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This is the latest round of Serge Lutens testing, with results as follows. Blue, I love. Pink, I like. Green, I dislike. Purple, I despise. Beyond La Myrrhe, there’s not a single SL fragrance that I am dying to own – so far, anyway.   Thanks again to everybody kind enough to send me samples… and you might have to remind me who you are, because my older emails are just buried in this insane pile…

Arabie – curry spices and amber and woods, very rich and almost edible but almost sweaty, too. I like smelling it, but not on my skin. I’d rather smell this smell in a house where I’ve been invited to dinner.

A La Nuit– the Perfumes: The Guide review says “Death by jasmine,” and it’s quite correct. JasminesR-us. All jasmine, all the time. Jasmine Overload. Now if it were “death by tuberose,” I’d probably like it. I don’t hate A La Nuit, but I don’t like it either. If you like jasmine, have at it. You can have my share.

(Sidenote: Is it not freaky, weird and/or strange that I should love tuberose so much, and have a mild aversion to its partner-in-smell, jasmine? But there you go: it’s how I feel. Tuberose? gimme more. Tuberose with other white florals (including jasmine)? yes, please. Jasmine on its own? I’lllllll…. just back away. I’ll be over here sniffing my Vamp a NY, thanks. Or the Fracas, or Beyond Love, or Carnal Flower, or Tuberosa d’Autonno. You can keep the Tubereuse Criminelle, though.)

Fille en Aiguilles – the first moments are very camphoraceous, then it’s piney spice. I like this a lot, and at the same time, I’m not sure I could really enjoy wearing it on my skin. I’d love to have it as a candle. After an hour’s time, it’s very enjoyable, a pine-spice-incense thing that is very pleasant, but half an hour after that, it picks up a sour, wet-ashes acridity that I’ve noticed before in other scents (Paestum Rose, the Aedes de Venustas fragrance, and Comme des Garcons White). This seems to be a nexus of cedar and incense, with possibly some rose involved. I never, ever like this accord, and my word for it is unbearable. Luckily, three hours after application, the Fee en Eggwee is pretty much gone. This perfume swings from “dislike” to “mild enjoyment” to “greater enjoyment” and then veers straight for “Dear God, No!”  This one doesn’t quite approach the KillMeNow hatred that I have for those few Lutens (Tube Criminy comes to mind), but it’s pretty close.

Boxeuses – This one seems… unstable. Could be my perception, could be my skin, but the components seem a hairsbreadth away from just falling to pieces instead of joining together the way I thought they would. You know how if you let a ripe peach just sit and dry out for awhile, it gets leathery? And how good leather has that soft peachskin texture to it? Makes sense to me that peach and leather would hold hands and get along. But in Boxeuses, they don’t. I don’t know why. Also, I found it animalic in a disturbing way.

Fourreau Noir– Lord help me, this is evil lavender. Instant blinding headache… wait, now it’s shaving cream covered in maple syrup… Okay, this one is KillMeNow hatred. I could not wait for the drydown, I had to scrub within ten minutes. I was shaking with nausea. Couldn’t face the concept of a retest, either.

This was not a good set for me. (Duh, ya think?) You can see my reactions to other Serge Lutens fragrances in Part 1 and Part 2.  What I’d be interested to know is, was anybody surprised that I didn’t like these, given my usual tastes? I try to be unbiased, I really do – I sincerely try to just grab a sample out of the basket and put it on for the first time without looking at the name or the notes, only looking at the vial when I have a preliminary feel for what’s on my skin. Repeat testings, of course, can’t be done this way.

And of course there’s always the fact that the Lutens line is heavily weighted toward accords that I am not instinctively drawn to. We all have our preferences, and I’m not willing to say that certain preferences are more worthy than others (especially when it’s my preferences that are going to get some scorn!). I’m not big on curried fruit and cedar-incense and Bold and Weird, I’m just not, and I refuse to feel guilty. I like what I like. It’s interesting to me that La Myrrhe is both Bold and Weird, and yet seems so absolutely perfect. Go figure. Other than being Bold and Weird, it’s not in the usual Lutensian style, I suppose.

There are more Serges to test, so there will be more reviews here soon. Oh, and we move the blog tomorrow! There will be a link here to forward you to the new site. Hope you’ll join me there.

Image of Arabie from  Fragrantica.

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Perfume Review: Amouage Honour Woman

Date released: 2011

Perfumer: Alexandra Carlin and Violaine Collas

Sample provenance: sample purchased from Aedes.com, 2012

Sub-category: Summer-weight white floral with tuberose

The following never happened. But it could have…

Mals was having an amazing day. She was walking down a city street, the heels of her new brown leather boots tapping on the sidewalk, shopping bags swinging by her side. She was musing to herself that the cashmere sweater she’d found on sale was just perfect – simple, classic, a lovely soft shade of gray-blue. And the boots! Will wonders never cease? The boots were perfect, too. Butter-soft, the right heel, they fit her ankles, and they didn’t make her feet ache. She’d worn them out of the store. And that tablecloth, that was a wonderful find for $10… White linen with drawn-thread work, just the size for her harvest maple table, guaranteed resistant to the tiniest food stain, machine washable. Perfect.

A storefront caught her eye: The Dream Perfumery, lettered in a clean but flowing script above the door. Her eyebrows went up, and she dodged across the lanes of oncoming walkers to have a closer look. The building itself seemed to be made of marble, and the interior was softly lit. The heavy glass door swung open when she put her hand up to it, and then she realized that someone inside had opened it for her.

Thank you,” she said in faint surprise to the young woman holding the door.

Oh, do come in,” the young woman said. “Lovely day, isn’t it? I’m Graciela, and we’re so pleased you stopped by.”

Mals blinked. This was not what the kind of treatment to which she was accustomed. And the inside of the shop was absolutely luxe, with a whisper-soft carpet and walls hung with fabric in rich colors. It smelled of many mingled scents, as a perfume shop should.

(more…)

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Image from Amazon.com

O Tannenbaum!   As Christmas approaches, Muse in Wooden Shoes wishes you and yours a happy holiday season.

