Saturday, November 29, 2008

Le Labo!

Okej, today I went to Le Labo in SoHo today for the first time. Wow! Such a cool experience. At first I just smelled a couple of their scents, both of which I liked very much--Iris and Labdanum (although I didn't so much like the drydown of Labdanum--it started to smell very "sports ambery" to me; actually it reminded me a LOT of the first cologne I ever owned: Rookie by Avon. At first that was charming, but I wouldn't plop down SoHo prices for Rookie when I could just buy a certain amber from Aphrodisia and get a similar effect). But, of course, the real fun was in smelling the raw materials behind the counter. I smelled calone (which does smell wonderfully aquatic), ethyl vanillin (I'd known of this before; calone too--this smells like whipped cream or marshmallow, a light, sweet vanillic smell with none of the complexity of vanilla extract), a musk that I'd read about but never smelled and did NOT smell powdery, fresh, floral or any of the adjectives you'd expect to describe "modern" musks, tuberose absolute, mimosa absolute, neroli bigarade, tonka abolute, leather base, and some hexylene that really did smell like just-cut grass--Hexanal? Oh, and Iso E Super. They didn't have helional, and I didn't see hydroxycitronellal. And I can't remember if we smelled dihydromyrcinol (I probably got that name way wrong--it's the odor that's in all the men's colognes today). (Oh yes, it was I and Jason Atkins, the lifestyle editor for The Ed Shepp Radio Experiment.) And I may have missed some that we smelled. It was wonderful, though, and I had to say that I was surprised that some of the raw materials smelled so nice on their own. Of course I'm thinking of the single-note synthetics like Hexanal and calone. Calone smelled lovely--I can see why it was so extensively used in the 90s, maybe 80s. I believe that Luca Turin says that Calone has the peculiar property of smelling stronger the more you smell it. So that a cologne that smelled really interesting and amazing in the 90s now smells all of Calone. Well, that's how I understand that he meant it. I wasn't surprised that some of the ones smelled faint (I could barely detect benzyl salicylate, which Jason and I had just before read in Perfumes: The Guide that it was the main event in L'Air du Temps, and that some people are anosmic for it but can detect its presence in a blend), because I'd smelled ambroxan and cashmeran before, and they both didn't smell as strong as their effects in perfumes suggest. Iso E Super didn't smell strong to me either, but it was surprisingly pleasant for a single woody-smelling chemical (it seems like those are often harsh alone, but I don't have enough experience to know)--it just smelled like dry, dusty wood.

