Perfumes: Some Suggestions (by Nava)

I was unable to make it to the Sniffapalooza 2008 Spring Fling, but I did go on a sniffing expedition last week in New York City with a couple of lovely friends from makeupalley.com. One of the fragrances I was determined to sample was Guerlain´s Mitsouko, after reading and listening to Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez wax rhapsodic about how it is, in their opinions, the most spectacular perfume in existence.

I preordered Perfumes: The Guide from amazon.com back in January after reading about it online. I must first say that I´ve admired Luca Turin since reading Chandler Burr´s The Emperor of Scent and Mr. Turin´s now defunct blog. I wasn´t necessarily interested in what he was saying about specific perfumes; I greatly admired his writing style and his ability to describe scents in ways I cannot, no matter how many cups of coffee I drink or how many synonyms I look up in my trusty thesaurus. His style is so effortless, it seems like the words just come tumbling out like ice cubes from the fridge dispenser. I´ve written a great many essays and research papers over the course of the past 8 years spent earning my Bachelors and Masters degrees in English Literature, and when I look back at some of them, including one that I wrote last year that a professor enthusiastically suggested I try to publish, I wonder: where the hell did these come from? I have no idea how I ever wrote them, let alone got decent grades for them. And then it hit me: the grades are just as subjective as the papers, given that they are read and graded by different individuals, just like the perfumes Turin and Sanchez were either loving or hating in their book. This thought stayed with me the entire time I was sniffing my way through Manhattan. Now, I will recount some loves, hates and disappointments, bearing in mind that these are my opinions, and not those of any other individual.

We started the day at Barney´s and I was intent on purchasing a bottle of the newly re-issued Nana de Bary Green, which I love, but was deprived of most of my last bottle by the silly bulb atomizer. Bulb atomizers are evil little things and should not ever be used, even when spraying pesticides. I lost about three-quarters of this wonderful crisp-green spicy scent to evaporation. The other scent I was hot on the trail of was Serge Lutens´ newest export, Five O´ Clock Au Gingembre. I´ve read all the tepid reviews, but since you all now know what a Serge hound I am, I was intent on loving it. And, it is spectacular on me: lots of smoky tea, honey and tart ginger. I´d love to layer this with Fumerie Turque, but I´m not sure I can bring myself to open my bell jar…
From Barney´s we made a quick stop at the Hermes boutique across the street. I was curious about the newest Hermessence scent, Brin de Reglisse. I love lavender and black licorice, but not necessarily in concert with each other. Sadly, this was all black licorice on me, and I wasn´t about to spend $200 to smell like a bag of Nibs. I also wanted to give Osmanthe Yunnan a whirl, since I adore Parfum d´Empire´s Osmanthus Interdite. That one too, was a bit disappointing. On me, Osmanthus Interdite has much more depth and personality. In addition, the only Hermessence that has any tenacity on my skin is Ambre Narguilé, which I love. My other favorite, Rose Ikebana, is gorgeous, but disappears much too quickly.

Our next stop was Bergdorf Goodman, home of the venerable Guerlain boutique and countless other delightful and expensive brands. I used to work in this area of Manhattan years ago, and I remember when the cosmetics department at Bergdorf´s consisted of maybe half a dozen small counters, and a fragrance area that was tucked into an out-of-the-way corner you´d surely miss if you didn´t know it was there. Their current beauty floor is paradise with one caveat: some overly aggressive sales associates who tend to swarm like mosquitoes over a puddle of stagnant water. In my experience, the fragrance-hawkers are pretty soft-sell compared to the makeup and skin care brigade, who attempt to club you over the head and drag you away to their respective counters. Something tells me they´re not selling as many $1300 vats of Crà¨me de la Mer as they once were.

