One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

White Hot: Caron Coup de Fouet

The sense of smell is an extremely subjective thing: what smells like a field of white flowers to someone else might as well be an open septic system to me. There's hardly any agreement at all about what constitutes a beautiful scent, or what makes it beautiful: teenage girls seem to love fruity floral perfumes, while more sophisticated noses might prefer a bone-dry chypre or a slightly bitter green scent. (The one thing pretty much everyone on Earth agrees on, it seems, is that vanilla is beautiful. Otherwise, all bets are off.)

I love carnations. Nowadays, as is the case with a great many flowers intended for sale to the general public, they're being created to be as visually beautiful as possible, which usually has the unfortunate side effect of diminishing their scent if not obliterating it entirely, but I've smelled enough of them to know what they ought to smell like. One of the wonderful things about them is that they distill exceptionally well: carnation essential oil really does smell like carnations, whereas lilacs, roses, and various other flowers, if they will give up their scent at all, often do so only grudgingly, and are changed in the process; they need some tinkering to make them smell like the real article.

I had read so much about Caron's Coup de Fouet in the last few years that I was desperate to try it. I knew beyond a doubt that I would love it, the certainty of the obsessed. I finally came face to face with it in London last month, and it was everything I had hoped for; I bought it on the spot. But something baffled me and continues to do so, and it's tied into the pure subjectivity of the human nose.

Susan Irvine, in "The Perfume Guide", wrote the following:

Will keep you as warm as a fur coat in winter. It's what Cruella de Vil would have worn. Wear it when you're feeling similarly vicious.

Vicious? Really?

Coup de Fouet, which means "crack of the whip", smells like a dazzling burst of sunshine to me. It does have a certain sharpness, but so does the sun, which can feel like little needle pricks on the skin (to me, at any rate, but I concede that I am an odd duck where sunlight is concerned). It's warm, but not like a fur coat: it's warm like a fireplace.

CdF opens with an overdose of spices, the better to underscore the clove scent of the carnation. Black and red pepper fly off the skin, followed in short order by an armload of spicy carnations, softened (but only a little) with ylang-ylang, which bolster the floral aspect of the carnation without muting its spiciness at all. Underneath the flowers is an equally warm base with notes of sandalwood and vetiver, sweet opoponax, and a little oakmoss, giving it a slightly smoky, incensy character (which, I think, is what makes me think of that fireplace), a dreamy haze that lingers on the skin for hours. It's an ideal winter scent--not a powerhouse oriental, but an extremely sophisticated floral-oriental which is as much at home on a man as on a woman.

I know some vicious scents; Givenchy Indecence is perpetually in full attack mode, and there are some men's scents (YSL's M7, for one) that have a murderous cast to them. But this Caron is nothing like that to my nose. It's radiantly warm; it's generous.


Friday, October 26, 2007

De Luxe

They say travel broadens your horizons, and that certainly is true in my case. Here are three things I learned--really got--from my recent trip to the UK.

1) I finally understand why the British are so attached to their monarchy. Canadians experience the monarchy at one remove: occasionally a royal comes over to grace us with their magnificent presence, and most people just yawn and go about their business. I think most Canadians would just as soon have the institution done away with. Those under sixty, anyway. But in England, you're surrounded by history--there are lots of buildings still standing that are older than my entire country--and a lot of them bear the unmistakable stamp of royalty, such as the Tower Bridge. Even if you become inured to it, it's all there, a constant reminder of the history of the country, which is inextricably tied up with the monarchy. They don't get rid of the monarchy (or at least they haven't yet) because it's visibly, perpetually a sign of who they are and where they came from; it represents continuity.

2) I finally get the Full English Breakfast, which seems on the surface of it excessive even by North American standards. You sit down to an enormous platter containing most or all of the traditional breakfast fare: toast, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, baked beans, sausage, eggs, ham, fried potatoes, and of course tea or coffee, plus possibly more besides (black pudding, for example, or cheese). There's just so much of it! But we spent most of every day in the UK walking around, and after eating one of these breakfasts, we'd be good for hours. Around noon, the usual time for lunch, we'd look at each other and say, "You hungry"? "Nope" was the invariable reply: the breakfast kept us going until three o'clock, easy, and often later. Despite eating such a massive load for breakfast, we both lost weight on the trip. So the Full English Breakfast is real fuel for a day's exertions; it does its job with remarkable efficiency (and deliciousness). It's probably not very good for you in the long run, but a bowl of bran cereal and yogurt is not going to keep you running for most of a day.

