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Archive for February, 2010

In my mind, I’ve been calling this kind of head-to-head (wrist-to-wrist?) comparison a Celebrity Death Match. However, I’m now concerned that if I make it a regular blog feature, some rabid lawyer-type person may start getting all up in my grille about that phrase being copyrighted. I don’t think that Bobby Flay, restauranteur and chef, star of the Food Network shows Boy Meets Grill, Iron Chef America, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay, would care. He didn’t invent “throwdown,” and his show with “throwdown” in the title prominently features his name. Clearly, this blog is not in danger of being mistaken for being any project of Bobby’s, since it involves neither slabs of red meat nor the intense spices he’s famous for using. FWIW, I don’t think that perfume has much to do with Claymation celebrities, either, but just to be on the safe side, the two-fragrance comparisons are now Fragrance Throwdowns.

After reading comment after comment that Goutal’s Heure Exquise could be the long-lost twin of Chanel No. 19, I decided to wear them at the same time.

I love Chanel No. 19, particularly in vintage edt. (The parfum’s nice, too, but for this one I’m happy with the edt.) Needless to say, the suggestion of another fragrance very like my own personal Seven-League Boots got my attention. The raves of other HE fans, particularly those of AnnS on NST, intrigued me. The comparison in Perfumes: The Guide, where both fragrances get four stars, made me resolve to test Heure Exquise, although I’m appalled at the description of my Tough Gal perfume as “neurotic.”

Here’s Tania Sanchez on HE:

…HE is one Goutal that I genuinely love: a rich galbanum-and-iris composition close to Chanel No. 19 but, in contrast to the neurotic feeling of the Chanel, with a generous, warm backdrop of woody and animalic notes that feels like falling into a featherbed.”

I wound up with two samples of HE edt in two separate swaps, and it was oh-so-eagerly that I dabbed on some Heure Exquise. Galbanum, okay… rose, check… iris, check… vetiver, present. I saw the family resemblance right off. But where No. 19 was the emboldened, booted sister off to conquer the world, or at least the DMV, Heure Exquise was the prim, judgmental, “Come back here and get back to your knitting, like a proper lady!” sister. That iris note, while escaping the fatal Hiris and Bvlgari Pour Femme musty-basement qualities, was dry. Dry as toast, drrrrrrrry.

It made me think of the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, complaining to his wife that his daughter’s prospective in-laws are just too different for her to be happy: “This no work, Maria, this no work! They so drrrrry, they’re like toast. My daughter gonna marry Ian Miller with the toast family -” and I concurred: too dry. This no work.

And then I got the bright idea of doing a Celebrity Death Match Fragrance Throwdown. In this corner, the toasty-dry Heure Exquise edt. In that corner, the modern No. 19 edt. First was the elimination round – I decided that if modern No. 19 rolled over HE, then I wouldn’t even bother with testing other concentrations.

Notes for No. 19: Galbanum, neroli, bergamot, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, narcissus, muguet, iris, sandalwood, vetiver, oakmoss, musk, leather (leather in the vintage, not in the modern).

The notes for Heure Exquise are sketchy, but here’s the list from TPC: Galbanum, iris, rose, hyacinth, sandalwood. I would estimate that there’s also vetiver and musk.

Round 1: For the first 30 minutes, it looked like 19 was on top, no contest. HE was quiet, soft, a whisper of galbanum flowing into a patina of rose, while 19 was a fresh wind tossing my hair. And then as 19 began to soften into its soft classical florals, HE settled down too, into a plush rosy powder puff with a texture smooth as a baby’s butt. And by the drydown, HE had eaten 19’s lunch, with a pillowy, rosy musk that rounded out the edges of the sandalwood and vetiver. I was annoyed, and only slightly mollified by the fact that HE had beaten modern 19, not at all what I’d call the Real Thing. I began to feel like Vizzini in The Princess Bride: “Inconceivable!”

Round 2: Vintage No. 19 edt stepped in to face HE, winner of the first round. HE was the same lovely experience – a light veil of galbanum over the rose and iris, the smooth powdery-musky softness of sandalwood.  Vtg 19, though, is still an Amazon.  Not a pillow in sight, vintage 19 is still striding about the springtime landscape, among the flowers, in those boots of hers.  She’s smiling, glad to be alive.

Heure Exquise is lovely.  I recommend it, particularly if you found No. 19 a little too assertive.  For me, though, the assertive nature of No. 19 is what I prize.  This is especially important to me, I think, because I don’t really own any of the classic bludgeoner scents like Angel or Poison.  It’s my considered opinion that everyone should have a “Don’t Mess With Me” invisible-armor fragrance.  (Unless you are Dirty Harry or Leona Helmsley, of course, who don’t need invisible armor.)  I have two: No. 19, and Jolie Madame.  JM stands up to frigid winter weather but is too much even for me in the heat; No. 19 fills the bill for spring and summer.

