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.

M'babehs

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.

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.

Back to Black by Kilian (2009)

Who is the Man in Black?

Who is the Woman in Black?

Now.  Who is the Perfume in Black?

In my quest to personify perfume (Scents act as a companion and you should really know who you’re bumming around with, no?) I am a bit flummoxed as to Back to Black’s identity.

So is Back to Black the spirit of Johnny Cash?  Nah.  I feel like we’d need grainy leather and booze.  A fragrance I would LOVE btw.  But Back to Black is not it. I do, however, see Back to Black complimenting a leather jacket.  I’ll keep that in mind.

What about the Angel of Death? Absolutely not.  That perfume would have a chill.  A shroud.  And some funk.  Again, no dice. However, there is an autumnal darkness about Back to Black.

So why can’t I get a reference for you?  A theme? Back in Black is hardly shrouded in mystery.  The major players are all readily evident upon first sniff:  tobacco, honey, spice, vanilla. And yet, it’s face remains obscurred from my view.  Well, at least we know we’re dealing with an introvert.

And a smoker.

The Tobacco

I’ve been known to like a dollop of tobacco in my perfume.  It’s sweet.  It’s strong.  It reminds me of my Gramps without downright smelling like him (For that, we would need Stetson.)  Tobacco warms things up, smoothes them out.  It keeps gourmands from being edible, and that is how I like my gourmands. Shalimar, Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, Sacrebleu, and Back to Black.  Dessert you aren’t supposed to eat.  But rather.  Um.  Slather all over your body?  I don’t know.  But that’s the feel.

If you’ve never experienced the warmth or comfort of pipe tobacco smoke (or even unlit in the pouch), then Back to Black may be providing not just fragrance, but also a service.  Pipe tobacco is one of the great comfort scents the world has to offer.  It’s sweet, rich, roasted, smooth, a little herbal, and, spicy as it is, despite its fully developed appearance, ultimately a big ol’ leafy plant.

The Honey

To look at at tobacco and honey as a pairing, one might suspect the combination may be too sweet and Back to Black IS quite sweet.  However, when it comes to sugar, this pairing of tobacco and honey are LESS than the sum of their parts and it is all the better for it.

Which leads me to the animal factor in Back to Black.

This perfume is a sexy beast, but not so much that it sends you a dirty text (We’ll let Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Kahn do that). Perfume newbies, you should know that a little animal factor can take a perfume from meh to wowser.  Civet, honey, musk, leather, ambergris, our own bodies make perfumes smell more complex, sexy, and rich.  There is some dubious treatment of animals when it comes to some perfume ingredients (particularly natural musks, civet and castoreum) so it is for those reasons and also my personal taste that my favorite animalic note is honey.

Back in Black delivers.

Now, when I say honey I do not mean the honey flavored syrup in a bear bottle on your grocer’s shelf. And as much as I would love to include a picture of Pooh bear, this isn’t an innocent kid cartoon kind of honey.  This is raw, organic, straight-off-the-comb, rich, sexy, complex honey.  We’re all adults here, right?  So I can say this thing I need to say.  In short, honey smells like butt.  Bee butt.  Clean bee butt.  And Back to Black, our scent story for today, has it spades.

Wait.  Is Back in Black Sam Spade?

Nah.  That man is a walking aromatic fougere.  Plus, wrong jacket.

(For experimental and culinary purposes, go to Trader Joe’s or a natural food store.  Buy their raw organic honey.  And give it a whiff.  If you’re only used to the cheap stuff, you’ll find honey is a perfume in and of itself.  Floral, warm, animalic. MAC used to carry two limited edition honey perfumes and I’ve always kicked myself for not purchasing them.)

In that we are animal, and honey is too, I find that my own skin is an essential ingredient to the mix.  The honey seems to recognize skin as familiar and warms right up and blends right in.  On paper, Back to Black seems to be missing something and I find my bod fills the gap (Yours will too.  It requires a human, but not anyone in particular.) This honey is intimate. The Perfume Posse folks describe it Back to Black as “bordering on TMI,” but the border is never quite crossed and that means Back to Black is available, yet aloof, and panties the world over metaphorically drop to the floor in response.  And thus we realize that “honey pot”  is a delightful euphemism and I will leave it at that.

Heh.

GASP

Leather Jacket.
Autumnal Darkness.
Dirty Joke.
Aloofness and panty dropping?

Is Back to Black Dean from Supernatural?

Reluctantly, I say no.  Back to Black is too sweet, and missing roughness and anger.  I suspect Dean would be a vetiver guy, but that’s another discussion.

Besides, the sexy part of Back to Black sticks around for a long time.  And Dean has to leave.  Again. Nice jacket , though.

