Friday, December 29, 2006

Hey Man, Make Me Over

Today I am doing something I haven't done in a very long time: I'm going for a makeover at the Trish McEvoy counter at Nordstrom. The last time I had a makeover was at MAC just before my wedding five years ago. On Wednesday we were strolling through Nordstrom and I stopped at the Chanel counter to eye the shadow quads. An SE walked over and asked if she could help, and I found myself telling her I'm in a real rut makeup-wise, plus I'm at a loss because I changed my hair color and some things that worked before look terrible now. She suggested a makeover, and then she said she worked not for Chanel but for Trish McEvoy.

I've never tried or worn anything from this line, so it should be interesting. I know the Even Skin foundation is a regular on many "Best of" lists in magazines...I can't wait to see what happens. Most makeovers don't go well for me (think purple eyeshadow, bright coral lips, and an accordion playing "Send in the Clowns" somewhere in the background), but the girl's makeup looked good (I keep saying "girl" because she can't be a day over 24) so I'm going to try trust.

*photo from Nordstrom

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006: Fragrance Year-in-Review...or Half-Year, Anyway

I've been keeping lists of my favorites ever since I started sampling back in April of this year. I've even posted some of them here, or posted some as responses on other perfume blogs. Every time I make a list it changes, but still, I feel confident about this one. In the last few weeks I revisited some of the fragrances that were early loves, and some that weren't. My, how quickly tastes change. I would like to say my nose is more discerning and my taste more sophisticated because of it, but let's face it: it could just be the weather.

Here are my Top Ten, selected from fragrances I've sampled this year. Rather than write new blurbs, I've quoted my original posts out of sheer laziness. Drum roll, please:

1. Guerlain Vol de Nuit: "This pungent powder, soft and alluring, is even better than I remembered. The opening is a soft, grassy citrus with just a hint of sharpness, but it moves quickly into the middle notes, which temper the green and start the descent into a soft heady powder with a twist of something--I suppose I should say animalic, but seriously, what I think is sex. This scent is alluring and sensual, but also comforting. I don't think, in my brief sampling time, that I've ever smelled jasmine this way, so evenly present among a deep spice that quiets into powdery notes that make you feel as though you'd been lifted into the clouds." No surprise here, except to tell you I am now the very lucky owner of the Parfum. I still don't believe it.

2. Frederic Malle Iris Poudre: "It's proud and comforting at the same time, both soft and strong, yet not aggressive, like a mother lion with her cubs. She's tender and caring, but still, you know her power. Through the blend of six simple notes, Iris Poudre manages to reach that exquisite grace that takes other perfumes tens of notes to achieve." No surprise here, either. In my limited sampling experience, the second-most exceptional perfume, and given my mood, sometimes even the first.

3. Rochas Femme: "The bergamot and lemon dominate the top on my skin, while the soft bitterness of apricot compliments the leather accord that reigns through the full cycle. In the middle I don't get much of the floral notes; the jasmine is lost on me, and the rose appears later on, but the ylang-ylang and clove warm and spice the heart. The dry down is beautiful, a soft woody leather, supple and aged. I suppose I could best explain it this way: imagine a piece of the finest leather, and on it someone has sprayed the most exquisite perfume. That is Femme." This one definitely snuck up on me. This perfume is the reason I know my taste (or sense of smell, or both) has developed over the last seven months.

4. Ormonde Jayne Frangipani: "I’m at my desk, and I can smell the cedar. (Mind you, I have not even looked the notes up at this point! But I can smell it!) And I wonder, where is that coming from? I kept getting whiffs of it every now and again, the softest incense. And lo and behold, when I looked up the notes, there it was: cedar, tempered with this lovely vanilla and amber. I usually find vanilla overpowering, but this is so soft, it’s truly lovely." Oh my, the words of a perfume amateur! I'm wearing this right now. I think all the sampling has only made me love it more.

