One Thousand Scents

Saturday, January 27, 2007


I have nothing against cheap, mass-market scents. I even love some of them. But a lot of them are, let's face it, the lowest possible common denominator: designed to appeal to as many people as possible, to offend no-one, to offer no surprises or, in fact, anything of interest to anyone except the sort of person who doesn't usually wear scent. As snobbish as this is going to sound, they're created to appeal to people with no taste of their own--to people who have to be told what they like.

Here are three.

Daytona 500 is boring almost beyond human endurance. The notes, in case you might care, which you shouldn't, are as follows:

Top: yuzu, bergamot, mandarin.
Middle: Tarragon, sage, maté, and a watery accord.
Base: Nutmeg, cardamom, ambergris, sandalwood.

It even has tarragon, which I love, but here it's just another part of the nebulous nothingness of the scent. (I will admit that the drydown is pleasant enough, in a generic sort of way. But that's it.)

As this amusing review says:

Elizabeth Arden's eau de speedway smells like . . . well, it smells like men's cologne.

And how.

The review also contains this gem:

"Fragrance is all about trying to communicate emotion," said Rolleston, in a telephone interview from New York. Men wearing Daytona 500 can expect to exude adrenaline, excitement, confidence and a passion for speed, among other things, according to the Elizabeth Arden executive.

Men wearing Daytona 500 can actually expect to exude a complete lack of individuality, which may well be the whole point. It will probably sell a jillion bottles, to men who don't wear fragrance but are seduced by the racecar theme. It is, beyond a doubt, the most generic, uninteresting, plagiarized men's scent imaginable.

H2 by Hummer--do all mass-market men's scents have to have an automotive theme?--is at least not the usual fresh men's scent. (That slot was taken by the original Hummer scent.) H2 is an oriental, and not a terrible one, either. But also not an interesting one. The notes are

cinnamon leaves, mandarin peel, bergamot, bourbon pepper, cardamom, elemi, incense, and red myrrh

and the whole thing smells like a mad pick-and-choose blend of twenty other men's oriental scents: Casual Friday, Opium Pour Homme, a few discontinued Yves Rochers such as Aztek, Tel Quel, and Samarkande, and, well, practically any other you can name. Not, as I said, terrible, certainly a step above Daytona 500. But a baby step.

I know what "phat" means (it means "cool" or "desirable", and it's an abbreviated form of "emphatic", despite the folk etymologies that have it meaning "pretty hot and tempting" or worse), but I'm old, or old-fashioned, enough to be of the opinion that "Baby Phat" is not a very good name for a clothing-and-fragrance line. I suppose the marketers have done their research, though, and they're not selling to me, so what do they care? There are two fragrances in the Baby Phat line, and the second one, Golden Goddess, is surprisingly not-bad for about half of its life. The notes are supposedly

bubbling champagne, seringa, blue lilies, night orchid, caramel, vanilla, patchouli, vetiver

and while the top note smells nothing like actual champagne, the rest of it smells pretty much exactly like what you'd expect; warm, sweet floral notes wrapped in warm, sweet oriental notes. (The vanilla-caramel scent is already present, giving the whole thing a candy-store quality, but the middle notes are not as sugary as Aquolina Pink Sugar.) It's very pretty, for a while. The trouble begins as the floral notes begin to fade, about two hours in, and the base notes come to the fore: the whole thing gets sweeter and sweeter, almost to the point of nausea. Even the vetiver and patchouli in the base can't control it.

At least it's not one of the hundreds of interchangeable fruity florals that everyone has been doing for the last five years.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hang Around: Yves Rocher Voile D'Ambre

In 1995, Revlon launched a scent ill-advisedly named Lasting; the entire advertising campaign, with ghostly numbers and a woman in a swirling dress that mimicked the shape of the (ugly, clumsy) bottle, centred on the fact that the scent promised to last ten or more hours without changing.

Well, that's just stupid. Lasting power is a big plus, but nobody's going to buy a scent on that alone; the scent has to be good. Fragrance advertising is a difficult prospect, and it almost invariably tells you how you're going to feel when you wear the scent. This one will make you happy; that one will make you sexy; this one here will make you confident. Numbers, I think it's fair to say, have no place in a perfume ad.

Anyway, if you want a scent that lasts and lasts, you just pick an oriental scent. They're based on large, heavy, enduring molecules. They're going to hang around for many, many hours.

The newish Voile D'Ambre by Yves Rocher is an oriental, but it's also a surprise: without being cheap or obvious in any way, it achieves a brightness and luminosity that's nearly unheard of in an oriental scent.

The top note is mainly green mandarin, fresh and uplifting, with the cool sparkle of cardamom; while the darker oriental notes are already swirling around it, the citrus note establishes the tone of the scent, which lasts almost until the very end.

