Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween


While Halloween is not celebrated in all parts of the world, I enjoy it for the theatrics it provides. People of all ages are encouraged to play a role for a day, dressing as a favorite character, or perhaps something dark and mysterious. For me, no other perfume house captures this dramatic spirit more than Serge Lutens. From his minimalist packaging, to his opulent fragrances, Lutens has a flair for the spectacular.

What better way to spend a few minutes on Halloween than to take a mini-tour of the equally extravagant Les Salons du Palais Royal located at 142 Galerie de Valois, 75001 Paris. The following photographs are courtesy of a kind friend in Paris who battled the elements in order to snap these shots and pick me up a sample of La Vierge de Fer (review to follow). What fragrance will you be wearing today?












































































Serge Lutens – Fourreau Noir

Serge Lutens – Fourreau Noir

Lavender is a top contender for my favorite note status. It is comforting and bracing all at once – a reminder to slow down, and an inspiration to keep going. The scent of lavender has been traditionally used in aromatherapy for relaxation, and it is easy to understand why. One whiff and my mind immediately drifts off to visions of lavender fields in the South of France, where row upon row of the dusky, green-grey stalks wave their lovely purple buds in the wind, imbuing the region with the magical scent of summertime. Lavender is the scent of freshly scrubbed faces and hair and clean sheets drying in the sunshine.

With all of these associations in mind, I was completely unprepared for the treatment of lavender in Fourreau Noir, which translates from the French as “black sheath”. Black indeed, and sharp as a knife. While in my mind Lutens had already created the quintessential lavender fragrance with his 2006 Gris Clair, he revisited the lavender theme in 2009 and turned it on its head.


Fourreau Noir starts out with an sharp, almost metallic citrus note which explodes into an intense, slightly medicinal lavender, but there is no hint of summertime freshness to be found anywhere in this bottle. Instead, Lutens and Sheldrake manage to make lavender come alive with the warmth, and dare I say fur, of a living creature. The extreme lavender opening softens and blurs out of focus with the introduction of tonka and coumarin, lending a sweet warmth to the lavender note that I love on some days and cannot wrap my mind around on others.

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Fourreau Noir is a perfect cold-weather scent when the balsamic syrup of the dry-down feels warm and smooth rather than cloying. Indeed, this is one of those fragrances that seems larger than life in the heat and humidity, but is as soft and tame as a kitten in the winter. While I spend the warmer months of the year looking forward to wrapping myself in oriental fragrances, Fourreau Noir offers the depth of this genre, while hinting of warmer days to come. This one takes the prize for the most ingenious and unusual treatments of lavender.

A special thanks to Barney’s for the sample.


Notes: Lavender, Tonka, Musk, Almonds, Smoke


Guerlain – Samsara

Guerlain – Samsara


If you are a perfume afficionada, one of the benefits of going to an all-women’s college is the rather obvious proximity of many young women wearing many different fragrances. In my hallway alone, I was greeted each morning by a variety of freshly-showered Chanels and Calvin Kleins as they made their way to morning classes. Into the melange of perfumed heads making their way down Broadway in 1989, came a stunning new creature. She had a cascading mane of beautiful curls atop her slender figure, wore a tiny nose-ring balanced with a huge scarf (which seemed to perfectly match her studies in comparative religion and art), smoked Camels like there was no tomorrow, and was French Canadian to boot. She cut quite an impressive figure in the sea of Eternity, because, of course, she wore Samsara.

Named for the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth, she railed against the ironic name choice for what was such a simply beautiful fragrance (though given the state of Guerlain’s current output, I find myself desperately wishing for rebirth at this point). As a child of the 1980s, Samsara wove an exotic tale, this time of India, with its references to sandalwood and its stylized, deep red bottle. Indeed, vintage Samsara is legendary for containing some of the highest quality sandalwood, in unprecedented amounts.

Into this rich, delicately sweet wood, Jean-Paul Guerlain had the brilliance of introducing a rich jasmine note. While Samsara is certainly recognizable from a distance, unlike many other fragrances of the 1980s, it was never cloying, as the equally demanding notes of sandalwood and jasmine worked in perfect harmony, rather than competing for top billing. The rich rose and ylang notes imparted a nearly palpable creaminess to the fragrance, lending it soft edges and voluptuousness. Perhaps I have been tainted by the intense sillage of other fragrances in my collection, but I find that Samsara wears fairly close to the skin.

