More Thoughts on Scent

Warning: today is a really long post. Get your coffee first. This post was supposed to be an experiment, a rapid-fire sequence of impressions of a much-admired line I hadn’t tried yet, and will now remain nameless, a small perfumer. The scents are not me, and we´ll leave it at that. There´s a mini-review of something else at the end, you can skip ahead if you want, no hard feelings.

Instead, I´m going to post some notes I’ve been kicking around related to a post Robin did recently on Now Smell This, which I´ve been thinking about ever since I read it. I made some notes for this in the middle of the night. The link to her very interesting post is here, and the comments raise some good points too. The gist of it is, everyone has different tastes and she´s defending people´s right to like whatever they want (in part due to her own discomfort when she dismisses something popular, and people justify/apologize for their seemingly poor taste) but really it´s far more nuanced than that.

So. Here are my related thoughts triggered by her post, which I haven´t refined. And I invite your opinions and arguments as I flesh it out in my mind. Apologies for any typos or poor editing.

Classic perfumes are often admired for their structure – their composition, their architecture, their bones. Scents like Mitsouko or Jicky, or random Carons, can be discussed ad nauseam from the perspective of what they´ve added to perfumery, the characteristics that make them masterpieces, whatever. I love Mitsouko, and a lot of people don´t, and even I can see how difficult it can be. Mitsouko is to me a perfect example of the sort of fragrance about which one would say, I don´t care for it, but I admire it very much. Classic perfumes often become inextricably entertwined with their famous creators (Daltroff, Beaux, etc.). You are invited to admire the creation, to revel in it, even. But it does not bend itself to your whims — you must do the accommodating.

If classic perfumery is about the scent itself, then current mass market perfumery is more about the wearer. You may like Dolce & Gabbana´s Light Blue, or you may not, but I think most of us would agree: a) however you feel about it personally, Light Blue’s engineered to be appealing to a broad spectrum of people; and b) it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get into a conversation about the level of complexity of the construction of Light Blue in the same way you could talk about Mitsouko. (Here I will stop to argue with myself: at some point many of the “classic” fragrances of the past, like Ma Griffe, *were* the popular perfumes.) Mass market perfumery has its nuance – maybe it is supposed to make you feel sporty, or reflective, or happy, or be more successful on your booty calls, but ultimately you (or you, only better) are the focus.

Current niche perfumery falls somewhere in between (or combines both?) the focus on the scent and its wearer, and ranges to either end of the spectrum. I think I could argue convincingly that Serge Lutens did not release, say, Borneo 1834 thinking that it was going to be a blockbuster hit and make SL a household name. Some SLs are pretty (Rousse, Clair de Musc); some are not. Malle has some strange ones as well, although they can flirt with a popular concept and amplify it in interesting ways (Lipstick Rose, Une Rose.) Often, niche fragrances seem to be both about themselves and their relationship to you. Are you cool enough, or rich enough, or informed enough in terms of access? (Non export Serge Lutens, locally released Le Labo). Given the internet and the ingenuity of perfume fans, this hasn´t stopped many of us from, say, trying those limited releases, even if we´ve never been to Paris or Dallas. I wonder how much of our attraction to something begins with its inaccessibility. I also wonder how much the perfumers are in on the game. Do they erect obstacles for us to overcome? Do they know, or care, that we spread these things around?

Over the last couple of years, my admiration for some mass market and classic scents has increased, while my admiration for some of the niche houses popping up like mushrooms has waned. Okay, I hate x% of mass market women´s perfume, mostly because it´s too sweet and smells like something my daughter might like – I think of them as Barbie scents. But some of the niche stuff sucks too, not to put too fine a point on it. I´m going to pick on the By Kilians for a minute – which by the way do not suck, poor transition on my part. Kilian Hennessy is hot, and he´s also an heir to the Hennessy cognac family, which the fragrances tie into loosely (e.g., cask packaging, some of the notes.) I smelled these at Aedes, and they´re nice. Seriously, they´re really nice, and they smell expensive, however you want to define it. The packaging is gorgeous, and if you´re a packaging nut, you´re probably damp with desire, gazing at these. I think we´ve all had our little chuckle over By Kilian working its way from Rimbaud to Snoop Dogg in the marketing material, and I believe By Kilian at least partly inspired Robin´s Le Prix Eau Faux competition (where you make up laughably absurd perfume marketing material – and good luck competing with the pros on that one, folks.)

At the end of the day I´m left wondering, though, along the same lines as the Big Cheese and I (and a million other people) wondered – what did Eliot Spitzer get, sex-wise, for his five thousand dollars? Some of that dough was an advance on future sex, but still, that´s the big laugh – for five grand, seriously, you need a bigger imagination in bed than I have, and a larger cast of characters than I´m interested in. Apply that argument to niche perfumery – how much is too much? You can buy your own refillable mini-cask of fragrance from By Kilian, but do you need it? On the other hand, do you need any of this stuff?

While I´m dumping all this out of my brain for you to pick through, I´m going to mention Robin´s post on Tommi Sooni Tarantella. I love the fact that they´re producing a chypre for ages 25+ as their debut for their Australian niche line. I don´t find their marketing stuff any more over-the-top than most of what I read. Some of the comments suggested that the company should have made the scent more evocative of Australia rather than a walled garden in Avignon – you know, something they´d know more about. I take issue with this. Is the right to enchant the senses using “foreign” inspirations reserved for the refined noses of the French (and maybe the Italians?) Should perfumer Andy Tauer stop making his masterpiece Lonestar Memories, an amazing riff on America, cattle country and the Southwest, and replace it with something appropriately Swiss, like … edelweiss? Emmentaler? (I guess all that Moroccan stuff is off the table, too.) And what about American perfumers? Should everything American-made smell more like Tommy Girl and less like Donna Karan Black Cashmere or Estee Lauder Azuree? I’m thinking not.

Estee Lauder Azuree – the original from 1969 (basil, jasmine, citrus, artemisia, vetiver, rose, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, musk) They had it at Saks at the Tysons Galleria, so I gave it a whirl. Here, let me quote Rosarita: “My mother was an Aliage lady in the early 70s, but her crustier golfer sister wore Azuree. I remember it was hard to know where the cigarettes & bourbon stopped and the perfume began.” That gives you a pretty good idea of Azuree on the card. The SA insisted that I put it on my skin, and I´m glad I did. The sharp, smoky fizz becomes much more muted on the skin, and while this is a dark, leathery, aromatic chypre (it reminds me a little of Clinique´s Aromatics Elixir) it mellows significantly on the skin, in an interesting way.

Cribbing from the Estee Lauder website: “Azurée was inspired by the blue of the Mediterranean near Mrs. Estée Lauder’s vacation home in Cap d’Antibes, off the coast of France. The scent is radiant and earthy, with the subtle tang of citrus as if carried in from a neighboring orange grove. The feeling is light and sunlit, with a rich warmth.”

I thought the sole “connection” to Tom Ford’s version of Azuree was just the name (a convenient recycle).  Now I am not so sure.  Having smelled the original there is something peculiarly … and I am struggling with this … peculiarly “oceanic” about it. NOT aquatic. But in a way that baffles me, it works as described. Its herbal aspect, and some indefinable note in that drydown, make me think of the coast, and the sea, although seriously, at first sniff, beach is not what you´d think of. You´d think of leathery, tanned ladies at the country club, on the tennis court, smoking between sets. Still, though… I would love to hear from anyone who feels the wind and hears the surf in the background.  If you’d really like to mess with your head, try layering Bronze Goddess (the new iteration of TF Azuree) over the 1969 original.

image: Cap d’Antibes,

  • Dain says:

    Your point is well taken, but I meant rather that “greatness” should not depend solely because it is new and niche, since the subject under discussion is how a lot of fumeheads (I like it too /:) will sneer at a commercial offering as if less work and artistry has gone into it.

    Perfumes are admittedly different from other kinds of art. It is consumable, so ultimately it is their use-value that counts, especially how it makes it you happy. I don’t mean to imply everyone must adore Mitsouko because it’s established as such (though I have just discovered it and am obsessed with it) and shun another because it isn’t established, only that we should all take care to consider whether our evaluations are based on fictions rather than whether the juice itself is good.

    • Dain says:

      Gah… This was meant for Erin. K.

    • March says:

      Bad thread! Neener neener neener!

      I’d go back and rethread it for you but I don’t think I can. Anyhoo, I personally would never argue that most niche stuff I smell had more hours devoted to it than the mainstream stuff in terms of creating it. Certainly I *would* argue the classics were the work of more time, because it was expected that you’d take months/years on a masterpiece.

