Monday, September 24, 2007

Rykiel Woman

Trying to get back in the groove of writing about perfume, but I'm not doing the best job. Still, that doesn't mean I'm not here in my little world, going nuts over this and that, and I could not help but pay this one forward. You see, the lovely Chaya—regular visitors to the perfume blogs all know and love her—sent me a sample of this fragrance last winter. I wore it several times and found it lovely, but the weather got warmer, I got into a slump, and into the decant box it went.

On Saturday I was digging through all my perfumes, looking for things to sample for fall, and I found my bag of goodies from Chaya again and decided this one needed another go. Rykiel Woman (subtitle: Not for Men!) has the following notes:

Top: shinus molle, violet, date palm fruit
Heart: jasmine petals, sunny flowers, essence of Bulgarian rose, Indian black pepper
Base: olibanum, agar wood, leather, amber, musk

As often as I sample perfume, I rarely find myself complimented on what I'm wearing by anyone other than my husband. I tend to be sparing in application, so a lot of the time even Bob claims he can't smell it unless I put my wrist right against his nose. A person cannot be too careful at the office, and I love perfume so much it would be easy for me to overdose. I can recount every perfume I've been complimented on since I started sampling: Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum, Ligne St. Barth Vanille, SL Fleur d'Oranger, Weil Zibelene, SL Daim Blond, Dzing!, and finally, Rykiel Woman.

Not that receiving a compliment or two is any reason to buy a bottle of perfume (and lord knows I buy plenty of perfumes after receiving nary a compliment), but I felt compelled to own this one. It's dangerous, really, because the more I buy the things I really like, the less I want to sample.

Hrm. Telling you about the notes and about receiving compliments tells you nothing about the way this smells, I realize. Frankly, I must work from memory here. I wore it last night, to dinner with some friends, and then I applied the remainder of my sample this morning. A hint remains on my wrists, and a whiff remains in the bottle, where I removed the spray nozzle to get at the last drops. I can telly you, it's soft, warm, ambery, lusciously feminine and sensual. Shinus molle (which apparently is really spelled “schinus molle” everywhere but the Rykiel Web site, where I got the notes) is a sort of pepper tree that grows in the American Southwest and Mexico, in case you're wondering. As many types of pepper as are listed in the notes, they only lend a hint of spice, so do not expect a peppery amber, nor an incense. Who knows what those “sunny flowers” in the heart might be, but they add a delicacy and romance to scent that's quite well-grounded.

I expect I'll be receiving my share of compliments on it this winter, as I have no doubt it will become a staple. This perfume has that interesting effect where after I apply it, I forget it's there—but other people notice. I sometimes think that's one of the hallmarks of a perfume that's really well done, because it seems and feels effortless, yet people are drawn to it.

The best thing: you can get this for a song at many of the discount perfumers. Go! Go now! You'll thank me later.

*image from

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I am not sure what's going on with me, but I wanted to stop in and say hello to anyone who might be reading! I'm trying new perfumes and wearing some familiar ones, but lately I find I don't feel much like talking about them. I would rather enjoy the experience and not analyze it much. I'm sure I will be back sometime soon--at least I hope so. I enjoy hearing from you all so much that I sometimes wish you could talk and I could respond to you instead of the other way around.

Let's give it a shot: Tell me, if you will, what scents are you anticipating for fall? They don't have to be new releases--they could be old favorites!

*image from The Foliage Network

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Reader's Journal: The Big House

For some reason, writing about this book is a struggle for me. It wasn't a struggle to read, although I did get bored about 60 pages from the end and decided not to finish it. It left me cold, and I've spent the last few weeks trying to determine why.

I picked this book because I thought it would be interesting to read about a world unfamiliar to me. I've been through and around parts of New England, but I've never been to the coast, never been there in the summer, never had the luxury and/or regularity of summering at the same place year in and year out. For one thing, in Texas, although plenty of people have homes in Padre or Galveston or at Mustang Island, when people say "summer home" (and really, they don't ever, ever say that), they mean "lake house." Here in Georgia, while "summer home" might mean a quaint place on the Georgia coast or St. Simon's or Tybee Island, what they generally mean is "condo in the Florida panhandle, possibly a timeshare." What's clear is that coastline is synonymous with "vacation" to people all over the map.