3) This doesn't have anything to do with the trip, exactly, but it happened on the trip, so here it is. I finally understand why skin-care products have scents in them. I hate anything that contains a scent that I didn't specifically ask to be put there: a shower gel that smells like Tsar or Egoiste is fine if that's what I want to smell like for the day, but a sunscreen that smells of cheap florals is something I very much want to avoid. (My skin-care routine, if you can even call it that, consists of washing in the shower with whatever shower gel or shampoo I have at hand, and then putting on some unscented sunscreen after I've dried off, every day, without fail.) It's hard to find "unscented" or "fragrance-free" sunscreens that really are scentless, and it pisses me off that I have to waste time doing so.

When I bought my bottle of Midnight Poison at Debenhams, the saleswoman was very nice and very apologetic that she didn't have any samples of scents for me. (I asked, because I always ask, and I thought that maybe she'd pop over to another counter or two to rustle some up, but perhaps she wasn't allowed to.) Not wanting me to leave empty-handed, she loaded a bunch of Dior skin-cream samples into my shopping bag instead, and they aren't the sorts of things I'd ever use, but all the little tubes and tiny pump vials in their shiny boxes were so beguiling that I tried a couple of them. Once. They didn't make my skin magically radiant or perfected (maybe I need to keep using them for that to happen), but by god were they ever scented! They had a potent rosy floral scent to them that swirled around your face as you applied the products; the scent was inescapable, and surprisingly appealing. It was like applying an expensive scent that just happened to be a skin cream. Most of the drugstore lines, of course, are also scented, and it's the same thing, I think: women in general clearly don't just want to put on a cream and be done with it--they want a reminder that they're using a product. The unstated message must be that that if they can smell it, it must be effective because they know it's there.

So finally, I know why these potions and unguents are so highly perfumed, and why the expensive lines clearly put a huge amount of time and effort into concocting a particularly good scent for their products. They want consumers to feel that they're getting something more than just an emulsion in a bottle, and without a doubt they succeed. The Dior creams may not work any better than cheaper lines, if they work at all beyond helping keep your skin from drying out, but they give the almost subliminal sense that they're expensive, and worth the expense. They smell like luxury.


But what is luxury, really?

Is it a fifty-thousand-dollar handbag? Is that handbag really five hundred times better, more desirable, than a hundred-dollar purse?

Is it a $245 scent in an unattractive bottle which goes by the name "Luxe"? It is a $2350 perfume in a lead-crystal bottle set with a diamond, one that unabashedly announces itself "The most expensive perfume in the world"?

Someone has written an entire book on the subject, which I haven't read. Doesn't mean I don't have some thoughts on the topic, though.

Over on Now Smell This there was a rousing discussion of the idea of luxury as it applied to fragrances; many of the writers felt that the idea of luxury as it applies to commercial fragrance is a dead one, and I am more or less forced to agree. There are many very expensive scents on the market nowadays, but are they truly, meaningfully luxurious? I am beginning to have my doubts.

For something to be truly luxurious, I think, it has has to have three qualities:

1) It must be hard to come by. This can be a result of organic scarcity, as with caviar, or it can be because the item is difficult and/or time-consuming to produce, as is a Mercedes-Benz.
2) It must be significantly more expensive than a comparable item: a disposable ball-point pen is not luxurious, but a Montblanc pen (or, as they prefer, a "writing instrument") is. Can a pen be worth $1600? If it gives you pleasure every time you use it, or if it increases your status, or if you have more money than brains, then perhaps it can.
3) It must in some way justify that increased expense. A mink coat--whatever your feelings about the animal-skin trade--is a luxury because it is extremely time-consuming and difficult to create.

That third thing is crucial: the luxury item must seem to be worth whatever it takes to own it. And this, it seems, is where the notion of luxury is disintegrating in the world of fragrance.