I did not test Heure Exquise against No. 19 edp, which is softer and rosier than either the edt or parfum; I’m guessing that they’d be almost twins.  I also haven’t tried HE in edp, which is said to be rosier than edt.  I love rose, too – but if I want rose, I think I’ll get it elsewhere.

Throwdown result: No. 19 in vintage edt or parfum is the winner, by this judge’s preference.  However, another judge might feel free to declare for Heure Exquise, depending on personal preferences, since it’s equally well-composed of quality materials.

Review Report (for Heure Exquise; see my review of Chanel No. 19 for other reviews of it): Aromascope, I Smell Therefore I Am, 1000 Fragrances.

Image is from Wikimedia Commons.

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Wednesday, Feb. 17: I’m finally starting to relax a little, with the kids back in school. And I’m totally digging the Winter Olympics. Go Shaun White! Il Tomate Volante is in amazing form, by the way, head and shoulders above the rest. (Yes, I know he’s announced that he’s tired of being The Flying Tomato. I don’t care. That is the coolest nickname evah.)

SOTD: Parfums de Rosine Poussiere de Rose. Tania Sanchez says this is like Feminite du Bois with “more rose, less wonder.” Well, whoop-de-doo. She doesn’t like rose all that much. If you are anosmic to Iso E Super, as I appear to be, FdB does the disappearing-reappearing trick on you, so it’s not all that wondrous. I’ll be honest (and repetitive): I’d still rather have Dior’s Dolce Vita, preferably in parfum. But Poussiere de Rose is lovely as well, and in my opinion, it actually kicks the butts of all the Lutens Bois series scents I’ve tried (FdB reissue, Bois de Violette, Un Bois Vanille). I admit I haven’t tried Bois et Fruits, which might be great.

I got really brave this afternoon, too, and put on a half-pinky-tip’s worth of Poison. For heaven’s sake… did they mess with this? Have they toned it down?? I hated Poison back in the day – you know, when everybody was wearing about three spritzes too many. I remember it as being several times more offensive than this sample I snagged for cheap off the ‘bay. Even so, it’s still utterly frightening. I chased the kids around the house for a couple of hours – “Come smell me!” “I can smell you from over here, Mom, go away!” Review of this one coming up for the tuberose series.

Thursday, Feb. 18: SOTD: Cuir de Lancome again. It’s too warm this week to wear Alahine.

Friday, Feb. 19: SOTD: Carnal Flower. I still don’t understand why P:TG says this is a “serious, luxurious, all-day fragrance,” – okay, I do understand Serious and Luxurious, but it’s definitely not All-Day on my skin. I’m getting 3.5 to 4 hours tops. Also not getting the Chandler Burr “tuberose with a baseball bat” reference. This is so fresh-green and attractive, and quiet. Huh. Does my skin eat tuberose? Or is it just that I’m dabbing rather than spraying?

Taz came home from school and said his stomach hurt because he was hungry – he hadn’t packed enough food in his lunchbox. (It had applesauce and a peanut butter sandwich; yeah, less than his usual lunch.) So I made him a quesadilla, and he had no more eaten a quarter of it than he threw up all over the place. Kids. Sometimes you just gotta roll your eyes at them and forget the bad stuff.

Saturday, Feb. 20: SOTE: Climat in vintage parfum, but not until after Taz went to sleep. I didn’t want to wreck his recovery with smells he doesn’t like.

Sunday, Feb 21: SOTD: Guerlain Mahora. I’m not getting the hate, honestly. Who thinks this is terrible, and why? SOTE: Guerlain Terracotta Voile d’Ete, such a pretty, almost Old Spice-like thing.

The CEO took Bookworm and Gaze to a women’s college basketball game this afternoon. Scott Brown – you know, the Republican who was recently elected to the seat left open by Ted Kennedy’s death – has a daughter who was playing for Va. Tech’s opponent, Boston College, and Sen. Brown and his wife drove down from DC to watch the game. By chance they happened to sit next to Gaze (srsly! they just happened to have tickets for the next seats down), and The CEO got to talk to him. It was a big thrill for The CEO, I’m tellin’ you. He looked a little bit like Alex P. Keaton meeting Ronald Reagan, while recounting the story to me, stunned at his good luck. It didn’t approach the thrill factor for him of meeting Gen. Colin Powell last year, and having lunch with him, and having his picture taken with him… that was such a huge thrill that in the photo of the two of them together, The CEO’s teeth are practically meeting in the back of his head, he’s grinning so widely. I tease him about being a fanboy, but Colin Powell is such a genuinely admirable guy.

After supper (why couldn’t it have been before, just to lessen the impact?), The CEO developed Taz’s stomach bug. Wonderful. Well, at least he had a nice afternoon…

And now, I must say, I am getting the hate for Mahora. The drydown is a nasty, nasty thing. Cloying, fake-smelling, just… gosh, just wrong.

Monday, Feb. 22: The snow has melted enough that I drove through slush this morning, taking kids to school and myself to work*, whee! SOTD: Caron Poivre (extrait) from TPC. Gorgeous stuff. Now I want to compare it to DSH’s carnation scents, Oeillets Rouges and La Fleuriste, and to FM Noir Epices. Oops, that means getting hold of some Noir Epices… where’s that chin-rubbing emoticon when you need him?

