Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's a man now? What's a man mean?

2011 Perfume Challenge Week 16: Monday, 4/25/11, to Saturday, 4/30/11

This week’s theme is a strange one, I’ll admit. What you have to understand is that I find the idea of policing gender through scent so fascinating. Why would we do this? What purpose does it serve? Are these scents actually connected to biological maleness in any way? Or is it simply that the areas of the world long dominated exclusively by men to maintain power structures (i.e. the “public” sphere) are typically decorated and occupied by items that carry these scents, such that we come to think of them as “masculine” scents when really we mean “scents associated with the trappings of power and influence in the public sphere”? FN1. And if that is the case, shouldn’t every feminist in the world be eschewing gourmands and florals while running straight for vetivers and tobaccos? FN2.

So this week, I’m trying out six stereotypical masculines to see which ones I find wearable because I like them as scents, trappings be damned. And the best part of this little experiment – at least 10ml of each one can be had for less than $20, and in some cases even an entire bottle is available for less.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Scent that Book!: Frostbite

Scent That Book! is a new, reoccurring feature here at Feminine Things. It is premised on the idea that even books require perfuming, whether the authors realize that or not.

This month I bring to you, for Scent that Book!, the second volume of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy six-book series. The series is a New York Times Best Seller list and has been optioned for a film series.

Here's a brief description of the series premise:

It tells the story of Rose Hathaway, a seventeen-year-old Dhampir girl, who is training to be a bodyguard for her Moroi best friend, Vasilisa "Lissa" Dragomir. In the process of learning how to defeat Strigoi (the undead and evil vampires) in St. Vladimir's Academy, Rose finds herself caught in a forbidden romance with her handsome instructor, Dimitri Belikov, while having an unbreakable bond with Lissa.
The series is surprisingly good despite the generic name.  It has a lot of lovely scent related description, so much so that I wonder if author is into perfume herself.  The passage that caught my eye in this book is outlined below.
Opening up the door, I saw one of the hotel staff standing outside with a large box in both arms. He shifted it slightly so that he could peer around and look at me. 
"I'm looking for Rose Hathaway?" 
"That's me." 
I took the box from him. It was big but not all that heavy. With a quick thank-you, I shut the door, wondering if I should have tipped him. Oh well. 
I sat on the floor with the box. It had no markings on it and was seraled with packing tape. I found a pen and stabbed at the tape. Once I'd hacked off enough, I opened the box and peered inside.

It was filled with perfume.

There had to be at least thirty bottles of perfume packed into the box. Some I'd heard of, some I hadn't. They ranged from crazy-expensive, movie-star caliber to cheap kinds I'd seen in drug stores. Eternity. Angel. Vanilla Fields. Jade Blossom. Michael Kors. Poison. Hypnotic Poison. Pure Poison. Happy. Light Blue. Jovan Musk. Pink Sugar. Vera Wang. One by one, I picked up the boxes, read the descriptions, and then pulled out the bottles to sniff.

[...] Once more, I started pulling out bottle after bottle. Some I just sniffed the cap of; others I sprayed in the air. Serendipity. Dolce & Gabbana. Shalimar. Daisy. Note after note hit me: rose, violet, sandalwood, orange, vanilla, orchid...

By the time I was finished, my nose barely worked anymore. All of these had been designed for humans. They had a weaker sense of smell than vampires and even dhampirs, so these scents were extra strong. I had a new appreciate for what Adrian had meant about only a splash of perfume being necessary. If all these bottles were making me dizzy, I could only imagine what a Moroi would smell. The sensory overload wasn't really helping the headache I'd woken up with either.

I packed up the perfume for real this time, stopping only when I came to a certain kind I really liked. I hesitated, holding the little box in my hand. Then, I took the red bottle out and re-sniffed it. It was a crisp, sweet fragrance. There was some kind of fruit--but not a candied or sugary fruit. I racked my brain for a scent I'd smelled on a girl I knew in my dorm. She'd told me the name. It was like a cherry...but sharper. Currant, that's what it was. And here it was in this perfume, mixed with some florals: lily of the valley and others I couldn't identify. Whether the blend, something about it appealed to me. Sweet. but not too sweet. I read the box, looking for a name. Amor Amor.

"Fitting," I muttered, seeking how many love problems I seemed to have lately. But I kept the perfume anyway and repacked the rest. (pp. 198-200)
Wow.  A box of perfume.  I don't know if I could send it back.  Okay, no, let's be honest, I would definitely not send it back. Unless the guy was a total creeper, and in the book in question, he's not. That said , eighteen scents are listed, which means at least twelve are not.  So my questions to you are:  (a) What else do you think was in the box; (b) Does any of this seem "crazy expensive" to you? (Not me.)  what "crazy expensive" scents would you toss into the package?; (c) given the list provided, would you have chosen Amor Amor?

Since the above scents are fairly outside my mostly indie scent realm, I'm not sure what would be in my box.  Trying to keep the missing twelve scents in the range already outlined in the book, I like to think the box contained Calvin Klein Obsession, Robert Piguet Fracas, Coty Sand & Sable, Stella Nude, Calvin Klein Euphoria, Prada Infusion d'Iris, Kenzo Flower, Revlon Charlie,  SJP LovelyChloe Chloé, Tocca Cleopatra, Chanel No. 5.

