Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Secret of Chanel No. 5" Interview (FYI)

Will be posting this link as an addendum to our Weekend Book Club discussion, but thought I'd pass along this interview with Tilar Mazzeo from The Sisterhood blog.

Anti-semitism is discussed, and reference is made to research that suggests "we like scents that highlight [...] the 'scent' of our immune systems"--I believe she is referring to research chatted about in perfume bloggery as "the sweaty t-shirt study."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green, of course

I'd complain about what they do to fresh water around these parts on Saint Patrick's Day, but pouring a bunch of green dye in the river ain't the half of this particular waterway's story.  I mean, it's been a dumping canal for the stockyards, and they managed to make it flow backwards, among other things.

I won't even start carping about that Asian fish.  Given the holiday, I suppose I could start *harping,* but as I wouldn't be using a lyre, and likelihood of being lyrical is low, I'll skirt that harangue.

If I'm lucky, tomorrow I'll skirt around the hungover as well.  So many "honorary Irish," so many green gills.

Yesterday, I took some batting practice for the wearin' o' the green.  I put on Gap Grass lotion, then generously spritzed (two times! one arm!!) some Martin Mariegla Untitled.  Guess what?  Very nice.

That Martin Mariegla is an interesting creature; it manages to infuse galbanum--good old dry cool wind, hint of cigarette ash tray galbanum--with a vaguely resin-y sweetness that immediately said "add me to your green galbanum line-up, oh she who loves it so."  And the pairing of it with Gap Grass made a sort of complimentary harmony, seeing as Gap Grass manages to sweeten up green grass without needing to cut it down and turn it into hay.

Yup, it was a very "nice" green.  In the same way the "Irish Holiday" has been mangled into something that hyperfocuses on one story from an often turbulent a complex island, one story which has evolved into a vague tale of a sort of benevolent skinny Santa Claus who lifted his rood and walked all the snakes to the shore where they magically forever went away.

But--and here I raise my hand against the force of fierce edgy perfumistas--I do find that pleasantries are often, well, pleasant.  Sometimes we need to sidle up to a challenge like galbanum, serve our dark brew with a dab of honey, put caramelized onions on the cooked bitter greens, whatever, to help adjust to the taste.  I'm okay with that.  I'd say that Untitled makes a good gateway galbanum drug.

And a fitting way to wear the green, happy cleaned up American style.  You know, kind of like Saint Patrick used a shamrock to get across the idea of the holy trinity.

image of the Chicago River from Chicagoland Real Estate Forum

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do overs, awakenings, and fresh whallomps

It's happened a few times in the past week.  Been plonked down into a fresh look at things, musical style.

The other evening, walking out of a restaurant, hearing The Beatles "The End," right as the "...and in the end..." began.  This morning, hearing Bach "Air" Orchestral Suite #3.

I cried.  Both times.

At this point, what you might like to know about me is whether or not I am a weeper.  Of people who know me, the answer would vary.  Some know me as a rather emotional sort (what was someone said...a "raw nerve"?)  Others think of me as the ultimate Stay Calm and Carry On sort (what did someone else say..."all head, no heart"?)  The truth encompasses both.  But this is not about my personal truth.

Because this isn't about whether or not I'm an emotional nutcase, or the descendent of that guy who fainted when he heard the first chord of "Rite of Spring."  (Is that the story?  Somebody remind me what I'm thinking of.)  What this is about is the astounding power of the human mind to find itself looking at something familiar, familiar to the point of having background noise, a cliche, dismissed, even...and discovering that for some reason, it still has the power to whammy.

When it comes to music, I find this power can be experienced three ways:

1) It's as if I never heard it before, and am back to something raw and primary;
2) It's as if I never heard it this way before, that somehow the life I've lived since first being introduced has circled me around to some sort of fresh yet now full of depth of understanding "a-ha";
3) I am sitting inside a collection of musicians playing a piece and the literal physical experience of the music (oh, those thrumming vibrations, ohhh, those harmonics, oh, the way we're playing together and the way this line is coming together) turns into an emotional/psychological reverberation that is raw, primary, and ahhhh aha all at once.