Part of the problem is the flood of perfumes. A generation ago, there were maybe a thousand fragrances on the market. Even then you had an embarrassment of choices. Now, there are seven to eight hundred new fragrances launched every year--two or three a day, every day, day in, day out. Even at the high end of the market there's a glut: Tom Ford launches a collection of twelve all at once; Chanel, a series of ten which they call Les Exclusifs. The established perfume houses each churn out dozens of scents a year, and celebrities attach their names to anything in a bottle as a way of increasing their brand equity. It is not possible to keep up: you couldn't try them all and form intelligent opinions about them, any more than you could read and review seven or eight hundred books a year.

Books, in fact, are a good parallel to the world of fragrance. They're churned out in ever-increasing numbers, and you can't meaningfully experience more than a fraction of them. They're just another aspect of the blitz of media that dominates our lives. Where they used to be an art form, they're just another commodity.

This commodification isn't destroying perfumery, but it certainly is diluting it, and it's eroding the sense of luxury that only fifty years ago dominated the scented world. Estee Lauder had to market her Youth-Dew as a bath oil, because women wouldn't buy a perfume for themselves--it was too luxurious and therefore frivolous--but they would buy a prosaic bath product. Nowadays, every product has a smell, everybody can afford some sort of fragrance, and perfume as a category is no more luxurious than hamburger or plastic shoes.

Merely charging a huge amount of money for something doesn't make it a luxury, because, according to my rule #3 above, the scent has to seem to be worth the extra money. I don't think an $885 bottle of Clive Christian #1 for Men is luxurious: I think it's ridiculous. Even if I loved it (for the record, I haven't tried it, though I could have), I wouldn't think of paying that much for a scent. I have a threshold--I expect everyone does--beyond with a scent couldn't possibly be worth the cost. If you'll pay two thousand dollars for a diamond-inset bottle of perfume (most of the price is for the bottle, obviously), will you pay three? Or five? Or thirty thousand for a bottle inset with pavé diamonds? Five million for perfume in a tiny bottle carved from an entire diamond? Where does it stop? And at what point does it become meaningless--not about perfume, but about insane extravagance?

Having said that, though, the fact is that more expensive fragrances often are better. As any regular reader will note, I will sample any scent, and I don't disdain cheap ones: I think Tabu and Old Spice are wonderful, and on the right skin, Coty's Emeraude is lovely. But though more expensive scents may not be true luxuries, they tend to be better thought out, more artistically constructed, and made with better ingredients; they can be worth the higher price. Within reason.

Back when I was just getting properly obsessed with scent, I obtained a bottle of Comptoir Sud Pacifique Vanille Amande in a swap, and I treasured it, because I had never seen it for sale anywhere: I couldn't easily get it, which gave it that sense of scarcity that luxury requires. When the line became available in a local drugstore, I bought a bunch of CSP scents, and while I love them, they no longer feel luxurious, because they're too easily available. Familiarity really does breed contempt!

When I look at my collection, I see that the ones I treasure the most, the ones I'd save from a fire, are in fact the most expensive. Not only that--they're ones it was most difficult for me to get, the ones I yearned for the longest. I desperately desired Ambre Précieux after trying a sample of it, and I still love it madly, partly, I'm sure, because I still remember that desire; it colours my experience of the scent. The same is true of the L'Artisan Épices trio (I waited years to own it) and of Coup de Fouet (I had to leave the continent to get it).

Perhaps, then, that is the soul of luxury: the sense of yearning for something rare and difficult to obtain, eventually brought to fruition by possession.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Simplicity: Yves Rocher Rose Absolue

Sometimes, it turns out, you really can get a good idea of what something is going to smell like just by reading about it.

Last year, Yves Rocher launched the delectable Voile D'Ambre, the first in their line of higher-end Secrets D'Essences fragrances. The new scent, Rose Absolue, has just recently been made available in Canada, and as I said before, it didn't sound like something I'd wear, but it did sound nice.

It is, too. The ingredient list is

Cinnamon, apple, Turkish, Bulgarian and Morrocan rose, cedar, patchouli and tonka bean

and that's pretty much exactly what you get. The top is a little sweet and a little spicy, but it doesn't, thank goodness, smell like apple pie with cinnamon; the apple note is actually more of a generic modern fruit scent, and in any event it doesn't last long. The roses are very pretty; lush and petally, full-bodied without being cloying (the problem I have with Givenchy's Very Irresistible). It doesn't last as long as I think it should, particularly given those durable base notes, but that's probably a minor quibble; it's very well-crafted and appealing. (It also suggests, though it's in no way a copy of, a very good and now discontinued Yves Rocher scent, Cantata, another inexplicably failed gourmand oriental scent. The rose, the cinnamon, and the caramel overtone of the tonka bean all call Cantata to mind.)

