The Scented Salamander

A perfume blog offering the latest fragrance news, {advance} perfume reviews, beauty product reviews, shopping tips for scents, advice, quotes, interviews, perfume criticism and commentary, vintage perfume history, free samples. Sniffing around the globe to bring you the best, the unconventional, and the latest in fragrances! A proud member of the Glam Network, Beauty Blog Network, Coutorture, Delightful Blogs, Beauty Blogads, Riveting Reviews, Top Ten Sources, and Best of the Blogs.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I Have a New Website!

The Scented Salamander has moved to a new address:

I'm still settling in a bit, but will post something later today.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Trouble by Boucheron

Ladies, be forewarned here: if you ever decide to visit beautiful Scotland, and opt to wear Trouble by Boucheron, you may provoke not only some "trouble" (the French word) amongst the menfolk there -- that is, a gentle, almost shy turmoil of the senses, of an understated, sexual nature -- you may downright get yourself into trouble (the English word) and be confused with the sort of woman you do not wish to be identified with (at least, this is what I am politely assuming). What delicate visions of femininity did Trouble by Boucheron evoke to Scottish testers? "Corsets, closed velvet curtains and leave the cheque on the table." "Slut."

Thus we learn, ahem, of the, perhaps, lower level of tolerance in Scotland for, shall we say, "sensual" perfumes (among certain Scots, "sluttish" perfumes, presumably). Actually, does anyone know of any "sluttish" perfumes -- that is, ones that sex workers think are good for their trade?Also, if you are from Scotland and you are reading this, please consider sharing with us your personal opinion of Trouble and of women travellers who wear it while traipsing about your moors.

You could say that Boucheron brought it on themselves; the advertisement for Trouble is highly suggestive; the hissing serpent there is used as a phallic symbol, the model's half-open mouth is undeniably suggestive, and their choice of a deep, red garnet for the bottle, you could hardly call it innocent. It can indeed remind many people of the color of red velvet curtains in a 19th century bordello frequented by Toulouse-Lautrec, of the sluttish red you see Belle wearing in Gone with the Wind when Captain Butler visits her, of Scarlett's later appearance in a dark red velvet gown that makes her look as if she had just come back fom singing in a saloon. More recently, we think of Satine in Moulin Rouge. But it's only really a reference to a precious ruby stone, a very apt reference for a jeweler. If you thought about those other associations, that means you need to go jewelry-shopping more.

Trouble is a sensual, sweet, and soft perfume, bordering on being a skin scent, diversely classified as a vanilla oriental, a fruity chypre, or a fresh oriental. The latter for me is the best characterization for it. The main charm of this perfume,
I would say, lies in a contrast between a clear, transparent citron note and a warm, sensual vanillic base, with jasmine sambac adding its softness, richness, and sweetness to the concoction. The lemony note instead of bidding adieu after the first few seconds or minute, persists, lingers on, and lightens up the scent. The orange blossom note that belongs to the scent range of jasmine sambac reinforces a subtle, transparent hesperidic accord. For those who love jasmine sambac, like I do, it is a real treat. Some people describe the scent of jasminum sambac as situated somewhere between orange blossom and honeysuckle; it is a deliciously sweet, fragrant, and fresh scent.This contrast creates the impression of a perfume that is both creamy and watery at the same time -- opalescent, if you will.

I enjoy this particular quality very much, it adds a touch of originality to the perfume. Trouble smells rich and opulent, this being the mark of many luxury perfumes, but allows a simple, delicate fresh accord to emerge, like the distant echo of one's youth peaking through a more sensual veil. Perhaps it wants to suggest the innocence of Eve before she bit into the apple, perhaps the perfume wants to rather say that Eve was never sinful, whispering instead in your ear that in all women there is a part of innocence and a part of experience.

The top notes are citron and digitalis or floxglove, middle note is jasmine sambac absolute, base notes are precious wood, vanilla amber, and blue cedar.

Sources: Osmoz, The Scotsman, November 27, 2004.

Photo is from

Perfume List: 5 Types of Fragrances for 5 Types of Men

Here is a digest of a posh list of masculine scents as compiled by French journalist Claire Mabrut for the Figaro, September 28, 2004:

- The Man with the British Touch: he is chic but he is also an eccentric, seemingly conservative and classic in his appearance, but revealing a bit of a nutty personality.

What should he wear? Falsely classic scents which are a bit skewed:

•London for Men, by Paul Smith (his clothes are also by Paul Smith)
•Brit for Men by Burberry, inspired by 70's icons Keith Richards and Mike Jagger
•Original Vetiver by Creed (when in the City)
•Penhaligon Racquet's Formula (when in the City)
•Sonia Rykiel Grey when he goes back to France (where he is allowed to be more sensual apparently)

-The Business man: on the go, organized, busy. He favors a discrete type of elegance.

•L'Essenza di Zegna (his clothes are by Zegna)
•Ferre Lui de GF
•Jil Sander Pure for Men
•Carolina Herrera Chic

-The Bourgeois-Dandy: he just doesn't know how to behave ordinarily. His perfumes as well as his clothes and art objects are meticulously researched. Each ingredient in his perfumes must correspond to his personality.

•Cologne Blanche by Hedi Slimane for Dior (based on an 18th century recipe)
•Colognes à La Russe, à L'Italienne et à La Française by Institut Très Bien
•Guerlain L'instant for Men
•Hugo Boss Baldessarini (when on a romantic date)

-The Luxury Sportsman and Traveller: he drives luxury cars, goes yachting and travels to exotic destinations

•L'Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu (brought it back from Africa)
•Issey Miyake L'Eau Bleue
•Roger & Gallet Cologne (reminds him of Sicily)
•Salvatore Ferragamo Incanto for Men

-The Mountain Type: he likes to be seen at hip ski resorts. Likes refinement and follows fashion. He is also a seducer.