There are other arts, other life experiences that can be familiar and yet gob-smackingly profound.  To Kill a Mockingbird.  The opening to Wings of Desire, or the scene in Murnau's Sunrise where the husband realizes he really does love his wife.  One human quietly reaching for another's hand, no eye contact required.  The smell of lilacs in the spring. Feeling the breeze across the lake on your bare skin. Calvin & Hobbes.  Toast.

This phenomenon I am trying to grasp is not to be confused with the concept of a do-over, which anybody who has spent time in playground games or sandlot sports well knows.  Something goes awry, and the gathered throng has a sort of collective ruling that, yes, somehow Universal Force was unjust or somebody acted against an unwritten but understood rule or the neighbor's dog grabbing the ball and running back home justifies something that is neither an erasure nor an elision of time,  but a second attempt, with the first being struck from the record.  A la "the jury will disregard those remarks."

Nor is this to be confused with an awakening, where you feel like for the first time you are fully able to apply your senses and understand something, realizing you never really got it before.  Granted, there is a kinship between an awakening and the second of my conditions, wherein you have a fresh and fuller or different view/experience.  But in an awakening, you realize you never got it before.  In a fresh whallomp, you realize you are getting it again--perhaps with a new angle--but still with that knowledge that you have been in that spot before.  And that you have been given the gift of the whallomp without taking away the gift of your past.

Fresh whallomps require the simultaneous knowledge of prior and current, even as the current seems entirely new.

In perfume parlance, my recent happy dance with Mitsouko was an awakening.  My relationship with Chamade or Bois Blond or No. 19 involves fresh whallomps.

I love being whallomped.  Okay, so maybe not always right as it is occurring, seeing I prefer being reserved when in the company of strangers, and having tears descend out of the blue in what might seem to be an inexplicable and alarmingly precipitous way makes me at least as uncomfortable as any casual observer might be.  But I love that humans have this gift, this gift to both have a past and a powerful present that all at once suggests the ability to relish beauty and the opportunity for renewal, to adjust and/or amend our understandings.

Which I've obviously been tracing as a principle in my perfume journey.  But is best recognized as a theme in my general journey.  I hope that you have it in yours.

I'm still trying to come up with a good word for what I am trying to describe here. Rounded up and being held in the corral for consideration are gems and commoners such as gobsmacked, surprised, astonished, ambushed, thunderstruck, overwhelmed, awed.  Thunderstruck and gobsmacked keep rising to the top, but how to get in the sense of wonder and awe?  It's a "fresh whallomp" for posting purposes, but if you have ideas, please share.  Along with steering me toward the dude who fainted at the beauty of a single chord.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Frozen in the garden trug a few weeks back
When reading the runes, the "ice" symbol represents "the element to which all things must return before they can change"
I've been on a perfume purchasing hiatus for a while.  I go on them from time to time, for one reason or another or some combination thereof.  The most common themes are: 1) Health, 2) Budget, 3) Nose/Brain fatigue.  And by fatigue, I don't really mean being twisted dry from too much smelling -- though that did happen a couple of times.  I mean more that I am done with the input portion of my {now recognized as} cyclical pattern...that it is time to either ponder, or just let things lie fallow for a while.

It's a combination of thinking patterns (sometimes described as "creative," sometimes just "proceessing") and physical patterns (migraineurs know full well there are times when certain sensory inputs are a Do Not Enter zone of high danger).  To tell you the truth, I don't mind.  Many passions and interests in my life have involved nearly manic hunting/gathering periods, followed by intense exploration, followed by thinkings, followed by time off.  (Or an overlapping progressing more or less following that pattern.)  Filmmaking, for example, is structured that way: pre-production is the hunting and gathering, production is a crazy intense exploration/application time, editing is thinking/application, and then you are done.  So done.  So quiet, after all of those people and all of that noise and all of that thinking.  Teaching, too, runs that way with me: creating and preparing a class is the hunting gathering, going through the semester and guiding/leading is the exploration (because any good teacher knows you aren't simply delivering information, you are ready to process and learn based on feedback from students, whether the learning is about the subject or your own teaching methods), and then the evaluation of the "products" the students come up with at the end of the class.

