Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mini-reviews: Underwear Perfume

Lingerie stores love to sell perfumes, and probably rake in tons of dough from impulse counter buys – the woman who buys herself expensive matching bras and panties that must be washed by hand is generally looking for a package deal, a head-to-toe sexpot-in-a-box experience. And perfume is part of that glamorous package; I bet lipsticks would go like hot cakes too. Even better, it's a way for the stores to find customers in people who want in on the fantasy but don't see themselves actually wearing the lingerie. When we were far too young to buy the push-up bras, my friends and I would still go into Victoria's Secret to smell all the lotions and gels and things.

These days, the VS fragrances are mostly complete trash, a step or two down from Bath & Body Works in quality, but several high-end lingerie lines have some pretty great offerings in the perfume department. Here are a few of the ones I've tried (I can't speak for any of their underthings, I'm afraid).

Fifi Chachnil: I had never heard of this perfume until a few weeks ago, when someone in a blog comment somewhere named it as their favorite rose perfume. For some reason the name stuck with me, and when I had to place an order at Surrender to Chance for some decanting supplies, I put a sample of Fifi Chachnil in my cart as well. Rose and tobacco are two of my favorite notes; what could go wrong?

The perfume lovers among you know it can always go very wrong indeed, but this one doesn't. However, I wouldn't classify it as a rose perfume myself. The top notes smell briefly and classically of bergamot and baby powder, but the next thirty minutes or so are dominated by a certain aromachemical I've been smelling in a lot of things lately, which I strongly suspect is Safraleine. According to Givaudan, "Safraleine exhibits warm, powerful, leathery and tobacco facets but its complexity also reveals characteristics of spices reminiscent of natural saffron, enriched by rose ketone-like floral aspects." (Just the other day, John was lamenting his students' tendency to overuse words like "aspect" in their papers.) Those facets 'n' aspects are all present and accounted for here, and it's certainly a complex and interesting smell, but it's not one I particularly like. More than "saffron" or "leather" or "oud" as it's sometimes designated, I get a chemical effect that brings to mind shoe polish and refrigerated air. Luckily, the perfumer didn't just dilute this stuff with alcohol and say, "Look! I made a fragrance!" (the impression I got from Bond No. 9's Harrods Amber). Rather, Fifi is fuzzed out with florals (more orange blossom than rose, to this schnoz; at times it's a little soapy) and spices (a coriander note that's softly peppery and a bit sharp) and a very nice, powdery tobacco accord with a long drydown.

Most reviews of this fragrance say it's super-femme, but I wonder if they aren't swayed by the incredibly silly pink pinup boudoir bottle. I find leather and tobacco notes, like wingtips and mustaches, to be masculine in almost any context, and though this is sweet and pretty I think a guy could pull it off if he so desired. From a distance, the impression is not unlike my vintage Shalimar – a powdery floriental with a smoker's cough.

Natori: Natori EDP, which comes in a lovely modern bottle that's kind of half Orientalist, half sci-fi, is a rather strange, abstract perfume; no one note stands out as particularly legible. It opens with a noticeable dose of aldehydes, giving it that throwback cloudy "This is perfume" smell, then it settles into a low hum of a fragrance, with a honeyed, boozy feel like fruit stewed in wine, and enough leftover aldehydes and synthetic musky, woody notes to call to mind the air in a dressing room after women have done their hair. It's sweet, warm, and vaguely intimate, somewhere between (the reformulated) Rochas Femme and Hanae Mori Magical Moon, but more age-appropriate, in my case, than either. It's more sultry than all-out bombshell, which seems to suit the brand.

Agent Provocateur: Expectations are, if not everything, powerful stuff. When I originally sampled and reviewed this perfume, a few years ago, I thought it was amusingly prim and proper for a lingerie company. And when you first put it on, it is: a green, even uptight geranium-rose with a chypre backbone and a big saffron-coriander top section that verges on sour. But wait ... for the drydown. This gets much darker and dirtier with a few hours of wear; the base feels very lived-in, a long-lasting skin-like musk plus vetiver and earthy patchouli. It loosens up but never gets sweet, so the effect is kind of mean-sexy. This is older than the above fragrances by a good 5 to 10 years and probably served as inspiration, given the similar note lists. Not for everyone, and doesn't work in every season, but I've come to think of it as a contemporary classic.

