Bvlgari Pour Femme by Bvlgari (1994)

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I bought this perfume with a gift card from Steinmart that was a Christmas present from a non-favorite boss who is no longer my boss and anyway I had to travel to Wheaton which is simply never “on the way” for me.

If that sounds a touch ungrateful, I don’t really care.  He was a touch ungrateful. And I had to buy a tank of gas rendering the gift card more of a coupon than an actual gift.  I don’t bitch much, but when I do it’s usually about old men and I think that’s just fine.

But let’s not burden this darling perfume with all that.

It’s a rose, and by any other name *might* smell as sweet, but let’s be clear: before anything else, it’s a rose.**  It is, in fact, a jammy rose which happens to be my favorite thing (See my posts on Stella, Safran Troublant).  It was clearly inspired by  Yves San Laurent Paris, a perfume that probably shouldn’t be worn in public because it is audacious and the color hot pink rendered in scent form.  Also, I cannot prove that Paris inspired Pour Femme, but it was designed by the same perfumer, Sophia Grojsman, who at the very least seems not to have been done with the Paris idea.  She is my favorite perfumer, and renders roses in ways nature did not intend them.  All for the better.   This is Paris designed to be worn in public.

In fact, perfume critic Tania Sanchez (Perfumes:  The Book) insisted it is a summer fragrance designed for steamy city streets, “when the air felt so humid, you thought you might be able to kick up and swim through it.  Good and bad smells everywhere seemed to have not merely presence, but weight, nearly combing your hair as they raked past.  Bvlgari Pour Femme, wafting up from the cleavage, it’s obvious natural environment, seemed to clear that thickened air.”  Precisely.  It is a perfume for a hot August afternoon on a crowded subway, if donned lightly.  When combining public transit and perfume, one must have a light hand and of course, if in doubt, leave it out.  Like smoking, public cell phone use, and unsolicited opinions, perfume is an activity to be attempted by the conscientious.  Many days, I go without. **Note:  Tania Sanchez calls Pour Femme a “mimosa violet” so, hey what do I know?

Bvlgari Pour Femme is very “go anywhere.”  You could wear it on a date as easily as an interview.  It would attend a barbecue as soon as an opera.  Versatile, yes, but too quiet to sing, “I’m Every Woman,” yet too present to not sing at all.  No, Pour Femme is a romantic of the slightly pop variety, with not enough mystery for jazz, but enough heft for emotion.  “Dreamlover” is her tune, a welcome respite from less considered radio muck, much like the sweaty summer day she’s relieving us from.

This is not a Mariah Carey incarnate type of thing, however.  First, Mariah has her own perfume line (don’t bother).  Moreover, I wouldn’t assign Mariah something this…this restrained.  No Pour Femme is Cher.  Cher Horowitz, that is.  Well-dressed, well made, smarter than she looks, and associated with luxury brands.  I wouldn’t say she’s “a virgin who can’t drive,” but rather say, a Virgo who doesn’t (see public transit discussion above.)

Pour Femme isn’t entirely floral, and that’s a good thing.  Woods, a bit of musk, and icy iris (in perfumery, not a particularly floral note but rather a chilly, rooty one) keep its well shod feet on the ground.  In fact, Pour Femme would go great with Cher’s white collarless shirt from Fred Segal, her “most capable looking outfit.”  It’s pretty, sure, but it knows how to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings and still declare “the more the merrier,” all while correcting someone’s Shakespeare while she’s at it.

If Pour Femme deviates from the Cher Horowitz image in any way, it is in the one characteristic that it shares with my aforementioned former boss: it’s cheap.

Four stars.

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Safran Troublant by L’Artisan Parfumeur (2002)

L’Artisan released Safran Troublant in a trio of spice perfumes called Les Epices de la Passion.  Also part of the set were Poivre Piquant and Piment Brulant.  Never smelled ’em so I can’t critique the album, per se.  Just the song.  And the song is Safran Troublant.

It’s got a voice like Bonnie Raitt, or Mary Chapin:  dry, warm, and intelligent with no excess.  This is Tracy Chapman singing “Give Me One Reason”.