Not to flog a prone horse, but I could build similar cases for gardening and the never ending process of child rearing.  And those are all longitudinal...gardening, filmmaking, teaching, child rearing, they've all played and replayed the cycle over time.  There are other things, like my passion for cooking, that had one major cycle and has been on a slow simmer with occasional flare ups ever since, or my interest in antiques, or or or...a whole slew of stuff that involved One Big Dance and has since simply been folded into the repertoire, revisited from time to time.

I'll figure out how to categorize my music playing over this paradigm later.

So while the third thing I listed, budget, is an external reality that affects purchased acquisitions, it is really just that:  An external factor.  Sure, if I had a more generous budget...which means at times simply having a budget for it...I'd probably acquire more perfume things.  More splits, more venerated discontinueds, more wacky explorations into the unknown.  But the fact of the matter is, I'd build a back catalogue.  I already have one of a sort; it's not nearly as extensive as what some of us perfume people have amassed, but I'd be deceitful if I didn't acknowledge that the typical consumer would check out what I could sniff at any given moment and cock their head sideways and adopt one or more looks from a list that includes incredulous, suspicious, pitying, evaluative, and pondering intervention.

Who knew there would be a day when I use my piles of books as a shield, a diversion, a way to deflect possible condemnation?  As if there are more respectable things to hunt and gather...which to be honest, I think there are, in a public perception sense...I mean, folks reveal their libraries, their recorded music collection, their Lladro figurines, their orchids.  Funny, isn't it, that in some households, Beanie Babies went on proud display, but meanwhile you'd have to dig around to find my Intoxification, my back up bottle of Black Cashmere, my boxes of splits and decants?

But I digress.  Somewhat.

And somehow, I wanted to get to Parfumerie Generale Aomassai.

Right!  So, I've been on a triple threat smelling/purchasing/thinking hiatus.  Mmmmm...let me clarify the thinking part.  I've not been thinking about perfume on the "smells like" level for a few weeks.  Not directly, not metaphorically.  I've been thinking about perfume occasionally, and wearing it occasionally, but not actively, if that makes sense.  Not with the heightened consciousness of taking in something new, not with the extra awareness I often like to apply to an "old friend" to see if things are the same or changed in our relationship.  So I've been low on perfume reviews.  (What?  What's that chuckling??  Oh, right; I'm never much one for a straight up review.  But they did used to happen more regularly.)

A couple of days ago, I got my first "new" scents in over two months.  (What?  What's that chuckling? A non-perfume person happens to be reading, and that strikes them as a somewhat silly sentence?  Yes, I understand.  But this is the world of perfume.  Try to imagine yourself without a new book, a new movie, or heck, a new foodstuff, or a fresh skein of yarn, to explore for nearly a whole meteorological season.  It's kind of like that.  Non-tragic, but notable.)  Splits of Parfumerie Generale Aomassai, Eau d'Italie Baume de Doge, and Caron Coup de Fouet.

I can nutshell the second and third for the moment:  Coup de Fouet, the edc version of Poivre, is just how I like a carnation delivered:  spicy, with depth...in this case the depth is provided by a woody creamy base, but being an edc, not a dense chewy one.  Early in the wearing it reminds me a bit of an old chewing gum--Beeman's? the clove gum? something on my grandfather's desk.  Anyway, a nice way to blend light delivery with serious notes.

Flowers from Sicily, found on James Hull's Italy Photo Blog
Baume de Doge also takes me to something food-related, but in this case, a fine execution of what on the surface would be a simple cake.  I have to go for cake and not cookie because it is not dense like shortbread...it's lighter, airer, like something that would have "crumb"...but still has enough density that I don't want to go to cocktails.  Though come to think of it, I'd like a cocktail version of this on a warm spring day.  BUT (getting back on track), the cake I'm thinking of is a vanilla with orange zest and a shot of Fiori di Sicilia.  The sprayer is broken on my decant, and I need to fix that in order to see if I get more development like Kevin at NST does.  I'll come back.

But the whomper here, the magic morpher that entered my life just as I was thinking "hey, I haven't met a good morpher in a while"--which I happened to think while wearing my beloved Chamade during the period of not thinking, one of the uber-morphers in my playbook--the crazy morphing something from Parfumerie General, Aomassai.  