*Please note, I wouldn’t drive the kids to school if a) the bus didn’t come at 7am and b) I wasn’t already going to work. It’s 10 minutes to the high school, 6 more to the elementary school, and then 3 minutes to work; if I were going straight to work from home, it’d take me about 8 minutes. I just have to remember how easy traffic is in a small town, the next time I get jealous of people who live near Nordstrom’s and downtown markets and art galleries and live theater… easy traffic, no noise, easy traffic, starry skies, easy traffic, nice neighbors, easy traffic… I’m not looking forward to next year, though, with one kid at each school (high, middle, elementary) and the oldest not old enough to drive herself.

Tuesday, Feb. 23: SOTMorning: Paestum Rose. Odd that I hadn’t gotten around to this one when I was doing all that frantic rose testing last year. It’s very nice, in that pleasant “cloud of scent” sort of way. Reminds me a little bit of Gres Cabaret. At the same time, the rose is merely one note in PR, instead of the focus. I like myrrh a lot, but I think I prefer La Myrrhe (the only Serge that I really love). I think that possibly this fragrance would have been improved by either a greater focus on the rose, or a greater focus on the myrrh. It seems lukewarm to me, neither hot nor cold. SOTAfternoon: Chanel No. 19, because when I was editing my Throwdown post I got to craving it.

I think I’m coming down with Taz’s tummy bug. Ick.

Image is My perfumes by ellevegas at flickr.

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I was planning to post my first Fragrance Throwdown result today, but I found that I had so much to say about No. 19 that it was necessary to do a full review of it first before comparing it to something else.

No. 19 was one of the first fragrances I tried upon getting interested in perfume late in 2008. My first sample purchase was a set of four classic Chanel fragrances. I thought Chanel was a good place to start – I was already familiar with my mother’s No. 5 and my sister’s Coco Mlle, and I’d smelled Coco (hated it) at the counter at Belk’s. I tried the four samples in reverse order of how much I thought I’d like them, and No. 19 was first up. It was pleasant but so dignified as to be, sort of, you know, boring (this was my first experience with galbanum, mind you)… until it began to change on me. I didn’t know what I was smelling, but I felt compelled to keep sniffing my wrist, until it disappeared. I wore that sample until it was gone, falling more in love each time I tested it.

I promptly started picking up mini bottles of No. 19 on ebay… a tiny parfum half-full, a little bottle of edc, and two edt’s. Was surprised to find out that one of the edt bottles held a yellowish liquid, and the other a greenish one, and when I investigated and went on to try both, I found that the green was the modern formula – and while it’s perfectly acceptable, the version I love is the vintage, which has leather in the base. Turns out, too, that No. 19 is full of iris and vetiver. Both of those notes are iffy for me; I’m not going to see a new vetiver fragrance and fall all over myself to try it, the way I would, say, a new tuberose. There are very few iris-focused scents I like (Prada Id’I, PG Iris Taizo, PdN Odalisque), and the ones I don’t like, I really hate. I mean, I really hate them. You could probably torture me successfully with Iris Pallida, for example. But somehow, No. 19 gets the two notes just right, and I would actually say that No. 19 is primarily an iris fragrance, with a green attitude. 

Notes for No. 19: Galbanum, bergamot, neroli, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, narcissus, muguet, ylang-ylang, musk, sandalwood, vetiver, oakmoss, leather, cedar.

There’s a lot of galbanum; there are smaller touches of hyacinth and narcissus. The classic rose-jasmine pairing shows up, but the focus is iris. It persists even into the drydown, which is largely sandalwood-vetiver, with a wisp of oakmoss and a caress of leather. You’d probably peg it as a Chanel even if you had no idea what you were smelling.

What No. 19 really feels like to me is a fabulous pair of leather boots. You can stomp all over town in them, you can kick butts in them, they make you feel ten feet tall and invincible, and – oh yeah – they are so hot they’re practically smokin’. No. 19, along with Jolie Madame, is my invisible armor. It makes me an Amazon. I love it.

Here’s Tania Sanchez of Perfumes: The Guide on No. 19 (and an aside from me – I strongly disagree with TS on the general feeling of this scent, but I will say that this is one of my favorite reviews ever, a real gem, although I’ve cropped it in the interest of space):

In the history of feminine perfumes, there seem to be two recurring motifs of femininity: let’s call them the cloth mother and the wire mother, after Harry Harlow’s famous experiment… the wire mother is angular, unkind, tough, and cold – scary and handsomely hollow-cheeked. Of the wire mothers of perfume… No. 19, first released in 1971, may be the cruelest. It’s said that Henri Robert composed No. 19 for Gabrielle Chanel when she was in her eighties, and a striking and admirably dissonant portrait it is, from the silvery hiss of its nail-polish-remover beginning to its poisonously beautiful green-floral heart… For a fragrance with so many springtime references, all white blossoms and leafy greenery, No. 19 never lands you in any Sound of Music meadows. It keeps you in the boardroom, in three-inch stilettos and a pencil-skirt suit. Haughty and immune to sweetness, with a somewhat antiseptic air, this extraordinary perfume appeals to any woman who has ever wished to know what it is to be heartless. 