The Vanilla and Spice

I tend to throw vanilla fragrances into two categories:  Foody Vanilla (Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s line) or Floral Vanilla (Vanilla Fields, Tocade).  Somehow, Back to Black’s vanilla is both, although it leans on the foody.  I suspect that this comes from the aforementioned honey as honey is also foodie and floral at the same time.  As is the cardamom (in chai – it’s foody.  Alone – it’s dry and warm and not particulary suggestive of anything edible.) The spices don’t stand alone so much as present themselves in relation to the tobacco and honey.  Is this clove spiked tobacco?  Cardamom honey?  It doesn’t really matter.  The point is, it blends.

The Patchouli

People fear patchouli.  They think head shop hippie and of course, we all know why.  However, I often find scents that are attributed to patchouli are not actually patchouli but rather hemp, musk, nag champa incense, or cheap amber oil.  Really patchouli can smell quite green or like good clean dirt.  It can smell resinous or indeed quite hippie.  Were the patchouli rendered differently here, Our man in Black would be Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.

But that would require more dirt.  More animal.  And a drier finish.

Rather, in Back to Black, patchouli becomes my favorite form – the soft cocoa powder version.  Another perfume that does this and makes my heart soar is Chanel’s Coromandel.  In Coromandel it is nearly a white chocolate, a cocoa butter.  But in Back to Black it is dark, roasted dutch process cocoa powder.  Not fully formed chocolate, however, and avoids smelling like a piece of cake.

The Mood

On the more esoteric side of things, I feel “held” by Back to Black.  Not like an affectionate hug from my Mom but rather an embrace from my man saying “Everything’s cool. Let’s dance.”  There are times when I wear something like Youth Dew or an old vintage something or other, or even my love YSL Paris and I again feel held, but rather in a cloud of my own making and as much as I love those perfumes:

Nobody comes to visit me in my little cloud.

Not so with Back to Black.

Dammit why can’t I figure this out.  I’m gong through my mental rolodex of iconic black leather jacket wearers:
Madonna – No.  That perfume would have fruit in it.
Elvis – not gaudy enough. His leather would have an unexpected floral.
Marlon Brando – not enough sweat.
James Dean.  I love Back to Black but it’s hardly legendary.
The Fonz? Oh man.  Would I love to smell THAT one.
Kate Moss.
Slash.  In general, Back to Black (as much as it’s AC/DC esque name suggests, is not a rock star perfume.  Not quite.)

Wait.

Johnny Depp?

Tobacco.  Yes.  Honey.  He’s got that sweet quirkiness with a dirty mind.

And yet,  no.  Not weird enough.  And while Back to Black might say something suggestive, Johnny’s would make you blush.

And Back to Black is never going fuck up a hotel room.

Damn and I was so close.

So who are we dealing with here? Back to Black is stubbornly unisex.  Truly it knows no gender.  It merely craves skin.  Lest I go down the Buffalo Bill path here, it doesn’t require you to step away from your dermal system.  It just wants to be invited in.

OH MY GOD.  BACK TO BLACK IS PIKE.  PIKE FROM BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

(And yeah, I don’t care what Joss Whedon says.  I’m a purist.  Give me Swanson.)

And who is Pike?  Well.  He’s a little Johnny Cash.  He’s a little b-horror movie.  He’s a lot sexy.  And very sweet…with an awesome girlfriend.

Ha!  You don’t get out of the Perfume Pad without a couple of samples and a movie reference.

But Betsy, I thought you said Back to Black was unisex.

Dude. Buffy totally wears Pike’s jacket at prom.  DUH.

That’s it.  That’s it.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Back to Black is a bad boy who is really a good boy who makes you want to do bad things.

And Reader, I married a Pike.

Man I love this perfume.

4 Stars

Cristalle by Chanel (1974)

Cristalle:  It gives you wings!

I hate to draw a classic Chanel into the world of energy drinks but there is an undeniably uplifting quality to Cristalle.  It, like it’s champagney name, feels effervescent.

But not.  I repeat.  NOT ditzy, so put down the can of Red Bull and pick up the glass of Veuve.  Come along and let’s examine.

Cristalle is what I would call a green citrus.  It has more staying power than your average citrus and it’s a more complex composition as well which puts it on a bit of a pedestal. Citruses have a tendency to be fleeting little things on one hand, or masculines on the other.  While I think it would do well on a man (Lovers of Aqua di Parma take note), it never crosses that stereotypical masculine threshold.

It is unbelievably refreshing.  On a practical level, it would do well on public transportation on a hot day.  I can nearly imagine being thanked by fellow passengers should anyone particularly gamey be nearby.  It’s an antidote to stonk and grunge.  I’m sure there are people that dislike Cristalle, or are ambivalent, at least, but I simply can’t imagine it.

I’ve heard it described as a fragrance that would do well on a blonde.  Sure, I suppose.  I think the real imagery, however, is that of an ice queen of no particular appearance but rather a certain behavior and bearing.  Cristalle, as exhilarating as it can be, is not a warm and inviting presence.  It’s crisp, but not sharp.  Cool, but not frozen.  It’s sophisticated and does not overpower, in sillage at least.  Psychologically, it’s a different story.

