Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Review: PROFUMUM Vanitas

I am all for irony. Usually. Only, the execution of it is tricky. Too much subtlety and it fails to register. Not enough and it's clunky -- which tends to defeat the purpose of irony. Or turn it into contradiction.

So, which is it, to name a sweet vanilla perfume 'Vanitas'? I really don't know.

As a scent, it is a half-half of sweets and flowers. It reads to me as soft cotton candy, light caramel, and powdered vanilla on one side; and lily and orange blossom on the other. The white florals are non-indolic and mild, creamy but not buttery, and grow stronger on my skin until they are balanced equally against the gourmands, with a drop of the amber-myrrh-sandalwood Profumumade under it all. And much, much later, that drop turns into a soft, luminous glow. Maybe this is the 'sunset' that the copy [NB this link to Profumum's website contains audio] mentions. I think I like this part best but it's very faint and on me Vanitas is about the candy-and-flowers.

If I enjoyed floral vanillas more, I think I would really really like this, but even for me, it's quite likable and wearable.
Reminds me a bit of a sweeter Serge Lutens Un Lys. Sweet without the toothache; floral without the headache. Pretty, sun-warmed, uncomplicated, loquacious, flips her hair a lot. Though, Candy says, more nice than jailbait -- it's not that interesting.

Also, it's not a stunner. Vanitas is no step toward an undiscover'd country, but rather, a competent (if not very ambitious) re-tread of the genre, with characteristic slimline-chic. But then, I don't think Profumum is interested in stunners anyway. They seem pretty committed to derivation and restraint.

Speaking of which... As a scent, Vanitas seems so statement-less, normal, and unforeboding, with nary a wilting petal, let alone the stench of decay, that I admit I found myself puzzling over whether the name might mean something other than the vanitas. Yet it can't simply mean 'vanity' (or any other thing) with absolutely no consciousness of vanitas -- that would be either incredibly naive or willful, neither of which seems especially Profumum. So, to credit them with too much or too little subtlety?

That is the question.

And now for some Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians!

No online videos/audios of the Element of Light album seem to be available and no idea how to post a clip from my copy. Which is too bad -- Hitchcock's deadpan is inimitable and renders this ballad characteristically droll. But at least here are the lyrics.


Robyn Hitchcock

"Will you dance with me, Lady Waters?"
And a bony hand plucked her gown.
"Will you dance with me?" said the Hooded One.
"For the plague has reached this town."

"No, I'll never dance," says Lady Waters,
"For I see that your name is Death."
And beneath her mask she was sweating
At the Hooded One's fetid breath.

"Will you dance with me, Lady Waters?
For the fire dies in your grate.
And your guests have gone and your lord's asleep.
And the plague has reached your estate."

"Then I'll dance with you," says Lady Waters,
"For the stars grow pale in the dawn.
But I must first get my tiara,
For I left it out on the lawn."

"Oh and if you get your tiara,"
And his eyes like coals, they did burn.
"You must give me all and taste my breath
On the moment that you return."

"Very well," she said from behind her mask,
"You must take from me what is mine.
I'll return to you and submit to you."
And the Hooded One, he said, "Fine."

She came back to him and took off her mask.
And the Hooded One, he recoiled.
What he thought was sweat on her face and hands,
It turned out to be boils.

"You must take from me all I have," she said.
"You must take it all with good grace.
For I have the plague on my body
And I have the plague on my face."

Oh the Hooded One took her house and her lands.
He took every fork, every knife.
And he took the plague and he left her there,
Without anything but her life.

Happy New Year :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

scenting gloves: PARFUMERIE GENERALE Cuir d'Iris

I'm sure it's antiquated and pretentious and everything, but I got some nice gloves and I think I'm going to scent them. Well, I already did -- with Parfumerie Générale Cuir d'Iris.

It is the exact smell-replica of my gloves! There are more notes to Cuir d'Iris than 'perfect leather accord' but they get more or less lost to me, in its note-perfect reproduction of soft, supple, compulsively strokable leather. Cold sniff of it is light, clean, and medicinal, and on my gloves, it is a little brighter and fruity-sweetish, but on my skin, it turns into a more animalic leather, though not too aggressive and not at all acrid, with a too-brief early-exit cameo by a dry iris, some smokiness from incense, and much later, a barely traceable residual chocolatey-ambery afterglow -- but these are mostly offstage and the main show, clearly, is the cuir. It isn't something I would frequently wear myself (though it is not difficult to wear), not being very good with leathers this neat or predominant, but it is just the thing to intensify the 'natural' scent of my gloves so that I can admire them all the more.

