Up with Perfumanity

An awesome article on skin chemistry at Bois de Jasmin.

Apparently Luca Turin, who wrote the damn book everyone's been talking about, doesn't believe that skin chemistry affects scent at all - or, more recently, that the difference is negligible and "only occurs in the topnotes". Right, only in the topnotes, only in that heady rush of smells that hits you right when you spray it on and makes you want to shell out $80 for what is essentially an invisible garment in a bottle. Anyhow, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez smelled everything on tester strips for The Guide.

Say wha-ha-ha?

Well, LT is a chemist so his manly, rigorously objective method must be science. Science, y'all! But La Niebla and I, rank amateurs as we are, can tell you that smelling something on paper and smelling it on your arm for the rest of the day are two entirely different matters. Fragrances just develop differently on warm skin than on paper - most obviously for the simple reason that we are LIVING BEINGS and therefore give off heat, which affects the sillage and probably the order and intensity of the notes. Which is why when you exercise after wearing a scent all day it can come back and hit you with a fresh burst of scent that is a near-cousin to the topnote moment.

Paper? It doesn't get to the gym much. Nor does it eat spicy food or swill down Sam Adams or smoke cigarettes or use laundry detergent. Paper, as a character, is two-dimensional. While skin, with its varying degrees of dryness and oiliness, its saturation by chemicals and antihistamines and coffee and spices, its melanin levels and its moisturizers, is not only different from paper, it's different from other skin. Depending on the day or moment, it's different from itself (paging Derrida).

Anyhoo, now we have an excuse to diss LT/TS whenever their opinions don't agree with ours. They (especially LT) seem fascinated by the architectural properties of a scent, the way it was conceived in the lab, the conceptual framework, in fact, the genius of its creator - all things that I'm sure come through perfectly well on stiff, dry, raspy squares of processed tree fiber. La Niebla and I - and probably most perfume lovers - are more interested in the dispersal of scent, its interactions with our mood and daily life, the associations it calls up, the women who wear it, the dreams it gives you if you wear it to bed. Power to the perfumanity, people.


"Chicago Thingy"

Mark your calendars...
From Perfume Posse:

"Musette is hard at work on the Chicago Thingy – a get-together with perfume and chocolate in Chicago on a Saturday in September/October.... She is working on a day of chocolate and perfumage including potentially: Saks, L’Artisan, Barneys, Nordstrom, Godiva, Lindt, Ethel’s, Vosges, Sarah’s Candies … wait, sorry, I had to wipe the drool off my keyboard. We’ll also put together a list of other things to see/do/visit, in the perfume/chocolate world and beyond.... We are not calling this a Sniffa – the Karens own that name, as far as I know, so we need something else. I find Chicago Thingy amusing, but Musette quite reasonably thinks we need something more mellifluous in terms of getting the stores to sponsor stuff and cough up goodies. What do you think of Chi-cocoa Scentsation, suggested by our other fab Chicago volunteer, Shelley? Any other ideas/suggestions regarding any aspect of this thingy?"


Annick Goutal, Les Nuits d'Hadrien, Eau d'Hadrien

Summer scents from my Annick Goutal haul.

Eau d'Hadrien
: Lemon Pledge comes to mind, which brings back wonderful memories of dusting my great-grandmother's piano but is not entirely desireable on the skin. A hint of grass somewhere in the drydown, but it still smells a bit too much like fruit-loops.

Les Nuits d'Hadrien: When I want to smell like a dude, this is the dude I want to smell like. The bitter orange peel note - bergamot? I still don't really know what bergamot is - accompanies a slightly aggressive oakmoss, which then dries down to mild spices. A light, brisk, pleasantly acidic cologne that doesn't take itself too seriously, plus the bottle matches my hair.

Of course neither of these last longer than a heartbeat, but maybe in the middle of the summer reapplying throughout the day will feel refreshing rather than annoying.


Serge Lutens, Sa Majesté La Rose & Miel de Bois

Miel de Bois and Sa Majesté La Rose are like gourmet comfort foods. Both start out as good examples of highly recognizable, traditional scents (cathedral incense, rose), with a twist (honey, nutmeg). The nutmeg-rose combo is especially lovely - the hint of spice suffuses the rose rather than peeking forward from its petals. It's a soft, absorbent spice, not a sharp, bright one. Spice cake, maybe. I don't love the honey - it remains too separate from the incense and seems like an afterthought.