So Le Labo was a riot for me--I love learning about raw materials in perfumery. The girl behind the counter used to compound perfumes, so it was great to hear her talk about that. Anyway, after LL J and I went to Bloomingdales, where I smelled a buncha stuff I've smelled before, and then to Enfleurage, where I looked at stuff. I noticed that Pacifica, which has started producing eau de toilettes for their candle scents (!), has come out with one of those for their Mexican Cocoa scent. I'd burned the MC scent before, and liked the almonditude to it, so I gave that one a try. Well, it starts out with a gigantic supersweet cherry-almond boat that you get in. Really, it's strong and kinda screechy. You get in the boat, which sails on a river of this sweet floral-spice smell, the kind that makes you think something-with-the-word-eugenol writ huge in glowing pink letters; it's reminiscent of Demeter Orchid: super sweet spicy-floral; nice but bare, and a little cloying. Well beneath this river, at the floor, is something that smells maybe like chocolate. Or maybe vanilla or maybe amber. It's hard to tell, since it seems like you never see the ground--that weird spicy floral note, which I think is in there to suggest the "cinnamon and clove" that the box says is in the scent, seems to last FOREVER. But smelling it, even though it's not something you smell and go immediately, "chocolate" (like you do with Amour de Cacao by Sud Pacifique, which on the drydown smells, ecstatically, of Cocoa Krispies), you can kinda convince yourself it's chocolate because the name of the scent is Mexican Cocoa. Anyway, I don't like it. I mean, I do, but that spicy floral note just ruins the concept. Personally I could find the scent pleasant, and I think you can pull it off well only by layering it, but if you wanted something cheap to wear for when you want to wear perfume but not expensive perfume, or if you just wanted to indulge in the sweetness on a rainy day when you're just ambling around or something, then this might work. But you could also make it work for a more important occasion by layering it with stuff that's better done. You could layer it with Amour de Cacao, if you don't mind walking around smelling like superamazing cereal. And why should do, really?? I frankly don't understand why people don't like gourmand fragrances as true gourmand notes---People say things like, "I don't want to walk around smelling like chocolate cake!!" But why not?? Chocolate cake smells great. People have great associations with it. And speaking as someone who's worn creamy vanillic stuff and almondy stuff and cocoa stuff, I LOVE fragrances that really smell like food (and not a tiny-initial-burst-of-food that quickly craps out into something powdery, like all those "cake batter" scents do; sometimes you can find a cheap vanillic scent that will make you smell like Lucky Charms, but you have to luck out); I think they're unique in the kind of lift you can get when you perceive them through the day. And everytime I smell Amour de Cacao or Vanille Amande, some part of me just instantly relaxes. But anyway, if you want to mix this with amber and then spray a very chocolatey or vanillic scent over it, I think it could really work. If you mixed them well it could become a signature scent. Of course that doesn't change the fact that the scent isn't good enough to work when you want to wear something good. Of course, you'd be stunned if a scent inspired by a CANDLE were that good. At least I would be. (Although I have to say, I TOTES covet Feu de Bois by Diptyque, and I think I'd wear it if it's available in eau de whatever.)

Oh yes, and in my run-on sentences I completely forgot--Le Labo has some $520 kit with li'l bottles of all the raw materials they have behind the counter (presumably so the consumer can educate him or herself on raw materials. Who would do that but a scent geek like me?! Also, why can't you make scents with said raw materials?! They don't sell them individually, as far as I could tell and I could be wrong, and I don't think you can blend them. WTF?!?) (also, [yeah, yet another set-o-parentheses] why do they mix the perfume "fresh" for you?!?! It's not a smoothie!!! Isn't perfume supposed to "macerate"?? I think they just pour the ready made perfume for you--no "mixing" involved). So someone out there can get that for me for Christmas. There you go.

And that's my beep for now.


PS: GAK! How could I not mention that I smelled castoreum at Le Labo?!?!? I have to say--it wasn't offensive at all. I mean, I could see how some might find it so, but I think Luca Turin had it right when he called it the olfactory equivalent of brown. It smelled animal, but more leathery than fecal. I wish I had some. Get me that for Christmas too! And since I mentioned Castoreum, we also smelled the civet, which smelled just like the (CHEAP) civet at that other place, which smelled just like the civet at Symrise. So you don't have to spend out da pants to get a perfectly good artificial civet. Ditto for mimosa--LL's mimosa absolute smelled remarkably similar to the oil at Caswell Massey.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Symrise Part II

OK I guess I should get to the latest Sniffapalooza thing at Symrise, which I'm calling Symrise Part II right now.

This was quite possibly the best presentation I could imagine from a flavor/fragrance manufacturer (for the most part) aside from just being let loose and allowed to smell the raw materials. It was about (and I may misremember things, so there's your warning. I'm just winging it; I ain't no journamalist) luxury scents, and they were letting us smell some scents that they've pitched to their clients for 'inspiration.' One of the groups they were pitching was luxury scents--one of the qualifications for luxury was long-lastingness; another was quality of materials. Quality of materials. Think on that one. Because that was what made this presentation so great--we got to smell some scents made out of top-quality, expensive materials. Scents that no accounting department in a company that sells fragrances would greenlight. So basically we were smelling perfumes to expensive to ever be mass-market produced.

