Thursday, January 31, 2008

Estée Lauder Wrap-Up, and Some Thoughts on Blogging

Whew! I'm one down on my New Year's perfume resolutions: sampling fragrances from Estée Lauder. I was unable to catch everything--in order to do so, I would have had to keep going, and going, like that bunny (you know the one)--but I think I hit all the highlights, and I'm happy I did. I have to say, though, that for the rest of the perfume houses on my list, I think I'll test in smaller groupings and mix it up a bit. Although all these scents were quite different from one another, near the end I was starting to go mad for something that wasn't Lauder.

My favorites? Honestly, I have to go with Estée, Private Collection, and Youth Dew. Estée especially was a surprise for me, as I most likely never would have tried it otherwise. I'd like to start a one-woman campaign to make this perfume popular again. Private Collection needs no help from little old me, but I'm happy to know I can wear another classic, if the mood strikes. Youth Dew was wonderful, but I think I'd lay down money for Youth Dew Amber Nude first (guess I had better hurry, too, as it's disappearing quickly), and then the classic. I suppose one good thing about some of the less popular Lauder fragrances is their price, which is unbelievably reasonable, given the quality.

Full disclosure: I bought this gift set. I am in no way associated with Estée Lauder, not have I ever accepted gifts from them. I don't know if you saw the article in today's New York Times, about beauty bloggers who suddenly seem to be blogging for swag. I'm not a beauty blogger, and my--uh, fan base--is what you might call tiny, but I want you to know up front I am not in it for the swag, and not just because I rarely get any. (I did get samples for Saks DNA for Her and for Him, and a sample of Silver Factory from Bond, but I didn't rave about Saks DNA for Her, so I'm pretty sure that cut off my supply.) And to be honest, I don't think some of these beauty bloggers got into it for the swag, either.

The thing that bothers me about a lot of bloggers getting swag from these companies is that it kills the blogging spirit. I've noticed several really good blogs I used to read regularly have gone from writing unique reviews to...well, advertising. The other thing that bothers me is clicking around and reading about the same MAC collection or the same Prescriptives collection, with the same pictures and the same information, on blog after blog. It's no different than seeing the same ad in several different magazines.

Anyhow, enough ranting. I'm off to pick through my samples (more full disclosure: some of this is awesome reader swag from my Texas pal Gail) and decide what comes next. Dior? Hermes? Penhaligon's? Stay tuned!

*image from (set was a holiday promo and is no longer offered on that site)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Behind the Perfume: Cinnabar

Of all the perfumes in this set, Cinnabar to me is the most mysterious. Not a standout classic, not a mass-market hit, Cinnabar still manages to survive. I wondered, what is it like for a perfume, surrounded by successes, competing with rival fragrances (Opium was launched in 1977, the year before Lauder launched Cinnabar), facing an ever-expanding market and changing times?

To find my answers, I decided to go right to the source. One problem: my source wasn't readily available. As many in the industry know, Cinnabar seemed to disappear from the public eye decades ago, no longer appearing at media events, refusing to appear in advertisements, turning up now and again for the occasional Christmas special, but with little fanfare. A case of forgotten, but not gone.

Cinnabar isn't exactly listed in the phone book, and the Lauder folks were understandably reluctant to hand out her number. With a little effort, though, I was able to get hold of an agent from the William Morris agency that handles both Estée (surprisingly, she's still represented) and Private Collection, as well as Pleasures and Private Collection's granddaughter, PC Tuberose Gardenia.

This is the story of my search.

On a crisp December afternoon, I meet Estée and Private Collection at the Nordstrom Café at Phipps. They're in Atlanta for a private event, but they're kind enough to spend a little time talking to me about their time at Lauder and some of their shelf companions. Estée, her hair in a sleek silver pageboy, sporting a soft coral cashmere tunic over slim pale grey slacks, has the air of a spirited, willful débutante. Private Collection, her long hair pulled into a low ponytail, wears a tailored, off-white trench with matching pants, a Burberry scarf tossed casually over one shoulder. In my jeans and sweater, I feel under-dressed and slightly overwhelmed.

The first thing that strikes me is how much Private Collection resembles Candace Bergen, and because I'm rather nervous, I blurt this out first thing. Much to my relief, she just laughs.

“I used to hear that all the time! Carnal Knowledge had just been released a few years before I launched, and Candy was even still doing some modeling I think, and we used to run into each other around town. We thought it was funny. One time we even pretended to be sisters. That was a few years later, some poor drunk man at Regine's.”

We talk for a while about perfume, what it's like getting older, about the market today. “These young fruity florals, they'll pass,” Estée says sagely. “And of course, they'll be replaced by new trends. One cannot fight change, but I think so many of us have pulled through because we haven't changed. I hear all the time about reformulations—reformulations are to perfume what plastic surgery is to actresses, my dear. You can change your notes to appeal to a younger crowd and think they won't know the difference, but there are plenty of women out there, even young women, who know better.”

“What about some of the perfumes that haven't changed, but maybe didn't quite hit the classic category?” I ask. “Like Cinnabar, for example.”

Private Collection reaches down and arranges the shopping bags propped against her chair. Estée signals a passing attendant for coffee. I notice they exchange a brief glance, and then Private Collection says, “Cinny. My goodness. I haven't thought about her in years.”

“In years,” echoes Estée.

“I'm not sure what really happened to her. I mean, I know people still...I mean, she's around. But. I guess with all the media coverage and things our family has had in the last few months, well, you know...” Private Collection says.

“We felt sorry for her. You know. Opium.” Estée says this last word in a whisper.

“She always thought we didn't like her. It wasn't that. She was very exotic, you know. Her mother was Asian, her father from Cuba or something. We were wrapped up in our country clubs and kids and other things by then—and it wasn't dislike. Not at all.” Private Collection is visibly flushed at this point. I've disrupted the ease and affability we all felt earlier, but I have one more question.

“Do you know where I might be able to find her? I'd love to talk to her.”

They exchange another glance. I pick up my Diet Coke and slurp at the watery remains.

“Her agent,” says Estée. “Her old agent handles a few of us. Aliage, I think, and Beyond Paradise. I went to her opening. I have her number.”

Los Angeles. I've agreed to meet Beyond Paradise at a café on Melrose. It seems all of Los Angeles is lightly tanned and blonde, and Beyond Paradise is no exception. She could pass for just about any generically pretty girl sitting on the patio of this place, except she's the only one screaming into a cell phone. Loud.

“A f**king full page ad. FULL PAGE. Are you joking me, Sid? ARE. YOU. JOKING. ME.” Seeing me standing nearby, she motions to the chair across from her. On the table a magazine sits open to a full page ad of PC Tuberose Gardenia.

“Then how come I'm f**king staring at this g*d damned piece of s**t? Where the hell is my g*d damned f**king full page ad? WHERE?”

I motion like I'm going to the bathroom. She nods. I leave. I leave Los Angeles.

Several weeks later, I catch up with Aliage on her horse farm in Virginia. The air smells of hay and manure. She wears a navy L.L. Bean barn jacket and Wellies with Scotty dogs on them. With her no-nonsense gray pixie and her sparkling eyes, she reminds me of one of those plucky mistress-of-the-manor, British heroine detectives who, frequently if reluctantly, gets called away from her treasured estate to solve some impenetrable mystery.

“Cinny and I, we were from two completely different worlds. She grew up out in the Bronx, and I hail from Connecticut. We always got along easy, though, I suppose because we never felt any need to compete. Some of the other girls, they weren't so nice to her. I think they were sort of threatened by her, and I think they were relieved when she finally left town.”

“Do you know what happened to her?” I ask.

“Last word I had from her was about two years ago. She sent me a birthday card, just out of the blue one year. She could be like that, surprising. She was living down in Florida. Just married a nice man, owned a car dealership I think. I don't recall what make of car.”

I eventually find Cinnabar living in an area north of Miami (she asked that I not disclose the exact location), and she agrees to meet me nearby, at a rather famous hotel near the beach. In a bar just off the lobby, I meet her. She's unmistakable. Her hennaed hair, styled in a fashionably short shag, is set off by a long, rusty silk tunic over raw silk pants of the same color. She wears numerous gold chains of different lengths, and several large rings, one a smoky topaz near the size of a small bird's egg. Her lips are naturally thin—no collagen—but underneath her makeup her skin, pulled taut, reveals the tender pink of recent cosmetic efforts to stave off aging. Large, gold-rimmed aviator shades block her eyes. And, of course, there's the unmistakable scent of jasmine, clove, and sandalwood.

As we talk, I learn she moved to this area in the early Eighties, preferring the anonymity of life in Florida to the constant media circus of Manhattan. Not long after arriving, she began dating and eventually married her present husband (she prefers not to share his identity), who owns several Cadillac dealerships in the South Florida area. Over the last twenty-five years, she's divided her time between helping him oversee the business, playing hostess to their many friends and business associates, and volunteering for the local library's senior reading program.