Eventually, both perfumes fade back into their traditional forms, until they might as well be essential oils. The drydowns are like that hot guy at your college who played guitar in an indie-rock band and studied abroad in South Africa for a semester. Years later, you learned that he had settled down with a consulting job and a family and a loft and was pulling a solid 6 figures. The rose drydown especially has that complacent knowledge of how comfortable and bright its future will be.

Rose is the one fragrance that can handle powder (usually powder resides in that geriatric Chanel No. 5 territory). I love the powder-musk drydown of a good rose. I love it. The drydown of the Miel de Bois is less pleasant - as the honey fades completely, the incense has a little while sit on its own before it turns from the vast, smoky, wood and stone combo of my catechised youth, into something brighter, coniferous. There's a hint of cheap sport in the later drydown, of that juniper, locker-room aroma of Irish Spring Soap and men's shaving lotion, as if our hero had to downgrade from a chic urban loft to a bungalow in Jersey.


Pilar and Lucy, tiptoing through chambers of the moon

It should be fairly clear by now that I am easily seduced by names. The more fantastic the promise, the more snake oil I am likely to buy.

Alas, this Pilar and Lucy scent only lived up to the "tiptoing" part of its name. Its pretty, inoffensive floral note creeps in on little cat feet of powdery musk and then is gone before you know it. Wearing it out, I had difficulty believing, as the promo materials claim, that I was being "romanced under a moonlit night with the faint scent of a tuberose garden lingering somewhere near." Bad writing aside (the website also urges us to "trust our surrender"), the description is just wrong. The tuberose garden is indeed somewhere near, but it's not nighttime - it's seven o'clock in the morning and I'm fresh out of the shower, catching a moment to myself in the breakfast room before the kids are out of bed.

Unlike "Perfect Veil," this scent does call a real woman to mind, an admirable one in fact. She is one of those sensible women who eat healthy food, meditate, and raise competent children. I picture a well-appointed Regency-era interior in cornflower blue, with Elinor Dashwood carrying on her polite correspondence at a writing table. It's a steady, sober, practical, powdery-soft kind of feminine smell, suitable for reflecting on one's virtues but not one's sins.

In other words, not for me. For some women, this scent is probably wonderfully calming, like L'Heure Bleue, the Guerlain classic that also doesn't suit me in the slightest. For me, it is a cage of stillness. Like yoga, it just reminds me that I feel most alive when in motion, and most relaxed when I'm asleep.

Olfactory Fatigue: Symptoms & Remedies

Smelling perfume is exactly like drinking alcohol. The more you drink, the drunker you get, and the less you can taste what you're drinking (substitute your sense of smell for your sense of taste, and a mild lightheadedness for outright drunkenness).

There are ineffectual quick fixes for olfactory fatigue - sniffing coffee beans or stepping out for air - but they're the equivalent of a cup of coffee. They stimulate, but don't really detoxicate.

This would all be fine - who doesn't love a good drunken stupor? - but problem is that the longer you're in a shop, the more compelled you feel to buy something, and so your ability to choose wisely is inversely proportional to your imagined need to do so. As happened yesterday when Oedipa and I took a field trip to a place where you can mix and match essential oils to create your own perfumes. We learned quite a bit - what certain notes smell like on their own (alas, no vetiver or musk were available - two of the scents we were both most curious about), how the concentration effects the fragrance of the final product (I love the texture of essential oils, but found that undiluted, they can all too often smell like air freshener).

Lucky for us, essential oils are usually much cheaper than perfume (at least at this shop they were), and so we each only paid $12. In a real perfume store, however, you needn't feel any compunction to buy anything. Like buying a car, people expect you to be careful about your purchase, to research it thoroughly, and to take several different cars on test drives. I scored 4 different Serge Lutens samples yesterday, and by this morning, I had decided I didn't love any of them.

Anyway, my final word on essential oils is that for the novice, they are perhaps best on their own, for when you really do just want to smell like a flower, or a tree or whatever. There are worse things in life than smelling uncomplicated.


