‘American woman’ : RATTAN GARDENIA, IKAT JASMINE, EVENING ROSE, LILAC PATH & AMBER MUSK by AERIN (2013)

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I think am unusual among perfume lovers in having a true olfactory double life. The fact of living in Japan, in a culture where strong-smelling scents tend to be frowned upon, as well as working in an educational establishment where perfume is actually not allowed, has produced a schism:  at weekends, and during the long vacations I am fortunate enough to have with this job, the facial hair grows back (also banned in the workplace in case the students find it creepy), and the perfume gets hairier and more intense as well….out comes the Bal A Versailles, Tonka Impériale; the Lorenzo Villoresi Patchouli; Ungaro Pour Homme, the Montale Aouds, the rich vanillas and coconuts; vetivers, all the earthy, sensual scents I tend to favour, naturally, and uncensored, in my native, scent-reeking habitat.

Come the working week though, all that is put behind me. I shower, hard and long with the freshest smelling soaps, shampoos and conditioners, to remove every trace of all that from my body as I shave off the beard and become, again, my smiling, clean-living, English Gentleman alter ego.

I have two separate wardrobes, in different rooms of the house. Work clothes are confined in a kind of olfactive apartheid: unscented, clean-smelling, redolent, hopefully, of nothing more than fabric conditioner, or hints of the other, floral fresh fragrances I sometimes wear to circumvent the unbearable rules. Yes, I do wear perfume ( of course ). Not always, mind you. Recently there have been days when I have left the house completely unperfumed save for the gentle smell of Shiseido shampoo and hair mousse: I have even found it almost liberating in a sense (wow! is that the sky I can smell?!) realizing, suddenly, how the ‘normals’, those who don’t spend almost every moment of the day living through their noses, must feel: just blending, like odourless camouflage, into the backdrop of humdrum life. It is a weird feeling, to be sure, but once in a while to shed the scented mantle for a day or two can be refreshing. I also, then, feel far less paranoid in the workplace. You can’t imagine how stressful it is to have people wrinkling their noses or muttering under their breath, and, conversely, how pleasing it is to just have a bit of smell-security. Phew. Today it seems that I don’t stink.

I have written about this before on The Black Narcissus of course, but I am yet to come across anyone who has this experience to quite the extent that I do. I realize, naturally, that some of you reading this will also have to curtail your inner urges in the workplace so as not to offend your smell-sensitive colleagues, particularly in North America; the olfactively unconventional niche dramas of the perfumista not always readily accepted by one’s ignorant, smell-dunce co-workers. Here in Japan, however, the situation is undoubtedly far more severe. Mistakenly, in the long and distant past, thinking that a bit of citrus couldn’t hurt, surely, I have, on woeful and misguided occasion, worn Armani Pour Homme, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Miller Harris Citron Citron, Hermès Eau D’Orange Verte, among others, thinking I smelled crisp and gentlemanly only to hear the students muttering kusai, kusai (‘he stinks’) underneath their breaths as well as staff in the teachers’ room making straight and direct comments that such perfumes really just weren’t suitable. What I thought was lemon and lime, light; fresh; pleasing, to them is a stenchy old gaijin man of oakmoss, vetiver, and patchouli, the basenotes that inevitably rise up and fill up the space like a piggy, western animal, in the hallowed breath of the Japanese classroom. No, I long ago gave up even attempting to wear anything remotely masculine or classic, and as for orientals, you should have seen the kids when I once wore a bit (well, quite a bit, actually) of Givenchy Pi…  literally screaming for the windows to be opened. Horrible, sweat-inducing experiences I have no desire to repeat.

