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.

 

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

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

Vie de Chateau by Parfums di Nicolai (2010)

Vie De Chateau by Parfums di Nicolai

In a little red barn on a farm down in Indiannnaaa….I’m gonna rest my back on a stack of new mown haaaaaaay.

Vie de Chateau* may translate to “Castle Life” but as I am immediately transported to the farm of my childhood, I am reminded that the French and Midwesterners have far more in common than either side wants to admit.

There is a burst of sunshine in the opening of Vie de Chateau.  Not to get too nostalgic or pie-eyed but there is a moment on a farm morning (and I would assume on a Chateau as well…but I cannot confirm) when the sunshine hits the dew on fresh cut grass and everything smells fresh and new, yet with an underpinning of rich loamy soil. This is the first moment of Vie de Chateau.

Vie de Chateau is typically classified as a masculine and I get the briskness that implies, but there is no gender to a summer morning and thus I wear this comfortably, if not a little mournfully, at my desk wishing I was out experiencing that very thing rather than just approximating it on my wrist.

As we move into the heart, I believe a fresh saddle has just appeared on our farmy morning, warmed with the sun.

I mentioned Cristalle as having an air of Carpe Diem, and so does Vie de Chateau.  In Cristalle, we are accomplishing much in the realm of career.  In Chateau, it’s a day of active leisure.

Vetiver shows up a little after the warm leather.  It’s really nicely composed as I seem to be generally a little sensitive to vetiver’s raspiness.  This one is smooth. Woven.  I suspect it’s because it is blended with the warmth of tobacco which sweetens it and calms it’s respiratory flyways.

So we seem to have a freshly shaven farmer, sitting atop a saddle with an unlit pipe, ready to head off to Sunday services.  So it may not inspire sexy thoughts, but nonetheless it is comforting while never ever sliding into the world of gourmand.

This is what I call a church morning perfume (as is Nicolai’s gorgeous Odalisque).  I don’t mean to imply it’s conservative or staid.  It’s just it would smell great with coffee, toast, shaving cream, and wouldn’t fight with other similar scents amongst the freshly scrubbed pews.  (IE I could see letting my Dad try this one on.)

Hay is one of my favorite perfume notes.  It is sweet, green, herbal and happy if something can smell happy and I feel it can.

A true barnyard perfume would have a bit of indolic heft to it, and this is not it.  While I admit I have a bit of affection for greener, ah, manure.  (I guess there’s no getting around it, but the fact is rabbit and horse poop ain’t that bad.)  This is not a present element in Vie de Chateau.  As I said, this isn’t a farmer on duty.  This is a farmer heading out for awhile.  It’s a day full of possibility and camaraderie, not routine.

There are a couple bottles in my home that find themselves variably on either my dresser’s or my husbands.  I sneak Aqua di Parma.  He grabs Lush Dirty.  (I suspect Eau de Navigateur will find it’s way to my side of the room as he has tired of it.) I could see Vie de Chateau having two homes as well.

I would recommend this perfume, in particular, to people who appreciate classic colognes but do not enjoy orange blossom or heavy citrus (if citrus can be heavy).

Ther is a hot second in the top notes where a rasp caught my breath.  I think it was just that first flash of vetiver that settles down quickly into the basket weave I mentioned above. The drydown is a very clean musk that manages to avoid hissing.  It maintains just a hint of that cut grass quality.  I’m getting sheets drying in the breeze.

If you need the perfume equivalent, be it French or Midwestern, of a country morning transitioning to a nappy afternoon, well friend, Vie de Chateau is the perfume for you.  Castle Life.  I agree.  For what is more luxurious that an outdoorsy nap on a summer day?

Ultimately, Vie de Chateau smells good.  Very very good.

*Whistling “In a Little Red Barn” as I meander away down a country road.*

4 Stars.

*My sample is older and so I cannot speak to the new “Intense”  version although judging by my research it is very similar.