The Book (Part the Second)

My only consolation about Luca Turin's dismissive review of Issey Miyake's L'Eau d'Issey, is that the review is incredibly long, inches longer than any of the other reviews. So whether or not he ultimately likes L'Eau, it at least inspires verbosity! The most devastating moments are when Turin compares my favorite dusty floral to a Glade Plug-In, then to Windex, and then, horror of horrors, to cK One. In any case, he truly seems to struggle with the fact that "nearly everyone [he] knew owned a bottle."

I realize that accusing a perfumisto of snobbery may be akin to accusing a Pro-Lifer of being antifeminist - not exactly part of the job description, but far from a surprise, and maybe it really is part of the job description.

L'Eau d'Issey, I love you, and I think you smell great, even though I'm having a torrid affair with a book that hates you. It's nothing personal, I promise...

Errata: It turns out Tania Sanchez wrote this review, not Luca Turin.

Creative Scentualization, Perfect Veil

Apparently this scent is supposed to replicate the smell of skin, whatever that means. I mean, the idea of wearing a skin-scented perfume on your own skin is almost kind of Hannibal Lector-ish in a way, isn't it? But hey, I like skin. I'm intriqued.

So I dab it on. There's some clean, gentle musk. There's some whitewashed vanilla. There's a whisper of peach in the opening, the barest hint of an anonymous flower in the heart. On one of my wrists I'm smelling sandalwood. No wait, that's yesterday's Vetiver.

My first thought was the nursery, but this would be an infant that never once howled with rage or pooped its jammies. (For the real thing, check out Petite Cherie.) This scent is so . . . passive. Like it's sitting in an easy chair in a scrupulously maintained nursing home where the smell of antiseptic has been expertly masked by the softest air fresheners.

This is society's collective fantasy of what women should smell like: completely free of experience, devoid of all signs of life. It's skin that never sweats, never ages, never reeks of lovemaking or garlic or gasoline. It is, in fact, perfect. "Perfect Veil" is therefore the perfect name for this profoundly ideological fragrance.

Ugh, I'm going to go douse myself in Vetiver now.


Alissa, Part 2: The Springening

Alissa's response to my post about her:
Not surprisingly, Poison, in the 80's was the scent I liked. . . . There is a perfume I have always longed for but never had, I don't actually think it exists. But, you have made me think about it. It's primarily Honeysuckle, which is very sweet but also greener than most people think. Underneath that are smells of sweat and freshly turned earth, a slight hint of sawdust and an tiny whiff of aromatic tobacco. In my head this is what my childhood smelled like. Its the smell I wish I could leave in my wake, Southern and earthy. But, like I said it doesn't exist. Nobody else seems to long for the smells of Texas in June.
Alissa's description of Texas in June made me weep a little on the inside. Then I picked myself up and marched over to my dresser, determined to layer "Chevrefeuille," my beloved honeysuckle, with something sweaty. . . earthy. . . tobacco-y . . . . . vetiver. I will find your summery smell, Alissa! (But I still think for sweater weather, White Aoud would suit.)

Side note: chevrefeuille is the French word for "honeysuckle." To the best of my knowledge, it translates directly to "goat-leaf." How's that for romantic? Eau de Goatleaf. (P.S., I love you Toni! "Shutthedoor!" I'll be back when I have more cash!!)

Chevrefeuille is very green and fresh on the skin, but (like most Annick Goutal) disappears as quick as a warm spell in a Chicago spring. Jalaine Vetiver, by contrast, is an essential oil, and it sticks to my skin all day long and into the next morning, when it has faded to the pleasant memory of an open-air bazaar.

So I tried the Vetiver overlaid with some generous squirts of Chevrefeuille and watched them battle it out for a while. Vetiver easily won the first round, since the oil is pretty overpowering until it's dried down. During this early phase the greenness of the honeysuckle makes the oil smell just like a fresher, grassier vetiver (which is perhaps what I'm really after). But the goat-leaf came back swinging after 15 minutes, and for a second, the velvety-dirty vetiver smell brought out a delicious creaminess in the Chevrefeuille that I hadn't noticed before. With the fresh green and sweet opening of Chevrefeuille, the effect really came close, for a heartbreaking moment, to a spring day in Austin, where the same breeze brings you smells of sweat, wood, pollen, blossom, and grass.

