Ipso Olfacto

fragrant musings


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The Price Superiority Complex

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Anyone who’s spent enough time in a fragrance hobby knows just how expensive a single bottle can get. Oh, how naive I was when my awareness of fragrances was limited to the selections at Ulta- where a $100 Chanel was the most exorbitantly expensive fragrance option. Now, I don’t even bat an eye at $200 niches (not that I can afford them, they just don’t surprise me anymore. ) Combine an (often) expensive, niche hobby with a completely subjective way of judging said items, and you have an ideal environment for snobbery to flourish. It’s not difficult to find people who will make remarks like: “Oh, you simply haven’t LIVED until you’ve smelled Amouage’s Homage Attar ($400+)” while simultaneously snubbing their noses at your “mainstream,” cheaper fragrance choices. The reality is, you can find great fragrances at any price point, and price isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.

I think that there’s always going to be that need to justify spending a huge amount of money on something “frivolous” like fragrance. Although, the “mainstreaming” of many niche brands like Byredo and Diptyque have likely lessened the “stigma.” Still, there’s often this need to assert that there’s something just so objectively better about fragrances that cost 200, 300, 400(!!!) dollars than their cheaper, designer or, heaven forbid, drug-store brethren.

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Two great woody gourmands: PG Praline de Santal ($125) and Britney Spears Fantasy The Naughty Remix ($10)

But you know what? I’d pit Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose ($10) against Jo Malone Red Roses ($95) any day (Tea Rose even lasts longer.) The sweet, fruity fun of Viktor and Rolf Bon Bon ($95) can also just as easily be found in Britney Spears Fantasy ($10 at discounters.) Want a jammy, gourmand rose scent? Mancera Roses Vanille or Roses Chocolate ($100+) are lovely, but Kyse Perfumes Confit de Rose ($52) is just as beautiful (and delicious!) Anyway, you get my point. I think that you learn more by smelling more- at all price points. What actually determines a perfume’s price is much more complicated than the literal cost of materials for the liquid in the bottle, which highly varies depending on economies of scale. And just because a material is rare or hard to find doesn’t mean it will necessarily smell better to you.

Now, even though you can find a great fragrance at virtually any price- if you’re like me and sample things across the board, it’s always possible to end up falling IN LOVE with one of the really expensive ones. At that point, it’s simply up to you to decide if you love that scent enough to spend that kinda dough. It’s kind of like if you want to buy art for your home- a $200 painting from a local artist isn’t objectively lesser “quality” than a $10,000 one from a more famous artist (one has much greater resale value- in the moment, but you know what I mean.) Assuming you could buy both, you may get just as much, or more enjoyment out of the $200 paining than having the more pricey one.  And sometimes, you can only afford the $200 one. I see perfumes as a similar, artistic investment. I find Amouage Lilac Love to be delightful, but I’m not exactly in a place in my life where I can plop down $400 for a bottle. At this time, I’m fine with enjoying some scents without owning full bottles.

Anyway, my point is that, although this hobby can get expensive, you can still enjoy and explore plenty of great fragrances at many price points. The availability of decants and samples also means that we can own a bit of even the super expensive scents without committing to a full bottle. Ultimately, fragrance is subjective, and we should all go a-sniffing with both open nostrils and open minds.


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Bargain Fragrances: Tea Rose ($10!)

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This is for all you rose lovers out there. Tea Rose by Perfumers Workshop is a classic “cheapie but goodie.” Long lasting, potent, and incredibly naturalistic – if you want that smell of a bouquet of fresh, pink roses, then Tea Rose is your scent.

Now, a “tea rose” is actually just a type of rose. I say this because a good number of people end up buying/testing this fragrance because they think it’s some sort of rosey, tea scent. Its not. 

Nope, Tea Rose is straight up rosey roses and basically nothing else. Perhaps a hint of powder, a pinch of woods. It actually has a bit of a turkish delight feel (rose flavored, of course.) But this isn’t a jammy, gourmand rose or a powdery, vintage one. It’s green and fresh – like the smell of a bouquet, fresh from the florists freezer. 

Does Tea Rose go through any crazy stages of development? No. Is it an artistic, avant-garde marvel? Nah. It’s wonderful in its simplicity, monster longevity, and incredible value. As the Brits would say, “it does what it says on the tin.” Sometimes, simple pleasures can be the most satisfying.


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Vintage Finds: Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

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Recently, I hit the estate sale jackpot and found two huge splash bottles of vintage Guerlain L’heure Bleue. The classic Guerlain bottles are simply stunning. Most of their modern ones are, too, but these just have that vintage elegance that goes so perfectly with the scent inside.

The bottle with the heart shaped stopper is the extrait, and was designed by Raymond Guerlain himself along with famous French crystal company Baccarat. I’m not sure how old my bottle is, but it looks like it’s from the 70s or earlier.

