Have a Cigar: Les Nez, Let Me Play the Lion; Etat Libre d'Orange, Fat Electritian

The gender-bending smell of tobacco is rocking my world these days. These are two of my current favorites:

Les Nez first won me over with their "Unicorn Spell," an eerie violet scent fit for for a picnic on the moon. They've returned to outer space for their fantastic tobacco scent, "Let me Play the Lion." This is a cigar that has never touched fire or lip. It resides, like the Little Prince's rose, under a bell jar, on Star No. NX-6637-Z. The leaves are dessicated, almost skeletons, and they disintegrate if you stare too long. In fact, shielding this alien tobacco from any interior drafts is a protective envelope of latex - hospital, not boudoir. Smoking kills? Emphysema has never smelled like such a fascinating surprise. Hours later, a velvety, deep green hum, barely there.

Fat Electrician starts by getting a bad joke wrong; the bottle is decorated with a buttcrack that clearly belongs to a plumber. Will luxury-types never get their tradesmen straight? Points for brevity, though; "let me play the lion" is a mouthful. But I digress; a rose, etc. This fragrance is your grandparents house during the off season, before the holidays bring in the food smells.This is the cigar your grandfather perpetually gnaws while he's hanging around the house in his underwear, safe in a cloud of that most comforting phenomenon: the old, bad habit. It's ornery and funny and wonderful. No thought of lung cancer here; this cigar is being smoked with relish, right before you. First you get the smoldering end; the opening blast screams ashtray. As the old man opens his mouth to yell at the kid on his lawn, and you can see the chewed end, a dark, soggy citrus note. The whole thing rests on a Barcalounger made of cloves. Whole cloves. Very pointy. I think I would have called this scent "Sassy Grandpa." Even in the longterm drydown, it never loses its bite (I guess Grandpa still has his own teeth), but it never stops being a big old teddybear, either.


Etat Libre d'Orange, Rien

I am not sure why ELdO named this fragrance Rien. It's doesn't smell animalic or musky to me at all (and maybe nothing ever will, now that I've smelled the sweaty grampa of Eau d'Hermes), so I don't understand the "second skin" line. It's also not especially understated; any Annick Goutal fragrance can rien the pants off of Rien. So, far, my experience with ELdO suggests that their puckish marketing department, responsible for names like Fat Electrician and Hotel Slut, doesn't bother smelling the perfumes at all. Such dissonance is not so unusual, I guess, but it is disappointing when the marketing tries so hard. All that evident effort makes me hope for some actual information about ELdO's surprising, sophisticated fragrances. Oh, well.

Rien is not the most surprising (wait until you hear about Fat Electrician!), but it does smell fantastic. It opens with a satisfying, smoky-cedar-rose burst, as if a spurned bride had thrown her bouquet into a bonfire, and the blooms ignited with a considerable spray of crackling sparks. As she watches the flowers burn, she hurls the deserter's favorite leather jacket into the flames, and plumes of rich, buttery smoke carry her curses up to the heavens. Eventually, everything settles into a comforting smolder of cathedral incense as she contemplates convent life and tries to remember that she's way too good for him anyway.


Smell Memory #2: Roses

I never used to think very much of roses. As a teenager, I haughtily rejected their Valentine's Day ubiquity, their banal romance, their special place in that pesky patriarchal mega-structure I had started to notice everywhere. They smelled nice enough, I had to admit, when they smelled at all, and their petal structure was really quite lovely.

Really loving roses, though, was an oppressively calculated mandate from FTD, identical to the mandate from DeBeers to love diamonds, or the mandate from romantic comedies to love Matthew McConaughey, or the mandate from bridal catalogs to love poofy dresses, head-shrouds, and driving your bridesmaids crazy. In fact, roses smelled like how I imagined a wedding dress might smell: stuffy, overfluffed, and snooty.

Roses were especially perplexing because other flowers are simply so exciting! The bombshell tigerlily, the floppy, fragrant gardenia, or even the demure, mysterious honeysuckle - they all have such character! Tulips, with their fleshy petals, are so cartoonishly sexy they're practically in drag. And some orchid varieties are so witchy and intimidating, they don't need thorns. (I mean, thorns? Please. How obvious.) What's a rose's personality anyway? Back when I was a teenager, apologetic dudes at grocery stores had their choice between roses and carnations, and at least the carnations have that spunky, peppery fragrance that compensates for their mediocre looks. But roses? Ho hum.

So reasoned my teenage mind. Though, in the end, all the flowers came from florists, just like all the jewelery came from jewelers. I vowed to only appreciate wildflowers and fruit stolen from random roadside plants.

By the time I had finally decided that you couldn't separate a sincere gift from the evils of Kapitalizm, I was firmly established as a wallflower (see what I did there?), so bouquets weren't really an issue. The problem was that I loved flowers, even roses, even then. I just didn't want to get any stupid roses from any stupid boys.

