Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book review: The Scent Trail

This "author" should be punished for releasing such insipid garbage into the world. Her book is insipid and ridiculous, as I imagine she herself must be. Anyone who doesn't believe that someone can have too much money should read this book. After all, anyone who needs to "travel the world" to learn about a few select perfume ingredients is clearly overprivileged. How she met some of the people in the book and got into some of the perfumeries she visited I will never know. She's not a perfumer. She's clearly not a writer. You would think that somewhere on the book there would appear a reason for anyone to take her seriously as an authority on fragrance, but there isn't.

Full of nonsense (e.g., her bespoke perfumer sends her to someone who "interprets her colors," or some twaddle), myth and terrible prose, this book will, sadly, delight many frivolous "perfumistas." Anyone who actually takes the ideas of fragrance or smell or perfumery seriously, however, should avoid this stale, rotten tripe.

In its way, however, this book could prove valuable--say, if you need to invent a ridiculous, queenly woman character, then you can't find one much better than Celia Lyttleton. In fact, I would go so far to say that this book is a masterpiece of trash, in the league of such drivel as Fabulous Fragrances.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Well, it's Christymastime again, peeps. Sort of. So I'm introducing my Christmas home fragrance for this year: Julmonster, a lush blend of fir, green leaves, clove, leather, firewood and musk.

Listen to the commercial for it here.

If you're wondering how you can get it, well, you can't. Unless you know me, in which case I may send you some with a Christmas card or something. Because yes, it does exist. It was a project of mine--something I've always wanted to do--and I got to experiment with lots of different aromachemicals making it. I thought I might sell it in the end, but its dynamics changed after the first dilution, so short version: it's absurdly strong. And yes, the notes from the audio piece are, in fact, in the oil: ambroxan, Pyralone, Javanol, Karanal..... The story from the piece is adapted from my experience testing it in a friend's apartment, and then later in more open air (but not outside, as it suggests). It might be a good "outside" scent, or possibly a fragrance to gift as "Christmas for the nearly anosmic."

Anyway, it is what it is. And at times I rather like that, in the end, it reflects some aspects of me: It's intense, overwhelming, best in small doses, complicated, evolving..... I'm sure it won't be my last attempt at a Christmas scent (because it is a bit of a "bucket list" thing, if I dare say); but it was a helluva lot of fun making it and learning about aromachems and how they interact.

And that's the Julmonster beep.

Happy Christmas!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Les Heures du Parfum

I happened into Cartier the other day on a walk down Madison Aveune, and noticed their latest perfume offering, Les Heures du Parfum. Apart from Roadster, I typically adore Cartier scents. So, in spite of the gimmicky concept that made me think of that tarot thing that D&G did, I smelled these. And wow, was I pleasantly surprised. (I woulda been a helluva lot more pleasantly surprised if I'd gotten samples, but what'reyagonnado, right?) Oh, and I seem to be missing one, so I don't remember exactly which names refer to which numbers. Alas!

L'Heure Brilliante: This is a bright citrus, olfactively similar to Eau de Cartier, but to me it felt more zesty, more citrus peel. Nicely done.

L'Heure Mysterieuse: This is ambery and has a benzoin-like quality, in which it is similar to Roadster. It's adequate.

La Treizieme Heure (I'm not bothering with accents presently): Phenolic, smoky, quite nice. Nice for layering or when you don't want to be too distinctive. For a smoky scent, I'd go for 2 Man by Comme des Garcons, but this one is nice, and I don't remember it having any of that barbecue potato chips quality that you sometimes get with smoky scents.

L'Heure Promise: Dry orris, almost like paper. This is simply wonderful. One of the Cartier people said it was his favorite, and when I asked him what he thought it smelled like, his response showed that he'd read the description of it. He got patchouli from it; all I got was a light, dry orris. Very, very nice. Subtle.

Naturally, it being a crisp autumn day, I sprayed on Promise, Treizieme and some Declaration.