In the middle are myrrh, incense, and opoponax, and although ambergris (for some reason) isn't listed in the notes, the heart of the scent is where it makes its appearance. But the scent never takes that turn into outright darkness; the sunshiny top notes remain, in spirit, and the scent always has a vivacity to it, even as the base notes (vanilla, sandalwood, and a dab of patchouli) begin to take over, six or eight hours in.

I probably don't need to tell you that Voile D'Ambre is stunningly long-lasting; twenty hours after putting it on, I can still smell the pale heat of sandalwood and ambergris on my skin. After the middle notes have settled in, it changes very slowly, but it sticks around, and it always smells like itself. It's glorious.

Voile D'Ambre is the first in a series of higher-end fragrances from Yves Rocher, their Secrets d'Essences line; the newest, Rose Absolu, has already been launched in Europe, and I'm just waiting for it to show up on these shores. It doesn't sound like something I'd wear (cinnamon, Turkish, Bulgarian and Moroccan roses, tonka bean, and patchouli), but it sure sounds like something I want to smell.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Eat It Up

What is the deal with soap? It's all I've wanted to write about recently.


A company called Method makes some fairly terrific cleaning products. They have a seasonal line with three scents in it, and it seems you can buy them at any time of the year through their website, but in the real world they're available only at Christmastime. There are three scents, and though one of them, Frosted Cranberry, did nothing for me, the other two are nothing short of wonderful. There isn't a shower gel, but there are hand soaps in all three scents, and they all come in a beautifully minimalist frosted teardrop-shaped bottle.

The second of the scents is Spiced Pear and it's very spicy and very peary: it calls to mind the top note of Higher Dior. Delicious! The scent is surprisingly tenacious for an inexpensive soap.

The third, my favourite, is Peppermint Vanilla, and it's perfectly balanced: fresh, chilly peppermint and soft, warm vanilla. It's so good it's almost edible, like those old ads for Neutrogena soap that said it was so pure you could eat it (though i think I wouldn't want to put either product in my mouth). Peppermint Vanilla smells exactly like those soft creamy mints that you're not supposed to eat because they have hydrogenated fats in them and will kill you (but since I just put a recipe for fettuccine all'Alfredo on my other blog, who am I to talk?). The lasting power is not as good as the Spiced Pear, but this is a hand soap we're talking about, not a perfume.


I got them at Shoppers Drug Mart around Christmas, which is also where I got the three new three-in-one shower gels/bath foams/shampoos in their Sweet Treats line. They all smell like desserts, logically enough: Vanilla Brown Sugar Cupcake, Cinnamon Apple Pie, and Chocolate Cappuccino Cheesecake.

You don't need me to describe them to you, do you? They're not some complex Guerlain formula with a hundred and sixty-seven ingredients; they're exactly what they promise to be. The vanilla one isn't bakery enough; it's mostly just vanilla with a bit of a molasses edge to it. The most accurate is the cinnamon apple pie, which is very pleasurable, but my favourite is the chocolate cappuccino, a warm, dark, rich, fudgy scent. (The funny thing is that I'm not even that fond of chocolate; I hardly ever eat it and I never, ever crave it, though sometimes I can't resist a bar of Toblerone. But I really like the smell of chocolate, which is why I have so many chocolate-scented shower gels and fragrances.)

If you live in Canada, you should check out these cheap pleasures. If you live near Canada, it's worth crossing the border for them. If you don't, well, find someone who can mail you a few. They come in 250-mL bottles for $6.99 (but regularly go on sale) and also a three-pack of 100-mL bottles, one of each, for $9.99. Go for it.


Okay, enough about soap. Next up: the most recent Yves Rocher. Promise.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Years ago I was heavily involved in a Usenet group called, which there's no point in checking out because it's been entirely destroyed by trolls (and resurrected as a Yahoo mailing list). Despite its name, a lot of the postings were about fragrance. One of the holy grails of was a really good chocolate-scented soap, and everyone was thrilled by a liquid soap made by St. Ives which smelled like chocolate--better, like a pan of brownies. It was never sold in Canada, but I did a swap with someone in which they sent me three huge bottles of the stuff, and I was in heaven, for a while. And then the St. Ives idiots discontinued it. What were they thinking? With a little advertising they could have sold a metric shitload of it. Sometimes I think I imagined something so wonderful, but other people remember it, too (scroll down).

St. Ives also made a vanilla-scented liquid soap which was lovely and which was a terrific base for scenting--just spray in a bunch of something and presto, you've got Todd Oldham shower gel or whatever. That one's still available: I don't know if it still smells the same, what with companies' endless lust to reformulate their products and all: I haven't tried it in years, for some reason, probably because 1) I'm not sure if it's sold in these here parts, 2) I have enough shower gels to last me a year or two, and 3) I started making my own soap. Has the scent changed? I dunno.

