One Thousand Scents

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hell-Bent For Leather: Three More Demeters

When I ordered my first shipment of Demeter minis, one of the things I got was Leather, which I finally got around to reviewing earlier this year.

When I was figuring out what I should order in the second batch, I realized that not only did Demeter have three other leather scents, but that I very much wanted to try them. I'm not some kind of leather madman; I don't own a single item identifiably made of it, other than a couple of ordinary business-dress belts. (Jim has a very nice black leather jacket which I've never worn.) But I do like the smell of it, and if Leather was a good black-leather scent, then surely Riding Crop, Russian Leather, and Saddle would be good as well.

Unfortunately, I only really like one of them. But I really like it a lot.
Saddle is recognizably leathery, but with a plasticky overtone, as if it were leather-scent-impregnated naugahyde or leatherette. It's not bad for what it is, but I don't think it's the sort of thing to make real leather maniacs cheer.

Riding Crop has an unexpectedly sweetish character, a little like synthetic fruit candy, but only a little. It also has a suggestion of solvent, almost like dry-cleaning fluid. I think I expected some sort of viciousness, given the sorts of uses that a riding crop might be put to, but it's not here.

On reflection, I'm not sure why Riding Crop and Saddle would even be expected to smell different from one another, since they're both made of the same thing, and both applied to horses, but there isn't a particularly horsey or barny smell to either of them. They just smell, subtly differently, like synthetic leather.

Russian Leather, according to the Demeter website, is the smell of old leather armchairs in a Viennese library, with "the sweetness that can come only from age". Yet to me it smells less sweet than Riding Crop. Instead, what it smells like is something intoxicatingly unreal; it is as if, walking through a garden at nighttime or on an overcast day, you came across a flower that was made, from stem to sepal, entirely of leather, sprouting from the earth like any other.

There is a deep, dark floralcy to the Russian Leather, but it doesn't smell like flowers; instead, it's as though the flower and the leather were somehow the same thing, an amalgam, a hybrid of animal and vegetable. It is such a peculiar thing, and so inexplicably beautiful.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Mystery Dance: Andy Tauer Unnamed Vetiver/Vetiver Dance

Last week I, along with ninety-nine other people, got a sample of Andy Tauer's new scent, an at that time unnamed vetiver. That, in fact, was what it was called; "Unnamed Vetiver". Apparently it's going to be called Vetiver Dance; I mean, there's the bottle down there and everything.

I liked, but did not madly love, his previous offering, Incense Rosé, and decided that I had to smell more of his stuff. Now that I have, I can make a couple of pronouncements. First, there seems to be an overriding aesthetic to his work; this new scent is recognizably the work of the person who made Incense Rosé. (I probably shouldn't make that judgement until I've smelled more of his work, but the two scents, though very different, have the same brushstrokes.) And second, Vetiver Dance is stunning.

I told myself I wasn't going to refer to the list of notes included with the sample, but I don't have one of those trained noses that can reliably fractionate out the elements of a scent, so after three days of wearing and deeply smelling the scent, I thought, The hell with this, and read the list: "Grapefruit, black pepper, green clary sage leaves, brilliant lily of the valley, dark vetiver from Java, crisp cedar wood and soft ambergris with a hint of cistus and Tonka beans." I didn't identify all those things, and there seem to be things in the scent that aren't listed, so you can take that however you like.

The first thing you smell is grapefruit, that volatile explosive, lightly spiced. Once it's gone, which takes less than a minute, the green of vetiver comes charging up at you, and it doesn't stop.

I swear that before I even knew the thing was going to be named Vetiver Dance, my notes for the scent included the fact that the middle of the scent is constantly in motion; not dancing, necessarily, but jostling around, as if its elements were jockeying for position. The scent isn't smooth and seamless; you can feel the pieces shifting around like a game of three-card monte--little stabs of green vetiver, chips of wood, and other, mysterious things. The list of notes doesn't, to my nose, bear any real connection to what I'm smelling; I can't say for sure that there's lily or clary sage, or even a specific floral or herbal note. What I can say is that the middle is fascinating in its complexity and restlessness.

Cedar sometimes has a wood-smoke aspect (I first noticed it years ago with the original Salvador Dali scent) which is present in the later stages of the scent, and perhaps it's the specific kind of vetiver Tauer has used, but there's a dark, leathery birch-tar element, too. Finally, the scent closes with a dark sweetness, a sort of honeyed wood. It lasts for hours and hours, but it stays very close to the skin; you won't be offending anyone with this.

Vetiver Dance is gorgeously made, thoroughly unisex, and irresistible. When my sample is gone, which it soon will be, I have to have more. It's due in October. I can't wait.


Saturday, July 12, 2008


I thought you'd be interested in reading this first-person account of anosmia on Anosmia is the acquired or congenital inability to smell. I can't quite allow myself to imagine what it might be like to live with that. I hope I never find out.


In early June I wrote about Demeter Grass and said I'd never smelled any fresh-mown grass that resembled it. But now I have!

We were heading back with groceries one morning early this week--Jim was on vacation, I had the day off, and were on foot, as always, because we don't own a car--when I caught the smell of something that was kind of like mowing, but not quite. I couldn't place it at first, until I realized, "Oh, hey--that's Demeter Grass! That's just what it is!" I still don't know quite what I smelled; maybe someone had just mowed a lawn that wasn't the usual grass, or maybe someone had spilled a shipment of Demeter, but it was out there, in the real world, and it was pretty nice.


