Friday, August 29, 2008

Iris Silver Mist : Serge Lutens

If Jadis, the White Witch of the Narnia series, had doled out bewitched carrot cake instead of Turkish Delight to corrupt young innocents, it would have smelled like Iris Silver Mist.

Although for the first half-hour it smells uncannily like barely matured carrots, pulled out of the dirt right after a rain, the highly composted loam they were pulled out of soon dominates, with whiffs of nearby coriander plantings. This isn't a snappy, juicy, vegetal perfume, though. That's the weird thing about it. Its silvery quality--seemingly opalescent--transforms what could have been merely vegetable-garden verisimilitude into something magical. I have a lot of iris perfumes, but the iris here is otherwordly. In fact, the dirt that many reviewers have referred starts to transform into something shimmering and bready and spicy and--oh my! It's a Turkish Delight carrot cake.

As soon as my nose hits carrot cake, the perfume almost disappears, making me snort my wrist frantically trying to find that gorgeous scent again, convinced I cannot live without it. I rest my nose and a few minutes later -- sigh. I can smell it again. As it dries down, I could swear this has a similar quality to vintage L'Heure Bleue's drydown. This stuff is scary good. Once you taste it, you crave it again and again. I understand Edmund a lot better now.

P.S. I think the ephemeral quality is due to being dabbed from a sample I've got. After a few hours my wrists still have a lovely little iris-incense glow, and I think if it were sprayed, the drydown would have more intensity.

Also, this perfume is so fascinating, one entirely subjective review (as all reviews are) is certainly no where near enough! Check out the wonderful reviews at Bois de Jasmin, Perfume-Smellin' Things, and Now Smell This.

Image from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Private Collection, Estee Lauder : Vent Vert, Balmain

Private Collection extrait is a striking, elegant green chypre that in perfume reminds me quite a bit of vintage Vent Vert, but with a hint of pine trees and moss instead of that purely peppery snappiness of galbanum. So I thought I would compare them.

I just scored some PV extrait minis at an antique store, and I've had the VV edt for a while. I went through a phase last summer in which I felt the need to huff on that VV every morning, although I find it a bit difficult to wear until it dries down quite a bit. I love galbanum and dislike evergreen scents, generally speaking, and had tested PV in stores before and didn't like it, so I was surprised at the antique store to find the PV so compelling in extrait.

Sniffed side by side, I'm struck again by how effervescent the Vent Vert (Germaine Cellier, 1947) is. I've got a vintage eau de toilette, and I've never smelled Vent Vert extrait, but the edt has such charming I-don't-give-a-damn quality (I love that galbanum!) that I can't but imagine the extrait would be extraordinary indeed. After the green peppers subside a bit, it smells like the most delicate and wild meadow grass and a smidge of pampered lily of the valley. There's no aldehydic sparkliness; instead, it's as if these elements become a straightforward, refreshing ether to take in, like you'd take the waters at Bath. Wholesome but not boring. How does it do that? The floral quality gets more intense in the heart notes, and I think I can discern the hyacinth and jasmine, as the murmur of oakmoss and musk gets louder. The notes (for the original, which I think is what I've got) are sometimes listed as galbanum, citrus, gardenia, peach, lily of the valley, rose, hyacinth, jasmine, iris, oakmoss, vetiver, styrax, and musk. Sniffed at the same time as the PV, they aren't as similar as I thought they'd be. VV seems suddenly a bit more floral in comparison with the slight astringency of PV.

As is to be expected with a high-quality extrait, Private Collection (Vincente Marcello, 1973) is much deeper, with an initial fresh-air and mossy-pines vibe that mellows and becomes more floral (the jasmine and chrysanthemum?) over the next half hour or so. It is the smell of distances and horizons, and has almost the same peaceful, analgesic effect as looking out over a vista of pine woods in the White Mountains from a luxurious mountain-top cabin's balcony. But this is not a sporty scent, in the least. What is so surprising about the extrait is that there is a velvety quality to the bottom notes. I smell the sandalwood, certainly, and perhaps the sweet heliotrope is what makes the base so velvety. Although all the sources I've read disagree, Osmoz says that the top notes are green notes, orange blossom, linden; heart notes are jasmine, reseda, chrysanthemum, rose; base notes are sandalwood, heliotrope, musks. No galbanum? How can this not have galbanum?? The more research I do on this perfume, the more I think it must be the chrysanthemum that is the unique element here, adding a raspy quality to the greens that is slightly smoother, less juicily vegetal than galbanum. Gosh, I'm liking this. Isn't Niki de Saint Phalle supposed to have chrysanthemum in it too? Drat, this is where you can see my OCD coming out to play. Now I've got to try other chrysanthemum perfumes.

