Tag Archives: 1980s scents

THE SPRING FLOWERS THAT ENDURE : Nymphéa, Flower, J’Adore, Antonia’s Flowers, Floret, Romance, Pleasures, Bouquet De La Reine

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It is that time.

NYMPHEA / IL PROFUMO (2004)

I am not sure how such a heavenly creature actually works on a real life girl, but this dreamy, artful, fresh-green bouquet (bamboo, fig, white waterlily, lotus flowers, water jasmine, and white rose) is, in my view, almost heartbreakingly lovely. Il Profumo describes it as having a ‘lacustrine tranquillity’, and it does have such a transparent, lake-like, lily-pad beauty that I am compelled to agree.

ANTONIA’S FLOWERS/ ANTONIA’S FLOWERS (1985)

Antonia was a florist in The Hamptons, and knowing her flowers, and adoring freesias, and being dissatisfied with the floral scents available on the market, set out to create her own. In the process she produced three American classics: Antonia’s Flowers, Floret, and Tiempe Passate, all of which have apparently been among the best selling fragrances since their launches at Bergdorf’s and Barney’s New York.

Despite my own personal love of fleurs à la Parisienne, there is no reason why the classic French model (flowers, woods, musks and animalics) should necessarily predominate in a person’s floral wardrobe; not everyone wants that suggestive, ‘come-thither’ quality in a perfume – sometimes you want a scent that goes on fresh and clean and stays that way. And what distinguishes the Antonia’s Flowers perfumes from the mass-market chemical-sheen ‘flowers’ like Romance and Happyis a natural, well crafted, ‘made-with-love’ quality that, in the case of this, her eponymous fragrance, shines all the way through the brilliant fusion of light-shimmering, china-dry rosewood and crisp, springtime flowers (mainly freesia, magnolia and lily). It is a highly unusual fragrance – the intense but beautifully natural bois-de-rose note is too much for some – but one I would recommend to anybody who loves flowers and just flowers.

FLORET/ ANTONIA’S FLOWERS (1995)

Or alternately, try Floret: a tightly controlled, crystal-clear, sweet-pea floral, with  rose, tuberose and marigold, and a delicious, transparent apricot top note. Pure, feminine, it is springtime in a bottle: the olfactory equivalent of pressed, clean clothes in an airy, open room.

FLOWER BY KENZO/ KENZO (2000)

‘A flower with no fragrance.’

Kenzo, who I have always liked (for their Kenzo Homme, L’Eléphant, Le Tigre, Summer, Kashâya and their sensuous, eponymous original scent) suddenly became a major contender in the perfume world when, thirteen years ago, in a marketing act of brilliance, they released a rather stunningly designed bottle, which appeared to contain poppies at various stages of growth, and cleverly filled airports and department stores with them. The effect was startling, the concept (‘creating the scent of the poppy’) an instant hit with consumers, and thus cities were suddenly filled with scent of young office girls going to work in Flower.

It is a very pleasant scent, like anything by the company; airy and green, with soothing, gentle notes of Bulgarian rose, hawthorn, cassie and parma violets over a sheer, powdery almond base: gentle, carefree, light, and safe – like running through a neighbouring field in freshly tumble-dried, clean smelling clothes. Which is another way of saying that it is fragrant, and nice, but rather dull. I quite like it, but don’t get my friend Helen started on how much, and why, she despises this to the extent that she does.

J’ADORE/ CHRISTIAN DIOR (1999)

Knowing what the women wanted – something fresh, light, sophisticated but somehow ‘vulnerable’ – Calice Becker, one of the world’s undisputed masters of florals, created a scent for Dior in 1999 that  went down a storm – J’Adore is now one of the world’s best selling scents, and I can certainly understand why. Despite the usual fresh floral metallica, this perfume does have that ‘classic’ stamp on it; the greenness of the fresh ivy top notes; the gleaming flowers (orchids, champaca, white roses, violets – apparently it was designed as an ‘emotional floral’); the fruitiness (Damascus plum and blackberry musk), the gentle, skin-tone, base notes. This scent is ‘pure woman’, and something you can’t really go wrong with. For evenings out. For romantic dinners. For engagement parties and anniversaries: the magazine adverts featuring Charlize Theron say it all – in gold; glamorous, pretty, charming and ‘dazzling’.

