Thursday, October 15, 2009

Joint blog project! Falling in love: scents and treats for fall

I've been more interested in music lately than I have been in perfume (gasp!), so I thought I'd merge two sets of favorites together for this joint best-of-fall project, matching perfume treats with musical ones. Hit the play buttons throughout to hear my fall musical treats, and enjoy! Too bad you can't hit play to smell the scents, too, huh?

These are not new scents, for the most part, but they are ones I've fallen in love with recently, haven't flogged too much already, and are in production. I look forward to wearing them all this fall. I own all but four of them, and would like to own them all, but I doubt I'll ever actually shell out for the spendy Ubar and the Party in Manhattan.

**NOTE** So sorry if the music files aren't showing up! The site on which I stashed the files is telling me I've exceeded the bandwidth limit. I'll do what I can to fix it asap, but you might need to try playing during a time of day with less interwebs traffic. I'm a newbie on posting music files online...

What to wear to live a lush life in some small dive: Diptyque Philosykos

Song: Regina Spektor, "Lady"

Regina Spektor flaunts her technique and quirky humor like the perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. The verisimilitude of the fig tree--including leaves, fruits, and especially dark branches--in Philosykos makes it match up well with Spektor's homage to Billie Holiday's plush voice and thorny life. The lyrics, the timbre, the phrasing of "Lady" are all about art not only stemming from life, but demanding, conjuring more life, especially when Spektor tells us she'll make us "cry little wet tears."

What to wear to howl at the moon: Caron Yatagan
Song: Taraf de Haïdouks, "Hora Din Caval"

Feral wormwood, pine, fennel, patchouli, and leathery goodness, not about to be pushed around by anybody, and certainly badly behaved enough to be sent to bed without dinner. This wild gypsy violin groove by Taraf de Haïdouks is the perfect scented equivalent to wearing Caron Yatagan. "Inside all of us is a wild thing," as Maurice Sendak wrote in Where the Wild Things Are, and thanks be that he did. Wear Yatagan when you want a wolf suit.

What to wear to invoke a goddess: Amouage Ubar
Song: Renee Fleming, "Casta Diva"

I'm sure the connection between this luxurious scent and operatic drama has been made before, but I'll just have to be unoriginal here. There truly hasn't been a fragrance in recent memory that so exquisitely performs its aria; every element--diva, orchestra, chorus--is effortlessly modulated. The lily of the valley note is not screechy, but more like Renee Fleming's perfectly trained and mature soprano voice. This fragrance has that magic of live performance in it. The natural materials are almost tangible, like the feel in your head and your chest of a swelling orchestra in an opera house with world-class acoustics. That feeling can't be captured in an mp3, but Fleming singing "Casta Diva," in which Norma invokes the goddess in Bellini's opera, may be as close as we come.

What to wear to a rite of passage: L'Artisan Parfumeur Passage d'Enfer
Song: Cat Power, "I Found A Reason"

Chan Marshall's voice is achingly tender, heartbreakingly, willfully sentimental and also self-consciously artful. I immediately thought of her, and this song, as a match for a perfume with cedar (this gives the scent a body odor feel that makes it feel imperfect and human, and is the thing that makes me love it) and incense (comforting and hazy), but also with a sweet lily note. I normally despise lily, but welded to incense here it is really sublime. The lyrics of "I Found A Reason," simple and repetitive, include the phrase, "what comes is better than what came before," which links this song to the idiomatic meaning of the phrase "passage d'enfer," a "rite of passage." Sadly, the shortness of the song also matches the lack of lasting power of the perfume.

What to wear for a wistful holiday evening: Diptyque Tam Dao
Song: Nina Simone, "Little Girl Blue"

Luxuriating in sadness with a comforting, Christmasy piano-tinkle in the background. Sticks around too short a time. Guh. I could do a whole series just on Nina Simone songs; she owns me. What more is there to say?

What goes with single-malt scotch and stilettos: Chanel Bois des Iles
Song: The Black Keys, "All You Ever Wanted"

This one, the current parfum of Bois des Iles snuck up on me. When I first sniffed it, I was all prepared to be disappointed in its comparatively modern, spare sandalwood in contrast to the vintage juice. Likewise, I can get a little snobby about preferring old Delta blues over new-fangled rockers "doing" the blues. Bois des Iles won me over like The Black Keys won me. Asphalt and scotch blues that smooths out and writhes its way to an unexpectedly melodic, moan-worthy crescendo. Whew. Seriously satisfying, not to mention all you ever wanted without even knowing it. Thanks, boys.

What to wear to take a call from your ex-boyfriend in the middle of the night
: Coty Wild Musk (perfume oil)
Song: Joan Baez, "Diamonds and Rust"

Protest-song earnestness can get a little boring, if you ask me, but this song is Joan Baez with a little bitter devilment in her: getting a call from an old boyfriend in the middle of the night, swamped with memories and a tinge of resentment over his stratospheric success (since he's Bob Dylan) and emotional distance. Wild Musk is not a "white musk," which is why I like it best among all the old drugstore musks. It has a tinge of that comforting, woody, unwashed scent that reminds me of being snuggled in a musty comforter in some old home hand-built in the 70s as as refuge from the military-industrial complex. I grew up in the 70s and heard Joan Baez from the womb, thanks to my mother, so this is a nostalgia scent for me.

