Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mini-Reviews, Extra Fancy Edition

Before I get started, a few quick links:

  • Kathy and I have some collaborations newly out in the world: "Paraenesis" at The Toast (a new offshoot of The Awl); "Some Notes on Monstrousness" (part of a group project on monsters, commissioned and organized by Virginia Konchan, at The Collagist); and "Sleep Lies Perfect in Them" (an ekphrastic based on a painting of the same name) in Interrupture.
  • Mike Young is hosting Stark Week at HTML Giant, a celebration of my friend (and editor) Sam Starkweather's huge new book. I wrote a little essay on one of his "transcontemporations" from The Waters, a reworking of Vallejo's Trilce. (Excerpt: "You’ll notice that the 'transcontemporation' is derived from both the sound of the original lines as well as the meaning, so line three ('ante el hijar maduro del dia') is a combination of straight translation ('before the ripe daughterloin of day') and soundplay: ante becomes ants and hijar becomes hijack, but the day’s daughter comes from the 'underpoem,' such as that exists, not the surface sounds. And yet, also, some of the poem is entirely new—'phoenix, arrested' seems to come from nowhere, or rather from Sampson’s degenerate brain entirely.") (See also John's piece on City of Moths.)

Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle - Malle's latest release smells pretty generic as soft, woody niche scents go. It's basically a (synthetic) sandalwood accord: woody, milky, slightly rosy, slightly boozy-medicinal. It goes on a little sweet, but smells drier and paler as time goes on, and bland in a bread-like way (iris?). The spices are barely perceptible; in fact the whole is so sheer as to be almost pointless. It feels rather cynical coming from the line that gave us Portrait of a Lady, Carnal Flower and other powerhouses that, while pricey, seem justifiable on the basis of richness and cost of materials. Granted, I only had enough in my sample (courtesy Natalie, who just left Denver, audible sob!) for one wear – but if this were a better perfume, it would have been enough for three or four wears. My tweet-length review: A resounding meh. A much better recent entry in this category is Santal Majuscule.

M. Micallef Aoud - Smells very much like a Montale oud: that luscious, chocolate-covered roses effect. The rose is berry-fruity (a touch of clove gives it almost a raspberry effect) and the oud is nutty. (Am I the only one who thinks oud accords often smell nutty? Why is that?) Not at all original, but delicious. Hey, if someone brings you a slice of chocolate cake, are you going to complain that it's a cliche? No, you're going to eat it. Of Micallef's recent offerings, Nasreen is the more distinctive rose, but I wouldn't kick this out of bed either. (Caveat: The lasting power is not especially great.)

Le Labo Lys 41 - I don't usually pay any attention to snobby-pricy Le Labo, but the two new ones have gotten so much favorable attention that I requested samples with a recent LuckyScent order (L'eau Mixte!). My first impression while applying this to a corner of my forearm from the tiny LuckyScent sample: chlorinated pool. But that's an association, not a review, and the more I wear it, the more I like it. Lys 41, as has been duly noted by the blogosphere, is a tuberose, not a lily, and there’s a tropical-fresh Coppertone note that makes it feel a little sanitized – not altogether a bad thing, it just reminds me more of Bronze Goddess, all shimmering poolside tropicalia, than, say, Carnal Flower. It's very pretty, with a nice interplay between the mentholated coolness of the tuberose and the warmth of the (pretty faultless) vanillic, coconutty base, but I expected more somehow. As above with Aoud, I'd definitely wear it, but (at these prices) I doubt I'd ever buy it. (In its favor, Lys 41 caused me to do the perfume equivalent of being so lost in a book I missed my stop on the subway: I almost burnt dinner because I was thinking about it.)

Side Note A: Tuberose used to be one of very favorite notes, but I've sort of fallen out of love with it, which is probably why I’m not speaking of this in more glowing terms. There was a time when I listed Beyond Love among my desert island perfumes, but lately I find it annoying. I'm not sure why this is happening and I hope it goes away, but in the meantime I'm enjoying jasmine blends more for my white floral fix. In any case, tube lovers should definitely pay attention.

Side Note B: Lush Furze, another tropical coconut scent I tried recently, turned out to be a total fail. Sometimes coconut scents can veer so far to the fatty, salty side that they smell more like buttered popcorn. I hate when that happens. Furze smelled to me like shampoo spilled on a greasy theater floor. Verdict: Scrubber. (And speaking of salty qualities: Am I the only one who thinks coconut water tastes like soup? Is it all the potassium? Cannot drink the stuff.)

Le Labo Ylang 49 - This is huge coming out of the sample, with a sassy fruity top note (blackcurrant bud?) on a tactless, stanking, bitter-sour patchouli-oakmoss base. Based on the opening, Ylang 49 is clearly in a lineage with Coriandre, Paloma Picasso and other "big-boned" floral chypres of the 70s and 80s (I smell the distinct influence of rose more so than the listed gardenia and ylang ylang). But it goes in like a lion and out like a kitten ... going on cat? Before long, the borderline offensive patchouli recedes and you're left blinking in the dark, wondering "Where did it go?" Then your eyes readjust and you find a relatively quiet smoky scent, like rosy apricots and smoked wood. This stage is quite nice, but I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed after that opening salvo – the two parts seem almost unrelated. It could, of course, be a problem unique to dabbing, or just my skin. (My man Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am had an entirely different experience; Ylang 49 reminded him of Elie Saab! To me, Elie Saab is a cross between NR for Her and Alien, a piercingly sweet jasmine and orange blossom combo with musk and the cleanest of patchoulis in the background. Despite the name, I don't even smell white flowers in Ylang, and it's not sweet. If anything, I see the Elie Saab connection more in the drydown of Lys 41.)

