Chicago, Part 1

I spent a week in Chicago recently, much of it wandering around with Anita. I mulled the option of organizing a perfume get-together like we did a few years ago, which was a blast, but I desperately needed some downtime with no responsibilities. So if you live near there and would have liked to get together, forgive me.

These lovelies at Barneys are Deborah and Roger. Also I just noticed that’s Anita behind Deborah.

I love Chicago. It’s spread out, but you can get from the airport downtown on the train, and there are a lot of neighborhoods for walking, my preferred method of travel. The only thing better than a good stroll? A good stroll down Michigan Avenue with stops in to smell all the perfuuuuume! Hello Barneys, NM, Nordstrom, Saks, etc.! Also their department stores are way nicer and much more interestingly stocked, perfume-wise, than ours in D.C., which seems wildly unfair.

With perfume lines multiplying like rabbits I’m inclined to just hold my breath and jump in, and hope I surface with something enjoyable. Let’s start at Barneys. They have a wonderfully stocked basement beauty area, including the Serge Lutens bell jars, which I’m not sure I’ve seen outside of Paris. I played there for awhile, a reminder of why I loved (and still love) the scents from those heady days when I fell in love with fragrance. I really need a bottle of El Attarine in all its sweaty glory, the only Lutens I still lust for that I don’t already own.

The other dreamy thing about Barneys is their SAs aren’t all over you constantly pressuring you to buy – the ones at NM literally stalk you across the floor like feral dogs, it’s that intense. Fortunately Anita has a guy there and we just waved them off with the news we were already spoken for. Anyway, here’s a photo of two of the folks at Barneys who didn’t pelt me with balled-up tissue paper even though I stopped by there multiple times to sniff.

Anita’s going to cover some Barneys territory next week, and rather than cramming every perfume I sniffed on this trip into one post, I’m going to spread them out. So, today I’m focusing on D.S. and Durga, which I’d only experienced several years ago at Anthropologie — I remember heavy patchouli and being underwhelmed — and I’d not given them much thought since then. This stuff, though – different story. Looking at their stylish website reminded me that I’ve not made the pilgrimage to see them in Brooklyn, an oversight I plan to correct.   It also confirmed my overall impression that their goal is atmospheric – meant to capture a sense of place, real or imagined. The newer scents are more interesting than not, even if I don’t particularly like the result, and the best ones are fascinating. My four favorites:

Bowmakers-“Amongst the transcendental woods of the 1800s, craftsmen from the Massachusetts Bay Colony built violins & bows in the tiny towns of the Pioneer Valley. The shops were riddled with old growth mahogany, burled maple shavings, amber pine rosin, aged walnut & their unique secret varnishes.” Notes: violin varnish, mahogany, outdoors accord, pine resin, maplewood, cypress, spiced tree resin, cedar, moss. You’d think that might be a nice woodsy scent and it is, sorta, but it’s also turpentine and wax and damp moss and pencil shavings. In its quiet way, I think it’s the most out-there of my four favorites, and that’s saying something.

Burning Barbershop – “A fire broke out in the Curling Bros. barbershop in Westlake, N.Y. in 1891. All the shaving tonics with their spearmint, lime, vanilla and lavender burned. A charred bottle was found half full. It smelled like this.” Notes: spearmint, lavender, burnt oil, lime, vanilla, hemlock, spruce, Turkish rose, hay. This is brilliant. Seriously. It starts out as sort of a smoky burning rubber that made me think of SMN’s delightfully wack Nostalgia. Then it morphs into a fougere, heavy on the lavender and aromatics, then hair tonic, then some citrus, and it keeps changing and changing and changing… and the drydown, I don’t even know, a smoked resiny hay? Whatever, I could not get enough of this gorgeous shape-shifter. I kept reapplying and waiting to see what it would do next. Much more wearable than I’ve made it sound.

Freetrapper– “Beaver trappers were the cowboys of early America. Renegade mountaineers of the Jacksonian era who cut trails through the wild in search of beaver pelts–prized by hatters, doctors, and perfumers.” Incense, bergamot, bitter orange, dark cedar, snakeroot, osmanthus, amber, sandalwood, castoreum. My favorite of the bunch, hands down. That incense never fades, and sitting on top of sweet woods and a surprising, delightful dirty base it’s fantastic. I think I spent two entire days wandering Chicago with my nose to my wrist, smelling this. Excellent lasting power. Warning: skank alert. I want a bottle.

Mississippi Medicine– “Based on the rituals of the proto-Mississippian death cult of the 1200s. Native birch tar, viola, & white spruce grounded in incense & cypress root.” (no idea.) Notes: red cedar, aldehydes, frankincense, cypress root, black pine, cascarilla bark, incense, cade, birch tar. Yeah, so about the last thing I’d ever expect at the top of this scent is aldehydes, yet there it is with incense, like a cool breeze. Then it goes all dark and tar-paper and wood planks and green leaves and dirt. It made me think of the interior of the primitive cabins at summer camp, in the deep woods beyond the reach of July’s sunstroke-inducing heat, safe under the pines, dark and earthy and comforting.

I love the way these push the boundaries of what is considered to be perfume while still being totally wearable. I mean, in theory, how many people want to smell like a burning barbershop, or a tarpaper shack in the Georgia woods? Okay, me. And you, probably. But in reality, I can see lots of folks liking these, if they’re up for something different. They were easily the most interesting fragrances I smelled on this trip, and if any of this piques your interest, give them a try.

  • Ann says:

    Yay!! So glad you guys got to have some shopping and fun girl-time! I, too, love Chicago! This might sound like heresy, but if the truth be told, I like it even more than New York: less intimidating, easier to navigate, that great Midwestern vibe, and amazing deep-dish pizza. What’s not to love? Haven’t tried these scents but now you’ve piqued my interest.

  • marion geller says:

    I think I’m going to have to try Mississippi Medicine.

  • Jennifer S says:

    Isn’t it nice just to have those days where you can go wherever you like and do whatever you want?! Almost a luxury nowadays!

  • SamanthaL says:

    I have El Cosmico and Debaser (I couldn’t resist the Pixies reference) and have sampled Bowmakers. Everything they do is just a little weird and off-kilter and I love it. This made me realize I need to revisit soon and try Mississippi Medicine!

  • hczerwiec says:

    Wo-ow — these sound fascinating! I may have to make a trip over to Chicago!

  • Musette says:

    I LOVED Burning Barbershop! xoxo

  • Maya says:

    Sounds like you had fun in Chicago. I’m glad. A couple of years ago I sampled about 8 D.S. and Durga perfumes. They were mostly nice. I liked Poppy Rouge the best. The problem I had was that they all lasted 15-20 minutes on me and were gone. It was strange. What I would like is their candle, Tomb of the Eagles, for the name and the write-up that goes with it. The notes sound good too. 🙂