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Epic FAIL photo from failblog.org, by Will Vega

And I mean utter FAIL!! I’d been planning to follow a 1980s Scent Week plan this week. Some perfumista friends on Facebook tossed out the challenge, and I thought I could do it.  I mean, I lived through the 80s… I was actually doing pretty well in the 80s, what with being a teenager who didn’t care much that I was geeky.  (If you are a geek, but all your friends are geeks too, life is pretty good.)  I don’t have a lot of 1980s fragrances, actually, but between ebay minis and decants and samples, I figured it would be easy enough. I made a plan, based on what I had available to me:

Monday – Lauren by Ralph Lauren (vintage)

Tuesday – YSL Paris

Wednesday – (Original, Karl Lagerfeld) Chloe

Thursday – Dior Poison

Friday – Givenchy Ysatis

Saturday – Coty Sand & Sable

Sunday – Balenciaga Michelle

Lauren and Chloe were both originally released in the late 1970s, not in the 1980s, but a college friend of mine wore Lauren, so it has a connection to my very-80s coming of age and I think of it as being an 80s scent. Likewise with Chloe, except that I was the one wearing Chloe, all through middle and high school and into college: again, very-80s to me personally. Paris was released in 1983; Poison started choking us in 1985; Sand & Sable hit the drugstore shelves in 1981. I had a high school friend who wore Sand & Sable, and I spent a lot of time dodging people wearing Poison in auditoriums at college, but I don’t remember Paris at all, unless what I was smelling at the time was not in fact Coty Exclamation!, but Paris itself (the two are fairly similar in structure, except that Exclamation! is more peachy-powdery, less green than Paris). Ysatis, released in 1986, I did not recognize by name. But the smell, when I picked up a tiny vintage bottle for $3 on ebay, was very familiar; a different college friend wore it, and I immediately connected Ysatis with my freshman Spanish class. I never smelled Michelle when it was new in 1983, but it fits in with the decade, in its smoldering bold florals atop a woody-mossy base. It’s a favorite of mine.


My 1986 prom dress was a lot like the one on the left (with sleeves). Yeah, go ahead and pity me, but I had a good time. Photo of Simplicity pattern from risingfeenix.com.

The first two days went fine. Lauren is cologne strength, and not heavy in structure in any case, with green notes, rose, violet, and carnation on a soft, mossy sandalwood base. I smelled good, even in the heat. My tiny bottle of Paris is also vintage via ebay (cheap!) and it’s hard to put on the level of knock-you-down smell power that Paris used to pack back in the day, by dabbing from the very-cute mini bottle. I actually put a dab on throat and wrist and then supplemented with my Paris Pont des Amours Printemps flanker. I smelled good, even in the heat.

Let me comment just a little about that “heat” issue… for the past three days, it’s been over 90F in the middle of the day. It’s also quite humid: at 5:35 pm today, the National Weather Service showed a temperature at my local reading spot of 91F, with humidity of 74%. Now, that humidity is not ridiculous for summer – in August, we’ll have temps of upper 90s and humidity of 90%, and it will be unbearable, but it’s only June! I’m not ready for this!

I tried a dab of Chloe this morning before heading out to take the kids to school. According to Eddie Van’s thermometer, at 7:55am, the temperature was 72F; Chloe was fine. It was a bit heavy, but fine. Again, it’s another dabber. Bear in mind that I nursed a 30ml bottle of Chloe edt for about 12 years, by only wearing it when I dressed up, and alternating it with maybe three other fragrances over that 12-year period (Prince Matchabelli Cachet, a floral chypre I never loved, Revlon Xia Xi’ang, a soft rosy amber that I did love, and a teeny-tiny bottle of Coty Emeraude, which I adored). But within half an hour, I was pulling weeds outside and planning to mow, and I was sweating rather freely. At that point, Chloe was un-fine.

So I went inside and washed. I looked at my list to see if I could switch days on some of my picks. Poison? I’ve developed a tolerance, and even a mild liking for it these days, but today, nope. No can do. Ysatis? It flies the same skies as Chloe, but is bigger and even raunchier, with civet and something that smells like dirty ashtray. That’s not gonna work, either. Sand & Sable is pretty big, too, and can sometimes give me a chemical headache. And Michelle? It’s loud, too.

And because I am a geeky chicken, I gave up.  The 80s Scent Week is a MAJOR FAIL for me right now, and I don’t think I will be picking it up again until fall at the earliest. I could have gone with any of these fragrances, which I have on hand (usually in sample sizes):

Annick Goutal Eau de Camille – a green floral crisp as grass on a cool, dewy, early morning,

Annick Goutal Heure Exquise – very similar to Chanel No. 19, elegant as a freshly-pressed white blouse.

Balenciaga Rumba – Carmen Miranda drinks rum and dances until the candles burn out.

Balmain Ivoire – soap. And moss. Soap and moss and soap and moss, and then finally, amber.

Diptyque L’Ombre dans l’Eau – Green beans, with a side of raspberries, and a bouquet of roses!