      If you’ve never seen it, Perfume Legends by Michael Edwards is a fascinating read, it’s expensive but he looks at various classics in detail (Chanel 5, Mitsouko, etc.)

      And congratulations on your well-founded obsession with Mitsouko.

      • Dain says:

        I always do that. [looks sheepish]

        I’ve been planning to get Perfume Legends for heavens know how long, but have never gotten around to it, because of the expense. I may just have to chat it up now. Maybe the library has it.

        You know, it is strange? I’ve sniffed quite a lot of niche, not as many as some of course, but I am… how can I explain it? Impressed but not moved? Most Serge Lutens are yummy, for example, but I haven’t found that queer feeling of joy that flares up every time I spray myself with Parfum Sacre or Mitsouko, which are… a beauty that’s absolute. I feel like the luckiest kid in the world to have these, and I often find that perfumes of that caliber, that kind of joy and pleasure, are enough to satisfy my modest needs, as I’ve never been much of a collector.

        Ms. March, since you are the queen of layering (I’m terribly fond of the Mitsouko-Theorema blend, and also of the Indecence-incense blend), I wonder what you might think of Montale Oud Cuir d’Arabie and Coup de Fouet? I discovered while a-ramble through my samples, and it’s eerily magnificent. The Caron gives the Montale a bit of exuberance, which can be a little too brooding, and the Montale seems to still the flightiness of the Caron. I’m wondering if the formula might be applied to some other dark and dirty perfumes, without adding too much sweet.

        • erin k. says:

          ah! i get your point on the niche stuff now. makes perfect sense.

          you know, it’s funny, though i was defending niche stuff earlier – in concept, anyway – i too love many classics, including Mitsouko, and every one of the Daltroff Carons i’ve smelled. those scents just make my heart sing.


        • March says:

          The library might have it, or have you looked on eBay, and/or on ABE? The book dealer? I think it’s – American Booksellers Exchange. We are ABE addicts over here.

          I know *exactly* how you feel about Mitsouko! It was early in my fragrance obsession, and I smelled it expecting it to be basically unwearable but a must-try. You know, grit your teeth, etc. And … omg! :d I stood there, floored. I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life to smell it.

          The Montale layered with the Coup *sounds* right, but I shamefacedly admit I am not the Queen of Caron — the mousse de saxe base puts me off (I’m trying to improve.) Patty would be a good person to ask, she’s obsessed with Caron and has most of their stuff I think in extrait as well. I do think your point holds — I have lighteners, darkeners, and all-purpose fragrance improvers. The other great thing about that (as other people said today) is layering gives you something close to your own custom fragrance, although how many other people are you likely to smell the Caron or the Montale on, anyway? :d

  • BBliss says:

    Can’t believe I missed this great conversation – stupid life/work responsibilities! Lots of great points – I love Wendy’s categorization above…

    I basically fell into the Land of Niche looking for a new “signature” scent, being displeased with all of the syrupy, patchy things I kept encountering “mainstream.” I was also looking for something a little different and wearable in the unrelenting humidity I live in (see newly-created Houston frag. also above). I had no idea there was so much beauty (and strangeness) in the fragrance world, so I just went in for the sheer experience and I guess “art” of it. It’s fun and distracting from real life, and in the meantime, I’ve learned a lot! I also feel like I’ve smelled some real treasures (Gobin Daude, Malle, Divine, Tauer, Rosines – and I’m not a rose person, either, I guess only a Rosine-person :), etc.) and at the same time, I’ve also found some “me” scents, too. My latest love is a mainstream iris – so I guess I’ve come full-circle about where I sniff, and I’m not too scared to try anything – but I appreciate the Posse (and others like Robin) trying it first! :d

    So, now I need to untangle my confusion on the Azuree and find some of that delicious-sounding stuff! Thanks for such a great post and all of the interesting comments!

    • March says:

      Oh, what’s your mainstream iris love? I’d love to know! Yves Rocher? Prada Infusion? There have certainly been a ton of choices over the last year.

      BTW I think I answered your question up there. If you want the beachy frag, ask for Bronze Goddess. If you want the fab, vintage leathery chypre, ask for the original Azuree. Some (but not all) of the Estee Lauder counters have Azuree, usually in a drawer.

      • BBliss says:

        It’s the Prada Infusion – it just works on me without competing for attention (or again, fighting the humidity) – the lotion is fantastic, too. It’s a strange one, because sometimes it lingers on the skin, and sometimes not – on a sweater from the previous day it is heavenly. I actually bought it because it lingered on a kid’s blankie after a shopping trip and I couldn’t stop inhaling it. It’s my Zen scent!

        And yes, umm you did explain it above but I still missed the point (where’s the loser emoticon?) – I think I was tired or something – anyway, thanks for clarifying, I’ll smell both, but I think I’m more of a chypre-girl. If I don’t see it, I’ll ask them to take it out of hiding!

        • March says:

          I might have to get a bottle of Infusion meself, for the summer. I remember when it came out I was so underwhelmed — “I can’t smell it!” But the same thing happened to me that you described — I get the most astonishing, faint sillage, particularly on things I’ve worn — it’s that “aura” effect I blog about sometimes, although it needs a better name. I hear the lotion layered with the scent is awesome.

          I would love to hear your comments on Azuree if you try it. I admire some strong chypres more than love them, and I am fascinated by the transformation on my skin – it became a different scent (still not for weenies.) I thought it was lovely, a Mediterranean chypre is an exotic beast.

  • Robin says:

    My heart also sinks when I see yet another new niche line, and I’ve come to evaluate them in a different way than I used to — not just “are the scents any good” but “are they adding anything new to the conversation”. Guessing we’ll get 900+ new scents this year, so there is already plenty of “good”. Why launch a new line that does the same old thing? That is my complaint about Juliette Has A Gun and Biehl and many others — the scents are nice, but I want more than nice, I want there to be some point to it all beyond “art fragrance”. And some self-editing, please — don’t dump all your garbage out there to see if a few will find an audience.

    • March says:

      900? 90?!?! Auuughhh!!!! :-ss

      I’m going to have to start limiting my sniffage.

      Yeah, not going to name any names, but …. how about two or three *really great* fragrances that, as you say, add something to the conversation? They do come along. These mass releases are too much, though. I still haven’t sniffed all the biehls.

      • Robin says:

        I am extrapolating the 900+ from what has happened over the past few years, but seems likely, doesn’t it?

        I think quite a few of the Biehls are really nice. I just don’t think there is any “point” to the line other than “more cool art scents from specific perfumers”. That is not enough, IMHO, given today’s fragrance market.

  • Debbie says:

    Well, you’re amusing me too, having made me burst out laughing, so there is NO need to stop. :d

    Let me tell you about Yatagan. It is intense, I like it alot, and ………..are you ready?……………………………….
    so do CATS! =)) Mine looked at my hands, came over to sniff, and then licked their lips, alot. Yum, yum, yum. (Or that would be “num, num, num” in cat.) I read of another person’s cat who started intensely at their arm, with the intensity only a predator could bring to the game, for *twenty minutes*. So, at this point you’re probably thinking, “Hey, although I can be avant garde, I’m not sure I want to smell like cat pee or hormones.” Au contraire. It is really great. I’m not sure I’ll ever wear it out in public though. Would strays come after you like piranhas? Okay if there’s only one or two, but what about a *pack*? :d

    • Musette says:

      I remember that post!! I shrieked for about 20 minutes!!!

      I am catless and my dogs fart too much to be able to smell any fragrance …but when I get some Yatagan I am going to go find me a cat! Only one cat, mind…not a pack (pride? bunch? what’s a whole lotta cats?), which could be scary, like when Aunt Bee had the dogs following her down the street as she was pulling the wagon full of meat…

      You perfumistas/mistos are WILD!

      • Debbie says:

        Yeah, that would not be good.

        A group of cats is a “clowder”. Who wants to use that word? That’s demeaning…naming cats after soup. I asked mine, and they said they much prefer “pride”.

        • erin k. says:

          i have 3 cats, and i call them a “murder.” like a murder of crows. one of them is named Sin, so it fits. >:)

          and they freak over Yatagan, too – and Bal a Versailles. they have excellent taste.


