Category Archives: Perfume Reviews

BOOBS………………….Le N° 9 by CADOLLE (1925)

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According to Les Senteurs in London (the only place you used to be able to buy this now obscure treat except for the original Belle Epoque lingerie store on the Rue Cambon, Paris), this effortlessly dreamy blend was created, back in the day, as a ‘riposte’ to N° 5  – the founder, Hermione Cadolle,  a less uptight Gabrielle Chanel (her main rival on her street) – dreaming up brassières – she invented the bra – and courting clients such as Mata Hari and Marilyn Monroe for her dusky, silken wares like the fabled soutien gorge. She had to have a perfume for the store, and as N° 5 was all the rage, this was her retort: the woodier, more lissom seductress.

 

Of all the perfumes I have smelled in my life, this is possibly the most seamless: unlike N° 5, with its very obvious ylang ylang/ rose/ iris/ musk gradations, Le N°9 is so smooth, creamy, soft and melting it is almost impossible to distinguish any of its components. With its lilting, balsamic conclusions of cedarwood, Siamese benzoin and Penang patchouli; its breathy,  equable memory of flowers, the resulting bedroom aldehyde lorelei is luminous, powdery – and impossibly soft and erotic.

 

 

 

 

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20 Comments

Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Perfume Reviews

THE TREE THAT SOOTHES…………………….. COCOA SANDALWOOD by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2013)

 

It is exam season in Japan, or as the locals call it, ‘exam hell’: students and teachers cramming and exhausting themselves into high schools and universities; an impressive, if sadomasochistic, demonstration  of Japanese will power and conformity. Some of my colleagues have been working straight since the beginning of November and yes I mean straight: with the exception of January 1st, some of them have been coming into school every day, for at least twelve hours, for about six weeks. This is illegal, but the pressure is so high to get the results that they can really not do otherwise.

 

 

And there I am, with my three week holiday at Christmas and New Year, waltzing in to do my bit come the first week of January, but even a month of it has left this indolent foreigner feeling frazzled and debilitated: I came home on Friday night feeling teary and depleted; a husk with his juice sucked out, porous sensitivies over-flooded with tense, heightened Japanese voices. Knowing I would have to be going in on Saturday morning  as well for a whole day of examination interviews, I decided just to collapse in to bed…

 

 

But perhaps just a touch of perfume beforehand, something new, before I turn out the lights to let my mind veer…….?..something from those little boxes of samples I had not yet tried that might subdue my humming synapses..?

 

 

Yes.

 

 

I semi-randomly alight on something called Cocoa Sandalwood, apply it wearily to the back of my hand.

 

 

 

And

 

 

 

 

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suddenly a towering forest of sequoia trees flashes up before my eyes. I can feel them, smell the cool of them, the bark, the dappling light between their trunks, as they soar up into the sky that is blue, and the air that is clear, miles and miles of them out in the Californian country – a synaesthestic mirage that makes my soul briefly snap into place again on a disconnected plane and I find myself wanting to go back down into it all again, back down from the shimmering skyline treetops and back into the forested depths, this time to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the mysterious redwoods behind which you disappear, somewhere in the heart of deep green………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All of which I realize might sound rather exaggerated and forced, but which I did actually experience on Friday night, lying on my futon as something loosened its grip on my psyche and a gentle, alternative universe released me….

 

 

 

 

 

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I have been finding this recently with natural perfumes. There is something in the essences themselves, the plants’ ‘life force’ if you like, that speaks, that stimulates my nervous system in a very different way to other perfume ( which is perhaps more purely aesthetic). Where I was expecting to just find the usual sandalwood (one of my least favourite notes in perfume as I have always found it so fatty, unmysterious, and splayed somehow), the perfumer (Laurie Erickson) surprised me with a creation that temporarily took me beyond myself.

 

 

 

 

The sequoias I ‘saw’ originated, I imagine,  in the significant dose of Cedar Virginia that opens the perfume, giving the richer, more oozy New Caledonian sandalwood a solid backbone through which a slow, warm sap of cocoa absolute, cinnamon bark, coffee, rose, clove, vanilla and ginger rises slowly, the sandalwood gradually thickening in generosity, expanding and revealing its wise, sagacious  depths. Soothing, comforting, with an excellent equilibrium between savoury and sweet, the perfume helped me, finally, to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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19 Comments

Filed under Cocoa, Perfume Reviews, Sandalwood

THE SARACEN AND THE COSSACK: TWO CHEST-BEATING LEATHERS – YATAGAN by CARON (1976) & CUIR DE RUSSIE by PIVER (1939)

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According to the house of Caron, the yatagan was a Turkish saber once used by the fierce, proud horsemen of the Ottoman empire, with a ‘curved and finely sharpened blade’, its very name hinting unambiguously at the unmerciful, sheath-laden phallus and its inexorable, compulsory conquests.

