Saturday, July 31, 2010

To keep some hope alive that a girl like I could ever try, could ever try...

Elizabeth Arden White Shoulders

So I think I’m finally getting the hang of this whole work/life balance thing. I got up at 7:30 this morning so I could pick up Shelley at 9am and give her a next-to-last driving lesson. She takes the test next weekend, so keep your fingers crossed for her.

As we drove back to her place, I passed a blocked off street in the local Pearl district. From the tents inside, I smelled the delicious waft of dry rubbed, sauced and smoked meats. BBQ. So I stopped and wandered over. Turned out Rogue Brewery was having its annual Bones and Brew street festival After sampling pork ribs, beef ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, and brisket from seven different Oregon vendors, I wandered out stuffed with meats and smeared with sauce. Then I went over to Oil Can Henry’s and got a ton of much overdue maintenance on my car done. As I headed on my way back to the house, pleased with all I’d accomplished, I saw a sign for a local estate sale, so I stopped.

After a bit of perusing, I walked out with a few things, including a half full 100ml splash bottle of Elizabeth Arden White Shoulders for the princely sum of a mere $4. It’s always been a drug store level scent, but the top bit, which is mostly tuberose after the immediate grape bubblegum part peels away, can be really nice, especially at the price point I got.

But the remarkable thing was standing in this woman’s house, her bedroom really, among her things I felt a real sense of self-consciousness about being there, looking through her perfume. She didn’t have much, most some mall level lotions, but there were four partial bottles of White Shoulders along with a set of White Shoulders loose powder with big fake furry powder puff. Standing there, I thought, this was her scent. This is what she smelled like, this unknown and faceless woman, what she smelled like every day. She smelled of it so often that people had bought bottles of it for her as gifts, resulting in four partial bottles. This smell was part of her, who she was. For people who knew and loved her, it probably is HER, like an icon or aspect of her that appears, a hazy and unexpected apparition, throughout their days.

Looking at those bottles seemed like searching for bargains through the most private and personal parts of her life, never mind her clothes or shoes or dishes or cookbooks or even her mattress, all tagged up and ready for sale. And yet, I figured, if I take one, at least I’m the sort of person who will think of the phantom woman any time I reach for the bottle. I'm the one who will wonder if she started wearing White Shoulders in 1945 when it came out, if she was a war bride who wore White Shoulders the day her husband returned home. I can think of so many scenarios, and there is the scent hanging around these phantom lives. And while I like the way the scent rolls down my skin twenty minutes into wearing it, warm and dark and rubbery and yet sweet and floral, I ultimately handed over my $4 because I figure, of all the strangers who will traipse through that house this weekend, I’m the one who will be most inclined to keep the notion of her alive.

And all of us deserve that.

"This town seems hardly worth our time
And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme,
Too far along in our climb
Stepping over what now towers to the sky,
With no connection "

- "Phantom Limb," The Shins (You can listen to the song here)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Then how should I begin to spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

What a week, dear reader. I smashed my laptop screen into a million pieces saving one of my kittens from a terrible kettle-related burn, got thrown to the wolves at work after the most useless training I've ever been through, pulled my neck, and just generally felt exhausted and used up. I'm glad to get out of the house, and the work I am doing is passably interesting but not an area of passion for me, but it's hard to spend the bulk of your time at something you don't enjoy all that much. I just keep reminding myself that at least I have a job and can pay my loans....and have a little left over at the end of the day for things like dinners out, weekend trips to the coast, and, of course, perfume.

Speaking, as we so often do, about perfume: Thank god I have it. There have been days this week where the sole motivating factor for a given half hour is the combination of a quick browse through my traveling sample tin, the well-timed gentle waft of the scent I'm wearing that day, and the careful calculation of hour much of any given perfume I could get my hands on in exchange for that lost hour. Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons; I measure mine out in millimeters of scent. Is it perfume from a dress, that makes me so digress? Oh, how often it is.