  • Anthony says:

    By Kilian is a perfect example really, and i’m glad you mentioned that it doesn’t suck. You know, I went on a perfume search recently, and sniffed so many fragrances in a 3 day period and only a few stuck out as being “me”, or as being extremely personally memorable. The one I chose was By Kilian Straight to Heaven and I’ll tell you, I had to “get around” what I’d read about the silly marketing and packaging in order to give myself the green light. There’s almost a Rorschaian response whenever that line is mentioned and it’s often hard to speak of their merits without at some point having the line boo-ed for its marketing and packaging. I’ll tell you, I didn’t buy it for any of those reasons, and would have been SO HAPPY to pay only the refill price to receive the stuff in a simple glass spray vial with no satin or black laquered blah blah blah 🙂 So marketing and advertising can go both ways. I never gave its marketing or packaging or whatever a second thought until I read it going around as a negative but I wonder (using a specific example to make a broader point) if Kilian’s advertising isn’t so bad afterall. That is, if his intent is to create a line of fragrances which evoke his idea of a client who appreciates the hyper-luxurious, with a link to a sort of over the top Faustian ideal but mixed with lounging around in a Champagne room at 4 in the morning with bejeweled women, men in modern tailored suits, living to the 9’s with Grey Goose being slurped like water, breathing the By Kilian scented air… if that vision isn’t as ridiculous as it may seem. It’s an aesthetic that doesn’t make one want to buy it or identify with it, but rather, an artists expression of how it might be enjoyed. I read department store ad copy and think, “are you serious? again?” with all that “for a man with confidence to…”. This is different somehow. It makes sense to me. I love how many niche brands really keep it about the fragrance and the notes, and DISlike how often department store brands paint an ideal of their wearers… but Kilian seems different somehow. I play classical music and there are pieces which are simply about the music, and then there are programmatic works… I like to have a little of both sometimes, same with my fragrances. I guess the point is, the major culprit of advertising craziness somehow doesn’t bother my usually skeptical nature — I see some sort of unoffensive connection — whereas the more frivolous ad copy (or even fragrance names) of department store brands seem ultra useless to me (ex: Polo Explorer? What am I exploring?)…


    • March says:

      Well, you bought your By Kilian for the *best* reason — because you loved the way it smelled on you. And I’d argue for your choice any day of the week. And I do feel some of your pain on the men’s scent marketing — so much of it seems to be a variation on, hey — this will make you a hit wit da laydeez…. you’ve got your castle version and your hip-hop version and everything in between, but it must be boring. So marketers who go beyond/away from that get some admiration from me. And I have larceny in my heart too — perfume is at its base aspirational, so who am I to quibble with king-making?

  • Patty says:

    Well, I’m shallow enough to have had this whole thing go right past my pretty little head. 🙂

    I do think that mainstream isn’t the vast wasteland it sometimes seems. There’s a long catalogue of interesting scents going back many decades. I find most of the newer additions to be pretty unoriginal and the same as a bunch of others, but time sorts out the best of those. Opium and Poison surived as the killer orientals, as they should, and a lot of other pretenders to that throne died in their wake.

    Azuree? Love, love, love, love, love, love. Mwah, thank you!

    • March says:

      Yay!!! I’m so glad you liked it! I thought it rocked on the skin.

      Time is definitely The Great Equalizer. And it will be interesting to see which of the niche stuff new and out right now will be around in a decade or three.

  • Gerald says:

    March I loved the post…and I never knew that you were in the DMV now I don’t feel as lonely :d anymore…I think that some of the niche lines are about expression as some of them are more “individualized” as opposed to mass or comercially acceptable.

    I have always loved walking into a room and not smelling like every other guy there…Fragrances as much a part of my wardrobe as shoes and clothes are they show your style. So if its popular to the masses chances are you won’t catch me with it on, I can be be a little indifferent that way;)

    • March says:

      I think not wanting to smell like everyone around you is a reasonable (and sometimes noble) thing. As a couple other folks up there have said, we don’t want people to be able to ID our fragrances. While we’re on the topic, I *adore* women’s fragrances on men. It seems to me that men often bring a whole different facet of a fragrance out. Things like tuberose and jasmine and rose can smell outstanding on a man.

  • aelily says:

    I liked the post very much. As a newbie to the niche world, I have to agree that most niches seem to want to fall somewhere between the scent and the wearer, but some lines/designers seem to just want to see what they can create, and not care if there is a wearer out there who is willing to wear it. And that is fun too.

    BTW my sister stopped at an EL counter for me and got a paper strip of Bronze Goddess (no, they don’t DO samples anymore). The SA told her it was the exact same as TF’s Azuree. Do the expert noses here at the posse agree or disagree?

    On a different note, are we doing a scent club this month? I keep hoping for one with scents of spring or some such theme!? 🙂

    • Patty says:

      Azuree original and Bronze Goddess, barely nodding at each other. Not even the sme notes. I’m going back and forth between them on the drydown, where they do start lining up, but no.

    • March says:

      The ORIGINAL 1969 Azuree is a completely different scent than Bronze Goddess. What’s confusing is, two years ago Estee did an Azuree Soleil Eau Fraiche, and the notes are pretty darn close. I reviewed Bronze Goddess a few days ago (March’s Two scents, and Robin at Now Smell This compared them today. I agree with her conclusion that you have to sniff them next to each other to tell them apart, and that the Azuree Soleil (the Tom Ford one) is a tiny bit more floral, and the new Bronze Goddess is a tiny bit warmet. Splitting hairs, though. But no, it does NOT smell like the EL Azuree original, the older one.

    • BBliss says:

      Aack – I am so confused on these, have to go seek out more info, and sniff around…what is actually available in the stores now???

      • kathleen says:

        Nordstrom on line has both, Azuree & Bronze Goddess (oil, lotion, fragrance). Really decent prices as well.

      • March says:

        What Kathleen said. Bronze Goddess is available at most Estee Counters I’ve seen (well, not Macy’s here, but the others — Nordstrom, Saks, Bloomies.) Bronze Goddess comes in fragrance, oil, and shimmer lotion. Reports of the LAST oil — Tom Ford Azuree Soleil — say the fragrance fades in the oil, which is somehow related to the silicone base? (I read this on Now Smell This and might not be repeating correctly.) So unless you’d use it up, I’d go with the Eau Fraiche or the shimmer lotion, if that’s your thing.

        The ORIGINAL Azuree is still made by Estee and some stores will produce a tester if you ask. It’s the leathery chypre I reviewed up there, a far cry from Bronze Goddess.

        You can order from Nordstrom, EL and probably other places. I ordered Patty’s Azuree (original) from EL because their shipping was cheaper and they threw in cosmetics freebies.

  • Cathy says:

    Have to add my two cents…

    As an artist, especially an aspiring artist, the pressure is on to do something DIFFERENT, especially in the age of instant access. We see so much gruff out there…artists exploring, growing, finding a voice, finding a place, and not always making beautiful (I use the term loosely) art. This is how I see so many of the niche scents…not really very mature statements. As we mature, we can allow ourselves to appreciate beauty again, and loose the pressure to be ‘out-there’. Fact is, is that anymore, beautiful is much more compelling than the offerings of the Extreme to me. And again, I use these terms loosely because none of us wants mundane and unexciting…taking into consideration variables of personal taste, chemistry, budget, mood, etc.

    I want beautiful. I’m past being affected by weird-just-because. If I find beautiful in mainstream, so be it. I also refuse to pay for exclusivity…I have so many other things I prefer to spend my money on. But I AM trying to educate myself and try it all, because maybe, just maybe, I’ll find that one piece of beauty that talks to my soul.

    My point is, is that I often don’t find many of the niche offerings extraordinary, but find some of the mainstream scents fascinating. You find it where you find it.

    Oh lordy, enough of my rhapsodizing…:)>-

    • March says:

      Your points are well taken. I think some of the earlier niche product aimed … higher? Something different and maybe beautiful. And I so agree about maturity. And the perfumers are so rushed in their creations now. It’s, we need this in three months.

      I keep sniffing, looking for things that transport me, that’s for sure. @};-

      • Liesl says:

        So this is a waaaaaaay late response to a 10-month old conversation…sorry, but this has been one of the most interesting posts in here, to me:)  I’m very new to this, and received my first TPC shipment a couple days ago, Chanel no. 22 edt and pure parfum.  The EDT transported me.:xIt’s very cool when your hopes are met and then exceeded!  My husband was pretty neutral on it, which is okay because that somehow makes it intensely personal.  22 had me at the aldehydes.  Then I reveled in beautiful incense for 10 hours.  10 hours!  And I was giddy about the whole experience!  Like I couldn’t wait to come home and write about it! 

  • Disteza says:

    Post-modernist perfume lover that I am, I make a point generally to try everything that perks my interest regardless of the price point or availability. I try to rely on listed notes to determin if I want to try something in the first place, then, if I have experience with the house and know how their bases work with my skin, and finally, if there have been any rave reviews online. When I get samples, I throw them in the grab bag and try them on in the morning without looking to see what it was–if by the end of the day I still like the perfume I check out who created it. If I didn’t like it, it goes into the giveaway sack. Unfortunately, one of my super-hero powers appears to be the ability to fall in love with only those scents that are EXCEPTIONALLY unavailable (Gobin-Daude, anyone?). It works in tandem with my other super power: the ability to walk into a store and point out the most expensive item. I’m the anti-bargain shopper, apparently.