Before we approached the Guerlain boutique, we stopped to smell the new Chanel Exclusif, Sycomore. I must reveal that I have never been particularly fond of any Chanel scents, especially No. 5 (Turin´s and Sanchez´s other 5-star favorite). But there are actually a few of the Exclusif scents I like: No. 18, Bel Respiro and especially Coromandel. No. 5 has never worked for me in any incarnation, even the new Eau Premiere, which starts off bright and citrusy, but dries down to, well, the original No.5. I liked Sycomore instantly, even though I was experiencing mutiny on my skin between the previous scents I´d tested. I was pretty sure I wanted to buy it, but wanted to wait until after I deliberated on Mitsouko.

At the Guerlain boutique I asked for a spritz of Mitsouko Eau de Parfum, as well as the Eau de Toilette. I elected to stay away from the Parfum in the event that I would react violently to it. One usually does not want to toss one´s cookies at the feet of just anyone, particularly in the upscale setting that is Bergdorf´s. Conveniently, the bathrooms are located mere steps from Guerlain, but I still did not want to take a chance.

Mitsouko EDT did not last very long on me – I didn´t get much from it except for the peach note Turin and Sanchez spoke of, and alcohol. It literally disappeared in minutes. The EDP was another story: it camped out on the back of my left hand, built a fire and was still smoldering the next morning before I finally showered it off. The verdict: not me; unless I were to throw out every single pair of my jeans, every t-shirt, every pair of comfortable shoes and decide to stock my wardrobe with Chanel suits, pillbox hats, white gloves, lady-like pumps and go for high tea every afternoon at 4 o´ clock. I am just not the Mitsouko kind of woman.

Wardrobe and lifestyle issues aside, I do appreciate Mitsouko on a different level; it truly is a beautiful scent. Unlike the many aldehyde and chypre scents I normally avoid, the EDP in all its glory never gave me a headache or offended me so that I couldn´t wait to scrub it off. I even asked the opinion of an especially pushy Bergdorf sales associate, who I unintentionally let wreck my less-than-a-week-old manicure with an Yves San Laurent Beauté nail polish pen. I bet if Mitsouko was an YSL fragrance, she would have tried to sell me a gallon of it. I think her opinion was something to the effect of, “It is beautiful, but it´s not you.” And, I never bought that ridiculous nail polish pen. However, I did go back to Bergdorf´s later on that day to snag the very last bottle of Sycomore. Despite it being a Chanel scent, it´s much more “me” than Mitsouko will ever be.

From Bergdorf´s it was on to Henri Bendel. I have been longing to try Isabel Capeto´s first fragrance since reading Patty´s glowing review of it. I must defer to her description from her post back on January 7 of this year (More NYC – Part II), and agree that it is wearable without being generic and that bottle is just the bee´s knees. Since Patty´s review, there is now Isabel Capeto Perfume II in a white bottle identical to the red one. Unfortunately, the second scent is nowhere near as good as the first one; I was afraid to test it on my skin after smelling it on the scent strip: it was the very frightening scent of grapefruit juice gone bad. Unless you happen to enjoy an exceptionally bitter citrus scent – think bitterness that surpasses Frederic Malle´s Bigarade Concentrée, stay far, far away from this one.

By the time I´d doused myself in Isabel Capeto and sniffed a few more of the Memoire Liquide scents that I had the opportunity to sample (and buy) at a Sniffapalooza preview event last year (Mystique and Soixante-Six are woody-hippie fabulous), I started getting heavy-duty nasal fatigue. While my cohorts were still busy sniffing away, I was mostly snorting the jar of coffee beans in the L´Artisan Parfumeur alcove. Granted, I was the most enthusiastic sampler, having at least half a dozen scents lingering on my skin. That´s the problem I think every serious scent aficionado faces on a regular basis. You sniff and spray, collecting those paper scent strips like playing cards, manage to keep a poker face for as long as humanly possible, until you reach that breaking point when your nasal passages cry “uncle” and you can no longer handle any more new smells. I don´t care what anyone says, but even a prolonged snort of the most potent coffee beans can´t stave off nasal fatigue after too many hours of serious sniffing. I think the heavy-duty rose in Etat Libre d´Orange´s Rossy de Palma scent did me in. Although their Tom of Finland scent, which I inadvertently kept calling “Tom of Maine”, with its clean, dry cedary goodness, left me another $90 lighter. And, many thanks to my dear friend M for buying me the coveted bottle of Isabel Capeto for my upcoming birthday.