The drydown hints at Guerlain heritage, with vanilla and tonka making their symbolic appearance, warming the jasmine petals and woods into a warm skin scent. The EdT places emphasis on the jasmine, while the EdP and Parfum highlights the beauty of sandalwood. While Samsara makes perfect sense (and even appears subtle) in today’s fragrance environment, at the time it was released it was instantly recognizable and larger than life. An intriguing and sophisticated choice for a woman barely in her twenties. Whenever I reach for it, I am reminded of of her unique, indomitable spirit.

Notes: Bergamot, Jasmine, Narcissus, Rose, Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, Iris, Tonka, Vanilla.

*A further note on the fragrance – as I commenced writing this review, I instantly realized why Jasmin et Cigarette had failed to hit the spot for me. The perfect combination of jasmine, tobacco and smoke had already been achieved (albeit unintentionally) by my Samsara wearing friend.

Guerlain – Mitsouko

Guerlain – Mitsouko


Despite being named after the heroine in Claude Farrère’s novel “La Bataille”, if each perfume symbolizes a woman, Mitsouko would have to be the mythological Eve, the first woman and mother of all. For it is in her composition that we can find the DNA for many beloved and wildly successful perfumes including Rochas Femme, Diorama, Youth Dew, Opium and Coco Chanel. Mitsouko was the astounding creation of Jacques Guerlain. Reflecting the world’s fascination with Chypre by Coty, a ground-breaking creation which combined the somewhat odd bedfellows of bergamot, jasmine, labdanum and oakmoss into what would ultimately become a new fragrance category, Guerlain took this novel concept one step further with the introduction of a warm, creamy, ripe peach note. The original Chypre is often described as being a bit rough around the edges, a quandary solved by Guerlain with the introduction of the newly-discovered Gamma-Undecalactone, also known as Aldehyde C-14. Without getting overly technical, there is some debate over the use of the aldehyde reference to C-14, which is technically a lactone, a term which refers both to the molecule’s structure as well as to its fragrance which often has a creamy (milky) scent. Aldehydes are often used to give a fragrance that special opening “sparkle” (imagine the first moments of Chanel No 5), whereas C 14 has a very specific golden peach tone. Nomenclature aside, the introduction of this molecule beautifully rounded out the more angular structure of Chypre into an unforgettable masterpiece.

Mitsouko is at once bold and soft, womanly and earthy. It is the smell of the fall, the warmth and spice of cinnamon and the odd sweetness of decomposing leaves. Its beauty is, quite simply, astounding. While Mitsouko is perhaps one of the most beloved and written about fragrances, it can often be a difficult one to approach if one is just developing their appreciation of vintage or more complex scents. Thanks in part to the inclusion of oakmoss, a popular perfume fixative before restrictions limited its use, Mitsouko has a certain musty smell reminiscent of library books which some find challenging upon first sniff. Ironically, it is the diminution of this same note in the modern, reformulated version, that many perfume enthusiasts bemoan the loss of.

Approaching perfume is not unlike learning about wine: at first, one’s palate can more readily appreciate simpler, sweeter wines, but with time, one is able to appreciate the dry and more complex varieties. So it is with Mitsouko, so be sure to give it some time if you are unable to love it right away – this is one of the perfumes most worth knowing. While many have followed in her steps, Mitsouko is perhaps the finest example of the Chypre genre, if not one of the greatest perfumes of all time.


While I have various examples of Mitsouko in my collection, each with a slightly different scent due in large part to varying ages, the new reformulated version is in some respects a distinct departure from the original vintage. While the lasting power matches that of the original (my scent strip still held scent 48 hours later) the unfolding of the fragrance was decidedly different. While it is definitely still recognizable as Mitsouko, there were aspects throughout the drydown that seemed quite foreign to my nose, and at one point I thought I had mixed up my samples. Overall the fragrance seemed thinner and while I was comparing a modern EdP to a vintage parfum, I attribute the lack of depth more to the absence of oakmoss than to the concentration, as vintage versions of the EdT or even EdC seemed to have more weight than the modern EdP.