But alas. The contrast of the dark vetiver suddenly pushes the sparkly-sweet honeysuckle note dramatically to the fore; the green disappears; and for a while the whole shebang is aggressively sweet. (I should say I don't mind this phase, but the people around me Wednesday morning appeared to mind it. A lot. Damn you Julia! Now I'm really insecure.) The drydown, though, makes the overly sweet stage worth it to me - at the end of the tunnel there's a mild, woody spiciness tempered with green sweetness, which smells for all the world to me like an old paperback book.

So, with the addition of a cedar note, this could be a breezy Austin day, complete with a visit to Half-Price Books in the late afternoon. Maybe chypre instead of vetiver. I'll keep working on it.


Sartor, Sartorial, Sartorius

"Sartorial" is a word whose meaning I never remember properly. I always think it has something to do with that mincing, yet haughty irony for which Chloe Sevigny and Marc Jacobs are famous. It's a concept I can never quite explain to myself adequately, and so I resort to a dictionary, only to find that "sartorial" simply means "of or pertaining to clothing or fashion; of or pertaining to tailors or the work of tailors." Apparently, "sartor" is Latin for "tailor."

Looking up this word is always a disappointment for me - as if "inheriting the earth" turned out to be nothing more than having a clump of dirt dumped on your head. And while you know that the abstract grandiosity of the Earth is in fact contained in that literal clod, you were still hoping for an inheritance that was a little more...abstract.

However, like socks for Christmas, this gypsy switch ultimately brings great happiness, despite the lack of glamour. As I searched for a definition, however colloquial, that had even the smallest relation to irony, I happened upon "sartorius muscle: a muscle in the thigh that helps to rotate the leg into the sitting position assumed by a tailor; the longest muscle in the human body." I had no idea what "the position assumed by a tailor" was. Project Runway had led me to believe that tailors sat and stood like everyone else, regardless of whatever ceremonial spitmarks or clucking noises they might make while doing so. It turns out that "tailor sitting" is sitting crosslegged (criss-cross applesauce, Indian style, or however your 1st grade teacher used to say it), and is a position very beneficial to laboring mothers during certain stages of childbirth. Why a tailor would necessarily choose to sit like this, I have no idea. I guess it is a comfortable sitting position for anybody, but tailors in particular? Search me.

Or search Google. "How do tailors sit?" brought up a sartorial (pick your definition) New York Times article from 1901 entitled "Tailors and Socialism," in which a "student of queer things" observes that all tailors are socialists (?) and doesn't understand why, so he asks a tailor friend of his. The tailor explains that "we tailors sit on a table in groups of three or four" and "one...must do something [while we work] and so we fellows talk." The gist of the story is that anyone who thinks about social conditions for even 5 seconds will want to become a socialist; these tailors all chat themselves into a red frenzy through idle daily gossip. So perhaps "sitting like a tailor" is sitting like someone too poor to afford a chair, someone who must share a tabletop with 3 or 4 people. A far cry from Marc Jacobs. Or maybe not. I've never seen his factories.

Anyway, I didn't mean to use this post to worry my pretty head about the industry behind the luxury. Other than Project Runway, where the tailors are really designers, my knowledge of "the figure of the tailor" comes from Fiddler on the Roof and fairytales like The Brave Little Tailor - neither of which I've encountered in a very long time - I think of a frivolous and whimsical person who nonetheless saves the day and surprises everyone by being the most competent person in the room, without sacrificing an ounce of his homosexuality, er, silliness. Seriously, look at that guy prance around in Kay Nielsen's 19th century illustration of "The Brave Little Tailor." He's fighting a unicorn. Which, I have to say, is an awesome metaphor for artistic labor.

The Book

Okay, I bought it. I bought this book. I was weak! I couldn't wait for the Amazon discount. After reading the reviews and author interviews on Now Smell This . . . after perusing endless debates about whether such an opiniated and sprawling (though not exhaustive) guide would be good or bad for novice perfume-lovers, the industry, the state of perfume criticism . . . I couldn't take it anymore. I bought it.