Unlike Chamade, which is pretty and then stunningly beautiful, Aomassai is intriguing but difficult, then nearly ugly, then a small fugue of those two plus a third, kindly smell personality.  The burnt caramel opening is one of those things that triggers the "check the oven!" danger reflex, but also pulls me in to sniff it again.  And again.  Is it burnt badly or not?  Then some chocolate thing, not sweet, starts weaving through. Then sweet somewhat threatens, then the not sweet chocolate tones it down, then you worry about calling the fire department again.

And that's just the first round.

Then you get placed in some sort of grass hut, it's kind of damp, and you're pretty sure it's started to molder.  It's interesting, but like the first round, you don't know that you really want to be here.  In fact, you start realizing that for all the challenges of the first round, this second act could possibly suffocate you if this is going to be where you are left.  Because you might dare visit that grass hut, you might wear that wet basket on your head, but you would never plan on carrying through the rest of the day that way.

For me, thankfully, then comes a breath of air.  Of course, whatever was cooking in the oven comes wafting back through (it was at this point I realized I maybe had smelled burnt hazelnuts earlier on, which is a horrible smell, btw, but never came fully through), but at this point, it's more than okay.  And, if you are patient and wait for it, you'll live through a fugue of where you've been and what is coming and then finally settle in a zone that is comfort scent.  Yes, intelligent, intriguing comfort scent, perhaps held cozy all the more so for the earlier tussling.  Now the caramel is just toasted, but has depth from the spices, the cocoa, the wood...and the tussling.

So there you have it.  I've been on a perfume hiatus, and actually still kind of feel like I'm yawning and stretching and getting ready for whatever is coming next.  But then I blindsided you (and myself) with a trio of new smells.

You go deep, you come out.  Cycles.

first photo is author's own
fiori di sicilia from the King Arthur online catalog

Check out Wikipedia's disambiguation page on Morphology -- linguistics, astronomy, math, rivers, more.  It's a fun launching pad for hunting and gathering.   Food for thought in terms of how things change.  And a bit of a chuckle...would that I could disambiguate myself...  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

You go right ahead and take that tone with me: Caron L'Accord Code 119

The cello, played well, is one of my favorite musical instruments.  Okay, fine, that's almost an unnecessary equivocation; I mean, how many instruments do you enjoy when poorly played?  I point that out, though, because while almost every one of my favorite instruments in terms of sound requires being played "well," there is an exception:  the sound of a simple flute.  (As in a pan, or three holed wooden.)  But my trinity of saxophone, cello, and guitar?  No hackers, please.

Any one of those, played the right way, is capable of seducing me.  Flat out.  Because if you can play it well, a) you've got talent (an intrigue), b) you've got expression (an intrigue), c) and your instrument is doing something to me that is beyond my brain (an entanglement).  And that something beyond my brain involves the resonance of the sound, the aspect of the tone, the comfort of the register...high enough to perhaps modulate and perhaps "say" things, but low enough to simply go there.  As if the sounding board is in me.  Harmonic vibrations and all.

In the case of the cello, this is a significant trick.  Drag horsehair across a string, and you are likely to produce a sound whose effect is just shy of nails on a chalkboard.  (Sit down already if that sound doesn't bother you.  It sends shivers down my spine even as it rakes bony fingers up my back skin, and makes my innards cringe, and my head try to close the security shutters.  It is BAD.)  Then there's the issue of playing in tune.  Forget rhythm and expression for the moment.  What I'm pointing out here is that the same case of wood that can be the instrument of seduction can also be an instrument of torture.
photo by Tristen K

In other words, there is the ability to use the power of those f-holes for good or for evil.  (By which I assign the sexual consorting to "good" and the fleeing from the room in distress as "evil," so if for some reason your moral code switched that around, please adjust your dial.)

I think it's rather the same when you threaten to assemble some rose, some blackberry, and a "vanilla/heliotrope/musk base."  Were I to see these notes, with the accompanying phrase, I'd turn and hightail it to the next county.  Because my assumption would be the net effect would be evil.  (Which in this moment is NOT a good thing.)

Fortunately, nobody told me what was in L'Accord (Code 119) when I first smelled it.  And I was (and likely still am) too much of a rube to know.  Therefore, I was able to experience it as Rostropovich behind the cello, and not a drunken frat boy who once mock-played a fiddle in a production of Oklahoma.