5. Santa Maria Novella Citta di Kyoto: "Citta di Kyoto smells nothing like any of the scents I listed here, but it shares the same spirit. It's more ethereal, a brighter floral at the top that seems deceptively sweet. The fruit and cinnamon of this scent warm its heart perfectly. You'll find heart notes listed for any number of fragrances, but in this case it seems so true. Think of a package, wrapped in beautiful paper, a paisley of dark orange, pale green, and white. Tear away the paper and find a box, a dark, polished wood box, hand-crafted with clean, simple lines. Open the box and find there nested in brown velvet a heavy, handblown piece of glass fruit. Set it in a window, watch the light shine through and change through the day, shifting somehow from amber, to blood-red purple." Move over Chinatown. This is everything an oriental fragrance should be and then some.

6. Serge Lutens Miel de Bois and Fleurs d'Oranger.
Miel de Bois: "I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. How on earth could anyone say this stinks? Why do people hate this? Why do people think the dry down is the best? How could people like any one part of this experience better than another when it’s all so amazingly wonderful?"
Fleurs d'Oranger: "This citrus is not sharp or acidic, but fresh and softened by the most delicate tuberose. No bludgeoning here. If this isn’t a typical citrus fragrance (sometimes with citrus scents I feel as though someone’s sprayed the actual juice directly in my face before the other notes move in and take over), it isn’t a typical white floral either. The neroli and the rose keep the tuberose and jasmine from turning creamy, preserving the quality of a fresh cut bloom."
These two scents couldn't be more different, but I love them both equally. It was also hard not to squeeze in Daim Blond. A funny note about my post on Fleurs d'Oranger: it has a list of my current favorites!

7. Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Therese: "This scent opens with tangerine and melon at the top, with carnal rose and plum in the heart, and cedar, vetiver, and leather in the base. The tangerine overpowers the melon note for me (which is not a problem), and the leather is prominent and lovely from the open. The vetiver is not sharp but rather herbal in feel, a little watery and salty beneath the tangerine. The leather tempers it and keeps away the celery note so many people dread. It takes a while (about an hour) for the rose and plum to emerge for me, and along with them the cedar. The plum is not juicy or dark, but instead serves to sweeten and warm the rose and cedar just enough to make them more prominent. But make no mistake about it, this is a leather scent: soft yet supple leather, refined and lovely." Elegant, understated, and would be at the number 2 spot easily if it weren't for Iris Poudre.

8. Balmain Jolie Madame: "It's foody and woodsy at the same time, with a depth that almost enables you to smell roots and dirt. In a typical white floral, the entrance of jasmine and tuberose in the middle notes would produce a scent that people often find headache-inducing (as in: my worst enemy is pounding on my head with a large mallet). The jonquil and orris, however, keep it dirty and earthy, so these white flowers smell as though they'd been buried in deep earth for days." Come on: white flowers and leather. This is a very recent favorite, but I feel quite confident in saying its spot in the Top Ten shall always remain.

9. L'Artisan Orchidee Blanche: "And to go straight for a beautiful honey scent, all you have to do is reach for Orchidée Blanche. A blend of magnolia, iris powder, and honey, Orchidée Blanche is floral, understated, elegant, and sexy. It’s the finest down comforter and silk sheets, luxurious and soft." This is such a soft, alluring scent. Don't let them discontinue it!

10. Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose: "The vanilla still let out slightly liquory (liquor-like? liquorish?) fumes, but the rose note was more detectable to my nose than it had been for the first few hours. This is no fresh pastel bouquet in a silver vase; it's a florist's box full of thorny blood-red blossoms tossed carelessly atop the chaise longue by someone so used to being admired, she's started to take it for granted. The scent settled into this pattern for the rest of the day. I never detected even the slightest hint of vetiver. A scent could not be less sharp or green or earthy than this one. Lipstick Rose is the scent of elegant artifice, a glamorous mask that feigns indifference while underneath, it endlessly yearns to be noticed." As much as I love rose, this is the only real rose fragrance to make the list. Nothing else compares to this one.