Our conversation is light and friendly, until I bring up what clearly is not a happy subject for her: other perfumes.

“I never felt comfortable with them. I never felt like I fit in. No—more than that. I felt like they wouldn't let me in.”

It doesn't take much pressure from me for her to name names. “Aliage and I maintained a friendship of sorts, over the years. I admired her. She was very independent, a trait we share. And Azurée was always kind to me, but she spent a lot of time out of the country, traveling around the Mediterranean. Her husband had a yacht, and they had a lot of friends. I was a little jealous of that. I always wanted to travel, see India, China, the pyramids. But I have a view of the ocean,” she laughs, gesturing to one of the windows nearby.

“But the others—Private Collection, Estée, Youth Dew—they were cliquish. Youth Dew especially didn't like me. I don't know why. I suppose I ended her reign as queen of the Orientals in our little family, but it's not like there weren't others out there who really stole the attention away from her.” I wonder if this is a veiled reference to Opium, Cinnabar's long-time rival. I'm trying to decide whether I should say anything, when she brings it up first.

“I suppose, though, you know, I was this young thing, and Youth Dew felt old. And maybe it was easier to focus on me. At the time I was dating Kris Kristofferson, and I was getting a lot of media attention. But it wasn't like it felt terrific, because he'd been seeing Opium the year before, and I knew a lot of people thought I was sort of a cheap copy. I think even Opi did, on some level, although she was too refined to ever say it to my face.”

“Did it bother you at all, that she continued to get so much attention through the Eighties? Does it bother you now that she's considered the classic Oriental of that era?”

She takes a sip of the Sidecar the waiter has brought to our table (without her asking for it). We sit in silence for a time, and then she says, “For years, I wondered about that, about the fact that Opi is considered a classic. And it used to bother me. It did. But then I realized, the truth of it was—is—that she was there first. She was always first. And I felt like sloppy seconds for a long time. But I still get letters, from fans, admirers, so I know the people who loved me, they're out there. And people still love me, they're still discovering me, even with times being what they are now.”

We talk on through the afternoon, as the light begins to fade. I find her lively and sweet, warm and gracious. While she's not sloppy seconds, she speaks the truth: she lacks something Opium has. Not refinement, as she thinks, because truly, she has that in spades, but she does lack a more sensual edge, that heady, sexy feeling that Opium offers. In a way, Opium is a perfume for an audience, while Cinnabar, same as that other Lauder Oriental that came before her, Youth Dew, is a scent for oneself, a warm glow of confidence rather than a fire of sensual energy. I feel like Nancy Drew. Mystery solved.

*Opium, Youth Dew, and Azurée all declined to be interviewed.

**image from

Estée Lauder Beyond Paradise

What is your idea of paradise?

Is it a tropical island in the South Pacific?

Is it a sunny beach in the Bahamas?

Is it cruising the Mediterranean on a yacht?

Is it the tropical-themed lobby of a Courtyard Marriott in Omaha?

What? If you're suddenly hearing the cheerful strains of "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other" in your head, well, pat yourself on the back.

I don't like to be mean about perfume. In some ways, it seems too easy. I must be honest about something else as well: I don't particularly care for tropical-themed perfumes, any more than I care for hotel lobbies with palms in the planters and bamboo cane and banana leaves on the upholstery. I'm not fooled.

All tropical-themed perfumes are essentially the same, even if some are superior to their cohorts. There's Moneyette Paris (despite the name, rather tropical), Coquette Tropique, Kai, Moea, Michael Kors Island series, Bobbi Brown Beach, even Lauder's own Azurée Soleil. White flowers, aquatic notes, possibly a little coconut or vanilla to warm things up.

The notes is Beyond Paradise are:
Top: Eden's Mist, Blue Hyacinth, Orange Flower Templar, Jabuticaba Fruit
Heart: Laelia Orchid, Crepe Jasmin, Mahonia Japonica, Pink Honeysuckle
Base: Natal Plum Blossoms, Ambrette Seed, Zebrano Wood, Golden Melaleuca Bark

Wha? Who even knows what these things are, let alone how they, as the ad copy says, "[Unfold] on your skin with a fascinating blend of tropical wetness, zesty freshness and bursting floralcy." Really, it's more like this: a sweet aquatic note, followed by a watery tuberose, and then a light woody-fruity thing. It's not beyond paradise; it's beyond boring. If you went on a vacation suffused with such weak smells, I doubt you'd even remember where you had been.

If you want a Lauder perfume that "takes you somewhere," wear Azurée or its flankers.

*image from

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Estée Lauder Intuition

So many perfumes I try evoke images for me of serious starlets: Katherine or Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe. But I can't think of one that has made me think of a man in uniform, much less, um...Gomer Pyle. Why?

Because when I tried Intuition, the first thing I thought was, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

The notes in Intuition are:

Top: mandarin, bergamot, grapefruit, fresh green garden
Heart: gardenia petal, freesia, Chinese rhododendron
Base: amber

For me, Intuition is very close to two perfumes I much admire: Dior's Dune and Sonia Rykiel's Woman. The top notes read like my worst nightmare, all green citrus, but the amber permeates every note, every moment of this scent from beginning to end. The green citrus opening makes the amber bubble and jump like champagne, and it's the opening that reminds me most of Dune, for which I forsook (for which I sook?) Opium and wore for several years as my “winter” perfume. As the notes settle into the warm, slightly peppery floral heart and the scent moves closer to the skin, it reminds me more of Rykiel Woman, although it is less powdery, less complex than that scent. To me, this belongs in the family also with Organza Indecence and Theorema, although it's more girl-next-door than Organza Indecence and less spunky than the now defunct Theorema.

Listen to me: it's not quite as good as this, not quite as important as that. Let me put it another way instead. I find this scent rather charming. It makes me think of Cher's character in Moonstruck, seemingly spinsterish and down on her luck, living at home with her parents, forgotten, in no way a star. But look what happened! Sometimes a fragrance, like a woman, only needs a little attention, and suddenly, it becomes something that can take its place in line, hold its own, shine a little.

I literally knew nothing about this perfume, and after poking around a bit, I haven't found any reviews of it either. The tough part for this fragrance, I suppose, is that for one thing, Dior had already done a scent like this, and really had done it better all things considered. And so had Fendi (1999) and so had Givenchy (1999). By the time Intuition launched in 2001, the world had plenty of ambery Orientals from which to choose, especially on the mass market. Still, it survives, and it's well done. I wonder if its anonymity is as simple as this: that by 2001, except for the classics, Estee Lauder had been lost in the rise of mass market perfumes. Is it possible? Because although her fragrances still sold like hotcakes, it seems that it was Youth Dew Amber Nude (i.e., Tom Ford) that really put Lauder back on the perfume map. That release, followed by Azurée Soleil and then Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, seemed to spark renewed interest in the Lauder line. Although the classics never went away, they seem now to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and I for one am happy to see it.

*image from

Monday, January 28, 2008

Estée Lauder Pleasures and Pleasures Intense

Until I bought this gift set for myself, I had never really smelled Pleasures, the original. I think I may have sniffed it briefly in a department store, but either it never had an impact because of the ubiquitous heavily perfumed air that surrounds cosmetic counters, or didn't have an impact. I might never have smelled Pleasures Intense, either, except I received a bottle of it for Christmas several years ago.

Pleasures, the Original is all about sharply drawn flowers and leaves, crisp color against a grassy background: green, deep purple, bright white. It brings to mind the intense pleasure of a sour candy that leaves a slight memory of pain even as it sweetens on the tongue. I love the literal clarity of the juice—no color at all, refreshing like water. This is said to “capture the clarity of flowers just after a spring rain,” and it does so nicely, although not in the melancholy, thoughtful way of say, Apres L'Ondee. This is cheerful and bright, and one knows the sun will soon break though the clouds and make everything shimmer.

The notes in Pleasures are as follows:

Top: white lily, violet leaves
Heart: black lilac, white peony, karo-karounde, Baie rose
Base: sandalwood, patchouli

Pleasures Intense is a honeyed, fragrant floral tea of a scent, meant to be worn near a roaring fire burning away in a stone hearth at a ski lodge. The opening notes, as in the original, bring to mind sharp color, although these are warmer in nature, a deep green coupled with the deep ruffled pink of peonies. The floral heart is intense, as promised, but I admit I find this much more well-balanced than the original Pleasures. The maple wood and vanilla end give this fragrance a slightly gourmand feel. This scent to me is a bit like plain pink silk lingerie under heavy winter clothes, delicate and intimate, warming and effortless.