    • March says:

      Augh! Gobin-Daude! There’s a line I almost (but NOT QUITE) wish I’d never tried. I would really love to own a little decant of Nuit a Desert, having tried 1/2ml once, but that dream dies hard.

      You and my husband — the anti-bargain shoppers! he is actually opposed to buying well-priced things on the ground they must be defective.

      I am still surprised, often, by notes that *sound* like they should work vs. reality on my skin. Hence very few unsniffed purchases.

  • IrisLA says:

    My perfume trajectory was similar to yours in that I delved into weird niche when I discovered the online perfume world. I wanted to be a cool kid in the clubby world of perfumistas. Hundreds of dollars later, I am so Over That. Now I’m more attracted to scents that are pretty and make me feel happy. That said, I enjoy Mitsouko and Light Blue.

    You are so right that mass market scents are about the wearer rather than some private concept of the perfumer. When I wear fragrance, it’s for me. Me, me, me. :d

    • March says:

      Me me me! Only I am *just warped* enough that when you wrote Light Blue and Mitsouko, I was thinking of them layered…

      Light Blue wouldn’t stand a chance.

      • Musette says:

        On my recent Spritza I found a sample of Light Blue (D&G, right?) in my bulging bag o’ stuff…and pretentious moi was jes’bout ready to toss that puppy to the Great Unsniffed solely because it seemed…….average. Not smelled – seemed!

        Hoist by my own snobby petard! :”>

        Now watch me fall in love with it because the Universe is funky that way..

        ….”no yak for YOU today, missy!”

        • March says:

          I love D&G but will be the first to admit it’s consummate mass market. And I smell it everywhere. Starting with my daughter. But I can think of worse things!

  • Musette says:

    I’ve been a marketer/saleszilla for the past 30 years and the whole niche v. mainstream conundrum has just expanded in the Internet Age – and blogs like this, NST, etc are very unnerving to marketers. In one post a blogger can give a huge segment of the perfume-buying population ‘permission’ to love or hate whatever it is you’re referencing – the fact that the successful blogs don’t fall into the ‘niche v. mainstream’ trap kills the marketers! Kills ’em! Offline, for every mainstream SA braying on about ‘it’s NEW!!!” you have an elegant, niche SA telling you “you won’t smell anything like this on your friends/the street/etc”. Same tune, different pitch.

    Neither segment asks the question that blogs like this do: “how does it smell to/on you?” Kinda messes up the whole marketing plan, dangit!:d

    In a lot of ways, the Internet is the inadvertent sire of a lot of niche houses because there is a greater opportunity to present your product/image to a much larger segment of the buying public…whilst still retaining the notion of exclusivity that is particularly attractive to a particular group. If you can only get it by going to that one perfume shoppe in Western Lapland on alternate Wednesdays in July…you can bet your toenails that there will be folks who fire up the Cessna and polish the platinum card, secure in the knowledge that the hoi polloi won’t be able to touch it – never mind that it smells like yak piss…and not in a good way!

    I agree that niche marketers know they won’t make the kind of blockbuster monies that the new Armani will garner – but they are, in their quiet, exclusive way, trying to carve out a decent segment of the pie for themselves. Alas, unless they have some deep pockets behind them the push to garner that pie is so great that they absolutely must keep cranking out the scents, which begins to make ‘niche’ an oxymoron. But what’s a perfumer to do? It costs just as much (probably way more) to create a Carnal Flower as it does a Tommy Girl. Sad state of affairs, alas.

    Brand marketers hate your guuuuts!!!:d Hahahahaha! Keep up the good work! The really good sites don’t fall into those marketing traps and us po’ thangs who are just learning to appreciate scent for HOW IT SMELLS are ever appreciative.

    I’ll shut up now..


    • Debbie says:

      Yak….yak *what*? =)) You wouldn’t be speaking of Yatagan, would you? BTW, I like it. >:)

      • Musette says:

        Haahaha! No. Actually I think I just locked onto the concept of yak because……because…..crap, I don’t have a clue! Wait! I think I’d just half-heard a story on NPR wherein the Himalayas were mentioned and …well you know how those things go.

        Haven’t smelled Yatagan yet – is there yak-effluvia involved in it?:-& If there is they definitely need to put that into their marketing plan! *-:)(hope this is the lightbulb!) You’d be surprised at how many people would rush to buy it, as long as ‘no yaks were harmed in the making of’ AND (this is most important) the yaks were sufficiently ‘exclusive’ -say, only found on one hectare of southern-sloping land on the leeside of wherever. Oh, yeah – they have to have a staple diet of some really obscure grass or flower! Don’t forget that part. No garden variety yaks here!

        Okay- I need to stop amusing myself here! =))

  • kathleen says:

    I always get my cup of coffee before sitting down. This is one of my favorite times of the day. A cup of coffee, turn on some music, read about perfume. Inaccessibility in anything is always a draw. Inaccessible and expensive, even more. I know when I lived in europe I wanted anything from the US that was not available in the UK. I imported that boring Spycatcher book in numbers and I was a big hit. Now that I am in VA I go to great lengths to import in the other direction. Also, I think, that the lure of perfumes that are hard to get is knowing that people will not know what you are wearing. When I first got here, I made sure that I had my little bottle of Amouage Gold and in 2000 nobody, that I knew, had a clue what it was. On the other hand, the idea of a, say, Chanel No.22 Parfum, which is quite expensive & rare, one may desire because people will know exactly what they are wearing. More fun than shoes? One thing I know is since I’ve found you lot I have realized that I can get a whole lot of samples for the price of a Manolo or a D&G and yes, this has been a pleasure so far.

    • March says:

      I guess … I guess I’ll admit to hard-to-get being part of the allure. I’ll rationalize by adding: that means I’m less likely to smell it on anyone I know… with the exception of my friends in D.C. who are perfume nuts like me, some of whom converted under my negative influence. 😉

      • kathleen says:

        Also, less likely to have someone come up to you and say are you wearing such and such. I don’t enjoy that. That is why I frequently combine if I’m wearing a Jo Malone, who’s fragrances are very descernable.

  • donanicola says:

    Stirring myself from my sick bed (ok that’s a bit am dram!) to comment on Azuree. I think your choice of image was perfect. I get an intensely herbal hit with the citrussy leather of Azuree. It makes me think of the maquis in Corsica which is an aromatic covering of shrubs on the ground/rocks (and in which the independence fighters of Corsica used to hide thereby earning themselves the name of Maquis – I think I’ve got that right). Anyway, its that mediterranean scent which mixes with the scent of the sea. Wonderful. I can’t wait to mess with my head as suggested!

    • March says:

      Aha! Confirmation! Seriously, I thought I was nuts. It’s certainly not what you would identify as an “American beach smell,” and I thought the EL blurb was absurd. But it sounds like Estee knew her stuff. I am still sort of shocked (at least on me) by the difference in strength of the fragrance on the card vs. the skin. It was *too much* until I put it on. Lasted approximately forever, though.

  • Wendy says:

    March – I’m glad you brought this issue up niche/mainstream because I’ve been getting confused. (Not that this is a particularly difficult thing to do)

    Some of the niche lines are getting pretty big and widespread distribution (Creed. Is that niche?) and some of the mainstream lines are creating sub-lines of limited distribution scents (Estee Lauder/Tom Ford).

    So I gave up on figuring out the definition of niche v.mainstream (how big does a niche company need to be before it ceases to be niche? What’s the definition of niche?) and created my OWN categorization:

    – The stuff that makes you smell nice
    – The stuff you think about

    Occasionally you get a scent that combines the 2 – a thing that makes you smell nice and that you can analyze to your heart’s content. (Maybe that’s the perfumista’s holy grail.) The size/marketing strategy of the house becomes less important. Which is good for me because I am way too lazy to do that sort of research. :d

    I’m still trying to sort this out so I’ve probably just proven that I seriously don’t have a clue. Help?:-

    BTW-re Spitzer. Best quote I saw came from Heidi Fleiss in Newsweek when asked “Why do you think he did this?” Her response:

    “Dude. He’s a guy.”

    • Kim says:

      Actually, I think that’s a great categorization! And I think you’re right about niche or not – it’s confusing.

    • March says:

      Oh, niche vs. mainstream is one of the oldest arguments I think I’ve seen on the blogs, so consider yourself an old hand. 😉 Yeah, where do you draw the line? I consider Creed, Annick Goutal and L’Artisan niche because of their *style* of perfumery, but I know a lot of other people would disagree (the lines are too available.) It’s perfume blogging, we all get to make our own rules.