But here's what I do know: L'Oreal recently released three children's shampoos in their L'Oreal Kids line to promote this past summer's animated movie Over the Hedge, and two of them smell very much, perhaps exactly, like St. Ives chocolate and vanilla body washes used to smell. The products are called Burst Of Vanilla Smoothie Shampoo and Burst Of Cocoa Smoothie Shampoo. (Yes, you can use them as a shower gel: shower gel and shampoo are basically the same thing.) They are delicious. No lasting power, of course, but while you're lathering up, they're terrific fun. The cocoa scent is perhaps a little harsh, but what works well is to mix the two fifty-fifty. Yum!

Now that the movie's gone from the theatres, I'm thinking they're discontinued, so get out there and buy some. You'll want to remove the labels, as I did, because they're adorned with pictures of leering cartoon animals (a raccoon and a turtle). You'll probably even want to put them into nicer bottles, though I didn't bother; without the labels they're acceptably utilitarian. I got mine at Shoppers Drug Mart, but I've read that they're also available (or were available) at Wal-Mart and Costco. Go! Now! Before it's too late!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Soap Opera

Sometimes I feel a little guilty, or even appalled, at just how many scents I have, but it always passes. One of the reasons I own so many, apart from an obvious addiction, is that you never know what you're going to be in the mood for, and it's a wonderful thing to be able to select a scent that exactly matches, or amplifies, your mood.

Today I was looking through the cabinet trying to figure out what I wanted to wear, and being habitually indecisive, I couldn't make up my mind, so I grabbed L'Artisan's Poivre Piquant, which I love. Ten minutes later, I reached up to adjust my glasses and caught a whiff of something, and what I thought was, "What's that?", at which point I remembered that it was a scent which I had chosen and deliberately applied.

Obviously I made the wrong choice this morning. (I still love Poivre Piquant. Just not today.) I'll have to scrub it off and try again.


Most commercial fragrances nowadays have a matching bath line, and anyone who expects the bath products to smell exactly like the original scent is in for a surprise.

Every product base carries with it its own scent and its own scenting problems, and soap is a really good example of that. Soaps and detergents, liquid or solid, have a smell, and that has to be dealt with: you can minimize it, but it's always there, so either you drown it out or you incorporate it somehow into the scent.

I recently bought a coffret of soaps scented like Boucheron's Trouble, and they're really nice: faceted like the bottle, in a dark red case to match the scent's box, and set into little niches in a flocked platform, like jewels--fitting enough for a jeweler's brand name. But the odd thing is that they don't really smell a whole lot like Trouble. They have a distinctly detergent smell, and it's not shy, either; it's right out there. The pungent detersive scent is there when you open the box, and even more so when you unwrap a bar.

When you're washing with the soap, you still get that detergent smell, and it's a little disappointing. But when it's all washed down the drain and you're toweling off your skin, the damnedest thing happens: the soap smell is gone, and what you're left with is the smell of Trouble and nothing but. It's not strong; it's not as if you'd just sprayed some on. But it's there, completely authentic and untainted with any residue of soapy scent--a nice surprise, and a testament to the artistry of the chemists involved, I think.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Malt Ease: Aquolina Chocolovers

Remember Carnation Instant Breakfast? Nowadays in Canada, you can get it in only three flavours--chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry--but there used to be a bunch more: chocolate malt (which is still available in the U.S.), eggnog, and coffee, among others.

Aquolina Chocolovers eventually smells very, very much like the chocolate malt flavour. Or, rather, it smells like the powder, before it had been mixed with milk. Or, I suppose I have to say, it smells the way I remember that stuff smelling: it's been a while. Maybe they've changed the formula; perhaps I should e-mail my mom in Florida and get her to send me a box so I can compare the two.

Chocolovers is going to disappoint anyone who expects a rich chocolate scent along the lines of CSP's Amour de Cacao, because it's not about chocolate per se. It starts with an unexpected, and exhilarating, burst of citrus fruits, but it's not like a Terry's Chocolate Orange, either: the citrus notes include lemon, orange, and bergamot, and are much more potent than anything you'll find in a chocolate bar.

After the hesperides have had their say, the middle notes speak up, and they're as much about the malt as about the chocolate. They have a dry character (which is what makes me think of that breakfast powder), and the malt note nearly overwhelms the chocolate; it's the most dramatic thing about the scent. (When I first tried it, it was just about all I could smell: it took a couple of tries before the whole thing made sense.) There's a hazelnut note which isn't nearly strong enough for my taste, and the expected vanilla in the base, and that's just about it.

