I spend, on average, 30 hours a week doing glorified secretarial and bookkeeping work for our family company. It is boring. I am not In Touch With My Inner Genius doing my job (that’s what the blog is for!) The best things about my job are: 1) no commute in this absurd D.C. traffic, which would probably leave me dead from sheer misery behind the wheel of my minivan; and 2) it allows me to avoid getting a real job, leaving me more time for things like reading books, museum-going, sniffing decants, and playing with my kids. But until a few years ago I had a series of real jobs, and I understand that, no matter how much you love them, they are at their base a way to make money to survive. I have nothing but respect for workers toiling all day to survive, from sweeping the floor at McDonald’s on up.
Having said that, what is the problem with the Department Store Fragrance Counter Ladies? I have never done it, and maybe it just sucks. I am assuming their insane aggression is because they are commission-based, but what do I know? Maybe department stores only hire crazy people to work in the fragrance department. Maybe spraying people all day with Calvin Klein Euphoria makes you crazy. But it drives me crazy to be accosted so relentlessly by SAs who know nothing —nothing — about the product they’re selling, and don’t seem to care. It’s like … going to the wine store for a recommendation and being waited on by someone who only drinks tea. Three different SAs in three different stores last week were insisting I try the “new” Christian Dior — Miss Dior Cherie — which was released a year ago and thus isn’t really new anymore, is it? I mean, it’s new compared to, say, the original Miss Dior. Or Poison. Is Christian Dior offering some huge sales incentive? A couple of months ago they were flogging Boucheron Trouble. No wonder so many women — and men — avoid buying fragrance like the plague. It’s not the fragrance that gives you the headache. It’s the process.
Why can’t I buy Houbigant Apercu at the department store? I was lucky enough to have a sample fall into my hands recently (thanks, Pam) and I am still playing with it, like a wonderful new toy. My only regret is that it’s been around since 1925 (although re-released, based on the “lost” original formula, in 2000) and I’m just discovering it. Notes are: Bergamot, Neroli, Jasmine, Tuberose, Lemon, Green Leaf, Bois De Rose, Geranium, Cinnamon Bark Oil, Ylang-ylang, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Clove, Cassis.
Apercu is everything a fragrance should be, and nothing that it shouldn’t. It is vaguely reminiscent of Guerlain Mitsouko in its ebullient complexity, but it isn’t anywhere near as strange. If you have been trying, and failing, to work up much enthusiasm for Mitsouko, but you think you might like the genre, give this a go. Of course, you’ll have to find it online, because at your local store all they’ll have is Calvin Klein, Trouble and Miss Dior Cherie (they are sold out of Estee Lauder Azuree. Don’t even ask.)
Apercu is a fragrance for a woman, not a little girl. It is a scent that demands that you rise up to it, embrace it, adore it. There is nothing tentative about it, and yet it is absent any French-farce blasts of cumin or camphor, or trendy marine accents, or anything that would detract from its luminous, transcendent beauty. It is perfection, and it knows it. It changes shape, constantly, to enthrall you. It has the velvet skin of Apres L’Ondee, the ripeness of Guerlain, the assertiveness of Patou… then back to the delicate whisper of the velvet skin, stroking you. Are you listening? Do you speak its language? It says, I am beautiful, I am beautiful, over and over. P, have you tried this? Cait, my lovely Nez, this would suit you right down to the ground.
Why is every woman on earth not wearing this fragrance instead of Calvin Klein Euphoria? More to the point, why are so many of the classics I love so out of style? My father assures me that I can feel nostalgia for a time and place that I have not actually lived through. I want to walk the streets of Paris and New York in the 1920s. I want to sit next to Dorothy Parker, who apparently wafted such a sillage of Coty Chypre that the smell lingered for hours after she’d left. What an era — an era of Dangerous Perfumes. Did the women who wore Chypre choose it as a rebellion against their mothers’ delicate Victorian lavender waters? Did they think it was sexy? Did the men think it was sexy, if they thought of it at all? When the first woman bought the first bottle of Mitsouko, what was she thinking? Did she buy it because it was different and strange and new? Or because she thought she couldn’t live for another minute without it?
I want to smell the original Cotys, all the ones long gone. I want to smell the old Diors, and the non-reformulated and discontinued Guerlains. I don’t want to smell the vintage bottles; I want to time-travel back and smell them new. I am aching, aching to travel to those eras when women wore in-your-face fragrances like Ma Griffe, My Sin, Djedi, Vent Vert, Bandit, Jolie Madame… I want to smell them all, and then sit in a corner of a quiet cafe in the 6th arrondissement in Paris, over a coffee, contemplating their strange, powerful beauty.
Yes, there are wonderful scents today, and I love them, but they are not of that time and place. Fragrances are so much a reflection of their era; think of assertive Charlie, which smells like 1970s Sisters-Doing-It-For-Themselves empowerment. Perhaps we can’t go back. We can only go forward. But when I survey the vast sea of new releases that the average woman is going to run across, because she’s not going to look a lot further than the local Dillards, I want to weep.
Here’s a link to Now Smell This for another review of Apercu. (Robin, if you read this — I came up with the Mitsouko association before finding your review!)
image of Cafe de Flore: www.nottingham.ac.uk