You know all the words.  You love to sing it. It’s no aria, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s an acoustic blues number that ain’t so blue. It’s simple in that perfectly rendered manner in which adding something would only take away.

The only Reason I usually need to turn right back around when it comes to perfume is spice.  And Safran Troublant has that very thing.

I am a fan of the Inedible Gourmands.  That is, perfumes full of foodie type things without all the sugar.  That leaves a lot of gourmands behind to stay in their cotton candy shrouded bakeries.  The inedible gourmands, if done badly, smell like potpourri.  But if done well, they make my heart sing.  And they sing songs of warmth and spice and everything nice.  And then sometimes things you can’t talk about in front of Grandma like tobacco and underpants. Well not my grandma at least.  She was a lady.

Safran Troublant is NOT a lady but also is not particularly a gent either and that makes it all the better. It just smells good. It is a state of being rather than a persona. It is dry and warm and autumnal. It is a sunny early October afternoon.

My best friend recently informed me I overuse the word Autumnal.  It’s because of perfumes like Safran Troublant. Plus, risking being called, ahem, “basic”, Fall is my favorite season.  (video upcoming)

This is not, however, the perfume equivalent of a pumpkin spice latte and a pair of Uggs.

What makes this little saffron number so special?  Well, for one, the saffron.

NEW SPICE GIRL:  SAFFRON SPICE.

Who is Saffron Spice?

Connie Britton?

The Dalai Lama?

No.  This is a gingery cat napping in a pool of sun.  Trick question.

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Saffron’s not a typical perfume note.  Not unheard of, but unusual.  I dig saffron both for it’s color and flavor and because of this, its smell. It’s so golden.  And don’t worry, no paella here.  Others may disagree but it ain’t paella until I’m disrobing a prawn and staining my shirt with paprika while being a little germaphobic about that sharing thing.

Plus here?  There’s cinnamon.  When it comes to perfume I like my cinnamon not ensconced in a bun but rather dry in the sun.  Raspy almost.  I have read other reviews and no one seems to mention the cinnamon but dammit this is cinnamon. And maybe nutmeg and cardamom.  Chai but no latte.  Like…chai.  The real thing.  I was once on an elevator with a couple coworkers, one of whom is originally from India and the other from China.  They were already on the elevator when I arrived so I caught them mid-conversation and it went something like this:

Coworker 1:  I don’t understand.  The word for tea is “chai”.  They say “chai tea.”  They are effectively saying “tea tea.”
Coworker 2:  (just sagely nods)

This is that chai.  A mixture of spices with a pinch of cream, served in a rose rendering it beautiful but not drinkable and all the more wearable.

Not just any old rose, mind you.  A jar of rose jam.

If I abuse another word more than “Autumnal” it might be “Jammy”.  I love jammy.  Jammy perfumes, jammy wines, jimmy jams, Jimmy Johns jibber jabber jibber jabber jammy jammy jammy.  Give me a jar of rose jam and a jammy zinfandel and some cool jams and I will be set.  LL Cool J.  This lady loves Cool Jams.

Er…slow jams. Avec Epices.

L’artisan calls Safran Troublant “just a little dangerous.”  I mean…maybe like George Costanza in his bad boy phase which is to say…

not at all. Not at all dangerous.  Perhaps has an orthopedic back pillow.

Okay, maybe not.  It’s too cool and unusual for that.  But I’ll let L’Artisan keep crying wolf if this is what I find when I arrive.  Safran Troublant lies at the heart of my perfume soul.  Spices, warmth, rose and very little sugar. I venture outside this cozy cabin often but it’s nice to return home for a tea, a kitty and a snooze in the sun.

It’s simple.  Sometimes the best things are. Like I said before, “Give Me One Reason to Stay Here…and I’ll turn right back around.  Because I told you I loved you, and there ain’t no more to say.”

4 stars.

Eau de Charlotte by Annick Goutal (1982)

You’ll find I have a particular affection for the Annick Goutal line (see my review of Songes).  It captures my very cartoonish Midwestern sensibility of what it might mean to be “French”, in a sort of poodley champagney storybook way that I realize is probably not particularly accurate.  But Annick Goutal IS French, whatever that may mean.  It also is available only in major metropolitan centers in the US so when I am at an Annick Goutal perfume counter, I am therefore in a city which existentially means something to me, the kid from small town Ohio.  And as long as Bloomies on Michigan Ave keeps the Goutal coming, I live in such a city.