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The juice inside? Divine. Its soft, powdery, and blue. The scent fits the name here- “L’heure Bleue” being French for “the blue hour” or twilight. I can smell fluffy, blue/purple flowers. The light, sweet nuttiness of heliotrope, powdery iris, and hint of “Guerlain-ade” vanilla take center stage. There’s also some anise to add a bit of bite. Truly a lovely fragrance! It looks like L’heure Bleue is my Guerlain. Good thing, too, as Shalimar didn’t work for me.

The round bottle is the flacon montre or “watch” bottle used for most cologne concentrations. These were used from 1936 all the way to 1999, so who knows how old mine really is. The label looks decently aged, so maybe 1980 or earlier? The juice in this one is essentially the same as the extrait, only less rich and more transparent (not exactly a surprise from the EDC.)

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I just love finding gems like these at estate sales. These lovely bottles were likely treasured and refilled multiple times, in contrast to most perfume bottles nowadays that are seemingly made to be discarded after use. Although splash bottles don’t preserve your precious perfume as well as sprays, there’s just something so glamorous about dabbing your neck with a crystal stopper that I’m finding it hard to care!


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Fragonard Miranda (EDT)- A Non-Suntan Lotion Coconut Scent!

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Sweet, milky vanilla scents aren’t just for wintertime! As you all know, my penchant for sweet, rich gourmands often is at odds with the blistering heat of Arizona summers. Miranda to the rescue! From the classic French house of Fragonard, Miranda is a perfect contradiction, in that it manages to be an indulgently creamy, vanilla and coconut scent while also feeling fresh and breezy.

In the opening of Miranda, I get a green, non-sweet citrus zing. It almost feels waxy, like smelling the skin or the rind of an unripe lime.  Then, a milky, sweet coconut note emerges. It’s not heavy or syrupy – just that light, milky sweetness of opening a fresh coconut. The vanilla shows up to add sweet, gourmand delight. It’s not a cheap smelling vanilla, but it’s definitely a gourmand, almost ice-cream-like one.  As Miranda dries down, the vanilla gets more rich, and some oppoponax (sweet myrrh) adds a lovely balsalmic, resinous sweetness that isn’t too cloying. Some light white florals are in the mix somewhere, but don’t emerge in any pronounced way. At the end of the day,  Miranda really is all about the vanilla and coconut, but the secondary players (waxy citrus, light florals, resins) are just enough to prevent it from being a more generic coconut suntan lotion type of scent.

Miranda is also rather light – you can kind of just spray away with it, without worrying about choking people out. It’s certainly not a body spray or anything, it’s just not a terribly dense or monstrous scent- I tend to get around 4-5 hours out of it. This lightness makes Miranda perfect for the summer heat, but it can certainly be worn year round. And at around 60 bucks for a huge, 200 ml (!) bottle, this summer indulgence can be enjoyed with no guilt.


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Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere- The Perfect Modern Update

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Updating a classic fragrance for the younger crowd is an intimidating venture on its own – let alone when it involves updating Chanel No.5, probably THE most iconic fragrance on earth. Now, I know Chanel released No.5 L’eau recently, but I think they already hit the nail on the head as far as updating No.5 with 2015’s Eau Premiere . L’eau is nice, but a bit too far removed from No.5- it ends up feeling like more of a neutered version than a cool, modern take. Eau Premiere is certainly lighter and easier to wear than the original No.5 EDT and EDP, but it still has that distinct No.5 DNA, as well as, most importantly, it’s attitude. 

Upon spraying Eau Premiere,  your nose is tickled by lemony, fizzy, aldehydes that are a genius modernization of the OG No.5’s often nostril-burning ones. Here, they feel buoyant and fresh, like a crisp glass of champagne. Buttery ylang-ylang eventually emerges, along with some light rose and Jasmine.  In the drydown, Eau Premiere skips out on the more dated notes of the original: the animalic civet, the musty oakmoss- and instead presents a slightly creamy base of sandalwood, vetiver, and vanilla. Think of Eau Premiere as the Konmari’d version of No.5- it gives you that classic smell, only streamlined (and probably more likely to “spark joy” with most of today’s noses.)

The magic of Eau Premiere is that it smells classic but not dated.  Let’s face it, No.5, although an icon, can smell kind if jarring to “the youths” of today – it just smells so blatantly from another era of perfumery. I mean, when was the last time we had a major mainstream release that was aldehyde-based, or that even contained civet? Eau Premiere is also incredibly versatile – it feels just as at home with a tee shirt and jeans as with a ballgown. So, even as a millennial-friendly update, Eau Premiere is still as chic and classic as ever. 


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How Useful is the Term “Niche?”