There was one that was made mostly with orris if I remember. When I smelled it, it actually smelled like this very cheap synthetic orris that I got at a health food store years ago, except fuller and softer. It was really lovely! It brought to mind Hiris by hermes, and also carrot seed oil. I really liked it, and kept smelling the strip throughout the presentation; it only got better. Then there was one built around immortelle absolute, which is wonderful and smells darker and deeper than the essential oil that I'm used to (and slightly prefer). It smelled closer to labdanum, but still had a distinct caramellic backnote. There was one that was supposed to smell like a classic floral, and did, in the sense that it smelled like it could've been launched in 1950 (in the good way). There was one greenish one with seaweed, that smelled so clear and fresh and beautiful that I was just bowled over. There was another floral meant to smell like a stargazer lily, and it DID! It smelled as exactly like a lily as I could ever imagine. It was made with all synthetics too, which is interesting.

The last group of fragrances they showed us was themed around something like "Less Is More." Basically here they showed us scents built around Symrise branded compounds--there were quite a few built around ambroxan, one around cashmeran and one with ambroxan and timber propanol. I've smelled ambroxan and TP before, and I could smell them in these. Ambroxan is pleasant, but kind of spare to be building scents with it as a dominant. The whole exercise seemed kinda masturbatory in their part--because there weren't real perfumes in these raw materials, and I don't really know what they were after by showing us stuff built with only ambroxan (the branded name is something different, like Ambroxide)--I mean, it's not THAT great alone. (It's supposed to be magical BLENDED with other notes--providing a fixative effect but also making the upper notes pop.) And I think I remember reading somewhere that it's going a little out of fashion in perfumes. Also, they said that it's really expensive, but I wasn't so sure about that--if you look on some resellers' sites, you can see generics of it, and to look at their prices, it doesn't look expensive at all. Compare it to a jasmine, tuberose, vanilla, beeswax, ambrette or even cassis absolute, and I think it compares well. It surely compares well to real ambergris, which I'm sure costs a fortune. So anyway, smelling those scents was kinda perfunctory, since once you smelled the scent that was nearly all ambroxide, everything else smelled the same.

There was one scent in this part that I really didn't like, and everyone else in the room seemed to have a different reaction. it was this one with a metallic-woody note on top and a dry woody drydown. I found it very unpleasant--it smelled metallic and harsh, and just like really piquant synthy wood notes screaching. But other people in the room found it very sexy and were bordering on the salacious in their comments. I couldn't smell the sexiness. I couldn't smell the leather in it, unless it was that "burnt wood" flavor of leather. I just did NOT get what everyone else smelled in it. Maybe I'm anosmic for something.

Anyway, one of the best parts came at the end, when I got to smell some raw materials: cashmeran, cocoa absolute, bran absolute, tiare absolute, immortelle absolute and a few others. Wow, that was cool. I couldn't smell much of cashmeran--isn't that interesting? That these are really strong, uber-longlasting base notes that don't smell strong by themselves, but really do amazing things to blends? I think it's fascinating. Cocoa: like very dark chocolate--I so wish I had some of this. Bran absolute--I think it's called son, actually. Interesting. Tiare--wow, this is great. I've never smelled the actual flower, but this stuff really does smell like a flower. Immortelle--like I said, deeper/darker than the essential oil; lovely.

And that's the Symrise beep.



So a few weeks ago I decided that I would FINALLY get a bottle of Bel Ami, which I've been pining for since there was different packaging and I DRENCHED myself in in Paris. It was a Sunday, and i went directly to the Hermes store, which was closed. Dammit! But then I walked down to Barney's, where I've never bought anything in my life and I wasn't even sure it was a real store, and I found it there. So I bought it. But the cool thing was that I saw all these scents that I was only dimly aware of--either I'd heard of them, seen them once or twice before or read about them in Perfumes: The Guide. So I started smelling.