Chocolovers is less sweet than Pink Sugar but more so than Blue Sugar. I think it's the most successful of the three scents: it's certainly more original than the other two.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Barbie Girl: Aquolina Pink Sugar

The Simpsons hasn't been very good for years now, but in the thirteenth season there was a funny monologue by Homer:

You know, I've had a lot of jobs: boxer, mascot, astronaut, imitation Krusty, baby-proofer, trucker, hippie, plow driver, food critic, conceptual artist, grease salesman, carny, mayor, grifter, bodyguard for the Mayor, country-western manager, garbage commisioner, mountain climber, farmer, inventor, Smithers, Poochie, celebrity assistant, power plant worker, fortune-cookie writer, beer baron, Kwik-E-Mart clerk, homophobe and missionary....

I haven't had quite that many jobs in my life (I never had a chance to be a Poochie), but I have had a bunch of them, and one of them was as a carny. One of the things I did was run the cotton-candy machine*. Once you've been immersed in that smell for hours on a hot summer's day, you'll never forget it, so I can say with some authority that Aquolina's Pink Sugar does, in fact, smell like pink sugar: the core of it is the gloppy-sweet smell of cotton candy, amplified and complexified but still cotton candy for all that.

The official list of notes (which, like Blue Sugar, came helpfully printed on a card in the sample's crisp plastic envelope):

Head: Bergamot, orange, raspberry, fig leaf.

Heart: Liquorice blossom, lily, barbe-a-papa, red fruits, strawberry.

Base: Vanilla, caramel, musk, tonka, sandalwood.

("Barbe-a-papa" is the French name for cotton candy: it literally means "daddy's beard".)

You can tell by reading the list that this is not a serious fragrance. It's girly and fluffy and whimsical, which is just fine, but also way too sweet, which isn't.

The top note is mostly juicy, lip-smacking raspberry, tarted up with citrus notes. The underlying scent isn't long in appearing: it resembles Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Mora Bella/Fruits Sauvages, if you added a bucketload of sugar to it. The red-fruit scent gives the cotton-candy note a jammy, sticky quality; you could put it on toast. The oriental base notes are too little, too late, and also, again, too sweet.

Obviously I'm not the target market for a scent like this, but it's hard to imagine who, apart from ten-year-old girls with pinkly Barbie fantasies, is. Are adult women wearing this? Maybe as a joke, a whim, a carefree whirl, but I'd hate to spend time with anyone who's made a signature scent of this.

*Would you like to know how it works? A small heated drum perforated in the upper half with a series of parallel diagonal slits holds the coloured and flavoured sugar: once this sugar has melted from the heat--not dissolved, since there's no liquid added--, the drum begins to spin rapidly, drawing the liquid upwards through centrifugal force. The liquefied sugar flies through the slits and is flung outwards towards the walls of the enclosing container; in its short journey it hardens from contact with the cooler air and forms fine threads, which stick together and are collected up onto a cone. The stuff's pure sugar, but there really isn't that much of it: if you reduced one of those enormous cones back down, which you could do by putting it in a saucepan on the stove, it wouldn't be any more sugar than you'd find in a can of pop.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Candy Man: Aquolina Blue Sugar

If you're going to name a sweet, cotton-candyish women's scent Pink Sugar, and then you're going to come out with a men's scent a couple years later, what are you going to call it? If you're Aquolina, you're going to call it Blue Sugar. It isn't blue, and it isn't particularly sugary, either. It's sweet, but no more so than any other gourmand oriental scent.

The sample I got was a generous size, and contained--nice touch, this--a little card with a complete list of the notes, which are:

Head: Bergamot, Tangerine Leaves, Star Anise, Ginger.

Heart: Licorice, Patchouli Leaves, Lavender, Heliotrope, Coriander.

Base: Caramel, Vanilla, Cedarwood, Tonka Bean.

The top note is a flood of two contradictory ideas, the freshness of citrus and an almost burnt-smelling spice note. It's got a hint of sweetness to it, a premonition of what's coming, but the aggressive cooked-spice note is what dominates.

When that's had a chance to calm down--and it takes a surprising while--the sweetness begins to make an appearance: a clean, attractive patchouli note plus the prickly warmth of licorice, all wrapped in barely sugared vanilla. The sweetness is ramped up as the middle gives way to the base notes, but fortunately it's all kept under control: it isn't cloying, which for me is the death knell to any scent. There's no doubt that it's intended to be a men's scent.

If that list of fragrance notes sounds quite a lot like Thierry Mugler's Angel Men, that's because the fragrance is quite a lot like it, too. It's not exactly a copy, because it tones down the more overwhelming elements of that scent; it's more the patchouli and the sweetness (caramel, vanilla, and tonka) of Angel Men cross-bred with the potent licorice note of Lolita Lempicka's Au Masculin. Nice though it is, if you have either of those scents (or others like them, such as Yohji Homme or Rochas Man), I can't imagine why you'd need Blue Sugar. Maybe if you got it really cheap....