Sure, say it has fruit and flower.  But say they are presented dusty, and somewhat darkly.  Allow that while it is rather dense, it will not suffocate.  Point out there is a rasp throughout that will never, ever let it be treacly.  Say that the musks, if there be musks, are not those white things that are detergenting so many perfumes lately.  They are the dusk of musks, the ones that start to reach down into the animal register without getting base {ha ha! a pun!!} and make sure there is a bountiful harmonic range.  Make sure that it is made clear that the patch is the kind of patch that makes Coromandel "al dente" but doesn't suggest a head shop.

Make sure, in other words, to say that Richard Fraysse has used his power for good, and not for evil.

Because me, who shies away from patch, who generally likes vanilla dry or bourbon-y, who can handle musk only in judicious amounts, who does indeed like "amber" (but finds that to be a term with range), who can find jasmine piercing and rose cloying, is happy when I wear this.  Musically, L'Accord has the register of an alto blended with a tenor, the warmth of the wood (with the addition of lower registers in its resonance), the tension of the vibrating string that doesn't irritate but rather somehow stirs even as you tacitly sit and take in the whole.

If you were here yesterday, you know that in the interest of self-preservation, I just spent nearly a week without perfume.  I am not one inclined to wear perfume when ill; definitely not for certain types of ill.  Given my old relationship with perfume, whenever I return from a scent-free period, I am loathe to start with a "challenge."  It occured to me that the raspy chewy goodness of L'Accord might be a bit much to launch into.  But I had no choice.  I needed to revisit, to make sure I didn't miss anything.  So, with a bit of a wince, and a pair of nostrils ready to close up, I spritzed.


Like meeting up with an old friend and picking up after a long interim had passed.  Perhaps on your way to meet them, you worry whether things will still be comfortable, maybe even consider the possibility you will no longer enjoy their company.  But once you get there, no awkwardness at all.  You pick up where you left off, and immediately slip into a comfortable zone.

So that's what I got:  a full package of pleasing texture (raspy bits over chewiness) and plush depth (layers, such layers), delivered in the right register.  I'm co-posting with Marina over at Perfume Smellin' Things today, so if you haven't been there yet, go take a look and see what she has to say about Caron's L'Accord and fruity florals.

I hold her accountable for that picture, by the way.  I went off searching for a sensuous, artful, loving picture of a cello, one which centered around the bridge, allowing you to feel the density and follow the grain of the wood, notice the tension on the strings, sense the frail aspects of each individual horsehair in the bow but see how together they formed something which would goad the string into making sound.  A visual representation of that idea of pulling together illogical ingredients for a pleasing result.

I ended up with a scantily clad willowy brunette draped around a centaur cello.  Somehow, it seemed right.

What's that?  I can't hold Marina accountable for my dip into those prurient waters?  Fine.  I'll blame the remaining waft of L'Accord.  Which, by the way, lasts and lasts....*ahem.*  Right.  As I was saying...not Marina's fault.  But I'm still holding her feet to the fire for a few perfume purchases I've made over the years.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tempus Fugit (but not from A to B)

That there is the hyacinth I introduced you to a few weeks ago.  This picture was taken today, March 8.  It started popping the flower stalk a few days ago, and every time a new one of those flower "bubbles" opens, a fresh burst of hyacinth smell gently wafts out.  Not far, mind you, but I'm more than happy to bring my nose to the vase.

It's particularly pleasant to be able to do so after nearly a week of scent-free living.  Well, seeing as one can't really live scent-free, let's call it "scent-avoidant" living.  As in, steering clear of purposely applied fragrances, and known tummy rumblers like the TJ's chili my spouse is so fond of, certain fried foods, and pet incidents.

My own child and his variation of The Thing That Passed Through?  Well, I'm a parent.  Can't really avoid that.

Anyway, time moves on.  Time.  As in "Time is the thing that keeps everything from happening at once," which someone posted on Facebook today.  Or as in the thing you must endure to finally experience the smell of a hyacinth.  The thing that heals all wounds.  The thing that allows you to get a glimpse of how Mitsouko could be beautiful.  The thing that has etched my face with charming character when I smile or puzzle to comprehend something.  The thing the boy wanted to see fly when he threw his alarm clock out the window.