This post is part of a joint blogging project concerning wood-focused fragrances, in honor of the approaching holiday. Bloggers were to review or discuss three perfumes highlighting woody notes. I’m not a woody kind of gal – regular readers know that I love green fragrances and florals of all stripes, from white floral to floral oriental and floral chypre – so I looked on the project as an opportunity to educate myself with a few woody fragrances.

Woody scents can vary from dry to sweet, from austere to lush, and I took a scattershot approach, picking one well-known agarwood-sandalwood scent, one highlighting oak, one focused on pine and spruce notes, and a backup scent composed of rosewood.

10 Corso Como

This fragrance is from the house of Italian designer Carla Sozzani, and was composed more than a decade ago by nose Olivier Gillotin. It’s pretty famous for being a sandalwood-rich scent, but I hear it’s been reformulated due to the drastic shortage of real sandalwood.

This one opens up with the unmistakeably plastic-bandage accord of agarwood (oud), which I admit to liking a lot. Due to time-and-space limitations – and in all honesty, limitations on my knowledge of the subject – I’m not going to get into a discussion of how there are many different grades of oud, including at least one synthetic one in wide usage, and big variations in smell. This one is nice, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. For use as a yardstick, my take on the Montale ouds is that I tend to like the rose-oud combos and could even wish for a bit more oud in them, as they usually go “10 minutes of Band-aid, half an hour of something indefinably gorgeous, and then three hours of insistent rose.” (Except for Montale White Aoud, which starts out with the Band-aid and the indefinably gorgeous and then goes into “two hours of insistent rose-vanilla, followed by several nerve-wracking hours of the dreaded Youth Dew accord.” Because of the Youth Dew bit, I don’t love White Aoud, but I like everything up until then.)

After five to ten minutes of that beautifully medicinal oudy thing, 10 Corso Como settles into a sweet, rich sandalwood. And there it stays for four hours, eventually shedding a little of its sweetness and becoming drier, but staying warm and friendly and approachable. I don’t smell much else other than oud, sandalwood, and vetiver, although I think there might be a bit of rose in there somewhere. It’s not identifiably floral.

How you feel about it depends very much on how you feel about sandalwood. I like it myself, but my favorite sandalwood fragrances remain Tableau de Parfums Miriam, SSS Champagne de Bois, and vintage Arpege parfum, with the current version of Bois des Iles running just behind. All of those have both aldehydes and prominent floral notes, and it’s not difficult to see where my preferences tend to lie. 10 Corso Como is very comfortable and attractive, and I enjoy it very much. It’s easily wearable by either gender.

My sample is a boxed manufacturer’s sample purchased from The Perfumed Court, and I don’t know how old it is. However, it is a manufacturer’s sample, which leads me to believe that it might be an older one. I’m not sure that 10 Corso Como still smells like this, which is a shame because it’s lovely. On the other hand, it’s on the sweet side and I would have liked it to be a little drier, a little bit more oud-y. I have heard the reformulation is still very nice.

Notes, from Now Smell This: Rose, geranium, vetiver, musk, sandalwood, and Malay oud-wood oil. Other notes lists I’ve seen include frankincense.

Napa Valley Cielo

Cielo,” in Spanish, can mean “sky,” or “heaven,” and I’m not sure which is meant by the title of this fragrance, from a company located in the Napa Valley in California, which is famous for its wines and its lovely landscape. This scent, according to The Perfumed Court, has an oak wood note and is described as being “lovely and distinctive, evocative of Napa Valley vineyards.” I enjoy Serge Lutens’ oaky Chene and the beautiful oakwood opening of Sonoma Scent Studio’s To Dream, so I picked Cielo as a fragrance to highlight for this project for its oak note.

Notes: Sweet daphne, grape leaf, honeysuckle, fig leaf, honey, oak, and sandalwood.

Cielo opens up with a turpentiney-pinewood-celery-varnish accord that smells like anything but perfume. Actually, it doesn’t just “open up” with that, but it stays in that zone on my skin for hooooouuuuurs, not morphing into anything else, and I’m a little puzzled as to why this thing was bottled in the first place. It doesn’t smell like oak, it doesn’t smell like forest or wood or anything other than turpentine. It’s possible that it reacts badly to my skin; however, I didn’t like it on paper, either. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to smell like this at all. For what it’s worth, I do not enjoy scents with fig leaf, and I imagine that’s the issue here.

FAIL. And since this one was such a disaster, I’m going to move on to another scent.

DSH Perfumes Festive

Festive is one of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ holiday offerings – in years past she’s offered one new creation each holiday season. I’m not sure whether she’s still doing that or not, but past holiday scents have included Ma Folie de Noel, Winter White, Marzipan, Three Kings, and many others. I had intended to review December, with its notes of “aromatic wood” and “pine cone accord,” but when push came to shove I couldn’t find my sample. However, in the scramble through my DSH samples, I found Festive, which I remembered liking, so I pulled it out instead. Glad I did!

Festive was actually the first holiday release, if I’m reading the website correctly, and includes notes of bergamot, bitter orange, spice notes, fir needle, spruce, incense, and sandalwood. My sample is oil format, which of course doesn’t radiate far but sticks around a fairly long time. I never smell the carrier oil in any of Dawn’s oil samples, and the oil absorbs quickly into the skin so I don’t feel greasy.

This scent opens up with a relaxed, smiling citrus-pine accord that could go wrong and smell like cleaning products, but doesn’t. I’m not a big citrus fan, and if you’re looking for that kind of thing you’ll be disappointed; the citrus here is muted and reminds me of dried orange peel rather than big bright lemony bergamot. Instead, you get an invigorating hint of the way your house, decorated for Christmas, might smell right after you’ve brought in a fresh-cut fir tree. Traditionally, people in this area used to cut fresh cedars (which, here, are something like overgrown weeds) and although cedars are prickly, dry out easily and leave plenty of dropped needles behind, for the first week or so they can make a house smell truly wonderful.