Ramon Monegal Kiss My Name - A sweet, powdery tuberose-mimosa blend with a grassy top note and tinges of banana, derived from 80's tuberoses like Amarige and Carolina Herrera, but with a more refined, updated feel. Like Lys 41, this hardly breaks new ground in Tuberose Town, but it's very well done.

L'Wren Scott - I had no idea what this might smell like when I put it on, but given recent trends and the target market (L'Wren Scott is a hip designer) I would have guessed something like sheer woody rose, as in Marni, or sheer rosy wood as in Dries Van Noten. What it smells like to me is a strange, sour, astringent spice somewhere between saffron, anise, celery seed, and pepper, creating a vague exotic curry effect. Looking up the notes after the fact, I'm not too far off (via Fragrantica): Top notes are wormwood, star anise, coriander, marigold and mandarin orange; middle notes are tuberose, jasmine, geranium, curry tree and cloves; base notes are patchouli, leather, musk, amber and moss. It certainly doesn't smell as complex as all that; I'm not getting much "floralcy." It's actually pretty unpleasant – hard to imagine a creative team thinking this would sell. Best thing I can say about it is that I almost didn't scrub it off. Also, the bottle is pretty.

Serge Lutens La Myrrhe - The first time I wore this sample, sent to me by the wonderful Cymbeline, I went ahead and sprayed, though a) I know most SL's to be better dabbed than sprayed, especially the oriental-leaning ones, and b) Cymbeline herself suggested dabbing. Sprayed, my stream-of-consciousness first impressions went something like this: fatty/oily (as in petroleum – see also Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia) and pungent – white flowers – like the waxy, vegetal part of fresh lilies and tuberose before they start to decay and go hammy (as much a result of the aldehydes as the floral materials?). When smeared on vs. sprayed (C wisely sent me a sample with a screw-off top), these effects are much softened; the citrusy side of the aldehydes is more apparent than the wax. Though this is related to aldehydic florals with ambery bases from Chanels 5 and 22 and Guerlain Vega to recent creations by Andy Tauer, La Myrrhe is stranger than those. Paradoxically, the synthetic note of aldehydes is so wedded to the myrrh as to smell natural, like something you'd find in a garden. Unexpectedly, it passes through a lemon custard stage and then dries down to a kind of musky lily/vanilla. I'm sorry to say I don't find it markedly beautiful, as so many do, but I often struggle with aldehydes, and myrrh too has a certain dankness in large quantities that disturbs me. Fascinating, though, and I can see it growing on me.

Full disclosure: Above samples were all gifts from friends or my own purchases, except for Aoud, sent to me by the company.

Tuberose image via Shashank Gupta


  1. I'm so behind testing anything new that from your list I smelled only Dries van Noten and La Myrrhe - but both only on paper. Wait... I think I smelled Monegal's perfume as well but I'm not sure it got even to the paper stage (it might have been just from the nozzle) since I didn't like the name: the third word in it isn't the natural choice that comes to mind after I read/hear the first two. I wonder if the same phrase in Spanish sounds more romantic...

    1. I'm usually incredibly behind on new releases, I just happened to have a bunch of newish samples at once (La Myrrhe I stuck in this group only because they are so nichey and fancy).

      Kiss My Name is a very bizarre name but I sort of like how it's impossible to picture. Did you like the DvN?

  2. Nothing is as it appears in Elisa Gabbert's second effort, The Self Un-Schäuble. The protagonist, Adam Macleod, a Scottish macroeconomist, hires a German lobbyist to gain access to the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The novel is set mostly in Brussels, where Macleod schemes endlessly to advance his plans.

    What the lobbyist, Johann Olbrich, doesn't know is that Macleod is a spy, and he has no intention of using his access to Schäuble merely to promote his Keynesian agenda. When Macleod, laying low in Brussels, hears that he has made his way onto Schäuble's "shit list," he loses his cool and begins plotting revenge on Olbrich, who Macleod surmises has failed miserably - perhaps on purpose.

    Macleod has forgotten that Schäuble, a German, regards people on his "shit list" with friendliness and admiration. Olbrich, the consummate professional, has completed his task with aplomb. Unaware that Macleod has misinterpreted the results, Olbrich shows up in Brussels expecting payment.

    What follows is a cat-and-mouse game as remarkable for its lightness as for its kinetic flourishes. Gabbert barely describes Brussels, and yet we feel as though we are hurtling down its narrow streets and caroming off its medieval churches with breathtaking velocity.

    The result is pure, unembarrassed fun, exactly the kind of book you want to read on vacation. The book lacks the contemplative intellectualism of Gabbert's previous novels, but it more than makes up for it with its astonishing brio. Perhaps The Self Un-Schäuble's cinematic atmosphere is no accident - could Gabbert be angling for a movie deal? Nothing could be more welcome. If only Hollywood had more of Gabbert's feel for dramatic pacing and true suspense.