Incidentally, I’d like to know what scent Ms. Sanchez finds appropriate for a trip to the DMV, or a negotiation with the contractor who’s building the addition onto one’s home, or a job interview. Maybe she doesn’t need Seven-League Boots. Maybe she spends less time being in touch with her Inner Cloth Mother than I do, and needing a change from it. I’ll leave it there before I get snippier – I already said I love this review. I just don’t agree with it. (And who says there’s no place for a boardroom fragrance, anyway? If I want Alpine meadows, I’ll wear Chamade, or Miller Harris Fleur de Matin, soft little things that they are.  Or Climat, for that matter.)  I love it that No. 19’s florals have some backbone.

I feel pretty lucky to have identified, in my first ten samples, a fragrance – and a genre, the green floral – that I still love nearly four hundred samples later.

A word about formulations: No. 19 has been reformulated in the last couple of years; the new version lacks leather in the base, and is possible more rose, less muguet in the heart.  How to tell the difference? Easy in the edt – the new is quite green, the vintage more yellow-green.  I don’t think there was quite as much change in the edp, which was apparently rosier to begin with.  About the parfum, I can’t say.  The parfum is more powdery than the edt, and possibly has a higher percentage of iris.  My favorite version is vintage edt, although the edc (no longer produced) is nice too, if fleeting.  The edt tends to last about 3 1/2, maybe 4 hours on me, while the parfum lasts about 6 hours.  (I don’t own any edp, and can’t remember the staying power on that.)

Review Report:  Bois de Jasmin, Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Pere de Pierre, The Non-Blonde, Yesterday’s Perfume, and Chicken Freak’s Obsessions 1 and 2.

Look for an upcoming Fragrance Throwdown, where Annick Goutal Heure Exquise challenges No. 19.  Image is from fragrantica.com sorry, my mistake – it’s from seller “flaconetti” at ebay.com. I did have a pic up from fragrantica, but decided I would rather have one of the bottle.  I repeat, the picture is NOT from fragrantica.

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Tested in three versions: vintage (late 70’s/early 80’s?) parfum and new (2006?) La Collection edt, from my personal collection, as well as a private  sample of the old blue-and-black packaging from the 90’s. 

I wore the La Collection version first, on a blustery Saturday in January, before all the snow came. A story here: my hometown boasts a couple of “historic” hotels, one of which was bought by a university, renovated/enlarged into a hotel-and-conference-center, with its own restaurant and bar, and is now thriving. The other hotel, after the original owners died, was purchased by Doubletree Hotels and partially renovated. It did well for a few years, and it was during this time that The CEO and I were married and spent our first night of conjoined life in the honeymoon suite of the Patrick Henry Hotel. After a few years, Doubletree found it was losing business to the hotel/conference center, and it pulled out. The new owners took long-term residents, and the glamor of the Patrick Henry faded pretty quickly. There have been at least two changes of ownership since then, and there was talk of tearing down the building so as to avoid dealing with asbestos abatement. Most recently, a local businessman, wishing to prevent the loss of the beloved building, bought it, intending to sink several million dollars into renovation. The beautiful carved caryatids will stay and grace Williamson Road.

On that blustery January day, the hotel sold off a large part of the old furnishings. Instead of sending old bedsteads and artwork and lamps to the dump, the new owner sold them and donated the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.  I didn’t manage to pick up any furniture, but I did buy a colonial-frame mirror for $25 (mahogany! Beautiful – and a really heavy sucker, too) aaaaand la piece de resistance, the key to the room we stayed in on our wedding night. Now how cool is that?

Climat was keeping me company that day, and I enjoyed it very much. Having seen several reviews calling it an old-fashioned white floral, I’d predicted I’d like it – but I was surprised at how much so.

Notes for Climat:

Top: violet, peach, aldehydes, bergamot, rosemary

Heart: lily of the valley, rose, narcissus, tuberose

Base: sandalwood, amber, tonka bean, musk, civet, bamboo, vetiver

The first thing I smelled were the aldehydes, of course. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth repeating: I like aldehydes; they say “Proper perfume!” to me. It’s not that everything I wear is an aldehydic floral, but I tend to feel comfortable and at home in them. (Early exposure to Mom’s No. 5 is my explanation for that. And also that I have an uncomplicated relationship with her, so that the smell of her perfume is pleasant to me.) Immediately under the aldehydes, I smelled what I call “aromatics” – bergamot and herbs, somewhat similar to the beginning of Alahine, where it’s bergamot and lavender. This is a very juicy, green note that carries on for some time.  Under that, though, before I even got to any florals, I noticed the civet. Yeah, civet… I was able to pinpoint it pretty easily, since I’d worn both Ubar and Parfum Sacré within the previous week. I tend to like civet, too, in small amounts where it gives a gravity and depth to florals that might be somewhat lightweight without at least some ballast. Here the civet is very quiet and makes me think of one of the favorite smells of many perfumistas – cat fur. I wouldn’t say cat butt – just warm, dusty fur. But please be aware that your mileage may vary (YMMV), and you should have a working relationship with civet before purchasing any Climat!

