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.

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

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Agent Provocateur

You will find that the juice contained in the bottle of Agent Provocateur is less dangerous than its name seems to indicate and less explosive than the shape of the bottle seems to imply. Some people have compared that bottle to an egg, even the AP people themselves; I have always seen a fleshy breast coupled with a hand grenade allusion. Please refer yourselves to the black ribbon on the side -- the subliminal advertisement on Agent Provocateur's website clarifies the association as we see a woman holding AP close to her partially naked breast, echoing its image as if in a mirror. Therefore, one can only say that it makes sense for a lingerie brand headed by Joseph Corre, the son of Vivienne Westwood, to promote this shape however slyly or unconsciously, although one could also argue that if destined for a feminine audience, a woman might have preferred to clutch something else against her breasts and may we wonder if this is not again a case of our desires being mediated by that of heterosexual men (I'm being very conservative and am discarding in a stroke of my pen non-heterosexual women, but I speak in generalities here.)

If the name evokes secret agents sent to stir up trouble among the population in order to justify the recourse to force by the dominant order, it is employed here to conjure up the ages-old association of women, perfumes and seduction, with danger, to men, of an erotic nature. Not surprisingly then, but, yes, I was actually surprised, the perfume turns out to be a classic, potent traditional floral chypre, underneath the surface of hip and niche scent aesthetics. It smells like a close cousin or even a twin sister of Sisley, Eau du Soir, except that its sillage is more subdued, while it remains a strong perfume, and it is powdery, which Eau du Soir is not.

I'm reviewing by memory and so I cannot really go into the detail of the different phases, the more so since it actually had a tendency to make me gag, so I couldn't stand it for too long and I may have unconsciously trashed the sample, an exemplary geste manqué! However, this perfume could be compelling on the right person, moreover having the right body chemistry (always). The top notes are advertised as being pure saffron oil from India and coriander from Russia, the heart being composed of Moroccan rose oil, Egyptian jasmine, French magnolia oil, ylang and white flowers from the Comoros. Its base notes are vetiver from Haiti, amber, and musk.

Despite the accent put on the exotic origins of its essences, Agent Provocateur does not suggest any of these far away locales. It is blended to smell urbane and sophisticated and to me, it evokes the 50's, the New Look, a young Lauren Bacall smoking a cigarette with a cigarette-holder, the rustling of a Dior dress, all ample skirt and slim waist. AP exudes confidence and maturity, it is made for a woman in control, chic, in a 50's sense, not a 40s or a 60s sense, a 50s sense when all women deeply wanted was a return to glamour after the end of WWII. This is maybe why some people have characterized it as oldladyish (when will they stop talking about mature women in a derogatory tone, please!). It is not, it is rather to my nose, revivalist, and so more to the point, it is retro.

Scented Quote of the Day, from Guy Laroche:

“My earliest perfume memory: probably that of my mother when she would come to kiss me good night. A silky blend of fabrics and scents from a perfume whose name I have forgotten. It does not matter, really; I remember that it was mauve, tender, powdered with trails of white flowers. I would fall asleep in its softness while it floated around my sleep like a mysterious guardian. Sometimes, it happens that I encounter by chance women on a street or in an elevator who are wearing it, at that very moment all the images come back, rising up from these fragile sillages.”

Friday, March 17, 2006

Scented Thoughts: The Archangel Michael, The Demon, and The Salamander

This is where part of me lives, St Michel in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Good old Archangel Michael is slaying evil, a demon with wings and a tail, amidst the bubbling waters. Once a year, at least it used to be so, the students from the faculty of medecine, called "les carabins" literally take possession of the surrounding streets, throwing flour and eggs at passersby and then emptying bottles of shampoo in the fountain in order to complete their rites of passages. The waters turn to overflowing froth until the municipality has to intervene.

Not far from the square proper, there is another mythical animal, a salamander made of stone and gracing an antique portal that very often smells of an incongruous and acrid pee left by passersby, glad to find some modest shade in its corner during the day or at night, the shadows. The house of Gabrielle d'Estrées, mistress of François Ier used to be located there where she borrowed for herself the emblem of her lover.

I find now in this antique stone animal a symbol of my childhood as I remember how I used to contemplate it or glance at it while playing the "marelle" on the street with the grocer's son. It represents for me a world that endures, somehow, the representation of a faithful animal that never lives the house and waits for you to return from your travels, your long exiles. It was there even before I left and will be there long after I die, at least I hope so. And it is scented in the sense that memory is most extraordinarily composed of lingering smells and perfumes.

Top photo by Mimi Froufrou

Scented Thoughts: A field of Eiffel Towers & Flowers

I miss my home city, Paris, and so I evoke her through images, words, and...scents. Here, the Eiffel Towers almost smell of flowers. A fabric for a coquettish boudoir where perfumes mingle with the imagining of fresh-cut flowers and the odor of steel?

Scented Quote of the Day, from Françoise Sagan:

“Doesn’t perfume derive its beauty from that sensation of a time that doesn’t flow, but soars? Everything in this world is but smoke.

The word perfume comes from the Latin where it meant: through smoke.”