If I was adding crazy expensive scents, I'd certainly add L'Artisan Iris PallidaGuerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille, and  Ralph Lauren Notorious (the last one for the lols).

My choice, of the actual given list: Shalimar. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Consider the lilies -- they don’t toil nor spin.

Scent Spotlight:  DSH Perfumes Kenya Lily

Consider the lilies -- they don’t toil nor spin,
and there’s not a king with more splendor than them.
Consider the sparrows -- they don’t plant or sow
but they’re fed by the Master who watches them grow...

I did not expect to do a scent spotlight this weekend, but sometimes pefume moves you. This is one of those times. DSH describes this perfume oil simply as follows: "A strong, bright, and intensely floral lily note."

Wow. It smells like lilies. That probably sounds so dumb and obvious, but so often we say a floral smells like a particular flower, when what we really mean is that is smells the way we expect the flower to smell when it's a perfume, not the way we expect the flower to smell when we put our face to a bouquet. And this really does smell like lilies. It smells like, well, Easter, in my mind. It smells like the resurrection and the life and the promise of unconditional love that we broken humans search for desperately every day of our lives.

I am about to take this to a totally unexpected and unfiltered place,  I guess.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I'm froze by desire.

2011 Perfume Challenge Week 16: Monday, 4/18/11, to Friday, 4/22/11

A weekend in Wallingford...
I had a nice time in Seattle last weekend celebrating my friend Becca's birthday.  We watched great stuff on video, ate and ate and ate, wandered Seattle, and returned my hair to a color of awesome.   I'm sad she lives so far away, but I'm happy for an excuse to visit Seattle more regularly.

Unfortunately, being out of town has resulted in a long week here in Portlandia for your intrepid sniffa.  Lots of travel, lots of work, but not a lot of sleep unfortunately.  When this happens, it help to keep myself focused by giving the week a theme.  This week I am giving my challenge week attention to the elizabethW line based out of San Francisco.

Monday: elizabethW Rose - Irresistible, passionate, sophisticated. Moist green notes and wild roses, enhanced with accents of fresh forest berries and hawthorn. A light honeyed rose with a hint of cinnamon underneath. I do get a little hawthorn, which makes it a slightly greener rose than you normally find. It's a nice rose, though not a singular reation in a crowded field. Also, my biggest complaint, not just for this scent but all of the elizabethW creations, is the staying power. It is still there by the four hour mark but only very faintly. By the 5.5 hour mark the scent had disappeared completely. 3.5 of 5 nods for quality of scent, 2.5 for longevity.

Tuesday: elizabethW Magnolia - Summer nights, romance, sensual. White magnolia petals deepened with saffron and sandalwood mingle with Riviera mimosa and gardenia. Magnolia comes on like gangbusters at first, full of pretty clean floral oomph. After ten minutes it backs down significantly, though I do really enjoy this floral blend, which becomes more gardenia than magnolia by the fifteen minute mark. By the four hour mark I could barely smell it. What there was of it, while it lasted, was a lovely solifloral. 4 of 5 nods for quality of scent, again 2.5 for longevity.

Wednesday: elizabethW Lilac - Romantic, fresh, intensely floral. A single note from boughs of springtime lilacs brightened with subtle hints of jasmine, neroli, and freesia. A warm dark lilac, but the jasmine gives it a candied edge. As twenty dollar lilacs go, I challenge you to find a better lilac at this price point. 3 of 5 nods for quality an 2.5 for longevity.

Thursday: elizabethW Sweet Tea - Gracious, spirited, elegant. An enticing marriage of oriental black teas, juicy fresh Amalfi lemons, and the sweetness of almond honey. I am southern. Anyone who has read this blog for more than fifteen seconds probably knows that. So you can imagine how I feel about the creation of a sweet tea scent. In this I get lemon and classic Lipton instant tea. I don't get honey, but I do get a bit of artificial sweetener. So in a word? Smells like home. 4 of 5 nods for quality, though again only a 2.5 for longevity.

Pike's Place Market
Friday: DSH Perfumes Nouveau Gardenia - Notes: Bergamot, Mimosa, Gardenia, Musk, Sandalwood What a strange experience of Gardenia. It's almost Palmolivey in the first few seconds, then becomes this dry musky scent with a citrus like orange pith rather than orange flower. It's not all that sweet and might make an excellent masculine gardenia (what a strange treat!) if you could find a man you could pin down long enough to spray it on him. I really do need to find a guy who is willing to let me randomly apply scents to them. Perhaps when my friend Andrew comes back to town... 4 of 5 nods.

Winner of the Week: Sticking to my theme, elizabethW, I'd have to say my favorite is the Sweet Tea. I also loved the Magnolia and will happily pony up $20.00 for a 15ml purse spray. If you fall in love with one of these scents, you can grab an entire 2ounces (60ml) for only $35.00. And the low price tag actually makes the longevity problem less of an issue. For $100, you an buy five different purse sprays and wear a different one morning, noon, and night.

"I am yours now.
So now I don't ever have to leave.
I've been found out.
So now I'll never explore.

See what I've done.
That bridge is on fire.
Going back to where I've been.
I'm froze by desire.
No need to leave."
~ "Islands," the xx

Friday, April 15, 2011

We got style, baby, and we know how to use it.

