Monday, July 30, 2007

Today Is the Day!

Today I am 38...but inside I'm still mostly somewhere around 27, only wiser, happier, more confident. I can't kvetch much about getting older because I was a miserable young person. I'm much better at this age. Of course, that's doesn't necessarily mean I want to get older. I'll just stay here, thanks!

Thank you all for helping me choose a birthday perfume! I've ordered it, but I won't tell you what it is until I have it in my hot little hands! Have a wonderful day, everyone!

*image from

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fall Looks

It's been a good long while since I did a beauty post. I have a little birthday cash in my pocket, and Neiman Marcus has obliged by posting (in July, no less) the Fall Looks. The choices this year are rather odd, if I do say so myself. The only ones I feel drawn to are Becca (L) (although I own no products in this line) and Chantecaille (R) (the colors are pretty and I love this brand, but I don't like the model...she looks like a robot, or a mannequin! But then, the Becca model looks a bit like a blow-up doll...oh, let's not go there).

As for the other looks, we've got Porn Star (Dior):

Robert Palmer Video Girl (YSL):

Corpse Bride (Jemma Kidd):

Bad Late 80s Hair Book Model (Shu Umera):

The looks by Awake, Laura Mercier, and Trish You-Have-To-Buy-The-Damn-Planner McEvoy are pretty, but nothing to write home about. And of course, there's the obligatory Bobbi Been-There-Done-That Brown. Is anyone else tired of her already? Her products are good quality, but YAWN.

I'm uninspired. I may just leave my cash in my pocket.

*photos from Neiman Marcus

Reader's Journal: I Capture the Castle

For years, I was what you might call an Ambitious Beach Reader. I say "for years," but really there were only two--two summers, to be exact--where Bob and I visited the Gulf shores of Florida with any regularity. On our way to locate our spot for the day, we'd pass by veteran beach-goers thumbing through their sensible stacks of tacky tabloids, their disposable Dean Koontz, or the latest Jackie Collins. People who've vacationed at the beach every year since they were children know better than to take along anything else. For one thing, your book is bound to get wet, torn, or crumpled, no matter how careful you might be. For another thing, the point of the beach is to enjoy the waves, sand, and sun--not to act as though you're sitting in a library carrel.

For my irregular, short-lived, beach-reading habits, I blame both myself and Ann Patchett. I blame myself because I tend to be a book snob, with no good reason. Really, with no good rhyme or reason, is more like it. A lot of the time, I simply won't read a book because it's popular. If millions of people are reading it, how good can it be? Likewise, I won't read books because they are cool and very few people read them (title for possible doctoral thesis: "Pynchon: What's the Point?"). I blame Ann Patchett because right around the time we started our beach habit, I read Bel Canto. After I read Bel Canto, I had to read everything Ann Patchett had ever written, along with every author interview I could find. I remember that in one interview in particular, she called out three books that influenced her: Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, and Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain.

(What about I Capture the Castle?, you're wondering. I'm getting there. Noticed I changed the title of this "series" from "Book Review Saturday," which was stuffy and misleading, to "Reader's Journal," which means that in addition to hearing about the book, you have to hear about me...but not too much, I promise. Just me and books.)

Being even more random and impulsive in my book-buying habits than I am in my perfume-buying habits, I set out the day before one of our beach trips to buy The Big Sleep, which seemed the most logical choice for beach reading, but it was nowhere to be found in local bookstores, and I didn't have time to order it online. I already owned Pale Fire (I'd half-read half of it for a class once), and copies of The Magic Mountain were readily available, so I bought one and off I went. (Mann also wrote Death in Venice, which always makes me think of Annie Hall: "You were always buying me books with the word 'death' in the title.")

Okay, okay, long story short: I toted each of these to the beach through two summers and never finished either of them. Pale Fire was actually not a bad beach read until I got to the part that's all notes. I tore the cover and the pages got bent in the beach bag, and the bookmark is where I left it three years ago. The Magic Mountain? Really, what better beach-read is there than a 700-page tome in tiny print about a group of people in a sanatorium at the turn of the nineteenth century? (I should mention here that sunscreen smudges ink rather easily.) Why I remained so stubborn about reading those books at the beach, I'll never know. I should've tried harder to get my hands on a copy of The Big Sleep, or else just taken along a drool cup, as most of the time we were there I just sat, open-mouthed and half-asleep, staring at the white sand and crystal waters.

All of this explanation so I can tell you: If I were going to the beach this summer, I Capture the Castle would have been a wonderful book to take along, for several reasons: First of all, this book is just the right mix of unknown and literary without being too high-brow or too cool, but it's also wonderfully fun; and second of all, this book would be wonderful to read anywhere--the beach, by a fire, on a car trip, at the office. Okay, maybe not at the office. Maybe just at lunch.

My mother sent her copy to me, and I've since sent it back and bought my own so I can read it again. I could have read her copy a second time, but it's the kind of book that when you read it, you know you should return it immediately to its rightful owner so that she can read it again as well, because once she knows you've read it and loved it, she'll have to.