The notes in Pleasures Intense are:

Top: green lily, Le Charme peony
Heart: Moroccan rose, pink tiger lily, jasmine
Base: maple wood, benzoin crystals, vanilla

At first it struck me, as I progressed through some of the more recent Lauder releases, that they seemed to grow less complex with each passing release. The straight-forward (and often boring) development of many mass market perfumes has driven many perfume fans to the niche world. However, it's important to distinguish lack of complexity from simplicity. Neither of these perfumes is very complex, but they should not be dismissed. Both—the former more so than the latter—are to be appreciated more for the sum of the parts than for the parts themselves. These perfumes are the equivalent of wardrobe staples—let's say a white cotton shirt and a fine wool sweater, respectively—that never fail. Still, they also fail to invoke much imagination or passion. They will never fail the wearer, but they will also never make her the center of attention. These are what I like to call “Saturday perfumes,” perfect for spritzing on before one leaves the house to run errands or meet friends for breakfast. They don't get in the way of the wearer. Of the two, I prefer Pleasures Intense. I haven't tried any of the other flankers, but if you have and would like to share, please do!

*images from

Saturday, January 26, 2008

And the Winner Is...

Four pieces of paper, one name on each. I fold them tightly, and place them in a teacup. I shake the teacup vigorously.

I present the cup to Bob, and he carefully selects one.

He has a little trouble getting the tiny piece of paper unfolded, as his hands are trembling slightly. I reach out to help him, but he pushes my hand away, determined to continue.

Diva cries softly from her perch on the back of the sofa.

He succeeds in getting the torn bit fully unfolded, but the glaring winter light coupled with the back light from his computer screen makes my light script difficult to read.

He moves his hand slightly, and the name suddenly becomes clear to us both.

"Mamacita!" we cry in unison. We weep with joy and decide to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

Okay so, Mamacita, I guess that means you won. Congratulations! You will soon smell of urinal cakes, much to the envy of all your friends! Please send your name and address to

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paco Rabanne, Urinal Cakes, and a Prize Draw

I decided to take a wee break (hey, that rhymes!) from the Lauder lauding, mainly because for the past two days I have been so distracted and crazed in the morning that I barely even remembered to wear perfume. Both mornings I groped my decants blindly and sprayed whatever I picked up first. Yesterday I actually managed to get most of one spray into my mouth instead of onto my neck, where I thought I was aiming. Mandarine Mandarin does not a breath-freshener make.

So remember how the other day I was telling you Bob really comes up with some gems? Well.

I ordered a decant of Paco Rabanne Calandre last fall. I had actually managed to talk myself out of buying a full bottle unsniffed. Just a few calls to my sponsor, some tearing of hair and gnashing of know the drill. For some reason, it called to me, as perfumes are wont to do, and these notes sounded right up my alley:

Top: leafy green, aldehydes (Michael!), bergamot
Heart: rose, lily of the valley, geranium, jasmine
Base: sandal, vetiver, musk, amber

I am pretty sure I tried it right after I got it, but you know, you can't order just one decant at a time, so I may have forgotten about it because something else caught on with me first. (I'm pretty sure it was L'Air de Rien, but that's neither here nor there.) To make a long story longer, I recovered this decant from a glass dish on my dresser a few days after I completed all my favorites of 2007 testing and promptly applied it. We were headed out to eat, so I went downstairs and grabbed my coat, and then followed Bob down to the garage.

We had just gotten into the car when he turned to me and said, "What's that smell?"

Never a good sign. But before I continue, let me backtrack and say I was really digging the soft green melding with a light powder in the background.

I'm such a trooper. "Probably my perfume," I said, holding my wrist out for him to sniff.

"That's it," he said. And then: "Urinal cakes."

On my life, I have never smelled a urinal cake, but I am pretty sure that while at some point in time there may have been a Calandre lotion or a Calandre dusting powder (things being what they were in 1969), I am solid on the fact there was no Calandre urinal cake.

"It's pretty!" I shrieked. I always shriek when defending my perfume choices.

"I didn't say it was a bad thing. It's nice. It just smells like urinal cakes."

Now, I haven't been married that long, but I have been married long enough to know, there are just some things you don't want to investigate too closely. I'm pretty sure a loved one's fondness for the scent of urinal cakes falls into this category.

I pouted all day. Every thirty minutes or so I waved my wrist around under his nose.

"Urinal cakes."


I realize this might not be the best way to line things up for a prize draw, but no matter how pretty I think Calandre is (soft green and rosy woods, slightly powdery, elegant), I will never be able to wear this. The man will always and forever smell urinal cakes. When he gets hooked on something like that, there's no changing it, so I have decided to part with what's left of my decant. I can't tell if this is a 2 or 2.5 ml decant, but it's a little glass atomizer a smidge over half full. Leave your name in the comments and let me know if you're game, and I'll draw on Saturday. And if you don't like it, you can always use what's left to freshen the unmentionable area of your powder room.

*image from Imagination Perfumery, where 3.4 oz can be had for a song

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Estée Lauder Beautiful

I received a bottle of Beautiful the year I graduated from high school, 1987. Over the years I created a sort of myth that it was my signature scent back then, but in truth, I wasn't particularly devoted to it. Smelling it now, I cannot say that was a mistake. It was in regular rotation with other things in my teen perfume wardrobe, which was truly all over the place. What else did I even own then? Let's see: Ysatis, Rive Gauche, L'Air du Temps, Anais Anais, Coty Exclamation, Obsession. Not one of these bottles did I buy for myself. They were all gifts as I passed through high school and into college, mostly from relatives.

But the myth pervades. Right or wrong, it seems my entire bank of stored memories from my last year in high school through to my second year of college simply reeks of Beautiful. I could apply any other one of those scents I just listed for you, and I might get the tiniest whiff of nostalgia. I dab on a few drops of Beautiful, and I could write a book. I know I must have worn other things. Didn't I wear other things?

One thing I do know: The perfume that knocked Beautiful out of the running for me was Fendi, and Fendi was followed by Opium, and after that I mostly said goodbye to it forever. Well, until this week.

On the Estée Lauder site, it says Beautiful consists of notes from a thousand flowers. (Hello, isn't that Jean Patou's 1000?) In the booklet copy I have here, it says 2,000 flowers. Really, the number is neither here nor there, because all you need to know is that they are all pink. Beautiful is a WALL OF PINK.

The (mere fraction?) of notes listed for this perfume are as follows:
Top: rose, mandarin, lily, tuberose, marigold
Heart: orange flower, muguet, ylang-ylang
Base: sandalwood, vetiver

It's true: for the most part, all these flowers really just end up making one giant pink flower. I'm not sure if this is a compliment. When you have a star vehicle like tuberose, say, shouldn't you make something fabulous out of it? Why humble it, why dumb it down into a mess of pink? It's like Meryl Streep doing ensemble comedy on a sitcom for Lifetime versus Meryl Streep doing ensemble comedy in A Prairie Home Companion. The woman deserves the best vehicle. You don't put Meryl Streep on Lifetime unless you're re-running The Devil Wears Prada. The woman has Oscars to her name. Oscars!

And I didn't want to admit it, but I must: it does smell synthetic. I can't say that about any other of the Lauders so far, but it's true here. I knew for sure when Bob told me this morning that I smelled like an airport. (Gems. My husband comes up with some serious gems.) The funny thing is, I knew just what he meant. It's a conglomerate: the scent of disinfectant, mixed with the scents of industry (carpet glue, plastic chairs, newsprint), mixed up with travelers' perfumes. It's perfume sprayed on polyester or acrylic, something that never breathes.

It breaks my heart to say that. I wanted it to be wonderful, for my sake, for your sake, for Estée Lauder's sake. I love the ads. I love the hot pink color of the box (ironic, no?) and the shape of the bottle. I also do not think a perfume could possibly have a better name--Beautiful!--but certainly the wonderful name deserves a better perfume. Is is too late to rename Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, you think? That is a beautiful perfume.

*image from

Monday, January 21, 2008

What We Talk about When We Talk about Perfume

I write about perfume. Every morning, I pull out a little vial of something or other, dab it on my wrists and elsewhere, and go out into the world. I come home at night, look up the notes, and dab on a bit more perfume to refresh my understanding of the top notes and development. Then, I write.

I am not a nose. I have no formal training in perfumery. I have never sold perfume. I am a woman who found a perfume blog (Now Smell This) one fine April day in 2006. Not to be too dramatic about it, but that blog changed my life. For one thing, until I found that blog, I, like most people (I suspect), knew nothing about the world of niche perfume. Within a matter of weeks, I'd ordered my first samples online (Ormonde Jayne) and worked up the courage to go into Sephora and ask them to decant some things I wanted to try at home. I had not one clue what I was doing, really, but it seemed important somehow. I wanted to smell everything. I wanted to know scents firsthand.