Others I love that didn't make the Top Ten because I was trying to limit myself and I'm sure I'll regret not including:
1. Mona di Orio Nuit Noire
2. Guerlain Parure
3. Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque
4. Frederic Malle Carnal Flower
5. Delrae Bois de Paradis
6. Serge Lutens Daim Blond and Mandarine Mandarin
7. Anne Pliska
8. Parfums d'Empire Ambre Russe
9. Ormonde Jayne Champaca
10. L'Artisan Dzongkha

"Popular" fragrances I love or want:
1. Narciso Rodriguez For Her EDT (Want)
2. Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely Liquid Satin (Own)
3. Clinique Happy Heart (Own)
4. Benefit Maybe Baby (Own)
5. Hanae Mori Butterfly (Want)
6. Hilary Duff With Love (Want...I know, I know...I want a small bottle. I'm sorry, but the drydown on this is pretty. It just is.)
7. Prescriptives Calyx (Own)
8. Chanel Coco (Want, especially the parfum, which I have never tried. I used to wear this all the time, back in the day.)

My favorite perfumer over-all (so far): Frederic Malle

My fondest wish: That all of you, Dear Readers, have a safe and happy New Year and a wonderful 2007!

What are your favorite things, fragrance or otherwise, from this year?

*see original posts for photo credits

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Balmain Jolie Madame

This fragrance sampling came about in an interesting way. To start at the beginning, I have seen people on MUA (where I lurk occasionally) say wonderful things about Balmain in general Jolie Madame in particular, so I wrote down the name. Yesterday on my lunch break I was at TJ Maxx when I happened to spot bottles of said fragrance near the line for the registers. They were $9.99. I thought it might be the same fragrance I'd written down, but then I told myself that it was either A) a different fragrance and memory was failing me, or B) the same fragrance but a different concentration (it was EDT, and perhaps only the parfum is spectacular), or C) some hideous knock-off and I'd really be a sucker of I bought it. The box looked genuine enough, and the label said "Made in France," and aw heck, I'm one of those geeky Americans who fall all over anything that says "France" on it. Even so, I left it on the shelf.

The strange twist of fate occurred when I got home last night. Angela, who writes those wonderful reviews on Now Smell This, was sweet enough to send me a package of goodies, including (the most important of all) the Vol de Nuit parfum for me to sample. (Why am I writing about Jolie Madame, then, you might ask...well, my wedding anniversary is on Friday, and that seems like the occasion for Vol de Nuit parfum, although truthfully I've sampled it already and Oh. My. God.) And lo and behold, inside the package was a vial of Balmain Jolie Madame EDT.

After finding various and sundry notes for Jolie Madame out there on some of the perfume sites that carry it, I finally went to osMoz and let them be the experts:
Top: artemesia, gardenia, neroli, coriander
Heart: jasmine, jonquil, orris, tuberose
Base: patchouli, castoreum, vetiver, civet

Couple of things here: castoreum was originally harvested from beaver. Right! That's what I said! But today it's synthetically produced to replicate a leather note, among others, in perfume. Second, artemesia (or artemisia) consists of a family of plants more commonly known as sage plants, or different types of species thereof. Now, think about this: you have the ingredients here for a pretty basic white floral--gardenia, jasmine, tuberose. You have the lovely sparkling orange blossom element (I love this in Fracas) in neroli. Even with a little vetiver and patchouli, we're on our way to a relatively standard white floral fragrance (as if I know, right?).

But consider: the artemisia at the top gives it an herbal quality. It's foody and woodsy at the same time, with a depth that almost enables you to smell roots and dirt. In a typical white floral, the entrance of jasmine and tuberose in the middle notes would produce a scent that people often find headache-inducing (as in: my worst enemy is pounding on my head with a large mallet). The jonquil and orris, however, keep it dirty and earthy, so these white flowers smell as though they'd been buried in deep earth for days.

Most remarkable, though, are the base notes: leather and a bunch of dirty white flowers! Patchouli adds a little stankiness (yes, you read that right--I may see about a trademark), and vetiver adds a bit of sharp freshness, like an open window.