A virile journey: a battle in the sour-thighed, chest-rugged stakes with a similarly resolute fragrance, Piver’s classic Cuir de Russie. Both flowerless, dry, rugged creatures, expertly constructed to throw up jaw-clenched, fist ready accents as the accords develop within their worn, leathery hearts and they prepare to slay their (knee-buckling, pliant, and often extraordinarily willing), victims.

Yatagan is severe: dry, spicy, with precious woods, artemisia, styrax, and a good, healthy dose of sweaty leather. It is a pine forest: our frowning Saracen alone, in battle garb, listening to the trees and the smell of the soil.

In the distance are snow-capped mountains.

The Turk, growling, quite sure of himself, is a more ferocious stalwart than his Russian counterpart, and we watch him prowl his terrain; alert, ever-ready to wield his not inconsiderable weapon.

Later, when finally reaching home, exhausted, there is a lingering of smoke and incense as his wife pulls off his damp clothes by the fiery light of the hearth and she administers, lovingly, a sweet and sincere kiss to his rough and weathered cheeks.

Cuir de Russie is the smell of a proud cossack’s boots: animalic, manly, and polished, as he rides out across the steppes in his attempt to slay the Turk. While similar in theme, the cossack is more swarthy, rugged and sour, has more tobacco, a wide, salacious splendour of dry leather. More convivial too: there is humour in this vodka-swigging man: refinement even, though never ostentation….

 

 

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Filed under Leather, Masculines, Perfume Reviews

Lady In Red: Pour Une Femme by Caron (2001)

Lady in Red, is dancing with me.

I’ve never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight.

Never seen you shine so bright….

A made-up, quintessentially vermillion ‘date perfume’ for night time and silk, this beauty by my side has the hairdo of Jennifer Rush and smells indelible, typical; I move my head slightly back.

However, as the candles flicker, our wrists flick glinting champagne glasses, and we sway and smooch to Luther Vandross, the intensity of her opening gambits fades, and the heart of her fragrance is slowly and gradually revealed – an intense, seductress sweet rose and spiced frankincense/benzoin accord that goes quite beautifully with her gown.

Image Image Image Image     I will never forget the way you looked tonight.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Rose, Slinky

COME HEALING: ANCIENT RESINS (for Leonard Cohen), by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2012)

‘Ah, the man she wanted all her life was hanging by a thread.

” I never even knew how much I wanted you” she said.

 His muscles they were numbered and his style was obsolete.                

 ” O baby I have come too late”. She knelt beside his feet.’

 

           –    ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ (1977)

 

 

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Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and singer-songwriter, is currently undergoing a period of late-career renaissance, having recently completed a world tour that received ecstatic, rave reviews verging on religious reverence, a number one album (“Old Ideas”), and virtual canonisation, in the anti-establishment, as the author and singer of some of the most penetrating, uncompromising lyrics in music.

I have a couple of Cohen albums myself, and there are a fair few songs of his I love, including “Who By Fire”, ” Suzanne” and ” Famous Blue Raincoat”, but I would not quite describe myself as a disciple.  The mournful strummings of Cohen’s guitar, which always create such dark cavernous spaces in any room you care to listen to his songs in; his plaintive, sonorous voice, seem almost too painful for me sometimes, as though the man (like his English counterpart, Nick Drake) had, through trial by fire, stumbled upon the secrets of the universe, or at the very least pierced through to the essence of the sad, if joyous, realities of what make us human. I cannot listen to such philosophically wry, morose music on a daily basis.

 

 

 

 

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“Ancient Resins” is a bespoke fragranced body oil made by natural perfumer Mandy Aftel for Leonard Cohen, and he is said to wear it now every day. I find the idea of Mr Cohen (” a lazy bastard living in a suit ” as he refers to himself on one of his new songs) wearing this dignified, but tender, perfume under his  shirts, very beautiful – a perfume made for a famous person that for once makes sense.