I Capture the Castle tells the story of Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in part of a decrepit castle with her family and...this is the part I hate: the plot summary. It never does a book justice, especially one you love. Written in the first person, the book contains the journals of Cassandra Mortmain, an aspiring writer, who tells the story of how her family changes over the course of one remarkable summer. Coming-of-age-story blah blah blah. The most enchanting thing of all is Cassandra's voice--she simply seems so real to me that I kept forgetting I was not reading an actual memoir or journal. I was engaged by this book the same way I was engaged by A Girl Named Zippy, by a voice so unique and true that she could tell the story of the ages and it would be fascinating not because of the story but because of the telling. Cassandra's family is poor and somewhat eccentric. (Her father is a Joycean-style novelist who wrote one critically acclaimed book and has now stopped writing; her stepmother is a former artist's model who speaks in dramatic baritones and regularly stalks the countryside wearing nothing but Wellies. I kept alternately casting Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton in this role, even though a movie's already been made. I haven't seen it, probably won't.) Their lives change when the landlords who own the castle return from America to their estate nearby. Dodie Smith (best known for 101 can you not love the writer who created Cruella De Ville?) published this novel in 1946, just after the war. Although the story itself takes place in the 1930s (an era for which I have a weakness), I can't help but wonder at the parallel between the Americans entering the war, and Simon and Neil coming to Scoatney from America and forever changing the Mortmains' lives; probably there's not one, but it's interesting to consider.

Anyway, I'm not doing it justice. Just read it, if you get the chance. You will be drawn into Cassandra's view of the world, and what a charming and often funny view it is! The movie release a few years back put the book into circulation again. I found a copy at my local bookstore, but they still don't have The Big Sleep.

*image from Wikipedia

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Perfume Myth

Many of you were suspiciously quiet after my Demi Jour post, wherein I asked you, dear readers, to cop to an old perfume love that either disappointed you or reawakened your perfume interest. I’m guessing one of two things has occurred: Either you were so aghast that I actually ever wore Demi Jour by Houbigant (and admitted it right here on a perfume blog!) that you decided you could no longer be one of my readers, or you are terribly afraid to share. You fear exposure. You have a secret past with Liz Claiborne (you had that triangle shaped bottle in red, blue, and yellow!), and you still love it. But you’ll never, ever tell a soul. We all know that as perfume lovers, we’re snobs—to varying degrees, of course, but still snobs. But we didn’t all start out that way. No. But dare we admit it?

I liken this to the same effect that writing classes have on aspiring writers. At some point during the semester (or the writing program, if she’s hard core), the writer realizes she needs an Identity. This is what I call The Writing Myth: She’s been writing since she was three; she read Kafka at seven, Carver at twelve (the year after she left rehab, having faced a steadily worsening problem with the bottle since age nine), all of Sexton the year she turned thirteen; she started sending stories to The New Yorker at fifteen; she translated Borges at seventeen; she’s given up fiction now and she’s working on a screenplay, written in verse…You get the picture. No writer wants to create her myth based on the following dreadful reality: She started reading at five (beginning with the Berenstein Bears œuvre), dutifully studied all the Cliff Notes for every book assigned through junior high and high school, never wrote a word until she got into a writing class because she still needed three credit hours to graduate and the only other choice was something in linguistics, read and secretly enjoyed Nancy Drew way past an acceptable age, and would tell the world that Rona Jaffe and Susan Isaacs were her favorite writers up to the point she said so in writing class and was mocked relentlessly by everyone, including the professor. (Nope. Neither one is me. I took my first writing class because one of my best friends told me I was a writer, and I was dumb enough to believe her. Before that, it was me, the French, and the Russians.)

The Perfume Myth takes hold soon after one falls in with other perfume lovers and is subtly chided for having announced that something like Babe was her first “real” perfume. And so she sets out to create her Identity. It goes something like this: Before birth, she was held inside an amniotic sac full of not…uh, “water,” but Mistuoko. Her mother, grandmother, and various other female relatives all wore Chanel No. 43 (Unbelievably rare! Even Coco didn't know the formula--or who created it!), or Dior Madame (Dior wore it himself, when he was got up secretly in his own New Look), or Patou 17 (only 17 bottles were made). Her first real perfume (at fifteen) was 24 Faubourg, given to her by an older French suitor, a friend of the family. At twenty-one she went to Paris and bought everything Serge Lutens had to offer…her means for this purchase—shady. Over the years, she’s fallen for and then dismissed bergamot, neroli, saffron, oakmoss, leather, iris, violet, geranium, jasmine, amber, lavender, and civet…oh really, the list is so long! She’s consistently bored and disappointed by new releases.

And the reality? Well, for some people (some who are very dear), a life close to the myth might be the truth. But for most of the women I know (and I’m extrapolating here), reality went something like this: At four, she ate part of a solid perfume for children from Avon, given to her by a family friend (from Paris, Texas, not Paris, France). At six, she begged for her first “real” bottle of perfume, which was also from Avon and had the main attraction of a bottle in the shape of a wiener dog. From the age of seven, she routinely dug through her mother’s purse and stole any perfume samples she could find and applied them all at the same time. (At least she was showing an interest!) At age twelve, she received a bottle of Bluegrass, which she unknowingly over-applied on a daily basis. At thirteen, she had a stint with over-applying any of the following: Love's Baby Soft, Babe, Le Jardin, Exclamation!, any of the Jovan musks, Bonne Bell Skin Musk, Wind Song, or certain imposter “designer” fragrances. At fourteen, she started bathing herself in her mother’s Giorgio. At sixteen, she bathed in Obsession. At twenty, she bathed in Christian Dior’s Poison (or YSL Opium, depending on chemistry, because by now she’d discovered that not everything worked for her “chemistry”). She stopped wearing perfume altogether for a while after the cute boy she sat next to every day in psychology class made a remark about the her constant cloud of perfume. And at some point, wandering through the maze of department store cosmetic counters one day, lonely and bereft of scent, she discovered Chanel No. 22. And that was the real beginning. (Nope, still not me...except for the over-applying, maybe. Gulp. And we know where my story begins--with this blog!)