How to be a hard-hearted lover
scent: Ayala Moriel Espionage
Song: Etta James, "Don't Cry Baby"

Unsweetened, commanding, hard-headed soul that softens like Etta James after her initial gun-shot delivery, turning into a woman working her wiles with an unexpected string section.

What goes with gold lame? or, how to be a fame-whore: The Party in Manhattan

Song: The Decemberists, "Los Angeles, I'm Yours"

Okay, it should be "Manhattan, I'm Yours," but this bitingly sardonic, clever hate-f**k of a song is so perfect for this skanky and ultimately hollow wonder that I can't resist. The floral-civet indulgence of the perfume matches the venal self-promotion and greed in gold lamé portrayed in The Decemberists' song. To wit: "but oh the smell of burnt cocaine, the dolor and decay, it only makes me cranky." Wear The Party in Manhattan and you'll feel oddly debauched and dissatisfied.

What to wear to a cabaret of the damned: J'ai Osé

Song: Diamanda Galas, "Twenty-Five Minutes To Go"

Apocalyptically, chokingly tarry, then steadies deliberately into an urgent purr, like the heroine of this live, spine-tingling, avant-cabaret showpiece, who is counting down the minutes before she's hanged. Nina Simone's version of "Pirate Jenny" would also work, and is even more harrowing, but I'd already included one of her songs in the list.

More fabulous blogs are participating in this themed post. Go visit them, too!
Notes from the Ledge

Image credit: Autumn in Sepia by Rick Lundh (via

Thursday, October 8, 2009

DelRae Mythique: a true Florentine smell

I'm sure that one of the main reasons I love iris is because I love Florence. The two are forever linked because the highest quality iris, or orris butter, comes from the Florence region, and has for centuries. I studied art history and Italian there for a semester as an undergrad in the early 90s, so obviously the movie that informed my romantic expectations was Merchant and Ivory's A Room with a View, of course! I rewatched the movie recently, and I swear I can vividly smell Florence again in those street scenes. Remember what the florid lady novelist Eleanor Lavish (the sublime Judy Dench) says? She stops in her tracks on a side street, commanding, "A true Florentine smell. Inhale, my dear."

So when I smelled Mythique, I thought: this is a true Florentine smell. And I inhaled deeply and diaphramatically, as Dame Judy commands. I always do whatever Dame Judy tells me. Here's what I smelled. The candied violet aspect of iris when paired with mandarin is there in the top notes, but this is a modern, creamy, and musky perfume, not powdery or tooth-aching as most violet/iris fragrances are. The candied quality is quickly balanced by that cold stone feel of iris, which is what really gives it the feel of Florence.

So okay, maybe the streets of Florence don't smell like violets, iris, or mandarin (sadly), but the perfume fits with the visual and architectural aesthetics I associate with that city. What I always remember about Florence was the intimidatingly business-like, elegant citizens; the forbiddingly stony building exteriors (massive-looking blocks of rusticated pietra forte and beautiful, grey pietra serena); and most importantly, the experience of going inside those buildings and finding wonderously confectionary interiors and candy-colored fresco paintings that are the sweet, indulgent heart of all that seeming coldness. The color combination of light green and pink is often used in that sweet side of Florence, and the epitome of that aesthetic is the pastel-colored marble of Giotto's campanile (belltower), which is truly the most beautiful, most fantastic piece of architecture I've ever seen. Who builds a big, functional slab of religious architecture in pastel pinks and greens, for goodness sake? It's extravagantly nutty in such a restrained city, which is why I love it.

The perfume Mythique is an expression of all these aesthetic experiences. It would definitely appeal to Florence's restrained city-dwellers. It is like grey stone hiding gleaming, luxurious cafe interiors. It is like a green, pink, and white marble belltower ringing out to the faithful. But I'll leave off speaking metaphorically and tell you that the peony and jasmine turn the fragrance into a warm floral blend after a half-hour or so. The base notes of patchouli and sandalwood are so subtle I can barely detect them as a warm, raspy hum in the background, keeping everything from getting at all dessert-like. The velvety ambrette muskiness I can definately smell.

It's much less girly than the Frederic Malle Iris Poudre, less dramatic and muskier than the new Van Cleef & Arpels Bois d'Iris, and it has a more juicy quality than The Different Company's Bois d'Iris. It's nothing like the chilling coldness of Serge Lutens' Iris Silver Mist. Mythique's notes include mandarin, bergamot, ivy, peony, Sambac jasmine, iris, sandalwood, Indonesian patchouli and herbal musk (ambrette). The perfumer is Yann Vasnier.