      I think your categorization boils things down beautifully — the stuff that makes you smell nice, the stuff you think about, the miraculous, small area of overlap. I started more interested in the thinking stuff, and have moved in the direction of the nice-smelling stuff.

    • Debbie says:

      You have analyzed the niche vs. mass market really well. The lines are indeed blurred. Good job, Wendy. I like your categories too.

    • Wendy says:

      It’s comforting to occasionally have one’s weird little thoughts validated. Especially when you are still new at the game. Thanks! >:d<

  • Billy D says:

    I couldn’t care less about Spitzer. Honestly. Wow, politicians use prostitutes and are hypocrites; you’re kidding! And yes, I understand the big picture and why it’s “supposed” to be a big deal, but at this point, it’s media coverage of media coverage. And I feel awful for this poor girl. She’s going to be hunted down until she’s sitting on Oprah’s or Barbara Walter’s couch crying and talking about being abused as a child. And btw, no one forced his wife to stand there beside him. I doubt someone put a gun to her head–it is her own fault for being there, not his.

    Now to what I’m really interested in: you don’t like the Neil Morris’s?? The lone dissenting opinion on the net about these! I’d love to hear it.

    • March says:

      I feel sorry for the girl, too — in all the brouhaha it never occurred to me that they’d figure out who she was, but I guess welcome to the internet age.

      On one level I agree with you — America’s famous puritanism, and the French wouldn’t bat an eye, etc. But OTOH he knew, probably better than anyone, if he was caught it would be political suicide in this country. And how did he think he wouldn’t get caught, with his public profile? His message was all about accountability and playing by the rules, and here, those are the rules.

      Nope, not referring to the Neil Morrises! Although I guess you’ve noticed I haven’t done a post yet. :d I’ll say this — I’ve sniffed a bunch, and a lot of them seem like variations on a theme, and they share a base, which (without seeing the notes) I think is patchouli? And I am not personally wild for that particular note, esp. after smelling 10 or 15. If I do a post it’s probably going to focus on the other ones.

      • Debbie says:

        I don’t think patch is the main note in his base, because I don’t really care for a huge amount of patch. It is blended in to several of them, however. Midnight Sea, Midnight Tryst and Dark Season all share a similar base, IMO. However, if you go onto a bunch of his, they can be very dissimilar from those three. If you’re interested in my appraisals, go onto Makeup Alley and read the reviews. Some are incredibly different: Midnight Star, Desert Wind, Trance, Qadesh, Spectral Violet, Assam….very different from the three mentioned about and some of them very beautiful.

        As for niche and mass market….high- and low-brow…. I like Avon Extraordinary, Angel and the Bath and Body Works creme in Warm Vanilla and Chocolate Amber. I also like Iris Ganache, L’Eau d’Hiver and Chergui. I’m certainly not going to apologize to anyone for my fragrance tastes, and I feel badly for someone when they do. Like get a spine and some self-esteem. That’s easy to say when it comes to fragrance. Start talking to me about clothes and shoes, and that’s when I need to get a spine and some self-esteem. (blush) 8-|

        As for that governor and his wife….I don’t understand those women. No protection? You’re kidding, right? He didn’t say that. If he really did expose his wife, she has my permission to kill him.

        • Debbie says:

          I forgot that my username is different on MUA. Over there, it is debrsl.

          • kathleen says:

            I actually bought some samples after reading your reviews. I thought that was you. You mentioned that there was a note in Hippie that smelled like “grass”. I think it is the sage. If you take a whiff of very fresh sage it smells like very nice, fresh, weed.

          • Debbie says:

            You guessed my identity? 😡 And some of them helped you decide on some samples? Oh, do tell, Kathleen–which ones? I would *love* it if you’d leave reviews too or moo me with your thoughts. Will these be the first NM’s you’ve tried?

            I thought it probably was the sage, but I wondered if I was just imagining the whole thing. It’s been decades since my “wild year”.
            However, thanks for letting me know that my scent memory remains true. 🙂 They say scent memory is the strongest of all; guess so!

          • kathleen says:

            Debbie, I went in for Midnight Tryst, Gandhara, & Dark Season. I ended up with those plus Rose of Khali, Skincense, Gotham, Fetish. So far I’ve tried the Rose of Khali which I adore. That warm chocolatiness (is that a word) and then the rose. Dark Season, I’m not sure, has a sharpness that I haven’t been able to warm up to and then is gone. I love all of these little vials of rich, dark juice. So true about scent memory. I heard something once that scent is the shortest path between yesterday and today, or something to that effect. Wish I knew the exact quote.

          • Debbie says:

            Well, if you’re not sure you want to keep Dark Season, you should be aware that you can get some great swaps on MUA for it. Several folks over there dearly want to try them.

        • March says:

          I’ll go check it out. Some of them seem very different. I suppose the larger lesson is, don’t smell 25 – 30 at the same time? Duh. It gave me a headache. I came home and showered and put on Bvlgari The Blanc, my equivalent of a comfy sweatshirt.

          • Debbie says:

            You smelled *that* many? Yes, I’d expect nose and brain fatigue for sure. My nose got confused with just six last night. I had to completely rewrite my review for Parfum DelRae Amoureuse today.

          • Musette says:

            Ooh, what did you say about it? I just tried that scent but it was at the end of a loonnng Spritza and I’d already fallen in love with her BdP, so Amoreuse got short shrift. Next Spritza I’m starting with Malle/Delrae/etc and working towards mainstream – I, too did the oversniff and it was a Bad Thing.

            Where can I read your review?

          • Debbie says:

            Over at makeupalley under debrsl. This is one sexy perfume! I think it is worth a FB. I’m actually kind of upset that I don’t more to spray on this evening.

            Two men actually turned to look at me while I was out. (Er, I am not a looker.) I don’t think it was because the scent was overbearing; no one grimaced in the post office anyway. 🙂

          • erin k says:

            i love Amoreuse! Bois de Paradis, too. although they smell quite modern, they’re classic “big storytelling” perfumes to me.


          • March says:

            I think they’re both brilliant. Bois de Paradis was one of those funny ones that took me awhile to come around to, and then it was love.

      • Billy D says:

        Wow, I didn’t think my comment would generate this much talk, but I guess it just shows the power of Neil Morris scents! I’m still dying to try Spectral Violet, North Woods, and Deep Jungle. I think those were the only three that really caught my eye based on name–I’m a fan of iris, narcissus, vetiver, and woods…all you NM experts, which ones would I like??

        • Musette says:

          Oooh! me, too! ME TOO! Neil was kind enough to respond to a query about his scents and we are to chat in a few days’ time (I feel too ugly to talk to him about fragrance right now:-p….but I would LOVE any advance advice……..?

      • BBliss says:

        I am so glad you mentioned these, I basically overloaded on the samples – and there is definitely a same-base/theme there..and patchouli is in several…but there are beautiful nuances in each – I think they need to be explored individually, because 10+ is definitely headache-inducing. I got a little overzealous when my package arrived :d

        Not sure if any are actually “me” but there are a couple I like very much!

        • March says:

          Total headache. Must exercise restraint. The problem, as you may have deduced, is restraint is not my long suit.

          Spectral Violet is pretty fab, at first blush. I need to do some more testing.

          • BBliss says:

            YES! Spectral and Gotham have shaken out to be front-runners… And I still staunchly maintain I don’t like violets or roses!!! I keep testing others in spaced-apart trials…

  • Assuredly, one does not need to rely only on the traditions and references of their own country/culture etc when creating a perfume: that would be terribly restrictive and not inducing any kind of resonance to a majority of consumers, which is antithetical to perfumers’ ultimate goal ~to communicate a concept to a wide range of people.

    However it is true that there are some cliche things: one has to evoke Avignon, rather than Houston or Kuala Lumpur, or Morocco instead of Finland etc etc. This kind of thing does become restrictive too!

    Also the niche companies are cropping up like mushrooms and it is rather confusing both to the perfume lover and the boutique owner to wade their way through them, which in practice deafeats the purpose really of having an alternative to mainstream brands.
    And marketing has shifted the focus from the scent to the wearer as you yourself so succinctly put it: it is all about how “cool”, hip and savvy one is, whereas in my opinion it should be about how cool the art of the perfume is, no matter where it comes from (I mean, what nose, which brand, what concept etc)

    “By Kilian” manages to be especially annoying in their over-the-top marketing ploy in that regard and I have in mind to devote a post on them, in which case I might link to your thoughts; if it is all right with you, that is :-\”

    BTW, which locale is depicted in today’s post? It looks eerily familiar and Med-like to me. 😕

    • March says:

      Helg, excellent points, and you made me giggle with your Houston/Kuala Lumpur/Finland thoughts — so very true. I’d totally try one of those, and I suspect you would too!