I forget the name, but apparently there's a perfume line where the owner just let the perfumers do their thing and he didn't mess with it. So the perfumes have their own names, but also the name of the perfumer on them. Jean-Claude Ellena did one or two. I think someone named Roudnitska did another. Well, some of these are just divine. The Gardenia one is great---it's like gardenia, but when I first smelled it I got tuberose. And not the flower, but more like the notes that are in the natural oil that you might smell at Enfleurage (though not the enfleurage tuberose)--inky, indolic maybe, very green and not altogether pleasant. Of course, these notes are blended well with the rest of it, and the whole thing works. Good stuff. There was a musk one that I liked too. Another thing I really liked at Barneys was something from the Bois 1920 line I think it's called (yes, the salesperson pronounced it "boyz"), and it smelled of evergreen and firewood. Interestingly, when I first smelled it the word "phenolic" filled my head, because it smells distincly smoky, but also almost like a chemical leather, somewhat similar to the Baseball Glove oil that CB I Hate Perfume makes, which itself smells like leather shoes or car seats, but with a weird, chemical nuance. And it smells weirder and muskier when it starts to degrade, which is remarkably quickly compared to pretty much every other fragrance you'd pay for, even drugstore brands. I loved it when I smelled it, and I was telling a friend about it, and I mentioned that when I smelled Sycomore by Chanel, I was all like, "For that price I could make this." Because you know that making your own will ALWAYS cost more than buying it prefab. But with Sycomore it cost so much that I knew I could make it with stuff like galbanum and diluent; it just wouldn't be as long-lasting. Anyway.... I remember saying that I could make that but not this Bois 1920 one. And then my friend smelled it and he was like, "You could make this. You HAVE made this with that leather oil you had." And I was like, "Hmmm, yeah. He's right. Because that leather was extremely phenolic...." Interesting.

So I bought the Bel Ami, and it's a good thing that I went there, because I got all these testers. There was one for Ralph Lauren something or other, but I think I gave it away because it was too fresh. And there was another that was sickeningly fresh and I gave that away even faster. But there were these three Italian scents which were breathtaking, but ridiculously costly: there was Cuomo (I may screw these names up), a leathery-sounding one; Tabaco, self-explanatory, and Sushi Imperiale, a gingery spicy one. Cuomo: hated it. It smelled leathery only in the sense that English Leather smells leathery. In fact, it kinda smelled soapy. Gross. Tabaco: amazing. It smells just like pipe tobacco, but in a general way. It really smells like it has a crapload of tonka in it. In fact, I was afraid that if I put too much on I might get some kinda coumarin sickness. But it's just lovely. And long-lasting too. Sushi Imperiale: brill. Love it. Just brill. But all of these retail for I think about $140/oz. That's a rip. They're very pleasant, but not innovative enough to pay that kind of money for. Forget it. Another great tester I got was for Five O'Clock au Gingembre, and I can't really say what it smells like at this point, because everytime I smelled it I smelled something new that is a favorite scent of mine: labdanum, spice, tobacco, helichrysium, hay/beeswax, tonka.... I was like, "OK, this scent can't possibly be/have all these things. Something is coloring the way I'm smelling this. I can't smell it if I'm thinking 'labdanum' and get an objective reading. I'm gonna have to smell this again later." And I haven't smelled it that much since, but there is that possibility that it's an absolutely brilliant scent that is life-changing. (OK, not "life-changing"...) I do have to note that I wore it one day and had that experience of thinking, "Who is wearing that amazing perfume?!? Is it the UPS man? Is it someone in the building? Is there some cake from another dimension somewhere? ...OMG, it's ME!!!!!" So that's a good sign. It, however, is also around $140 an oz, so forget that. I suppose if I really wanted a tonka like scent I could just mix tonka, flouve and helichrysium into some diluent and have something natural-but-not peak performance.

Anyway, in spite of all those testers, I'm really, really, really happy that I finally own some Bel Ami. Because even though it's apparently been reformulated in recent years (I'm not sure if I've ever smelled the original), I still love love love the way it smells. When I put it on I think mostly of this particular notion I have of a hay/labdanum accord, and I lerv that. Even with the citrus notes and the cumin, which I'm not sure I detect well. I also like the fact that it's not typically sweet, nor is it "fresh."