After Bendel´s, we headed across the street to Takashimaya. At that point, I felt like someone locked me away in that Frederic Malle sniffing booth at Barney´s. My feet were killing me and despite the copious coffee bean-snorting, my nose was still staging a revolt. In Tak, the only scents I was interested in were the Neil Morris ones. A lot of people in the blogosphere and on the chat boards are raving about his extensive collection of scents, but the ones that I´ve smelled have been a bit disappointing. I remember meeting him at the Sniffapalooza 2007 Spring Fling, and thinking he was a very nice guy, but the few scents of his that I sampled were not very inspiring. I re-visited his scent, Clear, at Tak and felt the same way a year later. His range is so extensive; it would take weeks to evaluate all of them; someday, maybe, when my nose is not quite as tortured.

When my friends and I embarked on our fragrant journey, I was sure it would not be as exhausting as the Sniffapalooza extravaganza tends to be. I have yet to participate in both days consecutively since I am usually comatose by the end of the first one; my kudos to all the ladies and gentlemen who manage to make it though both. Maybe my close proximity to New York City has something to do with my lack of stamina. I am lucky in that I can hop on a train or in my car and be at Bergdorf´s doorstep, or any number of fragrant establishments, in under an hour.

As for my “suggestions”, I will conclude by saying that perfume, whether it is thought to be good or bad, is an intensely subjective and personal endeavor, just like art and literature. What Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez happen to like or love might not be what I like or love. Suggestions are just that; there are no hard and fast rules, and it is up to you, the individual, to interpret them as you see fit. I didn´t get an “A” on every paper I wrote as a student, and I never expect everyone to agree with every single one of my opinions. The beauty of life, whether we go through it fragrantly or not, is that we have the ability to make choices. We celebrate our individuality with the choices we make, and it is ultimately our very personal decision to ignore suggestions or consider them. Please, feel free to tell me to stick mine where the sun doesn´t shine. To that, I will always say thank you.

  • chanel22 says:

    Isn’t New York exhausting! You’d think wandering around all these lovely stores would be invigorating, but it’s not. Your feet start to hurt because your not wearing what you’d really like to wear, sneakers. I do remember the old Bergdorf nook that housed the Guerlains twelve years ago, when I was pregnant. They had just started showing limited editions. Seems like Guet Apens was one of the first along with all those Baccarat issues. I just wanted to comment that I was surprised that you sprayed a fragrance on the back of your hand. I can’t due this because my hands always have chemical residue from soap, so no fragrance will smell correctly if placed there. I also can’t spray a fragrance on my left wrist because no fragrance smell correct there either. It took me awhile to figure out that since i wear a metal watch almost every day, there is some residual metal there or something. Even a leather strap doesn’t change things. It’s only a small area, but still, it’s weird.

  • Arwen says:

    Hello Nava!
    I enjoyed your post very much. I do short perfume expeditions here and there, usually my local Nordstrom. It looks like you have more choices going to Bergdorf and Bendels. Congratulations on your purchase of Sycomore. I have a sample and I loved it…I am considering buying it, but I also love Bel Respiro. One of this days I will make up my mind. I have not smelled Mitsouko in a long time. Right now I am going through a love fest with L’Heure Bleue. I even put some on before I go to sleep. Looking forward to your next post!
    Arwen

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Arwen!

      Bel Respiro is another beautiful Chanel Exclusif. If you like Vetiver, Sycomore is a great scent. 🙂

  • March says:

    Hahahaha!!! Yeah, those SAs at Bergdorf are something. I got dragooned into Laura Mercier and had to fight my way free. The sales floor at Bendel (downstairs) is pretty intense too. I now take the back stairs to the left inside the front door, I was *so* thrilled when I discovered those!