Favorite thing so far? The one-word review of Lanvin Rumeur: "Baseless."

Secret shame? Magical Moon compared (though not unfavorably) to Angel, the pole-dancing nose anthem of the nineties. Just when I was slowly gaining confidence that the shimmery-fruity topnote I smell is actually osmanthus flower and not fruit at all, Sanchez gives it three stars and a yawn, acknowledging there's something different but nothing very special about it. (Hey, at least it's "adequate"! Lindsay Lohan would be proud!)

It is worth noting that Angel itself gets 5 stars, as do many big, influential scents that the authors claim they never want to smell again because of the proliferation of knockoffs. Bulgari Black, which I've been meaning to get, rates 5 stars too; Songes rates 4 stars; most other scents I enjoy get 3.

Turin and Sanchez both claim, independently, that perfume is one of the most "affordable" luxuries available, which is a bit like saying that cutting off someone's ear is one of the most "forgiveable" atrocities or that organic chemistry is one of the most "gettable" of impossibly difficult sciences. However, be that as it may, it's certain that sharing the costs with another perfume enthusiast ("perfumista" is starting to grate) is a pleasant way to make scent-related things more affordable. La Niebla, you need to borrow this.


Indole, n.

My perfume habit currently resides on my dresser in an antique cut-glass tray that belonged to my grandmother. The inscription on the bottom of the tray - "Waste Not Want Not" - reminds me that I used to use it for saving pennies. (Ironic.) La Niebla came over for a smell-a-thon and we hovered over the tray, passing the delicate glass bottles and vials back and forth in a state of strange, perilous bliss. When she came to my current favorite, Annick Goutal's Songes, she made a face and said, "It smells like papaya tastes: sweet and rotten."

Ah, indoles. A few weeks ago when I posted about Songes, I noted the faint odor of putrescence in its white flowers (jasmine, neroli, frangipani); that's the indolic smell. According to Chandler Burr: "Indoles . . . are molecules that smell like a trucker’s unwashed armpit. They also smell like jasmine because jasmine is heavily indolic. They also smell like rotting corpses because dead bodies generate indoles when they decompose."

I think writers from the South have long since excavated the metaphorically rich affinity between the smell of certain flowers and rotting flesh; however, the existence of a molecule that actually explains the connection is both mysterious and gratifying. If I had to guess, I'd say papaya has indoles, which is why I can't eat papaya without gagging. But somehow the slightly rotten quality of the white flowers is what makes them smell flowery to me, like something you walk past in the dark rather than something you put in your mouth.

It's hard to describe in words exactly what it is that flowers smell like, anyway: "sweet" doesn't half cover it, since only a few flowers really smell like things that taste sweet (maybe honeysuckle?). Roses don't smell sweet, or not entirely; they smell rich and planty and earthy, with cold berry-like sweetness around the edges, and an indescribable note in the middle like a violin.

Neither is jasmine "sweet," exactly, nor any of the tropical flowers that go into big white floral scents. They're heavy and languid, almost limp, and the close smell of their white velvety petals evokes a fecundity that is just outrageous. The indolic note in Songes reminds me of evening walks past magnolia trees in Houston, when the stiflingly humid air around the fleshy, bruised white blossoms seems so saturated with scent that the merest breeze can immerse you in it. It's a smell I feel I wouldn't have liked a few years ago, but right now I can't get enough of it; I want to just lie back and let it smother me like yards of white silk. Songes, take me away.


LesNEZ, The Unicorn Spell

I learn from other reviews that The Unicorn Spell is a violet scent, and so I infer that violets are a flower I may never get along with. It is undeniably pretty, but so cold it makes my sinuses ache. Green, with scarcely a hint of the warmth you associate with a flower; so astringent that if my nose could pucker, it would. These violet blossoms are tiny and pale and close to the ground, as if they bloomed too early in the spring and had to weather a lot of chilly nights. On the skin, soft woods begin to embellish and warm the scent after half an hour; but the violet note, almost metallic to my nose, hangs on much longer; then the whole thing vanishes into oblivion, just as a hint of vanilla begins to pull the scent off-center.