From that point, Climat settles into a beautiful, well-blended floral scent. It’s still wearing that hat with a veil (the aldehydes), and some lacy undies (the civet), but Climat is a New Look dress scent if there ever were one. It’s a 1967 creation in white gloves and a fitted bodice, all buttoned and prim in roses and lily of the valley. There may be some tuberose in there, but it’s like black-and-white photos of a tropical vacation. I’m actually a little surprised not to see iris in the notes; Climat can be a little powdery, particularly in vintage parfum, and it reminds me a little bit of the powdery-smooth iris in Goutal’s Heure Exquise.

The base is lovely and very quiet, primarily sandalwood and vetiver, with just a hint of vanilla, and the warm cat-fur accent of civet. Climat lasts about 5-6 hours on me, about average for eau de parfum on my skin; the vintage parfum I have is probably age-damaged, because it doesn’t last that long. If I had to come up with just a few words to describe it, I think I’d have to pick “smooth” and “ladylike.”

I’ll warn you now: if the idea of yourself being described as “ladylike” made you spew coffee, Climat is not for you. If Cuir de Lancôme seemed too Donna Reed for your taste, you won’t do any better with Climat. (Try Sikkim or Magie Noire – even the current version – for a Lancôme fragrance that doesn’t wear pantyhose and heels. Incidentally, Sikkim is a lot like a spicier version of Stetson, and I think it would be terrific on a man.)

Here’s Luca Turin on Climat:  Created in 1967, Climat was born old, a laggard latecomer to the Ma Griffe tweedy-floral category… The Collection version of Climat is excellent… and makes an ideal grown-up fragrance for someone who clearly isn’t.

Well. Dr. Turin’s always right, except when he clearly isn’t. (I will forbear to mention the Insolence debacle, the Missoni schizophrenia, and the Giorgio insanity.) I’ll respectfully disagree with him in regards to two points. First off, “tweedy floral”? Nope. No tweed. No Katharine Hepburn or Miss Moneypenny in Climat, it’s too soft. It’s a full-skirted silk gabardine dress, not dressy enough to wear out for cocktails but too dressy for business attire. Secondly, “a grown-up scent for someone who isn’t?” Did he not notice the civet? Is he seriously recommending this scent for teenagers?

Look. I’m 42. Climat doesn’t do anything to my mental age (and Bookworm took one sniff and said, “Old lady talcum powder – you know, it smells nice, but sort of grandmotherly,” so I honestly don’t see any teenagers wearing it for aspirational aging, as Turin seems to imply). Maybe I feel like I’ve finally matured into “ladylike,” when the occasion warrants; I find that concept fairly attractive. I wear my cultured pearls. I just bought my first “good” handbag, without worrying about spending the money on a nice leather purse that ought to last me years. I like the sense of poise and posture that I have when I wear Climat; it gives me a sense of confidence.

I’ll admit that it really doesn’t appeal to me on days when I’m wearing jeans, nor would I reach for it when dressed up for a Hot Date. But if I’m in my favorite contour-waist micro-denier polyester trousers and a nice sweater, I’m happy in Climat. It also goes well with my ¾ sleeve teal wrap dress.

A word on formulations: the vintage parfum I have is rather overwhelmingly powdery. I do wonder if it’s suffering from age and poor storage – the top notes are that nail-polish-y acetone of decayed aldehydes + bergamot.  It’s less sparkly than the “La Collection” version. Oddly, Lancôme does not list concentration on any of the La Collection scents. I’m making an assumption that they’re edp’s, based on their longevity on my skin. The old version of Climat in the blue-and-black packaging is inferior, synthetic dreck. Avoid it.

La Collection sets can still be found in limited quantities at online discounters, and of course on ebay. I bought my set for under $40, including shipping, for four 15ml splash bottles. The other bottles in my set are Magie, Sikkim and Mille et une Roses; some sets offer Sagamore instead of the rose one. I do wish that I could have found Climat in a bottle bigger than the half-ounce I have now.  It’s beautiful, and I find myself thinking about it often when I’m testing some crappy modern heartless floral.

Review Report: Bois de Jasmin, Perfume Posse, Basenotes.  Top image is vintage Climat ad from lmajot at ebay; lower one is Patrick Henry Hotel by mattames at flickr.

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Before I started this scented journey, I would never have imagined that I would wear two or more different fragrances in a day, much less that I would wear perfume to bed. To sleep, I mean. That would have been stunningly wasteful, extravagant, ridiculous.