 

 

 

 

 

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“She used to wear her hair like you except when she was sleeping.

And then she’d weave it on a loom, of smoke and gold and breathing….” 

 

(“Winter Lady”, 1967)

Like many perfume enthusiasts, I have relished my copy of Mandy Aftel’s “Essence and Alchemy”-  a passionate treatise on natural perfumery – for many years, and found it inspiring. Though almost all of my own experiments with perfume creation using essential oil blends have ended in failure (I always get overexcited and put too much of something in, restraint and balance never being my forte), the book is an in-depth look at each aromatic material from historical, cultural and olfactory perspectives, and reading it deepens your understanding of the fundamentals of perfume. At the same time, as I mentioned the other day in my review of Aftelier’s Parfum De Maroc, the scents that this independent perfumer creates often go beyond the standard apothecary preparations found at the aromatherapist’s and into the realms of true artistry, a challenge without full use of the perfumer’s palette of synthetics. While some of the perfumes by the house may lack a certain transparence, they make up for it with an emotive sense of richness, life and spirit that feels very real. Alive.

If Leonard Cohen were ever going to be made a perfume (the words ‘celebrity fragrance’ seem so cheap and crass in the context of this review I am tempted to go back and erase them), you can be sure it was not going to be a pink, fruity floral. But neither could it have been some crass, acrid masculine, despite the old seducer’s reputation. No: it would have to speak, have soul and an air of wisdom, and so Aftel has gone for a blend of Biblical essences that manage to be spiritually reflective without the undue po-faced austerity of many recent incense fragrances; a sensual composition of balms and base notes of resins with a singular heart of organic frankincense. I imagine you could wear Ancient Resins either as a subtle body perfume, or else use it to soften and augment other scents, to add a gentler haze to the dark, otherworldy invocations that certain incense perfumes can bring.

In ‘The Calculus Of Fixation’, Aftel writes that “base notes are the deepest, most mysterious, and oldest, of all perfume ingredients. Every ancient culture used them – indeed, for centuries they were the essence of perfume, so when you work with them, you literally have ancient history in your hands”. She also describes these base notes as “thorny and difficult”, words that I can imagine could also be attributed to Leonard Cohen….

“Thick, unformed, gunky, base notes are a reminder of the unconcious – of all that is shadowed, thick, obscure, but fixed and defining about us – and the inertia and resistance that guard it”……. a perfume then, formed of notes that perhaps attempt to capture the unyielding nature of The Bird On A Wire, who, may have tried, in his own many ways ‘ to be free ‘ but who, like the rest of us, is ultimately tied to the limitations of his own being.

 

 

 

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” You strike my side by accident as you go down for your gold”,

sings Cohen in “Avalanche” (1971), religious imagery that alludes, perhaps, to the crucifixion, but which also unwittingly links to the ingredients used in Ancient Resins. Much of the singer’s work deals with suffering and absolution, and there is thus something very fitting about the use of ingredients such as frankincense, elemi, and benzoin that are obtained by wounding the trees in the process of extraction, in the deserts of the Yemen, Somalia or Saudi Arabia, where the workers make incisions in the barks of the trees, and wait for them to pathologically exude their ‘tears’: thick, vital unguents from incised bark that are beautiful-smelling essences with restorative, curative elements, used historically to embalm and preserve the dead in ancient funeral rites, but also to regenerate the tissue of the living. The oils used in this perfume are all skin-cell stimulators, which makes their use in a body oil preparation ideal.

Ancient Resins is a very uncomplicated scent. But it is soothing, and it is warming. While the frankincense works as a light, protecting veil over the deeper resins, the principle note for me in this perfume is not that mystical oil, but rather benzoin, an essential oil I am very drawn to with its balsamic, vanillic smell and its drying, healing properties. It is linked here to an essence I have never smelled before, Balm Of Gilead, a ‘miracle cure’ mentioned in the Old Testament and in various medical texts over the centuries, an essential oil extracted from poplar trees, and seemingly quite a medicinal smell that gives Ancient Resins a hint of bronchial expectorant –  a linctus sanctus, if you like, that, for this writer, with his vulnerable lungs that are susceptible to pneumonia and the like, is very comforting.

 

 

 

” O gather up the brokenness, and bring it to me now..

  The fragrance of those promises you never dared to vow.