A few more sample orders and trips to Sephora later, I started a journal. I diligently copied notes and described my impressions. One day, my husband suggested I start a blog. Now, at this point, I'd followed all the links off Now Smell This to other perfume blogs, and followed the links on those blogs to even more perfume blogs, so I knew the world (at least online) hardly lacked for conversation about perfume. But I was so unbelievably eager to share what I was learning, to tell people about my impressions and to hear about theirs, I decided, why not?

And so I started Sweet Diva. As far as writing reviews (although I adamantly refused to call them reviews, because that seemed to imply I held some level of expertise), in a way, it wasn't all that difficult. Like anything else around which a culture evolves, perfume has its own language. I don't mean vocabulary or terminology, but its own style. Click around and see. We speak a language of metaphor: colors, nature, movie stars, heroes and heroines from books, cities, works of art. I essentially tried to write like everyone else, use the language they used. And, more importantly, I tried to agree with everyone else. I was sort of crushed when I learned people didn't like what I liked, because I thought it meant I had bad taste, that I had no business writing about perfume, let alone sniffing it.

I remember distinctly writing a positive post about Nuit Noire, thinking it was one of the most elegant things I had ever smelled, only to read a poor review of it on a blog I trusted. I wanted to pick up my toys and go home, but I stayed. And as I stayed, as I kept writing, I developed. My nose developed, my writing developed, and I like to think I developed a sort of voice of my own.

In my post on The Language of Perfume, I don't believe I got my point across clearly. Simply, I was trying to say that the terminology we have to talk about perfume can be inadequate. It seems a chypre is not always a chypre, or else it is. And that's why we DO need lists of notes, we DO need metaphorical descriptions, we DO need stories and memories that compel us to try these perfumes. Some combination of all of these is required. But experience is also an important factor, because the more you sniff, the more you understand the lists, the metaphors, the fact, these become more compelling, more meaningful. We should not try to develop or enforce a rigid vocabulary, because it will fail us. In his comment to me, Michael used the terrific example of Coke. If he says something smells like Coke, I know what that means. Except I am from the South, where "coke" is interchangeable with "soda." You say, "It smells like Coke," and I could very well be thinking of Diet Coke or RC Cola. Or maybe I think you mean something sweet and fizzy. It requires the speaker and the audience to have a mutual understanding of the term. This is hard to pin down when so many variants exist.

As for the experience part, I simply meant to say to beginners, do not be shy or afraid, and don't feel inadequate if your nose tells you something other than what you read. Your impressions may or may not change, but reading about perfume and thinking you know it is like reading about travel without ever getting off the sofa. You have some idea, some understanding, but always the picture is what someone else has tried to show you. I think all beginners should sniff and write down what they think without worrying about what language they should use. First things first. The words will come.

Lunch Hour Sniffa (Or, Scents I Would Most Like to Date)

On Friday I had to run to the post office at lunch, so I decided to stop by Ulta, which is right across the parking lot, for a little sniff-fest. I was interested in trying out some of the Estée Lauder flanker scents (Youth Dew Amber Nude, Azurée Soleil, Pure White Linen), and also just checking their inventory.

The thing about a trip to Ulta is that it's all about paper-strip-based testing, which is sort of the perfume equivalent of speed dating. You get an initial idea of a scent that in the long run could be completely off the mark. Still, initial impressions are the most important. So many people buy fragrances based on top notes, perfumers have to get it right from the get-go.

Did I find love? Read on...

Estée Lauder Youth Dew Amber Nude. We hit it off right away. This is Tom Ford's refreshing take on the original Youth Dew, and he builds on a sophisticated base by bringing to bear a bit of a gourmand heart. It's a warm floral, not as spicy as the original. Would you call this scent for a real date? Yes! I picture nights by the fire, a nice glass of wine, cuddling. I just hope it won't be too clingy.

Estée Lauder Dazzling Gold. Meh. $8.99 a bottle sparkling wine. Bubbly, not overly sweet. Really, not overly anything. Would you call this scent for a real date? Probably not. I have a feeling it would want to go to Applebee's. On a Tuesday, like at 5:00. So it could get home early and watch television.

Estée Lauder Dazzling Silver. I tried both Dazzling fragrances because Divina suggested I give them a shot. This was her favorite between the two, and I have to agree. It was effervescent and crisp, reminiscent of a winter sky at twilight. Would you call this scent for a real date? Maybe not for a “real” date, but it would be fun to hang out with at a party, sort of like a friend you only see a few times a year who always leaves you thinking, “We really should try to get together more often.”

Chanel Coco Mademoiselle. Coco (the original) was one of those fragrances I had to have the minute it was released. I love, love, loved it beyond reason, even though the reaction I generally got from other people was that it wasn't really me. I haven't worn Coco in many years, and my mania for Oriental perfumes has lessened somewhat, so that I am happy to say this wonderful floral was delightfully surprising. Because this fragrance is marketed toward a younger demographic, I expected it to be no more than a sophisticated take on a fruity floral. I'm happy to say this scent is less pink than its juice appears. Would you call this scent for a real date? Yes. I'm not afraid to say I even had several daydreams about the two of us in a long-term committed relationship.

Christian Dior Miss Dior Cherie. This one scares the pants off me. Why? Well, when I hear notes like “caramel popcorn” and “strawberry sorbet,” I die a little inside. On a positive note, I found this less girlish than I expected. On a not-so-positive note, I found it rather generic. Would you call this scent for a real date? I just don't think we have anything in common. If it called me first and asked me out, I might be willing to give it a shot.

Michael Kors. I thought I'd try this after reading Robin's review of Michael Kors's latest perfume, Michael Kors Island Capri. I liked the original Island well enough (Bob really liked it), and in that review she mentioned that this scent was rather well-done. I found it warm and slightly tropical, like a more refined, lighter Monyette Paris. Would you call this scent for a real date? I would. I think it would be a terrific companion for an impromptu weekend getaway, on the beach or poolside in Vegas.

Ralph Lauren Romance. Maybe I just hadn't sniffed enough coffee beans, or maybe I had sniffed too many. Honest to god, I really couldn't smell much of anything with this one. It was floral, in a bland, pretty, inoffensive way. I think. Would you call this scent for a date? Would I call who? Did...was there somebody there?

Alfred Sung, Sung. Having just read about this on Divina's blog, I was happy to see it offered at Ulta. Until I read her review, this was one of those scents I'd constantly dismissed on the discount sites. Something about it makes me think it must be generic and dull (see Lauren, Ralph—Romance). How wrong I was! I must say, Sung did not disappoint this (very picky) white-floral lover. Sniffing it on the test strip, I found it rather clean and slightly bold, a surprising grand dame. Would you call this scent for a real date? Definitely. I'd take it to a rather fine restaurant, or a museum opening. I'd wear my pearls.

Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy. Okay. This is on Robin's Top 100 fragrances everyone should try list, and I've also seen Chandler Burr describe it as “well done,” so I'm not going to be a snob. Except that I am. On a test strip, at least, this was awful. I won't dismiss it entirely until I have tried it on my skin. One thing I can say for it—it wasn't blah. Would you call this scent for a real date? Probably, because I felt sort of sorry for it. Hopefully it wouldn't smack its gum the whole time and eat with its fingers. Maybe it would turn out to be a little fragrance with big dreams, and I sort of like that.

Kenzo Flower. On the test strip this practically comes across as a heliotrope soliflore. I'm not sure what the big deal is. It's a generic powdery floral in the way Russell Crowe is a generic manly man. Yawn. Would you call this scent for a real date? No. I'm already seeing Etro Heliotrope.

*image from Yahoo

Friday, January 18, 2008

Estée Lauder White Linen

Consider, if you will, the following scenario.

You have a good friend you’ve known for many years. You have much in common with this friend, from life experiences to tastes in music, books, or movies. You share similar values, you see the world through a similar lens.

There’s just this one thing.

Your dear friend has this other friend, with whom she has also been friends for many years. She loves her other friend in the same way that she loves you. She thinks this other friend is so funny, so intelligent. She thinks this other friend is a great dresser. She believes this friend gives honest and sound advice when it’s warranted, support when it’s necessary.

You, on the other hand, cannot stand the friend of your friend. You think she’s boorish and a bore. You think what others refer to as her "eclectic style" is really just a symbol of the chaos of her personality. She's flaky and unreliable. And what’s more—she doesn’t like you either. She rolls her eyes when you make a joke. If you say you like a book or movie, she loudly contradicts you and lists all the reasons why no one should ever read that book or see that movie.

Because you love your mutual friend, you put up with this person, but you go out of your way to avoid her. When you see her at parties you do everything you can to be civil. Sometimes, you even convince yourself that maybe, eventually, something will click between the two of you, and you’ll become bosom buddies. After all, people like you, and those same people like her…why shouldn’t you like each other?