New Englanders raised summering at the coast to an art form back in the late Nineteenth century, and George Howe Colt, author of The Big House, does a great job laying out this history for the reader and explaining how is family was a part of it all. As a person who has no real extended family, I'm fascinated by large families with their vacations and reunions and traditions. Or perhaps I should say, as a person not close to her extended family, a very kind, clannish (read: Irish) bunch with a solid family tradition--drinking and attending Mass. (Let me mention here briefly that Mr. Colt's family was vehemently prejudiced against the Irish, which he seems to find appalling in a politically correct sort of way, but also slightly amusing, which, I think, is one of the brief if unintended flashes of real honesty in the book.) I was no more a part of that world than I am of Mr. Colt's New England, but my family is familiar where his is not.

Mr. Colt tells the story of The Big House and how it came to be built, of he and his many, many cousins and the games they played, of sailing and fishing in the bay, and of his own family history. Beautifully written, the book is curiously cold. More than once (indeed, probably more than a hundred times over), Mr. Colt reminds the reader of the reservation and refinement of old Boston families. Money is never discussed (although Mr. Colt, I suppose in trying to break that tradition and show how much more enlightened he is than his family, discusses it plenty), illness is shrouded, family misfortune beneath consideration, let alone words. Ultimately, this reserve flattens his family portrait, even as he describes his Grandmother's numerous nervous breakdowns, or the horrifying story of his Aunt Sandy, who was diagnosed with cancer and not told. Yes, you heard me. They didn't tell her she had cancer. Not even when she was wasted and dying. Mr. Colt's confusion and anger over this does come through, but in a roundabout way he spends more time explaining and covering the family's actions than questioning his own feelings. Psychologically, it's rather interesting, but strange to behold.

The other issue I had with this book was simply this: I am not Mr. Colt's audience. Most likely, neither are many of you. Just as one can tour San Simeon and still not completely understand what must have driven William Randolph Hearst to build it, one can read The Big House and come away without any real understanding of the family who inhabited it. Mr. Colt talks about a lot of people and families as if the whole world knows these people, and I am sure he assumes they do. Many are the names of old Boston and New England families, some recognizable as captains of industry and founding fathers and great American philosophers and philanthropists--but as many are not. He writes about place in the same manner, as though any person reading his book is as intimately familiar with the geography as he is.

And finally, he has the boorish (or really, bore-ish), derisive pride of someone both lauding his family's position and mocking it at the same time. This is a trick that can only be pulled off by people who are remarkably self-involved yet lack self-awareness. He spends a great deal of time letting you know who he is (or who his family is), and then assuring you it's no big deal. I suppose, in the end, I got bored with standing outside while Mr. Colt opened and closed the window shades. Telling a family history is a tricky business, to be sure. Even the most skilled writer (and Mr. Colt is skilled--he really does write beautifully) can suck the life out of a story just by telling it and refusing to own it.

*image from Powell's

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle and Frederic Malle Une Fleur de Cassie

Sometimes I feel like a miner panning for gold. I dip the pan in the stream, I sift and I sift, and I come up with a tiny nugget here and there. Arduous work, this is. I can go weeks and weeks and find only fool's gold (the fool being me, of course). At some point after all the testing and sniffing, I start to think only one thing: I'm too optimistic for perfume, and I will make myself love something that might not really be worth it. When I start raving about the ethereal beauty of J. Lo's latest release, just go ahead and call Blogger and ask them to shut me down, will you?

But sometimes I try a perfume and I KNOW the magic is real, and in the last few months, I've struck real gold--I've found no less than FOUR perfumes I truly believe to be bottle-worthy: Miller Harris Coeur d'Ete, Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Secrete Datura, Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle, and Frederic Malle Une Fleur de Cassie. Sadly, striking gold in this case won't make me rich, and in fact could easily result in bankruptcy instead of a new house or car. All I have to say is, thank god for decants and The Perfumed Court!

I've already told you how I feel about my title perfumes: I love them. Of course I love Tubereuse Criminelle--it's part of the non-export line. If I could buy it here, would it be half as appealing? Yes! Notes? Could I describe this with mere notes? Hm. Tuberose (naturally), jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth, nutmeg, clove, styrax, musk, and vanilla. It seems many people have ugly moments at the top of Serge Lutens fragrances, but I have yet to suffer from bad accidents of chemistry with this line (as long as you don't count Iris Silver Mist, which makes me smell like I am made of plastic--no other way to say it). The opening is tuberose enlightened by a hint of menthol, menthol that is neither overpowering nor medicinal, but cooling, bracing, like the sharp cold of a winter morning. It's a flower preserved in ice, and after thirty minutes or so the ice begins to melt and...oh, watch out. This is the softest tuberose, a silky fine powder. I caught whiffs now and again of the orange blossom, warmed by gentle spice, but the star of the show is most definitely tuberose. It's not creamy and tropical, nor does it sparkle. It glows.