Despite my objective appreciation of its charms, however, I myself don’t  like J’Adore at all, and, as the murdered woman in Goldfinger was to find, all that gold can be suffocating.  The perfection; the flawlessness, is all too much for me I’m afraid, and it catches in my throat; hysterical – a sharp, processed, gilded lacquer.

ROMANCE/ RALPH LAUREN (1998)

True-blue thoroughbred, how could Ralphie go wrong with an advertising campaign that played up to every Tiffany-dreaming, happy-ending, Caucasian fantasy? And the smell! So clear, so sheer, so ‘romantically’ floral and clean: so ‘right-for-every-occasion’.

Inevitable then, that Romance should be such a big hit. I can’t personally say that I like it (shrill; synthetic; far too conservative for this writer), but it might be what you are looking for if you want an inoffensive, indistinct scent for that wedding or baby shower.

PLEASURES/ ESTEE LAUDER (1995)

Pleasures is, I think, aimed at the same target audience as Romance; thirty-something mothers of a stable income and societal position who shun any hint of prurience (or even any acknowledgement they have a body) in their scent (what would the other mothers think?!?). For the successful original advertising campaign, that foxy British minx of the upper-middle classes, Liz Hurley, donned a lilac cashmere sweater, and, airbrushedly, tumbled about with a Lenor-washed puppy in a field, a thousand miles from the cleavage Versace It-dress that made her famous. The message was clear: like Romance, this woman was a Good Girl, and her family values were most Virginally Intact.

The difference between Romance and Pleasures, though, is that Pleasure has character, and lots of it – only characterful creations are this recognizable. So powerfully, translucently floral it almost hurts, this complex bouquet of rain-drenched flowers (lily, lilac,  violet leaves, peonies, baie-rose…) can be hypnotically feminine, mysterious even, on the right person if used in small doses (I have known women who have smelled quite gorgeous in it) but, ultimately, it is so resolutely ‘pure’, so WASP, I have to say that it rather scares me.

BOUQUET DE LA REINE / FLORIS (2002)

Middle England: a secret, illicit tryst between two married people, in love,  speaking in quiet voices under their drinks in the hotel bar.

He is wearing Eucris (Geo F Trumper): she is wearing this: a pretty, insistent bouquet, green and fresh (bergamot, blackcurrant buds, violet leaf,  rose, ylang and jasmine) that is respectable, pliant, and womanly. He leans in closer, and, furtively watching and smelling from a distance, we don’t doubt for a moment the passion that will later ensue.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Floral Bouquet, Flowers

Mon serpent, mon cygne…………… D’HUMEUR JALOUSE by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1994) + L’OMBRE DANS L’EAU by DIPTYQUE (1983) + EAU DE CAMPAGNE by SISLEY (1974)

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I find myself in a green temperament;  aggressive almost, for fresh, sharp, verdant scents that match the shooting growth and push away the winter, the comforting sloth of my recent smothering orientals and let me feel like a snake shedding its skin.

 

And D’Humeur Jalouse is the snake: possibly the greenest scent ever made (please tell me if you know of one that is greener);:  almost painfully so at first – a serpent in the grass, the eyes of jealousy; spiked, strident tones of malicious stinging nettles and grasses, softened, only barely, with a sinuous touch of barely detectable almond milk to temper a rather curious,  olfactory sketch that is bitter, unusual, and solitary: green to the point of catharsis.

 

 

 

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A movement from the river bank under the shades of weeping willows- a swan glides slowly by…..

 

Evoking a green riverside garden, the shadows of plants rippling the waters, L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (Diptyque’s most iconic perfume?) is at first intensely green  – a sharp, rush of galbanum resins entwined quite cleverly with the lush, tanging tartness of blackcurrant leaves, but from this compacted flourish there then emerges, unhurriedly, the quiet, more melancholic dignity of the Bulgarian rose: calm, romantic, yet austere,  rather supercilious and snobbish even, and thus, the main theme of L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (‘the shadow in the water’) is set.

 

As light fades, and the murmurs of evening approach, a soft base note of pot pourri-like rose, with the slightest hint of something like peachstone, finishes off a singular, enduring composition that breathes an air of familiar timelessness.

 

 

 

Eau De Campagne

 

 

The perfect green?

 

 

This classic scent from 1974 is the summer; the exhilaration of meadows; of stalks crushed underfoot, swords of sunlight infiltrating blades of grass.