Eau de Charlotte, our scent for today, also piques my sense of false nostalgia as it was born in 1982 and I in 1981.  There is no way I remember 1982 very well, but I have a vague sense of 1984 and 1985 and there is something particularly early 80’s about this perfume.  Plus I’ve seen the pictures.

Our collective remembrance of the 80’s seems hot pink in nature.  Hairspray, shoulder pads and Madonna show up at 80’s themed parties and sitcom episodes.  MY 80’s, the 80’s of my childhood, was much softer with holdovers and hand-me-downs from the 70’s.  Mary Lou Retton hairstyles.  Brooke Shields eyebrows.  Madras plaid.  Sensible brown sandals.  Bible school crafts. Public pools.  Herself the Elf.  Strawberry Shortcake. And a general air of pastel.  Even the photos of my youth have a hazy quality as if they know that life will shortly quicken in pace.  Still, the phone dial was rotary. And you paid extra for the Disney channel.

This is not, of course, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Reality is far more complex.  I don’t mean to shatter the strawberry-scented warmly hazed image I’ve created but it also was at this time my father owned a red Ford Pinto. The ERA had failed. AIDS was reaching mass proportion. The Challenger exploded.  Men still wore leisure suits.  You could smoke in restaurants.  I don’t believe in the concept of “the good old days.”  Go back far enough, and in the “good old days” I wouldn’t be able to vote. Nor I am weighing those events against each other in depth, despair or significance. I was, as I mentioned, a toddler then so forgive me for not remembering all that.

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A girl (me), her piano, and a place to eat. It was a simpler time.

But this is about perfume after all.  And while Eau de Charlotte is hardly the olfactory rendition of “We Are the World”, I do have affection for my happy childhood. And Eau de Charlotte doesn’t need all this pressure.  We’ll let Dior’s Poison handle the dubious job of representing the 80’s.

I have older cousins who were and are still beautiful and graduated in, respectively, 1987 and 1984 and I remember their makeup, boyfriends, and senior pictures quite well.  Eau de Charlotte is the perfume equivalent of those photos.  She is Mallory Keaton.  Sheltered.  Pretty.  Stylish. And of a particular era.

Eau de Charlotte incarnate

This perfume is well-crafted and a bit surprising.  It manages to have notes of cocoa and vanilla without ever even toying with being a gourmand.  It smells cool and breezy, but not in a Springy way.  This is one of the first cool breezes of an approaching Autumn.   While other reviewers emphasize the lily of the valley, for me it shows up as a brisk iciness that makes it the perfect scent for this time of year.  The cocoa gives it depth, the florals keep it from being moody, and a nicely calm air of green keeps it wise and a bit studious.

After all, Mallory was always smarter than she behaved.

Eau de Charlotte would function well as an “everyday” scent.  Even a signature scent for those who are monogamous (I’ve never been able to commit.)  The term “fruity floral” has become somewhat derogatory over the years as it seems to be the default setting for cheap new launches and cynical flankers.  Eau de Charlotte has both flowers and berries but is never cheap, never dumb, and always the freshly scrubbed optimist. The soapiness is gentle and pleasant.  If I have any talent at all it is my ability to appear as if I have showered.  Eau de Charlotte would add an air of innocently batted eyelashes to my lie.

According to ad copy, Annick Goutal herself created Eau de Charlotte for her young stepdaughter who was a budding gourmet and loved blackcurrant jam. Today, perfumes aimed at young women are generally thoughtless at best, and insulting at worst.  There is some hideous version of informal logic at hand: Women want men to like them.  Men eat cake.  Make women smell like cake. If Eau de Charlotte is how perfumers viewed a young woman in the 80’s, then I guess I do have some nostalgia after all.

 

Eau, Johnny, Eau.

I laughed right out loud, yes.  But this is one crush that will never end. I’ve loved him since Cry Baby.  A film that is high camp.  Well this one is, too.