Rose Absolue is not for me, for three reasons. I already have my rose scent, Midnight Poison, and I don't have any great interest in wearing something that's so single-mindedly rosy, and if I did, I'd wear Joy, the summit and pinnacle of all rose fragrances. But the price is reasonable: Yves Rocher is always having a sale of some sort so you can easily get a 50-mL EDP spray for 40% or 50% off the list price of $64, and for the holiday season there's a half-ounce spray for $12.50 in an attractively solid little chunk of a bottle (the one at the right, above), so Rose Absolue is probably a must-buy, or at least a must-try, for rose lovers.

Now I suppose we have to wait a whole year for the third in the Secrets D'Essences line, the recently announced Iris Noir. I'm not the world's biggest fan of the iris--I don't have a single iris-based scent, not even Dior Homme--but it sounds fascinating. It doesn't sound like the description, "a floriental scent over an iris-chypre base", because there's none of the requisite oakmoss in it (the notes are bergamot, coriander, ambrette seed, iris, patchouli and tonka bean), but I'm willing to give it a shot.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Haste Makes Waste: Tokyo by Kenzo

There are three ways to buy a scent.

1) You can buy something you already know. Maybe you were lucky enough to get a sample or a decant, or maybe you've worn it before, but you've had it on your skin long enough to know that you like it and want to own it.

2) You can sniff it in the store, be immediately pleased with it, and decide on the spot that you ought to have it.

3) You can decide without ever having had a chance to smell it that you want to own it anyway.

The first, of course, is the only way to be sure you're going to get your money's worth. All of us fanatics have bought something unsniffed: it was just a great bargain ("Even if I don't like it, I can give it away, and it was only a few bucks!"), or we'd read good reviews and decided to take a chance. But flat-out buying a whole bottle of an unknown quantity is rarely a good idea; I think it leads to more disappointment than joy.

When in London, I had a rather limited time in a department store called Debenham's. They had dozens and dozens of things I'd never smelled before, and I pretty much wore out my nose sniffing them. I had smelled Midnight Poison a couple of days previously and was pretty sure I wanted it, but took a second sniff to confirm this. Wandering through the store, I didn't find anything else that really screamed "Buy me or regret it for all eternity!"

Then I stumbled across the new Kenzo release, Tokyo. I had found Kenzo scents to be a mixed bag in the past: some real winners (the original Kenzo, FlowerbyKenzo, Jungle for Men) along with some so-so scents (Été, Kenzoair, Kashaya). I sprayed some Tokyo on one of the blotters--all of which were folded up like little paper airplanes!--and sampled it. I liked it quite a lot: it started out fairly fresh, but there was a darkness to it, an incensey undertone, that I was quite sure would work well on my skin. I carried the blotter around for about ten minutes, and liked it more and more, and decided to buy a 30-mL bottle of the stuff.

When I got it home and finally had a chance to wear it a couple of weeks later, I couldn't understand what I had bought. It bore almost no resemblance to what I had smelled, or thought I had smelled, in the store. Had my nose simply been overtired and playing tricks on me? Was the blotter contaminated with something else?

Tokyo is aimed at a very young market (18 to 25, the young men who are just outgrowing monstrosities like Axe), and it shouldn't be any surprise that it's a fresh, bright scent; most of the new releases these days are, particularly those aimed at a younger demographic. It's meant to suggest the colours of the city at night: yellow electric lights suggested by bright notes of grapefruit, citron, and ginger; red neon evoked by bitter orange and pink pepper; green trees conjured up with maté, shiso, and green tea; and the blackness of night with dark spice and wood scents--nutmeg and clove, gaiac and cedar.

Well, that's the theory, anyway. What it really smells like, unfortunately, is most every other young-men's scent released in the last five years. It isn't offensive, but it isn't interesting, either. It opens up with brilliant citrus notes underscored with green, all of which soon burns away to leave a rather generic clean freshness, with a lightly spicy undercurrent, on the skin. It dies quickly: a few hours later, there's a ghost of a scent, but what it is and whether you liked it are irrelevant.