 

 

Chlorophyll at dusk; ladybirds….

 

 

 

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13 Comments

Filed under Basil, Blackcurrant leaf, Green, Perfume Reviews, Stinging Nettles, Tomato Leaf

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

Some roses for winter.

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Nitobe Inazo, author of the classic (if highly supercilious) tome on Japan, Bushido, may consider the Japanese quite superior with their love for the evanescent fleetingness of the cherry blossom flower, a sweet but sorrowful bloom that symbolizes the ‘stoic’ samurai warriors’  desire to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat; while the gaijin, or westerner, ‘selfishly’ favours the rose that clings, with every last drop of its life, to the putrifying, stinking stem even when dead ….but I’m sorry, the rose is one of my very favourite flowers, and I imagine that I also will be clinging at my last; thorny and desperate, rather than plunging a sword into my gut and ripping out my innards, all for the sake of appearances and some dull and pointless idea of ‘honour’ (the code of the samurai is much more nuanced and spiritual than this, I realize, but you get my drift: I have never quite forgiven Nitobe for the disdain he shows the non-Japanese in that book, and the rose is an emblem I therefore adhere to even more passionately as a result.)

 

 

 

 

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Anyway, the rose is a tricky one.

 

 

Rose oil, or its synthetic reconstitution, is a component of the vast majority of perfumes, and there are  wildly different interpretations of this flower, meaning that although you may think you hate the rose if you have been brought up on granny talcs, or else Stella, and Paul Smith, and all those uptight, irritating contemporary roses, there still might be a perfume out there that might sway you if you deign to explore the rosaceous galaxy further.

 

Though none in my opinion has ever truly captured the exquisite beauty of a living, breathing flower (surely one of the most enthralling scents in the universe), a few come close, or take the theme to newer, unexpected places.

 

 

Rose is also, my view, a floral that is perfect for winter, not clashing with that touch of patchouli oil that is still hanging on to your jacket, remaining poised and stoic……an aroma of both piercing sorrow and hope; with a dignity, poeticism, and romantic attachment that make it far superior in my (not even remotely) humble view, to the puny, and nothingy, frou -frou cherry blossom.

 

 

ROSE ABSOLUE/ ANNICK GOUTAL (1984)

Supremely expensive for an eau de toilette, Rose Absolue is a diaphanous, sense-delighting spray of real rose oils, with several of the most prized species in perfumery. The crisp, exuberant top notes are truly delightful, and come very close to smelling like a garden of roses on a summer morning. The middle and base notes lose something as the essential oils evaporate (making it a costly habit to maintain), but for a delicious rose spritz, this cannot be beaten.

 

 

NAHEMA / GUERLAIN  (1979)

The top note of the Nahéma vintage extrait is breathtaking: perhaps the most ravishingly gorgeous and complete rose absolute in perfume; a scent to make your heart swell, your diaphragm tremble. Whether you will fall for Nahéma or not though, (and it has its very faithful adherents), will depend on your liking roses romantic, full on, and sweet. Nahéma folds this stunning rose note in peach, hyacinth, aldehydes; ylang, vanilla and musk, and is deliriously rich, romantic – very Guerlain. If it is right for you, you will smell resplendent. If not, overdone.

 

 

ROSE/ CARON (1949)

If the roses in Goutal’s Rose Absolue are freshly picked, and the scent their breath, Caron’s is their blood; the enshrinement of a beauteous Bulgarian absolute (more regal, melancholy than Moroccan rose – the more ‘classic’ rose note) over a gentle bed of vanilla and musk. The extrait is beautiful; potent, emotive; a scent to be cherished. Almost painfully pure and beautiful.

For a similar, but somewhat chicer rose, try the other Caron rose perfume, Or et Noir: for sexual mystery, the house’s woody, musky incense rose, Parfum Sacré.

 

 

FLEURS DE BULGARIE / CREED (1880/1980)

A centenary reformation of an aristocratic, very strange scent from Creed, this peculiar, haunting rose perfume evokes another time and place, leagues away from brash current trends. It is at once tender, reserved, unabashedly tasteful, yet with an undeniable whiff of madness: generations of interbreeding among the loopy upper classes. A dry, high pitched, almost saline bunch of Bulgarian roses over an insinuating natural ambergris: the smell of stately homes, the fragile, yellowing pages of old books.