Vintage Vent Vert is of course available mainly on fleabay. I'm afraid to find out if Private Collection is available anymore in extrait. Anyone know?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Magie Noire : Lancome : Gérard Goupy (with an aside on Habanita)

Magie Noire parfum--does anyone know more about the evil sorcerer Goupy who created this? It drives me a little whackadoodle when I wear it, trying to figure out why I can't stop sniffing my wrist, even with its Pledge-furniture-polish-and-fruit moments. But that's what this perfume does to most folks who love it, I think. It's restless; it keeps you off balance.

I'd compare it with Habanita edt, another unlikely fruited love of mine, in its powers of conviction. Yes, I do mean powers of conviction, because these perfumes have intentions--improper ones. You try it on and say: "hm, not so sure ..." And Habanita answers: "You better believe it." Habanita starts as a powdery fruit compote that you would think would be about as seductive as, say, a quivering bowl of ambrosia salad on a cheap vinyl tablecloth, until it morphs into the most unexpected vetiver-vanilla-leather creature on the prowl, enveloping you before you realize it's even gotten a hold. Every time it happens I'm flabbergasted at the mysterious alchemy that turns such seemingly unimpressive materials into such a stunner. Whew, erm...I get a little carried away about the Habanita (pant pant).

What I'm reviewing today, however, is Magie Noire parfum. I am not dissing Lancome, but I can only stand the parfum. It does strike me that the Magie Noire edt must have been tinkered with rather... disastrously. The ivy-green lemony smell (is that the blackcurrant?) reads in the Magie Noire edt as ammonia. Frankly, people, it smells like cat pee and Pledge. So after smelling the recent edt and body lotion, I wasn't expecting much from the parfum. But it's true, a magic act similar to that of Habanita happens. It's not the transformer that Habanita is on my skin, but after a bit of a rough start, there is a stage at which I am won over. The early stages of greens (sharp, twiggy ivy-like greens ready to claw the unsuspecting) and bruised, darkly juicy floral (hyacinth) swirling in an animalic, nocturnal brew (honey, civet, castoreum, patchouli) are unsettling, to say the least. Just when I think that they are just going to sit and sulk, like the demon in Fuseli's The Nightmare, the purple-berry-ish top notes finally mellow a bit into the tuberose, rose, and narcissus. Finally, after several hours, the gorgeous drydown completes its alchemical reaction with your skin, smelling like you've had a naughty post-berry-picking roll under a bramble.

Osmoz lists the notes as: blackcurrant, bergamot, hyacinth, raspberry, honey, tuberose, narcissus, rose oriental, patchouli, vetiver, castoreum, and civet.

Darnit, this review was *supposed* to be of something available online, at least, if not in stores. But the online source from which I got my .25 oz. parfum only this winter seems to have dried up in the meantime , so unfortunately I have only fleabay to suggest if you wish to acquire this strange beauty. Le sigh. Perhaps I should just give it up and call this the Sadly Now Inaccessible Fragrance blog and start my own 12-step program called Sadly Now Inaccessible Fragrance Addicts Anonymous (SNIFAA)©.

Image of Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare from The Artchive.
Image of Magie Noire bottle is blogger's own.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

L'Heure Bleue : Guerlain : Jacques Guerlain

In 1912, L'Heure Bleue was born, and the world is a more beautiful place for it. The character of vintage L'Heure Bleue is hot tears on flushed skin, I realized this morning. I've taken advantage of a rare rainy day in Austin to wear it. It exudes from my skin like it is the natural scent of catharsis--the tremblingly uninhibited, floating feeling that comes after an emotional storm, when your anger and sorrow seem almost magically released through the pores. Have I had such a catharsis lately? No, but I'm wanting one, which may explain why it strikes me this way. It balances bitterness and comfort: after the first gasp of bergamot and flowery (heliotrope, carnation) spiciness, it keeps transforming. Its gingerbread-like accord is one moment brandied, one moment tarry; its anise is one moment candied, another moment medicinal. As it dries down, the tonka bean and iris continue to play out the drama of catharsis, with the warmth of the tonka bean countered by the cooling iris, like the effect of tears drying on flushed cheeks.