Perfume is hilarious.  Weird.  And Sexy as Hell. So Johnny makes sense.

I’ll admit, I’ve always dreamed of a perfume inspired Johnny Depp.  It should be dark, weird, funny, smart, androgynous and filthy. In short, great.

Let’s just hope Dior didn’t spend all their money on Johnny.  Let’s hope they saved some for the juice.

And let’s hope they get their own joke.

Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens (1992)

Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens

Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens

The perfume that launched a thousand ships.

For me anyway.

Bois de Violette was my first bottle of Serge Lutens.  My first dropping of an ungodly amount of money on a fragrance.  My first idea that this whole perfume thing had more to it than I ever imagined.

It is the Proust Questionnaire writ en perfume:  When and Where were you happiest?  If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be? What historical figure do you most identify with?

What is your greatest extravagance?

Ahem.

Before we get into me handing over my credit card at Barney’s while doing some deep breathing exercises, I suppose it’s important to note that Bois de Violette is a flanker.

The original.  The big Momma.  The first Serge Lutens is Feminite du Bois originally by Shiseido. It is iconic.  It is one of the best.  And it is a shining example of what niche perfumery can do.  Check it out.  I’ll review it some day.

In the meantime, experimentally, Christopher Sheldrake (the perfumer) decided to dink around with the formula and pop up one of the notes to 11 while keeping the “bois (i.e. woods)” intact.  What followed was Bois et Fruits, Bois et Musc, Un Bois Vanille (Which always makes me go “That is one Woodsy Vanilla!”),Orientale, Santal de Mysore, Chene, Sepia and Bois de Violette.  While I have given good sniff to some of these, I can only speak to Violette.

It’s a darker violet than most violet perfumes which tend to be rather simple and girlish.

It’s a rainy day at the library.

It’s a deep thought.

It’s an Eddie Izzard riff on European history.  Same gender confusion and all the better for it.

This is not a perfume of sex, death and religion but rather a dissertation regarding all three.

My parents love to watch a show about Monarchy and they do impressions of the host who always says very British things like, “So it remained for years, ” except it comes out “yee-ahssss.”

And so Bois de Violette is professorial in nature and has a bit of a tweediness and yet it is as French as French can be. Mr. Proust, we meet again.

But for this Midwesterner…

Who gives a shit?  It’s great!

In the words of a fellow American philosophizer, the esteemed Gomer Pile, “Makes ya think.”

(My reaction when I smelled Bois de Violette for the first time.)

It DOES make you think.  It’s thoughtful, studious, and takes itself a little seriously, and yet in the end it’s simply the one of the greatest violet perfumes ever conceived.  So prepare yourself, Bois de Violette may ask you the big questions:

What is a trait you most deplore in yourself?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?

What flower do you like?

Violets.

Prada Amber by Prada (2004)

Ambers tend to be the kind of perfumes you don’t want to accidentally break in your bag because they never. go. away. The drydown, under perfect conditions (an old suitcase, a trunk,  a drawer) can last for years. So I was surprised when after about two hours Prada Amber had seemingly disappeared. I thought hmmm. Well, if I’m going to write about this thing I better reapply. And so Reader, I basically bathed in it and now, while making my way to lunch with girlfriends I find myself subliminally apologizing to everyone whose paths I cross.

Imagine the opening of Austin Powers, with the choreography punctuated by “Sorry!” at the 4 and 8 counts of each phrase.

When you’ve got on too much perfume, you feel like you’re starring in a goofy comedy with bright colors and everyone else is in an episode of like, Parenthood or something.

However, while I did overload (Shit AND damn), that’s not Prada Amber’s fault. Luckily,  I’m a fan. If a bit reluctant about my momentary heavy handed enthusiasm.