It's funny how people can change your life. I don't see nearly as much of Angela as I might like, but she truly changed my life for the better with this perfume business. It's possible, given the way life is, that we might eventually lose track of one another all together (sad, but true), and yet I suspect that her influence on me will be present until the day I leave this life; maybe even longer. I have to believe that, when I'm gone, someone will treasure all the perfume I will inevitably leave behind. Someone will pass a woman wearing something lovely, and find themselves thinking of me. As someone who wonders, probably more than is appropriate, about what happens after, it's nice to think that the impression I leave on this earth may be a beautifully scented one. Like a truly well made perfume, it will persist long after my literal presence in the moment has passed, blooming out in my wake in gentle, graceful waves, coloring the earth and the lives of the people around me.

Like the sixteen year-old boy who once introduced me to Prufrock and Eliot's other beautiful works, I will never truly be able to tell Angela, or any of you who love perfume and write so beautifully and love this scented life as much as I do, how much you mean to me. You make me laugh. You make me cry. You make me think. You make me think about what art is, and what choices and values create a life worth living, and what material items are worth taking on the journey, and so much more. How emotion or memory can change or be expressed through art or sensory perception. How globalization, for all its flaws and failures also means that we find each other with people who can share our lives in ways those around us do not understand, how we can come to love one another's presence on this earth without ever meeting face to face. How life, even in tragedy and tedium, can also be beautiful.

For all this, and so much more, I thank you, dear reader. And I thank every one who has ever made or loved or, hell, even purchased, perfume.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean.

~ "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T.S. Eliot

Friday, July 16, 2010

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes....

Guerlain Mitsouko EdP

My scent of the day today is L’Artisan Vanilia, and for the first time ever that I’ve worn it, it really doesn’t sit right with me. I know that happens sometimes, but when it comes to something I love enough to own, I’m always surprised. Being that I fall into the category or sniffas who like to put on a fragrance in the morning and still get hits off it several hours later in the day, it’s a blessing most of the time, but on that rare occasion when the scent just doesn’t sit right, my affection for strong scents can be a total nightmare. Today every time Vanilia wafts up toward me I get a feeling like an itch on the back of my eyeballs – pure irritation. And I hate saying that about my dearly departed Vanilia, because it kills me that it was discontinued. But today, it just isn't doing it.

Some scents are like that, though, love them or hate them, they elicit strong opinions. The reviews read like love letters or hate mail and there ain’t no in between. One classic scent you this with a lot of classic scents in particular. One example is Guerlain Mitsouko.

Mitsouko (1919) is described by Guerlain as follows:
Her name was Mitsouko. It means “mystery”, a mystery of tenderness and softness. She is this enigmatic, disarming and determined woman who accepts her destiny with the courage of the greatest heroines in literature. A masterpiece of balance, this mysterious perfume is made of spices and wood with subtly fruity accents. Little by little, Mitsouko evokes the assertive scent of underbrush. Its tonality is warm and sensual, it makes its presence known softly and embarks on a long story… Created especially for Guerlain loyalists, this modern sculpture doubles as a refillable spray case that reveals a glimpse of your perfume’s mystery and recalls the fine engraving of precious jewelry.

Fruity chypre. Mysterious, Balanced, Velvety A masterpiece of balance and originality, Mitsouko marries a fruity note of peach with jasmine flowers and May rose. The mysterious dry-down of the fragrance blends spicy notes with those of underbrush and vetiver.
My general thoughts? Mitsouko is spicy sweet, like a combination of warm skin and over ripe peaches, cooking in the sun and covered in mold and moss. Sounds gross right? It isn’t. It’s a sweet smell that also manages to be earthy in the same way freshly turned earth mixed with loam and fertilizer and all that other stuff that makes soil good for plants but...really strong smelling. Which is funny, because Mitsouko really isn’t that strong compared to say Lorenzo Villoresi Alamut or Tauer Perfumes L'Air du desert marocain or hell, even Shalimar, but the smell it has is strongly unique and substantial.