•Armani Black Code
•Escada Magnetism for Men
•Gucci for Men
•Yves Saint Laurent M7Fresh (when he skis)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Scented Thoughts: Perfume List-Making and The Meaning of It

For whatever reasons people decide to compile lists, and lists of perfumes in particular, I find the results of this activity to be usually both interesting and entertaining as well as informative for the consumers that we are. The activity itself is fascinating, pointing to a seemingly innate urge to categorize the world and bring added meaning to it. Making lists is also a cataloguing activity; we want to store knowledge and preserve it in a clear and accessible way. How do we classify fragrances and symbolically re-work the ready-made, packaged material presented to us by perfume brands? How do we symbolically re-order nature and society through the classification of scents? What values are expressed through that activity? How aesthetically satisfying can lists be? These are some of the questions one may think of.

Lists, furthermore, are fun, beautiful, creative, personal, normative, erudite, informative, etc. They reflect a critical and selective activity and usually are meant to be helpful as well as be aesthetic pronouncements pointing to a more ideal world. They tell us what they think are "the best of" and where to find meaning, beauty, and harmony. They also offer us condensed, essential information. So, I've decided I will post lists of perfumes or of perfume-related information I come accross. I will probably pitch in too at some point. Don't hesitate to chime in to let us know what you would have put in any given list.

Tomorrow, I will post a list regarding the types of fragrances that certain types of men should be wearing.

Photo is from Institut Très Bien. It is a beautiful, poetical list of perfume notes. No selection here obviously, except in the choice of words, like Siam instead of Thailand. An a priori boring commercial list of ingredients is turned into a little work of art.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Eau de Cologne à La Russe, à La Française et à l'Italienne by Pierre Bourdon for Institut Très Bien

On my recent trip to Paris I came accross a line of niche colognes that I think have good chances of pleasing amateurs of refined and understated fragrances, as well as potentially proving to be a welcome addition to the fragrance wardrobes of people who are looking for fumes discrete enough to wear at the office. They will also probably pique the curiosity of history buffs and rejoice Europeanophiles.

The line is by Institut Très Bien, a perfume house located in Lyon, France and comprises three colognes, Cologne à La Russe, Cologne à La Française, and Cologne à L'italienne, with each cologne pertaining to a specific style identified with a specific country and tradition. Their names mean Russian or French Cologne or even more precisely, Cologne Russian Style etc.

They are by no means your simple, middle-of-the-road colognes and they were created or partly recreated by nose Pierre Bourdon who happens to be also the author of Shiseido Féminité du Bois (together with Chris Sheldrake) and Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre. They are inspired by cologne recipes from the turn of the XXth century, but their compositions are intemporal, so that they do not feel like fragrances belonging to a bygone era. CALR is based on a recipe dating back to 1906 and Pierre Bourdon succeeded in recreating 90% of the original formula, since some of the ingredients are no longer available. CALF is a recreation of another cologne recipe that was used by the grand-mother of the founder of Institut Très Bien, Frédéric Burtin; he rediscovered it by reading her correspondence and found out that she was in the habit of custom ordering it from the original beauty institute called Institut Très Bien in Lyon in the 1930's and would praise it highly.

CALR was the initial motivation for the creation of the ITB line and Burtin's avowed aim is to offer refined "universes-products" (univers produits), supposedly, to a rich, feminine clientèle (How about that for a marketing turn-off? It's so dumb and obvious, at the same time, to say that, I'm wondering if he really said it, as reported by L'Entreprise). In spite of this, I think that the Colognes could be worn either by a man or a woman of refined taste from any walk of life.

The one that is the most interesting to me is Cologne à La Française. It is the most subtle and refined of the trio, revealing a hidden but lasting charm. Please believe me when I say that I make no conscious nationalistic claim here, although on second thought, I realize I may be influenced by certain core French values like discretion and elegance which imply a certain economy of means and a restrained sense of aesthetics. What happened in the chronological order, is that I found Cologne à La Française to be less impressive at first sniff than Cologne à La Russe which makes an immediate, seductive impact on your nose and presents a much more assertive personality. However, after about ten minutes, Cologne à La Française appears, in my opinion, to be the most elegant, understated, and refined one of the two and, or for that matter, of the three. It has the effect of growing on you, while Cologne à La Russe reveals all of its seduction at first blast but lacks the delicate unfolding of the first. It is a darker, more sensual and more ambery juice (ambrette seeds notes), although, unconventionally, there are no Russian leather notes to be found in it.

In fact, Cologne à La Russe is really an Eau de Parfum, therefore a stronger concentration, while Cologne à La Française is an Eau de Toilette, therefore a little lighter; they both nevertheless retain the names of colognes in this line, probably, I surmise, for historical and structural reasons, because they were cologne recipes originally and also because they make use of a basic cologne structure in the scents. Cologne à L'Italienne is the only one that is truly a cologne and therefore is the lightest concentration; while I find it pleasant enough, it is also the least complex of the three, being more simply citrusy despite the interesting inclusion of a maté note. However, in the hot days of summer it might be the one you find to be the most pleasingly light and mercifully refreshing.

The compositions of these colognes read almost like poems or evocative lessons of perfume geography. Cologne à La Française, for example, is composed of Magnolia from China, folded together with, in the top notes, winter lemon, grapefruit from Israel, white lemon from Sicily, citron from Calabria, bergamot from Sicily, lime from Mexico, and in the heart notes, lavender from Provence, rosemary from Morocco, verbena from Provence, finally uncovering an ambery and irisey base composed of notes of neroli from Tunisia, benzoin from Siam, and Iris from Florence. Some key ingredients differ, but you also discover that all three Colognes share many in common, forming a general cologne point of reference.

The Colognes can be purchased online at

Sources:,, Libération, October 8, 2004, L'Entreprise, September 1, 2003; there is also a review of these colognes on

Photos are from Institut Très Bien's website.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Fifth Sense in the News: Olfactory Movies Coming Soon To Your Home

By the end of the year 2006, the French might be able to both view and smell olfactory movies at home thanks to a technology developed by AC2i. Michel Pozzo and his team are working on a small-sized scent diffuser operated with batteries and rechargeable batteries that will be able to diffuse scents controlled by codes from a DVD. To each scent would correspond a different code. These codes would be read by the diffuser through the Wi-Fi. This diffuser will cost approximately 120 Euros.