It's been a week since I've written here.  Not my intent.

Yesterday was Pulaski Day in Chicago and portions of its environs.  Growing up in Detroit, I was aware of the contributions of one Taddeus Kosciuszko, because there is a big honking stature of him charging on horseback there.  Wikipedia tells me that "in Poland, every major town has a street or square named for him."  An engineer who became friends with Jefferson, rebuilt forts, was entrusted by Washington to rebuild West Point, and served the USA for seven years, Kosciuszko ultimately dedicated his estate for purchasing the freedom of slaves.  Kosciuszko was difficult to spell, but easy to become a fan of.

I moved to Chicago, and learned schools and city offices closed because of another Polish national who fought in the Revolutionary War, Casimir Pulaski.  What with no spelling challenge and free time to share with friends, it took me a while to motivate and dig up just what Pulaski did to merit such recognition.

At the oversimplified expense of a guy who seems to have served our country nobly, I've picked up that he was a Polish noble who fought the Russians who then came over here and took a hit of grapeshot.

And therefore shares company with the pirate known as Black Bart.

The mind reels at the potential for local political humor, but I'm going to bring it back to perfume.  Or at least smelling.  Believe it or not.


So, thanks to Not Black Bart Pulaski, much of my local universe has the day off.  Including Younger Son.  I decide that after last week -- a Black Week in our health indeed -- we would be well served to get fresh air and stroll the grounds of the Botanic Garden.  The fact that we are at the 42nd parallel, more or less, and that winter and spring are still playing a mean game of chicken does not daunt me.  Time to move.  Time to find that evidence of spring's inevitable arrival I saw during the near 50ºF outburst last Friday.

It was near freezing.  And terribly grey.  So the air was fresh, but pretty pictures were hard to come by.  As was evidence of the impending turn of the earth.  Time, more time, required.

We slogged forth, nonetheless.

It was too cold to catch a whiff of that wonderful humus and dirt smell that a certain kind of spring day carries.  Too cold even to smell the kind of moist air that says "spring."  So we walked, and took pictures, and I spent a little time observing the thing that garden landscapers know:  Nature doesn't work in boxes, and neither should you.  Amorphous shapes, curves...phi.

There was something really quite wonderful about remembering that.  Because I had just "lost" a week of time.  And was feeling a little lost myself as a result.  Usually I'm pretty good at rolling with it.  But this was a day when I really, really, really, could have used a dose of spring.  I thought.

What I was given was the reminder that when given time, Nature works in contours, not straight edges.  And that ended up being being a fine gift indeed.

Now I'll show you the snowdrops.  
Because I remembered that, when given the choice, I don't go for the straight edges anyway.  I remember that, as I've been saying, spring will come, but you've got to give it time.  So the snowdrops were a delight, but it was important to remember time and contours first.

Tomorrow, back to perfume.  Marina and I are going to give some thoughts on L'Accord (Code 119).  And it will be just about the right moment to follow the curve back to sniffery.

Meanwhile, I'm still poring over garden catalogs.  Going to pick out a grapevine to plant.  You know--so that every time I see a bunch hanging, I can nod to Black Bart and Casimir.  

all photos are author's own

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Mind Moves in Mitzterious Ways

I knew this day would come.

I knew it from the first.  I felt it, I recognized the direction, if not all the contours, of the path, and that eventually, I would get to the destination, even though from the first, I felt no need to go there.

In fact, it felt like I did not WANT to go there.

Yet, here I am.  Mitsouko, I found my way to you.

Should any of you run into me on the trails of the interwebs, or if you have been a regular visitor to me here, you will know this:  about two years ago, I decided life was too short to hide certain truths.  I outed myself.  I do not like Mitsouko, I said.  The more I said it, the louder I got.  It is screechy.  It has fangs and claws, and I do not mean that in a good way.  The peach kills me.  This one is a mean spirit with tough skin.  Yes, I said those kinds of things.  And more.