Perfume Challenge Week 15: Monday, 4/11/11, to Friday, 4/15/11

Post early this week because I am off to Seattle for the weekend to celebrate my friend Becca's birthday. I'm stopping off at the in-laws tonight in Olympia, then heading to the big city tomorrow morning to spend two days eating cake, watching movies, going to Pike's Place market, and generally having a good time. I hope the rain lets up, but I'm not counting on it.

Monday: Kenzo Flower - Notes: Wild Hawthorne, Bulgarian Rose, Parma Violet, Cassia, Hedione, Cyclosal, Opoponax, White Musk, Vanilla. You've heard the expression "hit with the pretty stick"? Imagine the stick is a powder puff the size of your head and coated in cake flour. Being hit with that in the face is what spraying three tiny spritzs of Kenzo Flower felt like to me this morning. Seriously.

It was the perfume equivalent of of that moment from "I Love Lucy" where Lucy is working in a candy factory and gets hit in the face with flour. FN1. This isn't to say that I disliked Flower. In fact, here I sit about an hour later, surprised by how much I like it. It's definitely a powdery rose, and though I haven't tried them next to each other, in my mind I keep thinking it's a lot like Juliette Has a Gun Miss Charming (or should I say, Miss Charming is a lot like Flower, which was released in 2000, seven years before Miss Charming).

Three hours later: Flower has backed off considerably. Either that, of I've grown immune.

FIFTEEN hours later: Okay I have to mention this. I lay down for bed around 10:30. I sprayed three small sprays on Flower in around 7:30 a.m. As I fold my arms beneath my head, I get this gentle puff for flower prettiness and at first I can't remember where it came from. Then I remember -- I'm still smelling Flower! Note of warning: this one will be with you

Talking about Flower, Bois de Jasmin wrote "Flower is a beautiful example displaying that an impressive sillage and tremendous lasting power do not have to conflict with a nuanced and delicate overall impression." I love that assessment because it sums up my feelings exactly. It's a well-made, pretty scent that lasts and lasts. You just have to be comfortable with your perfume arriving five minutes before you and lingering long after you've departed. An unexpected 3.5 - 4 of 5 nods.

Tuesday: Le Prince Jardinier Labyrinthe Libertin - "Notes: bergamot, caraway, mint, artemisia, basil, orange blossom, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, violet, marigold, cedar, vetiver, iris, boxwood, amber and musk." Advertised as a "green floral," Labyrinthe Libertin is is an earthy floral that still has those clean notes you expect from jasmine, which is the dominate note for me. About a half-hour in, if you shove your nose right up against it, to really breath it in, I get the cedar/musk/vetiver lurking beneath. It makes it a surprisingly warm soapy floral in a way that diverges from the usual spin. ("Throw some dirt in there! More patchouli and moss! We need more moss!") FN2. Round the forty-five minute mark I also got some violet. It's layered with a lot of other things, though, so if you don't normally like jasmine, you might like this one if you approach it with an open mind and willing nose. A nice little scent that I see popping up a discount places around the tubes. If you like florals, I saw the 3.4 oz of this one available for $45, which is half the original retail. Try and it and buy it soon -- I don't expect it to be around much longer. 3.5 of 5 nods.

Wednesday: Red Flower Champa - Notes: Champa flowers, mimosa, jasmine, osmanthus, rose geranium, ylang ylang, palmarossa, clove bud. As a perfume oil, I always find Red Flower organics light but long lasting. If I told you it reminded me of the smell of sweet skin, like that great smell babies have, would that put you off? There was a time when that description would have brought a disgusted crinkle to my nose. I barely remember that time now, like it was another woman in another world.

I think the scent is nice and different from a lot of other things I sniff, but I can't decide if I like it. I think I do? It's so light it's hard to get an impression one way or another. One minute I get a smell one would expect if you made a tea exclusively from the skin of barely ripe peaches. In another I moment I get more green and geranium, and it runs toward the dry herbs and plantlike with fruit around the edges. It's solid and pretty, just very gentle.

If you like subtle, non-aggressive scents, this might as well be holding down the other end of the spectrum from Kenzo Flower. I can attest to the long lasting power of the roll-on perfume oils, because I have the Guaiac. I haven't tried the perfume concentrate sprays, so if you have, I'd love to hear from you. 3 of 5.

Thursday: Pilar & Lucy Tiptoeing through the chambers of the moon - Tuberose, amber, other unidentified notes. The opening on me is a whirl of sugar-free grape lollipop and green tea soda. If I were to peg it to a tuberose, I'd have to say it reminded me more of Prada Infusion de Tubereuse than Robert Piguet Fracas. You know what else I get around the ten minute mark? Civet. And while others might turn away from those fertilizer like base notes, I shove my face further into my arm. If only that part lasted! After about an hour, the amber is stronger than anything else, taking up 70% of the space, with 29% remaining for the balance of tuberose and a meager 1% left for anything else. Also, I completely agree with Scentsibility about the packaging on this one. Yick. (I admit to liking the name, though.) 2 of 5 nods.