 

A difficult, but rather brilliant perfume, to be placed on a dresser by a window over the lawns, on which to do ‘one’s toilette.’

Beyond, the reedy river, in which perhaps to drown…

 

 

 

SA MAJESTE LA ROSE / SERGE LUTENS (2000)

 

A scornful rose. Dark swishes of crimson rose fragrance: grand, extravagant, a perfume of strength and beauty, but with ironic, opaque bitterness. Serge Luten’s rose is not romantic: his perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, was presumably ordered to do away with such nonsense. Instead there is a stark regality here, just as the name suggests (a tart note of geranium, lychee and guaic wood sees to that), but also an elaborate heart of white roses, vanilla and honeyed Moroccan rose.  It is an effective, gorgeous perfume that will leave you feeling splendidly detached.

 

 

 

CE SOIR OU JAMAIS / ANNICK GOUTAL (1999)

 

Perhaps the most vulnerable of rose perfumes, Ce Soir Ou Jamais (‘Tonight Or Never’) is a rich, breathy Turkish rose, unfolding in a tearful desperate embrace. It is natural, supremely feminine, and one of the most romantic perfumes you could ever wear.

 

 

ROSE OPULENTE/ MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER

 

As it says, opulent, gorgeous, red-silk Bulgarian roses, for high camp and rose adorers. Quite beautiful, with leafy green top notes gracing a subtly spiced, ambergris rose.

 

 

ROSE EN NOIR/ MILLER HARRIS (2006)

Exclusive to Barney’s New York stores, this is a mildly repugnant, dark  animalic rose with woody musk facets and top notes of jammy rhubarb.

Interesting, like someone unravelling at the seams.

 

 

 

ROSE DE NUIT / SERGE LUTENS (1994)

Paris. Had I had any money left by the time I got to the Lutens boutique at the Palais Royal (having already ‘done’ Caron, Guerlain, and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier), this is what I would have bought from the astonishing selection of perfumes curated by the mysterious ladies hovering behind them. On myself I like darker, more menacing rose perfumes, preferably underscored by patchouli, and this really did the trick for me. Rich, effusive, and very outgoing, with a touch of jasmine, apricot, beeswax, and chypre. A rose for nighttime and adventure, to be worn with leather.

 

 

SOIR DE LUNE  / SISLEY (2006)

A gorgeous, dark, honey-drenched rose enveloped by rich notes of chypre, mimosa, and powerful patchouli, Soire De Lune is almost tailor-made to my personal olfactory tastes. It is diffusive, warm, sexy and of high quality; not dissimilar to the company’s fantastic Eau Du Soir, but in my opinion even better. A rounded, accomplished scent with presence, and a new alternative to such night time illuminaries as Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum and Voleur De Roses. I doubt I will ever be without a bottle of this.

 

 

VOLEUR DE ROSES   L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1993)

The rose thief is a dark figure dressed in black, moving with stealth through the undergrowth, night soil underfoot; rose bushes standing erect and waiting in the moonlight, sensing they are about to be picked. A sensous, woody patchouli is entwined with a deep, rich rose and an unusual note of black plum, resulting in a very gourmand, intriguing scent worthy of its wonderful name.

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Filed under Flowers, Rose

POISON by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1985)

 

 

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There was a time when a new perfume launch by one of the big houses was of great import, the quest for timelessness and fragrant immortality often leading to a greater artistry and perfectionism.  Perfumers pored over, and tweaked their formulae for years until they found that magic formula that sent the nostril hairs and brain filaments zinging with pleasure….

Between 1947 and 1963, Dior released just five perfumes – Miss Dior, Diorama, Eau Fraîche, Diorissimo, and Diorling –  all of which are considered classics. Since then, in a vastly oversaturated market, more than that are often released by one house in one year, mostly forgettable flanker scents that come and go like passing ships in the night, never really getting under your radar. The same cannot be said of the perfume we are looking at today, because despise, love, or merely tolerate it, Poison is most certainly memorable; intensely so – seared as it was onto the collective memory when released to the world at large in 1985; a perfume that even the perfume haters were unwillingly forced to inhale on a daily basis as lustrous sorceresses clicked their heels on the pavements of world cities enveloped provocatively in mushroom clouds of venomous berries and plummy-cinnamon, purpled tuberosa musks…..