Well, maybe you just do actually smell naturally bad, you say (or just think privately) to yourself. Well who knows, maybe I do. Maybe such a terror is what drives many of us to wear perfume in the first place. And yet I have had the opposite extreme of reaction when I have broken the rules of the company and instead worn light doses of fresh, floral scents designed for women;  those unthreatening, exultantly clean perfumes which, worn on clean shirt sleeves and collars on a nice spring day strangely seem to suit me to a ‘t’:  Marc Jacobs, Summer by Kenzo, Champs Elysées, Antonia’s Flowers Floret, Pacifica Star Rock Jasmine, and particularly Clinique Happy worn in moderation have had girls following me down the corridors attesting to how gorgeous I smell, which is all rather interesting from a cultural and gender point of view, but also shows you what a weird predicament I find myself in. I would never wear any of these at the weekend, never ever ever it would feel like a peculiar kind of soul transvesticism; but I do think that in some ways I wear them just as well as I wear my orientals and more extreme perfumes – it is just a different side of my character. I like to smell good, basically, and have just had to adapt myself, chameleon-like, to whichever environment I happen to find myself in.

Which brings me to the new collection of perfumes by Aerin Lauder, grand-daughter of Estée and creative director of the gorgeous Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, which my friend Cath sent me a sample of recently and which I also wore successfully to work, with its neroli-infused, heady but steady white florals nestling most pleasantly, gently tropical but still downily clean, beneath my shirt cuffs. These perfumes have no scary old lady musks; patchouli; or hidden animalics in their bases to frighten the Japanese; no, though often almost entirely synthetic, they seem designed to form perfect extensions of the freshly washed, fabric- softened aura that the modern American woman often seems to want, sometimes desperately it feels, to evince.

You will see, then I come to this new collection by Aerin Lauder from a somewhat twisted perspective: while I genuinely do love the smell of faultless, floral cleanliness, (which you know full well in advance that these perfumes are going to have), they also remind us of the limitations placed upon us: not just on me and the strange perfume Jekyll & Hyde I have become, but also on the perfume wearing public itself: that this flawless patina of airbrushed, fluid-banishing unbodiliness is now almost what is required of the American woman strikes me as disturbing as it is pleasant. Having said that, the new Aerin collection, as we will see, is in fact more human and pleasing than many such offerings, and does sometimes go beyond sheer tuberosed metallica into calmer, almost fleshed, warm and womanly sensuality.

GARDENIA RATTAN Notes:  Marine Accord, Tuberose, Gardenia, Tiare, Amber

Smelling this perfume reminded me instantly of last summer in Indonesia when we were caught in a rainstorm in the historical Kota district of Jakarta, by the river, standing under ripening, opening plumeria trees and watching the swollen grey clouds burst as market vendors scrambled to get somewhere under cover. Tropical white flowers and river ozone. If you are a fan of the original Marc Jacobs gardenia (as I am, in limited doses), you will probably like Gardenia Rattan. Like that perfume, this gardenia has a pronounced watery, ozonic top note that cuts through the florals and keeps them from ever getting too buttery and cloying, chiefly a very familiar gardenia/tuberose accord that is similar to the Jacobs though not quite as piquant or sharp: the wet note that clings throughout this perfume’s duration on the skin quite refreshing, I would imagine, on a hot, humid day, one of those commercially attractive perfumes I can see becoming a big hit. You couldn’t possibly get a safer fragrance, with its clean, beachy, feminine vibe, its total  skank-annihilating swathes of freshness, though I can imagine that even one spray too much of this in an office environment might be a touch headache-inducing.

IKAT JASMINE Notes: Jasmine sambac, Jasmine Egypt, Tuberose Fleur, Tuberose Infusion, Honeysuckle, Sandalwood

The thing about Ikat Jasmine is that it doesn’t really seem to contain any jasmine. Not in the usual manner we expect, at any rate, with that familiar, white, fleshy, indolic lusciousness. Far more prominent is a light, imaginary air-soaring honeysuckle, which graces the fresh floral accord and soft, shadowy musk-sandalwood base quite beautifully in a blend that I personally can’t help but find rather seductive. Like the jail-baiting Curious by Britney Spears and also Jean Charles Brosseau’s Violette Menthe, this perfume has that flirtatious insouciance of a devastingly sexy young thing, that moment when an inspired combination of ingredients somehow produces an entirely different kettle of fish; in this case, to me at any rate, a classroom scenario in which a dreamily beautiful girl is playing with her hair indolently, knowingly, and the scent that is moving deliberately, slowly, across that very room is driving the teenage boys that secretly love her, but don’t dare to admit it, wild. As I said, to me this is not a jasmine perfume, really, more a pleasingly dusky, abstract floral, but one that I just instinctively know on the right young thing could be the school’s best kept secret::::  What IS that perfume she is wearing? I need to know…..