Friday: Parfumerie Generale L'eau de Circe - Notes: Damask rose, jasmine, osmanthus, orchid, ylang ylang, white peach leaves, tangerine, patchouli, wood, amber and honey balm Apples, strawberries, peaches and tangerines -- oh my! This is one super sweet fruit cocktail of an opening, sliding within minutes into a powdery presentation of the same. It's so light and sweet I keep thinking it must have been designed for little girls to wear during First Communion and while tossing flower petals at weddings. I know a lot of people love this one, but I just don't see it. It reminds me the disappointment I felt when they made that Nancy Drew movie a few years ago, and Nancy was this wide-eyed innocent, naively placing herself in danger, instead of the intelligent, bold, tough little cookie I loved in the original novels as a girl. Give it a whirl if light, sweet, and innocent floats your boat. If you're looking for Circean  seduction, look elsewhere. 2 of 5 nods.

Winner of the Week: I can't believe it -- Kenzo Flower emerges the winner.  I can tell you I did not expect that on Monday.  I think I'm going to have to pick up a small bottle next time I hit Sephora.

"You and me, we couldn't stand being normal
That's why we, make a good you and me
We both laugh, at the most random situations
That's the key, baby don't you agree?"
~ "You and Me," Plain White T's
FN1. While the whining can be grating sometimes, Lucille Ball was a physical comedy genius. Every woman who wants to be funny should watch at least ten episodes of "I Love Lucy." Tell your friends.

FN2. I love dirt/earth notes in scent. LOVE THEM. Probably the easiest way to sell me something is to "throw some dirt in there." That said, it's getting a little played out because it seems like "earthy" or "dirty" is the way to make a complex or 'alternative' model of something otherwise common, like they think they can put a bird on it (see video below) and it suddenly it becomes edgy.

Photos: mtoo, Pilar & Lucy website, and I Love Lucy. Video from IFC

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You got your demons. You got desires. Well, I got a few of my own.

Scent Spotlight: By Kilian Incense Oud

As I have mentioned before, I am new to the world of oud. The only one I’ve tried so far is L'Artisan Al Oudh. I welcome any and all oud challengers, because, frankly, new is also awesome for me when it comes to scents. So when I was offered the chance to review By Kilian’s scent, Incense Oud created by Sidonie Lancesseur I jumped at the opportunity. This 2011 contribution is the third contribution to Arabian Nights Collection, after Pure Oud and Rose Oud. I have not tried either of those, so you’ll have to take this review from the Oud-newb context from which it comes.
The notes are as follows:
Oud is an extremely rare and precious oil found in Agarwood, the resinous heartwood of the Aquilaria tree from southeast Asia. The oil itself is dark in coloration and has a complex scent, being warm and woody, yet strongly animalistic at the same time. In many Middle Eastern countries, Oud is believed to be worth more than its weight in gold. To echo this belief, the Kilian bottle has a gold plaque engraved with the name of the perfume and the box is decorated with a gold plaque on the top. 
Notes: Guatemala cardamom, pink pepper, Turkish rose, Egyptian geranium, methyl pamplemousse, Virginia cedarwood, Indonesian patchouli, Indian papyrus, Somalia incense (oil and absolute), sandalwood, Macedonian oakmoss, Spanish cistus labdanum, musks.
The rose is very apparent in this for me. In fact, it reminded me, in my mind’s eye, of Tauer Incense Rosé. So I threw them on together for a side by side. Incense Oud is more soft and sandalwood in comparison to the Tauer. Where Incense Rosé and Insense Oud diverge is around the twenty minute mark, at which point you’d hardly believed they began at a similar place when the ending is different enough to be the differing ends of Frost’s divergent road not taken.

 It’s a very gentle scent that lacks any of the medicinal qualities I get from Al Oudh. I get very little labdanum. I do get the musk, but only gently. The sandalwood/moss/cedarwood makes for a nice balanced scent. It is a soft touch scent, like cool smooth fabric against the skin. The rose seems to have disappeared by the fifteen minute mark, but that’s okay. I enjoy what I find in its wake.

Incense Oud would work well on a man or a woman. It has low to moderate sillage and good lasting power (4-6 hours on me).  I also think it is the rare incense scent that would work very nice in hot weather, so it makes for a great summer oud scent. A respectable 3.5 of 5 nods.

You can buy Incense Oud direct from the perfumer, at Luckyscent, or even Amazon, so if you want it, you can find it. Be forewarned, though: it's pricey.

"One of these nights,
one of these crazy old nights,
we're gonna find out, pretty mama,
What turns on your lights.
The full moon is calling.
The fever is high,
and the wicked wind whispers and moans...
I've been searching for the daughter of the devil himself.
I've been searching for an angel in white.
I've been waiting for a woman
who's a little of both,
and I can feel her
but she's nowhere in sight."

- "One of These Nights," The Eagles

Want more? Try...
~ a review from Perfume-Smellin' Things
~ a review from The Smell of Bliss
~ a review from Perfume Shrine
~ a review from Ca Fleure Bon
~ a review from The Scented Salamander
~ a review from scentsate

In the interest of full disclosure, By Kilian Incense Oud was provided to me by the perfumer for review.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Because the old black rum's got a hold on me...

