Monday, November 27, 2006
J. Dibbs and friends
8:45pm Thurs. December, 28 2006 at Kenny's Castaways
157 Bleecker Street
New York, New York 10012
Cost: $10.00 For More Info: 212-979-9762
Friday, November 24, 2006
In a time when women's magazines tell us to "suck it up and wear heels", or department stores for us to "shut up and shop", we're being scolded from all directions to be soft and submissive in attitude, yet the strongest perfumes of all, the woods, have returned. Among them, Chypre is a traditional, classical fragrance family often regarded as olfactive representations of refinement and luxury--thus, they are power perfumes of a certain type: the ladylike and reserved type that prides in being aesthetically noble and not being "too loud" (about broadcasting how rich they smell? Hmm). They are often earthy, mature and womanly, perhaps symbolic of the qualities attributed to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, who is said to have been born on the island of Cyprus (chypre). Many of these are also bold, gender-bending perfumes, giving women a whole new appeal by accentuating angular features. (Images: Illustrations by René Gruau, Lesartsdecoratifs.fr and Rene-Gruau.com)
Truth is, even if they're refined, I wouldn't call them subtle scents. Some Chypres are so intensely odorous to me, I'm scared to put them on my skin. The first time I encountered a Chypre, I didn't know it was Chypre nor did I know what Chypre was but I knew I didn't like Guerlain Mitsouko.
It was a favorite of my mother's at one point of my childhood and it always smelled like a Japanese country house, or like kimonos that had been stored in cedar drawers for years. That doesn't sound so bad, except it also smelled a bit damp and musty to me which translates as being unwearable to me. It was also "perfumy", that term which differentiates the child-friendly scents from the ones that weren't designed to be. Chypre to me are often either too earthy, reasonable and proper-smelling (read: boring) or too bold and/or bizarre, and Mitsouko is effectively a little of both. It's not that I don't think the legendary Mitsouko is great because it is, being a complex and distinctive arrangement of mossy woods with a neat twist: a hardly perceptible touch of peach which, within the context of the composition, doesn't smell peachy but melds with the oakmoss and woods to create a soft, "oily" or fatty smell, bringing to mind olives or foie gras (the latter which, I'm afraid, I have yet to fall in love with).
Perhaps Mitsouko is a benchmark of refined taste, and perhaps some people will acquire a taste for it over time, but I believe it when people say Chypre can be a love-or-hate kind of scent. I've found that about 90% of chypre perfumes are unappealing to me from first sniff. That said, no two Chypre are exactly alike, and upon smelling more and more, I've discovered those I like, those I can't tolerate, and finally, even one to call a holy grail, surpassing my love for every other perfume in my current repertoire (and I assure you, Caron N'Aimez Que Moi might be classic but it smells nothing like Mitsouko). So, once again, I feel it's in my best interest to keep an open mind to every genre out there. You just never know.
There are many types of Chypre and of course, the "types" or labels change with the times as industry pros find new ways to break them down into neatly organized families. Michael Edwards doesn't use the term Chypre but instead calls them Mossy Woods. Traditionally, a chypre consists of bergamot, oakmoss and labdanum, but later incarnations have used additional fruit notes (to soften them as with Mitsouko), animalic notes such as leather (Gres Cabochard), and patchouli (Jean Patou 1000) with or in place of more traditional note(s). As oakmoss was determined to be toxic in recent years (supposedly turning into formaldehyde on skin), synthetic oakmoss replaced real oakmoss, challenging the definition of what "truly" makes a Chypre today. Chypre may be hard to understand but one thing about them is that they are generally (to me) unnatural or "perfumy", and strong, often with a smooth (or muted) surface (quieting down the strength of the woods), at times smelling dressy and decadent, other times sober and serene/professional, sometimes boozy, meaty and robust or intense and forboding. Some smell damp, some smell dry. Even the lightest Chypres (the ones that smell citrusy and light such as Eau de Rochas, Cristalle, 4711) are actually woody scents that show their true character as the fresh top notes fade.
According to Michael Edwards in his book, "Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances", Chypre traditionally becomes popular post-war. Are we seeing a resurgence of Chypre in the market right now? If Miss Dior Cherie (the "New" New Look perfume) and Narciso Rodriguez For Her are any indication, I would say so. I also feel that the reintroduction of Green perfumes (iris/violet/orris, hyacinth) and "sophisticated (abstract, soft and powdery)" Aldehydic Florals (marked by the return of Estee Lauder White Linen) push our taste closer to the types of perfumes that were more popular in the past--specifically pre-1980s. Chypre perfumes were especially popular from the late '40s throughout the '50s (Carven Ma Griffe, Christian Dior Miss Dior), '60s (Hermes Caleche) and '70s (Revlon Charlie). Of course, Chypre never completely went away and had a starring moment in 1984 with the launch of Givenchy Ysatis, and many '80s Chypres such as Paloma Picasso are still very popular today.