Since April 22, 2006, the Japanese are able to watch the last Terrence Malick movie, The New World, in special movie theaters equiped with globes underneath their seats mixing different scents based on 6 essential oils. The scents' compositions are downloaded from NTT Communication's servers to a local server.

In July of 2005, ScentAir had already been able to perfume the air with chocolate at the premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Source: "Le cinéma se met au parfum" dated April 24, 2006, by Hélène Puel at

Perfume Review & Musings: Un Bois Vanille by Serge Lutens

Un Bois Vanille, created in 2003, is one of the more interesting variations on vanilla that I know of and one of the few fragrances in the Serge Lutens line that seems to be willing to compromise with the idea of being, possibly, a perfume to be worn --- how prosaic, I know. The common man, the one that is looking for mere empathy in a juice is glad to have found a more self-effacing Lutens perfume.

I find a most illuminating quote by Lutens on an unofficial website dedicated to him, Autour de Serge, the gist of it being that, what truly matters to the Master is not the fragrance per say that you happen to be wearing, but the way you wear it (my emphasis). In his mind, style and representations of the perfume may supersede the very contents of the perfume; how unusually desincarnated a thought for a perfumer, one may think.

He is perhaps the least sensual of our contemporary perfumers in his approach of the art and yet, most of his fragrances could hardly be called marble cold ---- although, after all, this is debatable when I come to think of it. Lutens' capacity for abstraction is remarkable, perhaps no other perfumer or more correctly speaking, conceptualizer cum evaluator ("évaluateur") seem to equal him in this respect. He is after all, the founder of a new type of sensitivity in perfumery, if I am not mistaken in my perception of his work. I say "evaluator" because we cannot clearly gauge his direct imprint on the perfume he creates, as he used to work in close collaboration with nose Christopher Sheldrake until only recently.

Un Bois Vanille includes those elements of the rare and the unusual that Serge Lutens considers indispensable to the creation of beauty, that is, in this case, vanilla paired with dark licorice and woods, gaiac wood in particular. It is a scent that is amicable to your skin, willing to meld into that unknown territory and meet the less predictable. It is not always so with Lutens, as most of his creations are much more controlled.

The first moments are dominated by caramelized benzoin and licorice notes, which appear very much pronounced at the onset despite the fact that they are officially counted as heart notes. The texture of the perfume at this point suggests thickness and slow unfolding; one is reminded of molasses slowly trickling down into thick, dark circles. This unseen movement brings appeasement and a sense of the slow passing of time that lingers on until the pungency of the burnt caramel and licorice progressively abates and softens into a softer phase where vanilla becomes more apparent. Ensues at some point a dusty phase, which I fear is the most dangerous phase as it may turn into baby powder on some people. The scent, I think, is sweet but not cloyingly so, as the nose is stimulated and distracted by more complex notes. One is reminded of a room with warm wooden pannels in a colonial style house by the seaside. Maybe it is the coconut milk note that makes me evoke the sea. Although coconut is listed as a top note, I seem to perceive it best in the drydown where it softens the vanilla further, while relaying the licorice to cut down on the sweetness of the vanilla and bring out a very subtle aqueous note. We end up with a sense of the strange and of the unpredictable in the midst of the familiar.

According to Osmoz, the notes are: coconut milk, dark vanilla absolute, beeswax, caramelized benzoin, licorice, marzipan, gaiac wood, tonka, sandalwood.

Sources:, (via )
Photo is from

Monday, April 24, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Musc Ravageur Eau de Parfum & Oil by Maurice Roucel at Frederic Malle, Editions de Parfums

Musc Ravageur, the edp and the oil, were created by perfumer Maurice Roucel in 2000 and 2003, respectively. He is also the creator of popular luxury and niche scents such as Hermès 24 Faubourg, Guerlain L'Instant, Donna Karan Be Delicious, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, and Lolita Lempicka L, among others.

Musc Ravageur already comes preceded by an established reputation as Malle's best-seller. The perfume's name proclaims far and wide that it will conquer the hearts, or at the very least, win the erotic favor of the vulnerable mortals who will get close to its fragrance. Maurice Roucel, we are told by Editions de Parfums, thought of it as an "act of seduction and generosity." The French perfumer confesses a predilection for warm, sensual scents and Musc Ravageur appears to epitomize those very qualities. We would expect this, as Frédéric Malle, in principle, gives free rein to his stable of authors, having introduced the concept of a publisher, not of books, but of fragrances.

The verb "Ravager" alludes to a dangerous seductive power, as in "ravager les coeurs", literally, devastate hearts. If you wear Musc Ravageur, you are implicitly promised to turn into a "ravageur" or a "ravageuse" depending on your sex both being, supposedly, individuals of considerable seductive charisma. Incidentally, a "ravageuse" can also mean a prostitute and we see then how society can cast a stern glance at women who go a little too far astray. However, a "ravageur" may not mean a male prostitute.

Frederic Malle, the self-described "éditeur de parfums" of Musc Ravageur, wholeheartedly acknowledges and advertises the aphrodisiac properties of Musc Ravageur, the Oil, asserting with gusto, "
It is a musk that destroys everything in its passage. " He further reveals, almost inadvertently, that this capacity for barbaric misdemeanor and amorous devastation was carefully planned by Maurice Roucel from the depths of his laboratory, adding " It’s freedom oil! You can put it all over. It’s a technology for maximum sexy pleasure."(the oil + the scent).

Let us pause here for a moment; did we just now read the word "technology" here, instead of say, "art"?! Would that mean that perfumers and their publishers, such as Frederic Malle, are interested in the social engineering of our most intimate feelings and emotions??? In brief, yes, we have to face the unsettling fact that the creation of perfumes can be aimed primarily at the manipulation of our moods rather than, first and foremost, at aesthetic emotion (Serge Lutens and Chris Sheldrake work more on realizing abstract artistic concepts in my opinion and their creations are more difficult to wear for this very reason). This is demonstrated, for instance, by the current predilection for scientific fabrication of scented environments in stores to help drive up sales. Let us be lucid consummers.