The first bite of Mitsouko is sharp. Then the scent turns faintly sweet offset by the smell of loam and soil, then becomes weirdly dry like a dusty room. It’s definitely peach, but not a sweet peach, like you’d imagine a lip gloss smelling. It’s a brutal smelling peach, a peach that has been left to rot in the hot sun, allowing it to begin to decay, merging with the grass and earth and growing covered with moss and mold. Imagine standing beneath a peach tree where all the fruit has fallen to the ground and been abandoned there. The smell that wafts up toward you is no longer sweet, but more earthen and real in its dying imperfection. This sounds gross, but it isn’t. It’s strong and unique and rare, really rare. And the scent changes, over and over, giving different views of the same scent like a kaleidoscope, made of the same notes but presenting itself in different ways as you twist and turn through the application and drydown.

Trying Mitsouko again today I was transported back to when my great grandmother, Mimi, moved out of her home of almost 50 years and in with my grandparents after a significant stroke. My mother took my brother and I along when they went to clean out her house. Among the classic hats and letters written in a long spidery hand was, I’m sure, some really fine perfume that is now long gone to the world. (Oh, had my ten year old self only known!) Trying Mitsouko again today I realized that I had smelled it before – in her house. Many of her handbags and hats, some of which I inherited, smelled like Mitsouko! In fact, so many of her things – coats and hand embroidered handkerchiefs and various personal effects – smelled of Mitosuko that in my memory the whole house smells very vaguely like it. Perhaps it was a trick of memory that makes me believe that now, but I don’t think so. From the first moment I smelled Mitsouko, I thought it was familiar. After sniffing at it occasionally over the course of a year I never remembered. It’s funny how memory works like that.

The other thing Mitsouko reminds me of is the way that press powder (and the occasional puff powder) used to smell. I don’t mean the super fancy light weight full coverage cure your acne powder we use today. I’m referring to the cake like pats of powder that smeared across the skin like stage make-up, filling in every pore. Or it reminds me of the huge white fake furred puffs of clinging powder everyone liked to gift me when I was a little girl, much to my mother’s chagrin as it had a propensity to end up spilled every where. I suspect this is why Mitsouko is one of those scents that gets charged by non-noses as “Old Lady” smelling. The lovely smell suffers from associations, which is actually a testament to how ubiquitous and beloved the scent once was – everything smelled like it!

Mitsouko is not my favorite classic, but I can understand why it has survived. It’s a really unique scent, particularly today when most commercial fragrance has moved far away from this kind of scent. In that way, it reminds me of Jane Eyre. Perhaps, at the time Jane Eyre was written, there were close to a hundred or more serials being printed and distributed. Each was its own story, but they all shared certain story telling elements common at the time. Jane Eyre was special, and endured, because it was the serial that managed to capture the imagination of the people to the point that they would stand on the docks, awaiting the ship from Europe that would bring the latest installment to them. Perhaps scents like Mitsouko, like knock-offs of cK One or Angel, were very popular at the time and could be found any and every where. But Mitsouko, the original, the best example of that kind of scent, is the one that continues to make a lasting impression. You can tell one hundred Southern romantic dramas, but there will only ever be one Gone with the Wind. There will only ever be one Mitsouko. And that alone might make it worth the price of admission.

Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties.
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile,
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

- “Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds,” The Beatles
(You can listen to Elton John's version of the song here)

Want more? Try...
~ a review from Scentzilla
~ a review from Perfume Posse
~ a review from Ayala at the Smelly Blog
~ a review from I Smell, Therefore I Am
~ a review from Bois de Jasmin
~ a review from The Scented Salamander
~ a review from Oh, True Apothecary!
~ a review from Olfactarama
~ a review from Pere de Pierre
~ a review from Sweet Anthem

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thoughts on Scentscapes & Chanel No. 5

Walking into work Thursday, I passed by a woman in her late 20s wearing business casual pastels in the hallway. In her wake I smelled something sweetly candied and familiar. After a moment's reflection, I had it. Prada Infusion d'Iris.  It's a funny thing, to realize that you've improved your sense of the scentscape in the world around you.  Whether your nose actually gets better, or just your understanding of what your encountering around you improves, it seems as though you can suddenly smell more things.  It's a lovely notion, that even in the middle of life we can learn to use and be aware of our bodies in new and different ways.  Not to rediscover things we could do as children, but to literally learn to be aware of things we never were before.  It reminds me of all that I have left to see and do in the world. 