Happy Friday, Everyone!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer Scents, Part 2

La Maison de Vanille Vanahé
At their worst, vanilla fragrances are downright dull. At their best, they're comforting and sensual. Sadly, most vanillas fall into the former category. They are timid little scents that simply make you smell as though you'd rubbed a vanilla candle against your wrists in lieu of perfume. But occasionally you can find a vanilla scent that's provocative. For me, Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum and Lea Extreme fit that bill, and I'm pleased to say Vanahé does as well.

The notes in Vanahé are lily, orchid, bergamot, blackcurrant, wild strawberry, grapefruit, orange, lemon, and vanilla. The people at Calypso St. Barth (who, strangely enough, make Lea Extreme in addition to the toothache-in-a-bottle known as Lily) could take a page or two from La Maison de Vanille on how to keep a fragrance laden with fruit notes from turning into liquid Fruity Pebbles. Vanahé is a full-bodied vanilla, rounded with ripe fruit and softened by floral notes. It has a bourbon-like quality to it that keeps it rather adult and sensual, and actually lends a buttery quality that keeps it from being cloying. I know this description is rather foodie, but Vanahé is not a foodie scent, not even gourmand. Although the scents themselves are nothing alike, its presence—or maybe I should say its weight?--reminds me of Poison. As an EDP, it also has tremendous lasting power. If you like vanilla fragrances, do try this one.

Creative Scentualization Peace Comes From Within
The notes in Peace Comes From Within are bergamot, oceanic musk, and sandalwood. In the vial and on the wrist, the bergamot top note is warm and sunny, like a morning at the beach with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. This lasts for twenty or thirty minutes, and then you get a load of the oceanic musk. Let me pause for a second to say that I'm not opposed to a little ozone in a fragrance, a little salt air to make me imagine rubbing my toes in the sand. I think that must have been where I made the mistake when ordering this sample—oceanic musk and ozone are two completely different things. Oh yes. Ozone is a bit wet and briny, but in a breezy, healthy way. Oceanic musk has clearly been collected from the glands of some animal—whales, perhaps, dying on the beach—and added to this scent. Okay, it's not really that bad, but is the effect supposed to be animalic? On me, it comes off a bit funky, like something in the fridge that's just starting to turn. Notes like this in a perfume make me crazy because, seriously, I have no idea what “oceanic musk” is supposed to be. “Leather suitcase,” I get. “Oceanic musk”--could be anything! Maybe I'm more advanced than I thought. Peace may come from within, but something smells off from without. Clearly, this one does not mix with my personal chemistry, because even sandalwood could not redeem it on my wrists.

CB I Hate Perfume Just Breathe
The second CB I Hate Perfume scent I ordered a sample of was this one. Clearly. How clever of me to point that out. The notes in Just Breathe (Can I pause for sec here? Because I don't like the name. It reminds me of that annoying pop-country song that was out several years ago.) are “bamboo leaves, Japanese green tea, three varieties of cedarwood, forest and just the merest hint of incense.” This is light, green, clean, and a bit watery, like the forest after rain. To be very honest, it smells a bit like air freshener, but very well done air freshener. It's calming and wonderful against the heat, but that tea has some honey. I find this a bit sweet at the top, but it softens nicely to a green, woody incense on my skin. Like Wild Pansy, it has terrific lasting power. I like it, but I like Wild Pansy better--it's more crisp and refreshing, where this one is calming, contemplative. The good news is (for me, at least) that I'm enthusiastic now about trying some of his more esoteric scents. I no longer feel afraid.

*photos from Luckyscent

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Blast from the Past

While I was searching and searching for my birthday perfume selection (or selections...clearly for years to come, with that list), I found this: Demi Jour by Houbigant. I had completely forgotten that I used to wear this, but the minute I saw the picture of it on Imagination Perfumery, I about fell out of my chair. Created in 1988, Demi Jour has notes of bergamot, aldehydes, greens, violet, rose, orris, lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang, heliotrope, musk, moss, sandalwood, cedarwood. To be completely honest, I don't remember how it smells. It certainly sounds pretty, and I'm positive that I used the entire bottle. I may even have owned more than one, because I seem to remember a disappointing change in the cap on my second one.

I am sure I picked this fragrance out myself, and I know exactly why: the bottle, and the picture of the rose on the box. Although at times in my life I may have pretended it wasn't so, I was and always have been a very girly-girl (er, uh, woman). I know I took one look at that bottle and just had to have it sitting on the 1940s French provincial dressing table I had in my bedroom when I was first on my own in college. I was also (why am I using past tense?) crazy for roses. I doubt I had any idea what was actually in the perfume...probably I thought it was just a rose fragrance, nothing else. Imagine what a fanatic I would have been had I known about Parfums de Rosine then! Forget perfume!

I'm so curious now to know how Demi Jour smells. I wonder, if I bought a bottle and opened it, sprayed it on my wrist and sniffed, what memories would rush back to me, what forgotten faces, what times I had. Part of me is also a little afraid of sniffing it now. What if it's horrible? The notes sound pretty enough, and I seriously doubt it could be anywhere near as bad as the fruity poison they're serving up as perfume these days. Besides, we all must be kind to our younger selves. We're all we have.

If nothing else, I'd have another pretty bottle to admire, no? How about you out there...ever been disappointed or reawakened by an old perfume love?

(P.S. If anyone else is curious, Demi Jour is still for sale at several online discount perfumers.)