    Mitsouko is my queen. 😡 Glad to hear you admire its beauty, even if it isn’t you.

    • Nava says:

      How funny! I was actually back in Bendel’s last Saturday to pick up something for a friend of mine and I dashed up those stairs to the fragrance area instead of walking the main floor. Those SAs are downright predatory!

      I admire lots of things that aren’t “me” and Mitsouko definitely falls into that category now. 🙂

  • MarkDavid says:

    Nava – that last paragraph is right on the money! Thank you for putting it so perfectly!

    Enjoyed reading your NYC recant!

    -MD

  • Bryan says:

    Nava,
    Thank you for the beautiful post. I enjoyed following you around on your adventure, if not literally, at least in my imagination. I really would like to go on a sniffapalooza, but I fear I would exhaust too easily and have to extend my trip by a week just to keep up with the sniffage. I appreciate everything you have to say, even if I don’t agree with 100% of it. I admire your fortitude and I love the way you express them. Please keep posting. :d

    • Nava says:

      Thank you Bryan.

      Sniffapalooza is a pretty intense experience. I highly recommend it, so if you can, definitely partake. March & Patty’s Chicago festivities sound like a perfect warm-up. 🙂

  • Sadie says:

    Mitsouko is a hard one for me too. I like to spray it on and sniff it at home, but I think I’d be uncomfortable wearing it in public. I keep hoping I’ll grow into it.

    I hear you on the makeup counters. I always dash by them as quickly as possible, or avoid them by shopping in smaller stores or online. Do stores actually make money off of them? The only people I know who frequent them are a few student friends who get free makeovers instead of buying their own makeup, and even they seem to prefer Sephora.

    • Nava says:

      I’m not sure what the deal is with these SA’s but I assume the stakes are pretty high in a store like Bergdorf’s. Sephora has become somewhat ubiquitous here in the U.S., especially in New York. There are a dozen locations JUST in Manhattan alone!

      It’s pretty good sport to “information rape” them when I’m in the mood, but sometimes you need to swat them away. :d

  • Musette says:

    Nava,

    Wow! Great post! A very fun read on a grey, chilly Friday.

    Hmmmm….I think I may have found my long-lost Evil Fragrance Twin! I wear Mitsouko to go bowling (or I would, if I bowled:-) and I wear Bal a Versailles to the grocery store! And I worship at the shrine of Bigarade Concentree, especially in July, wearing my summer gloves and carrying my fan (no hat, though, but now you’ve got me thinkin’…..)

    😕 maybe you should come sit over here by me….we could have some fun exchanges…!

    xo

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Musette. I think if I wore Mitsouko or Bal a Versailles, I would wear them bowling as well. And I have bowled as recently as last summer!

      One of my favorite summer scents used to be Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien, but I wore so much of it, I put myself off citrus almost completely. Now, it has to be something with an “edge” like Nana Green or Moschino’s I Love Love. Funny how our tastes change. I would definitely sit by you. Who knows what would come of that! 🙂

    • Louise says:

      Oooh! Oooh! Can we include Bowl a Versailles as one of the Sunday Chicocoa events? :d/

      • Musette says:

        Oh, my stars and garters !!!

        I am completely in your thrall=))

      • Shelley says:

        Careful…for equal play on those tough scents, we might have to have an outing to the Cubs game: “Mitts-are-cool” (you know, wearing that Guerlain…) 8-|

  • violetnoir says:

    What a lovely and balanced post, Nava. Thank you!

    But I must say that reading about your fragrant day made me exhausted. Sniffing and testing so many fragrances in one day can feel like a marathon, and you described those sensations to a “T”!

    Hugs!

  • Flor says:

    That was a fun post. Lovely surprise. I love, love Mitsouko and can always find an occasion to wear it. I also love No5 – I really love aldehydes. Wanna hear something insane? I tried Isabella Capeto and it was all cinnamon Trident on me. No necessarily a bad thing. In the end I couldn’t make up my mind so I didn’t buy it.

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Flor.

      I wish I knew what it is that puts me off aldehydes and chypres s but I have no idea. I can appreciate them, but if I do attempt to wear them, they end up suffocating me. Chalk it up to chemistry, I guess. 🙂

  • Rappleyea says:

    Happily not in the office on Fridays and this was a great post to read with my cuppa tea. What endurance! I must say, you’re an Olympic gold medal sniffer. I enjoyed your writing very much and look forward to more.

  • Silvia says:

    I was totally with you on Mitsouko until a week or two ago, when a mini pre-reform parfum from ebay won me over totally and now even the EDT and EDP make sense, if you know what I mean. I don’t know how many times I had tried it before, for years, but it was never me. Sounds like I had the same experience as Louise !

    The sniffa you had sounds so much fun. Isn’t it fabulous to have friends you can share the experience with (winks to Nicola) ?

    • Nava says:

      It’s a lot of fun to go on sniffing expeditions, both alone and with friends. I wish I could do it more often!

  • Louise says:

    Oy, what a day…such endurance…sucha nose!

    I must retry the Nana green-I know I have a sample somewhere around here :”> Lately, I lurve green things

    The Gingembre is meh on me, to my great disapointment, since I love ginger (Yosh, Susanne Lang). And yup, I think the new Capeto just…stinks. Sorry, but she is certainly as pretty as her sis.

    And now the BIG issue. It took me sooo long to like Mitsouko, let alone imagine wearing it. The progression was slow-first bought a mini parfum on ebay for nothing…hmmm, not bad, wore it one evening. Then an unopened vintage parfum…amazing, rich, lasting…and pretty much me. Caveat-“me” in perfume is always morphing. And on rec of dear March, I got the modern EdP-perfectly beautiful, would now wear it for a power meeting, or with my sweats. So a slow convert here…but now can’t imagine a world without Mitsouko in it.

    • Nava says:

      Louise,

      Yosh Ginger Ciao is one of my favorite warm weather scents. I have to get past the initial “dill pickle” note, but as it dries down, it is so stunning. I was prepared to not like Gingembre because of ginger’s tendency to smell like dill pickles, but it does not go there at all. At least not on me. 🙂

  • Anne says:

    When I can’t figure out what scent to wear Mitsouko fits. When I need something special it is magic again. As close to a single HG as I think I will ever find. (Just don’t ask me to give up the others!)

    A question though, I love Nanadebary Green but had no idea it had been re-issued. Does that mean reformulation?

    I am REALLY going to relax this weekend hope you all get to do what makes you happy! :)>- and thanks for a great Friday post!

    • Nava says:

      Anne,

      Thank you!

      As for the Nana de Bary scents, they have been re-released as Eaux de Parfums. the smaller (1.7 oz) bottles had spray atomizers and the larger (3.4 oz.) bottles had the bulbs. The new bottles have atomizers in both sizes. Green still smells as great to me as it did in its previous format.

  • Eva says:

    Great post! Having a giggle over your image of pill-box hats, white gloves and pumps. I love to get all frocked-up now and then but I love my jeans and jacket combo and feel the same about Mitsouko. It is a beautiful stunning fragrance but I feel on me it calls for a super-grand occassion otherwise it is just wrong, wrong. Bal a Versailles is another that I love but is just too “formal” on my skin unless accompanied by appropriate champers and chandeliers. Loved all your descriptions!! Look forward to more.

  • sallycantdance says:

    I was surprised to find that I liked the Gingembre. It contains a nice little roster of notes I don’t normally like: tea, ginger, tobacco, smoke. I thought it would give me a five o’clock shadow, but instead it gave me a small thrill. It’s cut more elegantly than the gauche Rousse (which I do own) and there aren’t any of Rousse’s headline collisions (Cinnamon Collides with Musk Deer, Four Dead).

    I have a vintage Mitsouko EdT that I absolutely adore. It is much easier for me to wear than the clove-heavy modern EdP. I rarely get peach from Mitsouko (record: twice) and instead get something approaching one of Shakespeare’s four humours (up to you to guess which one). I love it anyway. I like it best in summer, to counteract humidity.

    One must always stay away from beauty areas. I have just come from Saks, where I was made up with the Guerlain Terracotta 2008 collection. It ruined the rest of my day. Not even experienced fragrance salespersons would approach a woman with gold lamé cheeks.

    May we quote Johnny Rotten here, but relative to the letdown of the anticipations of the sniffing experience: Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

    Thanks for the lovely write-up. It was fatiguingly evocative and the most realistic account of the scented slog. A+

    • MattS says:

      This is the first time I’ve ever seen Johnny Rotten quoted on a perfume blog, so you get much respect today.

    • Nava says:

      Sally,

      I had a similar “makeover” experience at a MAC store once. It was not pretty.

      I think the Beauty Floor at Bergdorf’s is laid out for maximum harrassibility (is that a word?). As soon as you step off the escalator, they’re all over you like a cheap suit. If I didn’t smell funky enough to deter that YSL nail polish lady, then I don’t know what I could have done. On some level, you’ve got to admire their aggressiveness, since they do have to hustle to make a living. 🙂

      • Catherine says:

        Was luck on my side, then, when I got a makeover at T LeClerc at Barney’s recently, during my first trip to New York. It was fabulous, and I dropped a bit of cash there as a result. They did put way too much mascara on me, however, leaving me looking like I had cried a few hours later. But otherwise–gorgeous. I bought foundation for the first time in my life, LOL.

  • Kim says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post and look forward to more of your writings – even if we are perfume opposites! No 5 and Mitsouko are perfume loves for me. Avoid aldehydes and chypres? Gasp – they are my lifeline !! Ambre Narguilé? I would only try it again in close proximity to those bathrooms in Bergdorf’s! Yes, we are definitely opposites in our perfume skins. But to me, that is what is so amazing about this art form – how two people can have such a different reaction/scent out of the same set of molecules. Truly amazing, I think.

    But you put your finger on the key point. The perfume has to ‘be me’ – no matter how gorgeous, if I don’t feel comfortable wearing it, forget it. It’s almost like the perfume won’t be comfortable on me either, like it’s fighting my skin or chemistry… or something?

    • Nava says:

      Kim,

      I completely agree with you. One person’s Mitsouko is another’s Ambre Narguile. Not everyone can pull off either or both of these. And that is what keeps us always coming back for more.

  • This post shows amazing stamina, fortitude, attention to detail and pocketbook.

    On a related topic, and to paraphrase the words of Henry II (about Thomas Becket), “Who will rid me of this meddlesome [book]?” I’m STILL not buying it.

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Quinn. I wish I still had the intestinal fortitude to match that of my nose. *sigh*

  • Maria says:

    Good for you for recognizing that Mitsouko, while being gorgeous, is just not you. It’s not me either. But I never rule it out…

    Turin and Sanchez are in agreement with you about atomizer bulbs causing great waste in perfumes. I enjoyed playing with them (on empty bottles) when I was a child; maybe playtime is what they’re good for. It really makes me wonder why Molinard came out with bulb atomizers for their 1800something series.

    • Nava says:

      I imagine that’s why Mitsouko generates so much buzz; it is a fragrance I will not rule out, either. You never know what life will toss at you.

      As for bulb atomizers, they do have a certain romantic “asthetic” that I can relate to. I’m more into juice than packaging, especially when said juice is on the expensive side. I’d much rather enjoy the scent on my skin than gaze adoringly at the pretty bottle.

  • tmp00 says:

    Loving your post- and loving that you love Gingembre.

    VERY mildly hating you that you are an hour commute from Bergdorfs… :((

    As for Tom of Finland, I swear that I wrote my upcoming review before this one was posted and Columbina can back me up.

    • Nava says:

      Thank you.

      I must admit that I do take the commute for granted. I’ve gotten some of my best sleep on the commuter train line. 🙂