Gradually, Festive’s lovely dried orange peel-and-Christmas tree smell gains some well-blended spicy notes before settling into a sandalwood and amber accord, rich without being too sweet. It lasts for about four hours on me when dabbed sparingly, and it’s a very snuggly sort of scent.

I just heard from Dawn yesterday that she’ll be offering home fragrances in some of her scents. Festive would be terrific as a room spray. It’s aromatic in a coniferous-spice way without smacking you over the head like so many so-called “pine” home scents do. It’s nice on skin, too.

Abdes Salaam Attar Rosewood

I like rosewood. It’s a note found in several beloved fragrances, including Annick Goutal Eau du Ciel, Caron Parfum Sacre, (vintage) Coty Emeraude, Diorissimo, Chanel Cristalle, and the first Ines de la Fressange.

Unlike many woody notes, which are most prominent in basenotes, rosewood has a bright, aromatic presence that seems most noticeable in the top notes of a perfume. It contains linalool (the distinctive aroma of lavender) and is related to geraniol; it has a lot of the sunny chipper quality of good rose oil. There are many varieties of rosewood, but Brazilian rosewood is the varietal most commonly used in perfumery.

This scent called Rosewood seems fairly linear; it does start with a highly aromatic, almost piercing character. I am not sure whether it is a composition or straight-up rosewood: I could swear I smell geranium and rose as well as sandalwood and perhaps a little bit of vanilla as the fragrance develops. It lasts about two and a half or three hours, eventually settling into a quiet woody hum before lifting off my skin completely.

I’m a little puzzled about the origin of this particular fragrance. The Perfumed Court lists it as “SCENTS OF AROMATIC RESINS – Rosewood,” but nothing under that name is to be found at profumo.it (the Abdes Salaam Attar website). There is a listing for Scents of Aromatic Resins, but it is a kit for the amateur perfumer and does not include rosewood. It may now be discontinued, or it may be the diluted natural oil of rosewood sold in the Aromatherapy section. The information on the profumo.it website about essence of rosewood says, “Its aroma is calming and antistress; its aroma is harmonizing and stimulant. Therefore it is used in perfumery as an element able to tie ingredients with big differences between them and to smooth the angles of one composition.”  Well, whatever this sample vial I have is, whether single ingredient or composition, it’s interesting and pleasant.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Tannenbaum project, and please check out my blogging partners’ posts here:

All I am….is a redhead
Another Perfume Blog
Beauty, Bacon, Bunnies
Beauty on the Outside
Daly Beauty
EauMG
Eyeliner on a cat
Fragrant Reviews
Olfactoria’s Travels
Parfumieren
Redolent of Spices
Scent of the Day
Suzanne’s Perfume Journal
The Candy Perfume Boy
Undina’s Looking Glass

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Remember my super-mini reviews of the Serge Lutens fragrances I’ve tried, and my general impression of the line, back in October? Well, I’ve had the chance to try a few more, thanks to some generous folks who sent me samples, and here’s another installment of short reviews. I found some I rather like, one I’d probably buy if I were rolling in cash (I’m not), and another couple I don’t like, which is about par for me with regard to the Lutens line. The ones highlighted in pink, I like. The ones in green, I vaguely dislike but don’t hate. There are no highlighted-in-purple Kill.Me.Now hate-and-despise fragrances in this set, thank goodness.

Vitriol d’Oeillet (sample from Tammy)

Angry Carnation” doesn’t seem to apply to this at all. For one thing, there’s little to no floral aspect: no fresh green, no creamy ylang, no dewy petals. There is a bare hint of clove, a lot of pepper, some geranium, some rose, and a lot of wood. Drrrrry. Add in some coumarin, but I do not really get the creaminess some reviewers mention.

If I may be sacrilegious for a moment, what this reminds me of is a drier Old Spice. The aftershave, mind you, because there’s more than a hint of shaving cream to Vitriol d’Oeillet (argh, the thought of splashing something called Vitriol on one’s face!). Vd’O may be, and probably is, made with good ingredients, while I notice that Old Spice doesn’t smell much like its old self these days. When I was a child, I could count on chipping in some pennies to help buy Dad an Old Spice gift set (some combination of aftershave, cologne, deodorant, or soap-on-a-rope), and I smelled it for years on him. Probably a decade ago, he gave it up. It didn’t smell right to him, and he stopped wearing cologne at all.

The consternation most reviewers seem to feel concerning Vitriol d’Oeillet seems not to be due to disgust; rather, the complaint seems to be boredom. Vd’O smells okay to me – nice, even – and if I were able to score some at a considerable discount, I’d probably buy it for my dad. Smelling Vd’O on my wrist, I’m transported back to the Father’s Days of my childhood, leaning in to give my father a hug after he’d opened the obligatory box of Old Spice and dabbed on a little cologne. For that reason, I probably like it more than I ought to.

Now, if only I could get Angry Carnation at Old Spice prices…

Chene (sample from Julie)

Now, this I like. A lot. It is extremely dry and on the verge of astringent, but I rather like it. It’s rather linear, with an attractive oak wood note and the (apparently obligatory) Lutensian cedar, which I’ll also admit to liking most of the time.

At the same time, I can’t help being sort of bored by it. It feels like a very tiny piece of, say, Sonoma Scent Studio’s lovely To Dream, of which my favorite part was the fleeting, uplifting whiff of oakwood. Chene smells mostly the same all the way through to me, with a bit of citrus up top and a hint of tonka bean, perhaps, in the base. Chene would probably make a great layer when one wanted to add a dry, unsmoky woody cast to something else.

Again, I like it a lot. But I don’t think I need it.

Fleurs de Citronnier (sample from Odonata)

Awwwwwwful. I might have known I wouldn’t like this, but I tried it anyway. It’s all fake lemon, screechy indeterminate white florals, and hissy laundry musk. I smell like Mr. Clean. HATE. P:TG, which I did not consult until after testing, calls it a “failed cologne.” There you go, more confirmation that I wouldn’t like it: I don’t even like good cologne. Eventually, after a couple of hours, it gets more vaguely floral and less hissy, but I still don’t like it.   Awwwwwful.