Bring on the purple prose, right? It's just perfume, woman! Snap out of it. Hm, okay, well suffice it to say, L'Heure Bleue can really put me in a trance like no other perfume. It just seems to keep going and going when you sniff it--the depths keep revealing more wonders. In any case, as you would probably expect, coming from a vintage-lover like me, the recent version of this parfum does not contain the same magic. There is a rubbery, synthetic note in the recent version that mars it. I've noted that rubbery scent in the recent body lotion (although in a body lotion I kind of like the new-doll-head smell), and was disappointed to smell it also in the parfum at the NYC Bergdorf Goodman's Guerlain shop a couple of weeks ago. This is such a fascinating perfume that anyone who tries it is certain to have a different response, however. Try both, if you can!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

NYC and Some Cheapo Finds : Worth's Je Reviens Couture : Balenciaga's Le Dix edt

First off, a quick report of NYC sniffage. While I sniffed scads of perfumes on my trip to NYC, and even fell in love with some of them (Guerlain's Sous le Vent, Miller Harris's Jasmine Vert), I brought home NONE of them. Mainly that's because there are few bottles of perfume I would spend $200 on, and a subtle jasmine and hay affair like Jasmin Vert certainly does not fall into that category. Why can't companies start selling smaller bottles???!!! And Sous le Vent was gorgeous but surprisingly short-lived on my skin, so that was out. I think the most I've spent on one bottle of perfume was either a new .5 oz. of Cuir de Russie parfum or a fleabayed 2 oz. bottle of vintage L'Heure Bleue. I'll let you know when I find a non-extrait perfume that is FBW at $200. It might just be one of the new bottles of Bois des Iles edt, but I'm trying to hold off on that until I'm looking for a Christmas present for myself. Oh, and re-focusing on my sniffage: I also liked Muschio d'Oro and Calycanthus from Santa Maria Novella, but like all their perfumes, these two turned into powdery indistinct meh after a half an hour. Another favorite was L'Artisan's L'Été en Douce. And I tried the new Mitsouko edt formulation (I haunted the Guerlain counter at Bergdorf's shamelessly) and actually really liked it. I choke on the Mitsouko edp, and the current parfum even leaves me cold, so this was a breakthrough.

But in any case, I will celebrate my unlikely forbearance by reviewing two cheapo aldehydes this lazy Sunday afternoon; they are my favorites for the office and the interminable Austin summers. Well, not cheapo quality, mind you, but you can get both of these old-fashioned beauties at various perfume discounters for next to nothing. I highly recommend both if you like aldehydes.

Balenciaga's Le Dix (1947) is a lovely violet powder fragrance at first, but it has a tinge of citrusy bergamot and lemon that keeps it from turning into the saccharine violet of Guerlain's Les Meteorites. If you, like I, can't stand strong citruses, don't worry. Everything is so well-blended that you there is no sharp eau-de-fruit-peel. The notes as listed on Osmoz also include coriander, which I can only detect as adding some musky-green complexity to the top notes. As the fragrance dries down the powder dissipates and the violet gets deeper, given structure with sandalwood smudged with perhaps a bit of vetiver.

If you'd like to read more, see this great review of Le Dix by Angela at NowSmellThis.

Je Reviens Couture (2004) is a recent eau de parfum version of Worth's oldie-but-goodie Je Reviens. Now, I haven't smelled the old Je Reviens in any form but the bath oil, but I can tell you from that experience that it is uh-maaay-zing. From what I've read, the more recent Je Reviens that you could find in drugstores is dreck, but I haven't sniffed it. However, the Couture edp version is strikingly similar to the old Je Reviens, if a smidge dryer and paler due to those missing nitro musks that Luca Turin mentions in Perfumes: The Guide. So what's so great about the old Je Reviens and the new Je Reviens Couture, and what ties them together so recognizably? For me, it's the absolutely addictive, smoky, ashy overtone to the flowers. I don't really know for sure, but I believe this effect is created by a type of aldehyde that to some smells like nail polish remover. But to me, it is an almost pyrocaustic scent, like getting a teensy whiff of petroleum fumes mixed with your Chanel No. 5. It's not at all ashy like cigarettes or ashtrays; on the contrary, it has a metallic shimmer like a sparkler lighting up the fragrance's cool floral bouquet heart.

With all this talk of ashes and petroleum, you wouldn't think this is an office perfume at all, but really this is a ladylike scent with unusual aldehydes, I think. What little sillage there is registers as a bit on the metallic-vetiver-floral side, not freakish or fumey. It's only when you huff your skin directly while sitting at your computer in an office cubicle that you realize it's a cyborg impersonating one of the Upper West Side's ladies who lunch. It's my subversive office scent.