EVENING ROSE Notes:   Blackberry, Cognac, Rose Centifolia, Rose Bulgaria, Incense, Amber.

If Ikat Jasmine is best kept for your niece or daughter as a coming-of-age birthday present, then Evening Rose will do very nicely for the more sexually experienced woman of the family. Here, Aerin veers from the starched, Caucasian ideal for a moment and audaciously (gasp!) embraces the Arab-American daringness of an attenuated rose-oudh, tackling the recent wave of oudh perfumes à la Kilian by reining in the more swoony, ambered and middle-eastern aspects of the perfume with a beautiful rose top note of quality, almost Elizabethan in its classicism, and light, fruited sensations of blackberry. It is an expertly blended perfume; warm, suggestive, rich, yet still gentle and unthreatening. While I personally like my oudhs and roses more full-on, this perfume treads the middle ground successfully, the kind of scent that could weave sensual webs of intrigue around the right wearer, garnering compliments from her more mainstream friends who will undoubtedly lean in closer and say ” I like your perfume. It’s unusual. ”

LILAC PATH Notes:   Lilac Flowers, Galbanum, ‘Creamy Jasmine Lactones’, Angelica Seed Oil, Orange Blossom

The problem with perfumes that smell like air-fresheners (and they are increasing in number by the day), is the sense of what they are concealing. While the British woman will ‘nip to the loo’, or even just simply tell you that she is ‘going to the toilet’, her US counterpart is not supposed to do such things. She slips off euphemistically to the ‘restroom’, to the ‘powder room’, obfuscating the biological realities of every human being and their requisite toilet function. All such realities are usually deleted with Lauder perfumes, which create the illusion of odorous sanctity, of laser-beamed, angelic unbodiedness.  Lilac Path goes too far, however. There is a great unspoken elephant with this perfume, and it is sitting right there in the toilet bowl…

I used to really hate cheap floral airfresheners as a child. In fact I used to scream sometimes as grotesque wafts of cheap Glade lilac would assail me from the family bathroom and reach me in my bedroom mixed with unmentionables: at any rate I almost preferred the disgusting, raw emissions of the human body to the blend that would instead meet my nose. And while there is nothing remotely dirty about Lilac Path (although I do think that lilacs are some of the very dirtiest smelling flowers, even when they have just bloomed), with its grassy, green tones gracing the neutered lilac blooms, the disturbing connotations of covering up are just personally way too strong for me.

Testing these perfumes for a third time last night, Duncan also thought this was as foul as I did – way too strong, for a start, and entirely unsuited for the skin of a human being. Though it eventually does die down to quite a nice, delicately polished lilac skin-scent, if you are after lilacs, if you must have lilacs, then I would recommend After My Own Heart by Ineke, which treats those flowers in a similar manner (but with better execution ); the original Pleasures by Estée Lauder with its wet, clear, feminine, lilacy insistence, or Olivia Giacobetti’s delicately poetic En Passant, (which I reviewed the other day); or, if you actually want to embrace what lilacs in fact really are, and are unafraid, then go for the full on, tongue-thwacking f***fest under the lilac bushes that is Fior Di Lilla by Borsari.

AMBER MUSK Notes:  Ambrox, Magnolia, Rose, Coconut Water, Benzoin, Musk

There There. That’s better.

Amber Musk, a gold-leafed, shimmering off-the-shoulder-perfume for a night of anniversary celebrations of champagne, top restaurants and ‘intimacy’  (that other euphemism; what are Americans afraid of?) is, in its own way, sheer perfection. Though for me this perfume is perhaps too tame, too balanced, too ‘just so’ (one and a half glasses of champagne, never the whole bottle), the skilful blending of this perfume manages to encompass, quite effortessly, and silkily, the essence of the ‘American Woman’ we see wheeled-out yearly at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Clean yet sexy; not a hair out of place; so well put together; smooth-skinned, toned…..a modern amber perfume that makes all the right noises, folding in on itself and then unfolding lightly; tastefully, blossomingly and eminently, seductive. Amber Musk has the potential to be a big hit because it ticks all the right boxes for a certain kind of woman, who may or may not exist in reality: one who is managing to ‘do it all’; have a lucrative, and fulfilling professional life; raise a family; exercise regularly; take care of her appearance; smell good; love her man; and smile, always, or as much as she can, with those ever-enviable, orthodontically immaculate, sparkling white teeth.