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Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd that somewhere down the line, we all decided that the main way us frag-heads would categorize fragrances is by whether or not they are “designer” or “niche”? Look at the description of most YouTube reviews – you’ll usually see the “designer” or “niche” designation in lieu of listing even the fragrance category (or any multitude of more relevant things about the scent…) The agreed upon meaning of a “niche” fragrance brand is one whose main focus is producing fragrances… Which is, ironically, really,  really broad, in almost direct contrast to, y’know, the actual definition of the word “niche.” Why are we so fixated on what is, at the end of the day, just an interesting anecdote about the fragrance company?

Now, I imagine that “niche” is a useful classification to those who actually work in the fragrance industry, and thus the term probably made its way into the common fragrance junkie’s lexicon as a result. But how relevant is this to us, really? The mere fact that a company only (or mostly) makes fragrances doesn’t mean that they’re catering to a “niche” customer base at all. Most importantly, it tells you nothing about how a fragrance will smell. The kicker is, the actual, real use of the word “niche” would be useful in talking about fragrances, as that would tell you that you’re gonna smell something a little unusual and uncommon- made for a smaller audience. As of now, though, scents like this can be found in both “niche” and designer fragrance lines.

For instance, Michel Germain is technically a niche fragrance house, but their stuff literally smells like what you find at Victoria’s Secret and you can buy their scents at your local Macy’s. Comme Des Garcons is technically a designer brand, but their fragrance offerings are very creative, unique, and often times avant-garde to just straight up weird. Then, you have fragrance companies that produce many fragrance lines- including more mainstream ones alongside an exclusive or “prive” line that feels more “niche.” For example, Guerlain is technically a niche brand, but Shalimar and all those darn La petite Robe Noir bottles are super ubiquitous, while something like French Kiss can only be found in certain boutiques (and comes with a MUCH less friendly price tag.) And then you have indie brands which are apparently their own, separate thing. It’s all kind of a mess.

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Overall, I think that the whole “niche” vs. “designer” thing is silly to get hung up on. Unfortunately, too many people outright dismiss either category, insisting one is superior to the other, despite how arbitrary and pretty irrelevant these terms are. By being so absolutist, one ends up missing out on tons of great fragrances. At the end of the day, we need to fixate a little less on the minutiae of the fragrance companies business operations when judging a scent, and smell it on its own merits.


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Womanity- A Refreshingly Weird Summer Scent

 

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Womanity by Thierry Mugler is an infamously weird, wacky fragrance that actually isn’t that weird. It’s certainly unique- there’s not really anything else out there that smells like it. But there are so many overwrought reviews of this one that insist that its downright disgusting- that it smells of rotten fish, puke, and/or “dirty vagina.” Hoookay. No. (And uh, maybe see a gyno?) What Womanity is is an incredibly unique, fresh beach scent that conveys summer without resorting to cheesy coconut/suntan lotion vibes.

I was very late to the game in trying Womanity– I bought my bottle just last summer after acquiring and subsequently falling in love with my sample. The rather graphic reviews only made me want to try it more – after all, I was already a huge devotee to the other Mugler creation with a stinky reputation: Angel. I was morbidly excited to try my sample, bracing myself for something nasty and… hmmm… yeah, it’s a bit metallic… there’s a sweetness that’s a tad ripe… definite saltiness… but nothing gross. In fact, what I was met with was a lovely fresh, green, woody sweetness wrapped in that same cold-metallic-fruity quality found in Muglers Alien. Womanity has this weirdly metallic, sour nuance that reminds me of that feeling you get in your mouth after sucking on a sour warhead candy- it kind of makes your mouth water.  That’s thanks, I guess, to the full fig lineup featured in the notes- fig tree, fig leaf, and fig fruit, but the result isn’t exactly naturalistic. The metallic sweetness combines with an incredibly vivid, not aquatic, salty sea air accord. They call it “caviar” in the note listing, but it really feels like a cool, fresh beach breeze. Completely refreshing.

Now, even though I already stated that I completely disagree that Womanity smells like “dirty pussy”… I actually get where these people are coming from (hyperbolic as they are.) I think it’s pretty apparent that the concept behind Womanity was, shall we say ” the scent of a woman.” The pink juice, focus on the fig tree, the scent’s metallic nuance in the opening, the fact that ITS CALLED WOMANITY- yeah, they’re not exactly hiding it. But Womanity is no Secretions Magnifique- it doesn’t veer into vulgarity. Its just a lovely perfume inspired by something human. Like how Chanel No.5 (with both its soapy aldehydes and animalic civet) was inspired by the smell of a woman’s clean skin – even clean skin will have something dirty in there, because that’s what makes it human.

With Womanity, Mugler set out to make the first “savory” gourmand. The sweet/salty juxtaposition certainly provides that, but I’d say that what makes Womanity truly weird is how its a (summer!) gourmand that also feels (to some, vulgarly) human. In a world where summer fragrance options are mostly limited to generic fresh-ey citrus aquatics, Womanity, in all its ripe, metallic, salty glory is, ironically, a true breath of fresh air.

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