Perfume Challenge Week 14: Monday, 3/4/11, to Friday, 4/8/11

Next weekend is the annual Hood River Blossom Fest.  I'm heading to Seattle for a friend's birthday for the weekend, so a friend and I drove out to look at the Hood River 'Fruit Loop.'   It's not quite in bloom yet, unfortunately, but it was a nice drive through the Gorge nonetheless.

Monday: L'Artisan The Pour Un Ete - notes: Jasmine Tea, Green Tea, hints of lemon and peppermint A bright burst of lemon immediately shifts to a peppermint with a jasmine edge. Compared to Jo Malone Fresh Mint Leaf, which is slightly sweeter, this mint is more mint bordering a garden of jasmine than mint candy. Would make a nice masculine. Nice but not for me. 3 of 5 nods.

Tuesday: Jo Malone Lime Basil & Mandarin - Reminiscent of the scent of limes carried on a Caribbean sea breeze, Lime Basil & Mandarin has become a modern classic for men and women. Fresh limes and zesty mandarins are undercut by peppery basil and aromatic white thyme in this alluring signature blend.

 Lime and basil is not a winning combination in my world. It's dry, it's bitter, it's not, well not good. It's like sour dry pencil shavings, and not in a good way. 1 of 5 nods.

Wednesday: Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb - notes: Sambac Jasmine, Centifolia Rose, Cattleya Orchid, Ballerina Freesia, Patchouli I'm already on record as *hating* Flowerbomb's entire advertising campaign. However, I had a sample, and decided to see if the scent was as bad as its advertising.

I really liked the opening, which was a combination of licorice and cotton candy. It was a dark, sweetly sexy scent. Unfortunately (or fortunately) this last all of ten minutes. Then it turned sour on me. *jen says she got "crème brûlée sitting next to a vase of flowers" and I wish I could say the same. Instead, I get a smell like cotton candy that's flavored to resemble canaloupe balls covered in white mold. That strong sour notes backs off eventually, but still lurks in the bottom, making it a loud, overly sweet unpleasant experience. I think I see some of the caramel that is supposed to be the scent's inspiration, but it smells curdled -- not burned, but actually spoiled somehow. Honestly, I'm relieved I don't like it; now I can sleep soundly knowing I never have to help the ad firm responsible for its marketing make any money. 1.5 of 5 nods.

Thursday: Olympic Orchids Bay Rum - Olympic Orchids does this amazing thing where some of the samples you receive are not part of the line. Because of that, I can't tell you what notes are in Bay Rum, or even if you'll ever be able to purchase it. I hope you will, because I really enjoyed it. Bay Rum is a deep, dark, musky scent, with elements of: warm rubber, damp basement, vanilla bean, powered cocoa, and a little clove. It's what I imagine you'd smell bouncing across the back roads of a Caribbean island in an open Jeep on an extremely hot day. It positively smolders on the skin, and would make a nice masculine or feminine. 3 of 5 nods.

Friday: Téo Cabanel Alahine - notes: Bergamot, ylang-ylang, jasmine, Moroccan rose, iris, cistus, patchouli, benjoin, vanilla, sandalwood, musk So here we go again, with a a spicy rose that reminds me of Tauer Perfumes Une rose chyprée. This is a lighter scent, textured and structural instead of luch and supple. If Une rose chyprée is brick and skin, then Alahine is the steel under the bricks, the bones beneath the skin. It's not cloves and oranges, it's musk and incense, but in a staid sort of way. There's something else there, too, something a little like chewing tobacco... I like Alahine, but I don't psychotically love it like everyone else seems to. Maybe if I hadn't met Une rose chyprée first. I recommend trying both to decide which one is right for you. 3 of 5 nods.

Winner of the Week: Téo Cabanel Alahine, L'Artisan The Pour Un Ete and Olympic Orchids Bay Rum are all fine selections, though for me Bay Rum is the winner for sheer originality.

"So I drank all of my money and I slept out in the rain.
Every day is different but the nights they're all the same.
You never see the sun on the old black rum
but I know I'm gonna do it again!"
 - "The Old Black Rum," Great Big Sea

Photos: Dana Joe and The Kitchn

Saturday, April 9, 2011

March Mix and Drawing Winner!

Congrats to *jen for winning the march drawing! 

Send your address to and you will soon be the proud owner of a handmade mix CD (because I still function like i'm in the 6th grade) and, more importantly, a sampler set Olympic Orchids Artisan Perfumes!

I'm headed out to Hood River to look at the apple, pear, and cherry blossoms on the fruit loop.  Hope you are all having as lovely a Spring day as we are!

"Trouble in mind, I'm blue
But I won't be blue always,
'Cause the sun's gonna shine
In my backdoor some day."
~ "Trouble in Mind," Nina Simone

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Monthly Spin: Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

The Monthly Spin is a newly recurring feature on Feminine Things wherein I talked about an album I'm loving and the perfumes I think go with it.

Okay, so this album is from 2009, but I only got it about four months ago. Sue me. Middle Cyclone took years to make, but was well worth the effort; it was nominated for two Grammys: Contemporary Folk Album and Best Recording Package, and is most famous for Case's creation of a piano orchestra in her Vermont barn, where she obtained as many free pianos as she could off Craig's list, eight of which were playable and are used on Middle Cyclone.

Everyone on the planet should go out and purchase it immediately. It is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time. It's soulful. It's rich. It's beautiful written. I've seen it described as "elemental" and I totally agree with that assessment.