And that's the beep.

Pier One

So I went to Pier One today cuz I gotta smell all the new xmas shizz. Damn, what a disappointment. I seem to remember that once upon a time Pier One had maybe a cool scent here and there, but now I'm wondering whether I've been mistaken the whole time. Didn't they have a great foliage scent once? Anyway, I was smelling their new Christmas stuff, and it's a wreck. The whole store is a wreck, in scent terms anyway. There were about 8 different names for Christmas scents, most of which weren't even available to smell. But really, how different could they smell? Christmas scents pretty much always have the same accords--citrus-spice, cranberry-citrus or spice, fir balsam. They're so ingrained that if you look for applications for certain raw materials, sometimes "Christmas blends" will come up. Anyway, no one seems to do all that much around these themes--the evergreen smells are pretty standard and decorated either with cinnamon or cranberry notes. The citrus spice and cranberry notes are similarly joined. And sometimes someone tries to throw them all together, but that seldom works. Oh, and there's the very predictable evergreen-cedar combination that seems to sell, but for the life of me I can't understand why. Cedar can smell like saunas, hamster cages and sometimes vaguely woody notes, but it doesn't evoke Christmas for me. I would like to see more of the evergreen-firewood accord, and maybe someone could do more with a cinnamon-tonka blend, since cassia cinnamon is so high in coumarin. Or more of a spiced plum accord. OR, if you're going for that "sparkling pine" type scent, why not combine evergreen with fresh crisp green notes or ozonic notes, as opposed to peppermint? I mean, wouldn't pine/ozone work better? Of course, when you're talking about combining crisp green with evergreen, you do run the risk of coming up with a smell that evokes Chinese food. The Body Shop had one a few Christmases ago that smelled like that.

Anyway, back to Pier One. So firstly, they had about 8 different "Holiday This or That" smells, but they probably revolved around only 2 accords. Then I went to the other candles. ....When did Pier One start selling Yankee Candle and White Barn candles? Odd. Anyway, those were no better. It's like they decided that they just wanted to sell what everyone will buy instead of something interesting. Secondly, there's no secondly, so I don't know why I said firstly there. Going on to thirdsley.... So when I was looking at the regular candles I came across one called Vanilla Tonka. Great, I thought, something cheap and easy (just plop vanillin and coumarin together, right?); it should smell good. Well, I think it was misnamed. Instead of Vanilla Tonka, perhaps it should've been called something like "Caramel Furanone 1%."

So yeah. That was my visit to Pier One. Totally disappointing.

But if you'd like to know where to get the GOOD Christmas smells, I'll tell you:
There aren't any.
Seriously, there really aren't. There's nothing particularly innovative out there, even at the upper price ranges. There is ONE Christmas scent that I distinctly like, and I buy it every year: Crabtree and Evelyn's Noel. Now, there should be an umlaut there, and I think that most of what they do is kinda old-fashioned and heavy-handed (with the exception of that Island scent they have out now. It's not a perfect scent, but it's very pretty. It's citrusy enough that I would consider using it, even though it's kinda feminine. But it's nice. In the vein of, but not as lush as, Beyond Paradise. Hmmm, I hope I didn't commit heresy by saying that), I do quite like Noel. I read it as an evergreen smell with a very dominant drydown of frankincense. There's some citrus and cranberry in there too, I believe, but really, it's the frankincense that's the star. It's very nice, and refreshingly strong--both diffusive and long-lasting. Be careful if you buy it, though: don't store it with the dropper on. The oil will eat through the rubber. Store it with the cap. Now how does the oil eat through it? Dunno. Not sure if it's something in the scent or in the diluent, but I've seen it happen with one other C&E scent, also with that frankincense base. Anyway, I totally endorse this Christmas scent. Most of the others are pretty interchangeable. I like the candle and wax tart versions of Christmas Wreath by Yankee Candle, but it doesn't smell exactly right in it's other iterations, namely the plug-in, the oil and the car thing.