Friday, January 23, 2009

2008: Fragrance Year in Review

Looking back, 2008 was a strange year, rocky and difficult not only personally, but for so many people in so many ways. I had big goals for the blog and sampling, and they didn't quite pan out. I got off to a strong start with Estee Lauder, but I could not seem to keep the momentum with any of the other houses. I was too distracted to keep a plan together. I remember distinctly trying many of the Penhaligon perfumes, but only managing to produce a review for Bluebell. I made it through the Le Labo samples as well, but only after I stopped writing longer reviews, which was a shame because they deserved more time than I was able to give them, and now the samples are mostly gone.

Since August, I've primarily worn my own perfumes. A strange thing happened: when I felt things starting to careen downhill at work, I became very sensitive to what perfume I wore. I'm not a superstitious person, and I don't believe in talismans or good luck charms or lucky items of clothing, but I do tend to hang on to fragrance associations, and no matter how good something smells in an "objective" sense, if I associate it with a negative event, it's ruined for me, if not forever, then for a long, long time.

So what does one wear for the trip down the rabbit hole? First I tried something to keep my attitude positive, alternating between Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess (beachy, summery) and Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb (rosy, robust). Didn't work. I felt increasingly agitated and unhappy at work, despite my aromatheraputic attempts, so rather than have Flowerbomb associated with a bad time and ruined for me forever, I put it away. As for Bronze Goddess, I unfortunately purchased that in "celebration" of the new job last spring, so it seems tainted and unrecoverable. Next I tried something to keep me calm and centered, and for that I chose Andy Tauer's L'Air du Desert Marocain, which I wore through September and October. I admit it brought me a sense of peace, and while I always admired this perfume from the beginning (which I won from sweet Andy, way, way back in the beginning), I don't think it's overstatement to say I grew to love it so much as to believe I can never be without a bottle--which is why, as things got even worse, I put that away as well. For several weeks during November, I didn't wear any perfume at all. When the holidays rolled around, I settled on Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir. I have to say, that perfume did a wonderful job of both lifting and comforting my low spirits. On the day I was "resource actioned," it was warm (for January) and humid, and because it was my first day back at work in the New Year, I wore L'Artisan La Chasse aux Papillon. I hate that such a pretty fragrance is associated with such a negative experience, but the good news is, I wore so little of it (I'm always careful with the white florals) that I don't think it suffered any permanent damage. And finally, to recover my spirits? Iris Poudre.

But what about the first half of the year? I found much to love in the year 2008, in the way of fragrance. As I said before, not everything got the treatment it deserved: the Le Labo fragrances, the Hermessences (if I ever buy one, the race is on between Vetiver Tonka and Osmanthe Yunnan), and several from L'Artisan (Timbuktu, in particular) would have definitely made the list, but I decided to discuss only scents for which I wrote full posts. So, without further delay, here are my picks:

1. Estee Lauder Estee. "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."

2. Tann Rokka Aki. "After about thirty minutes, Aki begins to lose some of its sweetness, and it feels like night coming on, the patchouli moving across the amber twilight like a darkening sky, the vetiver lighting it up softly here and there like stars. This phase is decidedly more grown-up than the opening, and easier to wear overall, even though I did enjoy the trip down memory lane that the opening notes provided. Aki is pretty and uncomplicated, like youth is or should be..."

3. Hermes Elixir des Merveilles. "This perfume is most definitely not a strict gourmand scent. If you were worried about all the vanilla and orange and chocolate, don't be. The opening is the most gourmand part of the scent, with a dark, dark chocolate note that almost translates as pepper on my skin. The orange is not sparkling or sweet, but a bit bitter, more like the rind than the fruit inside. The tonka bean lends to the spice as the scent develops, bringing out the dark heart which gets rounded rather than sweetened by the vanilla. It has a slight booziness, which is approprite because it's absolutely intoxicating. In the dry down the scent truly does get drier; the woods take away the booze and the cedar, frankincense and patchouli take over."

4. Guerlain Mahora. "One whiff of this scent, and I long to be on vacation somewhere. Permanently. Just after winning the lottery. What I enjoy so much about Mahora, which goes from bright and tropical to creamy to powdery and comforting--think a long day basking in the sun, followed by an evening on a patio with a warm breeze off the ocean--is the sophisticated yet quiet approach it takes. There's no mistaking the tuberose, to be sure, but it's as though she's donned a sun hat and picked up a book to retire to a poolside chaise."

5. Ineke Evening Edged in Gold. "Evening Edged in Gold begins with ripened, honeyed fruit, a deep but not overly sweet nectar, lightened considerably by the osmanthus, which, for lack of a better word, is dappled through the top, a whiff here and there...the scent ripens on my wrist, the fruit becoming deeper, the cinnamon bark and floral notes mulled in among the top notes. I find it almost a miracle that I didn't have wasps thrumming around me as soon as I stepped out the door wearing it. This has terrific lasting power, and the longer I have it on, I feel like it actually gets lighter, sweeter."

What were your favorite discoveries from 2008?

*images credited in original posts