Over the centuries, musk has been considered to be both animalic, due to its origin, and divine in its ability to conjure up love. We can only imagine how many erotic and nuptial relations were sealed in the past thanks to the exhalations of musk. In the present, we are invited to try this potent elixir in order to gauge its effects on the modern man and woman.

The Eau de Parfum is sweeter than the oil and presents more olfactory contrast. The top notes are lavender, bergamot, and mandarine. My nose ascribes the sweetness of the edp not only to vanilla, I smell Bourbon vanilla, but to the presence of a very sweet variety of lavender, similar to the one found in Homme by Caron. The initial clear, high-pitched notes create an elevated, vertical orientation in the perfume, an arc if you will, which invites you to think of lightness and air. The tangy, herbaceous notes are able to sustain themselves and remain at the crest of the heart and base notes, providing balance and contrast between ethereal and earthy feelings. The musky accord is present from the very start and does not develop only in the drydown, thus emphasizing the linear effect of a quasi musk tincture. There is also a pronounced cola accord due to the association of lemon and spices, such as cinnamon and clove. This may turn off or readily attract some people; it nearly turned me off, but fortunately I went back on my judgement and ended up loving it. It can actually be a truly addictive scent. The edp is both a bit on the gourmand side, if we think of cola, and much more squarely on the sexy side. It smells very true to a tincture of musk grains, the uriney notes elegantly folding into spicy, woodsy, and ambery counterpoints, creating a delectable, sensual scent with great presence and character. The notes constituting the base are, according to Basenotes, gaiac wood, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka; Editions adds amber, while not mentioning most of the notes cited above.

The Oil lets the musk take center-stage, in an understated way. The other notes are much more attenuated than in the edp and there are fewer of them. The drydown in the oil is also more acrid, more evocative of sweat. Amateurs of Musc Koublaï Khan and of authenticity in general may appreciate this. The oil is also more linear and flat, apparently more austere too. It is more discrete than the edp, being more of a skin scent, but its discretion seems only to suggest further greater intimacy and seduction, since, as you get closer, the sexual character of Musc Ravageur the Oil becomes more openly apparent, less disguised than in the edp. The Huile à Tout Faire can be applied to your hair, but it seemed to have reduced staying power there and I could personally hardly smell it. My strategic dating advice would be to consider wearing the edp in the first stages of courtship when a little sillage matters and then switch on to the oil as you get further into your man's or woman's personal spatial radius.

These two perfumes go through several stages in the development espousing well the rythms of one's skin. At times, I prefer the oil because it smells more authentic, purer and truer to real musk, while the edp by comparison appears to be a prettied up, embellished version of musk, coquetishly sagging under the weight of too many ornaments. Flowers are not among those ornaments as it was composed without any floral notes. Ultimately, I think I prefer the Eau de Parfum because its scent is richer, more complex, lasts longer, on my skin at least. But who said you needed to choose between the two lovelies? We can see them as being complementary. I think that despite the fact that both versions of MR are unisex scents, men who think sweet notes are not masculine enough for their taste may feel more comfortable wearing the oil. People who like natural scents will also feel inclined to dab the oil rather than the edp.

Sources: Le Sex Sells by Amy Larocca, Basenotes, Now Smell This, Osmoz, Editions de Parfums.

Scented Quote of the Day, from John Keats:

I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,
A fresh-blown musk-rose; 'twas the first that threw
Its sweets upon the summer.

To a Friend who Sent some Roses

Picture is from

Friday, April 21, 2006

Scented Quote of the Day, from Ramakrishna:

"We laugh at the efforts of the musk deer to find the source of the scent which comes from itself and despair at our efforts to find the peace which is our essence.

Image is from

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Garçon Manqué by Des Filles à la Vanille

This one will make the lighter and tender you come out and will perfectly espouse the mood of spring, renewal, and children's laughters in public gardens, with a little detour to the baker's at four o'clock, right on time for the goûter, be you on your own or with children awaiting the ritual of biting into the pain of chocolat and other scrumptious goodies on the way home from the park or school. In Garçon Manqué, there is this characteristic smell and whiff you get upon entering a boulangerie and if you approach your nose close enough to a tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart/pie), the even more distinctive smell of a crème pâtissière on which fresh strawberries rest. My mother exclaimed upon getting a whiff of it, it smells like a cake! Yes, but not just any cake, it smells of the lovely crème pâtissière of my childhood. It also smells of the kiosques à bonbons from the Jardin du Luxembourg, of the fruity candies displayed there, mingled with the freshness of the air and the scents of the trees in the park, it is both sweet and light.

Garçon Manqué starts off with a fresh, citrusy, woodsy accord and evolves quickly into a deliciously light gourmand fragrance where peach and vanilla can be detected and much more. This is the point where it also becomes a buttery, creamy delight, and irresistibly evokes the sugar, vanilla, butter, and eggs composing the crème pâtissière, with touches of almond, rhum, and candied roses. As it progresses, it becomes even softer and the almond, woodsy, and vanilla notes become more pronounced while the light notes of the start and the fruity/floral notes of the heart sustain themselves thoughout, preventing the perfume from getting cloying, but on the contrary accentuating its aerial quality, its lightness of being. It has good staying power and although it became very attenuated, I could still smell it the next day.

It is a relaxing perfume, one that puts you in a good mood. It invites you to leave your worries aside, take a stroll in the streets at spring, make fun of yourself, and to become simpler, more innocent, and light, as when you were a child. However, it is not childish and candy-like, it just taps into our more innocent selves, our capacities to relate to childhood and children, even as we have become women and men. Yesterday, I wore it to do parent help at daycare and it made me feel closer to my son, to the kids there, to that precious time we all need to remember or live though the eyes of our children.