Though sometimes I would just raise my hand, meekly, and say "me...over here...I, erm, haven't found the love."  Because part of me is Sally Field, afraid that you might not really like me.  And while I refused to drink the KoolAid, I knew there were those out there who said "if you don't love Mitsouko, then you really aren't into perfume."  Perfumista card revocation, all that stuff and nonsense.

I don't buy it for a minute.  But you can feel the attitude, even when not expressed.  "How in the world can you not LOVE it?" your super attenuated ears hear thought, but not spoken.

I'll tell you how.  A headache THIS BIG how.

But that was then.  This is now.


Meet Ms. Right, Mitsouko edc, in the watch bottle with the gold plastic cap.  According to a fantastic website with pictures and everything that I must have found on a day not available in my browser history and I didn't bookmark and I will search and find and replace this italics with eventually, that means it was manufactured sometime in the 1970's.  Which probably has a lot to do with what I am about to describe, given that oakmoss was still wantonly harvested and stuffed into a variety of perfumes.

Oakmoss.  I hate that it is endangered.  I appreciate that it is protected.  It is, unfortunately, a common thread among many of my favorite perfumes--in fact, given that I am a chypre fan in general, it is nearly unavoidable.

Well, it WAS unavoidable.  Until overharvesting and allergies and IFRA came along.  Shoot.  Actually, shoot me twice; another favorite note?  Sandalwood.  Mysore, cruelly overharvested sandalwood.  Gotta love the universe's cruel twists on the grown up who started life as a passionate fan of Ranger Rick and has in general followed a predictable trajectory on things involving flora and fauna.  

But I digress.  Here's the real story, the story of how patience, and a bottle of naproxen sodium, helped me find my way.

I've always known that I would *likely* find a door into Mitsouko.  I mean, if it is so bleeping iconic to a range of noses, then, well, something must be going on.  But I felt no need to push the issue, not hard.  There were so many other things to discover and to love that Ms. Mitz could just sit over there with her fawning dance partners and I could stay on my side of the hall and we'd twirl around each other as circumstance allowed.

Because I am patient, and somewhat stubborn, I collected a little of this and that of the Mitz along the way.  An edp, relative modern vintage.  A vial of vintage parfum.  A decant of a vintage parfum de toilette.  Hell...I'll go ahead and 'fess up now...I even have a full size edp of the next to last formulation, because I got it for less than $30 and knew full well I could place it in a foster home if I eventually decided to cease all hope.  But nothing did it.  Screeeeeeech.  BONK.  Thwackomp.  Nasty old lady.  Every blasted time.

I started creating iambic feet for "cursed persicol"; I lambasted the supersaturation of what was probably a worthy chypre with something that didn't toll my end, didn't chime it, but rang it in with a triangle and a gong.  It was my first and generally only example of a raspy perfume that did not please, of something that presented as a low alto but had the effect of an off-key soprano.  The powerful, belty kind, not the warbly Jeannette MacDonald kind.

Am I clear about how Mitsouko and I have gotten along?

Okay, good.  Now dig this.  I ordered a full bottle (that's right, now going to be my second full volume of something that, no matter what the iteration, has not played nice with me) of Eau de Cologne.  Why?  I played the odds.  The package suggested vintage, and I called the vendor and confirmed the pictured item reflected the something I was ordering.  I knew that at the price I was getting it for, I could turn around and re-sell it to one of those fawning fans for the same price, and we'd both be happy.  And because...well...I realized I had never owned one of those iconic Guerlain watch bottles.  Fine, I admit it.  It was a purchase that could easily be covered, egged on by a little bit of collector syndrome, and very little logic when it comes to love for what was inside.

Respect, though.  It had my respect.

What I didn't know it had was smooth.  That's right.  Smoooooooth.  I opened this bottle a week ago, put some on my skin, and...sonofagun.  No screech.  No nasty raspy bits.  Just smooth, moderately amplified green.  With that peach, but this time the fruit didn't have a billy club.  In fact, the fruit felt a little more diffuse, even while behaving a tad more citrusy.  It was a layer that didn't clog the pores of the rest of the composition; it rested somewhere on top and gently meshed with but not behaved like a loudmouth.  Nor, in fact, did any of it.