Indeed, an overall note on the vintage EdT and EdC Guerlains (and Chanels as well) – these are often excellent and substantial renditions of the parfum (with the exception perhaps of Chant D’Aromes). While they are often a touch more powdery than the parfum (especially true for L’Heure Bleue) they are a wonderful option if one is looking for a more affordable alternative to a vintage parfum.

Fruity Chypre

Notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin, Neroli, Peach, Rose, Clove, Ylang-Ylang, Cinnamon, Oakmoss, Labdanum, Patchouli, Benzoin, Vetiver.

Celebrities and Fragrance

Celebrities and Fragrance

A friend of mine from Paris recently sent me a link for a program which aired on M6 Replay, France’s answer to Entertainment Tonight. After a few human interest stories, the crew did a segment on modern perfumery and the use of celebrities in advertising. The show went on to explain the intentional linking of a particular scent with a celebrity who transcends different cultures and genres, i.e. films, modeling etc. in order to make them accessible to a wide international audience. The idea is that someone in the U.S., or France, or China would all recognize the celebrity, though perhaps from different sources/mediums.


One of the clearest examples given is that of Amanda Seyfried, who recently appeared in both “Les Miserables”, the modern adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic and “In Time”, a sci-fi dystopian flick alongside Justin Timberlake. She has also been featured in numerous Clé de Peau Beauté and Movado ads, clearly a young woman who would be recognized by a large audience (though I will freely admit to having no idea who she was, despite having seen Les Mis. So with all of this “baggage” behind her, the thought is that upon linking her face with Givenchy’s Very Irrisistable, (though there is no explanation for why Liv Tyler got the boot), each of us will bring to the table (or the perfume counter) whatever associations we have. In a potential consumer’s mind, she is at once beautiful, elegant, daring and refined, all qualities that any perfumer would love superimposed upon their fragrance, without having to spell it out.

The show went on to reveal how much money these stars made for these (typically three year) contracts – generally in the $5 million to $10 million range, monies which needless to say are not being invested in the actual perfumes themselves. The best part of the segment came when several consumers were asked which stars were the faces for which fragrances. As you can imagine, there were several blank stares and wrong guesses. It quickly became obvious that the fragrance companies had missed their intended mark, because despite the millions spent on celebrity “endorsements”, consumers did not consider this when making their fragrance purchases.

This made me reflect on perfume ads of the past, where models were chosen more because their look represented the spirit of the fragrance. But then my memory banks fluttered with the Catherine Deneuves, Claudia Schiffers and Paulina Porizkovas who graced countless ads with their iconic visages. And then my memory banks fluttered one last time, to remind me that we bought the fragrances (again, and again, and again) not because of their perfect faces, but because the fragrances themselves were flawless.

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Serge Lutens – Douce Amere

Serge Lutens – Douce Amere


Fall is without a doubt my favorite season. While we face the bitter regret of another summer passed, we can rejoice in the knowing that sweet times lie ahead in the coming months, where the endless holidays give us reason to unite with family and friends. That interplay which makes life interesting carries over to fragrance as well, where the juxtaposition of seemingly incongruous elements often creates something which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Christopher Sheldrake perfectly captures this duality in Serge Lutens’s Douce Amere, a 2000 fragrance which is only available outside the U.S. at present. Mention “oriental” and “Lutens” in the same sentence and no doubt Ambre Sultan will come to mind, but Douce Amere is one of Lutens’ most unique creations, despite not being his most well-known. On first sniff, it doesn’t smell like an oriental, nor does it smell much like a Lutens, as it features none of the velvety, viscous, jammy qualities many of his fragrances are known for. Douce Amere is instead like a pale green chiffon, light and sumptuous, but slightly synthetic in a deliciously elegant way.


Douce Amere starts off with a blast of medicinal wormwood, a bitter green in the manner of Diptyque’s Eau de Lierre (in character only, the two smell nothing alike). The herbal concoction is lightened by a touch of mint, which is so subtle and elusive it seems to linger just out of reach. The green fairy, as absinthe was traditionally known, then spreads her glorious wings with subtle floral notes, tiare being the most prevalent to my nose, but maintains a largely anisic character throughout.

 First bitter, then sweet, it’s absinthe of course.