I ordered a decant.

Time and again on this blog, I've professed my love for all things Frederic Malle (except for THE ONE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED). I was having a bit of a crisis of conscience about this, because sure, I claim that Frederic Malle is my favorite, but when I count bottles I own, L'Artisan is the clear winner, coming in at four, all of which I love and wear: Orchidee Blanche, Safran Troublant, La Chasse aux Papillons, and Dzing! The count for Frederic Malle? Um, well, I have (had) a decant of Iris Poudre, a recharge bottle of Iris Poudre given to me by Chaya, and a decant of Lys Mediterranee. How measly is that?

And then...I don't want to be hasty here, because frankly more testing is in order (and that probably means I'll have to order a decant, just for the sake of fairness), but it's possible--not saying it IS but it's POSSIBLE--that...that...oh, here goes:


There! I said it! But only a possibility. Clearly, I'll have to wear both and then try to make a clear-headed decision. In the meantime, the notes in Une Fleur de Cassie are mimosa absolute, jasmine absolute, cassie absolute, rose absolute, carnation, vanilla, and sandalwood. This appeals to me in the same way Iris Poudre does because it has the quality of a scent from another era. Slowly I'm learning that I cannot resist a certain type of powdery scent, something close to a chypre with less of an edge but with no less character for that fact. Caron's Parfum Sacre also falls into this category for me. While I hate to quote directly from Web site marketing, the Frederic Malle site says it perfectly: "its fragrance is from another era: the Thirties, when women dared to wear voluptuous, disturbing scents." Voluptuous? Yes. Disturbing? I find it more melancholy than disturbing. The light touch of mimosa at the top masks the darker heart underneath, made full by the cassie, rose, and jasmine, and finally grounded by the spice and powder of carnation at the end. Strange to say, but it's a lifetime in a bottle, a movement from light-hearted youth to womanhood and then on into personhood, coming in to one's full being.

No, no, I don't think I really like it better than Iris Poudre. They are too different in mood, but they are equal in stature. I see a decant in my future...but when will I break down and buy a bottle? And of what? Oy.

*image from Barney's

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

L'Artisan Passage d'Enfer

Something about a perfume called "The Gates of Hell" seizes--as in stops, rather than possesses--the heart of this former Catholic school girl. Wearing it makes me feel a little bit guilty, like maybe I should spin around three times and spit over my left shoulder after every time I apply it. I wouldn't feel guilty if I didn't find it so unbelievably appealing. It's as though this little perfume vial on my dresser is holding out Milton's big juicy apple, waving it around in front of my face until I'm tempted to take a bite.

The notes in Passage d'Enfer seem innocuous enough: white lily, frankincense, aloe, and white musk. All that white! Doesn't white mean purity? Or does it symbolize an unbearable heat, a white flame turning everything in its path to ash? This is a soft fragrance, close to the skin, but dark with incense. White lily adds a bit of sweetness to the top, but the frankincense and musk dominate here, with the aloe serving to cool.

Passage d'Enfer makes me think of a place I visited once, a small town in the desert of Northern Arizona, called Jerome. When I was there it was early March, close to the end of winter, but still the air was quite cold, and waves of high clouds moved across the sky. The town is built into a steep hill, and I remember reaching the top and looking out across the desert, the high sun an icy disk, its weak light whitewashing the landscape. The desert in the Western United States is mystical to me; I know some who find it a forsaken place--dry, hot, and ugly, hardly worth a bother. While I'm not one for ghost stories or too much hocus pocus nonsense, to me the desert is teeming with spirits. When I smell Passage d'Enfer, it takes me back to the top of that hill. The incense of this scent speaks to me of life that has gone before. It's a close scent, one to be worn more for oneself than for others. I practically poured about half the vial on myself and my husband insisted he could smell nothing unless I stood right up against him--and then he found it as intriguing as I do.

I certainly don't mean to say that I found Jerome, Arizona to be the gates of hell, just in case anyone from there should happen to visit. It's quite a nice little town, actually, full of art galleries and little shops and truly breathtaking scenery. Go there at the edge of winter. Wear Passage d'Enfer. Then tell me what you think.

*photos from Luckyscentand