*photo from Imagination Perfumery

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kicking It 38-Years-Old School

My birthday fast approaches. Every year I buy myself a gift of some sort. Last year, I bought a bottle of Safran Troublant. This year, my budget's a bit smaller, so I decided to have a little fun. Perhaps my savvy readers already know this, but many lovely, swoon-worthy perfumes can be had quite cheaply, so I decided to see what I could score for, say, $50 (excluding tax and shipping). Problem is, I'm having a difficult time choosing. That's where you come in. Usually I'm shy about asking for help, but I'm hoping you'll help me pick my birthday present.

I have four categories:
  • Grab a handful! I choose several lower-priced options.
  • Pick a couple. I select two higher-priced options, or one higher-priced, more refined option with a fun sidekick.
  • This must be the one! I spend the whole shebang on one bottle.
  • Worth Breaking the Bank (But Not by Much). I spend a little more than budgeted, but it's worth it in the end.
Grab a handful!
Help me choose three or four of the following:

Tabu (Dana, 1932)
Notes: rose, orange, jasmine, vetiver, oakmoss, amber, musk

Je Reviens (Worth, 1932)
Notes: Orange blossom, bergamot, violet, clove, rose, jasmine, hyacinth, lilac, orris, ylang ylang, amber, incense, tonka bean, vetiver, musk, moss, sandalwood

Raffinee (Dana, 1972)
Notes: orange blossom, bergamot, tuberose, carnation, vetiver, cinnamon

Nocturnes (Caron, 1981)
Notes: Top: aldehydes, bergamot, mandarin, greens; Heart: rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, tuberose, stephanoitis, lily of the valley, orris, cyclamen; Base: vanilla, amber, musk, sandalwood, vetiver, benzoin

Wind Song (Prince Matchabelli, 1952) (yes, really...good enough for Chaya, good enough pour moi)
Notes: tarragon, coriander, lemon, bergamot, lilac, rose, jasmine, sandalwood, amber, vetiver

Ivoire de Balmain (Balmain, 1980)
Notes: galbanum, bergamot, mandarin, pepper, jasmine, iris, labdanum, tonka bean, patchouli

Replique (Raphael, 1947) (Chaya sent me a sample...this is lovely)
Notes: moss, fruit, woods

Fleur de Rocaille (Caron, 1933)
Notes: mimosa, lilac, jasmine, iris, sandalwood, amber

Pick a couple.
I'll pick any two of the following:

Madame Rochas (Rochas, 1960)
Notes: jasmine, Bulgarian rose, iris, amber, sandalwood, cedarwaood

Miss Balmain (Balmain, 1967)
Notes: gardenia, citrus, coriander, jasmine, rose, amber

Y (Yves Saint Laurent, 1964)
Notes: peach, aldehydes, gardenia, honeysuckle, narcissus, hyacinth, rose, orris, patchouli, vetiver, civet, benzoin

Jessica McClintock (1987)
Notes: jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, cassis, basil, ylang ylang, bergamot

Bal a Versailles (Jean Desprez, 1962)
Notes: jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, Bulgarian rose, musk, amber

Arpege (Lanvin, 1927)
Notes: Top: bergamot, peach, neroli, aldehydes; Heart: rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, lily of the valley; Base: sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, musk, vanilla

Eau de Merveilles (Hermes, 2004)
Notes: elemi, bitter orange, Italian lemon, Indonesian pepper, pink pepper, ambergris, oak, cedar, vetiver, balsam of Peru and tears of Siam

Aimez Moi (Caron, 1996)
Notes: anise, violet leaf, bergamot, tonka bean, heliotrope, amber, musk, clove

Antilope (Weil, 1945)
Notes: Top: sage, Grasse neroli, bergamot, chamomile; Heart: lily of the valley, jasmine; Base: patchouli, iris, ambergris, vetiver

24 Faubourg (Hermes, 1995)
Notes: bergamot, orange, peach, hyacinth, tiare flower, orange flower, jasmine, orris, sandal, patchouli, amber, vanilla

Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946)
Notes: jasmine, neroli, oakmoss, musk, vetiver

This must be the one!
Select one of these:

Caleche (Hermes, 1961)
Notes: aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, neroli, rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, orris, oakmoss, cedarwood, sandal, vetiver

Diorissimo (Christian Dior, 1956)
Notes: lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang ylang, amaryllis, boronia

Agent Provocateur (2003)
Notes: saffron, coriander, Moroccan rose, jasmine, magnolia, amber, musk

Habanita (Molinard, 1921)
Notes: bergamot, peach, strawberry, orange blossom, rose orientale, ylang-ylang, orris, lilac, leather, vanilla, cedarwood, benzoin

Parfum Sacre (Caron, 1992) (I got a sample of this from Angela...lovely)
Notes: lemon, pepper, mace, cardamom, orange blossom, rose, jasmine, rosewood, vanilla, myrrh, civet, cedarwood

Worth Breaking the Budget (But Not by Much)
It would be worth every penny if I chose:

Miss Dior (Christian Dior, 1947)
Notes: sage, gardenia, galbanum, rose, neroli, jasmine, oakmoss, patchouli, cistus, labdanum

Parure (Guerlain, 1975)
Notes: bergamot, lilac, plum, rose, jasmine, wood, earthy forest note, spices

Elixir de Merveilles (Hermes, 2006)
Notes: orange peel, chocolate, vanilla, tonka bean, oak, sandalwood, incense, ambergris, patchouli

L'Interdit (Givenchy, 1957)
Notes: bergamot, green leaves, rose, jasmine, white peach

Let me know your choices!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Summer Scents, Part 1

You've all seen box o' samples. You've at least heard me talk about it and the difficulty I have deciding what to sample. Given all my whining and my trouble selecting from what I have available, you might think that I would be sensible about ordering new samples, at least until I'd tamed the beast that is...well, that is box o' samples.