42 Comments

Filed under Flowers

42 responses to “‘American woman’ : RATTAN GARDENIA, IKAT JASMINE, EVENING ROSE, LILAC PATH & AMBER MUSK by AERIN (2013)

  1. Fab review! I feel very relaxed reading this. I’m intrigued to try these. Liking the sound of Elizabethan Rose, but also strangely drawn to this rosey, magnoliesque, coconut watery Amber Musk one. Are there traces of Estee in the perfumes or has Aerin struck out in an entirely different direction from her mother? I’m interested in this genealogical link. Are there other mother-daughter perfumists working at this level?

    • Never heard of that kind of female lineage, though she is definitely following in her mother’s estimable footsteps in creating highly pleasant blends without the same levels of daring. It’s all very safe and nicey .

      Incidentally, Nina, I have just been told that I have been nominated for a Jasmine Award by the Fragrance Foundation!!

      Feeling giddy.

  2. ninakane1

    OMG I’ve just looked it up! That’s really prestigious!!! Absolutely brilliant. Though of course I am not surprised. You are a true connoisseur and totally inspiring and original when it comes to perfume. You massively deserve this. Well done hon xxx

  3. Laurels

    Congratulations on your nomination!

  4. Dearest Dr Ginza and Mr Aerin
    Who would have thought it?
    Unmasked! So you were Jack The Ripper after all!?!
    I do see the attraction of such lightweight fancies, I myself am drawn in after bathing and every summer to Guerlain’s watercolour Aquas Allegoria.
    I wonder though whether any of these would tempt me, as delicious in your accuracy as your descriptions are, none temp, save perhaps the rose…
    How telling is the change in one family’s taste to the whole olfactory world. One can’t imagine Estee giving house room to any of these purposefully etiolated creations, oh, unless they sold!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • My perfumed schism is undoubtedly weird. And writing this makes me realize it all the more.

      The Guerlain Aquas are way preferable to me, obviously, than anything by Aerin, as even the Aquas have that Guerlain touch. There is still mystery or something deeper in them. I love the mandarin one that you like, and many others. They are just so…..French.

      • Dearest Ginza
        The mandarin, the grapefruit, doesn’t Duncan wear Lavande Velours? I also adore Anisia Bella, which is odd because it’s not normally a note (outside of Aimez Moi) I have much time for…
        Yes, ver’ French!
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  5. Rafael

    First, warm congratulations on your nomination! How exciting and well deserved. Aerin Lauder is Estee’s granddaughter. I read your review of these with curiosity. I was invited to a launch for them where each attendee was given a coffret as pictured above. I can’t wait to meet a virgin to give them to as a gift. They’re all non-fragrance fragrances. These sentimental watercolors form Lauder are their bid, after Pleasures, to compete with the magnificent Aqua Allegoria line mentioned above. Herba Fresca. Mandarin Basil, even Pamplelune are wonderful in our Tropical Summers here in FL. and I’ve been known to go through litres of each in the course of a season but I find these little experiments in temerity from Aerin insufferable. They’re not timid they’re insipid.

  6. Lilybelle

    Congratulations on the nomination, Mr. Ginza! That’s wonderful! The only one of those fragrances that I would possibly save an inch of skin space for is the rose. I suppose Aerin can’t go bolder in her compositions because she wants to actually sell a LOT of them? I’ve been wearing vintage granny scents pretty much exclusively lately and switching back to a modern composition has become jarring to me. I sympathize with your double life, but it sounds like fun, too, since you always wear what you enjoy. I agree that a day or two of fragrance abstinence can be very good – an entire world of environmental scents to reacquaint ourselves with! – but I haven’t done that nose palate clearing in a very long time. It’s freezing cold here this winter and I cloak myself in the oldies for warmth and security. Congratulations again on being nominated for a Jasmine Award! I love following along on your narrative journeys. 🙂

  7. Katy

    American woman, stay away from me, if you insist on anointing yourself with nice fragrances, which shame you with there lack of depth and character. All that aside, congratulations Neil! Well done and richly deserved. Your beautiful missives are the tether that keeps me tied to perfume health and sanity.

