Monday, August 26, 2013

Perfume collecting: A serious illness. And why would a perfumista go commando most of the time?

I'm a middle aged white male and I suffer from a serious disorder:
My olfactory sense is abnormally heightened.
There I admitted it. It's been like that since I was a small child.
Cheese smelled horrible to my nostrils. My mom had to force me to eat cheese.
Opening a fresh jar of peanut butter and taking a whiff would send me vomiting.

Lately in July, from a simple stroll in the Parisian metro between La Defense and L'Arc de Triomphe stations, my nose was easily offended by various smells.
The underlying human crowding scent is probably a mixture of pores, sweat, fabric macerating in moisture, CO2 and H2O exhaled with every breath (along with volatile molecules from food remnants and other sources of decay) and artificial masking scents (read deodorants, perfumes, balms, etc.)
My traveling companion did not flinch.
I asked: Are you smelling all this? Yuk.
And he replied: Smelling what?
It must be in our DNA. Perfumistas are very special people who have a heightened sensitivity to odors. The faintest odor can trigger emotions, a warm happy feeling or even rage sometimesin my own case.

Just as that woman who was speaking loudly to her companion in the train cabin I was in, her less than fresh breath was wafting through and hit me in the face.
I turned away and could not bear another 5 minutes of that subway ride.
The best feeling in the world followed on that hot Sunday morning when the doors opened and we emerged into the station. I did not have to put up with that horrible smell anymore.

Busy European cities have a bad rep for malodorous scents. Between the diesel fuel exhaust, the crowded public transportation and the decaying various items on streets (not to mention dog poop!) they get their fair share of criticism. Europeans are often thought of as not smelling fresh. I must admit that with the high percentage of smokers over there, the likelihood of that stale tobacco scent lingering in their clothing or even in their hair, the reputation is well earned.
Despite that, the beauty of monuments in Europe keeps drawing more and more tourists from the rest of the world. I dream of my European getaway for about 11 months of the year. And yet one bad scent in the Paris Metro can ruin the day for someone like me in one of the prettiest cities on the planet.
It's like capturing a vapor in the nostrils and not being able to get rid of!

The funny part is that those strangely malodorous molecules can also be used in perfumery. I blind-bought a bottle of A-Men Pure Havane last year and the tobacco alcaloid molecule used in it triggered the scent of halitosis in my mind.
I could not ever wear it and gave it away.
It is strange that some people don't even perceive such things and would wear the scent continuously not knowing its resemblance to a putrid molecule.

On a different note, I have so many parts of my body covered in perfumes I'm testing most of the time that in the end, I choose to leave my house without any scent to "scent myself" in the classic sense of wearing perfume.
Try this combo: Shiseido's Feminite' du Bois on my left arm, Kenzo's KenzoAmour Parfum on my right arm and Comme Des garcons Wonderwood on my left  hand.
What a beautiful combination! Not a traditional one at all.
But it worked! It put a smile on my face...Who needs any spritzing in the neck with that trio in the background?

Please tell me your experiences with scent and do comment on what you wear when going out.
Knowing that you probably can't keep from spraying something to try on a part of your body for more than 60 minutes...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas and may you experience a subtle Oud this year

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! I just opened my Le Labo Oud 27 and spritzed.

My Christmas fragrance stories are many.

We always gave my mom perfume for Christmas.
Actually we bought her perfume for ALL occasions including birthdays and mother's day. It was easy and did not require any guess work.
My mother is like a retrospective book on fashion per decade:
She wore Femme de Rochas in my first decade of life (the 70s). Even the sandwiches she made for me in the afternoon smelled of Femme (I am part French and kids have an in-between meal in the afternoon that consists of a sandwich with chocolate or jam usually. And a touch of her perfume of course! A bit of cumin from Femme wasn't all bad on baguette)
She then wore Coco in the 80's and it was so nice and enjoyable those few years. Coco was an easy buy of course in 1986...We would just go pick it up at any department store. Try to find it now!
You will probably only find "Coco Noir" which is a travesty.
Then the 90's came and I moved out. Those were not kind years in general and I remember visiting and noticing my mom experimenting with Guerlain Samsara in 1990, followed by Jardins de Bagatelle in 1991. Samsara's sandalwood was so strong it could kill flies. The JDB smelled to me like "Dior's Poison". Bombastic and cloying! I used to run away from her and just go to my room to hide.
Then the worst came. Truly...And it all started with a spray on my mom's wrist in 1993 while shopping at Neiman Marcus. After an initial (short lived) appreciation of something totally new to our nose, we had to survive my mom's infatuation with Angel...She layered the lotion and the EDP. Her trail was everywhere in the house, Everywhere she went there was the "Angel cloud" signaling her presence and shouting "Your mom was here".
That stuff was like anthrax when it was first launched. I bet you it has been reformulated recently to make it a bit less toxic and non-asthma causing! The FDA or the CDCs must have negotiated a reformulation from the house of Mugler. Tone it down a notch said the President of the United States or we will take action!