I often refer to Jan Moran's classification of Chypre based on her books, "Fabulous Fragrances" and "Fabulous Fragrances II" in which she colorfuly breaks Chypre down into the following groups: Chypre, Chypre-Green, Chypre-Fresh, Chypre-Fruity, Chypre-Fruity Floral, Chypre-Floral and Chypre-Floral Animalic. What I find interesting is, since I've come to know the perfumes listed under each group, I've discovered that my nose (perception of scents) agrees with hers (more often than not) and her classifications make sense to me. I highly recommend her books to understand the basics regarding perfume families and subcategories. They have been as instrumental to me in my perfume journey as my beloved Michael Edwards' book cited above (which, being beyond a wealth of information, is a beautiful book brimming over with "fragrant eye candy" (a great collection of perfume and perfume-related photos, advertisements and illustrations).
Some favorite and/or famous Chypre perfumes are: Coty Chypre, Rochas Femme, Robert Piguet Bandit, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Antaeus, Cristalle, Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather), Givenchy Ysatis, Gres Cabochard, Paloma Picasso, Halston, Cassini, Fendi, Van Cleef & Arpels Gem, Guerlain Mitsouko, Parure, Sous le Vent and Chant d'Aromes, Jean Couturier Coriandre, Carven Ma Griffe, Yves Saint-Laurent Y, Jean Patou 1000, Sisley Eau du Soir, Estee Lauder Knowing, Private Collection and Aliage, Versace White Jeans, Emanuel Ungaro Diva, Niki de St. Phalle, Gucci No.3, Givenchy III, Bulgari Black, Agent Provocateur, Ralph Lauren Pure Turquoise, Christian Dior Miss Dior Cherie and the original Miss Dior, the New Look perfume launched in 1947. I have also seen Chanel Chance, Coco Mademoiselle and Gucci Rush classified as Chypre but opinions may vary.
(Images: natperfume.net, fashionista.ru, linternaute.com, iparfem.cz)
Thursday, November 16, 2006
My first perfume love was called Nocturnes de Caron. I was a little girl when I'd "borrowed" my mother's shower gelee sample which she'd gotten at the department store when she replenished her Mitsouko parfum supply. I remember using that Nocturnes shower gelee feeling like I'd seen the light. I knew I had smelled something different, captivating, inexplicably good. I've been a perfume addict ever since.
Perhaps you've heard of the top-of-the-line French perfume house, perhaps not. You generally wouldn't bump into Caron perfumes at the mall, and even if you did, you'd probably find their more recent releases such as their sporty Eaux or their 1990s "modern" releases but you wouldn't find their best, most obscure "urn" scents anyplace but at one of their boutiques (and perhaps online but you're not guaranteed the fresh perfumes decanted out of the urns unless you bought directly from Caron). Caron has a boutique here in NYC, so if you're in town, you must go and experience what truly high quality, beautiful perfumes are all about. They may seem different from what you're used to but if you gave them time (as I have...5 years to learn to fully appreciate my new love, N'Aimez Que Moi), you'd see that perfume is supposed to be epic, not mere 3-and-a-half-minute radio-friendly edits. Caron NY recently moved from its original Madison Avenue location to the less ritzy Lexington Avenue, and from what I've heard, they now have a prestigious counter of their own in the back of a hair salon. Yes, they are still holding on, without selling out to a larger company and that says something to me: that Caron perfumes are greatly underappreciated and not as visible as they deserve to be.
Well, I want to change that, and so I've decided to resample just about every Caron perfume I could get my hands on and tell the world how exquisite they are. This week, I tested everything from Farnesiana (like sweet almond, so delicious) to Montaigne (sexy, spicy floral amber with a touch of fruit), and as much as I love so many of them, I decided that my new favorite is none other than the perfume I once thought was "the worst!": soapy, dreadfully dowdy, fussy, flowery and old-fashioned. I often dislike rich, powdery scents no matter how great their quality, and the combination of rose, violet and lilac just seemed as impossible to pull off as a prissy Laura Ashley dress swishing around my calves like a ball and chain. Have I mentioned there is mustiness to this scent? Oh, yes, and it's a strange scent, too, being one part soapy (like very, very good floral soap) and two parts chocolaty on dry down. What is it about N'Aimez Que Moi that feels right for me now, even as it makes me slightly uncomfortable?