If Magical Moon is about moon goddesses, The Unicorn Spell is about the actual moon - cold, astral, eerily distant in the night sky. Think of keeping a silver locket in the freezer for a week, then pulling it out and wearing it around your neck.

Update, later same day: After wearing Kenzo Amour out today, I've relented a little on The Unicorn Spell. Now I think that my opinion was based largely on resentment at our recent cold rainy snap (Chicago spring, grr!). In warm weather when I need less comfort from my fragrance this might be easier to wear. And I'm thinking of a friend who is tall, graceful, and very reserved - Marie - who could probably pull it off at any time of the year.


Montale, White Aoud

In my freshman logic class at UT, there was a girl in the back of the auditorium who always raised her hand, and who, when called on, spoke in a disconcertingly loud voice. This girl wore broomstick velvet skirts with denim vests; fedoras and other rakishly masculine millinery; and round glasses that she squinted through owlishly. This girl, who quickly earned herself the usual monikers that loud, intelligent women accumulate in their wake (cf. Hilary Clinton), was Alissa.

Around the time she took off her glasses to reveal eyes of startlingly childlike blue and showed me a poem she'd written that knocked my socks off, Alissa and I became friends. The rest is history. When trying to come up with a perfume for Alissa, I have been stumped by the odd assortment of characteristics that she represents in my imagination: feminine, even womanly, but not sweet; hippie-ish, but not in a patchouli-wearing way; witchy, but not dark; both extremely warm and extremely reserved. Creative, yet analytical; both generous and stern; also a little reckless in her finer moments. Brave, bold, shy, kind.

Quite possibly the scent that best represents her comes from the squadron of 80s power perfumes, those conversation-halting Poisons and Shalimars with which I have little experience. Probably Alissa's mom wore something along these lines. But for Alissa, I had been hoping to sniff out something a bit more mystical, something with witchy ingredients gathered at midnight on the vernal equinox. That type of thing.

I had high hopes for LesNEZ's The Unicorn Spell, a violet scent that is plenty mystical enough. But somehow the nose-tingling reserve of the first hour, when the violet is just barely green and cold cold cold, brought to mind the wrong Alissa. It evoked her steely qualities, the icy strength with which she scythes her enemies to the ground. But that was Alissa in a bad mood.

For Alissa in a good mood, I am settling on White Aoud by Montale. Aoud, otherwise known as agarwood, is one of those deep dark gritty notes that evokes a Middle Eastern trade route, camels and all. From what I've heard, many of the offerings in Montale's aoud line can knock birds out of the sky at thirty paces. It's not a wussy note. When aoud is first unleashed in a perfume it has a dense acrid smell, almost like medical bandages. But in White Aoud, a complex of floral notes - rose, saffron, jasmine - keeps the opening lighter and more delicate, almost powdery. Sandalwood softens, a hint of leather and a hint of vanilla make the drydown comforting rather than disturbing. The astringent note never leaves entirely - Alissa in her best mood is still rather tart - but White Aoud is deeply feminine, even refined despite its earthiness; it smells old-fashioned to me.

But just like that girl in my logic class and the lawyer she grew up to be, it packs a punch.



One day, when we have world enough and time, we should make the pilgrimage to Scent Bar.

What do you say, Oedipa? I've always wanted to see Hollywood.


Oscar de la Renta, Oscar

Sometimes you invent an imaginary woman to wear a fragrance. Sometimes the woman already exists. And sometimes, the woman already exists AND she already wears that fragrance. I know, I know, Ouroboros, history and associations, blah blah blah. But such is the relation between my mother and Oscar. It is written in the stars and in the TJ Maxx inventories.

Just as your mother is probably the single most important woman in your life, her perfume probably struck your child-self as the essence of adulthood and authority. My mother was not a woman to be disobeyed or trifled with. In her glory days, she was like a Nagel print: mass-produced elegance personified, the unabashedly expensive kind, and she threw her class in people's faces like so much prime rib in the face of a starving refugee. But it was the 80s, and she had her own career and was married to an MD (even if he technically worked as a public health administrator). She had paid her dues, in cash (or check if she happened to be at the grocery store), many times over, so it wasn't so unusual to be loudly announced by the clatter of a couple of solid gold bangles, half an inch wide, every time she entered a room. She always looked beautiful, always wore leather shoes and real jewelery. And she owned a fur coat. A good one. In Florida. Her style commanded the respect she deserved as a woman of class, substance, and fortitude. After all, she had come to this country with nothing, put herself through nursing school, and mothered 3 children. She worked 12-hour shifts in the Critical Care Unit of a corrupt hospital in a corrupt healthcare system.