You all know how much I love Sex and the City. Did you see the one where they go to Atlantic City on Charlotte's birthday, and she's standing in her hotel room, looking in the mirror at herself in her flowery robe and shower cap, eyeing the Old Maid card game that Miranda gave her as a joke, when she gets that look in her eye? Cut to a scene of Charlotte got up like Beyonce at the MTV Music Awards, in a dress she bought at the gift shop the hotel lobby. I like to think before Charlotte sashayed down and bought her hot pink-and-gold hoochie mama outfit, she spritzed on a bit of Jolie Madame. For do not be fooled by the skank. She may be dirty, but she's a lady nonetheless.

And by the way, I am now the proud owner of a $9.99 bottle of Jolie Madame EDT.

*photo from FragranceDirect

Monday, December 18, 2006

Stella McCartney Stella

I was at the mall this weekend, trying to finish my shopping, when I spotted this cute little roll-on of the Stella Eau de Parfum. I had never sniffed Stella, but like a dark chocolate lover who occasionally swipes Hershey's Kisses out of the jar on her officemate's desk just to get a fix, I grabbed that little bottle and tossed it in my basket. Tiny perfume! How can one resist?

Stella Eau de Parfum has notes of rose, peony, mandarin, rose absolute, and amber. If one were to make a juice of flowers, this is how I think it might smell: rosy, with a spicy fruit underneath, just a little bit of rind, peony for pink sweetness, and amber to lend a little depth. I love rose and amber both, and while this scent has an amazing hit of rose at the top, it's knocked off its majestic throne and turned into a friendlier flower. It's less a stately prize-winning flower than a bloom on a rambling vine. As for amber, it's sweet and sensual, like a pink cotton nighty, as opposed to the deep resinous amber I tend to enjoy.

I know Stella McCartney is the Stella, but I can't get Marlon Brando yelling "Stella!" in A Streetcar Named Desire out of my head. Stella is a very pretty, wearable scent, and I'm not at all disappointed with the purchase ($10 for .33oz at Sephora), but I wish this scent was something more like that scene, a bit more raw and deep. As it is, this Stella might be more like one of the prim neighborhood wives who gossip later over the backyard fence about the neighbors and their crazy ways.

*photo from Sephora

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guerlain Parure

I know you're probably thinking that I fell off the sample wagon and have been wearing nothing but Iris Poudre since my last post. But it's not true! I have been sampling some other perfumes, both new and old, some of which I'll talk about in the coming weeks, including Carnal Flower (that one warrants a second post), Weil Zibelene, and Guerlain Chamade.

But today I'd like to focus on what is currently my second-favorite Guerlain, Parure. The notes in Parure are:
Top: bergamot
Heart: plum, lilac, rose, jasmine
Base: woods, oak moss, spices

The Guerlain site says Jean-Paul Guerlain created Parure, a "necklace of luxurious scents," for a woman who loved jewelry. If Parure were a jewel I think it might be a ruby, because that's the birth stone for July, and Parure has a beautiful radiance that reminds me of a gorgeous summer day. Or it may possibly be a yellow diamond, lit up like the sun. Parure also makes me think of sunny California in a bygone era like the 1940s or 1950s, the light reflecting off the hills and the glamour that was Hollywood in those decades. Nothing like the watered down pink fruit juice that typically represents it today.

The opening is a golden bergamot, shot through with sweet ripe fruit. The sweetness softens with the entry of the floral notes, as the fruit disappears. The woods and spices in the base intensify the sweetness slightly, giving it a soft incense quality with vanilla undertones. For people who dislike the sharper edge of some chypres, I think Parure is one they would find easy to wear.

*photo from Guerlain

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Frederic Malle Iris Poudre

The time has arrived. You all know how much I love Vol de Nuit, but I'm living off a decant, so I have to mix it in with other things. These other things are supposed to be samples, samples I should write about on this blog, but lately, if I'm not wearing Vol de Nuit (or, actually, Rochas Femme), then I'm wearing Iris Poudre. (And I must say here how lucky I am, for a dear and generous friend to this blog was so very kind as to send me a recharge bottle of Iris Poudre. Hugs to you, Chaya!)