Des Filles à la Vanille lists the following notes: rose, white musk, jasmin, woods, peach, and vanilla.

It is available for $75 at Luckyscent with the added bonus of a free bottle of Je T'Aime with each purchase of GM. You can find it for 35 Euros in the boutiques of Des Filles à la Vanille in France.

The bottle can be used either as a splash or spray bottle.

Photo is from Luckyscent via Basenotes

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I am working on a new website

I will post the address here when it is ready to visit.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Scented Thoughts: Double Take

Yesterday, sitting on the couch, sipping my early morning cup of coffee, the lamps unlit, the blinds still un-drawn, and the laptop on, I suddenly became aware of the presence of an exquisite scent surrounding me. It made its presence felt and then disappeared, came back, tenuous and all the more delicate and intriguing for that. I tried hard not to let go of it, now inhaling carefully and more deeply while concentrating on trying to recognize it, focusing even more intensely as I wasn't distracted by any glaring object that I could visualize in the semi-obscurity. Was I dreaming, was it some sort of illusion, or maybe was I just unknowingly recreating an olfactory memory? Now the scent became more tangible, felt intimate, and stayed on. I suddenly remembered my woolen shawl hastily thrown at the back of the couch and the perfume I was wearing the day before, Fragonard by Fragonard! I had never suspected until then how lovely it smelled. That moment served to help me objectify its beauty and I simply had to wear it for Easter egg hunt day, with a renewed, deeper appreciation for it.

I’ve discovered that it is the sign of a truly good perfume when it can become something else than you thought it was. A truly moving fragrance will possess the power of metamorphosis and will surprise you by taking on different olfactory hues and identities along time. Its nature will be to be both elusive and present.

Photo is from Fragonard

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Scented Thoughts: Back From Paris

It is hard to write about perfumes when you are in Paris. First of all, there are too many things to get busy about and secondly, if your mind starts craving certain scents, the craving can so rapidly be satisfied that you can hardly call it a craving and certainly not a longing. In sum, not much to write about. Back in the States, I start forgetting about that sense of satiety and plenty, perfume-wise, that you experience in Paris. I start imagining perfumes, rather than living them and therefore it comes more naturally to me that I should wish to write about them. Scents to me cannot be dissociated from certain places, streets, atmospheres; they add that extra dimension of mystery and imagining of forgotten universes to the present world. So, perfume almost stands to me as a mere excuse, a means of making time stand still and recreating lost spaces.

Certain streets; I gaze absent-mindedly through the window, abstracting from my surroundings, almost forgetting about the very boisterous courtyard outside. In my memory, I go back to la rue Saint André des Arts, la rue de l’Ancienne Comédie and I recreate with great pleasure the impressions of a certain day that smelled of vanilla and patchouli. The scent is
Vanille, from Des Filles à La Vanille. There is a boutique there on the corner of the rue de l’Ancienne Comédie and another one on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. “Vanille” just goes well with the neighborhood, I don’t know why. I am not the only one to appreciate it, both bottles of “Vanille” at both locations are almost empty. They have been sprayed away by anonymous and familiar hands, women most probably, sharing similar tastes. Passers-by on boulevard Saint Germain are invited to sample three bottles of perfume from Des Filles à La Vanille, sitting on a stand situated on its threshold, half-way standing between the boutique and the street. The “mouillettes” (paper strips) are lovely and fancy, all gold-lettered and rather full of flourishes; I wish I had taken a close-up photo of some of them. They are fanning out in their glass cups. So much inconspicuous attention given to details. Why? It’s so ephemeral. I suppose a taste for luxury, a good supplier, and some idea of what civilization means.

Women here like heavier, earthy scents and men do as well. You smell them and they make you think of the depth of history and experience. Of some sort of roots and at the same time, it’s evocative of their skins, of the dry warmth of unknown bodies. People are not shying away from their corporeality but emphasizing it. How courageous of them. I am at ease sporting heavily sensual perfumes in Paris, but I think of the trip back home to Massachusetts and this compels me to buy a parallel set of perfumes, lighter, more proper, ones that won’t run the risk of being judged offensive. I think more of the risk of invading someone’s private space and less of the pleasure of scenting the air, on the street, for strangers to be appreciative of and intrigued by.

This morning in Cambridge, I nevertheless put on Vanille and yes, someone did turn suddenly toward me and looked a bit surprised, an unusually strong scent wafting toward him? I almost did not buy Vanille, the patchouli had such an explosive force at first that I had to take a step back away from the spray in utter shock and olfactory revulsion. Berk, berk, berk! Yet, soon enough the beautiful, rich vanilla took over, appearing deeper and more interesting thanks to the patchouli, softened further by the almond note. It’s certainly not typical of what you smell on the streets of Cambridge and Boston. But what then is typical of a Cantabrigian and Bostonian smell? I don’t know. I think of a medley of scents escaping through the doors of a The Body Shop, sweet and nice. My husband just mutters now that he hates the smell of The Body Shop, although he is one that pays no attention to scents, he confirms to me that there is such a typical smell imprinting that corner of that street. I think of iodine, of the scent of the sea that sometimes runs through the streets with the wind and reminds you that there is a coast. What else? Maybe
Happy by Clinique, because of the many young students who live in Harvard Square? Did I really smell this that often or am I just imagining it? Well, I do remember spying a bottle of Happy that sat almost empty on the Clinique counter at the Coop. I should pay more attention next time and follow the scent trails.

Photos by Mimi Froufrou

Scented Quote of the Day, from Emile Zola:

“In the muggy air intermittently lingered a more acute odor, it was coming from a few sprigs of dried patchouli broken into tiny pieces at the bottom of a glass.”


Friday, April 14, 2006

The Fifth Sense in the News: Fragrances and Public Space

An article from the Christian Science Monitor of April 14, 2006 about the restrictions regarding perfume-wearing in public spaces.

Where does 'Public Space" and 'My Space' Begin?

The Fifth Sense in the News: The Fragrance of Pine Forests

Here's a link to an article in the Guardian of April 14, 2006 on how the fragrance of pine forests helps cool down the atmosphere around them.