Ambre Sultan (sample from Sharon)

Minute one: Sweet, waaaay sweeeeet. Caramel syrup.

Minute two: There is a honkin’ ton of patchouli in this.

Minute four: Getting more interesting, with a dusty, almost burnt quality.

Minute six: Whoa, where are all these herbs coming from?

Minutes eleven through fifteen: Waitaminnit. Why do I smell Play-doh??

Minute sixteen through hour three: Sweet vanilla-amber.

Overall? Eh. I don’t hate it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to wear it, either.  In fact, if you offered me a bottle free of charge, I’d turn it down.

Fleurs d’Oranger (sample from Sharon)

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this. For one thing, I hardly ever get on well with orange blossom – it so often goes soapy on me. For another, I keep hearing about how “sweaty” this thing is, with its dose of cumin. However, I’m probably not as susceptible to cumin as a lot of people are, given my enjoyment of cuminy Amaranthine, Dolce Vita, and modern Rochas Femme. I barely smelled any cumin in Fd’O at all. (Elisa suggests that the sample I have may be the reformulated, less-cuminy version. Could very well be.)

Also, this scent is not straight-up orange blossom. Almost from the first minute, I smelled jasmine – a big rich French-style jasmine, not the tropical kind. Ten minutes in, the tuberose peeked out, and I relaxed. Oh, yes, sweet white florals bein’ all friendly, just my style. At this point, The CEO walked by and said, “Oh, that’s nice. Very floral. I like florals on you.”

Bottom line? I like it. I don’t like it more than, say, Kate Spade’s original and now unobtainable white floral scent, or that Cristina Bertrand #3 scent, another mixed white floral. I don’t think I’d pay Serge prices for it, what with that big bottle of Cristina Bertrand (eBay, $12 including shipping) in my cabinet, but Fd’O is really lovely.

Datura Noir (sample from Sharon)

Now, this one I expected to like – and I do. A white-floral-oriental? Yep. That particular alley in my Perfume Town is always free of obstructions. Just back that semi up to the warehouse, Mack. The general effect is tuberose and vanilla-lemon pound cake, and it is some radiant stuff. One spritz on the back of my left hand stuck with me for five hours, creating some nice sillage. It’s heady and luxuriant as some magical flowering jungle that might come and eat your house while you’re asleep… so you’d better watch out.

I think there may be some coconut in this, come to think of it. Maybe it’s Five-Flavor Pound Cake (vanilla, lemon, almond, coconut and butter flavorings) instead of just vanilla-lemon. After testing, I checked Perfumes: The Guide just to see, and its review mentions cherry/heliotrope. I’m not sure I get cherry, but almond definitely. I know cherry and almond go together; frequently I get “cherry” out of some fragrances that many people would call “almond,” but this time it went the other way around for me, almond instead of cherry.

I like it a lot. If a bottle appeared in my Christmas stocking, I’d wear it. Again, I haven’t found a Serge other than La Myrrhe that I’d consider selling my kidneys to get, but if I had the discretionary spending level of, for example, Melinda Gates, I’d probably buy this. When my Vamp a NY decant, and my bottle of Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur go dry, I might have to consider Datura Noir.

Fumerie Turque (sample also from Sharon – I think)

I tried this on a chilly Saturday while waiting for the town Christmas parade to come by. The parade start time was delayed by the passage of a train, so I had plenty of time to watch my sons run around and be silly, and plenty of time to sniff my wrist.

I’m still not sure what’s going on with this one. Right at the beginning, it’s really dirty-smelling under the sweet tobacco, which is delightfully rich. The effect is animal butt covered in caramel: whoa. My first thought was that there is a spectacularly filthy musk in FT, but now I’m wondering if it’s the honey. I’m not all that experienced with honey-containing fragrances.

People talk about this one being both smoky and richly sweet, but I didn’t smell much smoke. I tend to be sensitive to smoky notes, often finding Shalimar unbearably smoky and smelling smoke in things that aren’t supposed to contain that effect. Even Tocade has become too smoky for me. But this? No smoke. Animal butt and sweet gingerbread, that’s it.

I like FT. The filthy angle pretty much guarantees that I wouldn’t wear it much, but I’d put it in the “like” box.

There will be more Lutens mini-reviews to come. My deep thanks to everyone who so kindly sent me Serge samples. (And I promise to get you some samples in return! I promise!)

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I’ve been looking forward to this one for months now. I’ve been a fan of Brian Pera’s writings on I Smell Therefore I Am for a couple of years now. I’m a fan of Tauer Perfumes, too. As I’ve said before, the scents either don’t work at all for me, or they work beautifully and make me feel a little like I’m flying. Even the Tauers I don’t enjoy are well-made and solid and have distinctive personalities of their own. Furthermore, I am a big fan of aldehydic florals, so when I heard that Brian’s A Woman’s Picture project (see Evelyn Avenue website) would include a collaboration with Andy Tauer, and that one of the associated fragrances would be an aldehydic floral, I was thrilled.

Thanks to a very generous giveaway instigated by Andy Tauer and A Woman’s Picture, and hosted by Now Smell This, I won a full bottle of Miriam.  Miriam is now available at Lucky Scent, at $160 for 50ml plus a copy of the Miriam segment of the film and some other goodies.  I’ll just say now, I have rarely been so pleased to receive a box of perfume in the mail! Just look at this gorgeous packaging, will you?

Look at all these goodies! Complete with handwritten note from Andy Tauer, too.

I admit to enjoying a nice bottle, but I have never bought a bottle simply because it’s pretty. (Hey, if that’s what you like, more power to you. I’m not judging.) But I squealed like an excited little girl, opening Miriam last week. The pretty box holds an insert with a lovely jacquard-like pattern, die-cut to fit the Miriam bottle, as well as a DVD of a portion of the film and a notepad  the Miriam booklet (duh, I hadn’t gotten the chance to open it yet). There are silver strings and a frosted glass cap, and pretty pink stickers, and a simulacrum of an old-fashioned cut-paper silhouette, and the whole thing is so intricate and adorable that it could have been any Christmas present hand-wrapped personally for me by my artist sister, for whom such things are Serious Business.  Also, the liquid is a very soft yellow-green, one of my favorite colors.