But these days I frequently find myself spritzing on something comforting and soft in the evenings, with the intention of relaxing into a pleasant cloud of scent. I’m not having any recent trouble sleeping, although I have had at times in the past, but sometimes I do wake up and find it difficult to resettle. It’s very nice to be able to sniff my wrist and relax all over again. A nice warm bath, a nice warm cup of tea with honey, a backrub if The CEO is feeling magnanimous, some lotion rubbed in, a fan running or other white noise… those are excellent sleep aids as well.

I don’t always put on a fragrance specifically for bedtime. Sometimes I’ve still got whatever I was wearing earlier on my wrists, and sometimes the idea just doesn’t occur to me. But sometimes I just want a nice smell on my skin as I go to sleep.

In winter, I want warm scents, in summer light florals. I notice that the fragrances I seek out at bedtime have commonalities: they tend to be comforting, they tend to be florals or vanillics – nothing complicated or intellectual – and they tend to be the kind of thing that can be spritzed liberally, without the agony of thinking, “Well, there goes $$$.” I want the cheapies at bedtime; if I’m going to by design miss some part of the experience (by being asleep!), I want to be wearing the inexpensive scents. Maybe that’s just me. I find, for example, Lutens’ La Myrrhe extremely comforting, but I’d never use it as a bedtime scent because it’s too special.

Here’s my roster of Sleep Agents:

Winter Team

Balenciaga Rumba (vtg edt). Rumba is one of those perfumes you would just despise and resent in the heat (or if you were pregnant, for that matter). Its fruits are the kind of thing our grandmothers used to put up in glass Mason jars in the summer, swimming in sugar syrup: peaches, plums, pears, apricots, stone fruits translucent with cooking and soft in texture. Rumba’s florals are heady, rich and tropical: magnolia, tuberose, jasmine, gardenia, orchid, carnation, heliotrope. All of this stuff makes Rumba a little tough for me to take, at times. It’s like wearing Carnival in Rio, right there on your skin, holy moly. But if you can hang in there awhile, you’ll be rewarded with one of the richest, strangest, loveliest drydowns ever. The base of Rumba is one of those that I find difficult to classify as either oriental or chypre, as it contains elements of both genres and nothing seems to stand out. Patchouli, oakmoss, amber? Chypre. Vanilla, styrax (benzoin), tonka, musk? Oriental. All of the above? Heaven knows how to classify it. In any case, the drydown of Rumba smells primarily of hot dust and honey and beeswax. It is gorgeous and warm.

Rochas Tocade (edt). I reviewed Tocade here in the fall. For sleeping, I like it because of its combination of dusty patchouli and vanilla, overlaid with that deep rose. Patchouli is very difficult for me in general, but somehow when it’s combined with vanilla it just makes the vanilla deep and smoky instead of smelling musty-earthy-dirty.

Shalimar Light (blue juice, the J-P Guerlain version). Reviewed here. Actually, I pretty much love SL at all times except summer. I’ve come to understand that if a scent contains the vanilla-benzoin-tonka combo, especially if it’s also got florals, I’m almost guaranteed to like it, unless it also contains a tolu balsam-patchouli combo, AKA The Kiss of Death. Smooth, creamy, comforting.

Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles, in pretty much any concentration. Reviewed here. Another rich, busy scent that dries down to a gloriously warm, incensey-musky base. Smells like a warm bed, which is perfect.

Caron Parfum Sacré (edp). Rose, woods, incense. Reviewed here. I find it intensely comforting and at the same time quite sensuous.

Thierry Mugler Alien (edp).  I have three samples, which are rapidly disappearing.  This one swings wildly between rich woods and sugared jasmine; I think it’s actually a little too sweet, but somehow that doesn’t bother me at bedtime.

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Another creamy one, reviewed here. So smooth that you glide along the dream river. Could be worn year-round, except in very hot weather.

Mariella Burani edt. No. 5’s cheerful Italian cousin, with cream in her coffee. Reviewed here, and another one that could be worn in all but the hottest weather.

Summer rotation (oddly, it looks as if I haven’t reviewed any of these yet)

Ivoire de Balmain (edt). Galbanum, citrus, floral soap, moss, and (eventually) rose and benzoin. A breath of fresh air at the start, with the clean smell of soap. When I wake up I will smell utterly delicious. Ivoire had to grow on me, and I like it better in humid weather when the soap and moss aren’t duking it out.

Kenzo Parfum d’Ete. I have the first version of this (1992), which is full of muguet and light, clean florals, mixed with very fresh green notes. Beautiful. The current reformulation is actually very lovely as well – less floral and more green, a lot like Calyx but without the sour fruity topnotes that go all garbagey on me.

YSL Paris Pont des Amours (LE, one of the many springtime flankers that soften the shrieking edge of original Paris). Paris is beautiful, but it can be a bit… much, you know, especially in the heat. I tend to like those Printemps LE versions for summer because they reduce the noise level to a manageable degree. How can you sleep with Paris screaming in your ear? I like the lightly powdery aspect of the Printemps flankers as well – powder is cool in the heat.