My Confusing Encounter with the Houbigant Guy

I think we can all agree that in the current moment, with all the books and websites related to perfume exploding, that we should expect those who want to sell us perfume to know more about their product (and expect more from their consumers) than in times past. Am I wrong?

So when someone who works for a perfume house starts spouting nonsense, I get a li'l peeved. This happened to me at Bergdorf Goodman this week.

It began when I passed the display for the new Halston fragrance, which I believe is called Amber, but since I can't verify that in one second by looking at the Halston page, we'll just say it's their men's Amber. (Don't get me started on amber, by the way, since it was the source of another very irritating back-and-forth. Basically someone wrote an article on amber but didn't mention any ambergris synths. One of the things I find most confusing when I read odor organoleptics [hope I used the word right] is the term amber--does it refer to the sweet, resiny amber of, say, Ambre Sultan or the ambergris-type odor (ambroxan, Cetalox, Grisalva...) of Cool Water? I would think one would want to address the fact that the term is used for both, but I'm not getting into THAT again...) The bottle handler asked if I wanted to smell it; I smelled it on his skin--it had dried down, because it basically smelled like ambroxan--then I got a sample. I must have kept yakking, because soonenly I was talking with the person from Houbigant. I think I was asking whether Z-14 had been reformulated because of impending(?) restricutions on oakmoss. And then we got into a discussion of coumarin.

This is where it gets confusing. And if it's confusing for you, well, it was confusing for me.

Basically he starts talking about how Parquet took a "natural extract" from the tonka bean and put it in Fougere Royal. We agreed that this extract was coumarin, but I'm pretty sure it was synthesized. Then he started talking about how it was an extract of the smell of coumarin but was not carcinogenic (the carcinogenicity of coumarin in humans by cutaneous absorption is debatable, I would say, but I'm not a doctor or chemist, so don't take anything I say as license to sprinkle coumarin all over yourself every day).

OK, now wait. Is it the odor principle of tonka or the odor principle of coumarin? Because coumarin is the dominant odor principle of tonka. So Houbigant tells me that it was the odor principle of coumarin, because it wasn't carcinogenic. But it was a natural extract. ...How is this possible? Coumarin is a single molecule. You can't take an extract from a molecule. Or, rather, you might could, but you would be modifying the molecule into a different one (and not an extract, per se, because you can't predict how a molecule will smell from its shape; unless, of course, you can. But you'd have to ask Luca Turin about that.)--by definition that new molecule would be synthetic. This seemed to be the point the guy was making--that in the 1800s someone extracted a coumarinic smell from coumarin that lacked its putative hazards.

If I'm not mistaken, coumarin was one of the first perfumery materials to be synthesized. So come one--it's preposterous that someone could have very specifically modified a molecule back then. It's even more preposterous that you could call any modification a "natural extract." (I don't think anyone's calling Coumane or Bicylcononalactone natural extracts; but they're variations on the molecule; the former cyclopropyl coumarin, the latter octahydrocoumarin.) (And could you really credibly say that ambroxan is a natural extract of clary sage, which would be pushing it?) Basically, the whole thing was preposterous and impossible to follow.

The point here is that in our knowledge-rich world, fragrance companies ought to step it up and start treating their customers as if they had brains (although most of them don't, in the sense of using them to actually think about perfume, so alas......).

As for the Amber scent---eh. It seems to start with a nice clean cedar note, then maybe go into some metallic ambergreasy end. Nothing offensive; nothing particularly interesting.

One last mention of Bergdorf Goodman: Tom Ford people, I love your products, but you really ought to know that cistus labdanum is NOT rarer than oud wood, which you implied the other day. The day after I bought some labdanum absolute at Enfleurage. And it cost far, far, far less than their agarwood. Or their carnation absolute for that matter.

And that's me rant for now.

(The picture at the top of the entry is, yes, coumarin. Again, I'm not a chemist, but I suppose by taking away a ring here and adding an atom or two there you could come up with, say, benzaldehyde. Which would not qualify as a natural extract. Not of coumarin. Maybe of almond. )