The packaging, however, is smashing; it takes that Tokyo-at-night theme and interprets it beautifully. The box has a satin matte finish; it's white, and wrapped with a picture of a tree at night radiating streaks of bright colours, The bottle is likewise satiny matte, a deep black with streaks of colour representing city lights as seen from a speeding car. It's very touchable. A photo doesn't do it justice. The shape is a minor variation on the curved bamboo bottle that Kenzo has used for previous men's scents.

Tokyo by Kenzo isn't a terrible fragrance: I'll probably wear it from time to time, until I swap it away. It just doesn't have much to recommend it. If I had had a chance to wear it on my skin and really get to know it, I wouldn't have bought it. The best thing I can say about it, apart from that gorgeous bottle, is that it wasn't very expensive.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Raspberry Smoothie: Lacoste Elegance

A lot of the time I've read about a scent before I ever get a chance to smell it, so I have at least an idea what I'm getting myself into: I know the general category the scent falls into, and I probably know at least some of the notes.

That wasn't the case with the newest Lacoste scent, Elegance. I had read about it briefly at Now Smell This, which said only that

The oriental fougère fragrance features aromatic top notes around a spicy heart, and a dry chocolate accord at the base. Additional notes include thyme and mandarin zest.

Not much to go on, but it did sound like the sort of thing I would like. Then I promptly forgot about it. When it showed up at the local hyperdrugstore, I managed to get a sample (so rare these days). I splashed on a little and decided that, at the top, it was very nice. A few minutes went by, and upon smelling it again, I was completely floored, because all I could think was, "Good GOD that's raspberry and lots of it!"

Raspberries are probably my favourite fruit: definitely in the top three, anyway (alongside pineapples and pears). Waverley Root, in his enchanting, encyclopedic book Food (subtitled "An authoritative visual history and dictionary of the foods of the world"), has this to say of the raspberry:

          "There is a harmony among all things and the places where they are found," I wrote twenty years ago in 'The Food of France'. "Would you need to know the name of the Pekinese to realize that it was originally China? The peacock, and for that matter the common hen, are obviously natives of India. Where could the eucalyptus have come from except Australia?"
          Similarly the flavor of the raspberry stamps it "Made in Asia". It breathes of the Orient--rich, exotic, spice-laden and with a hint of musk.

It is exactly those qualities that make it such a fascinating note around which to base a scent. I know of only two raspberry-dominated scents that preceded Lacoste Elegance. The first was Byblos, launched in 1989, a veil of dark flowers rent by the bite of even darker, musky raspberry; I had to have it, of course. Then in 2000, I was similarly forced to buy Givenchy's Hot Couture, a peculiar, minimal thing: an uneasy balance between conventionally masculine (black pepper and brittle vetiver) and conventionally feminine (magnolia blossoms and that same musky raspberry). On my skin, the peppered raspberries took over: it wasn't flowery, with the magnolia just a suggestion of petaled warmth lurking underneath.

Even the most commercial of perfumers seem to understand that men's fragrances have already incorporated every possible variation of the usual notes, and so they're opening the doors to more and more possibilities. Nothing could please me more. This year saw not one but two men's fragrances based on orange blossom, Fahrenheit 32 and Fleurs du Mâle, and some recent men's scents such as Dior Homme and Bois D'Argent are dominated by iris. With the standard citrus top notes completely played out, we've also seen scents with other fruit notes playing a major role: the recent Arpege pour Homme contains nectarine, and DKNY's Red Delicious contains, naturally enough, apple. Without a doubt there'll be more and more of these in the future: as men increasingly understand that they don't have to smell only of woods, spices, and grasses, they'll be willing to take more chances.

Lacoste Elegance starts with a whiplash of fresh, vivid notes: juniper berry and peppermint are the most evident, but the scent also contains pennyroyal and thyme, according to the official list of notes. Muscling up beneath them in short order are a batch of spice notes--nutmeg, black pepper, and cardamom. These spices dance around the core of the scent: a huge quantity of ripe, luscious raspberry juice. It isn't, thank goodness, jammy or sticky: it's fresh and liquid. It takes over the entire scent: every other element becomes a doodle in the margins.