I didn't go to work on Friday.  I had a commitment three months in the making that preceded my new job.  And, without violating any confidentiality, let me say this -- I got dressed up in my fancy suit, and I went to a small county courthouse, and I sat there as a spectator and support person in the life of someone else and prayed for the law to do the right thing, to do justice.  And, remarkably, it did.  When I was getting dressed on Friday, I stood in my heels and gazed into my perfume cabinet and considered: what scent would work?  What scent seemed to embody the confidence and strength and restraint required for the trial? And what scent would possibly embody the prayer in my heart, that the system might vindicate my hope that my faith in it was not misplaced and that a woman wronged would get what she deserved?

I ultimately choose...

...Chanel No. 5 EdT.

No. 5 is good for so many things.  It's mostly sold through romantic fairy tales featuring exquisite actresses of significant renown.  But really, No. 5 has the ability to be so much more.  You can rely on it for those days when the somber circumstances demand a conservative black dress and tearful goodbye.  It can get you through meeting your significant other's parents for the first time.  It's prefect for that rare refined night on the town -- the ballet, the symphony, the orchestra.  It's appropriate for the close quarters of a holy Mass, like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.  And, as it turns out, it works well for a very important court date. All morning long, as I would stretch my back or swing my hair or uncross and recross my legs, that light, lovely remarkable fragrance would waft gently toward me.  It was there at the beginning when I helped her breath slowly and there at the end, when she hugged me in stunned relief. 

I've been working on notes for a piece comparing the No. 5 EdT, EdP, and parfum for a while now.  They are all beautiful and distinct, and everyone I think prefers one over the others even if you don't love the scent.  But whichever one you prefer, the fact is that No. 5 has an incredibly rich history and cultural significance and its status as an icon is well-deserved.  Because it's not the reputation that made me reach for it Friday morning.  It was that the actual scent is this subtle, refined scent that demands you take it seriously.  It's a serious perfume for serious moments, fervent prayers, sincere efforts. No. 5 is a classic for a reason. 

I can't imagine not having it in the arsenal.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

And all at once I lost my breath...

Guerlain Jicky EDT

I started my new job today. Yes, I finally got one.

They're paying me bimonthly. Does this mean I get to buy perfume twice a month instead of once a month? I think it does.

When they had us go around the room today listing our hobbies, pets, etc. I actually told them that I collected and reviewed perfume as a hobby. This raised the inevitable, impossible question. "What's your favorite?" I tried to demur, but the questioner wasn't having it. How can you explain to people who aren't perfumistas that there just isn't such a thing? You can't. They don't understand. I talked about Iris Pallida. My direct supervisor asked me how long I'd been doing this. "Three years," I replied. She seemed to question my commitment. Little doth she know.

Why is it that only older women (50+) seem to uniformly appreciate the joys of perfume? Seriously, I have developed a habit of cozying up to them in elevators and on commuter trains and surreptitiously sniffing appreciatively after them. They always smell good. But when I talk to younger women, by and large they find my interest in perfume either totally bizarre or interesting, but decidedly not for them. And it makes me sad.

I feel like so much olfactory beauty has become accessible to me and yet women of my general age range seem intent on limiting themselves to a very limited range of cheaper end scent. In an effort to distance myself from my peers and commit myself as much as I can to being open to all the world's scentscape has to offer, I'm going through a bunch of classic scents over the next two weeks or so. While it makes basically no sense to rate these scents because their longevity and success, I will be rating them only because I use my rating system primarily to help myself decide what I'd like to have a bottle of.