  8. Martha

    Congratulations on your nomination! I hope you win. Your writing is brilliant, humorous, and compelling.

    This post rings true for me in a couple ways. I also work in an environment where fragrance is forbidden. I am a nurse, but fortunately I work in home health so I don’t have supervisors and coworkers to contend with. Not every day, but often, I will spray a little something that is reasonably inoffensive under my shirt so that I can catch a whiff every now and then throughout the work day. Lately it has been vintage Emeraude, which I love. One of my patients detected it and complimented me, but stated that “it must be your hand lotion.” Hand lotion is fine with me, and I got a thrill from being sneaky and seditious. The other point you make is about the hideous aerosol air fresheners that only serve to make truly nauseating the ordinary odors of humanity. Like you, if it is unavoidable, I would prefer to simply smell s*** unaccompanied by a screechy, synthetic floral perfume. What I cannot stand are the automatic sprayers that squirt out noxious mists on a schedule, like every 10 minutes or so. They are hideous. While I haven’t smelled the offerings from Aerin, I have smelled a couple from the Aqua Allegoria collection and think that some of them would be just the thing in the heat and humidity. Herba Fresca seems particularly refreshing. If I encounter some of the Aerin perfumes somewhere, I’ll sniff away, but I see no need to seek them out.

    • Vintage Emeraude, under a nurse’s uniform, strikes me as DIVINE. I love this story, especially hearing that even one patient appreciated it.

      And how different, as you say, true perfume is to ‘air freshener’ (surely an oxymoronic reality if even there was one): UGH it can be vile.

      Having said that, many Japanese public toilets have no obvious chemical element and sometimes I am just CRYING OUT for something to cover up the stench….It is a delicate balance.

      As for Aerin, obviously it goes without saying that you don’t need to seek them out. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if that rich looking lady walking past who smells so nice is wearing one of them…

  9. Katherine

    Congratulations on your nomination!! Along with Nina I found this a very relaxing post to read, don’t know why but it comes from a really nice viewing position, aside from your personal professional double life, I like how you contextualise contemporary releases. I’m enthralled by the Ikat Jasmine description…I guess (!) not for myself but the schoolgirl daydream surprising combination captures my imagination like some dreamy jangly imperfect pop (but then maybe that’s the music coming from the other room my boyfriend’s listening to which I’m told is ‘Crispy Ambulance’)… It’s just over a year from when I first discovered your blog and I can remember it all so well. Also the time of year when the sky starts becoming sunny with possibility and fills me with angst but also renewal and positivity, these perfume writings of yours are the perfect accompaniment.

  10. ‘Crispy Ambulance’ is a phrase I know in the depths of my being that I could never come up with by myself. I am intrigued!
    And thanks for the nice things you say here. It is incredibly gratifying.

    (you still haven’t told me which scents, by the way….)

    At some point in the soonish future I will be packaging something up for you!

  11. Katherine

    I think I did! I will email again 🙂

  12. a

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the format to your weblog.
    Is that this a paid subject or did you modify it yourself?
    Either way keep up the excellent high quality
    writing, it’s uncommon to peer a great blog like this one
    these days..

  13. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    Back to work and rule -enforced ‘clean’ perfumes…….

  14. Dear Ginza,first of all congratulations on your Jasmine award nomination!
    Raphael beat me to it in telling you that Aerin is Estee’s granddaughter. I have not tried any of Aerin perfumes but have read numerous reviews on them. I work in an environment of American preppies who have an extreme aversion to perfumes. I was getting called down for my perfume at least three times a week and finally stopped wearing perfume to work at all–at least for one week. After I could no longer stand it (I felt like I wasn’t myself without any fragrance or that I was on my way to the hospital for a stay), I gradually came up with the idea of dabbing on some of my favorite fragrances that were on the mild side as spraying envelops ones person much more than dabbing. You must get close to a person to smell dabbed perfume and my supervisor wouldn’t dare to get that close to me. So far it has worked very well and I have not had one complaint. I even sprayed a little of Misia and got no negative remarks. Of course no one ever tells me at work that I smell good but last week at the gym I had a trace of a sample someone sent me of Atkinson’s Jasmine in Tangerine and the man on the bike next to mine was positively swooning over my fragrance. Finally he told me I smelled so good! I was thrilled that there are still some among us (besides me and a few of my friends) that still appreciate wonderful fragrances.