Annick Goutal Petite Cherie (edt). Yes, I know that a lot of people hate that pear topnote, and/or think it smells like wet dog. Yes, I know that pear topnote tends to deteriorate quickly (PC is the only bottle I keep in the fridge). Yes, I know that most of the rest of you think it’s silly for a grown woman to wear a fragrance meant for a little girl. I don’t care. Petite Cherie is a guilty pleasure and I love it. It is enormously comforting to me: fruit, grass, and roses are the elements of a childhood memory of peace, of weightlessness of the soul.

If there are any scents or bedtime rituals you rely on to usher you into Dreamland, please share.

(Image is baby liam sleeps by phitar at flickr.)

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Perfume Bottles from National Museums Scotland

  

Wednesday, Feb. 10: Actual blizzard  conditions outside (50-mph winds, snow, and temperatures in the low 20’s that with the wind chill feel like minus-zero), and yet I made it to work for a few hours before taking Taz to the doctor to see about those chronically-swollen tonsils of his. No verdict yet. The lab nurse took three full vials of blood for allergy screening tests and whatever alchemy they do there, and Taz was a complete trooper. The neighbors’ teenage son nearly drove into us on the way home – he drives far too fast anyway (so does his mother), but it was completely ridiculous with the amount of snow on the road. Thank God for antilock brakes, or Thomas, Taz, and I would be crow fodder. I need to post a picture of our road – it’s narrow, twisty, graveled, and closely bordered by both wire fences and trees. NOT a place one ought to speed, regardless of the speed limit. It’s a private road, and so does not actually have a speed limit, but if I were assigning it one, I’d say 15 mph. Yeah, it’s that bad a road. And Thomas is such a nice kid, but the speeding is seriously out of control… 

SOTD: Havana Vanille, which I am beginning to enjoy – and yet not on the scale that I enjoy either Shalimar Light or PdN Vanille Tonka. HV has this beautiful, transparent drydown that smells like woods and the best vanilla extract and lasts forever. It gets a grudging, “It’s okay, I guess” from Taz. His usual opinion on my scents is expressed with the disgusted visage of someone facing a large pile of filthy dishes to wash, so I took “It’s okay, I guess” to mean that he actually sort of likes this one.  

Thursday, Feb. 11: COLD. WINDY. SNOWY. Has SW Virginia suddenly been transported, landscape entire, to somewhere north of Lake Michigan? You know, everything looks right but feels wrong…   

(Wasn’t there some Ray Bradbury story about a little kid with telekinetic powers, who in a fit of childish pique wished his entire town up into the air – and his wish came true? Leaving all the frightened townspeople resigned to death by slow starvation? Maybe it was a Stephen King story instead… I’m sure I remember the basic plotline, and that it was a short story. Great – if I really want to find it, I’ll be forced into reading through endless anthologies of stories written by two of the most prolific sci-fi/fiction writers in the history of the genre. It’ll take me forever. This past summer I stayed haunted by “All Summer in a Day,” which I’d read in middle school and which I knew was a Bradbury story – and even though I knew the title and author and format, it still took me a couple of weeks to find it at the library.)   

SOTD: I need me some warmth, people – some happiness in the whiteout. It’s Alahine again.  

Friday, Feb. 12: SOTD: Voile de Fleur, such a pretty thing.  

Saturday, Feb. 13: I MOVED THE VAN! SOTD: Lancome Mille et une Roses. Eh. I mean, pretty, but eh. SOTE: Shalimar Light, mmmm.  

Sunday, Feb 14: SOTD: my Valentine’s Day gift from The CEO, Lancome Cuir. Sweet of him, this is really beautiful stuff. Sueded florals. The smell of Proper Ladies (leather handbag, scented handkerchief, talcum powder, lipstick…) Seriously, the floral mix in this is just beautiful – sweet and fresh without being brainless. And the smoky woods are really lovely. Wow.   

Monday, Feb. 15: Yippeee, more snow. I’m thrilled. SOTD: Cuir de Lancome again. Bedtime scent: Balenciaga Rumba, which is almost too much in the beginning – but I really love that hot dust and beeswax thing that it will be later.  

Tuesday, Feb. 16: SCHOOL IS BACK IN! WHOOPEE! Break out the champagne! SOTD: Houbigant Demi-Jour, a vintage sample courtesy of Donna (Flora at PST). Lovely floral chypre, which is really the only way I wear chypres. It reminds me a bit of Ivoire de Balmain.  

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Transcript of conversation conducted while watching Men’s Moguls Skiing and Pairs Skating (Short Program) on Valentine’s Day Night:    

The CEO: Hey, you smell really nice.    

Me: Oh, thanks!    

The CEO: Is that what I gave you for Valentine’s Day?    

Me: Yes, it is.    

The CEO: Well, good for me then. I have excellent taste.    

It was rather sweet of him – and he even let me pick out my own gift!    