As for me, I wanted my first Chanel for Christmas in the 80s and got Antaeus from Santa in 1985. Chanel Pour Monsieur was considered a sleeper back then and sales associates would hide it so that customers would pick Antaeus. How strange now that we know better...Only I was too young to walk around in my gawky teens wearing braces and a potent leather balsamic cloud like the pre-reformulation Antaeus in the Texas heat. I feel sorry for my classmates and friends. I seek forgiveness from them now!
But hey I never sported a mullet and most of them did. So that counts as tit for tat in terms of offenses I guess!
I ended up giving the bottle of Antaeus to my dad who'd wear anything you gave him mind you. And everything smelled sexy on him. How hateful is that? Why can't my skin be like his?
As for me now, I am still on my quest to find the ideal fragrance.

And what's Christmas without a wrapped bottle of scent under the tree? This year I chose Le Labo Oud 27. An I just unwrapped the carefully blended and packaged bottle and spritzed. I'm still recovering now as I write this from a tiny teeny one drop spritz of that beast on my wrist.  The animal is there!
I must have a disorder that prevents me from choosing anything wearable! Must be in my DNA or something.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Eau d'Hermes, an iconic fragrance by Edmond Roudnitska 1951

Created by : Edmond Roudnitska
Created : 1951
Genre : "Skanky" Leather
Concentration : Eau de Toilette
My fascination with the House of Hermès started at a very young age.  My French mother owned a Kelly bag. It was brown and old-lady-like but she sported it like Grace herself, with an Hermès scarf and all.  She also wore Calèche in extrait concentration. The bottle was made of crystal with a stopper and a gold string around the neck and the amber liquid became denser as time went by and the level dropped.  I would sneak into her bedroom and steal a drop. Only I was not light-handed and my family made fun of me.
The only person who never made fun of me was my father. He was the nicest man.  A writer and scholar who taught philosophy and literature.
My attachment to my father was stronger than any of my relationships in life. He and I were referred to as “partners in crime”. We often went for long walks after school. I held his hand and we walked up the Champs Élysées, a stone’s throw from our house in Paris, in pursuit of adventure or some new toy to add to my collection.
My father and I walked and walked in the City of Lights’ beautiful fashion district: Avenue Montaigne and Faubourg Saint Honoré to name just two.
The Hermès logo became familiar in my mind early on and I often pulled my dad across the street to look at the Hermès windows. My brain had strange requests that changed daily: some days I wanted to see the Soviet Embassy up close, with the steel mask of Lenin staring at us.  Other days it was the Citroen Dealership on Avenue de la Grande Armée.   And yet others, it was simply the windows of Hermès!  My father never said “no” to any of my requests.  He saw in each and every one of my requests a true developmental opportunity.
Hermès has always been equestrian-themed and their windows often changed décor and items. I had a weakness for perfume bottles even as a child.  One vivid memory from the 24-Faubourg Hermès flagship store was a series of heavy crystal bottles that were displayed side by side like Russian matryoshka nesting dolls. They had brown leather ribbons tied around their necks and a round beige Hermès paper label on the front and their sizes ranged from a full liter to an ounce. They contained a yellow amber liquid. As a child, I never paid attention to the lower label that read “Eau d’Hermès” in an italic rustic handwriting.
I wanted them all and I wanted for my dad to buy them for me immediately! He would smile and say “OK yes, but when you’re a bit older”. I would nod back at him and say “How much older papa?”.  “Fifteen, when you can start wearing fragrance” he answered.  Little did he know that I was sneaking a drop of Calèche here, a drop of Chant d’Arômes there…
Pause for 10 years.  The 80s were rough and hairstyles became unforgiving. The pleated pants are hard to look at even now on old Kodachrome pictures. Yours truly preferred skateboarding and put fragrance bottles on the backburner. I contemplated College and later Medical school, followed by internship and specialty and the absence of high end “Eaux”.  Drakkar Noir became the scent to wear and later fear.  The aquatics hit big and Escape was the one to have (it is the one to escape from now!)