This scenario pretty much sums up my long, tumultuous history with White Linen. My love for Lauder products, both beauty and fragrance, goes back a long way. For about ten years through the late Eighties and into the Nineties, White Linen crashed every gift with purchase party I had. I tried it dutifully for years, until I finally got to where I’d break open the obligatory GWP makeup bag and toss the little white-capped bottle into the trash. Yes, that’s right—the trash.

The notes in White Linen are as follows:
Top: Bulgarian rose, jasmine, muguet
Heart: violet, orris
Base: vetiver, moss

Now, how lovely does that sound? And it’s Estée Lauder. How bad could it be? Well. On my skin, White Linen becomes what I call “screaming green.” It shouts at me all day long, “I am green, do you HEAR me? I’m green and FAB-U-LOUS! [three snaps] Do you think I’m going to let a couple of flowers crash my party? Oh no! They can prop themselves up against a wall, sister, because green is IN DA HOUSE!” There’s no sweetness to the rose, no depth to the jasmine, no delicacy from the muguet. I wait. I think maybe, maybe I’ll get a little candy off the violet, but no. This is close to the same crisp violet that makes CB I Hate Perfume Wild Pansy so amazing, except in this case it has fallen in with a bad crowd. Do I need to even discuss the vetiver? It’s GREEN baby! GREEN!

A note on Estée Lauder’s site proclaims that readers of Allure voted this the best classic fragrance for 2007. White Linen makes all sorts of top ten lists. Everybody loves White Linen, and I have tried. I have given it my all. I trust those of you the way I would trust my good friend. If you say it’s fabulous, I’ll take your word for it. That’s the best I can do.

*image from

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Language of Perfume

I continue to ponder this thing, writing about perfume, so I thought I would share with you something I read that really got me thinking. Helg over at The Perfume Shrine was lucky enough to interview Chandler Burr (Part One and Part Two), and he was kind enough to respond to comments readers left regarding his interview. Simply, one commenter noted the difficulty of writing about perfumes without using words like "aldehydic." Mr. Burr responds (in part):

"Brands hate aldehydic only because people don’t know what it means; if the public was familiar with it, there’d be no problem, and they’re going to have to be, sooner or later. Perfume should be taught in classes just like painting and literature. As Luca points out, what’s lacking is simply the vocabulary."

Now, as many of you know, Chandler Burr is the perfume critic for The New York Times, as well of the author of two books about perfume, The Emporer of Scent about the master Luca Turin, and The Perfect Scent about the creation of two scents, Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely and Hermes's Un Jardin Sur Le Nil. And, as many of you know, I am...uh, me, amateur perfume fan and author of this blog. Clearly, if we met in a dark alley for a perfume-off, Chandler Burr would win.

And still, I'm going to do this. I'm going to disagree. Yes. I. Dare. And now I shall explain why.

*Cue sound of soapbox being dragged across the floor.*

Ahem. On the one hand, I agree completely that perfumery is an art and should be treated as such. How wonderful it would be to take classes in the history of perfume, or to take classes to learn how to compose a scent the way one takes a class to learn to compose music. Where I part ways with Mr. Burr--or really, I guess, with Mr. Turin (oh yes)--is in the area of vocabulary.

Perfume is about experience, not about language. Consider this line: "If the public was familiar with [aldehydes], there'd be no problem..." Okay. Aldehydes are specific types of organic compounds. Now you know what they are. According to Wikipedia, they contain a terminal carbonyl group. Oh, even better! But you have a definition now. You have a vocabulary.

Now talk to me about perfume. You can't.

But if I told you, "Chanel No. 5 is aldehydic," and you smelled Chanel No. 5, you might say "Ah!" And then if I let you smell Clinique Wrappings, you might have an even better understanding of aldehydic. The more you experience it, the more you understand it--not the more you talk about it. The problem is, of course, that to be able to talk about it, you have to say "aldehydic." You can't say, "a sort of metallic herbal or green quality." Or can you? Which has more meaning? I would argue for the "metallic green quality," but I realize that one cannot classify perfumes in such a manner. In this case, aldehydic enables us to classify, and we can say definitively, "Aldehydic perfumes contain aldehydes." That one is pretty clear cut.

Now take the term chypre, common to the perfume vernacular. A chypre is a perfume with citrus top notes and woody base notes. I've defined it for you, right? I could also say to you, "A chypre includes bergamot, oakmoss, and patchouli in its composition." The problem there, of course, is that lots of perfumes contain these notes, and they are not chypres.

All chypres are not created equal. Guerlain Mitsuoko, a chypre, is nothing like Chanel Chance, which is also a chypre. Of the accords that make up a chypre (remember, we have the definition), Mitsuoko has two, bergamot and oakmoss, and Chance has only one, patchouli. Mitsuoko is a fruity chypre, while Chance is a floral chypre. Each of these have little in common with Chypre de Coty, for which this family of perfumes is named. There are also green chypres, aromatic chypres, and leather chypres.

You know what a chypre is now, right? I've explained it to you, and you now have the language--the vocabulary--to describe it yourself.

Now, if I spray some perfume on your wrist, can you tell me definitively whether or not it's a chypre? My guess is no. My guess is, maybe if you've smelled hundreds, even thousands of perfumes, you could pick out what might be classified as a chypre. But that is experiential. If you read the notes, too, and saw that it had the possible composition of a chypre, you might pin it down. But unless chypre means following a specific formula--x amount of bergamot, y amount of oakmoss, and z amount of patchouli--every time, for every composition to which other ingredients are added, no one can say definitively what is and is not a chypre. In other words, there really is no meta-chypre, no ur chypre.

Which means, ultimately, that the term chypre has no meaning unless we somehow make it have meaning. We, the masses, don't get to make these things have meaning. So who does? Well, perfumers do. And critics do. And, I suppose, marketers, although maybe they have to check with the perfumers first. You and I, we know a chypre is a chypre because somebody tells us it is so. I suppose once we're told, we can discuss it. The problem is, though, that if it only comes down to a matter of vocabulary, then what we're saying is that all that matters is the discourse. If we know how to talk about perfume, how to write about perfume, then we know perfume.

And I suppose that's what it comes down to for me: the difference between the discourse about perfume and the experience of it. The discourse is easier. It's akin to reading literary or film criticism without reading the book or seeing the film, and then trying to have a serious discussion about said book or film. You might be convinced you're talking about the book, but really, you're talking about someone else talking about the book. (Remember Mr. Burr's comment about how perfume should be taught like art or literature? Hang around with a couple of graduate students in literature for a few days, and see if they discuss books, or criticism of books. Literary criticism gave them a vocabulary!) It seems a lot of the time the discussion is about what we think about perfume, not about how we experience perfume. Sure, we discuss the development of notes on our skin, but that's often akin to a plot synopsis. I certainly don't have the answer about how to get outside that loop, but I don't think a vocabulary is it.

All this is a roundabout way of saying, I think people need more experience with perfume, not more language. As much as I love writing about perfume, I encourage people not to take my word for it. Go on a smelling adventure, figure out what you like, and do not worry about the fact that you can't talk about it the way you think you should be able to. The language of perfume is as artificial a construct as one can imagine. Own your nose, and say anything you like.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Estée Lauder Private Collection

Too many days, I wonder what I am doing here. While I know I can't give up my perfume habit--my perfume mania--I wonder why I don't just walk away, write my impressions in a journal, and comment on what other people, "experts," have to say. Some days I feel like perfume is not about the journey, but about the end result: the opinion. I have no desire to be a critic, only a fan. I remain stubbornly novice because I don't want to be tired, but I realize by doing so, I marginalize myself. It's very hard to line up with someone who mostly gushes, who's trying things everybody else has already tried. I feel like one of those time-traveling characters in a movie, plopped down in Times Square straight from the Nineteenth century, who wants to talk to everybody about all the lights! Can you believe the lights? Look at those over there that go from red to green to yellow and back to red again! Have you ever seen anything so spectacular?

It's exciting, but it's also lonely.

Sorry for the introspective moment. It's been one of those weeks. On to the perfume.

The story, as everyone knows it, in a nutshell: Private Collection was Estée Lauder's signature scent, kept a mystery. When people asked what she was wearing, she said it was perfume from her "private collection." In 1973, she succumbed to public demand and released the scent for sale.