Rooms away, we kids knew when she was finished dressing - that heavy, amber floral, deep and powdery, would fill the bathroom and seethe through the house, occupying every blanket-fortress, penetrating every last pillowcase gas-mask. In the car, it was a massacre. Nobody even had a chance. Eyes watered, throats seized, and any daughterly impulse to cuddle against her pretty silk blouses and coiffed hair was thwarted yards ahead of time.

Now, such aggressive hauteur is out of style, and they sell Oscar and his "don't even think about it" allure at Target. I still don't like it, but I'm used to it by now; I'm much older and bigger, and I can kind of ignore it. However, sometimes, when I'm visiting and there's some event, she'll do her hair and slug me with full-on, floral bitchface, just for old time's sake, and to prove she's still got it.

She does.


Sillage (see-YAZH) is French for "wake," as in the wake of a boat on the water. In perfume jargon, sillage is the trail of scent a fragrance leaves behind you, the effect of the molecules evaporating from your body into the surrounding air, pushing that air aside, creating ripples, as you sail through your business.

I like this word for how similar it is to "silly" - really, it's a gussied-up nominalization of "silly." Instead of "silliness" (or "smell," for that matter), ladies have "sillage." Also, we never sweat; we glow.

I will toast to fancy silliness any day. I will also toast to an Annick Goutal fragrance that doesn't flatline after 10 minutes (this is not the fault of your exausted olfaction, Oedipa)! Even my old Elizabeth Arden Green Tea body spray hangs around longer than that. Hell, even soap lasts longer.

Duel, scent of my soul, stay a while!
Sailors. Pfft.



My Luckyscent samples came!!

My nose has not fully recovered from the recent sinus meltdown, so probably I'm not smelling anything very well. Today I doused myself in Annick Goutal Shut-the-Door, which seemed to disappear after half an hour, but don't ask me, ask my students. At least I didn't see any of them gagging. But I couldn't resist playing with my samples, which are five different niche scents from five different niche houses.

Opening up the little plastic vials for a preliminary sniff was like peering through the keyhole into an entirely new world. Granted, it's a world I am too poor to live in; nay, a world I am too poor to visit, a world where even if I took a three-day weekend and stayed on a friend's sofa the price of coffee and public transportation would break me within a matter of days. A world that sounds a lot like London, only better smelling.

It's a world where husky, dirty vetiver seems to climb all over you like the Latin dance partners who kept thrusting their legs between your thighs last time you went salsa dancing; a world where musty aoud stinks like the binding of books in the rare bookshop you always wished you could work at; a world where the gentlest breeze brings a rippling of hallucinatory notes that seem to change the color of the trees, the sidewalk, everything around you.

In other words, a world well worth exploring.


Sometimes when I'm sniffing around perfume counters I get tired of trying to figure out what I like and try to imagine what someone I know would like. I compulsively attach personalities to the perfumes I know, so why not try it the other way around? And maybe when I strike it rich I'll just go around buying people the fragrances I associate with them.

So that's going to be my project for the next couple of posts. I shall play matchmaker with my friends and the fragrances that remind me of them. Starting with Alissa. . . .



Since I am home sick today and can't smell anything, this might be a good time to post about how I got interested (so very recently!) in perfume.

My first ever bottle was Bulgari Omnia, which I bought this winter with Christmas money and found myself wearing as often as my first cashmere pullover, for the same reasons. Cozy, soothing, like sticking your nose into a dry wooden box with a couple of cloves rattling around at the bottom, Omnia is my definition of a comfort scent. After buying it, I started reading perfume blogs obsessively, and that's when La Niebla and I started hitting Sephora and Nordstrom on the weekends, giving ourselves headaches in search of what we liked and why. (La Niebla had been wearing perfume for years, so perhaps she was just keeping me company at first. That is for her to say.)