Fragrance of Pine Forests helps slow climatic change.

Scented Quote of the Day, from Gustave Flaubert:

"For him, there was never enough cold cream applied on her skin, never enough patchouli scenting her handkerchiefs."

Madame Bovary

Picture is from

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

It smells fresh in Paris

Photo by Mimi Froufrou

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Poupée by Rochas

One last perfume review before I take off for France and land in the capital of perfumes, the Mecca of fragrances, the scintillating city of my dreams. Gosh, how I love Paris and its Eden-like public gardens in the spring! But I must also say that guilt is surreptitiously rearing its head. I feel I have to mention the less glamorous side of Paris as well, the riots and the projects that are less than scintillating and postcard-like, where perfume stores are more than likely not to be found or at least, would be out of place, or at the very least, awkward-looking (perfumes, though, are also democratically marketed in France, think of Yves Rocher and Laurence Dumont, but more on that when I come back from my trip), but I won’t dwell on it here or at least not for the moment being. I should like to recommend watching Mathieu Kassowitz’s movie entitled “La Haine” or “Hate” in English if you would care to open a vista on the world of the under-privileged Parisian “banlieues” and appraise the tears in the French social fabric. It paradoxically turns out to be a beautiful movie, turning boredom, dullness, quotidian dreariness into objects of aesthetic contemplation and emotion. If it were a perfume, you would need a cement note to convey the starkness of those lives and you would need soft jasmine and orange blossom and French lys as well to offer them hope for a better future.

Spring came early to Boston; my whole body felt lulled by the new softness of the air which was already suffused with a different summery quality of light that anticipated the New England dog days, while we were still all standing at the cold cusp of winter. So, on my recent quest for a spring fragrance I happened upon Poupée by Rochas. I found its name to be somewhat unusual, enticing, suggesting both a pretty child’s toy, a doll, and a certain type of prettiness that is, in essence, cute. The conflation of these two universes, that of childhood and of sophisticated womanhood made this scent stand out and piqued my interest. Or maybe it was the pink. No, but really, this name is quite unusual for a fragrance.

The marketing of this fragrance is oriented towards women who are less than 25 years old and the publicity suggests that it is referring itself to the archetype of the woman-child or baby-doll. However, the name of the perfume stops short of conjuring up that ambiguous representation for me. The word “poupée” is just too cute and is not as commonly used in women’s conversations as “doll” in English, relegating it more firmly to the realm of things childish and adorable. (I’m trying to imagine the notes of a perfume that would be called squarely “Femme-Enfant”, but find the thought a bit too perverse to linger on it….well, maybe a bit,….strawberry milk-shake, baby talcum powder, and tuberose?). Anyway, why are they saying that? Everybody knows almost everybody wants to feel young nowadays, especially in America where even the dead wear makeup to fake lively blood coursing underneath rosy painted cheeks. Youth is all the way in and old is out, not to mention decrepitude and corruption of the flesh. This is just to stress that Poupée can potentially be worn by everyone in the kind of society we live in.

I expected this fragrance to be very pretty and so it is mesdames et messieurs. It is even rather ravishing. But I also further reflect that the pretty daughter’s sex-appeal cannot match that of her gorgeous mother, Rochas Femme. The bottle’s shape shows off a curvaceous, womanly figure that previously came to be associated with Femme. The cap’s shape is the same too, except that Poupée’s cap or hat, if you will, offers a plushy orangey texture that suggests softness, tenderness, but also hip modernity. The material and the red-orange color are reportedly inspired by Olivier Theysken’s mercurochrome dress and haute-couture coat hangers, dixit Osmoz. (He is Rochas’ Artistic Director.) The color of the scent is a delicate pink while Femme is ambery.

To my surprise, as I inhaled it, it made me immediately think of L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons Extrême! Poupée is both peppery and flowery in the same vein as LCAPE; it is more intense than the Extrême version of La Chasse, also more luscious, while La Chasse Extrême is more understated and urbane. Poupée was issued in 2004 and LCAPE, with the new pink pepper note, in 2005, while La Chasse dates back to 1999. They do not feel like slavish imitations of each other however, but rather like variations on a soon-to-become classic association of astringent pepper and flowers. I’m also thinking of Caron Coup de Fouet and Parfum Sacré as examples of that combination, but my memory of them are not very distinct. Poupée however, curiously enough, appears to be much more neglected by perfume aficionados than LCAPE -- It is fruity unlike La Chasse. Pineapple is listed as a note and in the opening moments it smells of a peppery grapefruitey pineapple, mingled with soft orange blossom. Pepper is not officially listed as a note, but the scent is definitely peppery and not just on my skin, but also in the bottle. (Edited: I just went to visit the Rochas website and they do list pink pepper as one of the top notes. I had relied solely on Osmoz which doesn't list it -- Osmoz, if you read this, please add it.) The peppery trail meanders through the developing stages of the perfume, while one passes from an initial fruity phase to a lovely showering of freshly cut flowers, still fruity, in the heart stage which is composed of gardenia, green jasmine, tuberose, and, hmmm or miam, miam, miam, hazelnut which adds a sweet, slightly fruity/woody/burnt note to the heart, rounding it off.

In this sense, although it is very different from Femme, it is also reminiscent of that same type of transition from fruity, slightly gourmand, to flowery. It does remind me of Femme in a structural way, a certain common tonality and progression are recognizable, as if forming an undercurrent. The base notes do not have as much depth as in Femme although they are unusual: they are sort of waxy and buttery, because of the balms note, and it is also a bit bland, softly vanillic, thanks to benzoin, but bordering on plain blandness. In the very last stages, it reminds me of the scent of cocoa butter. It is also reminiscent of a classic French lip balm called Dermophil Indien. This barrier of wax and butter seems to prevent the sandalwood, the benzoin, and the amber from developing to full strength. It is the part of the perfume that is the most acquired taste and would take the most time getting accustomed to, while at the same time discouraging a profound attachment to it, as far as I’m concerned, due to its lack of depth, at least on my skin, unlike its mum’s dry-down, Femme’s, which is just glorious.