You would be wrong.

Perfume samples are like black shoes. They're all unique and necessary in their own way, and really one can never have too many. All it takes for me is a promotional email or a review on another blog, and I find myself making lists of samples to order. This last time it was an email from Luckyscent, most likely one of those "stop by an see what's new" promotions. Oh, I stopped by. Some samples I ordered were new altogether, some new to Luckyscent, and some simply new to me. CB I Hate Perfume Wild Pansy was one of these samples. I give you now another three:

Parfumerie Generale Un Crime Exotique
The notes in this one are Chinese osmanthus, gingerbread, tea, cinnamon, star anise, mate absolute, vanilla sugar, and South Sea Island sandalwood. I admit, I picked this one for the name alone. I'm not sure I even bothered to read the notes. The scent is pretty, but rather banal for such a name as Un Crime Exotique. With such a title, it should be turning perfume on its head somehow. Truly, this name would be better for a perfume like Miel de Bois. Somebody get Serge on the blower and see what we can do about getting that name changed.

This scent has a serious holiday feel to it. The only picture I can conjure of un crime exotique here is someone hopped up on chai tea latte (which bears a remarkable resemblance to this scent) stealing a dollar out of the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas. Bad elf!

Bois 1920 Sandalo e The
The notes in Sandalo e The are jasmine, Bulgarian rose, sandalwood, and tea leaves. This one is slightly medicinal at the top, but it warms nicely to the skin and the tea takes over, although it's slightly sugared. The first time I wore this it dried to a beautiful rosy sandalwood, with terrific lasting power. Jasmine lends some heft to the rose, and also keeps it from turning into more of an incense. Although quite straightforward, this one is lush and pretty and actually refreshing for summer.

Calypso St. Barth Lily
The notes in Lily are cassis, lemon, Italian tangerine, blackberry, wild strawberry, Grasse rose, musk, white peach, raspberry, and sandalwood. If I had read Colombina's post first, I would not have ordered this sample, but it was nigh on its way. When I think of lilies, I generally think of Easter lilies, which are a beautiful creamy white set against crisp green stems. I know there are many types of lilies, but still, I don't think this is like any I've encountered. I think Calypso St. Barth may have found a new species, the Fruit Cocktail Lily. Or to be more succinct--just Fruit Cocktail. This scent is so cloyingly sweet it makes my teeth hurt, and I am sure it resembles something one of my best friends wore when we were in high school, back in the 80s. Her favorite color was purple and she loved Skittles and Duran Duran. The only thing that got me through the day with this one was nostalgia. They would probably make more money off it if they could find some air-headed celebrity to push it for them.

*photos from Luckyscent

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I'm constantly wondering...

How is it he's always managing to capture my picture when I'm not looking? Seriously, I've got to pay better attention...I practically just threw this on and left the house.

As if!

*photo from The Sartorialist

Book Review Saturday Returns Next Week

Hello Friends! No book review today, as we have family visiting. I hope you all are having a lovely and happy weekend!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

CB I Hate Perfume Wild Pansy

Holy cow is it nasty outside. (Yes, I really say things like "holy cow.") So far the summer has actually been quite pleasant. At first we had drought, and it was warm but dry and quite nice. Then the rain came and cooled things off a bit, and even though it's been wet and gray--especially on weekends--it's wonderful to be entering the second half of July having seen only one day hit 90 degrees. But today the rains came again and instead of cooling things off, it caused the humidity to soar, and now it's like a steam bath outside.

Of course, you didn't drop by to hear about the weather. You are wondering about the perfume. I admit, for some reason I felt a little shy about trying CB I Hate Perfume. It's one of those perfume lines that seems so advanced, so conceptual, that it's difficult to know which ones to choose. I took the easy way out: I picked one I knew I would get, for the notes are wild violet and grass. Nothing else. No burning leaves, no paper, no leather, no suitcases, no...snow (although with the stifling humidity today, a perfume that smells like snow suddenly seems a terrific idea). Just flowers and grass.

This seems to me to be the one in the collection that might make some perfume fans roll their eyes. Flowers and grass. So conventional. But I think half a dozen other perfumers could do flowers and grass and not do it so well. Personally I think this scent has a simple beauty, a freshness, a lightness of being. The wild violet has the clarity of the light tinkling sound of a glass bell. It's not a powdery scent; it is instead the embodiment of the colors purple and green--crisp, sweet, damp, uncomplicated. I've been craving this sort of clarity in fragrance this summer, and the only other fragrance I've found that comes close is Lys Mediterranee. L'Artisan Verte Violette is another green violet I enjoy, but even with a green base, it maintains the candied, slightly liquor-ish undertones of violet, so it lacks the coolness I long for.

I'm also impressed with the lasting power of Wild Pansy. So often more ethereal scents made to represent such natural states of things fade after a few hours. I could still smell this even after my afternoon exercise. I wish Christopher Brosius would sell his secret to Diptyque. All their scents tend to disappear on me, and it's a shame.

I'm tempted to explore a bit more, although I still cannot imagine what he's captured in a bottle. Even reading other reviews, it seems impossible to tell how anything might smell, because the scents all seem to evoke something so personal for the wearer. Wild Pansy brings me no memories, no scene of a spring evening that took place long ago, but it helps me to imagine. Perhaps that's enough.

*photo from luckyscent

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Guerlain Nahema

Readers of this blog know that rose is probably one of my favorite perfume notes. I know it might be terribly old-fashioned and un-hip, but there you have it. Lucky for me, plenty of modern, hip, wonderful rose fragrances are available. Also lucky for me: classics never go out of style, and Nahema is most assuredly a classic.