      Yes, when the “alternative” starts to become the market, things look a little strange. How many alternatives do we need? I suppose I’d be more pleased if the alternatives were more pleasing 🙂 And of course I’d like to read your further thoughts on the matter.

      That is supposed to be a vintage postcard scene of the Cap d’Antibes, but I’ll have to take their word for it, having not been there myself…

      • Sarah says:

        A perfume based on Houston? That’s a tall order-the city is pretty large, stretching from the beach up almost to the Piney Woods…good luck there. If we’re just going with downtown though, I’d imagine something featuring the smell of concrete in high humidity and heat, metal, rubber, smoke, and an odd swampy-note coming off the nearby bayou…maybe a hint of leather and diesel?

        • Musette says:

          Sarah –

          I absolutely agree on the ‘odd, swampy note’ as well as all the rest depicting Houston, especially in August. I’ve spent a couple of Augusts staggering through the staggering heat! I thought I knew HEAT, being from the Midwest – but we’re pikers compared to Houston.

          Nice place, for all that, though!:-)

          • March says:

            Okay, I have the rest covered with Nostalgia or Fahrenheit, but not the swampy note. Maybe we need to layer….

            My husband lived there for awhile and left after he decided he couldn’t take the heat any more.

          • Musette says:

            I love heat and humidity a LOT – but I once walked two blocks in Houston in August (my first clue to my unparalled stupidity should’ve been that I was the ONLY person on the street)…I was actually gasping! when I reached my destination (two blocks!)

            btw – I’ve been anxious to try Courtesan – am ordering a sample from TPC. Glad to see it well-received. Loved Worth – my aunt had a couple of Worth gowns (don’t ask :(( – it was always the epitome of elegance, in my opinion. The original JeReviens was a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

          • March says:

            Lord, don’t get me started on Courtesan. The commenters are going to issue an embargo. I smelled it in the UK last year and promptly bought a bottle. I don’t really think it’s highbrow, and Je Reviens (sp?) is a “better” fragrance, but Courtesan smells lovely on me, IMO.

        • March says:

          Hmmmmm…. Santa Maria Novella Nostalgia? Fahrenheit? 😉

        • BBliss says:

          OK – you guys pretty much nailed the Houston scent, but I would throw in a whiff of decomposing pine needles, or refinery or dense salty-air depending on the region…since you are right, it covers about 50 miles of different landscapes…

          Overall it would also need some earthy smell from the gumbo soil, some ozone from just before one of the spectacular summer thunderstorms, and just a tiny hint of magnolia or gardenia blossom…that heavy humidity just can’t be captured in a scent, but it will choke you! 😉

      • Thank you for the reply, glad I made you giggle and thanks for the info on the Cap d’Antibes: lovely postcard it is!
        I hadn’t realised Houston is such a tall order: I am so in, re: smelling something inspired by it. 😉

  • Elle says:

    Really never understand why anyone apologizes about perfume tastes. Before I discovered the online perfume community, I basically had no friends who shared my obsession w/ scents. My closest friend in the world wears Eternity and is blissfully content w/ it and I find absolutely nothing problematic about that. Scent is so intensely personal – it makes some connection to a pleasure inducing part of your brain or it doesn’t. There’s no right or wrong there. Eternity makes her happy. Me? Not really, but there are plenty of other mainstream scents that do. However, nobody would know since I’m the queen of low sillage/minimal application, I keep all my perfumes hidden away in a closet where nobody ever goes and I’ve never really discussed them w/ anyone other than online and that’s quite a recent thing. I approach perfume w/ a collector’s mentality – I *love* (serious understatement) the hunt and I frequently crave things that are quirky, complex and will hold my interest. But am I averse to simplicity and bargains? Of course not. One of my favorite shirts is a bright pink and orange number from Target – makes me smile every time I wear it and I’m no less pleased w/ it than I am w/ some of my less budget friendly blouses. What I appreciate most about niche scents is that they give me more to choose from and more opportunity to find something intriguing and unusual, but they are hardly a guarantee of that. I thoroughly enjoy sampling all of them, but only a rather small percentage make it into my perfume closet.
    OK, pre-coffee brain is giving out at this point. However, must comment about Eliot. WTF would he not wear a condom?!!? But I’m not surprised at his seeing these women – have zero trust in people who are as publicly sanctimonious as he used to be. And 80k. Sigh. What wonderful damage I could have done using that on my own hidden obsession, perfume.
    Oh, and excellent points about Azuree.

    • March says:

      I “collect” the quirky scents as interesting experiences, and I usually hold onto them in vials and decants. Interestingly (or maybe not) if I look at most of my *bottles,” they’re the more accessible stuff – the easier-to-cope-with Serge, L’Artisan, etc. Lots o’ classics. I guess that’s a duh, isn’t it?

      There are some days I wish I had a signature scent. Do you ever feel like that? I did in the past (e.g., Coco.) You know — just reach into the closet and spray. The rest of the time I think … nah.

      Eliot didn’t wear a *condom?* You must be kidding? What a putz.

  • Marina says:

    Yes, what DID he get for that kind of money? :d

    • March says:

      I read an article (among the many) yesterday that said that 40% of the high-dollar get-togethers don’t *actually involve sex.* The johns are paying for very expensive conversation.

      Wonder if I could get the Cheese to pay me five large for yakking at him for three hours? Whaddya think? 😕

      • Louise says:

        I find you a charming conversationalist :d

        • March says:

          Yeah, but am I worth the big bux? This is what I want to know. :))

          • Joan says:

            Conversation? What I have seen of this guy he probably paid extra for no conversation. A transcript I read said that he asked for “unsafe sex”. A news reporter commented that now he can get that in prison for free. And yes, we don’t know for sure that anyone “put a gun to her head” to stand next to him, but she has three lovely daughters and I suspect that she did it for them.

          • March says:

            Okay, ewwwww. And it will be interesting to see whether his wife leaves him.

  • Louise says:

    Wonderful thought-provoking post, March. I have smelled some pretty wretched niche stuff of late, and some quite pleasing larger market goods (oh-and del Pozo Duende worked pretty well for that florally-spring thing I’ve been craving, yesterday after you left).

    Right now for me, it’s all about “I know it when I smell it” (to paraphrase a bit.

    And today-Guess Gold-yeah mass market ambery green apple sweetness-and perfect for a chilly morning. No snoot about it!

    • March says:

      Hey, I tried Duende! It’s really nice (although I wouldn’t have thought it would stick around.) You and your Guess Gold, like me and my Light Blue. In fact, I might be working Donatella’s Dark Crystal this morning for my trip to Trader Joe’s… heheh.

      I know it when I smell it is a good general guide, although sometimes I come around to things I didn’t like, and vice versa.

  • Dain says:

    I’ve been learning, bit by bit, about perfumes over the past few months (I’m really much better versed in makeup), and one of things that’s really astounded me is how much of perfume appreciation has to do with image, or, to put it more elegantly, the imagination. What does Chanel No. 5 smell like? Jasmine and rose and aldehydes: this is the universal description. But people wear for about a million reasons completely disconnected with the concrete smell: Marilyn Monroe, the Chanel label, classic glamour, etc.

    On the one hand, we wear perfumes for reasons of private significance, on the other hand, we wear them in order to communicate our personalities to others, and those two things are so intertwined that they cannot be separated, and should/could they? They’re not really real in the first place. It is like any academic pursuit, the glorification of a mental exercise. Sure, it is based on something concrete, but once you’re knee deep in reams of secondary literature, you’re lost in abstraction.

    Combine this tendency towards abstract, imaginative appreciation with the common desire to smell “unique”, the lingering aftereffects of the signature-scent idea, and you’ve got… niche. Commercial scents are like pop songs, they expound on common pleasures and pains, within a generally accepted idiom. And niche, I suppose, is indie, individualistic and philosophical, working outside the idiom. The artistic oeuvres that shift those idioms, which are, I imagine, equivalent to Mitsouko and No. 5 and Tabac Blond, attain their importance through history alone, NOT origin. I wonder if that makes sense… But I find there’s a tendency to give niche the same weight as classical influences, and that’s where the snobbism comes in. It’s one thing to rave over Mitsouko, it’s a classic for a reason, but it’s quite another to give the latest *whatever* equal weight. Sure, most niche perfumes are striving for inventive representations, and they’re inspired by the classics more closely rather than “making money”, but that doesn’t automatically give it the same status. To be honest, I haven’t really found Serge Lutens bottle-worthy [looks sheepish]; I only want Bois et Fruits.

    God, I’ll shut up now.