Angela at Now Smell This would likely call our department-store adventures stage one of becoming a perfumista. Being obsessives, La Niebla and I raced through this stage in record time and landed squarely in Stage Two:

Stage two: Beginning Perfume Mania. Somewhere, a switch flips, and your drive to know more about perfume ramps up. . . . You’ll never call a scent “perfume-y” or “old lady-ish” again — at least not in a derogatory way.

Now you start to explore Caron and Guerlain, or maybe you focus on L’Artisan Parfumeur or Annick Goutal instead. You try Mitsouko for the first time, and chances are you don’t like it much. You’re still making your mind up about the murky Mousse de Saxe in many of the Carons. You hear there’s a line called Serge Lutens that doesn’t export some of its perfumes. You learn how to pronounce “chypre”.

You might start to try to define yourself in scent, but it’s more an intellectual exercise, more aspirational than based on how a perfume really smells on you. For instance, you tell yourself, “Vetiver is sophisticated and earthy, and that’s how I want to be, so I love vetiver,” when in fact picking out the vetiver in all but the most vet-laden scents is hit or miss with you at this point. You just know you can find that signature scent, and it will surely contain lots of vetiver (substitute leather, tuberose, oakmoss, etc. as needed).

Yes, I have indeed had that precise moment with vetiver, which gets paired in descriptions with leather so often that I was surprised to find it's actually a grass (not to mention it's not French, so my "sophisticated" internal pronunciation of it is ridiculous). I can't tell plain musk from a hole in the ground yet, but I'm trying.

The day before my birthday I wandered into a Saks Fifth Avenue downtown and wandered out with eight miniature Annick Goutals - six beautiful refillable square bottles plus two "bonus" decants, complete with reusable atomizers and funnels. Toni, who sold me this smorgasbord, affirmed quite seriously that a woman needs a "scent wardrobe." I think she might have been wearing Petite Cherie, but I forgive her because she insisted on pronouncing Chevrefeuille "shut-the-door," as her AG trainer had advised. How an Annick Goutal rep stumbled on that particular phrase to approximate the French language I don't know, but the image of Toni gleefully shouting out "Shut-the-door!" every time I took a whiff will stay with me until I die.

In addition to the little fleet of Annick Goutal bottles that stand on my dresser, I will soon get my first order of samples from Luckyscent. These include a niche vetiver and something called "The Unicorn Spell" that I couldn't resist. As soon as I get my nose back I'll write about them all.


Annick Goutal, Petite Cherie

Petite Cherie - the name alone is pretty awful. I knew it wasn't going to be my cup of tea. But it came in the mini trio with Songes and Grand Amour (about which more later), and so I thought I'd give it a try. Pear and peach and fresh-cut grass doesn't sound bad, though the description on the AG website of the "naive and determined woman-child" for whom the scent was intended put me off a little. But hell, I like Magical Moon! If that's not naive and determined, I don't know what is.

For the first half-hour, Petite Cherie smells like a thirteen-year-old wearing Love's Baby Soft and smoking a cigarette behind the drug store. It actually conjured up memories of my "bad" friend in junior high, and if that doesn't sound so terrible to you, keep in mind that a) the drugstore was in Naperville, Illinois, in the mid-80s, and b) even she has probably moved on to something a mite classier by now. (Oh, I really miss her sometimes. We used to play with ouiji boards and put on slutty makeup together. Wonder where she is now.)

The bitter, smoky note I smell - musk rose? cut grass? - is the only interesting thing about this otherwise pallid fragrance, but as I say, there was such a gulf between the watery peach and pear topnotes and whatever I was smelling underneath that it had the effect of stale cigarette smoke lingering on the clothes of a freshly shampooed teenager. That smoky note calms in the drydown, leaving a smell that reminds me of . . . a diaper-changing table. All those sweet-smelling powders and air fresheners tinged with a note of acrid plastic and a distant aura of baby poop.

Maybe Petite Cherie will layer up with some other AG fragrances. I will try. Apparently AG really did create it to evoke childhood, and it certainly lives up to that promise. On some less aggro woman than me that may be a good thing.