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.

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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
.
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