Cuir, composed by Celine Becker and Pauline Zanoni and released as part of La Collection in 2007, is a floral leather scent. There was another scent by this name, released first under the name Révolte and later as Cuir – one of those vintage things that smell like cold stone and Rappacini’s garden and grave dirt, for you freaksters out there who love vintage leathers. Um, I mean freakster in the nicest possible way, of course.   

Cuir (La Collection) was a disappointment to those who were expecting a re-release of the original. Probably the disappointed horde were all fans of vintage Bandit and Tabac Blond and Knize Ten and Cabochard, looking for The Leather Chypre to Rule Them All and In the Darkness Bind Them… Ahem. Sorry. We did a LoTR marathon recently, while stuck in the house due to snow… the days are starting to run together, actually.    

Cuir LC is not that fragrance. Which is good for the rest of us who are leather-shy. I must admit that while some of my favorite scents have leather accents (SSS Tabac Aurea, JhaG Citizen Queen, vintage Chanel No. 19), there are few leather scents that I really, really like. I suppose to be honest, there’s just one other: Jolie Madame – and even she is at least half “armful of violets,” with the remaining half being “lady’s handbag.” Technically, Cuir does not even list leather as a note; presumably the role of Leather is being played by Saffron and Birch.     

Here are the notes for Cuir:    

Topnotes: mandarin, saffron, bergamot    

Heart notes: patchouli, hawthorne, jasmine, ylang    

Basenotes: orris root, birch, styrax    

It is difficult to imagine what Cuir really smells like when simply looking at that list of notes. It’s not a misleading list, exactly, but you don’t get a sense of its character by reading the notes. On me, Cuir is quite smoky, with a dry woodsy character that surprised me. I would have sworn that I smell a lot of vetiver under that birch tar. I am making the assumption here that it’s the birch tar accounting for the smokiness, and of course I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.    

Here’s Luca Turin in P:TG, on Cuir:    

“…this is a very unusual and beautiful leather, devoid of the weight of ambery, smoky, and animalic notes that make most others sink on drydown. Instead, this one maintains a light, airy, woody, almost vetiver-like translucency all the way through and feels… like rich suede… feels as comfortable as the real thing. Excellent.”     

Well, I do agree with Dr. Turin that Cuir is beautiful, but I disagree on the “devoid of smoke” definition, since I get a lot of smoke from Cuir, the lovely smell of an outdoor fire juuuust about to catch – that smokiness that tells you that the wood is about to burst into flame. I find this surprisingly pleasant. In fact, Cuir often seems to me like two fragrances in one: the sillage, and the air a good foot from perfumed skin, is very smoky-woody, while close to the skin, Cuir is primarily a cool, powdery floral. I keep thinking I’m smelling a dry vetiver – I’m not generally a big vetiver fan, but when it’s right, it’s right – combined with a very restrained jasmine and a good slug of powdery iris. I hear that hawthorne can smell like sweaty feet, but I’m not getting any of that – just a soft, blended floral with a smoked-woods and well-processed leather goods background. Unusually for me, I do not actually smell any patchouli, when usually I can pick that note up at ppm levels. The effect of Cuir is rather like opening one’s mother’s good leather handbag, and getting a whiff of her face powder and/or her perfumed handkerchief. This description probably doesn’t mean anything to you unless you’re at least forty years old and your mother wore Chanel, but such is the case for me.    

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know how I feel about Cuir de Russie: to me, it smells like mummy dust and cattle working pens, instead of the “pink suede” or “leather luxury” or “the seats of a very fancy automobile” that some of you describe it as. (You lucky chumps. Someday I’ll get even.) But this! Cuir is cool and elegant and warmly smiling, both reserved and friendly. It’s actually, I find, far more wearable than Jolie Madame, which is one of my Do NOT Mess With Me invisible-armor scents.     

I spritz Cuir with a bit more abandon than my usual careful wrist-and-throat application. With one spritz on each wrist, one on the cleavage (under my sweater – it is darn cold outside, you think I’m going about with cleavage on display? Nuh-UH), one on throat, and possibly a spritz to the back of my neck, it lasts several hours. The sillage is rather quiet; even with 4-5 spritzes, it doesn’t violate my three-foot rule.    

I think a man could wear Cuir; it’s very woody, the florals are quiet and dry, and it’s not radiant enough to scare the guy in the next cubicle. In fact, I’m going to attempt to lure The CEO to wear it at some point. I’ll report how that goes. (Don’t hold your breath, though.)    

Cuir seems to have gone straight to the discounters after a brief tenure at Lancôme counters, where the SA’s seemingly hid all the La Collection scents while pushing Miracle and Magnifique. I could make disparaging, what’s-the-world-coming-to comments, but you’ve heard them before, so I won’t. I doubt it’ll be back in production because it actually has brains, unlike a myriad of mainstream scents currently being flogged in, say, Macy’s. My 1.7-oz bottle cost about $35, so there is absolutely no excuse for not buying a bottle if you love it. (Samples are available at The Perfumed Court and The Posh Peasant, and I’m not affiliated with either one.)    

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