The notes listed on the Estée Lauder site are as follows:
Top: honeysuckle, jasmine, citrus
Heart: orange flower, ylang-ylang, coriander
Base: sandalwood, patchouli

The notes listed on osMoz are as follows:
Top: green note, orange blossom, linden
Heart: jasmine, reseda, chrysanthemum, rose
Base: sandalwood, heliotrope, musks, amber

Notes, schmotes. Talk amongst yourselves about who's right and who's wrong. Here's how Private Collection works on me:
Top: Pulpy citrus, a little bitter, like the white insides of a grapefruit peel. It is rather refreshing and sharp, and does come off a bit green. After about fifteen minutes of this phase, which is my least favorite, it softens somewhat, even becomes a bit soapy.
Heart: I think jasmine serves less as a top note than as a bridge to the heart of the scent. All at once it seems any trace of citrus disappears, and although a peppery green note stays behind (I mistook this for vetiver until I read the notes, but now I know the coriander plays its part to perfection), the floral notes take center stage. Orange blossom comes to the fore the more the scent begins to mellow, and as it transitions to the base it sweetens and even becomes a bit powdery.
Base: Even thought it's powdery and warm, I detect no heliotrope, which to me is a "standout" note, like tuberose. One can almost never mistake it. I believe this is simply an elegant balance of sandalwood and patchouli, as the Lauder notes reveal. It does have an extra warmth, though, it seems, and I have to admit I was surprised not to see vanilla listed in the base notes.

When it comes to a perfume like Private Collection, or any of a handful of classic perfumes, my opinion matters not one whit (not that it matters a whit with any other perfume, but you get my drift). I can only tell you what legions of perfume fans already know: Any serious perfume fan should own a bottle of this. It's classically elegant, warm, timeless. What I can't fathom is why Estée Lauder has relegated it to the "All Other Perfumes" category on their site, along with several other classics. Sad. I hope that's not the last stop before the chopping block. Surely Dazzling could go instead, or a few of the Pleasures. Yes, a Pleasure for a pleasure--now there's a trade.

*image from

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Estée Lauder Aliage

Launched in 1972, Aliage was touted as the first "sports fragrance" for women. Now, I must admit I'm not exactly a sporty gal myself. For one thing, if I have to select a sport in which I might deign to engage, it must be a sport with an outfit, like tennis or golf, and not a uniform, like basketball or, say, roller derby. I also imagine being able to make frequent references to "the club." In this, I believe I am probably in league with Mrs. Lauder and her ilk. The upper classes have always had "sporting" women who play tennis or ride horses or sail boats around Nantucket. All of those activities involve a club. I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure this fragrance is for them.

Not that you could tell by the smell.

Okay, first off: if you read yesterday's post, then you're already familiar with my prejudice against fragrances that are overly green and citrusy. Take a gander at these notes:

Top: jasmine, citrus
Heart: nutmeg, rose, armoise
Base: oakmoss, vetiver, cedarwood

To get right down to it, Aliage smells to me like an old saddle rubbed with citrus oil. Before you get all excited about the idea of leather, let me paint a little mental scent picture for you: think about sniffing the inside of an inexpensive leather handbag. It smells rather dusty and synthetic, like it's been treated with chemicals. Now spill some cheap perfume in said purse--or maybe some lemony, grassy aftershave--and you've got Aliage.

Okay, maybe I'm being unfair, but really, this scent goes nowhere on my skin. After an intolerable green opening, it flattens out to dry woods and reedy vetiver. This offering was clearly meant to capture that part of the market that was women who enjoyed wearing men's fragrances, but I can't imagine that after trying this one women wouldn't go right back to the other side of the aisle and just buy the darned men's cologne.

Had I grown up with the horsey set, perhaps I would find this fragrance appealing, even comforting. Alas, I grew up in a family where "outdoor activities" meant "sitting on the patio at a restaurant." I can think of at least a dozen scents that are prettier and more well-suited to doing that.

*image from

Monday, January 14, 2008

Estée Lauder Azurée

In 1969, much more in keeping with that year and the decade that was to follow, Estée Lauder launched Azurée, which was "inspired by the blue of the Mediterranean near her vacation home in Cap d'Antibes, off the coast of France." The notes are as follows:

Top: basil, jasmine, citrus
Heart: armoise, vetiver, rose
Base: patchouli, moss, amber

Pardon me for getting right down to business, but I have to tell you that if I were cruising around looking for something to buy based on notes, I would dismiss Azurée from the get go. Why? Well, let's start with "citrus." That's rather elusive, and doesn't bode well for me in general. It's not that I don't or won't wear fragrances with "citrus," but I must admit, I like to know what my "citrus" is made of. If it's mandarin or lime, we're probably okay. Grapefruit--we're moving into iffy territory. Lemon? Probably not going to happen. I'm just saying.

To "citrus" add "basil," and I'm doubly unsure. I know that by now I should know better than to dismiss (or love, for that matter) any scent based on its list of notes, but I must admit to certain prejudices. "Herbal citrus" usually means disaster for me. Usually. In this case, I was committed, because A) I already own the little bottle, as it came with my collection, and B) I promised myself and all of you that I would try everything and tell you what I thought.

Lucky for me, in the top notes, the jasmine softens the tang of citrus, and the basil adds sweet spice rather than a green herbal quality, rendering this scent a warm, sunny yellow. The vetiver is quite prominent, so if you're not a fan, you might want to stay away, while the rose serves to temper it just a bit. Armoise--or its alias, wormwood--I cannot say I have ever smelled, but upon research I found that it is in the absinthe family, and is also sometimes referred to as green ginger. I think it lends to the spice in the heart, and there's a slight peppery-ness to it as well. No worries, those of you who fear the licorice-like qualities of absinthe. The dry-down is cozy and rather classical as the amber shines through.

I liked Azurée much, much more than I would have expected. I'm anxious to try it in warm weather, although I wonder if it might not be a bit too much in the Georgia heat. No matter, for it's warmed me all through the cool days I've worn it, and I could see it being a go-to scent when the weather turns nasty. I have not sniffed its sister, Azurée (Soleil? According to osMoz, TF created a "new" Azurée in 2006, followed by Azurée Soleil in 2007, but they appear to have the same notes), created by Tom Ford. Reading some of the notes (Tahetian Gardenia, coconut, orange blossom, vetiver, sandalwood and myrrh), I am guessing that although it smells nothing like the classic scent, it offers the same promise of escape for its wearer, albeit an escape to different shores. I will hunt down a sample and try my hand at a comparison before it's all said and done, but in the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on either scent.

*image from

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You...

Hi Friends. Sorry for that lack of posts the last few days, but the end of the week got rather hectic. Next week I'll be starting my Reader's Journal posts again, and hopefully I'll have a review of my first short story collection for the Short Story Challenge. And of course, more perfume!

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Estée Lauder Estée

Estée was the second perfume created by Estée Lauder, in 1968. According to the little brochure that came with my collection:

Once, at a party, Estée Lauder noticed the light from two crystal chandeliers shimmering in a glass of champagne and thought how wonderful it would be to capture that image in a fragrance. Seven years in the making, Estée Lauder created a fragrance with a brilliant, sparkling top note which plays against a rich, sensuous background.

I've worn Estée the last couple of days, and I somehow got it lodged in my head that this perfume was launched in 1963. As such, it was coupled in my mind with an image of Natalie Wood in some films from the early 1960s, like Love with The Proper Stranger and Sex and The Single Girl. When I picked up the little brochure and saw 1968, before I'd even read the text I thought, "Then this must have been years in the making."

For me, 1968, the year before my birth, is all about the Summer of Love, hippies and protests against the war, the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the uproarious Democratic convention in Chicago. Everything about this perfume denies that tumultuous time and hearkens back to Camelot, to a country on the brink of the Beatles, to Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique.

The notes listed for Estée at the Estée Lauder site are as follows:
Top: jasmine, rose, muguet
Heart: coriander, ylang-ylang, orris
Base: sandalwood, moss

If Youth Dew was a scent to liberate women to buy perfume for themselves, then Estée was a scent for women not only to buy but to wear on their own terms--which would have been terrific in 1963. Liberated, educated, but still a lady, still a rules girl. 1968 was a year for breaking every rule in the book, the way history has been set down for us, so I wonder if they thought then what I think now: Estée is rather old-fashioned. I don't mean this in the pejorative sense, but rather in a sense that it feels like a fragrance caught at one point in time, reflecting certain social values, a very timely statement about womankind. Youth Dew feels modern to me, as do fragrances like Weil Zibelene or Chanel No. 19. Estée feels caught in a time warp. I can't imagine some woman applying this and then running off to burn her bra. The woman who chose this perfume most likely still wore gloves and a hat every time she left the house.

For me, that's perfectly okay. I still find it wearable, but then I like a perfume with a ladylike edge, if that's not too much of an oxymoron. The floral aspect of this is quite deep, and it dangles just at the edge of a chypre, with slightly detectable aldehydes to keep the wearer from feeling smothered by flowers. The jasmine and muguet make the rose slightly crisp, and the heart is golden with a touch of spice. I keep thinking of a picture I saw once of Natalie Wood from the early 1960's wearing a fur hat, with a coat and matching fur stole. She looks both poised and poised for adventure, ready for excitement and change. How little she knew what would happen next.

A note: I sampled the parfum concentration of this. I haven't tried the Pure Fragrance Spray or the Super Cologne Spray, which appear to be the only concentrations available on the Estée Lauder site.