Fate has since heeded this early antipathy. I've only gotten three bouquets in my lifetime, from three different boys. The first was a vase of beautiful tulips from a creepily persistent suitor when I was 19, after I finally gave in and got naked with him, after which he turned into a creepily controlling boyfriend. My feelings about the flowers, like my feelings about the dude, were mixed. The second bouquet was a glamorous, fragrant lily, when I was about 24, upon my arrival at a different beau's home (we lived in different cities). I think I cried; I don't remember. He had failed to meet me, physically and emotionally, at the airport, but he had been waiting at home with a beautiful flower I couldn't help resenting.

But the last bouquet was different. I've never really celebrated Valentine's Day, even while dating. But on VD 2008, my boyfriend gave me three red roses in a cellophane wrapper from the ornery florist down the street. In retrospect, maybe they were a little bruised, maybe they had less fragrance than a box of Cheerios, and maybe they could have used some baby's breath to keep them company.

But I tell you what.

The cold, cold cockles of my cold, cold heart immediately melted right off. I saw those flowers and loved them unconditionally, unreservedly. I saw no masked doom, no unseemly intentions, no looming heartbreak. Just a lovely spot of scarlet on my desk, swaddled in a glowing halo of thoughfulness. I didn't want to do anything all day except gaze at them and feel my soul swell with happiness. I couldn't help touching the soft, soft petals, or smelling the blooms, even though I knew they had no smell. I wondered if this was a small-scale version of how new mothers felt about their infant babies. Just stare, stare, stare, and touch and smell and stare.

I found myself interpolated into a hetero-normative ritual and loving every moment of it.

Is this how patriarchy was going to get me? With three stupid weeds on the 2nd most misogynist day of the year (the 1st being, of course, Mother's Day, and the 3rd being Secretaries' Day)?

In a giggly word: yeah.

And now I can't fight it. The smell of roses is suddenly heaven, and I have started buying rosewater to put in my bath. When I got around to sampling Annike Goutal's Rose Absolue, I thought I had stumbled upon romance itself. What had seemed stale was now nostalgic; what had been restrictive was now baroque and beautiful, like an antique corset. A tool of the patriarchy was suddenly the loveliest loveliness. Roses smell like an aging prima ballerina before her last performance, after which she will recede into the velvety embrace of decorative aristocracy. Roses smell like Miss Havisham in the years immediately after she is jilted, before age robs her living death of its spectacular beauty. Roses smell like Galatea just before she comes to life. Roses smell like regret, like love, like the crushed dreams of billions of little girls who dream of their weddings, then grow up and get married. And sometimes they smell like nothing at all, not even the green plant-smell of other odorless flowers. They're just blank, as empty as a fresh piece of monogrammed stationery.

People will say I'm in love.

Now my sister is getting married. I hate wedding ceremonies. I find them boring and ugly, and the vows are often offensive and depressing. Wedding traditions are usually misogynist, I don't like being in church, and bridemaids' dresses are a scourge sent by God himself to make unmarried women feel both ugly and ornamental.

But maybe this one will get to me.


Smell Memory #1: Horses

I have been a little bit out of the perfume loop lately, so I'm going to post on some smell memories to get back into the habit of posting!

I grew up in a semi-rural part of Florida, where the outskirts of the Tampa suburbs met the outskirts of West Pasco dairy farms. Lots of my neighbors owned livestock. The most precious of these, to my young feminine mind, were the horses. When I was around 7 years old, our babysitter was this teenager from the neighborhood who would ride up to our house on a beautiful, kind, brown horse, complete with a white star on its forehead. She would let my sister and me pet the horse as much as we pleased while she chatted with Andy, our hottt Finnish exchange student.

My favorite part of the horse, besides its impossibly soft nose, was its wonderful smell. I have never been able to get anyone to agree with me on this, but horses smell delicious. It's a dirty smell, but an deeply satifying one. It's akin to the way your body smells just after you work out, before the sweat has a chance to get stale, and your body just smells live and wet. Then there's the fine dust that settles on the horse's coat - the dust they kick up when they run on coastal Florida's sandy terrain. It adds a silky fizz to the moist, squishy sensuality of the skin smell. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. You might say that horses smell...envaginated. After all, isn't the horse the typical object of young feminine desire? Don't all little heteronormative girls want them? So elegant, so expensive. Those long manes and tails you could french-braid all day! The round apple-bottoms and shapely legs! The princess associations!

