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.