Agent Provocateur Strip: Some flankers offer a simple twist on the original, while others share almost nothing but the name. This flanker, which is no longer in production, veers pretty far from Agent Provocateur. But like the original, it seems designed to scare off half the people who might pick it up. It goes on dark and medicinal with an incredibly mentholated patchouli note up-front, rendered further minty with geranium, and reminding me of some ancient lotion that my grandparents used to keep on their bedside table. After ten minutes or so the stink-waves begin to burn off and I get a subtle fruitiness, which smells more like the fruity "aspects" of vanilla beans than fruit per se, and a whiff of cherry tobacco. It's animalic in a way that reminds me of the oily leather in Histoires de Parfums 1740 (the Marquis de Sade one), but less aggressively so. Eventually you end up with a musky amber, very nice and very comfortable but not as unusual as the drydown of AP. Strip smells more like a niche masculine than a mainstream feminine, so I can't say I'm shocked it was discontinued. My skin seems to amp up certain kinds of patchouli, making them go all barnyard (on paper, the balance between the patchouli and geranium is more apparent, and I see the link to AP more clearly), and accordingly this is one of those fragrances I'd probably rather smell on someone else, preferably a dude with a beard.


  1. Okay, your nose, and your ability to pick out the notes of perfume, is much more sophisticated than my own. I'm like one of those farmers interviewed on the national news, with no teeth, that says, 'smells good da me!'

    I love Agent Provocateur, although I must be in the mood and I wore it when NOT in the mood the other day and it was rather dour, really. I haven't tried Strip, but I did recently purchase L'Agent and I keep tip-toeing around it because it smells vaguely like Femme and I've never known quite what to do with Femme.

    But I do agree that Victoria's Secret products are a step down from Bath and Body Works, which I whore myself for regularly. (After counting 15 lotions in my stash, I just purchased six more...cause they're buy three/get three and I just might need them.) My daughter-in-law is about to receive a big lotion/body wash/fragrance basket, whether she wants it or not.

    The first time I wore Histoires de Parfums 1740, after purchasing a large decant, I got food poisoning and can never, ever think of it again without risking the dry heaves. What a's a beauty.

    1. Aw, thank you! I'm the same way with Agent P. There are days when it feels really wrong, particularly if I've smelling or wearing sweet stuff, and then it seems way too sour in comparison. I have a couple of other chypres that can go that way -- Paloma Picasso in particular.

      Please share your favorite B&BW scents! I do cruise through from time to time when they're a sale.

    2. Oh, and I don't know what to do with Femme either. It doesn't suit me at all, but I have a small decant and I guess it's useful for reference?

  2. Elisa, I've decided to limit myself to B&BW according to what I wear to bed. I really like Sensual Amber, Twilight Woods and Dark Kiss (smells like Lolita Lempicka). Black Amethyst is also good. Some of the frutier lotions keep me awake and piss me off in general. I just ordered the new Cashmere fragrance and Vanilla woods, so we'll see about those.

    Femme is a mind fuck because it smells 'womanly,' which makes me wonder if I actually smell like that, which makes me think I don't want everyone else to know that I smell like that because then they might think they're smelling my...womanliness and not Femme. But every once in awhile, it's just right and I wear it boldly. And yes, it's useful for reference, and it has more brighness and umph than L'Agent. And less rose.

    1. Ha! I think I'd feel weird about wearing MKK in public for the same reason. I like it but it definitely smells like armpit. Would be weird to have to tell people under my breath, It's my perfume

  3. (Hey, I like Dark Kiss too! But really hate Sensual Amber. Twilight Woods is way chemically to my nose.)

    I like Natori (aldehydes, yay), but I can't deal with that Opium/Youth-Dew-esque thingy in the drydown. Fifi seems like a dirty, dirty gal to me; I hadn't even SEEN that twirly girly bottle when I tried it from a sample, and I was thinking, Hey, this is like Shalimar with more leather... like Mae West just tumbled a cigarillo-smoking cowboy still wearing his chaps.

    Agent P I rather like, though it's a little thinner and more geranium-patchouli than the rose chypres I love. Strip I loved at first sniff, probably because it smells a little bit like Old Spice, but as it wore on it smelled more generic-guy-cologne and less like something I'd wear myself.

    I still maintain a fondness for Victoria's Secret Pink, which was a pretty, pink-and-green, rose-muguet-peony floral with green notes. Downright virginal compared to what they're releasing now, of course. And I lurvvved Victoria, that Deneuve-ish floral chypre - what a shame it's gone...

    1. Two votes for Dark Kiss! I remembered that you liked that one too. I need to try it. I don't really like the body lotion formula at B&BW but I do like the body cream and shower gel.

      You loved Strip at first sniff?! This goes against everything I thought I knew about Mals. It has so much patchouli to my nose! I do see the Old Spice connection though.

      I'm not sure I ever smelled Victoria, but that was the era of the chypre, wasn't it? I remember seeing Safari ads EVERYWHERE when I was a kid.