The Demeter Humongous Minis, by the way, have gone up from $5 to $6 each. They're still worth it, but I'm glad I got a whole bunch of them before the price increase.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Strange: Thierry Mugler Alien

When I first smelled Thierry Mugler's Alien at its launch in Canada, I thought, "I could definitely wear this." When I saw it in London last year, I thought, "I have to buy this." And when I tried it on after getting back home, I thought, "I have made a mistake."

This was at the time of my dysosmia, when some scents--quite a few of them--smelled strange to me; all of those that did, I surmised, contained a particular scent element (or one of a family of such elements) that simply took over and left me smelling little but a strong, sharp, plastic-greenery aroma, not only at the time but for hours afterwards. That still happens from time to time, but it's not as frequent as it was; it no longer happens with Alien, for one.

Alien is based on jasmine sambac, otherwise known as pikake, a very dense, heady tropical floral. This is the same jasmine that's used in Dior's Hypnotic Poison, which a great many people love but which is, for some reason, unspeakable on me; thick, heavy, suffocating. Alien suggests Hypnotic Poison with the horror-show elements removed.

It opens with a little jab of sugar-frosted greenery which is immediately, and I mean immediately, joined by a huge plume of jasmine sambac. It's so big that it has a kind of authority which it can confer on the wearer; despite that wispy woman in the ad above, it's easy to imagine someone wearing Alien stomping around with a don't-mess-with-me scowl. (You can't do that in Anais Anais or Allure Homme and be taken seriously.) Sweetened and vanillified a bit, but not enough to make it gloppy or pretty, it closes with soft woods and more vanilla. It lasts, as you can well imagine, for hours and hours. And hours.
The list of notes for Alien includes "solar accord", which is very silly (the sun doesn't smell like anything!), but, though I hate to admit it, the scent really does have a glow about it. It seems to radiate from your skin; the diffusiveness is enormous. In fact, like Angel, this is the sort of scent that demands to be applied with great discretion, lest you choke everybody within a three-yard radius. Luckily, discretion is easily managed, because the bottle lets you tap the sprayer and get just a tiny dose. (My bottle does, anyway; not wanting to spring for anything more expensive--this is pricey stuff for a department-store scent--I bought the smallest available bottle, a half ounce. It isn't wrapped in the golden claws of the bigger bottles, but it is a beautiful object all the same, a little amethyst block called the Secret Stone composed of odd angles and etched with the Alien logo. Front view up there; back view down below. The liquid is as purple as the bottle, too.)
If you're going to wear Alien, or even just try it out in the store, please, take it from me: do not overdo it. It's potent stuff. Even in a marketplace full of potent things, even next to its older sibling Angel, it's very strong. But in moderation, it's amazingly beautiful.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Pipe Dream: Perry Ellis 360 Black for Men

If you've ever used one of the bath products in a fragrance line, you've probably noticed that the smell is never quite the same as the original scent. The oil in lotions, body creams, and after-shave balms tend to put a damper on the top notes, weighing down the lighter molecules and allowing the middle and base notes to take precedence. Shower gels and deodorants add their own manufactured aromas to the scent, altering it in unpredictable ways. And soap always smells, yes, soapy.
Perry Ellis 360 Black for Men is almost a terrific scent, but it's hard to tell what it's supposed to smell like from the set I have. There are four products; a deodorant, an after-shave balm, a 100-mL spray bottle of eau de toilette, and a quarter-ounce travel spray of the same EDT, and all four of them smell different.

The deodorant hardly registers at all as a scent. (No, I didn't jam my nose into my own armpit: I spread a little on my arm.) I don't really know what the point of it is, except as a deodorant, which role it fills very well. The after-shave balm, as I expected, completely buries the top notes: for all I know, the manufacturers might not even have bothered to put any in. What it smells like instead is the middle of the scent, which--as I will get to, I promise--is pretty nice.

I'm guessing that the quarter-ounce is the real deal, or closest to what was intended. It starts with a bright freshness that isn't quite the usual clean-ozonic smell we expect from modern perfumery (and, I would imagine, are all righteously sick of). Instead, it has a starched crispness to it: it makes me think of fresh laundry. I don't love it madly, but it's better than it could have been, which is a relief. Alongside it is a batch of prickly spices. The core of the scent is essentially anise-scented pipe tobacco, which sounds as if it could become cloying but which never descends into mere warmth, because the spiciness (and a bit of the freshness) remain well into the middle.

For some reason, the 100-mL bottle smells different. It could be from a (very) different batch, or maybe it's gone subtly off, but it clearly isn't the same as the tiny bottle. The top notes are attenuated so much that they hardly even register; that bright synthetic laundry-detergent is pretty much absent. More or less unimpeded by that artificial freshness, brilliant specks of spice and of anise--that sambuca note--fly up like sparks and then recede into the dark leathery tobacco. This is the one I like.

The notes are, according to the manufacturer and if you care, Cardamom, Sambuca, Barbados Ginger Spice, Nutmeg Extract, Tamarind Vine, Black Basil, Tobacco Leaf, Suede Accord and Liquid Amber. I don't know what half these things smell like (black basil?), but I do know that Perry Ellis 360 Black for Men--the one in the big bottle, anyway--suits me well. It isn't art, but it's pretty good.

The bottle is the usual tall slender column topped by a sphere, all, in this case, in black. The manufacturers have a very bad habit of putting on the bottles in their gift sets stickers reading "NOT FOR INDIVIDUAL SALE", which would be fine if these stickers were removable, but they aren't. I tried scraping one off with a knife after everything else I could think of to try had failed; I ended scraping off some of the black lacquer with which the bottle is coloured, but the label remained firmly attached. Not nice, manufacturers! (If the label doesn't bother you, you can buy the set from the usual online discounters.)