I think being connoisseurs of anything means our passion helps us venture out and challenge our own tastes. After all, nothing will push our boundary for us unless we approach the things that feel unfamiliar to us with courage and an open mind. I'm glad I revisited N'Aimez Que Moi. It smells like everything I've loved in my life in one breath: an all-important lush, romantic floral heart, sophisticated chypre woods that wear gently on skin but convey strength, sweet vanilla that doesn't leave me cold in the end but stays sweet and wraps me in its comforting layers, and the "Caron smell", instant nostalgia under which lies the Caron signature base, the Mousse de Saxe, inky and mysterious like the depths of the sea. I have many perfume loves for my different moods and uses but N'Aimez Que Moi is a perfume lover's perfume, one I know I can spend my life with from season to season, although it seems a lifetime might not be enough to understand the simple love story it's told since 1916. N'Aimez Que Moi means "love me only"--here it is, my emo holy grail. For more information, please visit www.ParfumsCaron.com
(Image: Caron ad from 1925, http://www.beckerstreet.com/pebo_ads.htm)
Friday, November 03, 2006
I'm so sorry for the long hiatus; I've had hellish computer problems and today is the first day in over a week that things are running smoothly. Thank you again to all who came to support me at Siberia. The show was a success and it was wonderful to meet many online friends, both first timers and repeaters, and some of you came from pretty far away to see me, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm going to be performing in one more show before the year's out, so please stay tuned for more info.
I have a new perfume love and its name is Insolence. I guess Guerlain/LVMH has finally caught up with the "punk" trend--pretty funny, huh? This perfume is being marketed to the young (personally, I feel this is a love-or-hate scent and will be exactly that across the demographics), specifically aimed at the US and Britain. Many people think it smells like a classic "grandmotherly" perfume, and this time, I can't judge or blame them because until I met Insolence, I, too, considered most violet perfumes to be headache-inducingly sharp, sour-soapy-hypersweet old-fashioned violet candy Lolita scents. I think the sweet berries save this fragrance from being retro to the point of being mistaken for a classic Guerlain, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people equated its back-to-classics appeal with that of L'Air du Temps: a lukewarm yet sharp (violet-spicy carnation) grown up baby powder scent my mother loves but to me, it's spoiled milk to be worn over my dead body. As it turns out, I love Insolence even though I think it mirrors the powdery soapy "girlish innocence" of L'Air du Temps. Insolence takes prim and proper and mixes it up with edge and zest for life. I don't know if it'll ever be as popular as, say, Poison in the '80s, but it's already a controversial perfume like the new "Poison" in my mind, because let's face it: every time we have a powerful perfume, a strongly scented, bright and sensual, sexy perfume with a bold female image attached that becomes a bestseller, we get a bunch of people who aren't happy with that. Well, good, because they made me want this perfume more, which brings me to my review.
Insolence is a Pop perfume with a touch of "clean", "gourmand", "fruity floral", "sharp-fresh" and even references to the Guerlain classics, Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleue in its underscoring. I could see people disliking the fact that it smells like it was mass-produced to fit all these markets successfully, as if they put key words in a computer and the computer came up with the recipe, but whatever Maurice Roucel and team did to perfect it is nothing short of spectacular because the blend smells good, the only mark of success in my book. It's hypersweet but a sensual Floral Oriental. The blend starts sharp and "clean" (a bit like detergent) with a rich floral (rose-violet) heart (which might be the thing that turns fresh perfume lovers off--it is a full, lush floral blend with some powderiness). The dry down is less sharp and more creamy smooth, reminiscent of Cashmere Mist (which I imagine brings in the Gen Y creamy powdery skin scent lovers). It wasn't love at first sniff for me but as a non-violet lover, this is one of the most wearable, non-headachey forms I've come across. Others have not been as lucky and have complained about the headache aspect of it. Well, Brit gives me a massive headache but it has loads of fans, so we shall see if Insolence becomes the new Guerlain bestseller.
With all its implied purple flower prissiness, I'm happy to be one of the few who actually love this brave new perfume. Insolence is like the olfactive equivalent of a Shirley Temple spiked with booze. Insolence won't offer innocent Lolita baby powder but it's also not the heavy, woody violets that smell like candy disguised as mature perfumes for the same violet candy lovers all grown up (and the heavy woods "carmelize" the violets and rival any berry scent in syrupy sweetness--although there are "sugar free" versions of the same syrupiness out there but I don't see the point in these--take sweetness out of violets and you're left with just the sour part). Insolence is a Floral Oriental with a delectable fruity twist which helps cross it over to the realm of mainstream appeal. In other words, this violet is different, a violet for our time. No matter how we all feel about Insolence, I think the timing for it was perfectly right--it's time for a perfume that smelled like the return to the '80s in a voluptuous, yet pretty, yet untraditional, female-fronted way. PS--That doesn't mean I like those ads at all. Nothing against the model they chose but...:-( They didn't have to make the lotion shimmery, either.
I'm awaiting the arrival of Insolence parfum so I'll let you know how I do with that. Enjoy your weekend, everyone.