Prada Amber is one of the more wearable yet strong ambers in the mass market, but it is not apologetic. While the true perfume freaks may find it to be a bit boring or a bit too close to Mugler’s Angel, I could see it being a gateway drug to the Eastern spice parties of the niche brands. That is to say if you’re a little bored by say, Chanel Mademoiselle (a similar juice) or D&G Light Blue (completely different), give Prada Amber a spin.
In general, I find Prada perfumes to be well made and intelligent if not exciting. You could really build a nice wardrobe with Prada alone. Candy is my favorite mainstream gourmand and a lot of fun to wear. It is a bit overtly foody but so much better than a lot of the sugar bombs that are available today. Infusion d’Iris is subtle, cool and would make a great job interview scent. I mean, sure. Not the most glamorous idea but sometimes nothing won’t do. The original Prada I found a little surprising, at least compared to the glut of fruity florals a lot of design houses were pumping out, particularly at the time. Prada Amber is a flanker of the original and in some ways, an improvement.  It seems to be the general feeling as, based on my not-too-thorough search, Amber now seems easier to find than its older sister which may have actually been discontinued
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So let’s talk about the actual juice. In the top, it’s a little weird. I’ve heard it compared to Dune by Dior (a perfume I love). I agree. Dune is better but read on. Both perfumes share a marine note. Dune’s is pure ocean. Amber’s is. Well. Pool water. There is a weird chlorine note that disappears very quickly. It’s like Dune is reading a book on the beach and a storm is threatening to come in. Amber’s at the pool back at the house shouting, “Where is Dune? I heard thunder. Let’s get out of the pool and watch movies.” Dune is the studious melancholy one. Amber is a little more fun. But just a little. Angel is the one sneaking liquor and cookies and also she found a taco and she borrowed your top. If you’re looking for an amber party, quit thinking so much and go buy Angel. She’s the original.  No one will ever come close. She also might make out with your boyfriend AND you.  Dune and Amber are sisters.  Angel is their crazy cousin on Patchouli’s side.
But back to Amber. Amber, interestingly, quickly dries herself off from the pool, and puts on a sweater and settles in. I like this chilly stormy beach metaphor we’re using here. It keeps perfumes like Dune and Amber from being relegated to fall or winter (A place I would encourage Angel to stay).  Also a man could easily wear this. Prada perfumes are very unisex in general. Candy might be stereotypically “feminine” but Amber is not.  (I also think, much like the metaphorical sweater I’ve got Amber wearing) it could layer well.

The biggest note in Amber is the patchouli. It’s a refined patchouli. The good clean dirt kind.  A little rougher around the edges than that powdered cocoa patchouli I so adore (See Back to Black by Kilian and Chanel Coromandel), but it wears beautifully.  If you admire head shop hippie fragrances but find them to be at best embarrassing,  and at worst suggestive of a particular lifestyle, Amber might just be for you. It’s what I call J. Crew hippie. Slightly bohemian, but she’ll see you at brunch.  Even though she’s the spokesperson for J’adore, I suspect Charlize Theron might smell something like this.


There are resins here.  Spicy ones. No cinnamon excactly, but a very dry, almost raspy spice accord, as if cinnamon had a vetiver-like quality. I look forward to attempting to layer it with Commes des Garcons White. They share a non-foody spice and White would bring cedar to the mix. There is a creamy vanilla in the drydown but I still wouldn’t call this foody either.

After I climbed Sephora’s bullshit mountain – the product description has litrally no mention of what it smells like (“a scent inspired by the past, that embodies the future.” What?)- I did find a list of notes and for the most part I find them to be accurate.  I think the bergamot, in very Earl Grey form, provides that pool water note with that herbal vegetal bergamotty citrus spice. I don’t get much of the other flowers other than perhaps the mimosa in those early stages. The tonka and vanilla come out a little later making it nicely cozy and sensual. Early on, and lasting for longer than usual, is the orange.  It’s blended so well it merely reads “fruit.”
In short, Prada Amber is the girl that shows up at the party, immediately says something weird and for a second you’re like, “Who’s this chick?”  but then you find out she’s just nervous and she’s actually pretty funny and one time she met Jon Stewart and he was so nice.  And then everyone realizes they all think Jon Stewart is hot except for one girl (One of the Toccas) who is a Colbert holdout and we all respect that.
Prada Amber.  You don’t know her, but you totally know her.  She’s your best friend’s best friend from home and now you see why people love her.  She’s the girl you HOPE is also in the bridal party.  You’re going to be facebook friends and you ask her where she got that perfume because honestly, she just smells really good.

3 Stars