I have not yet viewed the entire DVD. I have seen clips from the Miram segment, and also from some of the other segments that make up the ongoing A Woman’s Picture project, and they have all been moving, thoughtful pieces. Briefly, though, the Miriam segment focuses on Miriam Masterson, a middle-aged woman whose career is in jeopardy, whose relationship with her layabout boyfriend is deteriorating, and whose mother, with whom she has a complicated and painful relationship, is in a nursing home as her mind and health fails. All of Miriam’s anchors have been lost, and a storm is approaching.

What drew me to the fragrance, in particular, was the notes. Regular readers know that I lurve me some aldehydes, and when someone as talented as Andy Tauer does a vintage-inspired aldehydic floral – well, I wanna smell it. The official notes list for Miriam includes aldehydes, bergamot, sweet orange, violet blossom, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, violet leaf, vanilla, orris root, sandalwood and Ambrox.  From the Evelyn Avenue website, here is the inspiration for Miriam:

The dream of a hug, the vivid bitter sweet memory of her perfume,
her hair shining golden in the morning sun, so fine,
the violets from the garden in her hand,
freshly picked with the dew pearls dropping one after the other,
the green May roses on the table, lasting forever.
It is a dream of days long gone, with a smile on my lips.

Miriam is undoubtedly a Tauer fragrance, despite its being something of a departure from Andy’s usual style. The Ambrox (something of a signature note for Andy) is definitely noticeable in the first few minutes, and although it’s more muted than you might expect, it’s a little thread of Andy running through the composition, with its sweet-salty-rich chord. Up top, there are the aldehydes and a light-hearted citrus note. I’ll make a prediction that if you don’t like aldehydes, you certainly won’t like Miriam; the aldehydes are sweet, and both powdery and candle-smoke-y. Soon I notice the beautiful rose and jasmine heart, very classic and reminiscent of 1940s feminine perfumes, and the violet flower seems to drift in and out. As the fragrance develops, the sandalwood and vanilla become prominent. I don’t smell iris on its own, but I often notice that orris root seems to disappear into rich floral scents, contributing mostly a satiny texture and keeping sweeter elements like vanilla or amber from being too sweet, in much the same way that adding a small amount of salt to batter makes the flavors blend well. The sandalwood in this, according to Andy’s blog, is a mixture of real Mysore and Australian, and it is the most delightful part of the fragrance for me.

Andy Tauer has been quoted as suggesting that Miriam is “slightly provocative,” and “not naughty, but bold,” a fragrance in the tradition of the grand parfums of the 1940s and ’50s.  I don’t find it bold or provocative in the least – rather, it strikes me as being very soft and cloudlike.

Miriam lasts quite well on me, typically about five hours with a very gentle waft. It is recognizably perfumey in that “Mmm, somebody’s wearing nice perfume” sort of way, as opposed to the “Something smells nice” sort of way that has drifted in and out of fashion since the stripped-down, anti-perfume perfumes of the early 1990. I like that. The CEO likes it too, and mentioned that smelling it reminds him of his college years, going to the department store to pick out Christmas fragrance gifts for his then-girlfriends (none of whom were me). It didn’t remind him of any scent in particular, but the general perfumeyness of Miriam resembled the air in the department store, and recalled for him the pleasant excitement of good, “feminine” smells.

I will admit to being surprised that there isn’t any oakmoss in Miriam, not even a little bit, because Miriam’s mother’s fragrance purportedly contains it. But it seems that Miriam, the fragrance, is more based on Miriam, the character: it is nostalgic, soft and powdery atop a strong, comforting base. It is on the sweet side, with the aldehydes, sandalwood and vanilla contributing to that facet, but it’s a rich woody sweetness rather than a sugary overdose. There seems always to be a gentle wistfulness about rose-and-violet scents, and Miriam is very wistful.

The mother of a young friend of mine died suddenly about six months ago, and there is a certain stricken wistfulness I’ve seen on his face at unguarded moments, particularly if I’ve been playing with my younger son in the friend’s presence. Taz loves to roughhouse and be physical; it’s a primary avenue of affection for him, and I try to indulge it. Taz won’t always be eleven, asking for “mommy hugs.” I keep wishing I could offer that kind of affection to my young friend, and I hope that sometime soon he’ll feel able to accept it.

Miriam the fragrance conjures images of motherhood for me – partly due to the film, partly due to the fact that my own mother, with whom I have a good relationship, has frequently been so comfortable in aldehydic scents, and partly due to the wistfulness in my young friend’s face over the past few weeks. Wearing Miriam feels bittersweet and emotional, tender and wrenching and beautiful. It smells like a memory of love to me, and I will cherish it.

A few other reviews of Miriam: Carol at WAFTThe Non-BlondeMarina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things,  Perfume Shrine.  Here’s a post from Andy’s blog, with some of his thoughts concerning Miriam, too. 

And one more thing:  I also won a sample of Miriam via the drawing at The Non-Blonde, but wasn’t able to get hold of Gaia to request her to consider redrawing for it, so I’ll offer a draw here to one commenter, and my immense thanks to Gaia.  Draw will be open, as the original was, to US residents, from the time of posting until midnight Eastern Standard Time Friday, November 4, 2011  Draw is now closed. 

(I will post the winner of the Pandora sample on Wednesday.)  All photos mine.

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Photo from DSH Notebook

Oh, dear. I feel bad about this review… but I’m determined to be truthful. This one’s getting a lot of love from vintage-perfume fans as well as natural-perfume fans all over the perfume blogosphere: Jen at This Blog Really Stinks (who hosted the draw for the large sample I tested – thanks, Jen!), Scent Less Sensibilities, Eyeliner on a CatIndieperfumes, The Non-Blonde, EauMG, Scent Hive, Oh, True Apothecary, Scentual Soundtracks, Perfume Pharmer, Escentual Alchemy.   I love many vintage perfumes too. I like chypres, particularly if they have floral components. I am an AldeHo – if it’s got aldehydes, I’m probably going to like it.   (If I’ve missed some other reviews, please let me know.)