One day in 1993 while on vacation in Nice, I went into Hermès on the Promenade des Anglais and started browsing the fragrances. Having always loved the fresh Eau de Cologne in the green glass bottle (later renamed Eau d’Orange Verte) I gravitated towards it. One very elitist sales woman stopped me from spraying it and said “Monsieur, you should really try Eau d’Hermès, it is pure class”.  Sure enough, the scent was interesting and different to my nostrils so I bought a bottle. I wore it in the warm weather in May and liked the citrusy opening freshness. But less than an hour into it, the heat and humidity brought out the cumin and leather and I started suffocating in my polo shirt! Wafts of spices on light-dishwashing-liquid-style lemon became unbearable. The cinnamon was not exactly Cinnabon, but Indian Buffet warm dessert laden with cumin cardamon and caraway.  It was like dropping lemon juice on moth balls and sniffing them. I did not know the word “Scrubber” back then but I think I experienced it. 
Eau d’Hermès was created by Edmond Roudnitska in 1951 and remained the scent of the rich and famous and royals who went tp Hermès stores to buy saddles, Limoges ashtrays, cigar cutters, silk scarves and leather bags. Finding Eau d’Hermès in a regular perfume store or a Department Store was impossible. Even Hermès stores carried it selectively. Hermès stores in Asia did not carry it at all I was told. Until 1991 when Hermès started re-marketing it carefully.
By 1993, Eau d’Hermès re-appeared in beautiful heavy lead crystal limited edition bottles that looked like those I saw as a child, only much more luxurious and without the paper logo. They were hand etched with the “Theme of the Year of the House of Hermès” and were limited to 500 numbered bottles each year sold exclusively at select Hermès stores.  There was “The year of Japan”, “The year of the Sun”, “The year of Africa”, “The year of the Road”, “The year of India” etc.
Each cost a hefty 600 USD in the beginning and by the last year of their production (2002 and the scary Euro), the price had gone up to a 1000 USD approximately.
I was fascinated with these bottles despite my dislike of the scent as I remembered the walks with my father as a young child. I wanted to own all of them. Hermès was nice enough to chase them around the world and ship them to me for a cost of course.  I must have spent thousands of dollars on these bottles.  Shipping across oceans is a laborious task but is probably a breeze by comparison to what I went through with US Customs to retrieve a bottle. Each weighed about 10 pounds in its beautiful heavy display Hermès orange box lined in beige satin. The perfect hand etching, the leather ribbon in a different color each year (yellow, tan, blue, green, purple, etc.), the card carefully describing the theme of the year, the number “out of 500″ and the name of the artisan who completed the work made the entire presentation a true masterpiece.
But when it came to the scent, oh that hard-to-describe strangely fresh yet animalic scent of Eau d’Hermès!  It is best left in those heavy crystal bottles forever. Following the pleasant citrus opening that lasts only a few minutes, memories of stables and animal farms come to mind. The drydown has often been compared to sweat, mothballs, body odor!!
I can still wear Eau d’Hermès at times, particularly in cold weather… and only a drop at a time. It’s actually not a bad winter scent especially when you don’t want people to get too close! Eau d’Hermès is one of those “love it or hate it” scents.  Hermès had a rough ride re-launching it again in 2001 for its 50th anniversary. I predict that it may very well become discontinued in the future. Unless Monsieur Jean-Claude Ellena chooses to clean it up. Perhaps remove the cumin and some of the cinnamon, make it more contemporary, cleaner and less polarizing.
Eau d’Hermès is available on the Hermès website for a hefty price tag still and in non-crystal regular glass bottles.
The picture above is from my collection: The year of music (1996) and some others.
Please do write what you think of Eau d'Hermès. Perhaps your experience with it was different from mine!