Iris Poudre has notes of iris, tonka bean, musk, vanilla, sandalwood, and vetiver. For me, it feels almost impossible to talk about Iris Poudre in terms of individual notes. It seems to come out of the bottle whole, as exactly what it is. Putting it on is like walking into a cloud of scent that already exists in its perfect state.

"And that is?" you ask. I find myself at a loss for words, but I'll try. Editions de Parfum says it's a "grand floral aldehydic." When I think aldehydes I typically think Chanel, as the particularly aggressive form aldehydes take in Chanel perfumes is an identifying mark. I don't mean aggressive in a negative sense. It's simply another mark of a perfume's character that might also be elegant, pretty, floral, woody, earthy, or what have you. The vetiver heightens the true floral quality of iris here, bringing to it the refreshing quality bergamot and orange blossom often bring to other perfumes. But iris is decidedly not orange blossom; even in this "floral" state, it's the height of sophistication. The remaining notes provide the softness, rounding out the bright floral with a cozy effect. It's proud and comforting at the same time, both soft and strong, yet not aggressive, like a mother lion with her cubs. She's tender and caring, but still, you know her power.

Through the blend of six simple notes, Iris Poudre manages to reach that exquisite grace that takes other perfumes tens of notes to achieve. In preparing for a grand event, have you ever decided to buy a new dress and have your hair and makeup done? When you're finally prepared, you look in the mirror, stunned and slightly pleased at how you've turned out. You arrive at the event, feeling confident until you look across the room and see her: perfectly simple dress, perfectly simple makeup, hair pulled back into an elegant chignon. Instantly you know it took her no more than an hour to prepare, while you went through an obstacle course of beauty most triatheletes couldn't survive. She is Iris Poudre.

*photo from

Monday, December 04, 2006

Parfum d'Empire Ambre Russe

Although I'm not Catholic, I did go to Catholic school for part of junior high and all of high school. When I went to church as a child with my family, it was always to a Catholic church (where you could see Father Terry's bell-bottom jeans underneath his was the 70s). As an adult, I didn't stray far, choosing to join the Episcopal church; I went "Catholic lite": fewer sacraments, more fun! Frankly, I don't go to church at all anymore, but if an occasion calls for me to do so, I still prefer a good Mass to anything else.

It's funny to watch someone who's never been to mass before struggle to determine when to sit, kneel, or stand, or when to respond to the priest. To me it's such a necessary part of going to the thing called church. Keep your rock-and-roll arenas with your giant screen televisions and your wall-to-wall indoor/outdoor carpeting and your little cups of grape juice; give me stained glass and candles and real wine and incense. Ah, incense! Why shouldn't all senses be involved in religious experience? Who wants to attend a church that smells like Glade Plug-Ins?

Parfum d'Empire Ambre Russe, with notes of cinnamon, coriander, samovar tea, Orthodox church incense, amber, and leather, makes me think of the richness of experience involved in a Mass, with all its rituals and incantations (yes, yes, it says "Orthodox" incense, and the Western Catholic church and the Orthodix church are quite different). It's warm and golden, it's sun streaming through the multi-colored representations of the stations of the cross, it's a marble altar, it's candles burning for friends and families, for their hopes and dreams, for their sadness and despair.

Such warmth and depth reminds me again why scent matters. The fact that smell can trigger a memory that a dozen photographs could not recall speaks to the importance of scent in our daily lives. If you are like me, you read descriptions and reviews of perfumes and don't think simply of how something smells, but rather, what the experience would be to smell it. How could a perfume transform your life? Don't laugh...I believe for many people, it has the power to do so, perhaps not always on a conscious level, but all the same.

Ahem. Sorry for the sermon. Ambre Russe is one of the prettiest amber scents I've tried. It's rather pungent, heavier on the coriander and tea than the cinnamon. The spice has an earthy depth to it, and the leather is subtle. If you like amber fragrances--I guess you can tell I do--this one's a must-have.

*photo from Aedes

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fun Retrospective has a fun retrospective on famous perfumes...Enjoy!