Emmanuel Ungaro Diva – Beautiful rose chypre, bold and uncompromising and demanding.

Giorgio Beverly Hills – uhh… here’s my sort-of-review of it, and ’nuff sed.

Guerlain Samsara – Jasmine, sandalwood, and circus elephants with jeweled headdresses. Big.

Jean Marc Sinan– Like Diva, but with vampire fangs.

However, those lovely quiet Annick Goutals, and Ivoire, and L’Ombre dans L’Eau, seem very far from what I’d call “80s style,” and so I wouldn’t even think of wearing them for 80s week.


1985 fashion, from Wikimedia Commons

And here are a few more 1980s-released scents to go with your shoulder pads:

Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte

Calvin Klein Eternity

Calvin Klein Obsession

Catherine Deneuve Deneuve

Chanel Coco

Coty Exclamation!

Coty Lady Stetson

Estee Lauder Beautiful

Estee Lauder Knowing

Estee Lauder Pure White Linen

Gloria Vanderbilt Vanderbilt

Guerlain Champs Elysees

Houbigant Raffinee

K de Krizia

Krizia Krazy

Krizia Teatro alla Scala

Montana Parfum de Peau

Paloma Picasso

Prescriptives Calyx

Yves RocherIspahan

Yves Rocher Venise

Yves St Laurent Opium (1977, but in spirit close to the big 80s smells)

I never liked Opium, Obsession, or Poison. Or Coco, either. Giorgio I tolerated, probably because it kept passing me in small wafts down my high school halls, not asphyxiating me in elevators. The thing about Opium was that I kept getting trapped in movie theaters, auditoriums, concert halls, church pews, sitting next to someone wearing much too much of it, and it was awful. It smelled to me as if it were decomposing into oily dust. Obsession I hated because it smelled a lot like Opium, except less spicy and more dusty. Coco I hated because it smelled like Opium too; it was less offensive because it smelled more alive, slightly less like decomposing into oily dust. Poison I hated largely because it was loud, but also because it smelled, well, poisonous. Like it could reach out its purple-gloved hand and throttle anyone within wafting distance – which, for Poison, was considerable. I still don’t like that resiny stuff that smells like oily dust, but I’m developing an appreciation for Poison these days. That might be because of Poison’s luxurious white floral underneath the Cough Syrup of Death.

It certainly isn’t nostalgia that allows me to appreciate it now.

The other thing about all of these is that back in the day, people wore too much. Much too much. Much, much too much. I’ve talked about sillage before: I like some, but not a lot. If you can smell me from six feet away, I’m wearing too much. I like to be smelled within a three-foot radius, i.e., by people standing right next to me. If you’re that close to me, there’s probably a reason for that and we’re not encroaching on each other’s personal space. As my grandmother Nell always said, usually when I asked for another cookie, “Enough is enough, and too much will make you sick.” (She always said it just like that; I sometimes wondered if it was something her own mother had said, but I didn’t ask. And now, of course, I can’t.) That goes for perfume too: in my world, enough is enough. And too much will… all together now… make you sick!

Fragrances from the 80s were big and loud and rich and complex and bold and striking. That’s not very… me, as an aesthetic, and some of these scents were the kind of thing that entered the room before the wearer did. I hate that. I mean, okay, fine, it’s kind of exciting to have someone walk through the hall ten minutes after you’ve been there and say, “Hey, she’s here! I smell her.” But I would much rather leave that impression on people that have enough affection for me to hug me and smell my perfume; I prefer the more intimate recognition of my fragrance.

So I’ll try this week’s plan another time. Maybe some week we’re expecting snow… that ought to be comfortable enough.

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  I am not, technically, Irish.  Nor am I Catholic, and saints’ days don’t have much significance for me in the traditional way. 

  But at least some of my ancestors came to America the hard way, on ships with sails, in the mid-18th century.   They landed in Philadelphia and worked their way south down the long valleys, looking for land they could make their own.  They found it in Southwest Virginia, and they settled.  Got married – to Scots and Germans and English and other Irish – and had children and grandchildren.

 At least one branch of the family was casual about religion in Ireland, changing from Catholic to Protestant and back, depending on the political situation.  Another branch was Protestant before they left Ireland.  But all of them seemed to have gone whole-hog Protestant in Virginia.

 I don’t have a single Catholic relative.  And we’re all what I like to call “standard Colonial mix,” that mid-Atlantic blend of Scots and Irish and English and German, with a bit of Welsh and Dutch thrown in.  That’s us: Daughertys and Powerses and Strawns, most of us fair and freckled and blue-eyed, or Black Irish dark.

 They came here for many reasons, according to family lore and genealogical research: Overcrowding.  Too many sons, not enough land.  Religious oppression.  Having lost their land to an English lord.  Enterprising spirits.  Escaping judicial punishment.  Simple poverty.  And they all wound up here, in the little corner of Virginia that’s as hilly as Ireland, and nearly as green.  It must have seemed like a little piece of home to them.

 I raise a glass to them, on the day people are proud to be Irish.  Slainte! 

Photo courtesy of pdphoto.org.

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