The lyrics are moving and the music is that rolling rockabilly-esque that makes older rock music still so enjoyable. I don't want to suggest it is rockabilly and country fried rock. It's not. If you are thinking you're getting Social Distortion, The The's tribute to Hank Williams Hanky Panky, or the Old 97s, that's too much country for this. At the same time, I want to put it on the shelf next to those along side The Traveling Wilburys, Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins, the new Wanda Jackson album produced by Jack White The Party Ain't Over, Lucinda Williams, and Kristen Hersh. FN1

My favorite tracks are"People Got a Lot of Nerve," a cover of Sparks' "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," and "This Tornado Loves You." also, you may recognize "I'm an Animal"  from the second season of True Blood.

Recommended if you like: Any of the aforementioned bands, but also Patti Griffith, The Jayhawks, Wilco, the more rockabilly tunes from the White Stripes, Dar Williams' The Honesty Room, Joan Beaz.

While spinning, wear: Earthy or elemental scents, scents you can imagine ripping the roof off one house and leaving the next unscathed, pulling the very earth from the ground and wreaking utter havoc before leaving as though it was only your imagination. In other words, scents that speak to you of exquisite destruction. In my world, that would be things like Bond No. 9 Andy Warhol Silver Factory, CB I Hate Perfume Revelation, Jean Desprez Bala Versailles, Juliette Has a Gun Midnight Oud.

FN1 More on the Jackson/White album next month.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I'm only dreaming again and I will forever it seems...

 Perfume Challenge Week 13: Monday, 3/28/11, to Friday, 4/1/11

This week brings us another week of scents from Olympic Orchids Artisan Perfumes. I am loving this perfumer, and so happy that these lovely scents come from the PNW. So without further ado...

Forests of the PNW
Monday: Olympic Orchids Arizona - Experience a walk through the pine forests and clearings of the Arizona high country on a sun-warmed summer day. Notes of ponderosa pine, juniper, sagebrush and chaparral with just the slightest hint of high desert wildflowers. All natural.

Toward the masculine, this is dry, herbal. It smells a bit like organic fertilizer. It also has do I put this delicately...a something in it that smells like the musk of areas of intimate skin. It's a very sexy smell, but I just can't imagine wearing it myself. It actually makes me blush, honestly. I don't know what the perfumer did in Arizona that led to this scent, but I can't help but imagine thinking it was a night to remember. Seriously, blushing every time I sniff at it. If someone came at me wearing this, I'd assume I was in for a wild night. Okay, maybe I can imagine wearing it, but I'm not telling you about it. FN1. 4.5 of 5 nods for the artistry, but I still don't know if I'd actually want a bottle.

Tuesday: Olympic Orchids Carolina - A dreamy scent of the American South that takes you from a day spent among sun-warmed long leaf pines, grassy fields, magnolias, and kudzu flowers through a warm, humid night sweetened with the scent of honeysuckle and star jasmine, always with an undercurrent of tonka-rich tobacco curing in the wooden barns and historic red brick factories.

This one is also super fantastico in my book. I get warm pine needles, I get green tobacco leaves, I get a hint of magnolia petals, and somehow based on the combination of notes I get a bit of banana. Not real banana, but better -- banana bread scent, warm and sweet and delicious. I couldn't find my sample of Washington Tremlett Royals Heroes 1805, but I felt the urge to compare them, and that's a great recommendation in my book. If Arizona is pure sex, then Carolina is like coming home for the holidays. And since those piney woods are the same from the Carolinas to Texas, and banana bread is a staple there, it smells like home to me.

And now I really want a plane ticket. 5 of 5 nods.

Wednesday: Olympic Orchids Kingston Ferry - On a sunny morning when the fog is still hanging over the water, take a walk down to the ferry dock and breathe the sea air, the scents of madrone, rhododendron, heather, wildflowers, garden flowers, and cedar leaves from the land, the sea-weathered wood pilings of the dock, and the sun-dried driftwood and charred firewood from the beach. Tincture of Pacific Northwest seaweed contributes a subtle, green ocean fragrance.

Olympic Peninsula Lighthouse
And speaking of home, these next two are from one of my favorite parts of the country. This one is really hard to describe. It reminds me of the smell of old books or a library. I definitely think it smells like the woods described above -- docks, driftwood, firewood. And the harder to place aspects do, in fact, smell like drying oceanic plantlife at first. After twenty minutes it turns toward a more floral undertone, and the wood drops out as it becomes about the heather and rhododendron. Another twenty minutes and the woods come back, this time balancing with the florals. It's a lovely, grown-up scent. I imagine it being worn with heather grey dresses, low heels, pearls, and a loose chigon. Think summer afternoon wedding near the ocean, in place like this one. 3.5 of 5 nods.

Thursday: Olympic Orchids Olympic Rainforest - Explore the mysterious, lush, mist-shrouded rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, where everything is constantly green, every
surface dripping with water and covered with life in the cycle of growth, decay and rebirth. Cedar leaves, green sword ferns, rhododendron, forest mushrooms, wildflowers from the clearings, oakmoss, and Port Orford Cedar wood are all rising from the wet, leafy scent of the forest floor.