    • March says:

      No, no, that’s really good. Maybe that’s part of what chafes me about the niche snob thing, even as I participate — they *don’t* have the same weight as the classics. Talk to me in 40 years about By Kilian, ya know? Weaving in your (excellent) Chanel No. 5 comment — yes, there are a lot of reasons people still wear it, including a huge advertising budget, but at least one main reason is, it’s that good. It still shines (although I’ll admit I think I like Eau Premiere a teensy bit better on my skin.)

      The common desire to smell “unique” — that’s something that gets me thinking at 2 a.m. Because how do we wind up on one side or the other of that fence (or both?) Clearly there are millions of men/women who wear a popular scent and it bothers them not one whit that it’s popular. Do they just like the smell? Do they like that it’s popular (I’m part of the Tribe of Angel!)? That’s one of the bars I have trouble clearing — my Light Blue Conundrum. I’m over being embarrased by how great I think it smells, but I don’t wear it much because it really bothers me to wear something so instantly identifiable.

      • Dain says:

        Hmm… I think the average consumer isn’t so desirous of blending into the crowd so much as lazy and ignorant. Being a fumehead is really a great deal of trouble, which may be another reason why there is such an inclination to snobbism, as you have to be willing to hunt (I’ve only seen Mitsouko in a store once! and it was EDT) and you have to be willing to think. That seems to be the most likely barrier. People who don’t know much about perfume aren’t going to bother, people who do know about perfume are apt to pride themselves about bothering. IMO, it is unconscious, the conventions are built into the markets. It’s like Helg has pointed out, niche has its own ideas of itself. The average consumer will pick up a bottle of Michael Kors at the local mall, and the fumehead will pay a friend to pick up a bottle of the European-exclusive Tubereuse Criminelle, and both represent hard work on the part of the perfumer, and both will be equally happy, and both will smell more or less of tuberose.

        And what is great? Only time will tell.

      • kathleen says:

        March, I also have a fondness for Light Blue. I was caught by one of the “perfume snipers” in Saks when it first came out. It was Christmas time, I was well oiled from lunch and having a particularly nice day. Whenever I smell Light Blue I think of that day. I wonder, is it the smell I like or the memory?

    • erin k says:

      i don’t know that niche products shouldn’t be given “equal weight.”

      as an artistic example, if i see a contemporary work of art by a relatively new and unknown artist at their first exhibit, and one of the paintings makes me stand in front of it for a quarter of an hour and nearly cry because it affects me so much, is it somehow “lesser” than, say, a raphael painting just because it doesn’t have the weight of history behind it?

      and, isn’t part of art criticism of any kind, even of perfume, to bring these new great works into the public eye? to say, hey everybody, this really touches my soul, you’ve got to try it?

      also, whether our scents reflect parts of us to ourselves, or broadcast to others the way we want ourselves to be (hope that makes sense!), all of those fractured images are in fact who we are, and are no more abstract than me on any normal day. for example, i am “mommy erin” to my cats, “good daughter erin” to my parents, “competent worker erin” at work, and (hopefully!) “sexy erin” when i go out – all of those images of self are just as abstract as any self-fragment that i may choose to project with a certain perfume.

      whew! sorry for the detour into philosophy-land, but the point is, simply, that any art helps you create yourself into who you want to be, and in such a role, is as concrete as you can get.

      p.s. – love “fumehead.” :d


      • March says:

        Oh, I love a good argument!

        You’re right (so far it goes) about the merits of niche — but I feel like it applies to *A* niche scent that’s incredible (I’m wearing one right now.) Taken collectively, though, I’m going to stand by the construct that “classic” scents have generally stood the test of time because they’re worth it in terms of merit, and 80 – 90% (?) of today’s new niche will be gone in a generation.

        I’m onboard with the rest of your argument about art, though. :)>-

  • Lee says:

    It’s all daft really and there’s loads of stuff going on in our likes and dislikes including a lust for exclusivity, buying into art, commodification of luxury (whatever the hecky peck that means), status symbolism, pure acquisitiveness, inverted snobbery (‘I really don’t see the craze for niche scents… they’re no better than…’). No position is value-free folks, but hey what does it matter? I mean, I love Santal de Mysore and Old Spice, Bigarade Concentree and Happy for Men. I can’t stand most of the by Kilians or Denim (for the man who doesn’t have to try… too hard), most of the recent Creeds or Unforgiveable… And I’m sure some of that taste is as much down to brands, memories, connotations and other apparently subliminal factors, as much as it is olfaction. It explains why I go off things that I thought I loved – at times I know I’m tricking myself into liking things – or even loving them – that I’m actually not that keen on. It’s much less common now than it used to be…

    For me, sometimes the niche brands have a refreshing heterogeneity that the mass market stuff lacks, though even here there are of course bandwagons and pastiches and repetitions. And some niche stuff has less thought applied to it than the latest Tommy Hilfiger. But, essentially my wardrobe is much more niche than kit is mass market. It doesn’t worry me, but, in the language of MUA, YMMV.

    • March says:

      I have this sense that the niche stuff is getting its own weird marketing-driven agenda. Not that it wasn’t always there to some degree. But the first niche stuff I tried — yeah, the point seemed to be, “interesting.” And add “unusual” and “quality” to that. They didn’t often strike me as total failures. I don’t think I am getting jaded (although that’s what I say) as there is a change in mission… dude, you’re not worried the Basenotes thugs will be by your house with baseball bats? How dare you defile the fair name of Creed? 😉

      Um, I give up. What’s YMMV? Also, I really need to go resniff Happy for Men. It gets tons of compliments. Hey, should I get the Cheese a bottle of Lubin Vetiver or good ol’ Guerlain?

      • erin k says:

        i hope it’s “your mileage may vary,” or else i’ve been reading it wrong for a while…


        • March says:

          Thanks so much, that makes perfect sense.

          I had to email Patty the other day and ask her what RIS was on MUA…. I guess I *don’t* know everything. 😉

  • carmencanada says:

    Post-modern tastes are about mixing highbrow and lowbrow: you could gush both on Mouchoir de Monsieur and on Old Spice, just as you would on a film by Welles and a kung-fu pic. It’s mainstream that miffs the aesthetes and it takes some time to get back to appreciating the mainstream in the course of a perfumista’s life. I’m just getting there myself.
    As for niche and “is it needed”, I just had a long talk this week with the charming young woman in the Rosine shop at the Palais-Royal, who also handles French distribution. Smaller, yet established niche brands are complaining that a) perfumeries tend to stock only the iconic, quasi-institutional niche brands like Serge Lutens, Annick Goutal and L’Artisan and that b) niche brands are multiplying like gremlins after midnight guzzling Perrier, and store buyers are being swamped — not to mention customers.
    I feel much the same way too. Too much offer, too much to wade through. But that’s not an original complaint… In a 1971 conference, Edmond Roudnitska huffs and puffs about the 12 releases of the year, way too many in his opinion! He must be spinning in his grave.

    • March says:

      Gosh, the Rosines! There’s a line I feel like is getting unfairly squeezed entirely out of the picture. That is some great stuff. And the new niche … I must be losing my mind, but now sometimes when I walk into a store and there’s New Niche Line Q, my heart actually *sinks.* Particularly if they have 15 scents to sniff. Thanks for the Roudnitska info — 12 a year?!? Wow. It’s hard to imagine. But I know they had huge amounts of time to work on individual fragrances.

      The high/low thing is a great point — is there a French fashion version of that? I always fall for the American story that French women have much smaller, much higher quality wardrobes that they work in quintessential French style (three Chanel skirts, over and over.) Whereas we’re all about the shirts from Target in 16 colors. Why do French women look so chic, anyway? Sigh. :)>-

      • carmencanada says:

        Actually, French women tend to mix good pieces with the cheaper, Zara + H&M stuff. None of my friends even owns anything by Chanel, save eyeglasses. Or the odd carré Hermès, mostly inherited. French women tend to go for more classic styles, though, so they don’t indulge in the more questionable trends, like Brits do, and can work their good pieces for several years (as I do). But the highbrow/lowbrow mix works in the trendier element of the population. Though as a rule, France is an intensely conservative country, which limits the amount of fashion bloopers.

        • March says:

          That’s definitely part of it, I am thinking, yes. There’s a certain jaunty classicism. They might work a certain trend (a shoe style, for instance) but even that tends to be one that works with the clothes. For instance those very high heeled oxford shoes, I keep seeing photos in the NYT of French women running around in those on the way to fashion shows, but the shoe itself is kind of retro, so it really works with classic clothes. And the colors tend to be muted and chic… can I mention how much I adore Zara? I think their clothes are well made for the price, and I love their stretchy jersey, I have several pieces (shirts, skirts, leggings.)