First up Guerlain Jicky EdT. Jicky was created in 1889. Here's what Basenotes has to say about Jicky.
According to Guerlain folklore, this was named after an English student who Aimé Guerlain fell in love with. It was in fact named for his nephew, Jacques Guerlain. It was the first 'abstract' perfume as it wasn't reminiscent of one individual note. Apparently a fave of Sean Connery.
According to Kevin at Now Smell This!, the original list of notes include "mandarin, lemon, bergamot, rosewood, orris root, rose, jasmine, patchouli, vetiver, leather, amber, civet, incense, tonka bean and benzoin."

1889. For over a century women and probably quite a few men have been wearing Jicky. The historian in me is overwhelmed by that fact alone. That my great grandmother and her twin sister, who lived until they were almost 100 years old were not born before Jicky was in the world. Though I doubt it, given their intense poverty over the course of their lives, perhaps once someone bought them a little bottle. Perhaps they wore it. Perhaps my grandmother did. Perhaps Jicky has been worn in my family for generations. Though I have no evidence that this is true in any way, and in fact I highly doubt it, the mere possibility is staggering. It's beautiful. It's exhilarating.

And then, wholly apart from the incredible history real or imagined that Jicky offers, there's the actual scent. IT'S BEAUTIFUL! I don't know if I would have thought that when I started this three years ago, but now I love it. It starts off on me as a sparkling lemon lime scent, sweet like a lemoncello. After a few minutes it grows darker, deeper, and slightly powdery. It's lighter than the opening, and has a kind of sweet sweat -- perhaps the vetiver and leather? A few minutes later and the incense and tonka step forward, and then back again, like some careful and yet still passionate tango.

I think this is an incredible scent for summer. Actually, I think it's an incredible scent for any season, but we just hit 95+ degrees here in PDX and it is a particularly beautiful scent for summer time. I've been sniffing it over the last two weeks, a couple of times a week, and I truly cannot believe how beautiful it is. How could it have been made so long ago? How can anyone not see how amazing it is? Is it just me?

Also, look at that ad!  Isn't she beautiful? Isn't she elegant? Isn't she self-possessed and powerful and NOT IN ANY WAY naked or humiliating or objectified?  I love her.  I want to be her.  Who wouldn't?  Hell, the fact that the ad is decent alone is enough to make me want to buy a bottle. (Okay, she's white and wealthy and yes, there's privilege all over this ad, but at least I don't find it entirely repellent.)

Am I just in scent-infatuation? I don't think so. I tired it several times to be sure.

And I'm sure.

To paraphrase Bridget Jones, "This can't be just shagging. A multi-sampling of a classic scent that I adore each and every time means true love."

Though...I haven't tried the the EdP or parfum yet. Hmmm....

"And all at once was scared to death.
And all at once I own the earth and sky.
Now I met Miss Jones,
and we'll keep on meeting till we die,
Miss Jones and I."

- "Have You Met Miss Jones?,"Robbie Williams
(You can listen to the song here)

Want more reviews? There are tons! Here's a sampling...
~ a review from Fragrance Bouquet
~ a review from Kevin at Now Smell This!
~ a review from Bois de Jasmin
~ a review from Pere De Pierre
~ a review from Ayala at Smelly Blog (parfum review)
~ a review from Perfume Posse
~ a review from Nathan Branch
~ a review from Scented salamander
~ a review from Pink Manhattan
~ a review from Scents of Self
~ a review from Polish, Platforms, and Perfume

Thursday, July 1, 2010

But today? Sorry, Lady. I have ennui.


Like Michel, I am suffering from ennui.  Serious ennui.  So significant is this ennui that I have not even tried any of my new samples yet, nor did my weird experiment of trying CB I Hate Perfume Black March layered with CB I Hate Perfume Smokey Tobacco Accord today make so much as a dent.  I'd try free writing to you all, but (and I'm am in full GG-mode of late) my free-writing tends to turn out like Lorelai's "monkey monkey underpants!" letter. (Don't know it? Follow the link.)  Trust me, no one wants that.

No, you'll just have to give me a few more days, dear reader.  I'm trying very hard to figure out why I randomly feel blue, but I just don't think putting on Guerlain L’Heure Bleue is going to help.  I'm sorry.  I love you.  I wish I could put together a coherent thought.

Until next we meet, monkey monkey underpants!