The official list of notes also includes cardamom, vetiver, woods, and Rhizophora tannin, besides the aforementioned elements. I wouldn't know. All I know is that it is the most perfect leather, realistic enough for a hint of mortality but soft enough not to be a beast. I can quite see why gloves might be a fetishistic item.

And now, I think I'll go add a drop of Coup de Fouet to the inside wrist on them...

top left image: Strawbridge & Clothier Quarterly, Winter 1885-6; view entire issue at

above image (repeated) from
left image: Prestige Hong Kong, cover June 2007. Check out Zhang's gloves. Damn.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


images from

Black ice on the roads today. It is definitely winter. Time for Swan Lake.

And I so love Uliana Lopatkina. Here she is in an impossibly beautiful and otherworldly interpretation of the Odette/White Swan Pas de Deux [YouTube video] adagio. People often mention her arms and height but I think her head movement and hands are uncanny.

And here is Adam Cooper in the notorious Michael Bourne version, start at 4:10 [YouTube video]. For all of the brash camp and fun in this production, this is a surprisingly human moment whose 'carrying' motif gets echoed throughout and in the final apotheosis. The Swan, as a character, here is made stronger and more nurturing than the classic mournful Odette and in an interesting (and very welcome) reversal, it is the Prince who is in need of saving.

I really like that. But I must admit I still prefer the remote, creaturely Odette by Lopatkina. She's alien and exquisite, and despite her distressed-damsel passivity, she has a certain brittleness and control in her lyricism that makes her believable as inspiring double love suicide and she would have given that (original) tragic finale its massive devastation. And with a style that is as ephemeral and brilliant as ice. For once, the upstaging black swan has got nothing on the white. Odile and her fouettés can't compare (obviously, the Prince is a dolt) and the Bourne-Cooper Stranger is a thug in comparison. Lopatkina is mythic and, finally, Odette becomes a proper heroine for a dark winter's tale. No sugar plum fairies.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

concept & design: KENZO Flower

images from

Not being too interested in Kenzo perfumes, I'm not sure what I was doing on the website. But I ran across these new repackaging designs for the FlowerbyKenzo fragrance. Very striking.

The concept of it is also very striking. In fact I think it is an instance of the idea being far more interesting than the actual manifestation. 'FlowerbyKenzo' is about construction and abstraction, rather than representation. It is the scent of a flower, not a flower of nature, but rather the imagination -- of Kenzo's, that is. Which means, transplanted to an urban environment and vaguely (it pains me) Japanese. The shock of red on a white expanse, in particular. Ideas of purity, fragility, sexuality, and femininity abound.

At this point, I am between aversion and fascination. And I am reminded of the recursivity of Pygmalion-type tropes in these constructions of femininity. The red flower here is the poppy, which is clearly selected advisedly, the poppy having no natural scent of her own. Instead, it provides the blank canvas for his olfactory work of art -- the scent of the flower, of the woman. As Kenzo announces: he has created it.

That made me laugh. But seriously, this polite, prim, powdery little nondescript-nothing of a fragrance has quite the semiotic nerve.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A nightmare

Orpheus Song

It's Halloween, night of migration,
a holiday for all of the hungry sightless beings,
these discontent traversers
or trespassers
from the next world into this,
from one face to another.
Formless and seeking shape, a structure,
some peace of place. Where do we come from,
what are we, where are we going?

It's a maze, I fear,
in this crowd of mysteries, the secrets which the world
does not give up. I'm sitting here,
in this impersonal semi-public domain
which is indifferent to all that may come.
All welcomed, none called.
Holograms like brushstrokes flit across
the window and again on the walls, the floors,
the expressions of people as they pass by.
Everything a surface for reflection.

I watch them and my own face,
the moving of light and dark. But I see
no law to it
though I shuffle
through the smoke and theater,
the license of one after another.
Here today, gone tomorrow. Borrowed,

In a nightmare, I chase death incarnate.
Through hallway and corridor, lost
in a ruin of internality. Then
death stops.
She stops and turns. Her face
shimmers half-masked with peacock and raven.
But her teeth -- her teeth shock tiny, white, and even.
Death's baby teeth smile at me babysweet.
Give me a lullaby, I want to say. To lull
panic's red tooth and claw
as it races through night and song.
To swaddle this confusion
into nomos, chapter and verse. Anything but --

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: PROFUMUM Alba & Olibanum

ALBA was a significant step for this confirmed hater of baby powder. The smell of baby powder literally provokes an anger response in me. Blood rushes to my face and I set my teeth. I hate intense sweetness and intense sweetness and powderiness together even more and still even more when under the threat of milk-fed sour vomitous diaperous horrible inescapable all-encompassing suffocation. Probably a motherload of speculative babble in that. Anyway, I hate it. But I like Alba.