  The splinters that you carry, the cross you left behind.

  Come healing of the body. Come healing of the mind”.

 

“Come Healing” , 2012 )

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Benzoin, Frankincense, Perfume Reviews

A hint of leather: CUIR OTTOMAN by Parfum D’Empire (2006)+ SPANISH LEATHER by Geo F Trumper (1902)+ ROYAL ENGLISH LEATHER by Creed (1781)

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CUIR OTTOMAN / PARFUM D’EMPIRE

As sensual and smooth as brand new suede, this is a great leather.  The beginning, freshly raw and animalic, might be offputting for some, like just-skinned hides being dried in the sun. But this uninhibited, free introduction is then tamed: with gentle woods, iris, and a proud, clean leather that dries down to a superb, suave, finish.

SPANISH LEATHER / GEO F TRUMPER

Antique teddy. Brideshead. Anthony Andrews.

Soft, soapy; gentle. Leather. Hints of sensuality. A touch half-hearted, perhaps, although my friend’s daughter proclaimed, upon smelling it in the shop,  that ‘it does, really, smell exactly like Spain and the air there!’

ROYAL ENGLISH LEATHER/ CREED

Diffusive, warm and powdery; a heliotropic, gorgeous, air-filling suede caress. A scent that thoroughly envelops you in elegance yet is totally seductive.

If you like L’Heure Bleue but can’t quite take all the marzipan,  Royal English Leather makes a beautiful, distinctive,  alternative.

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Is that a camel I see there sleeping lackadaisically in my bed? ……………………ARABIE…..by SERGE LUTENS (2000)

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Celery, prunes, dates, vanilla, spices: at the time this seemed an affront to decency

(“Horrible…………………………………..vile pronounced my mother) – a smell that belonged to a restaurant and not on a human.

 

 

Years later, with the proliferation of anything goes in the niche industry, Arabie’s shock value has decreased (by about 10%), and the big-hearted heaviness of its familiar orientalist contours, with its gorgeous warmth of Iraqi dates, cumin and figs, along with its nutmeg, mandarins and clove, and that cloyed, clogged, foul rug of sweet, so very foreign sweetness, should ensure its survival as an eccentricist’s classic, a scent to don on; and dance, waywardly and obstructedly, the drunken Salomé Dance Of The Seven Veils.

 

 

 

Twirl. Surrender. But remember: this perfume’s main feature is a caramelized celery; and it is wild; and it is sick, and it really is not for the sheepish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 Comments

Filed under Camel, Celery, Perfume Reviews, Prune, Spice

THE WITCHY CHYPRES : Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso (1984) + Magie Noire by Lancôme (1978) + Eau du Soir by Sisley (1990) + Sinan by Jean-Marc Sinan (1984)

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I was, in some ways, quite a weird child.The boys would be playing football, play-punching, or moronically shooting each other with invisible karashnikovs. The girls would be playing with dolls and each others’ hair, skipping daintily, bitching, and doing whatever else little girls do.

I was always off somewhere with my posse, imagining I was a warlock doing magic with my petalled potions;  reading my secret collection of Flower Fairy books, or else pretending to be a black panther (which was my ultimate dream at the time…)I would lie in bed at night and see myself morphing, slowly, into that beast, feeling the power of the claws start to surge as I leapt off into the undergrowth…

Might these childhood urges be one of the reasons why I am so drawn to the sleek, pantheresque perfumes that follow; the rose/patchouli/ leather chypres, those taloned, ruminating creatures that come nearer to approximating that black cat in perfume than any other type? Those perfumes that have been replaced in the contemporary canon by industrial effluent and the drabbest of candyflosses, but which, when worn correctly (and knowingly), can be quite delectably pointed and erotic?

 

In Annick Le Guerer’s academic treatise ‘Scent’, the panther, long venerated by various cultures for the beautiful perfume of its breath, is said to have been historically viewed as ‘prudent, intelligent, and cunning…’, emitting an odour that is ‘agreeable to all other animals’, a blessing/curse of nature that allows it to hunt, furtively, by ‘remaining in hiding and attracting animals to it by its smell…’

 

And, like a beautifully-attired woman sat in some late night bar wearing Paloma Picasso, esconced patientlyin her corner with her trailing cigarette, ‘…. it conceals itself in a dense thicket, or in deep foliage, and is invisible; it only breathes. And so fawns and gazelles and wild goats and suchlike animals are drawn by the spell, as it were, of its fragrance and come close up…….