The lightly spiced raspberries last for hours, and what eventually replaces them is a relatively standard base of sandalwood, amber, and (as seems to be de rigeur in raspberry scents), musk. There's supposedly that "dry chocolate accord" as well, but it doesn't show up on my skin, which is just as well: I enjoy smelling like raspberries, as long as they're done with a certain sophistication, but the idea of chocolate raspberry is just too strange even for me.

The only real problem with Lacoste Elegance is that it isn't elegant. (The bottle is, mind you. The front is flat, the rest of it is a cylinder with "Lacoste" in raised print on the back--in reverse, so you can read it properly from the front--and it's wrapped in tactile brushed aluminum, with a cap to match. The juice is a peachy colour.) True elegance suggests a sort of restraint, and this scent is far too exuberant for that. It's brash and high-spirited: it's fun.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Cast a Spell: Dior Midnight Poison

Christian Dior's Poison is one of the landmark scents in modern perfumery, and I mean to write about it one of these days, but not yet.

Once you have an established brand, you leverage it: that wasn't particularly common in 1985, when Poison was released, but it's entirely unavoidable nowadays as companies launch an endless stream of flankers, scents that refer to an earlier, successful scent in much the way that movie sequels refer to their predecessors. In the case of Poison, the flankers had nothing to do with the original scent except the name and the bottle; this is extremely common in the world of perfumery, where companies throw out new fragrances like sparks off a fire, hoping at least one of them will set the world ablaze. (As an example, Givenchy launched the men's scent Insensé in 1993: there have been twelve other variations of it since then, and that doesn't even include the women's versions.)

The first Poison flanker was Tendre Poison, which appeared in 1994 in a bright-green bottle: entirely unrelated to the original fruity-ambery Poison (except in its strength), it was a fresh, pretty green-floral scent.

Hypnotic Poison followed in 1998, and you could say that it captures the spirit of the original: in a rubber-clad blood-red bottle, it smells of bitter almonds (finally, some real poison!), vanilla, and jasmine. It, too, is extremely strong, and while I get it, I can't wear it--it's ferocious, and a few minutes after smelling it, I want it to go away.

In 2004, Dior launched Pure Poison, and while I'm sure it must have its fans, it strikes me as dull and uninspired: the bottle is striking, in its brilliant opaline white glass, but the scent is not much different from all the other clean floral scents out there.

This year, Dior released Midnight Poison, and just from hearing the notes I was dying to try it: a scent made of rose, patchouli, and ambergris is clearly right up my alley. I didn't assume that I'd be able to wear it, or that I'd even like it, but it showed promise. The minute I smelled it, a few weeks ago in London, I knew I had to have it. It was the rose scent I've been looking for for years. It's what L'Artisan Parfumeur's rose scent for men, Voleur de Roses, ought to have been on my skin.

Midnight Poison starts off with the patchouli, and there's a lot of it, a monolith of the stuff; but rather than being the dense, earthy, rather mucky patchouli of Voleur de Roses, it's clean and fresh. (Most everything with patchouli in it nowadays uses this version, and I can't complain; some people smell good in the dirty head-shop patchouli, such as a co-worker of mine, but on my skin it's disgusting, another tribute to the strange metaphysics of body chemistry.) Wedded to it are the usual citrus top notes, a mere fillip, because scents are supposed to have them; they're quickly gone, and what replaces them is the deep bloom of the rose (supposedly a black rose, but I couldn't tell you how it differs in scent from a regular red rose). The patchouli remains: in fact, it stays right to the very end of the scent, when the rose, hours later, dies away and is replaced by a warm, vanillic, almost buttery ambergris. Despite its pervasive warmth, it's dry rather than sweet: it seems like a deliberate step away from the sugary scents that dominate the market these days.

The exceedingly lovely website is full of the usual nonsense about Cinderella and femininity and suchlike, but trust me: Midnight Poison doesn't smell out of place on a man. It could almost be considered Poison for Men, and is without a doubt the most unisex of the five Poison scents.

When the original Poison was launched, there were two bottles.