It isn't exactly baby powder -- but it does have a good dusting of something like it. But its saving grace for me is the family resemblance to Chanel No. 5 -- though, confusingly, I also take No. 5 to be at least in part an abstraction of freshly-bathed-and-powdered (the grownup version). I find Alba most similar to the 'Sensual Collection,' sharing aldehydes, a rose-jasmine core similar to the Bath Milk (but with more orange blossom), and a soft vanillic sandalwood base similar to the Body Cream and Sensual Elixir, but sweeter, more ambery, and nuttier than any of those.

But the mention of only woods, apart from amber, in the official perfume note listing for Alba is odd and misleading to me. Why no mention of (what I register as) the heliotrope, the orange blossom, the rose-jasmine? Or at least some florals, without which I think it would smell very different... they are present enough and lilting enough, despite the underlying Matin Câlin-ness, and the overall composition pale enough, to not set me off in a rage.

The name is quite pretty, too, and I choose to understand it as a white dawn, misted over soft and gauzy.

OLIBANUM, on the opposite side of the scale (though for Profumum the scope is not that wide), is my other favorite. And I like it more than Alba. Darker, but still lightish and uncluttered in keeping with what seems to be its general house rule. Rather a cool floral incense on cold sniff, but on the skin, it really warms up from the sandalwood and myrrh -- I think my skin tends to intensify sweets (unfortunately). There is no mention of orris/iris but I smell something like it, too, rooty and slightly earthy, which (fortunately) dries the composition and prevents it from going too sweet, and also something slightly peppery -- that part reminds me a little of Santa Maria Novella Città di Kyoto.

Olibanum is also like it in its being a treatment of incense that is sheer and very wearable, lightened by the addition of florals -- in particular, orange blossom. But the effect on the incense is not as sharp and clear as Passage d'Enfer; nor as green and twiggy as Comme des Garçons Kyoto. Most like SMN CdK, softened with a drop of the warm sandalwood base present in Alba. As mentioned, the distance between Alba and Olibanum is not totally uncrossable...

Even part from the similar base (also featured in Antico Caruso and Soavissima), they share a certain 'safe' stylishness, nothing too pointed or challenging, nothing too glorious or effusive, neither too nor under sexed, neither cold nor hot, nor overwhelming. Sort of an exercise in eminent moderation -- which also could be read as bland. Which is perhaps why Alba does not offend the delicate little sensibilities of my profound, essential, forevermore Baby Powder Hatred.

I suppose Profumums are a little bland. I like bland. Better than angry, anyway.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: L'ARTISAN PARFUMEUR Fleur de Liane

The origin story for L'Artisan Parfumeur Fleur de Liane is very enticing. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour travels to Bahia Honda and conjures up the perfume essence of an imagined leafy green vine flower that could be native only to that precise corner of verdant jungle floor.

Good heavens. Echoes of Rima... all the way to Panama.

The reality is hardly as dramatic, though. On the contrary, rather pale and limpid -- as perhaps it was meant to be, given the aquatic notes and inspiration from tropical forest rains. But watery intentions or no, Fleur de Liane is somewhat of a disappointment to the promise in its description: it isn't particularly unique. Or specific.

In fact, it is quite a lot like Diptyque Eau de Lierre (the drydown). This perhaps should not be hugely surprising, since both are renditions of vine plants -- lierre is ivy and liane is creeper plant. But that a tropical flower from the twining depths of Duchaufour's imagination and drawn from travels should end up smelling so very much like ivy running up a French bastide (the origin story for Eau de Lierre) is somehow a little depressing.

Maybe it will grow on me. But as of now, it strikes me as fresh, pleasant, innocuous, and very, very generic. A scent for a shampoo. A bit of melon and some mild floral sweetness laid over nearly that same 'vine' drydown as the Diptyque -- and that, furthermore, being slightly peppered and more idiosyncratically, sharply 'green' is the more interesting fragrance (though itself not tremendously interesting)! Alas.

image of the cover of Green Mansions from

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Review: NASOMATTO Absinth

I would love a dryish absinthe fragrance. Something that muffles the sweetness of anise and fennel while emphasizing the herbal bitters. Nasomatto Absinth is not that. In accord with standard absinthe representations, this one is also quite sweet. Very nice, though.

Honeyed and warm, with a sweet sandalwood-patchouli, maybe oak, anise, some sort of floral and juicy nectar, maybe cassis, a touch of nutty amber, plenty of earthy vetiver, and a wormwood-like general herbal-ness under it all. Saved from being too cloying by the woods and vetiver, though still very sweet and ambrosial, Absinth is nicely-blended and with a definite presence. Excellent longevity on the skin for me, starting as a fruity woody-oriental and ending hours later with the herbal aromatic dregs.