But horses are also scary. A tussle with one will kill you. Even ponies are not really to be trifled with. After all, when ridden by a cowboy, a horse is one of the ultimate symbols of renegade masculinity. Bucking broncos, wild horses, endless miles of sheep herding, riding off into the sunset. Even Mr. Ed was, ahem, a dude. Horses are living proof of gender double standards, not that we really need living proof, since proof is all around, all the time. But the nature of a horse changes based on the gender of the person who wants/owns it. They're girly and silly when desired by little girls (I want a pony for Christmas); elegant and beautiful when owned by young women (my babysitter's horse); and useful and strong when owned by men (his trusty steed). Taking this to its literal extreme, illustrations in medieval French romances would depict horse and rider, with the horse's (male) genitalia sized to match the masculinity of the rider (thanks, Emmanuelle)!

Anyway, back to the smell of a horse, which is likewise genderiffic. Peeking through that impeccably powdered vagina is the unmistakable scent of oranges just past their peak, still delicious, but harboring a passive-aggressive hint of decay. You've neglected us for much too long, those aging oranges seem to chide, as they apply $100 moisturizer to their drying peels, and you gaze surreptitiously at the pert clementines that still swing from the branches of the neighbor's grove.

Of course, the smell of leather - auxilliary, but sexy and caddish as always - is not to be forgotten. That smoldering saddle sidles up to you, slick as the seashore, and smoothly cops a feel, only to stick uncomfortably to the backs of your thighs if you mistake that one-night stand for endless love.

When you pet a horse, it's not just the scent of horse that gets all over you - it's also the perfumed dust that lays obediently on the surface, like talcum, waiting to turn anything it touches to silk. You pet a horse, and your hands become as fragrant and soft as the horse's nose.


The Smell of Lies

Perfume is ideology in a bottle. Synthetic aromachemicals are mixed in a lab to mimic the smell of plants that grow in sub-Saharan Africa. They are then suspended in an artifically tinted alcoholic solvent, sealed in expensive-looking bottles, photographed next to Eva Green's breasts and marketed in the glossy pages of Elle magazine between an article about plastic surgery and one about loving yourself exactly the way you are. Even as you spray it on your forearm, you know perfume is made of lies, and that its insistence that women smell of iris and ylang-ylang rather than flesh and blood is doing women no better service than your average douche commercial.

But God in heaven above knows that without perfume and the escapism it affords, I might not have survived the past month and a half. If I have to shampoo with Shalimar and shoot up with Songes, I will make it through the next couple of days. Falling asleep on scented pillows, I dream I'm already gone with the wind. And if I have to lie, cheat, still or kill, as God is my witness, when this move is over, I'll never go smelly again.


31 rue Cambon

Les Exclusifs have relaxed their death grip on my olfactory imagination, leaving me free to revel in my preference for their more reasonably priced brethren. To Bois des Iles, I prefer Omnia; to Coromandel, Black Cashmere. Though I haven't tried it yet, I expect to prefer Tabac Blond to Cuir de Russie, if only for the name. Bel Respiro is pretty, but somewhere between Omnia Crystalline, Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and White Aoud, I have pretty covered. No. 22 is just foul.

31 rue Cambon, you have my undivided attention.

In the beginning, a big dose of pungent, citrusy bergamot (dark twin: mosquito repellent) haunted by an earthy-rooty smell, almost like the opening of Guerlain Vetiver. As the slightly headachy green opening fades, a leather accord emerges that is actually composed of . . . flowers. Where oakmoss would normally provide the bitter basenotes of a chypre, an iris-pepper accord instead lays a piquant, spicy-smooth bed for a heap of rose and jasmine petals. Rather than unfurling, they just lie there, abstract florals somehow blending with their forest-floor backdrop to create an impression of depth and stability. Like sitting on a stern-looking antique chair only to find that the pile on the velvet feels incredible against your skin. Or maybe more like inheriting that same chair, along with an apartment full of equally rare artifacts.

The whole thing seems designed to compete with 24, Faubourg, the Hermes scent that smells, simply, like an Hermes store. 31 rue Cambon wins the competition, however, for making extreme luxury seem comforting rather than alienating. 24, Faubourg smells like the inside of a shoe I'll never be able to afford; 31 rue Cambon smells like a recurring dream I have about owning all the shoes in the world. Only in the dream I can't decide which one to wear, and inevitably wind up barefoot.


Speaking of evil twins, my evil twin made me spend a lot of money at Filene's today. Among the goodies I brought home was the much-mulled-over Magical Moon, at a killer discount but still not the least frivolous purchase I've ever made.

What tipped the scales? I read some online reviews claiming the EDP is a slightly darker, woodier, less toothache-inducing scent than the EDT. After unwrapping and sampling my guilty pleasure, I concur - the opening litchi is not so shrill; the osmanthus is more suede and less apricot; and wonder of wonders, I smell patchouli and sandalwood! There's still quite a lot of fruit, vanilla, and coconut milk going on. This is one sweet-smellin' fragrance. But come on, ladies, we can't always be wearing a chypre now can we?

I can see wearing this stuff on a summer night with an extremely slutty sundress; or in the middle of winter when I am dying for want of sunlight; or for any event that I attend with a bikini stuffed in my purse, just in case.