As green as wormwood is grey, these two ideas tussle inside me… only to kiss and make up on the skin.       Serge Lutens

Just when one imagines that the bitterness has taken hold, Douce Amere turns on the point of a knife into a soft, slightly powdery skin scent. A light musk, with a whisper soft woods, renders a delicate sweetness which speaks to some of chocolate. It serves to soften and sweeten the bitterness of the fragrance, but Douce Amere retains a light dry quality throughout which keeps it from becoming a true gourmand. While the two fragrances smell nothing alike, the combination of anise with subtle gourmand elements reminds me of the effect created by Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, although that masterpiece possesses the furry, warm quality we generally associate with orientals, while Douce Amere does not.

Like many of the Lutens fragrances, Douce Amere has wonderful lasting power, but its sillage is much gentler, wearing more politely close to the skin than say Chypre Rouge. I enjoy the tension created by the transition between bitter and sweet, but find Douce Amere deliciously wearable, even in warm weather.

Notes: Absinthe, Cinnamon, Anise, Lily, Jasmine, Tiare, Tagette, Marigold, Musk, Cedar.


Etat Libre d’Orange

Etat Libre d’Orange – Jasmin et Cigarette


It’s thrilling when a perfume unexpectedly captures our attention and makes us feel we cannot live without it. Whether it becomes an impulse buy or a carefully meditated purchase after spritzing through several decants, certain fragrances simply become part of us. What then for those fragrances which we eagerly anticipate, certain that they are destined to be love at first sniff, only to leave us indifferent or worse, running for the nearest sink?

Since I find jasmine an irresistable note, I had held out immense hope for Jasmin et Cigarette, released by the funky niche house Etat Libre in 2006. And in the way only a former smoker can truly know, there is something delicious about the smell of perfume intermingling with tobacco, forming a sort of third skin scent. And yet Jasmin et Cigarette left me completely flat.

The opening has a nice whiff of tobacco, which dies down to reveal a light, apricot-tinged jasmine which never ventures into the indolic territory (which is quite frankly the main reason I love jasmine, for that slight tinge of decay). I sniffed and waited for the curls of smoke (or at least tobacco) to waft up to my nose, but they never came. A bit of cherry smell from the tonka, but nothing more. I put my sample away for 6 months and tried again. Light jasmine, imperceptible smoke. Another six months – and yet my wait was in vain. Perhaps I have been ruined by the extremes of my collection, by the likes of A La Nuit and Guerlain’s Cuir de Russie.

For those of you who favor light florals and are looking for something with a light twist, this may be for you. As far as I am concerned, I am already planning my next love at first sniff.

Notes: Jasmin Absolut, Tobacco, Apricot, Tonka, Hay, Cedar, Amber, Musk


Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant

Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant


October is officially upon us, marking the beginning of sweater weather for many. I live in a part of the world where it stays warm and humid for quite a bit longer, but the changing daylight patterns make me crave my fall and winter perfume wardrobe terribly. While there are some fragrances which will need to wait a little longer before coming into rotation, I start craving an oriental that can straddle the seasons and help tide me over until the cooler weather finally arrives.

I am always struck by how original Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant is, especially for its time. Were it to be released today (instead of in 1996), it would surely have been as a niche creation. It is without question one of Dominique Ropion’s more unique scents, a distinction it shares with Carnal Flower and Thierry Mugler’s Alien. L’Elephant is a wonderful melange of spices underscored by smoky woods and soft cashmeran. The sparkling mandarin opening is enlivened by cardamom, cloves and cumin. While I am not particularly reminded of either a jungle or an elephant, I do have the sense of being swept away on an exotic adventure.

Elephant de la Bastille watercolor by Jean Alavoine

Elephant de la Bastille watercolor by Jean Alavoine

L’Elephant’s heart is slightly anisic, the perfect interlude into its delicious woody base. While amber and cashmeran can often give a fragrance a dense heady quality, L’Elephant manages to remain light and sparkling. L’Elephant has terrific lasting power but is never overwhelming the way some of its sister orientals can be. L’Elephant can be found online for a reasonable price at several discount retailers or on eBay, where I purchased mine. It is an energizing, powerful scent which never fails to give me a lift.

Notes: Mandarin, Cardamom, Cumin, Clove, Ylang-Ylang, Licorice, Mango, Heliotrope, Patchouli, Vanilla, Amber, Cashmere.