But once again, no official scent notes and in lieu of them an ad copy that talks about 'evok[ing] degrees of hysteria' which invites some ridicule. Degrees? Presumably not too many to hysteria. For such minimalism-leaning looks, Nasomatto really has got a perplexing lot of self-proclaimed crazy on its nose. (And sundry drugs to go up it.)

Review: NASOMATTO China White

I wish I could get all terribly, terribly frothy about the name 'China White' being an allusion to heroin but I can't. And the crackled porcelain cap reminds me of a toilet bowl... which, however, is not totally out of mis-en-scène for heroin. And which in fact is helped by a whiff of something like sharp urinal cake or subway tunnel wind in this green-powdery composition. But I do find the 'strength of fragility' copy Nasomatto gives it more interesting -- though, admittedly, more intriguing in its obscurity than comprehensible. At least, I am not sure what it is meant to mean and Nasomatto does not seem particularly forthcoming about it.

Neither are they about 'notes': no official perfume/scent notes for China White. Inconvenient, but I can't seem to get frothy about that, either. Maybe I am merely determined to be unexcitable. But I do like this. It is a rather thin green floral on cold sniff but on the skin, after the citron-ish citrus and lily-like vague flowery opening, in comes some interest -- a good dose of smoke and vetiver, dry grass, orris, something mildly rosy like centifolia, something leathery, and civet. Most prominent for me are the vetiver and the civet, but the rest of it make for a very pleasant background dry powderiness, light but persistent, against the green-sharp.

I quite like these herbal-powdery contrasts, in general. Unusual and underused, I think. Lorenzo Villoresi Yerbamate is another that comes to mind, but that is brighter, sweeter, and rather breezy, whereas China White has a slight edge to it, like Piguet Bandit very much emaciated. A little bitter, a hint of dark.

A very sleeper of a hit.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Avant, la haine

One magical day, Guerlain Attrape-Coeur started to love me. Before, it was all scat, toothache, and hate -- as is nearly everything Guerlain for me. But one afternoon, just before watching Christophe Honoré's Dans Paris, I happened to dab on a bit from a random sample vial... and my heart was captured.

Ambushed. I don't know what happened. It was very sudden. I became obsessed with its romantic luscious peachy violet over vanillic woods and slight undertone of something intriguingly dirty and Jickyish.

I'm reminded of it today, because I've finally gotten around to trying the tea blend I had made to approximate that Attrape-Coeur / Dans Paris moment. Apricot and vanilla flavored black teas, Earl Grey for the bergamot, gingerbread spices, dried lavender buds, and candied dried violets... not bad but nothing close.

But the perfume-movie pairing turned out to be serendipitous, because L'Attrape-Coeurs happens to be the French title of The Catcher in the Rye (I didn't know this at the time) and Dans Paris is heavy in its Salinger allusions.

However, I have to say, I wasn't overwhelmed with love for the movie. It seems to me a little too self-conscious, or maybe not self-conscious enough, to be particularly standout amid the crowd of homages to La Nouvelle Vague (though Garrel has to have the most perfect delightfully squirmy charm); and I think it works better as an intimate family/relationship piece with Duris' Paul in the center, brooding about the apartment, and his father, brother, and ex as satellites. As that, there are some touching moments. And I think it's that that Attrape-Coeur seemed to me to suit, that close, warm, melancholic atmosphere of sepia-tones and jazzy, muted score and the end of a love affair -- but not of love.

'Avant la haine' by Alex Beaupain, performed by Romain Duris and Joana Preiss:

English translation:
(Please note: This is my translation, not transliteration, nor from the movie subtitles.)

RD: You know, my lovely,
that the brightest loves tarnish
the dirty sun of the day, the day
they are subjected to scrutiny?
I have an irrefutable idea
for avoiding the unbearable:
Before the hate, before the blows,
the hisses or the lashes,
before the pain and the disgust --
Please, let's end it there.

JP: But I kiss you and it passes.
You see,
you can't brush me off like that.
You thought to get yourself out of it
by leaving me like
some great love that must die.
But, you see, I prefer
the tempests of the inevitable
to your stupid little idea.
Before the hate, before the blows,
the hisses or the lashes,
before the pain and the disgust --
End it there, you say?

RD: But you kiss me and it passes.
I know, you can't be brushed off like that.

RD: I could avoid for you the worst.
JP: But the best is yet to come.

Before the hate, before the blows,
the hisses or the lashes,
before the pain and the disgust --
RD: Please, let's end it there.
JP: But I kiss you and it passes. You see?

RD: You kiss me and it passes.
I know, you can't be brushed off like that.
JP: You can't brush me off like that.