*image from

Monday, January 07, 2008

Estée Lauder Youth Dew

I've said this before, but Youth Dew is a fragrance I've long associated with grandmothers, particularly my own. Practically every Christmas included some form of fragrance gift set of bath oil and scented powder. Youth Dew was so prevalent throughout my childhood, I couldn't tell you how it smelled, for the notes of that perfume were inextricable from the other smells surrounding it. In some form or fashion, it must have been Grandma's House (the other scent that calls this to mind is Fracas, although more likely back then it was Jungle Gardenia I was actually sniffing), caught up with the smell of Aqua Net, cookies baking, ham roasting, and the ubiquitous cigarette smoke.

As the legend goes, Estée Lauder released Youth Dew Bath Oil in 1953, aware that women were reluctant to buy perfume for themselves or to apply it on a regular basis, as we do now. This story is well and widely known by perfume fans everywhere, so much so that I wonder if we ever really stop to think about it. Perfume has been a part of my daily routine as long as I can remember, and I've never hesitated to buy a bottle of something I want (well, not entirely true--now I hesitate on a regular basis!). On the one hand, it seems a bit sad to think of so many women denied the daily pleasure of perfume. But on the other hand, I see the romance in owning one special bottle, especially if it was a gift.

This morning when I pulled out the tiny bottle of parfum that came with my collection and applied the dark juice, the first thing that struck me was how modern it is, and how youthful. Nowadays everyone under the age of...well, everyone seems to be striving for youth. Women in their forties sport tiny t-shirts and low-rise jeans, the same as their daughters, and many of them have also gone the way, perfume-wise, of the candied, sticky fruit concoctions their daughters wear as well. I can remember walking through the main hall of my high school and looking at the pictures of the graduating classes that went before mine (1987, thanks). My favorite pictures were the girls from the 1950s and early 1960s. They looked so poised, so adult. They were already women, not girls, or so I thought back then. But age gives much perspective, and now I think of one of those senior girls getting ready for a date, possibly slipping a few drops of her mother's Youth Dew into the bath, and dreaming about her future. This is a fragrance that can be worn daily, but also holds the special promises of evening, and nothing is more intoxicating to youth than those long hours that stretch endlessly into the next day.

The notes in Youth Dew are as follows:
Top: rose, jonquil, lavendar
Heart: jasmine, muguet, spices
Base: moss, vetiver, patchouli

Youth Dew doesn't develop on the skin as much as it stews there, a rich, heady brew of flowers and spices. The moss and patchouli do indeed give this perfume a chypre-like kick, but it's softer, less angular than a chypre. It's spicy and quite sexy, and I'm surprised to say I find it more sophisticated than the 1970's ur-Oriental, Opium. After a few hours, Youth Dew becomes drier, less sweet, and there it reminds me a bit of a more modern incense. I'm so pleased and amazed. I thought I would like this for sentimental reasons, but it turns out this is a fragrance I could easily adopt as my own.

*image from

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Michael Storer Perfumes

Much ado is made these days about the lack of originality in niche perfumes. Many mainstream perfumers are trying to "go niche," while other classic perfumers, like Guerlain, are releasing less-than-stellar perfumes in order to find a new audience. As a newcomer who has yet to try even many classic perfumes, I can't sincerely jump on the bandwagon and complain much about the lack of interesting releases. I'm too busy catching up. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm immune to suggestion. In fact, quite the contrary, so when I heard people I trust say good things about Michael Storer's creations, I listened, and I responded.

Michael Storer currently offers six perfumes on his online site, but he's adding a new release to the mix as well, a fig-based scent called Kadota. I've had the pleasure to try all seven (Bob tried three). I've listed them below, although I have to say that overall, they're all stunning. I can see how every perfume lover needs at least one of these scents in his or her collection.

A funny story here: The first Genviève I tried was not Genviève at all, but Stephanie. The vials got confused, as did I, so that when I wrote my original review, I was using the correct notes and the wrong scent. That pretty much messed with my head (or my nose, as it were--I thought I had lost my mind when I smelled white flowers but hardly any were listed), but I'm on track now.

The notes in Genviève are:
Top: Damask rose, green tea, muguet, rhubarb, ambrette seed
Heart: Bulgarian rose, raspberry, peach, ylang ylang, mimosa absolute, jasmine absolute, violet leaf
Base: angelica root, tolu balsam, ambergris, musk, tonka bean absolute, sandalwood, civet

I generally get a sense of whether or not I will like a fragrance as I apply it. A sure sign is when I can't put down the vial and have to keep dabbing it on, as I'm afraid other people won't be able to smell the magic that is THIS perfume. With Genviève, I dabbed and dabbed, sniffed and sniffed. This is a refined, elegant scent. The rose is soft and fresh, and as the scent deepens, on me the fruit honeys the scent, rather than adding any juice, opening the way for a warm and sexy dry-down. It's cozy enough to wear in winter, but it also has top notes that lend it to summer, with whispering green notes followed by a scent that never overpowers the wearer.

Some fragrances don't lend themselves to words. Ironic then that upon first sniff, Monk makes me think of a Medieval scriptorium, where words are holy. I think Monk is one of the most complex fragrances I've encountered. At opening, it's rather dank, the smell of an old room, of the mildewy pulp of old manuscripts, of the lingering tobacco smoke of ancient scribes practicing their craft late into the night. The animalic undertone here is visceral and almost overpowering, but after an hour or so it mellows to an ancient powder. I thought I detected heliotrope, unusual in a man's scent but also rather sexy in contrast to the usual wood notes, but none was listed in the notes, which are as follows:

Top: acacia flower, bergamot orange, bitter orange, galbanum
Heart: linden blossom absolute, blond tobacco absolute, cistus oil, ambrette seed, cocoa absolute, Bulgarian rose absolute
Base: Aged Indonesian vanilla, tonka bean absolute, civet, sandalwood, Texas cedarwood, benzoin tincture, jasmine absolute, birch tar

My guess is the cocoa and vanilla temper the woods, but this is decidedly not a gourmand scent. It is the scent of knowledge through time. That may sound overblown, but you must try this scent before you judge.

As for Djin: When I opened the vial and sniffed, I literally said these words out loud: "Sexy! Awesome sexy!"

That's right. I turned into Austin Powers.

I took the vial straight to Bob and bid him to try it. Let me leave this little story for a sec to tell you about the notes:

Top: lemon, grapefruit, ivy leaf, muguet
Heart: oolong tea absolute, cardamom seed, pink pepper, galbanum, geranium leaf over roses, lemon verbena
Base: teakwood, sandalwood, castoreum, musk

Bob is always a willing participant in my perfume trials, so he gave Djin a go. Sadly, this fragrance seemed to be all ozone on him, and left what seemed to be hot in the bottle rather cold on his skin. I could see this working better in the heat, as I imagine the ozonic notes would work with the humidity to let out the more animalic notes in the base.

I could not give up on a fragrance that was so stunningly sexy in the bottle (or vial, as it were), so I decided that today I would try wearing it myself, and I am so glad I did. On me, the scent warms a great deal. After a crisp start, the rose and leather are the most prominent, with a light dusting of woods underneath that add a sexy whiff of heat. Chemistry is a mystery. This is a sensual, sexy rose.

If you've smelled Yvette, and if you've spent any time at Sweet Diva, you might be as surprised as I was at how much I like this fragrance. I've said before that fruit and I do not mix, and in fact I will go out of my way to avoid any scent I think will be overly fruity or in the least bit gourmand. I'm happy to say that Yvette falls into the same category for me as Pomegranate Noir--in other words, a fruit-based scent I can wear, and even enjoy.

Where Pom Noir begins with dark juicy fruit and ends in warm woods, Yvette begins with a green, almost medicinal opening. As the fragrance warms to the skin, the fruit begins to appear, dark and fleshy, a bit jammy but not overly sweet. A powdery note softens the intensifying fruit, and while the green, herbaceous tones of the opening disappear entirely, the scent remains as fresh as a newly ripe plum, never ripening to the boozy headiness of some fruit-full perfumes.

The notes in Yvette include tropical flowers, rose otto, muguet, heliotrope, tonka, sandalwood, spice and tarragon. I find this one a better scent for cooler weather or drier climates. In the deep South, the rich depths of this scent would be quite heavy for summer. That said, I can see it being an excellent choice for February or March, as one awaits the promise of spring.

I'm taking a huge risk with this one, as Michael has yet to list the notes for it on his site, but was generous enough to include it in the sample pack I purchased just before Christmas. I've had relatively little experience with fig fragrances, but they've been positive in both instances (Diptyque Philosykos and Anthousa Fig & Vetiver), and Kadota is not an exception. I'm finding it much greener than the beachy Philosykos, and heartier than the Anthousa. The top is true fruit that instead of growing sweeter actually grows greener, not unlike a tree that releases its ripe fruit before its leaves have reached full maturity. To me, this scent also smells a bit wet, like the aftermath of a storm in springtime.