Mimi Froufrou’s advice: always try a perfume on YOUR skin and sleep with it before deciding to reject or adopt it. Preferably, spend a few days with it.

Photo of the bottle from
Le Jardin du Luxembourg from
Paris suburbs from

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Fifth Sense in the News: Carrying The Scent of Their Wives

"It's Good to Stare", an article by Craig McQueen in today's Daily Record detailing the biological and social reasons for which women are attracted to certain men and vice-versa:

Daily Record

April in Paris

I will be posting again regularly after April 10. If I get a chance, I'll upload some pictures from Paris, otherwise I'll recount my trip and perfume experiences (I also need to get some work done that's not perfume-related) when I get back to the States.

Poster from

Scented Quote if the day, from the Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti:

"(…) Noble sirs, how does the Tathagata Sugandhakuta teach his Dharma?

They replied the Tathagata does not teach the Dharma by means of sound and language. He disciplines the bodhisattvas only by means of perfumes. At the foot of each perfume-tree sits a bodhisattva and the trees emit perfumes like this one. From the moment they smell that perfume, the boddhisattvas attain the concentration called “the source of all bodhisattvas-virtues. From the moment they attain that concentration all the bodhisattvas-virtues are produced in them.”

The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti
Translation by Robert A. F. Thurman

Friday, March 24, 2006

Scented Quote of the Day, from Lyn Harris:

"Women should have a wardrobe of scents that they change. It's not about putting on a pretty smell that you really like. You need to think specifically about what you want, and how you want to feel - just as you do with your clothes. The French and Italians do that, yet I think we are quite scared about it. It's so much part of our outfit."

Painting by Natalie Armstrong

You can purchase this print at

Scented Facts: Jicky and Gender

Jicky was created in 1889 by Aimé Guerlain. It is not only considered to be the first modern fragrance through its invention of the now classic 3-tiered structure comprising the head, heart, and base notes, as well as the introduction of the combined use of synthetics and natural essences, it is also a perfume that attempted to reverse a trend that rested on the rigid codification of gender categories. This conservative trend emerged in France after 1820, during the Second Restoration, when the bourgeois mentality imposed its mark more decisively upon society, moralizing the use of perfumes and deriving its ideas about the propriety of certain scents from the triumphant hygienist movement. In this context, Aimé Guerlain is reported to have said that he wanted to create,

"an audacious, vigorous, and quasi revolutionary perfume: the perfume of an amazon, difficult to decipher, of which you wouldn't be really able to tell whether it was meant to be for a man or a woman."

And so it was; disconcerted by the novelty of the concept, women started adopting it en masse only after 1910 while men, meanwhile, decided it would be theirs. Today, despite Aimé Guerlain's efforts at creating a unisex fragrance, Jicky is still not considered to be gender-free and in a new historical twist, has mostly come to be considered a feminine fragrance and marketed as such.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fragrant Shopping: Herbaria Soaps

Apparently, these soaps are so good, they send people head over heels. They are not just content to flirt with them, they want to marry them, for all eternity. The other day, I happened on a press article about the couple that makes these soaps in Missouri and then went to read the testimonials on their website....and thought I had mistakingly clicked on a soap cult website. It sounds like we all need to try these soaps before we die!!! From the standpoint of scents, the line appears to be rather unsurprising albeit very fresh-smelling. The Black Forest Chamomille one sounds interesting in its purported attempt to capture the scent of a country; it is said to combine the "traditional scents of Germany, bergamot, cinnamon, lavender, lemongrass and orange." They also have an Old Fashioned Lye Soap which may be helpful to those of us who are looking for an unscented soap to serve as a discrete base for perfume-wearing; I'm always looking for one of those personally. The line is composed of 6 different soaps having different properties.


Scented Quote of the Day, from Bart Yates:

“I’ve never wanted a different mother. I just want my mother to be different.

Get in line, right?


But she smells great.

Know the way a person smells when they’ve been outside on a chilly fall day? That’s how Mom smells all the time. Like rain, and wind, and leaf mold, and a faint hint of wood smoke. Hardly the way a woman is supposed to smell, but trust me: if the Glad Air Fresheners people could bottle her scent, you’d have her hanging in your car and your bathroom and your kitchen.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to get all oedipal on you.


Leave Myself Behind

Picture from

The Fifth Sense in the News: The Rise of the Unisex Fragrance

In today's New York Times, Ruth LaFerla writes a story on a growing trend: the gender-free approach to perfume.

Scent of a Person

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Carnal Flower

Carnal the story goes, it nearly came to be named otherwise, but its French name equivalent, Fleur Charnelle would have sounded too much like Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle, hence the resort to English. Another story, posted on Basenotes, which is also unverifiable and somewhat contradicts the first story, has it that CF was composed in honor of Candice Bergen, Frederic Malle's aunt, and in particular, in reference to her role in the movie Carnal Knowledge. Hmm, do you call this unfettered creativity as the EdP are supposed to leave complete creative freedom to their perfumers? Stories, myths, and lore abound in the world of perfumery and this is what makes it what it is, secret, charming, magical, and for ever vacillating between fact and fiction. I have come to think that a folkloric study of perfume industry lore is in order. To paraphrase someone who said that perfume was emotion in a liquid form, I would be tempted to say that perfume is myth in a liquid form.

I surmise that Frederic Malle is the nephew of Candice Bergen's husband, the late French director Louis Malle. The Editions des Parfums also obligingly volunteer to inform us that FM is no one else but the grand-son of Serge Heftler, the founder of the Christian Dior parfums. Good blood undeniably runs in the family.

