanks for reading and voting, and of course, feel free to suggest other ideas in the poll box or in comments.

03 January 2011

Winter Wardrobe, Part 2: Wishlist

One of the most maddening things about being a collector is that it’s never a straight line from one absolute desire to the next. Too many desires happen simultaneously, tugging mind and wallet in all different directions. Because I both hate making decisions and think about things too much, I try to separate the fragrances I want into those that are reasonably accessible to me and those that are perpetually out of reach, whether due to price or availability. And with that dreary explanation, here are three exquisite scents that I can’t seem to get my hands on:

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir ($2.50 / milliliter)
I’ve actually never smelled Cologne Pour le Soir, from which Absolue draws its foundation (a creamy, benzoin-heavy amber accord, incense, rose and honey), but I already know I prefer Absolue. I’m convinced that this foundation only makes its mark at full tilt, as it is in the latter. The magic-hour hue of that sticky, sweet core gets darkened several shades by cumin, sandalwood and an unmistakably dirty civet that’s earned Absolue many a carnal-themed review and the title “Skankfest of the Year."

My reasons for keeping it off the immediate buy list? A) I already own Musks Kublaï Khan, which is enough of a “skankfest-sweet-oriental” showpiece already, and B) $175 is too much to spend on something I could only get away with four days out of the year. Still, I do pine for those zinc bottle caps…

Mark Buxton Around Midnight ($1.73 / milliliter, according to current Euro exchange rate)
I know I said in the last post that Annick Menardo is my perennial number one among perfumers, but I was a Mark Buxton groupie first (as I also mentioned in the last post, the first perfume I loved was 2 Man, easily Buxton’s best for Comme des Garçons). To my surprise, Around Midnight is the only scent from Buxton’s eponymous collection that seems to be anywhere near my own wavelength.

I’ve read people describe it as a stylistic chameleon, moving eerily from aromatic fougere territory to chypre to oriental. You could certainly think of it that way, especially if you never want to actually enjoy it. Or you could just stop thinking and take in the pepper and chamomile (fresh and aromatic like lavender but without that Irish Spring sourness that gives me the heebs), the brilliantly structural (versus ornamental) jasmine, and a powdery wood-amber base.

The overarching sense I get isn’t all that chameleonic. While there doesn’t seem to be a discrete incense note per se, there is very much an incense ‘feel’ or character that lingers over most of the development; a smoky haze obscuring and blending a disparate (and quite saturated) riot of color, and a very familiar Buxton effect. 

I’ve enjoyed my tiny sample of Around Midnight down to its last drop, and with Lucky Scent now sold out of it, I can only turn to First in Fragrance, where as you may have guessed, I would have to pay out the nose in Euros. The last time I ordered a scent from Germany I paid €19 - nineteen! - for standard shipping and it took three weeks and two trips to the post office in Bed-Stuy to get it. Whee.

Tom Ford Private Blend Italian Cypress ($3.80 / milliliter)
This is terribly handsome, utterly desirable and very Tom Ford-priced juice. Imagine original Polo in a Tom Ford black tie look (and in case you’re thinking this is strictly a masculine exercise, it actually works for whichever gender you dress; ditto for the fragrance itself).

In lieu of a “Top 10 of 2010!” listicle (if you’re craving that kind of thing, you can go here or here or here or here), I'm presenting a list of things that feel direly inappropriate while wearing Italian Cypress:

• Spilling coffee on my sleeve while stumbling through a subway turnstile
• Tapping my foot to Blondie’s “Slow Motion” on the subway
• Being on the subway at all
• Being clumsy enough to give myself a papercut
• Wearing a sweater I didn’t realize was completely covered in lint
• Sniffling, sneezing or any other sign of infirmity
• Being under 5’10”
• Cheap underwear
• Cheap anything
• Eating dinner alone

In other words, wearing Italian Cypress with any kind of regularity would probably result in some very unnecessary self-esteem issues. Happy New Year!