See, the thing is… this is the fragrance that started out as an experiment in naturals, a “modern fragrance in vintage style,” if I’ve got the story right (somebody jump in to correct me if I don’t).

I’m not typically a big fan of “all-natural.” For one thing, I think it’s silly to claim that only synthetic materials can be harmful to the body or the environment. (Oooooh, don’t get me started. The smug attitude makes me grit my teeth in rage.) From a practical standpoint, I’ve been mostly disappointed with the skin longevity of all-natural perfumes, with a couple of notable exceptions (Dawn’s own Rose Vert, and Honore des Pres Vamp a NY). I’m not one of those people who complain all over Makeup Alley that “this doesn’t last, it only stayed six hours and I had to reapply in the middle of the day,” but if I’m not getting three hours’ worth of wear at least, I’m just not interested in spending the money to buy it. I know, too, that all-naturals have different qualities – they tend to sit closer to skin, they tend to “bloom” in unexpected ways rather than lifting slowly off the skin the way fragrances underscored with synthetic materials tend to do – but they’re not qualities that make me excited. I’m always happy to give an all-natural fragrance the good old college try, and I’m willing to make a few allowances, but I’m not predisposed to prefer all-naturals.

I’ll remind you at this point that aldehydes are synthetic. And that I like them.

At some point, Dawn seems to have decided to go ahead and add a few synthetic materials that she felt made Pandora “come alive” – the aldehydes, and a small amount of ozone (unnoticeable to me, by the way). Here’s what she has to say on her blog about the project:

The “Beautiful Evil” is a quote from the story of Pandora as told by the Greek, Hesiod. She is the all gifted, all giving one, a singular woman and synonymous with Eve in many respects. It is she who opens humankind to the knowledge of good and evil and ultimately breaks the utopian ideal. With Pandora, mankind has plagues but also knowledge and maturity. She opens the door to truth and hope.

What began as an all-botanical design for a project changed direction with the addition of a subtle synthetic influence. It made all of the difference. This is also a perfume that also utilizes some new and exotic botanical materials…in Pandora, the ancient meets the 21 century.

The notes feature ruby fruits, bergamot, aldehyde, spices, ozone, violet leaf, davana, cassis bud, green and pink pepper, rose de mai, juhi jasmine, linden blossom, yerba maté, cabreuva wood, orris, green tea, mousse de saxe accord, cyperus, fossilized amber absolute, ambergris, patchouli, vetiver, muhuhu, sandalwood, tonka bean, oakmoss and vanilla.

(Yes, she said oakmoss. Please start breathing again.)

On my skin, Pandora has very good longevity; one spritz will last about four to five hours. There’s no indication on my small sample what concentration I have; the fragrance is available as 15ml parfum ($220, shown above), or as 4ml/10ml eau de parfum ($25/$60).  

The first thing I smell is a cheerfully intense herbal-tea note (if you were worried about the red berries, fear not) under a bright haze of aldehydes. There’s an immediate suggestion that you might accidentally have gotten hold of some vintage Miss Dior, what with the moss and the dry iris in there, and there’s a very old-fashioned air to this stage of the scent. It’s an incredibly layered scent; it contains a lot of notes I can’t identify other than to call them “woody” and “herbal.” Earthy, foresty, and vintage – it’s very pleasant.

A little while later, Pandora segues into a warmer, woody-chypre sort of fragrance with a hint of spice here and there, and I begin to like it a lot less. It’s still layered and complex, but this is not the kind of thing that pleases me. It reminds me somewhat of vintage Magie Noire, but drier and less green, without Magie Noire’s opulent floral heart. There are florals in Pandora – I smell jasmine, definitely, and a bit of rose – but they are not the focus. Instead the focus is on the woody notes and moss.

Eventually the oriental/mousse de saxe base begins to float up through the woody notes, and this is where I have to start gritting my teeth. It’s strikingly reminiscent of several scents that I really dislike: Opium, Youth Dew, Caron Nuit de Noel. Whatever accord it is that those scents have in common, it’s popping up in Pandora, both cloyingly sweet and oily-dusty. It makes the back of my throat ache and I find it unpleasant. But that’s me, my personal taste, and if you like the perfumes I just mentioned you won’t be bothered by it at all.

Pandora is an exceedingly intelligent-smelling perfume, a swirling pastiche of woods and herbs and amber, lightened with a few glints of aldehydes and fruit, a cornucopia of fragrance materials. It is, truly, a vintage-inspired modern fragrance, and if this sort of thing seems up your alley, I suggest that you go get a sample from the DSH website, post-haste! Buy a bottle! Now! Support independent perfumery! (The parfum bottle, by the way, is Drop. Dead. Gorgeous. So elegant – and I do love the beautiful mossy green color of the liquid inside.)

Thing is, Pandora is beautiful… and I do not like it.  This fragrance is not my style, but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing its obvious excellence. A large part of it is natural, and there is something wonderful and solid and complex about natural ingredients. Too, it’s put together in such a way as to create a seamless, smooth, and yet distinctive and bold perfume. Kudos to DSH Perfumes.

My great thanks to Dawn for making the sample available and to Jen at This Blog Really Stinks for hosting the drawing. It is a joy to know that somebody is still making perfume with brains!

Pandora sample on my dresser, next to a tube of Revlon Certainly Red and my favorite garnet-and-pearl drop earrings.

I am happy to be able to pass on this sample to a commenter on this post. It’s a spray sample, approximately 3ml with about 2ml (possibly more) remaining, plenty of perfume left for testing and enjoying! Since it’s a small sample, I’m opening up the draw to commenters outside the US.