The esprit de parfum came in an apple-shaped bottle (how appropriate!) with sinuous ridges suggesting the vapours from a poisonous cauldron snaking up the sides, while the eau de toilette

came in a taller, less apple-like shape. (There was also a later version, an eau de cologne, in the same bottle as the EDT only in a clearer, more transparent amethyst glass. I believe it's been discontinued, more's the pity.) Tendre Poison also used the taller bottle, but with the introduction of Hypnotic Poison, the taller bottle was retired; I suppose that in the larger sizes, the tall and slim bottle was easier to hold, but the apple bottle is iconic, and I'm glad to see that it's being used for all the scents now.

Although I loved the original Poison EDP bottle, the Midnight Poison bottle is the most beautiful of all of them; in a medium blue glass with a pitch-black cap and a silver collar, it looks like something that would appear at midnight and entice you into untold wickedness. (The front and sides of the bottle are perfectly clear, but the top and the ridges are subtly speckled with a dark-blue pigment, making it seem as if it's hiding in the shadows.

The perfume bottle, which you can read more about here, is even better: it has wisps of darker blue threaded through the blue glass, giving the whole object a feeling of mystery and danger.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sparkle: Yves Saint Laurent Champagne/Yvresse

I bought a bottle of Yves Saint Laurent's Champagne not long after its launch in 1993. How could I not? Ever since I began wearing scents, I've been helplessly addicted to chypres, which start out bright and fresh (classically, a citrus note, but nowadays nearly any fruit notes) and gradually deepen into the abyss of oakmoss and patchouli--dark, lustrous, secretive. Every chypre tells a story, and for all their variety, it's always the same one; the story of the passage from innocence to worldliness. Orientals start out smelling sexy, but chypres bury the sexiness deep inside; they make you wait.


The bottle for Champagne was of a piece with its name. Meant to evoke a champagne cork, it had a cork-shaped cap and a curvaceous bottle wrapped in twisted wire and crowned with a beaten-gold dome.

As you may have read, not long after the launch of Champagne, all hell broke loose. What baffles me is that there have been scents named Champagne before, and nobody ever complained, as far as I know. Caron had, and still has, a scent called Royal Bain de Champagne, playing on the decadent idea of taking a bath in champagne: the bottle is shaped like a champagne bottle, and you can't get much more obvious than that. Were there riots of grape-growers, demanding that government Do Something? Not as far as I know. And Germaine Monteil launched a scent called Champagne back in 1983, and...nothing. (It's been discontinued, through age, not controversy; you can have a bottle of the EDT, 50 mL, for $349 if you want.)

What made YSL different? Were the champagne producers reluctant to be associated with a company that had caused such a stir with Opium two decades prior? Had they simply not noticed the other scents?

At any rate, the courts found in favour of the growers, and Champagne had to change its name or perish. It did change its name, of course. Yvresse is almost better, because it's such a smart little pun; "ivresse" is the French word for "drunkenness" or "inebriation", and changing the initial letter recalls the name Yves Saint Laurent, which is a bonus for brand recognition. The controversy no doubt did the fragrance a world of good--all that free publicity!--and they got two names out of the deal. I'll always think of it as Champagne, whatever the bottle says.


Yvresse isn't carbonated-smelling in the way that Demeter Ginger Ale is; that would probably be too obvious. But the top note has a shimmer to it; it's fresh and vibrant. It begins with a burst of juicy nectarine, cut through with sharper notes of mint and anise. The middle develops rapidly; alongside a touch of violet, a rose note blooms, allying with the nectarine for a bright variation on the rose-peach accord that perfumer Sophia Grojsman had already used in Lancôme's Trésor a few years prior.

It isn't long, maybe an hour, before the classic chypre base begins to push through. To my nose, the honeyed languor of oakmoss has been played down, dampened by the earthiness of patchouli (and, to a lesser extent, the spiky vetiver), although it's still unmistakably a chypre. A splash of vanilla keeps it from getting too earthy, as if you need to be reminded that, despite the darkness, you're still wearing something celebratory.

Despite its giddiness, Yvresse is a sophisticated scent. I'm a little surprised it's still on the market, to be honest; there doesn't seem to be a lot of call for sophistication these days. I was delighted to find a bottle of it in London; after having worn it for a couple of years, I traded it away--I'm fickle like that--and was surprised to find over the years that I was pining for it. Naturally, I snapped it up. I'll never let it out of my sight again.