I found this image, another old Guerlain advertisement from 1955, but I think it suits Nahema, released in 1979, perfectly. Does this not seem to be an image of Nahema, the heroine of Scheherazade's tale? I love her faraway look, both ethereal and intense. Even the colors perfectly reflect this scent.

Nahema is not strictly a rose scent, but every other note in it seems to serve the purpose of shining the spotlight on that single, glorious bloom. The hyacinth at the top starts it off sweetly, and the peach joins it to lend it soft, honeyed tones. Vanilla and woods are like soft embers that warm the fragrance and make it glow. It's lush, yet mysterious. I almost can't believe it survived the 1980s. Still, although it's hardly an in-your-face fragrance, it's certainly no wallflower. I tend to romanticize the 1970s, to think of nightclubs and decadence, excessive elegance. Nahema reminds me (note: by "reminds me" I do not mean "smells like") of Opium that way, intense and elegant, strong and sexy. What a difference from Jardins de Bagatelle, which represents to me that buttoned-up, Wall Street, go-get-'em powerhouse 80s thing. It's one thing to be a person of whom people take notice, and entirely another to be a person who demands people take notice. The woman who wears Nahema is the former.

*images are from and

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle

"A story of white flowers," says the Guerlain site, "an allusion to the wager made between the Count of Artois, the brother of Louis XVI, and Queen Marie-Antoinette, to build a castle on the site of a ruined cottage in the Bois de Boulogne..." Although this scent was made in 1983, it feels a bit ghostly to me.

Note-wise, it's a rather direct scent:
Top: bergamot
Heart: jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, neroli
Base: woody notes
(These notes are from the Guerlain site itself. Interestingly, osMoz lists notes that are almost completely fact, it does not list tuberose, jasmine, or gardenia. Instead, for the heart, it lists narcissus, cassie, iris, and lily of the valley. All I can say is, I don't think so. Some of these notes could be present, but there's no mistaking tuberose--it's there as well. I hate that different sites offer such vastly different notes.)

But scent-wise--it's still direct, but it's also something else. To be honest, I don't care much for Jardins de Bagatelle. I find it sort of...artificial. It has none of the sexy playfulness of a white floral like Fracas, none of the grace and gentility of a white floral like Songes, none of the airy beauty of La Chasse. It's a no-holds-barred power suit of a scent, a scent that gets its way. Quite frankly, taken in the context of the age in which it was created, this scent is Joan Collins. The bergamot at the top feels slightly candied, like a shell around the middle notes where tuberose dominates and is spiced by the jasmine. Neroli adds no relief or sparkle. If you'll pardon the expression, this is balls-to-the-walls white floral. Of course it's well done, but it is decidedly not my cup of tea.

However, as I said, it's also something else. The bet between Marie Antionette and the Comte d'Artois, the world of the French royal family, the artifice, the pomp and circumstance of the royal court--it's all here. Probably I just feel sentimental, because I only read The Journey a few months ago, and I only saw the Sofia Coppola film a few weeks ago, and I'm still astounded by the whole of it, by the opulence and the violence. I think of playful bets, of flowers and buildings like sugary confections sparkling in the's interesting that I like Jardins de Bagatelle the best near its end, where the floral notes are tempered by woods, but still regal nonetheless.

*images from and

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Book Review Saturday: No one belongs here more than you.

I first heard of Miranda July when I saw the film Me and You and Everyone We Know, but apparently, she'd already made a name for herself in the art world even before winning several awards at Cannes. Mainly I mention the film because if you've seen it, it's the perfect primer for this book of short stories, which have the same sensibility, albeit sometimes much darker, as the film.

Two of the stories in No one belongs here more than you. I'd read beforehand, "The Shared Patio" in Zoetrope: All Story and "Something That Needs Nothing" in The New Yorker, and I remember at the time thinking, "Please let her be writing a book!" The question is, do I still feel so thankful now that she's written it?

The answer is mostly yes. Luckily, the book opens with "The Shared Patio," in which a young woman nurses a secret crush for her married, epileptic neighbor. (You can read the full story here.) Ms. July is masterful at capturing loneliness on the page in a way that's neither cliche nor overly...well, psychological. Loneliness in her character seems to be more a result of genetic makeup than environmental cause, something characters have no more control over than height or eye color. Sometimes it's so palpable and organic to the character, it makes one squirm and wish to seek someone else's company immediately.

In "The Swim Team," the narrator acts a a swim coach, teaching a group of senior citizens to swim on dry land, bringing hope and life to both herself and her pupils. It's a lie she's told to form a connection through conversation that ends up changing her story about herself, long after she's left the town behind and the swimmers have possible passed from this life.

Other stories take a darker turn, like "Majesty," "The Sister," and "Ten True Things." In each of these stories, people form sexual attachments in odd or unconventional manners, attachments that sometimes fail to fulfill longing and emptiness. However, Ms. July lets every character have his or her dignity, and also hope, which is not any easy trick of the pen. Many writers who try to capture this balance fail, and end up seeming either overly dramatic or precious--or both.

This is not to say I don't think the book has its flaws. I felt that sometimes she goes so far to show loneliness that it strains credulity, but it could be my discomfort at seeing loneliness laid so bare on the page. Humans may be capable of so many things, particularly when no one else is watching.

In her writing sensibility, Miranda July seems to hover somewhere between Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill. She has the hope and quirkiness of Lorrie Moore, but not quite the command of wit and language, and also perhaps not quite the accessibilty. Ms. Moore's characters could be people we know, where Ms. July's characters are people we see but who seem to always remain apart from us, from the world.