    • In many ways I find America to be appalling conservative: scent is just one area where that tendency manifests itself.

      I have also tried to avoid wearing scent completely but I also really hate it as I don’t feel right. Dabbing is definitely the way to go in such scent-fascistic environments: even a bit on the corner of the hand is enough to let you smell something when you need to.

  15. As much as it hurts me to admit it, since my taste in perfume is go big or go home, I guiltily hoard a sample of the Amber Musk, which I take out and huff surreptitiously while mumbling “why do I like this?”.

    • Because it’s really quite nice. We all have our more commercial, tame side, and days when Bal A Versailles turns the stomach. Sometimes we NEED that embrace of soft acceptability.

  16. chayaruchama

    Congratulations!

    I read with great interest your astute cultural observations ❤
    They fascinate me no end.
    These are the sorts of things I live for, I suspect: attempting to view the world through the eyes, ears, nose, palate of others.

    That said, I am singularly underwhelmed by Aerin's compositions.
    Upon first sniff, I tactfully remarked to the eager SA: "these will sell really well", which she naturally took as a compliment.

    I shudder to think that this is true of many Americans (especially young ones), but generally, I'd have to agree.
    I spend an inordinate amount of time exposing young men and women (older ones as well) to more original perfumes: vintage, indie, etc. – with the hope that they will acquire a wider taste.
    It usually works. Exposure, seduction, the ability to read a person and their skin, then presenting them with new possibilities has been a not-so-secret personal mission.
    (I should be embarrassed to admit that I see my efforts as a sort of prescription olfactory medicine 😉 )

    Here's to hoping that Americans won't have to smell squeaky clean and boring 😉

  17. I knew these scents would do well in the market, yet am so saddened the do well also.
    I wish people here in the states would be, overall, more scent experimental. Instead of wanting to smell fabulous or unique, unfortunately, people want to smell “clean” and not offend others. Everyone wants to be a sheep amongst the flock, instead of an eagle and taking flight to the stars.
    I sit here bathed in an aura of vintage Shalimar and thinking to myself ” What happened to smelling fabulous and enticing?” Well, I guess smelling subtle and vapid have become the norm and setting the scene.

    • Vapid is exactly the word. The implications of what all these perfumes stand for are actually more sinister than anything I have written here. There is some kind of repressed horror at the centre of it all.

      • You just summed up many Americans- repressed horror. This is such a repressed and puritanical society at times, it just befuddles me. Probably why those types of scents do so well here.

  18. Is it permitted to wear real flowers in Japan? So you can bring in a hyacinth, or mimosa, no too strong, honeysuckle ? , hawthorne, briar , acacia … As a buttonhole, behind your ear or sneaking in a pocket?
    Today I walked with my friend Arina under a panoply of cherry blossom in The inner court of a hospital. There was no scent but you could almost Imagine it. Do cherry blossoms have a scent ? Or is it so delicate that it just fades away …
    I can find myself in your elegant working scented halo but Thank God it is friday, every week.

    • Tell me about it. Give me the weekend.

      The Japanese are, in some ways, quite unsophisticated when it comes to smell culture so I can get away with wearing small amounts of light fresh perfumes no problem. After all, they are invisible. What pisses me off is that people are allowed to stink: breath, B.O, smelly unwashed hair, and so on, but not be fragranced. Fuck’em. I always wear something, just out of principle.

  19. What is B.O.? I want to know. So I can avoid it. The invisibility made me think. Hope they are not putting sniffers out, like they do when you have to blow for The percentage of alcohol, w(ich) I agree with. Feeling a bit 1984ish to-day. I’ll put on Cabochard and to hell with society

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