 

Whereat, the leopard springs out and seizes its prey…..”

 

 

MON PARFUM  by PALOMA PICASSO (1984)

 

Probably the most successful of perfumes in the chypric rose genre, by contemporary standards Paloma smells hopelessly out of fashion and animalic:  just smell the beaver. Less pronounced in the eau de toilette form, which is essentially a different fragrance and less impressive, in the eau de parfum, the oily, leathery note of castoreum, extracted from the sweat glands of the Canadian beaver  – troubling, aphrodisiac –  is very apparent in this perfume and verges on shocking. It is, nevertheless, with a flourish of Iberian magic, extravagantly cloaked in woods; lashes of patchouli; a spiced Spaniard heart of the deepest rose, jasmine and mimosa; and a sharp, sassy green top note like the click of glinting heels on a Barcelona sidewalk.

 

The perfume has been around for quite a while now, and despite the fact that the world’s tastes in scent have since changed irrevocably since its release, in a survey done by various global beauty editors and perfume people (and not so long ago, either), Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso was voted the sexiest perfume on earth. While I am not sure if the perfume can definitively claim this title, it certainly is damn good on the right person who can carry it off, and it is very hopelessly difficult to resist.

Mon Parfum is just so…….cocksure of itself: an adult woman with experience,  sexual confidence and power coursing through her blood. It needs a glammed up, lipsticked predator with attitude to do it full justice, to unleash its torrid potential –  a woman, or man, who doesn’t mind, in fact loves, its eighties femme fatale clichés.

 

 

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MAGIE NOIRE  by LANCOME  (1978)

 

Paloma’s darker, occultist, more serious elder cousin, Magie Noire has a similarly ensorcelling theme of sharp green notes contrasting with a rich Bulgarian rose heart, patchouli and provocative, animalic/woody finish. But in Lancôme’s finest scent there is very little sweetness (there is a touch in the heart of Paloma) and the sharp green/earth divide (a mesmerizing accord of galbanum, bergamot, raspberry and hyacinth, contrasting with a mossy patchouli note tempered with honey) only grows more potent and disturbing with time, stronger and more scary as the day, or night, progresses.

 

It is witchy, truly, but also tender, mysterious, elegant, erotic, and a touch sinister, as you are gradually drawn into the depths of a midnight forest. Or at the very least to a very edgy seventies dinner party hostess in a busy black dress.

 

EAU DU SOIR  by SISLEY (1990)

Eau Du Soir, especially in vintage, is more dormant, and quietly explosive, than either of the above scents, a tasteful and intoxicating brew that, as its name suggests, is the evening perfume par excellence, absolutely made for black and grand occasions.

What I love about the Sisley perfumes is their lack of the saccharine ; where their first perfume, the classic Eau de Campagne (created by Jean Claude Ellena in 1974) is astonishingly green, almost unbearably so, as if you were trapped inside a giant basil or tomato leaf, Eau Du Soir is Campagne’s night counterpart, similarly dry and unsentimental: a ravishing patchouli, rose d’orient, seringa, juniper, and Moroccan rose absolute accord with a centerpiece of the perfume’s star ingredient, Egyptian jasmine absolute (less civilized, rougher, more animalic than its French counterpart), which purrs and insinuates itself beautifully within the radiant, effortless chic of the spicy chypre base. Eau Du Soir is a difficult scent, almost formidable.

 

You would never mess with someone wearing this.

 

 

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SINAN by JEAN-MARC SINAN (1984)

Sinan, an obscure fragrance not so easy to find these days, is another taut, chypre animalic with a full-bodied, sweetly lingering rose twined with woods and patchouli: one more fur-clad siren leading her black-widow victims to their (always willing) fate….

 

The perfume bears some similarities with Paloma, and also Lauder’s fabulous Knowing (which took this essentially European idea and Americanized it), but where that perfume has a certain seamless infallibility (present in all Lauder’s creations) prone to exaggerations with its honeyed electric rose, Sinan presents a similarly perfumed face but less emphatically; not a white-gated mansion in the centre of Florida, but a house, near the woods, somewhere in the depths of France…

 

 

 

 

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44 Comments

Filed under Chypre, Perfume Reviews, Witchy

THE UNUSUAL AND UNEXPECTED INFLUENCE OF THE UNFAIRLY MALIGNED CHANEL GARDENIA + eight more examples of this exquisite, luscious flower

 

 

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The original Chanel Gardénia – available now only very intermittently from vintage, rare perfume web sites –  was by all accounts a masterful, creamy floral aldehydic typical of its creator, the genius Ernst Beaux: a perfume of its time, now gone forever.