Definitely in the realm of "the man your man could smell like." I don't think it smells all that much like the Olympic rainforest and I spend as much time up there as possible, so I feel comfortable weighing in. It's a mossy green scent, medicinal and earthy. It's pretty, but not something I can personally imagine wearing. Well made and highly recommended to those who like earthly scents without a hint of the floral or the sweet. 3 of 5 nods.

Friday: Olympic Orchids A Midsummer Day's Dream - A scent inspired by the idea of a wild outdoor spirit taking a nap under a shady fruit-laden bush on a hot summer day. Notes of black currant, figs, and green fig leaves combine with an amber base to create a dreamy oriental-gourmand fragrance.

Fig love!
Wow, very unusual. When do you ever get a fruit scent that isn't sweet? All that green fig leaf and currant makes this tart and tangy and dry, like the stuff people rub on your chest. Later, though, it becomes a sweeter figgy scent. It's a deep, dark, rich fig, and I can only imagine it being deeper in warmer weather. If Hermes Un Jardin En Mediterranee is a fizzy figgy cocktail, then this is a spicy, highly concentrated fig pancake syrup. I love it. I will definitely buy it before the summer hits. 5 of 5 nods.

Winner of the Week: Carolina and A Midsummer Day's Dream are both big winners in my book, though all of the scents were great. It makes me even more excited that whomever wins the March drawing, which is open until April 7, 2011, is going to win the sampler pack from Olympic Orchids. All scents are reasonable priced and available under $60.00.

"I should have know.
Friends gave me warning.
You had a dream of your own.
Now our midsummer mornings are through. 
Follow your star; it will lead you somewhere. 
Love is not really so far if in dream I can come there to you."
~ "Midsummer Morning (Midsummer Night's Dream)," Joni Mitchell

FN1. I feel weirdly like Chandler Burr and all his TMI descriptions in The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Perfume, Marketing, and Feminist Aesthetics: Kate Walsh's Boyfriend


So many things to say. So few of them good.

Let’s start with my Boyfriend-related SA encounter. I dropped by my local Sephora for the sole purpose of trying Kate Walsh's Boyfriend. I asked the super attentive SA where it was, and she led me over to the display, which I’d manage to miss completely.

Grabbing the bottle and a scent strip, she turned to me while spraying. “People either love it or hate it,” she said wafting the strip and handing it to me. As I sprayed a little on me, she continued. “Personally, I don’t like it. But it’s mostly the story about it, you know?”

Store Display.
I nodded. I did know. The story is so well known, it is part of the formal marketing campaign for the scent:
 For Kate, that story involves a breakup five years ago, after which she realized how much she missed his scent. "So I went to a fragrance counter and bought a men's fragrance and went, 'Wait a minute, you don’t need a boyfriend to have a Boyfriend! Ding ding ding!' FN1.
The SA wrinkled her nose. “Yeah. It shouldn’t be called Boyfriend. It should be called Stalker.” And then we laughed. Mostly to keep from crying, I think. Which gets me to my biggest beef with Boyfriend.

Let’s look at the marketing language proffered by Sephora to attract buyers toward Boyfriend:
You don't need a boyfriend to have Boyfriend, the new fragrance created by "Private Practice" star Kate Walsh. Inspired by the longing felt for her boyfriend's warm scent, Boyfriend combines muguet, dark plum, myrrh, and night blooming jasmine to create a seductive floral fragrance. Topped off with amber and woody musk, this intoxicating scent includes all the notes that make your eyes roll—just like him.
Does Kate Walsh realize that she is, in fact, implying that you need a boyfriend – some kind of boyfriend? Because obviously you can’t break up with a guy because the relationship was bad and you didn’t really love each other and still be a whole person! You MUST have a man substitute. Like say, one of these. Also, I love how the ad copy downplays the “we just broke up” aspect of the story, which actually makes the ad copy worse. Because even when you have a boyfriend, you might need a temporary substitute for the rare seconds you are left to your tender, desperate, vulnerable feminine lonesome.

"The Boyfriend Kit"
And we MUST talk about the matching product kit and the fake message contained therein. There is a message from your fake, substitute, Boyfriend-scented, paramour-apparition that says: “See you tonight wear the red dress! <3 BF.” Because it isn’t bad enough that you either (a) have a boyfriend and must have some representation of him with you at all times or (b) don’t have a boyfriend but still cling to the shards of your last failed attempt at fairytale bliss to the point that you carry a bottle of scent around as a substitute. You also need fake love notes. That’s the level of self-esteem we’re aiming for here –  generically produced fake love notes, because a woman alone certainly cannot be fulfilled. In fact, she might as well be simply dead. And hey! They can bury her in the red dress her fake Boyfriend loved so much, right next to her dignity, pride, self-esteem, and personal achievements.