The Michael Storer site describes Stephanie as "the headspace of a gardenia." The first whiff of it in the vial bears this out: This scent is unmistakably lush. This is not a green gardenia, not the experience of the full plant in flower, but rather, the flower itself. The notes in Stephanie include pink pepper, black pepper, galbanum, angelica root, sambac jasmine absolute, tuberose, and chrysanthemum. The top is crisp, but soon passes straight into the white floral heart where the tuberose is prominent but not overwhelming. The pepper adds an unusual and interesting touch to a white floral which would otherwise be rather straightforward (not that that's a bad thing, not at all). I like that instead of going for fresh or creamy, this perfume dirties the flower a bit. It makes me think of Katherine Hepburn as Tracy in The Philadelphia Story where she worries about being on a pedestal--this flower is not a goddess, but a real woman, and all the more beautiful for it.

il giardino
I found this to be the most straightforward of the bunch, and it's the only one I didn't try myself, as green fragrances often do not agree with my chemistry.

The notes in il giardino are as follows:
Top: lemon, bitter orange, cognac oil, green cassis bud
Heart: grapefruit, black currant, neroli, orange blossom absolute, jasmine absolute, philodendron, juniper berry
Base: ambergris, musk, sandalwood, Mexican vanilla, tonka bean absolute

Simply put, this scent makes me think of summer in a backyard at twilight, sitting near a pool, smelling the neighbor's freshly cut grass, sipping a gin and tonic, staring up at the violet sky. A dog barks in the distance, children on the street are still playing, eking every advantage of remaining daylight. I find this fragrance to be more of an experience than a perfume, but it would blend wonderfully into any summer night.

Michael Storer's fragrances are very reasonably priced ($75-$85 for 2oz.), especially considering their terrific lasting power, and are available through his online store (with the exception of Kadota, which has not yet been added). You can email Michael at with questions. You'll find he's very helpful and kind.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008 Resolutions

The last couple of years, I didn't make any resolutions. As far as perfume goes, last year I was still fumbling around and wondering what to try. I started the year with roses and went on willy nilly from there. This year, I at least have a few goals in terms of lines I want to sample. Some are classics, some are department store favorites, and some are more niche than others. While everyone else is off being cool and interesting, sampling beihl parfumkunstwerke and other such new things, I'll be working through my education, trying not to be distracted (although I'm sure sometimes I'll be unable to avoid it). If you have any suggestions about specific perfumes I should try from these lines (barring the obvious, of course, like Miss Dior), please share in the comments! I love to try other people's favorites.

Here are the houses on which I plan to focus in 2008:

Dior. I am most familiar with Dune and Poison (and I do own a vintage bottle of Miss Dior whose top notes have gone missing), so I think I should get in there and sample some of the classics. I seriously plan to sniff everything they have to offer. This was all prompted by Chandler Burr's post about J'Adore in The New York Times. Well, that and it's a line every perfumista should know.

Hermes. This is another line with which I am only the tiniest bit familiar. I own a decant of Hiris, and that's about the extent of it. I've sniffed their scents while standing in the store, but that's too distracting and tells me nothing, really. I plan to sample all that I can, including the Hermessences.

Estee Lauder. This is my "department store" entry line, but it's also an American classic and the perfume line with which I was most familiar with from the outset. Beautiful was a "signature" scent for me for many years. My grandmother wore Youth Dew; my mom wore Private Collection; my stepmother wears Knowing. Like many, mine is a Lauder family. A funny story: The first year Bob and I were together for Christmas, I sent him out to buy his grandmother some Youth Dew (it's a well-known fact that all grandmothers of a certain age love Youth Dew, Chloe, and White Shoulders--you know it's true!). He brought home Youth Dew Amber Nude. Hm. And yes, I broke down and ordered the fragrance set I said I wanted for Christmas. I waited until the day after, just in case.

Miller Harris. I have only tried L'Air de Rien and Coeur d'Ete, but they've left me wanting more. This time last year, I probably would have purchased either one of those two...this year I'd liek to get through more of the line before I decide.

Le Labo. I have tried nary a one of these fragrances, so I think it's time to step up to the plate. Too many people in the perfume blogging world have sung their praises, and I'm "old enough" for them now.

CB I Hate Perfume. Another line I felt I needed to grow into trying. Last summer I sampled Wild Pansy and Just Breathe. Wild Pansy is firmly placed on my imaginary "to buy" list, but like the Miller Harris, I want to get through more of the line before I commit to anything. This one might be difficult if Luckyscent won't put samples of these back on the menu!

Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. The scents I've sampled from this line that stand out in my mind are Or des Indes and Fleur de Comores, and of course Secrete Datura. All three of these pleased me, so clearly I need to do some more sampling before (or if) I decide to settle on adding one to my collection.

Carthusia. This is one house I know nothing about, but it intrigues me. I've found at least three "samples to order" lists on post-its around the house or office with one or another Carthusia scent on it to know that I should just get off my duff and try some already.

Penhaligons. Shut up. I like the bottles. That's enough, right? No? Well, Kate Moss likes the Bluebell perfume. I am cool like Kate Moss. (You know I am desperate when I throw in a celebrity plug.) Seriously--I like the bottles. And the scents sound pretty. I like pretty.

Parfums de Nicolai. Another one where I've tried a few--Odalisque, Mimosaique, and Sacrebleu--and understood that I must try many. This is another line where it would be easy to succumb early on. Besides, I got through sampling many a Guerlain last year, and it's time to give the younger generation a go.

Bond No. 9. Next to Lauder, this is the house on the list whose work I've sampled the most (Scent of Peace, Westside, West Broadway, Fire Island, Chinatown, DNA (Saks for Her), Silver Factory, Bryant Park). I'm pretty set on owning a bottle of Bryant Park one of these days, and I am eagerly awaiting Union Square. I probably have more samples of fragrances from this line that I haven't tried than any other, and the SA at Saks has convinced me that these scents are made for layering, not unlike the I plan to try and see.

And there you have it. Naturally, these are just the biggies, so I am sure plenty of other stuff will get thrown into the mix. I'd love to hear if you've made resolutions, scented or otherwise, in the comments. Oh, and any suggestions, of course!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Feeling Challenged

I've decided right away to start 2008 with a bang instead of a whimper. If you check out my banner, you might notice that I am not bumbling only through perfume, but also books (and beauty--ha!). In 2006, I tried to join a blogger's book club, but I found myself overwhelmed by perfume. In 2007 I started my Reader's Journal posts and was a bit more successful at keeping things up. As I plan to continue my Reader's Journal posts throughout 2008, I thought perhaps I should ensure I'd have something to write about, so I joined not one but two different reading challenges.

The Short Story Reading Challenge
In a nutshell, I've agreed to read ten short story collections by ten writers I've never read before. I used to be an avid reader of short stories, but lately I've been re-reading the same collections over and over again, so I am hoping this gets me out of my rut and helps me find some new favorites. I'll be posting about the collections I read both here and at The Short Story Reading Challenge blog, which will also include all the lists and reviews of other participants. If you're interested in joining this one yourself, the rules are listed there as well as at Kate's Book Blog. My thanks to Kate, whom I've never met and whose blog I just discovered before Christmas, for organizing this challenge.

It also happens that I am such a nerd, I've already composed my list (not in any particular order). I have read some stories by a few of these authors, but never a full collection, so I think that still counts. My choices are:
Sunstroke and Other Stories, by Tessa Hadley
Cliffs of Fall and Other Stories, by Shirley Hazzard
Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona, by Ryan Harty
Shiloh and Other Stories, by Bobbie Ann Mason
Lost in the City, by Edward P. Jones
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer
A Kind of Flying, by Ron Carlson
Corpus Christi: Stories, by Bret Anthony Johnson
Jenny and the Jaws of Life, by Jincy Willett
Laws of Evening, by Mary Yakuri Waters

The Pub 2008 Challenge
I found many interesting challenges, but because I've never done one before I thought that if I were going to do two, I'd better pick a second one that seemed...well, do-able. I found this through the blog A Novel Challenge, and it's being organized by the person who owns this blog, which I just found today. The basic rule: read eight books published in 2008. Four of these books must be fiction, but no children's or young adult books. Just after signing up for this one, I realized I hardly ever keep up with new releases, so I may have to make the list as I go. That said, I already have my first choice, which will be published on January 14--West of Last Chance, by Kent Haruf. Plainsong is one of the best books I ever read, so let's hope this is a good choice! I'll keep you updated on my list as it takes shape. You should be able to read all entries at The Pub (2008). You can also sign up there, if you are so inclined.

It's already shaping up to be an interesting year!

*images from The Short Story Reading Challenge and The Pub 2008