 

The reformulation and relaunch of the perfume in the late 1980’s, however, exciting as it must have been for those in the know,  was apparently an affront to lovers of the original. Where Bois Des Isles, Nº 22 and Cuir De Russie by all accounts retained the essential character and formulae of their original incarnations, the rebooted Gardenia was by far the least faithful to the original formulas of the first four ‘secret’ Chanels, and Luca Turin famously hates it (but really; who gives a damn..)

 

 

Knowing only the later version of this perfume myself, though, I have nothing to compare it to, and in any case fell straight in love the moment I smelled it, chiefly because it reminded me very strongly and vividly of my first ever love: at primary school, the friend who sat next to me every day in class had a wonderful smelling cedar-wood pencil case that then fused completely in my mind with her:  and to me –  this sharp, woody smell, unmistakably,  is Rebecca.

 

 

I can picture the yellowish interior of that pencil case perfectly; can smell that intense, almost sour scent again and can conjure it up my mind upon demand, when I would sit there in lessons when bored, inhaling it deeply, and rapturously, and dreaming. I was infatuated; weirdly so for a boy of six. I could hardly sleep at night I was so besotted.

 

 

 

 

We had little romances at six, at nine, and at fourteen, were kind of besotted with each other, and are still friends (although she now lives in the south of France and has no recollection of this pencil box at all….)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But back to the perfume that jolts this memory. Compared to the soft beauty of those other Chanel extraits (all of them so soft and elegant and beautiful), I admit that Gardénia is quite an artificial creation, but I do think that it is very original in the way it steers away from the standard, southern belle creamy white shoulders and flor in the hair and goes for an entirely different interpretation.

 

 

Here, a fresh, piquant gardenia flower is fused with other florals – tuberose; orange blossom, and jasmine; a very chic, a classic white floral that might be too heady a scent were it not chastened, and freshened with a sharp, spiced note of clove, sage and pimiento, on a subtle, wooded base of cedar and sandalwood.

 

 

To me, the cedar and pimiento are key, bringing her back down to earth and resulting in a perfume that is lovely: crystal sharp, like freshly cut flowers placed on a box of brand new pencils in September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GARDENIA ROYAL/ IL PROFUMO (2004)

 

 

The Chanel gardenia, though much maligned (Why? I love it!)) is perhaps, despite its negative reputation, much more influential than we perhaps realize, because this beauty by Il Profumo, a company that make very vivid, colourful fragrances, strikes me as smelling very much like the Chanel take on the flower but transported, illustriously, to the jungle; that same, piquant scent, but denser, greener, lusher. This is a gorgeous and potent blend indeed, gleaming and effulging with notes of tuberose, jasmine and peony over a rich powdered base that according to the creators, ‘renders a woman sure of her fascination.’

 

 

 

 

GARDENIA/ SANTA MARIA NOVELLA

 

 

What I like about the Santa Maria Novella exotic florals (Tuberosa, Gardenia, and the frankly bizarre Frangipane) is the sense that the flowers have simply picked at the height of their erotic power; been forcibly submerged by the Florentines in some scent-releasing liquid, and, the liquid saturated, presented to the public as perfumes. Santa Maria Novella’s gardenia fully captures the strange, medicinal, green and fungal side,  and the milky allure of gardenia flowers on a humid, summer night.

 

Tactile, oleaginous, green-brushed and ‘thick’, it is rounded, cool, wide-eyed and fleshy, and in some ways a quite splendid perfume (if perhaps a little torpid).

 

 

 

Wear it and wilt.

 

 

 

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GARDENIA / ISABEY

 

 

Drunk at a giant mansion looking frantically for the powder room (marbled,  orchid-fringed; elaborate) this gardenia is the obviously self- proclaimed leader of the pack, a gorgeous, sluttish gardenia with a patina of ingenue;  sheening, plush, blooming: unaware that her shoulder strap has just fallen down.