          • carmencanada says:

            Photos of women running to the fashion shows… well, that’s a very specific biotope. A tribe unto itself, ready to suffer in high heels for the sake of appearances. You’ll see less of those on commuters.
            About the Rosines, I’ve been thinking that they suffer from their decided non-edginess and also from the rose theme. A perfumery in Paris (the only niche perfumery in Paris, I might add) refused to stock them because their neighborhood “doesn’t do roses”. They have an old-fashioned feminity, a resolute prettiness that doesn’t say “niche” — they’re not even that expensive, and the bottles don’t scream “look at me I’m so exclusive” either. Kudos to Mme Rogeon for not selling out on her vision, though. Her scents, composed by François Robert, the great Guy Robert’s son, are utterly lovely.

          • March says:

            I think you’ve described the Rosines beautifully. I too admire the line, and am sorry they’ve disappeared from our local niche store. I “don’t do roses” either, and even I like a couple of them. I would think rose-lovers would be in heaven.

            Wait… French women going to fashion shows isn’t representative? Okay, busted. But I still think French women are incredibly chic. And several visits have gotten me to get my husband to wear a scarf.

  • Kim says:

    Yup, perfume is definitely more fun than shoes plus you don’t have to worry about sore feet!!

    With perfume, I just want pure beauty. And most of the time, Guerlain or Chanel will indeed have a superior product to what I might find at Target. There is something about the base in most Guerlains and Chanels that is just wonderful on my skin and few niche houses I have tried (except Lutens) have been able to match their beauty for me. Guerlain’s L’Instant is stunning on my skin and I love it, regardless if many would call it mass market. And what about my beloved Chanel No 5? Classic? Yes. Mass market? Yes – it’s in most department stores, even some drug stores. What fascinates me is how we each transform the juice with our skin chemistry. Your niche find may be incredible on you and horrid on me (POTL?) and my classic love may be the worst thing you ever smelled (No 5?). Love is a strange thing indeed, even in perfume.

    As for Mrs. Spitzer, she is a smart lady and a smart lawyer and I doubt she would be standing there if she didn’t want to be – again, love is strange indeed! All round, it is their children I feel sorry for.

    • erin k. says:

      to expand on your point of “pure beauty,” i think that, as with any art form, it’s also wonderful when a perfume can show you something that you previously thought of as ugly in a new light and make it beautiful. to me, many lutens scents accomplish this – like Tubereuse Criminelle. normally, i hate that menthol smell, but in TC, not only do i love it, but it highlights the tuberose in a way i never expected, or even thought i’d like.

      i read robin’s post earlier, and i sort of understand her point that commenters should feel free to say what they like, even if it’s not cool – i mean, look at how the rarefied field of art criticism has, in many ways, made art seem out of the understanding of normal people – which in turn has made many artists think they have to create something bizarre in order to be taken seriously.

      so while on the one hand, i wouldn’t want perfume criticism to get to the stage where perfume appreciation is taken out of the hands of normal people, on the other hand, no one should feel bad for saying, “this new mass-market release is a boring fruity-floral and not well made.” and if a commenter happens to love that fruity-floral, well – many people buy art to match their sofa, too.

      if i happen to fall in love with a piece of mass-market sofa art, i’ll have the confidence to say i like it. (right march? courtesan? :d ) but in general, i prefer van eyck and redon. and caron and guerlain.

      art for the people!!!


      • March says:

        Hey, how did I miss your comment? Sorry.

        Whoa, are you suggesting Courtesan is not a WORK of ART?!? [-x Heh. It’s my bff, that’s for sure. My own personal Angel. Gad, my love for that thing is sick. I will even venture I wear it often enough between other things that the girls might venture to identify it as my signature scent, or as close as I get to one … where were we?

        I love your “ugly in a new light” view. Those are some of the most weirdly inspiring niche perfumes. The interesting ones where you say, first, I’m not sure I *like* it, but … TC has that kind of bizarre genius.

        And you’re right about the criticism. There needs to be both — we’re all entitled to our opinions, etc. And at the same time, I appreciate some critical thinking and analysis. Off topic, but are you the person I was laughing with about art/analysis at the National Gallery of Art? They must train those people who write the stuff on the wall the same way perfume marketers are trained. Some of the (factual) stuff is fascinating. But the criticism part! Particularly when they go off on some tangent, as they did recently in an early British photographers’ show, e.g., The artist successfully transmits his contempt for the trappings of the coming technological revolution through the use of chiaroscuro blah blah blah. Where’s my eyeroll emoticon. .. 8-|

        • erin k says:

          i’m not dissing the Courtesan. i wouldn’t do that. /:)

          the national gallery – i think that was me – if the conversation ended with absolutely fabulous and the hangers, then it was definitely me. god, my memory’s terrible.

          i started off grad school in art history and got totally fed up with the pretentiousness – people were trying so hard to get published, or to get tenure, i felt like no one really had any love for the art anymore. so i quit. :-< 8-x

          • March says:

            Yep, that was me you were yukking it up with about the hangers! And I have heard that about grad school in more than one profession, which makes me sad.

    • March says:

      Yes, I feel sorry for their girls. And you raise some good points — this could have gone off in so many tangents. The closer to the $300+ mark you get in perfumes, the more I expect — something extraordinary.

      One of the comments I made on Robin’s post was, initially what I wanted was the weird stuff — the weirder the better. Now I have wandered back somewhat in the classic/mass market direction — shall we call it “mainstream”? Because I want it to *smell nice*, even if my definition of nice isn’t everyone’s. 😉

      • Kim says:

        I think your point the ‘weirder the better’ ties in with posts from Erin and Dain. Sometimes in art, I want the mental exercise (Dain) or am fascinated by the challenge of smelling something in a new light (Erin) and in both cases, the weirder the better. But most days, I don’t necessarily want the challenge, I just want a spot of beauty, niche or mainstream.

        Am definitely going to have to try the 1969 Azuree. My summer’s growing up were at a lake this side of the Atlantic in a climate similar to Cap d’Antibes. There is a certain tang or fizz in the air from all the fruit trees – especially in the late afternoon heat when you add in the reninous, leathery scent from the evergreens and the cooling, earthiness of the water. 😡 😡 😡

        • March says:

          A spot of beauty is, often, what I find my worn-out self reaching for. Niche or mainstream, as you put it beautifully.

          Please smell the Azuree and let me know what you think. Given what you wrote, it sounds like EL *did* capture that in a fragrance. I thought the whole thing sounded laughably wrong in terms of what it was meant to convey — until I tried it.

  • Joan says:

    Elliot Spitzer – what a wanker. He should be shot for making his wife stand next to him like a prop.
    You and Robin raise some good points, how much of the allure of perfume is just smart marketing. I think of it in the same way as designer clothing – new and exciting – something original that few other people have – you can name drop – as long as it is just fun and you can keep your perspective. And, I agree it is more fun than shoes, and I love shoes!!

    • March says:

      I feel sorriest for his wife and girls, the youngest of whom is Diva’s age. The whole thing stuns me. How did he think he’d get away with it? Hubris.

      The shoe thing, it’s going to haunt me forever. 😉 And the funny thing is, I have a *lot* of shoes. Not particularly expensive, but a lot of them. I have to rotate them by season in my closet.

      Fun and enjoyment have always been top priorities. I do cut the mass market stuff more of a break.

      • Louise says:

        Dontcha think that the thrill may have been in the risk of getting caught and/or the arrogance of getting away with it. Afterall, the good conversation, etc. could have been bought for a lower price/:)

        • March says:

          I guess my brain just doesn’t work that way? I have never understood the thrill of the risk, or the delusion that you’re too slick/important/etc. to get caught.

          • Musette says:

            Daniel Schorr examines that very thing on NPR today – check out what JFK’s mistress had to say about it!


          • March says:

            People keep explaining it, and I keep going /:)

          • Musette says:

            That’s why Judith Exner’s account of JFK’s attitude is so interesting – she gets to the heart of it in a nutshell..or a clamshell..or a bombshell.

            It’s still ‘ewww’ and seriously stupid but I think ‘they’ just see the world differently. Like “well, MY ‘spitzer’ couldn’t possibly be unsafe…because I’m The Bloody Governor of New York!!!

            Governors Do Not Have Unsafe Spitzers!!!”

  • violetnoir says:

    Told ya…Underneath the leather and the chypre, there is something fizzy, dare I say like gingerale or soda pop foam, about the original Azuree.


    • March says:

      On the skin it’s really amazing, and I need to remind myself of that. It was one of those things I smelled on the paper and thought, no way, ain’t putting THAT on. The diffusion on the skin was extraordinary. I thought it would be one of those things I’d analyze and then scrub, but I liked it very much.