At this time, a project such as Poison was as secretive, as closely guarded, as a new film by Kubrick –  and unveiled with as much publicity and fanfare, with launch galas and champagne parties of the crème de la crème partying under the giant factice flacons and juicily indulging in the sheer excess of it all, the centre of the eighties, the shameless vortex of capitalist fun made even bigger, more implacable, in a smell.

The name that was saucily given to that aroma was the first thing that guaranteed this clever product would capture our attention (apparently it was seen as literally scandalous that the maker of such refined scents as Diorissimo and Diorella could come with such a monstrosity), but the juice itself was an entirely new departure in scent as well, so different to anything preceding it. How often can we say that now? In recent times, few perfumes can claim similar levels of pioneering, especially not in the commercial arena, where new fragrances are consumer tested, sanded down and sanitized to the sellable point where they smell pleasant (though that is debatable) and lack any obvious personality. With Poison, this real shock of the new, both in terms of marketing/advertising and the gloriously vibrant liquid within, really worked; the perfume was an enormous international hit, but was vilified in equal measure, being one of the three ugly sisters who were famously barred from restaurants and boutiques (the others being Obsession and Giorgio) due to their extraordinary potency: many simply cannot bear Poison.

 

 

I myself love it. Partly because it so beautifully captures my world of mid-eighties teenage self-discovery (all the bangle-wearing Madonna wannabes and naughty girls at every party I went to smelled of it, as did their mothers), but mainly because I just enjoy its daring, delicious, purple toxicity – that rich, sweet potion of pimiento spiced berries, coriander,  honey, opoponax, and carnal tuberose that glows from a woman’s skin with such brilliant alacrity. It is not a ‘pretty’ perfume, is not subtle, but to me Poison is a great classic; fruity, fun and ludicrously seductive.

 

 

 

 

 

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Note: The current version of Poison has been diluted and reformulated, as is often the case with formulae that are expensive or ‘difficult’, and the current perfume hangs her head, thinned and embarrassed, as though she has been through bouts of electric shock treatment therapy. She has been punished….

Yet I do still smell it on the streets sometimes: this must have been a big hit in Japan too, back in the day, as you sometimes catch drifts of the vintage jus surrounding Japanese older women glammed up for the theatre or some ladies’ function, especially in winter, when it warms the cockles and the lungs (just as Madonna herself still rocks that gutsy tuberose Fracas by Piguet, she herself no longer a young thing). Here, middle aged and older women are often very desexualized and put down by their male counterparts the older they get, an aspect of living in Japan that infuriates me to the core, and to me, their wearing Poison along with their furs and finery somehow seems like a quiet middle finger; a proclamation of self-worth and untapped, wasted sexuality. It smells wonderful.

31 Comments

Filed under Floriental, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

KEEPING THE FAITH : On signature scents and ROMA by LAURA BIAGIOTTI (1991)

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Do you have a scent that you have worn for years; one that ‘becomes’ you, that truly suits you, that represents you, that is you?

One that everyone you have ever known associates with you; that, if left lingering in a room conjures you up like a living, disembodied phantom?

 

In other words, your ‘signature’?

 

For most perfumistas, perhaps not. Not just one.

 

I am not sure if even I do, to be honest, as we are promiscuous, and it is difficult for us to remain faithful to only one scent when there are so many temptations out there to make us stray from our betrothed. We are compelled to play the field, sample different lovers….

 

I myself have been wearing scent continuously and obsessively for twenty seven years or more, and there have been many, many scents that have come and gone in that time: some that I look back on with disdain, others that I see as cherished memories, and others that I still wear now. I imagine that many other fellow perfume lovers will have had similar experiences.