She has the view into the darker side of life that Mary Gaitskill also presents her audience, and like Ms. Gaitskill she has the ability to make us see this dark side is simply a part of human nature as opposed to perversion (although sometimes Ms. Gaitskill's characters lapse into unconventional behavior out of sheer boredom with life, and Ms. July's characters out of need for connection). A point of illustration here: Mary Gaitskill wrote the short story "Secretary," on which the movie with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader was based. Gaitskill's story is nothing like the movie, the only remaining recognizable part being a boss and secretary who somehow connect--fleetingly--when he spanks and berates her. The movie changes the story and fleshes out the characters so that these events are romantic and even sweet in nature, and it occurred to me, had Miranda July written the story, that's the way she might have told it herself...although perhaps without the Hollywood ending. Perhaps. (After all, she also co-wrote the story for The Center of the World, about a hooker and a millionaire's one night in Las Vegas. I haven't seen it, and so cannot comment.)

Besides "The Shared Patio," my other favorite story in the book is "How to Tell Stories to Children," in which the narrator becomes a mother figure--or really, more like a third parent--to the daughter of her ex-lover and his wife. I enjoyed this story for the questions it raises about family and children, about what brings love to a life or takes it away. I'm almost sure someone will snatch this one up and make it a film, but I hope not--not unless Miranda July does it herself. More so than novels, stories seem to belong to their authors and feel entirely personal, perhaps because we can't help but identify the author (or at least the author's view of the world) with the narrator, whereas in novels, many voices allow us to disconnect a bit. But that's a topic for another time.

The promotional site for No one belongs here more than you. is fun--visit it here. You can also visit Miranda July's Web site to learn more about her other projects. You can buy the book anywhere you like, but I suggest Powell's. Support independent book sellers!

*photo from

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Guerlain Fleur de Feu

Guerlain Fleur de Feu, or flower of fire (or fiery flower), was released by Guerlain in 1949.

And that's the end of my post.

No, seriously...I could not find any information on the Internet about this perfume. Nothing. Nada, except what I'm sharing with you here: these two ads and its date of release. For two days, I've been trying to figure out this softly faded beauty of a perfume. I only have one application left, and I'm saving it. I don't know what for.

My weak little nose detects the signature base here, at least the iris and vanilla. I detect bergamot and jasmine, and beyond that...I can't pin it down. But this sweet breath of perfume is hardly the fiery dragon (made of flowers, of course) one would expect. I think, what would that fiery flower be? Carnation? Spicy, but Rose? Or is it metaphorical, was the bergamot brighter at the top, was there some other zest I now cannot detect?

Probably I'm trying too hard. My wee brain is taxed. But look at these wonderful ads! I don't find pictures of celebrities to be half as interesting as these works of art. Instead of real style, these days we get a face that's supposed to represent style. It's not that I don't think Hilary Swank is a good actress--she's very talented, although a little tedious--but what can she really convey other than Hilary Swankness? And Nicole Kidman? The poor woman is shot so full of Botox, she can't convey anything! Come on, Chanel! And while I'm at it, what's with fragrance commercials? Does anyone else think they're a dumb idea? Truly, the Calvin Klein commercial where Christy Turlington is singing "What the World Needs Now" and rolling around on the beach with her model family is one of my most hated commercials of all time.

No, I know. The print ads aren't all bad. But I can't think of one off the top of my head that I would want to buy and frame, almost sixty years down the line.

*images from eBay and

Monday, July 09, 2007

Guerlain Liu

When I smell a fragrance like Liu, I'm puzzled. It's the same puzzled feeling I have when I see them clearing yet another lot of trees to make way for yet another development of townhomes. It's the same puzzled feeling I have when I see the box office numbers for the junk Hollywood churns out, only to learn some small enchanting film I wanted to see in the theater has gone straight to DVD.

Oh, I forgot to clarify. You see, Liu, orginally created in 1925 and reissued for a fleeting moment again in 2005, is discontinued. I'm sorry Insolence fans, but I just don't get it. Why discontinue this classic and beautiful fragrance only so you can issue a fruity floral? (Okay, I'm making those events sound overly connected, as though they literally replaced one with the other, but still...) I understand about marketing and trends and so on and so forth, but really. American celebrity fragrances (some of them even quite pretty) are doing a fine job with the fruity florals. Just leave it to them, please, and continue to turn out classics.

Liu, if you're lucky enough to find it, has the following notes:
Top: aldehydes, rose
Heart: neroli, jasmine, rose
Base: iris, woody notes, vanilla

While not classified as a chypre (none of the characteristic notes are present), in the opening it's almost a dead ringer for Chanel No.5. I'm almost tempted to say it's like a Cher impersonator who does a better job at being Cher than Cher does. Or a Chanel impersonator that's better at Chanel. But it's not really better, it's just more Guerlain than Chanel, with that base of iris and woody notes and vanilla. It's powdery, earthy, slightly dirty, and ultimately comforting. Although rose is listed twice in the notes, I would not classify this as a rose scent. In fact, I barely notice it. Really it's all about the aldehydes, the jasmine, the's a glamorous and feminine scent that's unbelievably down to earth, a noble lady playing in her garden.

*bottle photo from eBay

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Book Review Saturday: Heavenly Days and A Girl Named Zippy

So many people don't read the blogs on Saturdays, it seems, but for those of you who are like me and don't get much time to cruise during the week, I thought I'd try something special: Book Review Saturdays. No pretending to be The New York Times--just me offering my two cents on what I'm reading these days. So without further hesitation, my books for this week are Heavenly Days by James Wilcox and A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel.