 

A revived classic from the 1920’s (though the formula smells more 1980’s big-haired to me), Isabey’s Gardenia is sweet, curvaceous, and is unique in supposedly  containing actual gardenia essential oil, one of perfumery’s rarest essences.

 

 

 

ELLENISIA/ PENHALIGONS (2005)

 

 

Putting my theory of the indefatigable Chanel’s perennial influence, Penhaligions’ Ellenisia is yet another reinterpretation of the Chanel gardenia, but done the English way (ie. utterly unthreatening).

 

This is a bright vaseful of perfumed white florals, modern, pretty and very wearable, with a taut, marbled, shine that shows no thigh.

 

 

 

 

GARDENIA/ LE GALION (1937)

 

 

 

 

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Le Galion is an old French company whose old-fashioned perfumes I occasionally get to smell when they wash up in Japanese antique stores and fleamarkets. Their jasmine was truly excellent, and I wish I could find another bottle. Gardenia, an extrait, is very much of the old school; the dark, tweed-suited gardenia of Miss Dior with a fearfully potent surge of fur and scent-soaked anthers – an exciting, if difficult, delving into the perfume past (when women presumably smelled like purring, powdery moths). When this initial flower-smog clears, balmed and vaulted with the unguents of passion’s dust, the perfume steadily attains an interesting beachy note –  like rock flowers bathed in midday sun and the whirring hot-sand smell of the air.

 

 

In summertime, as little kids, my brother and I used to crawl into the canopies of broom on the sand dunes of Bournemouth (for a child, like exploring Borneo), and this curious gardenia brought those exciting times flooding back to me beautifully, and immediately, with a vengeance .

 

 

 

GARDENIA/ MOLINARD

 

 

 

An intriguing scent that is not what you might imagine from this semi-venerable institution, this gardenia perfume is more like one of the power florals of the 80’s than the white and trembling French white floral I was expecting; a beautifully-made, adult, and very sexy perfume somewhat redolent of the fearless Giorgio Beverly Hills.

 

 

An interesting option if you want something rich, dusky but not overly sweetened; a glamorous gardenia to get dressed up for, douse yourself in, and marry the night.

 

 

 

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All clothes by Coco Chanel.

 

 

 

 

FOR MORE ON GARDENIAS, AND MY JAPANESE ILLEGAL ACTIVITY INVOLVING THE FLOWER, PLEASE SEE MY PUNGENT POST ‘GARDENIA CRIME’.

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Filed under Flowers, Gardenia, Perfume Reviews

AMERICAN GIRLS, or, THE DAY I WAS ASSAULTED AT A YOKOHAMA WEDDING BECAUSE OF MY TASTE IN PERFUME: (HAPPY……by CLINIQUE) (1997)

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I was once slapped, really hard, across the face, because a girl’s taste in perfume differed from my own.

 

As my cheek smarted, and her boyfriend and mine, and other onlookers (at a mutual friend’s wedding) sat gobsmacked in anxious silence wondering about what would happen next, it struck me quite forcefully how the conservative U.S sense of perfume can be so wildly-  WILDLY! – different to the European.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But to rewind…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The girl (whose name I am not allowed to use; I can still hear her drunk, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I will sue you! I will fuck you! I will fucking take you down if you print my name!”) was sitting across from me, and being the quintessential sassy American blonde I knew I would have to interview her on her perfume tastes, as, all irony aside, I do genuinely love how most American girls smell: so peachy clean, soft, so apple-fresh ( I remember almost swooning with pleasure when my friend Theresa wore the original Tiffany at a bar one night…………somehow we Europeans can never quite catch that strawberried, faultlessly clean yet strangely sexy halo of shower-gelled hygiene and fresh-pressed laundry…)

 

 

 

 

As this girl and I downed beers at the marriage after-party in a Yokohama Mexican restaurant, we quickly grew a fun and flirtatious rapport. And I remember us standing in the steaming cold outside, laughing and joking, as she smoked a cigarette, talked perfume and Texas; and her boyfriend started to wonder what she was getting up to.

 

 

 

Excited about a project on perfume I was hoping to start, she was going to be the U.S correspondent: we would expand, we were going worldwide, baby.