To enter the drawing, please let me know if you like any of the other fragrances I mentioned in comparison to Pandora in the review: Miss Dior, Magie Noire, Opium, Youth Dew, Nuit de Noel. Which is your favorite? Do you have any special memories associated with these, either worn by you or a loved one?

Draw will be open until Friday night, October 28, at midnight Eastern Standard Time.  DRAW IS NOW CLOSED.

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Lutens Love?

Photo by JC.

The fragrance house of Serge Lutens may be the most generally-admired among the fragrance community.  You could make a case for Guerlain (or Creed, if you’ve been reading at Basenotes) being that house, but overall, I think there’s been a great deal of adulation pitched in Mr. Lutens’ direction.

There’s been some blame, too, though that seems to have subsided from the peak of indignation about the time that L’Eau Serge Lutens, a super-clean fragrance purporting to smell like a freshly-ironed shirt, was released in 2010, to the horror of many a perfume blogger.  “Serge has sold out!  ‘Clean’ rules us all now!  Perfume is going straight to hell!  I might as well take my toys and go home!”   Mind you, I’m not making fun of those horrified bloggers.  I do hate the idea that fine fragrance is going the way of the laundromat, and anything distinctive and startling – like the quintessential Serge Lutens fragrances – are frowned upon by the public at large.  I hate the idea that any fragrance that doesn’t smell “fresh and clean” might disappear from the face of the earth. 

But I did get the impression, reading various perfume blogs and comments on the fragrance forums (Makeup Alley, Basenotes, Fragrantica), that Serge Lutens was the End-All and Be-All of the scented world, the perfect modern iconoclastic perfume house.  Over and over again I read:  Iris Silver Mist is the best iris fragranceChergui is the best tobacco/honey/amber fragranceBois de Violette is the most perfectly balanced woody floralMuscs Koublai Khan is the musk to top all musksAmbre Sultan is the best amber fragrance ever.  So every time I’ve gotten the opportunity to test a Serge Lutens fragrance, I’ve done so.  For me, that often means buying samples, or begging samples from friends, since there’s no SL distributor anywhere within several hours’ drive of where I live.  The results have been very, very mixed.  

Image from Fragrantica.com.

I absolutely adored La Myrrhe from first sniff of my sample – the first Lutens I got my hands on.  I often see reviews of it that call it “medicinal,” “cold,” and “inexplicable,” but right from the beginning I loved its glowing, scintillating, light-filled quality and the incredible sense of  introspection and peace and comfort I feel when I wear it.   I saved pennies for a 2ml decant.  Then I saved for another one, and waited for a 20% off sale at the decanter.  I now own about 25 milliliters of it, and I cherish every drop.  I wear it when I really, really need a hug but can’t flop on the couch in lounge pants, with an enormous latte, some shortbread, and a favorite paperback.    I wore it to my grandmother’s funeral this past December, and it was such a reminder of inner quiet and strength and beauty. It lifted my eyes.

I was surprised to find, when testing other Serge Lutens fragrances, that I didn’t have strong feelings about most of them.  I loved La Myrrhe, and a few others I despised,  but by and large, I was emotionally unmoved.  It still strikes me as odd that I don’t have more of a love-hate reaction to most of the scents, because they are indeed often described as odd and unpredictable, with twists that make them intriguing and unique among all the J’Adores and Cashmere Mists and Clean fragrances of the world.  It is possible, however, that I haven’t tried enough of the ones that have what people tend to call the “signature Lutens stewed fruit accord.”  Because I’ve had to seek out samples, I lack familiarity with much of the line, and the scents I’ve chosen to sample have tended to be the less polarizing ones.

Here are super-miniature reviews of the Lutens scents I have tried:  Pink, I vaguely like.  Green, I vaguely dislike.  Purple, I hate and despise to the depths of my being.

Bas de Soie – a hyacinth made of aluminum.  In a lab.  Chilly.  Made my back teeth hurt, and yet I did not hate it.
Bois de Violette – neither enough woods nor enough violet for my taste.  Ehh.  I don’t get the reason Luca Turin loves it so much.
Borneo 1834 – Patchouli chocolate. Kill. Me. Now.
Chergui – tobacco, honey, spices and the musty smell of old people’s houses that my grandmother used to drag me to for visits when I was a kid.  Just to the left of Just Right – it goes wrong enough that I can’t wear it because it makes me angry.
Clair de Musc – clean, soft, pretty, boring.  I’d rather have Jovan Musk for Women.  Especially at the price.
El Attarine – La Myrrhe with fruit and wood, and therefore all the clear white light of LM is smudgy.  Not bad, but not my favorite.
Feminite de Bois – nice.  I’d rather have my old Dolce Vita, though – it’s happier.
Gris Clair – another Kill. Me. Now. Lavender nightmare of unending depression.  Eeyore in a bottle.  I had to scrub it off before I decided to end it all and put my head in the oven.  (Luckily, I did remember that I have an electric oven.  And the Tide+unscented deodorant worked.)
Iris Silver Mist – carrots and gray iris. I like it and find it cheerful rather than austere, but it isn’t love.  This is the icy goddess of iris?  Nope.  Iris n’ Carrots, two nice little pigtailed girls playing  “Miss Mary Mack.”
Louve – cherry cough syrup/baby powder.  I recoiled.  I gritted my teeth for 50 minutes before scrubbing.  WTH did they bottle this for? Could successfully be used to torture me.
Nuit de Cellophane – nice.  Forgettable.  When this one was released, when I was still pretty new at this sniffery deal, I was puzzled at how annoyed all the bloggers were with a “pretty” Serge fragrance.   Now I see the point: sure, it’s nice.  But so is J’Adore L’Absolu.  “Nice flowers” has been Done.
Rahat Loukoumseriously? AlmondrosecherryPlay-doh weird.
Rose de Nuit – squeaky rose/geranium with galbanum chewy as dried-up marshmallows.  A Mean Girl.  Smells like one of those glittery-eyed fake smiles that really means, “I’m only biding my time until I can crush your ovaries in my hand.” 
Sa Majeste La Rose  – nice. Pleasant. Pretty.  Upscale version of Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose.  I don’t need it.
Sarrasins – super-indolic jasmine and… wait.  My brain just exploded.  I can’t figure it out.  However, I don’t really want to try to figure it out.   Poop, jasmine, and something that smells like skin?  Wait, my brain just exploded again.
Tubereuse Criminelle – Menthol cough drop + rotting raw chicken of death, followed by sweet pretty tuberose.  NO.  NO NO NO.  Gah.  Kill. Me. Now.
Un Lys – nice.  Forgettable. I much prefer DK Gold, or even FM Lys Med.