Heavenly Days
You know those Southern novels with all the quirky characters who are just so eccentric and so charming you can hardly stand it? Well, this isn't quite one of those novels. Usually when I pick up a book that doesn't seem to be going anywhere after the first three to five chapters, I put it right back down again and never look back. (Okay, occasionally I look back. For example, I looked back at Plainsong by Kent Haruf, and thank goodness I did.) Heavenly Days is about a character (she's too one-dimensional on the page to call her a woman) named Lou, who grew up in the South but seems to have a Northerner's sense of being an outsider--I suppose because she's a Jewish woman who turns out to be a Baptist (yes, really). Lou works at a Christian weight-loss clinic, even though she has a Ph.D. in music. Mr. Wilcox mentions this anytime he wants Lou to stand apart from all the zany Southerners who surround her. As far as I can tell, the book has no plot. Lou goes to work and does zany, quirky things, like paint the handicapped spaces outside her office with white paint. Isn't that a hoot. She may be addicted to speed that the Christian weight-loss clinic is giving her, but it's not really clear. Her friends are Real Characters. For some reason I wanted it to have a plot, I wanted it all to come together smartly, but at the end I was more confused and irritated than entertained. Some authors know how to write character-driven novels, but so many of them don't. Mr. Wilcox apparently can't write either a character-driven or a plot-driven novel. That might be why I got this for $4.98 at Barnes & Noble, off the Super Savers table. (Good writers also get remaindered...) If you want to read a funny Southern novel, try either Louisiana Power and Light or Love Warps the Mind a Little by John DuFresne.

A Girl Named Zippy
This is Haven Kimmel's memoir about growing up in the tiny town of Mooreland, Indiana. Someone recommended this book to me years ago, but I just got around to picking up a copy and reading it. The first thing I wanted to do when I finished this book (which took less than a day) was turn right back to the beginning and read it again. First of all, she writes from the point of view of herself as a child, not as a gimmick or a post-modern trick, but in a way that makes you see her world first-hand. More precocious than precious, her voice rings true, whether she's writing about her beloved best friend Julie Newman, old Edythe from across the street, or services at the Quaker church she attended with her mother and siblings. She paints a picture of her family that makes them seem both beloved and remote, less a matter of concern than bike riding or tree climbing. And most refreshing of all, she has no horror stories to tell. A lesser writer could have taken the bits and pieces of her family's dysfunction (depressed mother with her nose buried in books; father with a gambling problem so bad he bet--and lost--his wife's wedding rings) and turned it into the poor-little-me memoir that's gotten so popular as of late, but Ms. Kimmel, with a child's self-centered grace, glosses over these moments in such a way that lets the reader know that while she may have reflected on her parents plenty as an adult, in her childhood she was allowed to remain firmly a child. I have not read any of her novels, Leaving Early (which was her first book), Something Rising Light and Swift, or The Solace of Leaving Early, but you can bet they're all on my list to read. Also on my list: the "sequel" to A Girl Named Zippy, She Got Up Off the Couch, the story of her mother...well, getting up off the couch and going back to school. Trust me when I say this woman can turn a's all I can do not to type passages of the book for you. I'd end up typing out the whole thing.

*photos from

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Guerlain Metallica, among Other Things

Can I borrow $500?

Because if you'll lend me $500, I can buy the bottle of Guerlain Metallica, pictured here. I would buy it myself, but thanks to our friend Mercury's backpedaling, retrograde ways, I instead had to buy a new ceiling fan (Yes, I used to watch Trading Spaces, and yes, Doug, if by chance you're one or other of the people who actually read my blog, I know they're tacky, but you try living in Atlanta without one...although I am sure you don't sweat, or even perspire.) and a new washing machine. Perfectly good perfume money for the sake of a little wind and some clean clothes. Feh. I could've bought the perfume to cover the smell of sweaty, dirty clothes, no?

In all seriousness, I would probably not be able to bring myself to spend $500 of my or anyone else's money on this perfume, no matter how singular and otherwise unattainable, unless perhaps I (or anyone else) had just won the lottery. But if it were something more like $120--well, then it would be worth it. Maybe even $150. But then I might have to buy something from Frederic Malle instead. I don't know. I get all torn up thinking about it.

Really, it all goes into savings. Dull, but wise.

Guerlain Metallica, or Metalys as it was renamed after a lawsuit was brought against Guerlain by the band Metallica (Was this before or after they went into therapy? Who can respect a rock band that does such a thing?), contains the following notes (via Basenotes):

Top: vanilla
Heart: ylang ylang, bergamot, carnation
Base: iris, tonka bean

This lovely was also discontinued, so it's quite a find. I can't for the life of me understand why this didn't become a staple in the current Guerlain offering, because I like it much better than a somewhat similar-ish scent, L'Instant, which I like plenty but not as much as this one. The most prominent notes here are the carnation, iris, tonka bean and vanilla, so it has a comforting yet sensual powdery feel of a vintage perfume. L'Instant is exactly what its ad conveys: a backless, sexy black dress, a scent for purposeful seduction. Metallica is bias-cut silk satin from the 1940's, seductive in its easy sophistication without giving anything away for free. For some reason, I think of the difference between Angelina Jolie and Helen Mirren, which might make it seem like age is a factor where it is not. Helen Mirren could pull off L'Instant, but I don't think Angelina Jolie could pull off Metallica. Get my drift? (I made myself laugh, using that expression.)

I believe you can still find decants of this wonderful scent if you poke around. Or maybe if you have $500 and are so inclined, you can purchase that bottle on eBay--as long as Mercury doesn't get it first!

*photo from eBay