But to go back to the jus....Dominique Ropion has created a fragrance that is a work of art; it is the closest to what one can perceive to be a structured musical piece in three movements. How does the perfumer manage to define such clarity, conceptual clarity that is, and embody it in a perfume? I'm mesmerized. Even more so because I discover with time, that for some mysterious reason, Carnal Flower always evokes for me a time that is dusk, that moment of the day when the daylight fades into the night while retaining some of its luminescence in an attenuated form. This happens repeatedly and therefore ends up rising to my consciousness: I am envisioning a walled garden at dusk and in it, a man, probably Dominique Ropion, is extending his arm toward me to help me progress and asking me to follow him down a path that leads to further darkness. However some lights appear, flickering above our heads as we walk by the dark silhouette of a tree left in the shadows. HOW does he do that? I do not have all the answers to that question but I have come to understand a few things about Carnal Flower.

First of all, it is simply masterful. It is beautiful, in an academic way and very much willed and intellectualized. You can sense the iron will of Dominique Ropion guiding you through the three main phases of the perfume. You are not left to day-dream, but are firmly taken by the hand and guided further into Domique Ropion's interpretation of tuberose scent. The garden in which we are, is walled because the tuberose in Carnal Flower belies its title and does not suggest any carnal excess, but on the contrary, civilization, sophistication, control, borders, limits, like the three movements of its development. It is a highly civilized tuberose. I will explain later why it is always dusk, then night time, interrupted by little golden-yellow lights in the sky.

One smells in the overture an outburst of freshness that evokes freshly cut, fibrous flower stems, full of sap, as if you were happily trampling on a large bouquet of tall flowers (the tuberoses), that have been thrown on the ground for you to trample with unrestrained happiness and sensuality. The head notes are bergamot and eucalyptus, contributing to an initial shouting out of verdancy, and also melon. I smell a ripe, fresh, green honeydew melon (on my third attempt, I finally detect that fruity note). Then, the second stage sets in and it is intriguingly spicy. The official notes are ylang-ylang, salicylates (I do not know how this is supposed to smell or make other things smell), and jasmine.

I have not found that accord identified as such elsewhere, but this spicy accord to me smells of.....turmeric in all its glorious yellowness and spiciness and woodiness. Maybe you keep it in your cupboard. I checked with a little jar of it that I have at home and it matches. Maybe a little saffron too? Where did I put that saffron jar? Turmeric by the way is also called Indian saffron. We thus find a very original contrast between tuberose and turmeric, unexpected at first, at least in the Western world, but not so if you think that both scents originate in India and may have empirically found their ways, in association, to Dominique Ropion's nostrils. Maybe an Indian lady or man was selling some turmeric-perfumed curry by the wall of a temple where tuberoses were made into garlands or a religious ceremony was being held where the scents of both turmeric and tuberose were wafting by? This reminds me of the infamous, supposed clash existing between the initial camphor note and the tuberose in Serge Lutens Tubéreuse criminelle. For me who has lived in both equatorial and tropical countries, I only see great harmony in this marriage, as the camphor note reminds me of opulent camphor wood chests and tuberose, of a tropical garden's scents wafting through the windows to caress them while blending with the subtle astringent and medicinal perfume of the chests. But I digress.

Then, the dry down; here we find tuberose absolute and orange blossom weaving their ways through subtle milky overtones brought about by the coconut absolute. This third stage incorporates the first two while settling in quietly on your skin under the calm action of warm musks. The last stage for me is the least provocative, it harmonizes rather than stands out on its own, however it does develop some depth. The staying power is very good and the scent will last all day on you.

Now, for my little puzzle, how can one suggest dusk and night in a perfume? In this case, it is not because we think of tuberose as a night flower, no, that would be too intellectual --- the trick here is contrast. There is such a sharp opposition between the greenness of the first moments, this explosion of plant life, that as it gradually mellows down we are led to perceive a movement from freshness = morning-coolness-in-the-dusk, the beginnings, sap, to spiciness = warming up, progression into the day-night, plants no longer in the foreground, but in the background and so at rest after a long day. Some have called that second stage, solar; I find this to be all the more intriguing and intuitively correct as the yellow color of turmeric and saffron are considered solar colors, which is the reason why they hold a cosmic and religious meaning in India and are used as dyes to color monks' robes. You see, this is why I was seeing little golden-yellow lights flickering in the night sky.

I do admire this perfume, but it fails to win me over. I find it interesting and I love to sample it from time to time, but out of intellectual curiosity rather than sensual attraction. It is not round enough.

Finally, if you wish to sample a truly carnal tuberose, one that makes you think of danger, you should try Tuberosa d'Autumno by I Profumi di Firenze. L'Artisan Tubéreuse would be next on my list.

My thanks to makemepretty for sending me a generous sample of CF!

Scented Quote of the Day, Anonymous:

“Real musk is the one that gives off its perfume and not the one which is boasted by the druggist.”

Persian proverb

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fragrant Reading: Scents & Suitability

There is a terrific article on perfumes and the perfume industry by Geraldine Bendell in The Observer, Sunday, December 19, 2004:

Scented Quote of the Day, from James Craven:

"Depth, warmth, an indefinable rounded quality (about the qualities of a good perfume) (...) A rolling smoothness about it, like holding an egg. It should satisfy all the senses and seem to have no beginning and no end. So many are jagged and rough. It should be adaptable to any occasion. And you should never be quite sure whether you like it: you should remain slightly unsure of it."

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Fifth Sense in the News: Everything you ever wanted to know about Lavandula Angustifolia

An article about the cultivation and distillation of the queen of lavenders, Lavandula Angustifolia, in the Drome Valley, in France. It reads almost like an ethnographic account.

Once, There Were Blue Fields

Article and Photo by Claire Ulrich

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Scented Quote of the Day, from Thomas Pynchon:

“…certain trestles of blackened wood have moved slowly by overhead, and the smells begun of coal from days far to the past, smells of naphta winters, of Sundays when no traffic came through, of the coral-like and mysteriously vital growth, around the blind curves and out the lonely spurs, a sour smell of rolling-stock absence, of maturing rust, developing through those emptying days brilliant and deep, especially at dawn, with blue shadows to seal its passage, to try to bring events to absolute Zero…”

Gravity’s Rainbow

Painting by David Caspar Friedrich, from otosell