 

And yet : I think we all do have perhaps ten or so perfumes that more fully represent us, that have hooked us; that, if they were there, standing by the coffin, with testers and paper strips at our funerals, would partially bring us back to life for our family and friends…

 

 

For those who do stick to one perfume ( and I salute you! ) the associations left in people’s minds from your choice of scent will be final and incontrovertible: it will be you, bottled, and suspended in liquid, and people who have known and loved you will SMELL you in that flacon, the person and the scent they are smelling indivisible. Because some  people really do wear one scent for a lifetime (after all, it was once seen as the way to go: you bought a perfume and stuck to it), and Roma, a lovely Italian sweet thing from the late eighties that was very fashionable for a while back then, is my sister encapsulated. She has been wearing it ever since she entered her teens, and of all the people I have known, Deborah has been the most faithful to her scent. Roma is her signature, and has been for almost two decades: – a genial, fresh, minty oriental with a whiff of the confectioner’s (the first time I ever smelled it I immediately thought of those cola cubes that used to be sold in big jars at the sweet shop: concentrated, deep orange-pink; and frosted with sugar).  Rich and complex,  Roma for me is somehow sexy, knowing and ridiculously flirtatious while remaining young, carnally innocent and very cute (or is that just a big brother talking?)

 

The ‘floriental’  in its modern guise is a bane, so brutishly buxom, that tacky, bust out down the bar ‘siren call’ that I find so lacking in tact. The difference between these recent Saturday night floriental wannabes and Roma however, is that, like my sister, it has heart and soul (and guts as well). You would also never think of Roma as overtly animalic (despite the presence of those subtle additions far down in the dry-down: they exist more at the subliminal level), yet with this perfume’s insistent, gorgeous aura, my sister has consistently had compliments from people over the years, from men especially who practically want to devour her.

 

 

**

 

 

On a whim I once bought Deborah the original, boringly discontinued Fendi, that spicy 80’s perfume of broad-shouldered, Milanesque brocade that I have always enjoyed , and she loved it, and wore it for a time, yet kept getting asked by her colleagues if she had just been down the pub (apparently she smelled like soaked beer mats when she wore it, not something a girl wants to hear on a Monday morning at the office). It just didn’t work on her, and this only reinforces my belief that certain perfumes, do, obviously, suit some people, and others don’t, and not only in terms of temperament and atmosphere, but physically, literally. Some very good perfumes clearly smell horrendous on certain people, yet there seems to be a movement among some perfume critics which dictates that the whole ‘skin chemistry’ thing is a myth.

 

I can categorically state that it isn’t. If you sit me and my friend Helen down, for example, and spray us with any perfume, the differences will be immediately striking, often amusingly so.  On Helen’s skin, all orientalia, all muskiness and fattiness disappears, almost immediately. What is left is flowers and leaves; something light, pure and elegant.  On me it is the opposite: all is opoponax, vanilla, patchouli: flowers flown off, torn and mangled in the Sagittarian gusts.

 

Fendi is a great, operatic perfume, just not meant for my sister. Someone will be out there tonight at La Scala in this perfume smelling essential, fabulous, while another will be in some coffee shop stinking as though she has spent the night with her lanky hair sprawling among overturned beer barrels. And that’s just the way it is.

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

There is a moment when man or woman and a scent meet, and it is love at first sight.

 

Until this point this we have made do with something that works fine, even though deep down we instinctively know that it isn’t quite what we want, that there is something either too much or not enough; that incorrigible something, that particular combination of ingredients or even a void, a lack that is somehow alien to our soul.

 

And then we find it: that scent that, like the lover we click with, feels so right. So natural. In whose presence we can be ourselves. A palpable, beautiful extension of our personality that reels people in, imprinting itself narcissistically on their memories….

 

If you have not yet had this experience then that is one of the joys of perfume; and of this and other perfume books and blogs: the persistent belief deep down inside that it is out there; that it exists, and knows you do too, but is just waiting, impatiently, to be discovered…

 

 

Deborah and Roma met some time in her early teens ( I am nine years older, and the poor girl was assailed with perfume from a very early age, not that she seemed to mind..), and  I can’t remember how this fateful union came to pass, exactly, whether it was me, or her and the school teenage posse, but in any case, it was love at first sight and she has worn it ever since (though in truth I am being slightly disingenuous: there have been occasional other perfumes worn over the years, a few sent by me for Christmas and birthdays, but none has ever stuck, and there always seems to be a bottle of this in her room, full, half-full, or nearing empty. Now that it is no longer available in England (but is, for example, at Amsterdam Schiphol airport – I often fly KLM from Tokyo to Birmingham), everyone on a trip to Europe is always instructed to bring back some Roma. My mum was even talking about it on the phone last night: she had had to go on Amazon to order a bottle, as ‘Deborah is low on Roma’ (as though she were a diabetic dangerously about to be out of insulin). It is a perfume that she always sprays on with abandon after her endless bathing and make-up rituals that always seems to take an eternity but which always result in a gorgeous vamp glamming up wherever she happens to be in her Debroarian splendour.

