For the longest time I thought the proverbial gift horse was literally a horse that brings you gifts, and "looking the gift horse in the mouth" was kind of like biting the hand that feeds you. Don't look into his mouth, he might chew your eyes out! Or maybe it's like the second trial in The Neverending Story, a mirror that shows you your "true self." Finally I realized the horse IS the gift. (And you're probably looking in its mouth to check for gum health or whatever.)
Anyway. Today I'm reviewing some recent gifts. Thank you to my mom for the Nostalgie and to Sherri Miller for the surprise fairy-godmother bag of wonders!
Sonoma Scent Studio Nostalgie – The aptly named Nostalgie is a throw-back kind of scent, and its nostalgic qualities became all the more apparent when I sprayed it for the first time. I had previously worn it dabbed from a sample vial (both in its present form and a couple of previous incarnations), and dabbing a perfume tends to downplay its top notes and rush you through to the drydown. Sprayed from my new purse spray, I find that Nostalgie opens with a big cloud of sweet, powdery aldehydes – indeed, it's reminiscent of a Vega (a comparison Angela at Now Smell This drew recently) or even an aldehydic lipstick scent like Broadway Nite or Andy Tauer's Une Rose Vermeille, giving that frosted-glass effect to the florals. When dabbed, it had put me more in mind of my vintage Eau de Joy, with its big, bright, rosy jasmine. But in Nostalgie, the more prominent aldehydes smear the florals out (mimosa and violet in addition to rose and jasmine), making them less distinct and more perfumey. This is up there with Jour Ensoleille and To Dream among Laurie Erickson's perfumiest perfumes, if by "perfumey" we mean retro and feminine, as opposed to legible and unisex (like, say, Tabac Aurea). Upping the retro quotient is a pleasantly animalic thread running below the aldehydic floral accord, a slightly pissy undercurrent that is difficult to pin down – it could be any combination of the beeswax or leather or jasmine absolute or patchouli or oakmoss or musk, all of which have animalic facets. That soupcon of a human smell underneath the soapy artificial scent of aldehydes and the naturally sweet smells of gardens and forests is what could fool you into thinking Nostalgie really is a vintage scent from the '40s or '50s, complete with a bit of civet. It's heart-warming to know that someone is still producing scents like this, full of naturals and nearly oblivious to trends (though there's been a recent mini-trend for this style among indie perfumers; see Tauer's Miriam and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Pandora). Laurie Erickson is a treasure.
Dior Oud Ispahan – I have it on good authority that no commercial oud perfumes these days actually contain oud – it's too rare and costly. So this, like others of recent vintage, is an interpretation of oud. To my nose, this rose + oud perfume (a combo that's getting as popular as rose + patchouli) doesn't scream "ROSE!" and "OUD!" in the manner of By Kilian Rose Oud, with its sweeter, louder rose and much more diffusive, petrol-y oud accord (an odor I'm not overly fond of outside of gas stations). Instead, I get a somewhat sour saffron top note (a la Agent Provocateur) and a sheer, dry rose accord, plus some leather and earthiness. Now, some of this we can choose to ascribe to "oud." Conveniently, the scent profile of oud (Persolaise describes it as "woody, leathery, faecal, boozy, earthy and petrol-like" and I'd add "peaty" and "meaty" based on an oud sample I got from Liz Zorn, which I do believe contains real Laotian oud) is pretty similar to that of labdanum (which is certainly woody, leathery, and earthy, but without the gas and poop notes). And guess what! Labdanum is listed as the top note of Oud Ispahan. As it dries down, more of a honeyed, ambery character comes out, but it never gets truly sweet – and all the while a big animalic note is growing in proportion to the rest, till finally it smells like a hunk of sandalwood at the zoo. These Collection Privee bottles, incidentally, are so enormous that the price per ounce works out to just $27, but a full bottle costs more than $200. While I like it very much, I find that Agent Provocateur does most of what Oud Ispahan does (the spice, the dry geranium-like rose, the earthiness, the dirty base) but with more richness and what feels to me like more naturals. YMMV.
Mona di Orio Musc – I ignored the Mona di Orio line for years, for pretty much the same reasons that I have largely ignored Le Labo: a) a lot of them got trashed by Luca Turin, whose opinion I disproportionately value even though I often disagree with his assessments, and b) they're too expensive for me anyway, at $200+ a bottle. However, on a recent trip to NYC, I went to MiN, and after 20 minutes or so of half-hearted blotter-sniffing, collapsed on the big leather couch from sore feet and fatigue. The MdO collection was sitting on the table in front of me, so I picked one up and sniffed the nozzle. The bottle was Musc. I expected something heavily animalic in the manner of Muscs Koublai Khan, but instead I smelled super-fancy baby powder. I got some on the cuff of my coat and it smelled delicious well into the next day. I came home dreaming about it and a lovely fellow perfume fan sent me a gift decant. When you spray it on, it's surprisingly green, in the direction of the grassy, vegetal top notes of L'Ombre dans l'Eau but not quite so strident. That fades and you're left with a fluffy, sugary sweetness, like powdered sugar donettes, but recognizably floral as well – with soft green and violet notes much like my beloved Flower by Kenzo, which I've taken a long break from due to overexposure to a certain synthetic musk, thankfully absent here. In fact, I assume what you're paying for is some combination of subtle, high-quality synthetic musks that smell clean without smelling like laundry detergent (because, amazingly, they've never been used in one). I hope Flower will smell right to me again one day, but until then, this will get me through. And if I ever inherit a million I'll buy myself a bottle.
Diptyque Volutes – I'm not sure what the standard alcohol formulation smells like, but in the solid perfume, Volutes is oddly reminiscent of Carmex. I may be unduly influenced by the look of the stuff, but I've tried a number of solid perfumes, and they all look a little like Carmex, and none of the other ones have smelled like it. That said, maybe because I'm getting over the flu, I sort of enjoy the effect. It smells like herbal, slightly mentholated vanilla – not as minty as white Tic-Tacs, but in the same crossover zone between candy and medicine. And come to think of it, the taste of white Tic-Tacs always reminded me of the smell of pipe tobacco. I'm in no position to pick this apart into components or stages, given the state of my sinuses, but if memory serves, this didn't evolve much the first time I wore it a couple of weeks ago, pre-virus. It's a simple, good smell, not a bit perfumey. But, as recent tobacco scents go, it doesn't hold a bougie candle (Diptyque pun intended) to Spicebomb.
Aside 1: Last week, in the nadir of my misery – or would it be the zenith? – I tried to buy a bottle of Tea for Two from the L'Artisan website, listed at $60 for 50 ml, a steal even if it wasn't impossible to find. I was cheered! Two days later I got an email from their customer service rep saying that Tea for Two was not actually available, and I had been refunded. I was saddened, but I used the money to buy myself a bottle of Spicebomb instead. I like Tea for Two better, but they're pretty similar and it's better than nothing.
Aside 2: Strong investment in the romantic attachment of two fictional characters is called "shipping," as in "I ship Chuck and Blair (duh)." Is there a word for it when you become super-attached to a contestant on a reality TV show? That both Cassadee Pope and Alex Guarnaschelli won their shows (The Voice and The Next Iron Chef, respectively) pleased me greatly.
Happy new year, my friends.