Tuesday, March 29, 2011

80s Designer Originals: Princess Marcella di Borghese, Calvin Klein original cologne, Gianni Versace original parfum

Today's three-way review sounds like a weird fume-nerd joke. Three 80s perfumes with the big shoulder-pads and war paint walk into a bar: an aldehydic floral chypre, a fruity chypre, and a fruity-floral oriental.

A while ago I received my sample (won in a draw from the adorable meg at parfumieren, who wrote about it here and here) of Princess Marcella di Borghese. First impressions are of some lily of the valley flowers soaked in nail polish remover, and as it settles into the heart notes, there's a ravishing puff of animalic narcissus and oakmoss. Sadly, there's also something slightly screechy and off. It may be the the acetone that Meg points out in her review of Di Borghese, or it may be a make-up accord of rose, iris, and lily of the valley that has gone off slightly with age. Frankly, it makes me a bit headachy. But the payoff in the heart notes, once they settle, is pretty extraordinary, if short lived. I've been absolutely fascinated to try scents with narcissus in them, and now that I know what to smell for, I can definitely detect the dirty hay quality of narcissus along with the iris, which thankfully develops its way out of the makeup powder. As it dries down, it suddenly mutes itself and leather-purse-interior scent comes to the fore, then it's gone but for the wispiest traces. I think all the money went into that lovely narcissus in the heart notes.

The original Calvin Klein fragrance is at first just "perfumey," which is what I call it when a perfume has wonderful top notes creating a complex little halo effect, but gives me a overstimulated headache in the bargain. It has a provenance that suggests early, before-they-started-pumping-out-flankers artistic credibility that makes it worthy of seeking out for the jaded perfumista. Add in a favorable review from one of my favorite bloggers on vintage perfume, who calls it indispensible, and I was sold on the first cheapo eBay bottle I found. It was $20, so, ya know, not bad for a blind buy. After a few seconds, this fruity-floral chypre mellows into a surprisingly pleasing, slightly raspy concoction of fruit and florals, not at all as hollow-cheeked as many dry 80s chypres. It dries down to a beautiful soft tonka and sweet oakmoss. The off bit in this case is a plasticky quality that the fruit develops near the dry down. I like the top notes and dry down of Calvin Klein better, but the heart of Princess Marcella (that narcissus!) is more appealing.

In comparison to both, the original Gianni Versace is altogether warmer and more oriental in style, glowing with personality and quality materials. It is much more roundly ambery than either. This is why I love reviewing perfumes by comparison. When testing it on it's own this winter, I did not register just how ambery and golden it was. In fact, the amber gets to be a bit cloying for me after smelling it alongside more nimble, quicksilver chypres like di Borghese and Klein. Keep in mind that I'm not an amber fan. But finally the amber lifts its heavy cloak and you catch glimpes of some naughty leather and myrrh. This one is very nice in the far dry down.

So there you have it: three designer 80s perfumes, and between them they make up one well-designed perfume. Wish I could go all Dr. Frankenstein on them.

Image is of Jennifer Beals in The Bride, a campy and awesome 80s remake of The Bride of Frankenstein with Sting playing the doctor.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fresh Funk: Un Petit Rien by Miller Harris

Gosh, it takes a while to pull myself back into perfume reviews after the past couple months of moving madness. It takes a discovery that changes my viewpoint, or a desire long held and finally fulfilled, to really get me to write any more. But I'm happy to say that Un Petit Rien scores on both points. I've been intrigued by this flanker to Miller Harris's L'Air de Rien for quite a while now, but have been unable to find anywhere to get a sample, and very few helpful reviews online, except for Katie Puckrick's review. So I finally broke down and bought a bottle during my latest Beauty Encounter order. I'm happy to say it is a win!

Being a dirty-musk lover and someone who really wants backup bottles of Serge Lutens's Muscs Koublai Khan and Annick Goutal's Musk Nomade, along with many more, I've always felt it was a moral failing on my part that I couldn't wear L'AdR. Too much bum-crack, and too much of a fetid lair, not l'air. So Un Petit Rien seemed like the perfect solution, but I kept finding reviews that suggested it was a completely different, blander cologne version of L'AdR. Common sense beat back the yearning for a L'Air I could get with.

Well I needn't have worried. UPR is all up in L'Air's business, with unsweetened neroli to lure you into the musk and slightly ambered oakmoss of it's musty base. It's still a creaky old manse-turned-hippie-squat with moldering books and "stale joss sticks" (as Luca Turin says), but this one is out in the country with wholesome wafts of from the barnyard coming through the windows, along with some encroaching, shaggy green vines. It has a similar quality to Dior's Eau Fraiche--the juxtaposition of good, fresh dirt and citrus with a distinct funkiness in the base. In UPR's case, it's all the awesomeness of L'AdR, but without the year's-worth of dirty underwear in the corner.

You can find Un Petit Rien in the states at MiN New York (which has a retail website) and at the Beauty Encounter website. It is an eau de cologne, so it has less tenacity than L'Air, but I don't find it thin or lacking in oomph at all.