 

And Roma just finishes it all off to perfection.

 

 

As I have written before, I used to live in Rome, and you could find this everywhere (even the parfum, which must be very rare now), but I used to see it in various gift shops by the colosseum, where I would spend the days lying on the grass reading novels and listening to my walkman, delighting in the facts of being twenty one, and an adventure-ready, English boy in Rome. At the time, Lancôme’s Trésor was all the rage (you cannot imagine how much: I remember going to some rich girl’s house and her bathroom (I am always totally shameless in people’s bathrooms, raiding the closets and cupboards guiltlessly to see what is there), but this girl had everything: the bath foams, shower gels, body creams, deodorants, eau de toilette, parfum…and for a while on the metro it seemed that Trésor (which I do like, by the way) was being pumped from the central ventilation systems. You could practically taste it, and it seemed that almost every woman in Rome was wearing it.

 

My sister wasn’t. It was all about Roma: a fresh-fruity oriental, light and simultaneously licentious, that begins with a spritz of summery innocence (Sicilian bergamot, blackcurrant bud, grapefruit and, crucially, mint) over a cushiony, floral heart bouquet of rose, jasmine, carnation and lily of the valley. From the very start though, you cannot elude the sensuality of that base, which in its original incarnation in any case was  a warm, ambered accord of great complexity – patchouli, oakmoss, and a special accord known as ‘balsamo’: a whirl of North African myrrh, balsamic resins, and vanilla. On top of, or rather beneath, lies  a trio of animalics; civet, castoreum, and Siam ambergris, which smooths out the blend into a lingering, velveteen caress. I personally think it is a great scent, coming from a time when perfumers still made orientals that genuinely seduce. The more recent additions to the genre, such as Dior’s cheap-thrill Addict, and Calvin Klein’s Euphoria, just aren’t in the same league – competitive, hard-faced cows in comparison. An anaemic rip off of Roma (Armani White) was released in 2001 but disappeared quite quickly without trace. Roma is still going strong, in Europe at least. It is a scent of passion, and I’m glad my hot head of a sister found it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Floriental, Perfume Reviews

THE SPIRIT OF PARIS: FOUR PERFUMES BY CARON / French Can Can (1936): Montaigne (1986): Farnésiana (1947): Tabac Blond (1919)

 

 

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What could be more French than Caron?

 

 

The creator of a string of inimitable perfumes from the 1910s onwards (Poivre, Narcisse Noir, Fleurs de Rocaille, Nuit de Noël….) may not exactly be a household name – at least not in England, and the friends that I know – yet in scent circles, and among the mad perfumistas searching for old extraits of these bygone classics at jumble sales, flea markets and stubborn old perfumeries – the house is truly up there in the stratospheric heights (equalled or surpassed only by Chanel or Guerlain). The perfumes of Caron, around for almost a century and still available, in various stages of degraded formulae, at their gloriously old-world boutiques in Paris and in concessions in quality perfumeries worldwide (such as the perfumery floor at Fortumn and Masons which nobody seems to know about or go to) exist on a fuller sphere of consciousness to most others. To me they are drier; darker, mossier, more bodied. Secret entities, historical undercurrents bind these creations, together with a leathered smoothness not often found elsewhere. Never wholly ‘clean’, yet laden with the finest components and a certain fox-eyed virtuosic precision ( less fuzzy, powdery and splayed than the greatest works of Guerlain), the perfumes will undoubtedly be seen by the fust-loathing pinky floss dunderheads as being ‘too old’, but who cares. So are Manet and Picasso.

 

One of the lesser known perfumes from this formerly illustrious Parisian stable is French Can Can, a derivative of En Avion that was made especially for the American Market for a bit of imported ooh la la: a strange, naughty, and now rather anachronistic perfume that treads the line, brilliantly I think, between coquettish and coarse,  without ever descending to banality. Can Can is of very similar construction to the classic En Avion (a cool, spicy, violet leather) but overlaid with more garish, extravagant bloom: rose, jasmine and orange blossom kicking out from the layers of tulle that support the flowers. Behind faded, musty curtains lies a decadent heart of lilac, patchouli, iris, and musc ambré.