Ms. Mitz had become a very cozy blanket.  Unh-hunh.  I said cozy.  I said blanket.  As in something I wore, but didn't wear me.  As in a something that might be a particular type of blanket (this one more on the wool side, but not itchy), but chosen by me, and which then becomes a part of my ensemble.  A Woolrich cloak, or a serape.

My friends, I found the secret door.

Sometimes I think of a perfume I can't wrap my head around as something I just have not discovered my own key to.  I allow myself the possibility that I still might not like it in the end, but I might understand it.  And respect it.

With notes, I have the same approach, but have the advantage of a little more flexibility.  Because notes can be presented in different ways, in terms of emphasis and co-notes and the hand of the perfumer, so there I am finding my way into a labyrinth.  Which opening is it going to be that lets me walk around and enjoy myself?  Vetiver was like that.  Struck me as medicinal and/or "useful" but not attractive in a perfume.  But I knew that I should take time and play with various presentations.  I had to go slowly, seeing as I actually had a bit of a distaste for it at first.  But one day, in one fell swoop, I found it.  I set myself up with a variety of vetiver containing scents, and let myself "feel" how each one worked.  First, the "trick" one let me in, then another one; perfumes that enrobed or wove vetiver with equally strong notes.  Now, I kind of appreciate vetiver straight up, but it took that kind of experience to get there.

I recounted those experiences here and here.

With a specific perfume--especially a big honking monolith like Mitsouko--it's a little different.  I mean, there it is.  It's more about approaching it from different angles, approaching it in different moods, trying again after finding your way in to other scents, because it's not like there are a slew of presentations (sweet vs dry, up front vs hidden, etc.) to play mind games with.  

Except...except the history of Mitsouko *does* allow for some variations on theme.  Nearly ninety years old, its main formula has been offered in various concentrations, and like any perfume covering that span, certain adjustments have been made in the formula.  PLUS, there is the issue of the oakmoss, real versus synthetic.  So, unlike with certain things that came in one "batch" only (because perhaps they only existed for a brief period of time), there is potential for nuance here.  The kind of nuance that says "here, this one; when it is this weight, and this emphasis on the notes, this one will work for you."

I pretty much hang my hat on that reason right there, when it comes to my truce with Mitsouko.  It's this batch, the one that comes in this bottle.  But I don't doubt the power of iconography, and it could be that other factors came together as well.  Remember that Aliage I wore as a winter hints of spring scent?  The citrus so sharply against the leather?  A memory of that passed through my head as I pondered my ability to live with this Mitz.  In fact, it passed through just as I was realizing that piercing peach note was still there, had never gone away, really--I was just able to see other things first this time.  So maybe me wrapping my arms around Aliage conditioned them somewhat for the contours of Mitsouko.

Maybe its the oakmoss.

Maybe I just changed my tastes a little bit.  (Okay, fine; a big, whomping, earth fissure of a bit.)

As has happened before, and will happen again, I find myself eating my words.  Hence the "changed my mind" tag; been there, done that.  Sheesh, I think I was just charping on (that's a harsh chirping, btw) on Victoria's blog about how I just couldn't get Mitsouko.  

The full truth is not so simple, though.  Because the fact of the matter is, I got brave while I was writing this.  Put on a couple of my other iterations, to mark my progress with them.  FAIL.  Same response.  Claws, headache.  So, for now, the magic is only in the big round bottle.  {chuckles} The one with the dunce cap on top.

My take away is the same as it is with certain people I have met and learned to enjoy limited quantities of time with.  The pleasure is there to be found.  You may need to be patient.  Very patient.  And it pleasurable company may only manifest itself under the right conditions.

But it's there.  Makes you glad you remembered to respect it.  But you don't have to love it, by the way.  Other people already do.

I think I'm going to go hug my Chamade.

ADDENDUM 7 March 2011:  There are many fine reviews of Mitsouko out there.  Helg's over at Perfume Shrine is one, and I bother to add it here because I found that she posted the same week (cue Twilight Zone music), and while she talks about all sorts of interesting historical details and does some wonderful cultural readings, she also notes the different effects of various vintages, concentrations, etc.  So I self-servingly note a post that supports one of my own observations, and which tickled my fancy. Besides, if per chance you haven't been there yet, chances are you should.  I think you'd like it. 

photo author's own