April 29th, 2008 – A cartload of samples

For the first time in my life, I threw my back out on Saturday morning (but isn’t that why I work out five to six days a week? So that I can keep my body in proper enough condition to AVOID throwing my back out? *hmph*) and so had to spend the last several days in various states of agonized repose across numerous objects de furniture, moaning just loud enough so that Brian could hear me in the next room and so come running and ask if I needed coffee, tea, a hot buttered scone, my pillows fluffed . . .

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“What? No bacon? Is this how you treat a suffering invalid? Oh, cruel world!

But modern painkillers are a delightful thing, especially when mixed with an ice-cold Zevia Ginger Root Beer and bright, splashy cable-tv shows. Between bad Sci-Fi originals and old Nancy Drew movies, I was able to use the downtime to dig a little deeper into the subject of perfumes and the industry that so casually inflicts them upon us.

I’m presently deep into the new book by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, Perfumes: The Guide. It’s a terrific overview of what fragrances are, the different classifications and how perfumes are created, and then it launches into concise reviews of literally hundreds of perfumes now out on the market, offering thoughtful and witty opinions on their relative merits (or lack thereof, as the case may be — Flowerbomb, I’m talkin’ about you).

I was never much of a fragrance person, occasionally splashing on an overabundance of Stetson when I was a teenager, but only because it was my older brother’s and he left it in the bathroom. The same with Chaz, which I principally remember because of the ads with Tom Selleck. Ralph Lauren’s Polo was all the rage when I was in high school, though I never wore it. I tried Grey Flannel, but it made me sneeze and caused my skin to break out in a rash. After that, I pretty much swore off cologne. I was unmoved by all the Calvin scents (bland, monotonous, repetitive concoctions blended for a herd of happy lemmings, though the nude male models in the ads were beguiling) and Christian Dior’s Fahrenheit was like a joke whose punch line went right over my head. Davidhoff’s insanely popular Cool Water didn’t even register on my radar. I had a brief flirtation with Clinique for Men, but I already smelled like soap when I emerged from the shower — I didn’t feel like I really needed to accentuate the fact. Sometimes I hit the mall with friends and we would stop by the fragrance counters, but everything I sniffed screeched at me like a pack of harpies with stabbing talons, so I stuck to my soaps, facial cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, hair gels and anti-perspirants, figuring there were enough perfumes and scents among the conglomeration to get me through the day.

But now I’m older and less prone to olfactory overdose — my soaps, shampoos and anti-perspirants are unscented, my laundry detergent and fabric softeners are fragrance free, I don’t use hair gels and I no longer have to burn incense to cover the smell of a roommate’s cigarettes, so when I stumbled happily across Thierry Mugler’s Angel Men Pure Coffee a few weeks ago, I was suddenly reminded of that whole other world out there — the one that offers tantalizing, sexy scents and promises mood altering, life changing fragrances. I’m not so naive as to fall for that crap, but I do now wonder at what I’m missing. Angel Men Pure Coffee brings me such joy when I put it on in the morning — I just stop, close my eyes and breathe it in, the aroma of smoke and coffee, dark chocolate and a toasted-oak vanilla. It’s become an experience instead of just a fragrance. Were there other experiences out there I might appreciate in different ways but like just as much?

I pored through Luca Turin’s book, digging in to review after review after review. I logged on to NowSmellThis, Basenotes, PerfumeSmellinThings and Boisdejasmin, I cruised through Amazon customer reviews and devoured Chandler Burr’s Scent Notes. Then I visited Lucky Scent and delightfully stocked up on a cartload of samples so that I could sit leisurely in my quiet little room, lights dimmed, applying unfamiliar fragrances to my skin to bask in the resulting, unfamiliar ambience.

Will they change me? Will I change them? Will we learn to live together in blissful harmony, or will there be terrible moments of pained, wrenching rejection? It’s like I’ll be going on the equivalent of 26 different speed dates where I’ll stare into the eyes of the beast across the table and decide if it has a soul.

My list of experiments to come:

Le 3rd Man By Caron
Declaration By Cartier
Timbuktu by L’Artisan Parfumeur
Pour Homme by Yohji Yamamoto
Thundra by Profumum
Ambra Aurea by Profumum
Invasion Barbare by Parfums MDCI
L’Instant pour homme by Guerlain
Hinoki by Commes des Garcons x Monocle
Jubilation XXV by Amouage
Bois de Paradis by Parfums DelRae
Domenico Caraceni 1913 by Domenico Caraceni
G 11 by Il Profumo
Anat Fritz by Anat Fritz
Sequoia by Commes des Garcons
Kyoto by Commes des Garcons
Ouarzazate by Commes des Garcons
Garage by Commes des Garcons
Tar by Commes des Garcons
Tea by Commes des Garcons
Frank No. 2 by Frank Los Angeles
L’homme sage by Divine
Escentric 01 by Escentric Molecules
New York by Parfums de Nicolai
L’Air du Desert Marocain by Tauer
Lonestar Memories by Tauer

Other fragrances I’ve given to my friend Louise to test and report back on:

Phenomenon by Yosh
Silk by Jalaine
Absinth by Nasomatto
Acqua di Sale by Profumum
Soleil De Capri by Montale
Dazzling Silver by Lauder
Funny! by Moschino
No. 11 by Cereus
Cuir Pleine Fleur by Heeley
Bois d’Iris by The Different Company
Bergamote by The Different Company
Sel de Vetiver by The Different Company
Aire by Profumi di Pantelleria
Tea for Two by L’Artisan Parfumeur
Lys by Parfums 06130
#3 by Commes des Garcons
Skai by Commes des Garcons

Between the two of us, we should be able to wrap up some pretty good impressions on a wide range of scents, from fresh, green and tangy to richly floral to woodsy and smoky. I think we’re up for the challenge.

UPDATE:

So far, Louise is reporting back with a thumbs up for: Funny! by Moschino, Dazzling Silver by Estee Lauder, Soleil De Capri by Montale and Lys by Parfums 06130. Thumbs down for: Sel de Vetiver by The Different Company, Tea for Two by L’Artisan Parfumeur and Phenomenon by Yosh.

More later (as the news trickles in).

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