 And the names on the bottle and the bag. OMG, the bottle. All those dude names. Why? And they are so generic. (Not unlike the scent itself. More on that to follow.) And let’s just face it people – white. With the exception of Pablo, this is some primarily anglo name mess going on. Because our fake ideal Boyfriend isn’t just boring and average, he’s also white. FN2.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I have basically flipped out at what is more or less simply a failed marketing attempt. I’ll tell you why. Messages that a woman is not whole without a man are a societal disease, underpinning a violent epidemic. And I’m not speaking in hyperbole:
  • One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.FN3
  • While women are less likely than men to be victims of violent crimes overall, women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner. FN4
  • Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend each year to 4 million women who are physically abused by their husbands or live-in partners each year. FN4
  • The health-related costs of intimate partner violence exceed $5.8 billion each year. Of that amount, nearly $4.1 billion are for direct medical and mental health care services, and nearly $1.8 billion are for the indirect costs of lost productivity or wages. FN5
  • On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. FN6
That means that every day while I’m a work, a woman in America dies at the hands of someone who is or was her Boyfriend. Every night, while I’m sleeping, another woman dies at the hands of someone who is or was her Boyfriend. And while I’m going to Starbucks and watching television and having dinner and seeing my friends, another woman will die, thanks to her Boyfriend. She is probably dying right now, while I am writing this to you.

Boyfriend, the offensive bottle.
So I have a problem with messages that tell women they can’t make it without a man. They must have a boyfriend. They will be incomplete. They will not be whole. Because these same messages are the ones that help keep women in bad relationships, that discouraging them from leaving before the cycle of violence escalates, that makes us, as a society, blind to seeing her and helping her. Think of what we as a country could do with $5.8 billion if we didn’t need to spend it on heathcare for DV victims. Think of how much more these victims could do if they didn’t lose $1.8 billion annually in lost productivity and wages. For one, they might have the financial means to escape their abusers.

All of this makes me feel rageful toward this insipid fragrance, which I might add only smells like a light and generally unimpressive take of an Oriental of the Shalimar-flavoring. FN7.  The scent itself is sort of boring.  It's generally kind of sweet, meaning all I got from it was the vanilla and amber (which I normally like), but it had a weird smell underneath that was supposed to be wood, and on me came across like shoving your face into a bucket of used, scentless dryer sheets.  It was a static-y buzz that was supposed to be the masculine aspect, I think, but on me the scent came off as generic and cloying, and it lasted like that for about four hours.  It's not quite what I'd expect from, say, a Bath & Body Works scent (in the way that there seems to be no subtly or balance, but rather all sirens and air horns, in their creations) but it is only a step above that, which makes it a not-great scent with an incredibly unfortunate presentation. Additionally, it does not smell particularly ‘masculine,’ in the way that scents are generally directed toward male-identified people or female-identified people.

And that’s before I get to the fact the entire Boyfriend marketing scheme is incredibly heterosexist and ignores the fact that men have Boyfriends whose scent they might miss or that women might miss the scent of the women they date. But in Kate Walsh’s world, I guess this isn’t a problem, since you know, only women can shop on the women’s side of Sephora and only men can shop on the men’s side; consequently I guess if you miss your same-sex partner you can just, I don’t know, buy the scent they actually wore.

And that brings me to my last point: as both a person who aspires to a world unlimited by gender expression, and as a person who just spent about $100 buying a bunch of lovely cheap thrill type scents made and marketed for men, it offends me to think I can’t just go buy and wear whatever scent I love, for whatever reason. Will my credit card be rejected by the Sephora SA if I’m like, “I’m here to buy a bottle of Ralph Lauren Polo for myself, because I like it and it reminds me of my brother who is currently stationed in Iraq?” No. And if I buy a bottle of L'Artisan Timbuktu because it reminds me of my grandfather, who died in 1998, I don’t think the perfume police are going to show up and take my bottle away. Scents matter. Scent memory is an important part of how we experience the world. And when we love a scent for some deeply personal and emotional reason, a generic substitutional icon is not going to meet those needs.

At the end of the day, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Or, to put it another way, a woman, or anyone else for that matter, has as little need of Boyfriend as my kittens need of a lawn mower.

P.S. Memo to Kate Walsh – fire your publicist. FN8. FN9.

For other posts related to perfume, marketing, and gender, see:
~ Gender, Language, and Scent
~ Perfume Marketing and Feminist Aesthetics, Pt. 1: Perfume, Advertising, And the Male Gaze
~ Some More Thoughts on "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" and Advertising of Scents for 'Men'
~ Perfume Marketing and Feminist Aesthetics, Pt. 2: Sex/Erotica and the Male Gaze in Perfume Advertising
Perfume Marketing and Feminist Aesthetics, Pt. 3: The Exotic and how it relates to the Male Gaze and Majority View in Perfume Advertising
~ Advertising Critique: Prada Infusion d'Iris

FN1. From this article at BellaSugar.

FN2.The SA and I actually joked that perhaps this lost Boyfriend of Walsh's was gay, given the overall feminine presentation of the scent, and that perhaps Pablo was the man Boyfriend left her for, giving him bottle naming rights despite his potentially non-Anglo heritage.

FN3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000. The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, 1999.

FN4. Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, U.S. Department of Justice, March, 1998.

FN5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States, April 2003.

FN6. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.

FN7. This comparison is actually an insult to Shalimar.

FN8. I generally like you and think you are a talented actress. No one paid to protect your image should have let you do this to yourself.

FN9. P.S. I know you think this is all about women's empower, like "Yeah! We don't need you, men! We have this bottle of scent we bought with our own money to replace you." That is not, in fact, radical or empowering.  It says that there's still a hole that needs filling, which is the message that causes problems in the first place.  It's approximately as feminist as the concept of a momma grizzly.