 

Thinking of a candidate for this perfume (who wears tiers of fluffy petticoats that I know?) I hit upon my friend Laurie, who is never afraid to dress up in extravagant numbers – I can even see her actually doing the can can, to be truthful – and with the slogan ‘dancers: powder, dusty lace’ I presented her with the scent. She came back to me later (after I had sprayed her bag with the stuff)….

 

 

‘No: graying crinoline’.

 

 

If the girl of the above story has a past, and love for sale, then the owner of this fine establishment might be wearing Montaigne. Where Can Can maintains a certain faux-demure grace throughout its development, Montaigne, on first impression, is suggestive; lewd even: a voluptuous figure forever telling dirty jokes. Many of the early Caron scents have a similar base accord: that murky, dark, dry signature with which Ernst Daltroff marked his classics. But Caron had to enter the modern world to survive, and Montaigne embarked on new climes. The result of this caterpulting into the eighties was a glowing, ambered potage of sandalwood, orange blossom, vanilla; very contrasting top notes –  a layer of glinting fruits and herbs: mandarin, bitter orange, coriander, blackcurrant….all is voluptuous, sueded, medicinal, mysterious. You keep sniffing to find out more (what was the perfumer thinking of?)

 

Montaigne, then, one of Caron’s most ‘up front and sassy’ perfumes, is well worth exploring for its complexity,warmth and glamour, but also for a certain impenetrability. There isn’t really anything else like it on the market. Hermetically mesmerizing, even, and a perfume I have become strangely obsessed with.

 

Though obviously a Caron, the vanilla-mimosa themed Farnésiana couldn’t be more different. This obscure scent is a sweet, emotive, maternal refuge from all harshness and vulgarity (because she does sometimes needs a day off); a sugared, unusual perfume to nuzzle, cradle; regress with, even. The blend gets its name from the latin name for mimosa (Acasiosa Farnesiana), the flower at the heart of  this scent. But place just a drop of this elixir on your skin and the heart-rending, powdery mimosa note smiles only briefly before being subsumed in a very edible, gourmand note of almonds and the roundest, gentlest vanilla. Not unlike a slice of the finest cherry bakewell in fact.

This is not a ‘foodie’ though, it is far too eccentric: somehow Farnésiana is not in the least seductive – you are not supposed to be ‘nibbled on’ by another. It is rather a lovely, melancholic escape from all that; the self as confection – a perfume to wear when alone.

 

 

 

” ……The troubling sensuality of a woman in a dinner jacket…..’

……negligently to take those ivory and mother-of-pearl cigarette holders to their lips, and swathe their femininity in a typically masculine veil, became the height of Parisian elegance……..To mark this dawn of female liberation, in 1919 Caron dared to dedicate the deliberately provocative Tabac Blond to these beautiful androgynes.’

 

(Caron website)

 

 

Here we have then the official story of Caron’s legendary Tabac Blond,  Dietrich’s most favoured perfume. If ever there were a ‘holy grail’ of perfumes, it might be this: people are mad for it, obsessed. It is one of the world’s cult perfumes, deliberately aimed at a small contingent in society, ‘scandalous’ at the time of its launch (just six years after Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring) into the fey little lamp-lit worlds of lilacs and violets, of powder and of  rose. A unique creation that has kept its reputation to this day (strictly in its vintage versions, mind), Tabac Blond is a resinous, deep, heart-locking perfume that unfolds in space and time. Flowers – carnation, linden, ylang, and iris (giving the perfume, as critic Jan Moran says, ‘a powdery floral heart meant to transcend a smoky environment’) feature in the scent, but only subtlely. They are hidden, masked for the most part, by a stunning note of undried blond tobacco, animalic leather, and tobacco leaf, made drier still with a sun-powdered note of cedarwood and vetiver. This exquisite whole is suspended in a liquid gold of tenuous, refined amber that only takes on its full character in the perfume’s conclusion, later, much later, at night.

 

Chandler Burr says of Tabac Blond that there is something ‘dykey and angular’ about  this perfume;  Luca Turin, that it is for those of a melancholy bent, who like Autumn, old manuscripts; libraries; Egypt.

 

Whatever the image it conjures, this is certainly a beautiful perfume; absurdly refined on the right skin, conferring on the wearer an air of restrained, rich elegance…………… pure Caron.

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews