Today's post is one of a collection over a theme proposed by Helg at Perfume Shrine...use the links at the end of this article to see other visions of this year from the collective.
It will have to begin, and possibly end, with Norrell.
After all, it was finding a bottle of Norrell on the shelves at Loehmann's while shopping last winter that sent me into a research frenzy, trying to find out what I could about it, starting with a NYT article I was sure I had read a few years previous, about how the once lofty designer scent was then only available at...K-Mart. And it has been due to my explorations this year that I probably appreciate Norrell and its ilk, even if I still don't choose to wear every vintage whammer I discover.
But let's travel through the fragrances of 2008, as seen through my lens: Perfumes which have helped define this first year of my olfactory journey. These are the Top 10 Landmarks in my perfume year, not because I love them (though some I do), or because they are important in 2008. They are here because they somehow represent milestones in my learning & development.
A no holds barred scent that started out as a pure visual: Seeing that typeface on the box on the store shelf brought back my grandmother's bathroom, her perfume bottle sometimes left out on the sink, her hair when it was "done"...I wanted to smell it, and see if I would recognize it. I bought it. And thus the floodgates (and nose hairs) were opened. Little did I know I was starting with big guns, something beyond "beginner." But don't get any big ideas about my little sniffer. My second bottle in this year's journey, which seemed to smell nice but in a different way, was Issey Miyake. (Different? No kidding.) So there. Such vagaries, I would come to learn, would punctuate my journey.
The best decision I made was made early in my journey, after I invested in the full bottle of Issey. I took a flyer on The Perfumed Court, having discovered their website during my research on "vintage perfumes." Went ahead and invested in a few sample packs, to introduce myself to fragrance families etcetera. Then I was introduced to Fishbone (long live Fishbone!), and amassed quite the mini-bar of fragrances. Much more learning done on many fewer dollars.
3. Magie Noir
An example of eBay working. I purchased a used bottle as part of my "research," spouse really, really, REALLY liked it. In fact, he left THAT DAY to go out and purchase a full bottle, and presented it to me that evening, therefore earning Magie Noir a spot in the First Year Hall of Fame as "first full bottle purchase, completely intentional and fully satisfactory."
4. Fleur de Narcisse
Reverie au Jardin
Oh, my, but what a rapid fall, what a tangled web. Thanks to my samples, I thought I'd like Fleur de Narcisse. I bought a decant, and loved it even more when I sprayed it. I discovered it was a limited edition, panicked, and asked for a bottle for my anniversary. Lo and behold, it was given to me! Ah, joy and beauty in things narcissus & hay...to this day, this scent remains in Extremely High Esteem.
Two full bottles, success in selecting scent, and I was in trouble. I followed up another sample happiness with a full bottle purchase, and again, discovered I was oh so happy with the result. On its heels I purchased a partial bottle of Reverie au Jardin, and ended up with what remains my grown in the earth hat trick, my trio of interest and ease, and probably my best purchases to date. (With the exception of #x.) Because I love them. Because I feel they express me, at least a good part of me, really well, and I don't feel the context in which I can wear any one is particularly limited. Because they make me so happy, I just can't feel purchase guilt.
These three became intwined as a triad long ago, and as such, are entered as one. All purchases fully intentional, and completely satisfactory--to me, at least. ;)
I was so curious...the bottle was beautiful...it was Chanel...the price was too good to be true. Truly, too good to be true; even I could tell, when I opened my package, that the juice was, well, not right. It should have been stronger in smell, darker in color. It smelled good, mind you...just not...right. I examined the crimp, and it looked messed with. I considered my $20-some investment worthy as both a gambling enterprise, and a lesson learned...though I really don't like gambling, so I'm not likely to take that path often.
I have rattled this cage, and I'm going to rattle it again. This stuff stinks. Like panties. Not cumin. Panties. Out of the eight times I've tried it, 1 1/2 wearings have yielded a really attractive rose scent. Inside, alongside, alternating with...skank. I can't do it. I really can't. I liked Bandit out of the box, enjoyed dancing with Norell, and think Black Cashmere is a comfort scent. But down the outright skank path is a place I just don't think I will go. My recent infatuation with Theo Fennell nothwithstanding. And Magie Noir regardless. (See what I mean about vagaries?)
7. L'Ombre Fauve
The girl likes leather. Who knew? I found myself driving down the road with my nose up against the wheel, because I was afraid if I took my hands off the wheel and brought them to my nose, the magic spell would be revealed and some sort of rotten trick of olfactory context would be revealed. I ended up wearing leather to a wedding, fragrance-wise. I wore this when the gloves came on this fall, because I loved taking them off and finding L'Ombre Fauve underneath. Between this and Bandit, I decided I'd better explore this leather thing, and have found that I find Chanel Cuir de Russie beautiful, but too sharp for me; Cuir de Lancome a rather smooth leather suitable for everyday use; Knize Ten a fun dabble in straight up leather; Bulgari Black a vanilla heavy happy fest; Jolie Madame a light leather with violet. I should note that Helg puts Fleur de Narcisse in there with the modern leathers...what can I say?
8. Bois des Isles
Truth be told, this is another fragrance I loved early on, but I couldn't begin to describe why in Spring of '08, when I first put nose to arm. It was different from my hat trick style fragrance; clearly, human hand was evident in its composition. It didn't bubble up like No.5, but it made the hat trick seem nearly syrupy. It was old, it was not old; one of the few vintage fragrances that to me were truly timeless, and not simply classic. I had to revisit it at least once a month until sometime mid-summer, when I set my sights on a larger amount. The question was, decant, or full bottle? Procrastination paid off, as the equation per ml on the full bottle, laid over an opportunity to purchase at the Chicocoa Scentsation, meant that one of those lovely hefty bottles with the ever-satisfying cap that "thwunks" into place ended up in a bag in my hand. Call it planned impulse buying. And, like the scents in my hat trick, I don't regret it for a minute.
9. Eau Imperiale
Actually belongs earlier in the sequence, time wise. But I put it here, not because it was a successful online discounter full bottle purchase (though it was), or because I find it eminently wearable (I do), but because here's one where the story myth translated into truth for me. Do any reading up on Guerlain Imperiale, and you'll find that it was purportedly offered as a migraine cure. I am a migraineur. Before this year, I was pretty secure in my knowledge that perfume was, as a rule, to be avoided, because it was so potentially a headache trigger. But I, like any susceptible victim, was willing to take a chance on the story, and purchased some without smelling. The bottle remains in the downstairs bath, with the medicines and the essential oils, a happy mist of relief. And of good smelling.
Honorable mention then should go to 4711, which of course you wonderful bloggers kept talking about, and serves much the same way. Shame on you to Chanel, whose Exclusif Cologne is wonderful, but so close to Eau Imperiale that even I, who justified a different 200ml of Exclusif scent, and who is willing to buy scent as remedy, can't justify purchasing that one.
Which shows another way Eau Imperiale offered lessons in perfume: Not everything is worth buying, even if it is "nice," or "good," or "Chanel." I'll probably move earth in order to ensure a lifetime of access to Bois des Isles, but I won't even turn my head for the Eau de Cologne. (Okay, I'd spritz some from a tester display. But it's hard to justify, even as a gift from a comfortable wallet, when the same dollar investment could get you quality AND perfume strength.)
By the way, a serious shout out to the house of Guerlain here, since I'm approaching the end of my milestone list, and realize that not one Guerlain perfume has been mentioned. Please see back posts to get a sense of my respect for Mitsouko, even if I do not yet love it; the trippy time travel Jicky evoked; the alpha wave flat line of happiness/nostalgia/sniffing pleasure when I smell L'Heure Bleu. I think Guerlain and I have not yet entered our prime.
ACK! I've run out of room...there are so many classics I've learned to love...the joy of the swap...the fraternity of fragrance...what one perfume should I mention to wrap up this year's journey in Top Ten style? Jean Nate, EveryWoman for the American gal? Amouage, where beauty and quality draw me in despite the sky high price? CB IHP, whose Cradle of Light led one observer to comment on my, um, "When Harry Met Sally" moment with a perfume?
It's not precious, it's not profound, and it's heavy on powder. I do enjoy the tobacco in it, as I do in many perfumes. But it's not the smell of Habanita that puts it on my list...it's the experience. The first time I tested this was in the midst of a summertime sniffing bacchanal. As I recall, I actually had Habanita behind one knee, as part of a six scent test drive. Six, you ask? Sure: two wrists, two elbow folds, two knees; one scent each. There I was, up early, taking notes on the top notes, running through a round of WiiFit and yoga, getting a whiff of Habanita while twisting my torso and hanging upside down--yup, this was the life of an emerging perfume nut. So, #10 goes to Habanita, which for me is the scent that defines descent--not just of nose to knee, but of self down three rings of the perfume rabbit hole in one swell droop. Er...fell swoop.
So, what have I learned in 2008?
That I'm not likely to find a single Holy Grail of scent, but I will find more than one home run. That I'd probably better not heavily invest in one particular scent, because my preferences have already gone through a couple of iterations. That I love hay, grass, leather, tobacco, the occasional white flower, most ambers, and the occasional oriental, and that vetiver can be my friend.
That for all my skepticism about online "communities," I've met a friendly, supportive, sharing, and good-humored bunch of people through this perfume exploration, and I am grateful to all--whether I know them as flesh-and-blood, or they remain virtual.
That not only may your mileage vary, but the very fuel that runs you might be very different when it comes to how perfumes wear and what you prefer. Just as it is a good idea to benchmark your thoughts against film reviewers opinions when deciding if you're going to like a particular unseen film, one would be wise to get to know any blogger or reviewer's tendencies before making a call. And to explore beyond your tendencies when you are inclined--you may find the fence has moved.
That this has been a fun ride, and I'm going to keep this set of wheels. We'll see how I trick it out in 2009....
Please be sure to visit the other bloggers participating in the Retrospective: