Like a Lion

Congratulations to the winners of last week’s Demeter giveway: Baby Powder – Cara; Clean Windows – Dinazad; Lavender Martini – Maria B; Lychee – Steve. Please Contact Us with your mailing addresses. And I guess nobody wanted the Vanilla Ice Cream. No takers? Anyone? Helloooo?

March came in like a lion this year, didn´t it? Gritting my teeth. You know what? I´m going to take the high road. I´m not going to add to the negativity of the world around me. I am going to get in touch with my kinder, gentler self (she´s in there, really! Hugs!) and not do a review of the four fragrances sitting on the premium, most desirable display space when I staggered into Nordstrom on a recent snowy night, looking for love:

Michael Kors Hawaii
Valentino Rock n´ Rose

Ferragamo Incanto Shine (yes, there´s a new one)
Asprey Purple Water

I could say something mean about all of these – or something kind – but I won´t. Instead I´ll say that they are all, on some level, interchangeable. Yes, they trend in different directions if you sniff hard (rose vs. pineapple, for instance). If I had room in my fragrance wardrobe for a new, inoffensive spring scent, any of those would do nicely. I wouldn´t need all of them, so I´d probably choose based on appearance. I find Hawaii’s bright orange color disturbing. I´d probably go for the Incanto Shine. If you look at that bottle in isolation, and not as part of a flanker trend that drives perfume hags who need to get a life right up the wall, it´s quite pretty, and Diva would borrow it cheerfully.

Next up at Nordstrom, sharing the premium fragrance area, was: Marc Jacobs splash bottles, the two new ones (Orange and Cucumber) and they´ve reissued Rain to join them. The Orange smells mostly like orange (bergamot, mandarin, neroli and tamarind; water mint, freesia and white rose; moss, tonka bean amber, musk and blonde woods), and the Cucumber (wait for it!) smells like cucumber, although with this one you can discern something more complex in there if you concentrate (watery cucumber accord, lotus leaf and cactus flower; linden blossom, blue tiger lilies and Dutch freesia; frosted musk and blonde woods). Rain and Cucumber together smell pretty nice. Sticking to the high road … uh … they are a huge 10 oz. for $65 and would look appealing on your dresser if you bought all three. Cucumber is the most interesting. If I didn´t buy uncomplicated fragrances like cucumber at Caswell & Massey for one-fourth the price, I´d be interested.

On to the new Coach fragrance, which I think is just called Coach. I went into the boutique to smell this; you won’t have to, because very soon every female around you in the mall will be wearing it. The SAs in there have received their training and were working hard to sell it. The bottle´s very pretty and monogrammed and fits in nicely with their bags. There´s also a purse spray and a cute solid-perfume keychain that you can hook on your purse. I asked the notes (from mandarin, guava, lily, violet leaves, Genet flower, jasmine, mimosa, honey, amber, sandalwood, vanilla and “a very precious wood called iris.”) They were stressing the Genet Flower. Really working the Genet Flower. I said to the SA, in a friendly manner, that I was smelling something a little green, like lily of the valley, and she informed me loudly that it was THE GENET FLOWER. Huh, I said, baffled. I´ve never even heard of that – like Jean Genet? What does it smell like? But she had, sensibly, skittered sideways and gracefully out of range to assist someone else, so I had to do a fairly extensive amount of online research to get someone´s educated guess: “In Geoffrey Hartman’s essay ‘Homage to Glas’ (Critical Inquiry, volume 33 (2007), pages 344-361) he mentions “Genet´s flower name (ginestra, the broom flower)” in reference to the written content of Jean Genet.” I still can´t find anything mentioning what broom smells like, but since it´s a noxious invasive on both coasts of the U.S., maybe you can tell me.

Then I toddled over to Sephora, where I smelled Aquolina Blue Sugar. Wow. Wow! I have smelled a lot of things, but this! Well, the bottle´s kind of pretty! I mean, it´s really blue! And I have … I… this …eaaahrrrrhrggghhhhh. %&#%)%%*$#




okay, that´s it. That. Is. IT. They are looking for a fight with this one.

A sentence popped into my head that sounds very Now Smell This (who, by the way, is quoted in the current issue of Glamour, how awesome is that?)  – maybe she´ll come over and grade me? Here it is: “If you were trying to select a fragrance least likely to appeal to me, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better choice than Aquolina Blue Sugar.” Notes are: Bergamot, Tangerine Leaves, Star Anise, Ginger, Licorice, Patchouli Leaves, Lavender, Heliotrope, Coriander, Caramel, Vanilla, Cedarwood, Tonka Bean. Blue Sugar is the men´s companion scent to Pink Sugar, a fragrance of almost thermonuclear sweetness and a scorched-sugar undertone, like a pot of toffee left far too long on the surface of the sun. Blue Sugar is less sweet than Pink Sugar, sure. The addition of anise and licorice make it more candy-like and further lessen its appeal, if such a thing is possible; the heliotrope, caramel and vanilla replace whatever sugar was removed with a vaguely foody, powdery sweetness, and I can´t really smell the patch in all that hot mess. Blue Sugar begs the question: who would buy this? (According to a brief chat with the SA at Sephora: nobody.)

The most interesting thing about Blue Sugar is: it´s not a practical joke. It´s not the product of some group of jaded French perfumers sitting around creating Secretions and/or Human Existence in between sips of Bordeaux and drags on their Gauloises. I weep for the people who had to smell it 300 times during its construction. I only had to smell it once, and as I walked through the mall back toward the exit, I meditated on the amount of money I would have to be paid to wear this. The soft number I came up with was $1000, but that may be low. It is the nastiest thing I have smelled in recent memory, and that would include Angel and Secretions (although, on second thought, it might not include Encens et Bubblegum).

I swear, I am not a price-point snob about fragrance. I spent the better part of last week wearing Hilary Duff Love Ya, which is hardly grand perfume art. I am not claiming the fragrance high ground; I just want something that smells good, and there´s nothing wrong with a cheap, cheerful comfort scent that makes you happy. But there are limits to human decency. Okay. Off to sniff my $16 Crazylibellule & The Poppies Shanghaijava Collection perfume stick solids. Thus far the Encens Mystic and the Musc and Patchouli are working for me, thank you very much.

  • Stacy says:

    Apparently, you like Blue Sugar more than I do (bahahaha!) I’ve never smelled anything so awful in my life. I thought it smelled like a combination of Angel, B.O., cheap pipe tobacco and overburnt creme brulee. Worse, it made Pink Sugar, which I hate with the burning passion of a thousand suns, smell good to me.

  • carmencanada says:

    I’ve just smelled a blossoming branch of genet this afternoon in the parc Monceau (posh playground of smock-dress, alice-band wearing petites bourgeoises and petits bourgeois in navy blue dufflecoats — and that’s just the parents) and I am pleased to report that it smells of absolutely nothing. Fantasy note, absolutely. Unless there’s a variety I’m not aware of.

    • March says:

      C — I have to stop reading these while eating, you made me snort a Cheerio up my nose … my other hardship is it’s difficult to think about the genet flower fact (aha! no smell!) while consumed with a wave of jealousy so wildly unattractive that even I feel shame, and shame and I are not close.

      I’ll trade you! You can come drive my minivan and go to the local soccer field, which is of course covered in poop 24/7/365 by those stupid Canada Geese that are now permanent residents. Now that the coyote has returned to the area, maybe things will get better. Okay, off to weep bitter tears into my pillow now that I’m not in Paris, stuffing my big American mouth in some cafe. (You’d know I’m American if for no other reason than I eat dinner at 7, when they’re barely open.)

      • Maria B. says:

        Horticultural note: Some species of Genista have fragrant flowers. Others do not. :-b

      • carmencanada says:

        March, I would be utterly useless anywhere in North America except Montreal and New York because I can’t drive — unless you count my first lesson, taken at age 40, when I crashed into a parked car. You do *not* want your minivan in my hands. Though it might scare off the geese.
        But I agree, it’s hard not to be jealous of life in Paris. I keep reminding myself of this as I struggle with the insanely high rent which doesn’t leave much to loll about on café terraces with… Much less to stuff yourself. What makes it worthwhile? Seeing the Eiffel Tower every day and the warm, crisp, fragrant baguette I buy just around the corner. Cheap thrills.

  • Patty says:

    I think Ormonde Jayne used broom in one of their fragrances, but I can’t remember which one.

    Can you believe I have *never* smelled Pink Sugar? I sacrifice four mosquitoes every night to keep it away from me.

    • Tigs says:

      It’s Ta’if (which the SA at the London store told me was the top-selling perfume of OJ, by the way. Frangipani is the other big seller, apparently, which surprises me.)

      • March says:

        Tigs, I am dumfounded by that. I’d have guessed Woman and … something else, but not Ta’if. I’m glad, though, it’s very nice.

    • March says:

      Pdawwg!!! You would hate it. With the passion of a thousand suns. How have you avoided it? Aren’t you curious now?:-” Be sure to sniff the Blue while you’re at it. Spray a bunch on, they’re sort of evanescent.

      Trying to get you back for the HE. Posting about my Fragrance Malfunction on Thurs.

      • Patty says:

        Cruel woman, you are! No, no, no. I hate vanilla and sugar in a perfume with a passion unmatched by the most amorous 17-year-old boy.

  • Maria B. says:

    Say, March, is your birthday in March? I’ve been wondering, since you chose your name.

    • March says:

      Nope! June! People in woo-woo Santa Fe were always correctly guessing Gemini for all sorts of unflattering reasons. I am generally of two minds about many things.

  • tmp00 says:

    Well, you’ve inspired me. I’ve had a bag of samples from N-M for at least two wees that I have been staring at thinking “how bad could it be?”. Guess I’ll find out, and I am not going to try to be nice about it. :d

    • Lee says:

      Tom – you need more fluids!

    • March says:

      Tom — heh heh. Let’s all do a post and call it “How Bad Could It Be?”

      Is that Blue Sugar you’re referring to? Seriously, I wish you’d report back. Separate from everything else, I think, would a man wear this? But surely you can’t have a sample of that mess from NM?

      • tmp00 says:

        Nope. Rock and Rose (oy), Blu Mediterraneo, D&G Light Blue and Fresh Pink Geranium. The last one is hermitically sealed, which isn’t a good sign.

        I may have to seek out Blue Sugar. Sephora is so nice about making samples, and I haven’t been really cutting recently in print. Sometimes it’s like a purge: I feel so much lighter after!


  • Lee says:

    I always thought broom was a sweet, slightly sharp note…. It’s in bloom now, so I’ll go sniff some.

    March – you inadvertently summarise why I’m anti-shopping. If I stay away from stores, I love people; if I enter them, the dumbness of the merchandising and the responses of the masses make me a misanthrope who’s lucky he has no Uzi to hand…;;)

    • Maria B. says:

      But, Lee, wouldn’t you look dashing with an Uzi a la Captain Kirk?

      I too hate shopping in actual physical stores.

    • March says:

      Lee — tear yourself away from your other headaches and report back; what does it smell like? Just sort of green and sweet?

      I’m not sure I want to go shopping with you — you aren’t going to pitch a fit in Harrods are you? Spit on Roja Dove or something? I’ve been practicing (sorry, practising) my “oi, wanker!” and everything, just for our trip.

  • Maria B. says:

    On Saturday my DH and I were at a nursery. My husband bent over and smelled some broom and said, “Mmm, smells nice.” Some broom is invasive and some isn’t, but since I don’t carry a mental catalog of which is which, I generally avoid them. I made a cursory gesture at smelling the plant too. I have a vague memory of green and sweet. If I’d known today’s topic, I would have made more of an effort. :”>

    The Sunset Western Garden Book only describes flowers of some Genista species as “fragrant” without giving further particulars.

    Note descriptions like “a very precious wood called iris” cause me to reject not just the one fragrance but every other one that company may market in the future. It shows contempt for consumers. I think I’ll go out and name one of our maples Iris and the other Frank.

    • March says:

      Actually I wish someone would do a fragrance called “Precious Wood,” a men’s fragrance, in a long, tall bottle, just so I could read the guffaws on Basenotes.

      Don’t forget to send your address!

  • Robin says:

    LOL, you have me down pat! I quote myself, on Borneo: It is beautifully done, like all the Serge Lutens fragrances, but if you were to set out to create a fragrance I would be sure to dislike, you could not do much better than this.

    In any kind of fair world, Blue Sugar would sell like hotcakes, because a) it is better than Pink Sugar and b) Pink Sugar is the top seller at Sephora, and has been for eons.

    • March says:

      That is just hysterical. I *do* sound a bit like you there, don’t I? No hurry to return the favor. I shudder to think what you’d write trying to copy my style…:-” I had *no* idea you hated Borneo that much, and it makes me even fonder of you.;)

      Also had *no* idea Pink Sugar was their top seller. Yech.

  • AngelaS says:

    What a rough weekend! Here’s to a week full of Guerlain…

    Once I was walking down the street and saw a spray sample of perfume in the sidewalk in fornt of me. I excitedly picked it up, then saw that it was Pink Sugar, and then saw that it was leadking! My fingers smelled like cotton candy for hours. Brutal.

    • pitbull friend says:

      Oh my, Angela! I think perfume terrorism has been invented & you were its first victim! Next time, when you spot an unknown perfume sample, back away slowly, cautioning others to stay away, and call the police to send someone from the Perfume Squad to detonate or otherwise dispose of it. DO NOT PANIC!

    • March says:

      Angela — you made me laugh so hard. I mean, why Pink Sugar?!? You know? Why can’t you find, what, some Femme on the sidewalk? Prada? Djedi?

  • Tamara says:

    Alright, alright, if you insist!! I would love to be in the drawing for vanilla ice cream. Now, on to your subject of the day – I had a feeling the new Coach would smoke and mirrors and you confirmed it. Nothing intriguing about wearing what everyone else is wearing or pushy SA’s who have no background in fragrance. 😉 I don’t consider myself a price point snob either. I just demand fragrances that are UNIQUE.

    • March says:

      Tamara — there’s you and one other commenter (sent me an email) — I’ll do a coin toss, how’s that? Heads or tails for you? Seriously.

      I wasn’t expecting Huge Things from the Coach. It wasn’t that bad, honestly — wasn’t too sweet. I was sort of hoping for something leathery (coach = handbag) but, really, what were the chances?!?:-w

  • pitbull friend says:

    I do have a little spray of B.S. (how appropriate!) & it is truly awful. It wouldn’t be right for me to pawn it off on someone, would it? I guess I need to find the local Hazardous Waste dump. I also have a bit of Marc Jacobs Ivy, which is, well, as you say, “inoffensive.” If I’m just going to shoot for “inoffensive,” though, seems like soap & water would be all that’s necessary. (Esp. because I use nice soap.)

    I wonder whether we could start a letter writing campaign to get L’Artisan to start a promotional campaign in the States? I have to believe that a lot of people are buying the fruity-floral crud because they don’t know what good perfume smells like. We’ve mentioned L’Artisan as a gateway frag before — if we could convince them to give us all part-time jobs as perfume models, we could start a revolution for high-quality hedonism….

    • March says:

      Ellen!!! You *cannot* give that to anyone!!! It would have to be someone you hated, and who do you hate that much? We discussed this once, months ago … those carded samps you get as freebies that you can’t quite bring yourself to stick in a package to someone else, even a total stranger… I say, toss it. But bag it first./:)

      Yes, the MJs are inoffensive. They look pretty. I Want More.:-w

      L’Artisan does, I think, a pretty good job of marketing themselves, if only because they’re more widely available than a lot of niche houses. But the penalty for that is, a lot of perfumistas don’t even count them as “niche” anymore, ya know? They’re in, like, the Annick Goutal category. But I wish they carried them at Nordstrom, or Sephora. Nothing would make me happier than being surrounded by L’Artisan, and I would argue that if the mass market knew they existed, they’d WEAR them.

  • Tommasina says:

    Excerpted from Wikipedia:
    “The Plantagenet kings used common broom (known as “planta genista” in Latin) as an emblem and took their name from it. It was originally the emblem of Geoffrey of Anjou, father of Henry II of England. Wild broom is still common in dry habitats around Anjou, France.
    Genista tinctoria (dyer’s broom, also known as dyer’s greenweed or dyer’s greenwood), provides a useful yellow dye and was grown commercially for this purpose in parts of Britain into the early 19th century. Woollen cloth, mordanted with alum, was dyed yellow with dyer’s greenweed, then dipped into a vat of blue dye (woad or, later, indigo) to produce the once-famous “Kendal Green” (largely superseded by the brighter “Saxon Green” in the 1770s). Kendal green is a local common name for the plant.
    The flower buds and flowers of Cytisus scoparius have been used as a salad ingredient, raw or pickled, and were a popular ingredient for salmagundi or “grand sallet” during the 17th and 18th century.”

    From a ‘healing essences” page:

    “The “rescuer’s” essence. “Good old dependable.”

    Always available with a shoulder to cry on. But who is giving a shoulder to you?
    No-one, because you won’t allow yourself to be vulnerable.

    “I release my need to play the rescuer’s role, and all my relationships
    are now healthy.”

    For rescuers who are ready to transform into helpers.”

    So now you know. Doesn’t sound like a good thing to put into a perfume – unless, of course, you want sthg NEW and EXCLUSIVE. Huh.

    • March says:

      Tommasina — thanks for the additional info! BTW I love the word “woad.” Don’t know why. Wonder if I can work it into a post somehow…:-?

      I’ve seen pics, and I know they use it for dye, but *nobody* mentions what it smells like, which makes me assume the smell, whatever it is, isn’t very memorable. Just another silly note to list in their fragrance, which is a rather nice, generic fruity-floral, with a trend toward green rather than tropical, not too sweet, not terribly long lasting. Guess I should have put that up there in my review.

      • Tommasina says:

        Since I am the repository – some might say SUPpository – of useless information, and since you like the word “woad”, here’s some more:

        Ysatis, which most of us know as a perfume from Givenchy (whether beloved or loathed) is actually the botanical name for a type of woad that gives a blue dye. Its full name is Ysatis tinctoria (OK, so we’re off the Genista now, but hang in there). It’s being grown in the Gaillac region of France again – sort of around Toulouse – after the industry died out in the (?) 19th century, and there are lots of things dyed blue (clothing, earrings) as well as house paint, that one can buy. My parents live in the area and have painted their shutters with Ysatis. Kind of whacky.

        Can’t say what any of it smells like, though, apart from a sort of generic ‘green’, as someone else has said.

        • March says:

          T — according to carmencanada’s Report from the Front — it smells like nothing. Nada. Rien. Zip. Heh heh.

  • Marina says:

    Everything sounds scary. Thank you for sniffing them so I don’t have to!

    • March says:

      Colombina — I can only imagine what you would write about Blue Sugar. But it’s fun imagining.

      The others were fine. Boring, but fine. Why can’t they stick something else out there for folks to smell, something with character? Doesn’t have to be MKK.

  • Elle says:

    Whoa. Remind me to avoid Blue Sugar like the plague. I can actually deal w/ HE, but doubt I could survive a Blue Sugar experience.
    SMN has a Ginestra scent. I remember it as a sort of fresh, green scent. Didn’t need it. Am fairly certain I won’t be needing the Coach scent either w/ their “very precious wood called iris.” My inner, kinder self is not available today w/ the time change, so I should just stop at this point. Walks off grumbling about insane person who decided it would be a good idea to have it three weeks early this year, looks for comfort scent…

    • March says:

      Elle — okay, that was a little petty of me to put the iris thing in … but come on!! Doesn’t anyone read those things? It sort of confirms my hunch that the perfumers and house collude to make up whatever the heck they want to list as notes, assuming nobody out there’s going to discern much beyond “wet rose” or whatever.

      This is definitely a day for a comfort scent. I know, you should have seen me trying to get the kids out of here this a.m., an hour early, in the dark.

  • Judith says:

    Worse than Pink Sugar (this is MY all time worst; a friend once chased me around Sephora with a scent strip)!?! Now, I feel that I HAVE to smell this (though I am sure it would be an awful mistake)!:o I like Encens Mystic, too–it’s vaguely Bois d’Encens-like–but now I can’t seem to find it! :(( Must get organized!!!!!!

    • March says:

      J — I think you should smell it and report back.


      Don’t get it on anything you can’t wash, though.

      It’s sort of extraordinary in its wrongness. And yes, to me, it was more b-( than Pink, which I loathe.

  • Louise says:

    March-you show such admirable restraint when reviewing so many. Took the very high road. Sort of off topic- but isn’t it sad what’s happened to Nordstrom’s perfume counter? At least I used to be able to find some unusual commercial pleasantries, such as Black Cashmere. I must ask again…what’s up with DC? Why can’t we find really decent, fun and/or odd merchandise here??? Where’s my true Chanel boutique?

    I sprayed Aqua Blue the other day. Got it on my sweater. Now-it wasn’t just a scrubber, but a stripper, too. Good to here it’s not selling-I’ve mostly gotten used to Pink on many of my girl students, but Sugar on the guys…just yuck!

    • March says:

      L — as I said to someone else in an email, what bugged me about the Nordstrom display is, this is what Jane Average confronts when coming in. All those scents are fine, per se — but why not select things with a wider appeal? A couple of more interesting fragrances? No wonder everyone’s wearing fruity-florals…. how would they know anything else existed?

      It continues to baffle me that, in our wealthy, sophisticated town with a huge international population, there aren’t more choices. I’ve never been to Bluemercury in G-town, but the one in Dupont doesn’t have anything I couldn’t find at NM, so why bother? And yes — we have *two* Chanel boutiques, neither of which is carrying the new ones, and what’s the deal with that? Sigh…

  • Masha says:

    Loved your critique of the Sugars. You’re spot on! I second your endorsement of Encens Mystic- I love it and often layer it with Gucci Pour Homme when I’m in that church mood.

    • March says:

      Masha — great layering suggestion! I wish the sticks had more sillage — they’re very close to the skin on me. That comes in handy sometimes, though, when I don’t want to bug anyone around me.