I loved Cristalle at first sniff very early in my perfume journey.  It’s not a particularly difficult perfume to like, although I don’t know a lot of people (other than me) who downright love it.  I think what roped me was, having come from a world of ditzy fruity florals and a lone bottle of Coco Mademoiselle (I’ve ALWAYS loved that Chanel base), Cristalle makes it immediately clear it is well made and may make you question the quality of other fragrances.  It is a well-tailored suit.  A perfect little white sheath dress (with killer heels).

Frankly, it’s a little bitchy.  It kind of has a Lady Tremaine feel about it

Anna Wintour probably puts it on after she’s eaten her young.  (Well, you wouldn’t want anything heavy after that.)

So no Cristalle probably isn’t going to the party (you totally invited her), but she’ll get you through a long day.

Lest you think I’m trying to imply something about Cristalle, I should clarify.  Cristalle might be a bitch, but bitches get shit done.

Plus, it’s merely one element.  Cristalle may have a slight Karen Walker brusqueness, but she is complex, particularly for a citrus.  Other citruses are playful and fleeting.  Refreshing but they cancel plans.  Once you’re in Cristalle’s calendar, that meeting is HAPPENING.  And you are meeting somewhere NICE for lunch.

However, if Cristalle is one tenth Karen Walker, she’s a hell of a lot more Christine Lagarde. That’s right.  I’m putting Cristalle in charge of my perfume International Monetary Fund (Someone needs to be, for crying out loud.  It’s getting ridiculous.)

Christine Lagarde, Head of the International Monetary Fund.

When I’m working on a big project and I need motivation to get it done. I…well, alright don’t judge my dorkiness but I watch Apollo 13.  That scene where they bring in a box full o’ crap and say we have to make a CO2 filter out of this.  That makes me go LET’S DO THIS.

(Spoiler alert:  They totally figure it out.  Was someone wearing Cristalle?  No.  That happened in 1970.  Cristalle was launched in 1974.)

Cristalle has a sense of productivity. She might even be a pill-popper.  I can imagine myself coming upon some stressed young thing, pulling her aside, handing her a bottle of Cristalle and saying “This will help.  Don’t say anything.”  Then I light a cigarette, and drink a martini.  As I walk away, I say, “Now pull your shit together.”

I have become one with Cristalle.

Lucille Bluth probably has a bottle of Cristalle.

Cristalle doesn’t understand the question, and she won’t respond to it.

Wait.  Didn’t I start out this thing saying “uplifting” and “champagne?”  So I did.  And so Cristalle is. Cristalle gets you through the job.  And then it helps you celebrate after it’s done.

You see, Cristalle isn’t bossy.  She’s the boss.

The physical incarnation of Cristalle.

Not only is Olivia Pope the essence of Cristalle, but the CHARACTER of Olivia Pope did a totally Cristalle move on TV in general by shooting the equivalent of galbanum resin into prime time.  Shonda Rhimes Chanel Cristalled Hollywood. That is a bracingly refreshing breeze.  How meta.  And how very Cristalle.

If we assigned careers to the Chanel classics:   No 5 is the Philanthropist.  19 the diplomat.  22 the PR rep. Coco the Actress.  Beige the Accountant (Poor Beige).  Cristalle is the attorney. And that suit is, well Chanel of course. But not the tweed.  Too dowdy.  She’ll take it in tropical wool.  Her nails are impeccable.  Hair too.  I wear Cristalle when I need to convince myself that I’ve got this.  Cristalle represents well.  She knows who she is.

It might be sacrilege (but then so is any temperature above 95): try putting Cristalle in the fridge for the dog days.  She might work hard but she knows there is a time for a cold glass o’grigio on a patio.  And I picked that Samantha Jones reference on purpose:  Cristalle might be chilly, but she’s not frigid. Where there is oakmoss, there is a dark sexiness. Cristalle is also calculating, although I wouldn’t go so far as to compare her to say, Amy from Gone Girl.  We’ll leave Gucci Envy to do that.

You sense I’m a bit intimidated by Cristalle.  I am.  I just (choking up) I just want to live up to her expectations.  But I am also no pushover.  She likes my “quirkiness”.  She once called me “weird.”  I said she was uptight.  And then we both loosened up.

5 Stars.

My sample is the EdT from circa 2008.  The EdP is said to be sweeter and fruitier with less bitter herbs.  I don’t know why you’d want that.  Find the EdT.

*After I wrote this, I bumped into this post likening Cristalle to introversion.  I agree, for the commonly deemed bitch is often a misunderstood introvert.  As I identify as an introvert, I see Cristalle to be one too.  Wonderful piece.  Check it out.