And recently tried Jeux de Peau – gave me the giggles and made me hungry by smelling like slightly-burnt palmier pastries drizzled with butter and maple syrup, before settling into this really nice sandalwood.  It’s clever and amusing and intelligent, and if it were priced like a Smell Bent (where it would fit right in), I’d buy it and wear it, no matter if people wondered where the French toast smell was coming from.  At Lutensian prices, I think I’ll give it a pass.  Also, Gaze said he liked the way it smelled, but it gave him an instant headache.

Photo by MS.

The ones I haven’t tried:  Blue, I’d like to try.  Orange, I’ll give it a fair trial.  Brown,I’m not looking forward to.

A La Nuit – not promising, because I’m not much of a jasmine fan.  This is the “death by jasmine” one.  (Result: dislike.)
Ambre Sultan – the herbs and patchouli make me very very wary.   (Result: meh.)
Arabie – I can only take curry in very small quantities.  I’m skeered.  (Result: dislike.)
Bois et Fruits – I might like this a lot, as in my imagination it’s a bit like Mauboussin.  OTOH, I already own some Mauboussin.
Bois et Musc – I have a feeling this will bore me.
Bois Oriental – Sounds boring to me too.
Boxeuses – I’m intrigued.  Could be good.  (Result: dislike.)
Cedre – I love tuberose.  Tuberose-wood sounds a bit dodgy, but I’d still like to try this.
Chene – might be too dry and/or masculine for me, but I’d like to smell.  (Result: enjoyable.)
Chypre Rougenothing about this one sounds nice to me.
Cuir Mauresque – not a big leather fan, either.  I love Cuir de Lancome, but that’s Leather for Wimps.  Hated Cuir de Russie.
Daim Blond – I have a sample and will definitely try.  I like apricot, and I like my leather soft.
Datura Noir – BWF fan that I am, this one might work, though it could possibly go too sweet.  (Result: very nice.)
De Profundis – I’m not encouraged.  “Earthy and chrysanthemum-y” doesn’t appeal.
Douce Amere – I like anise, but I dunno about this.

Funny... it LOOKS harmless. "Lavender flower" from types-of-flowers.org.

Encens et Lavande – I have a sample of this too, but I’m betting that it’ll try to throttle me within the first six minutes.  I hate lavender. (Or it hates me – instant migraine.  Just yesterday, I tested Azzaro Pour Homme, and while it smells pretty darn good, and kinda sexy even, the lavender immediately rose up and tried to smash my head with a rock.)
Fille en Aiguilles – not impressed by pine, and not a huge incense fan either.  Doesn’t sound to my taste.  (Result: dislike.)
Five o’Clock au Gingembre – could be good, with tea and candied ginger.  Would like to sample.
Fleurs d’Oranger – I might have a sample of this lying around.  The cumin alarms me, especially in the context of orange blossom, since I’m not generally a fan of OB either.  (Result: like.)
Fleurs de Citronnier – neroli, iris, and musk?  Probably not going to suit me.  (Result: intense dislike.)
Fourreau NoirPatty from Perfume Posse calls this “Lavender Pancake Syrup with Hookah.”  SO not me.  (Result: KillMeNow hatred.)
Fumerie Turque – another possible winner, though it might go too masculine.  (Result: like.)
L’Eau Serge Lutens – not even gonna bother. 
Mandarine Mandarin  – nothing in the notes appeals.  That said, nothing in the notes doesn’t appeal, so maybe.
Miel de Bois – I predict urinous disaster.
Muscs Koublai Khan – I predict hairy-man-sweat disaster.
Rousse – a possibility.  I like Red Hots.
Santal Blanc – another “might be good.”
Santal de Mysore – woody rum cask?  I’m leery.
Serge Noire – go read Kevin’s review at Now Smell This.  Be amused and repulsed at the same time.  Now try to get past it to try Serge Noire with a fresh nose.  (I can’t.)
Un Bois Sepia – cedar, vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood?   I’m not enticed; in fact, I’m a little repelled, just from the description.
Un Bois Vanille – if it’s anything like the sweet-woody bits of Smell Bent One, I’ll probably like it, but I can’t imagine needing to own it since I already have a bottle of One.
Vetiver Oriental – y’all know I don’t care much for vetiver.  I predict celery disaster.
Vitriol d’Oeillet – could be good.  Could be dreadful.  My standards for carnation fragrances are very high (DSH Oeillets Rouges and Floris Malmaison).  (Result: like.)

Photo by NH.

If you’d like to read the results of my recent poll on feelings toward the house of Serge Lutens, click here.  The comments are enlightening as well, since many people spelled out which scents they liked.   An informal request for comments among some Facebook perfume friends revealed that similarly, there were quite a few fans of the line, with many more people finding it to be hit-or-miss for them.  Several people remarked that they tended to love the scents released earlier (the Bois series and ones that were described as “stewed fruit”), but haven’t liked the recent releases, with L’Eau and Nuit de Cellophanecoming in for their share of contempt.   Joe A commented that not all the fragrances work for him, but he admires the SL sensibility in making scents that are intelligent and unusual and interesting. 

I think I agree: we need more Weird-but-Wearable in the fragrance world.  I’ll quote Luca Turin in Perfumes: The Guide (yet again), in his review of Le Feu d’Issey:  “[P]erfume is, among other things, the most portable form of intelligence.”  Yes, we need more of that, please.  I think I need to try more of the early, stranger, Lutens scents.  Whatever Uncle Serge is up to lately, I’m still interested to find out…

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