 

Back inside, over enchiladas,my Nº 19 was quickly, quite rudely, immediately dissed as too ‘woodsie and girly’ (she was a firm believer in men smelling like men) and, anyway, perhaps, on that occasion,  she was right. The Chanel doesn’t work every time on me for whatever reason – temperature, that day’s body chemistry, and I am always waiting for the leather and citric vetiver to make itself known, not the powdery iris and neroli which can sometimes predominate instead, and even I knew that on that particular evening I had made the wrong choice (a familiar agony for true perfumists, when you know you have selected the wrong scent on a particular occasion and you can’t relax for the rest of the evening….)

 

 

 

 

 

However, her own choices also made me laugh out loud : such thoroughly dreadful . Every ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ ‘sexy’ perfume in the book that she thought were god’s gift to perfume and humanity but which I ferociously, but good humouredly (or so I thought) dissed back as they basically proclaimed her to be an olfactory moron. Ralph Lauren Romance? Give me a break. Vera Wang? Oh, don’t make me laugh…

 

 

It was a body lotion she was carrying in her bag, though, something she thought was exotic and alluring and pretty, that caused the actual assault.  It was so bad, so truly and utterly vile ( Bath And Body Works ‘Japanese Cherry Blossom’ I think, so pink, so chemical and not even remotely related to the smell of the sakura) that I just had to tell her my truth, not expecting for one moment that her exquisitely manicured hand would then coming smashing down, hard, across my face…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In all of this controversy the only perfume we had managed to agree on at any point and to any extent was Happy, still one of the most popular perfumes in America and something of an institution in the ‘clean and perfect’ type of fragrance that renders a person so radiantly scrubbed their sexual organs are smoothed out into flesh-pink Action Man Barbie mounds; skin marbellized, made acrylic; immaculate wash machine halations that mask the flesh beneath and create idealized, perfected, desexed holograms in their place.

 

 

 

 

For this girl, Happy was all about summer, and girls in short white dresses heading out on the town; clean, confident, sexy, radiating wholesomeness.

 

For me, it is the same, really (though I find it more asexual) ; a very cleverly blended citrus floral of grapefruit and orange and a whole bouquet of imaginary flowers (mainly ‘living headspace’ flowers, that apparently include  (!!!!!!) morning dew orchid, West Indian mandarin tree blossom; melati blossom; high altitude laurel; Chinese golden magnolia and  ‘Hawaiian wedding blossom’… ) ha!

 

– and it all just smells lovely, especially in small doses from a distance. Really. Under the complex beginning of the scent there are no woods, or musks, or any other bother, and once the initial, rather heady (and very Lauder) top accord dissipates, you are left with nothing more than a beautiful, very chemical trail of flowers and skin scent that screams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I AM HAPPY!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I HAVE NO PSYCHOLOGICAL GLITCHES!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I AM BALANCED, FOCUSED AND HAVE NO INTESTINES!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I can imagine that there are people reading this who have direct experience of this fragrance, either from wearing it themselves or smelling it on colleagues at work, and I would love to know your thoughts on the subject. Admittedly, the scent is extraordinarily conservative, safe, almost monstrously synthetic, and easy to hate if you prefer the more inner-thigh fragrances. But for me, after a long hot shower, and worn with a clean white shirt, there is, it pains me to admit, nothing better for work. It suits my Japanese olfactory double life perfectly and would probably be in my own top ten of day scents, if it didn’t, unfortunately, cause me such excruciating migraines. As in, full, back of the head pulsating agony. Pierced cranium shootings. I got through at least five bottles of the stuff in my time before I finally realized that it was poisoning me, perhaps literally (I saw an internet article about Happy which was very alarming, but it is not my aim to be libellous, so I might save that for another time……)

 

 

 

 

Despite its hazardous nature though, Happy is, in my view, when all is said and done, a small work of quite original genius from certain standpoints – few perfumes have gained as many compliments from Japanese people on me (honestly: can you believe I am even writing this?):  girls at school literally following me down the corridor crooning about how beautiful I smelled (“flower! Flower!”). I have to say then, that ultimately, this toxic, insidious beauty is something of a classic, if a dangerous one.

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder if Lisa or whatever her name was, somewhere across the Pacific ocean, still wears it when she goes out at night: strutting the Dallas boulevards in her shorts, blouses and clean-pressed whites, trailing Happy, punching strangers in the face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For more on Happy, see my post on my strange, schizoid perfumed life here: ‘Jekyll and Hyde and the colognes of Gandini…’

80 Comments

Filed under Bitch, Citrus, Perfume Reviews