Ipso Olfacto

fragrant musings


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A True Flower Bomb: Chloe Narcisse

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90’s powerhouse Narcisse by Chloe distinguishes itself from the brands rather tame modern offerings. I’ve always been kind of indifferent to the wildly popular soapy- -musky-fruity rose that is (modern) Chloe. It’s perfectly pleasant but ends up being a bit bland, so I’ve never felt the need to own it. Imagine my surprise when I blind bought a bottle of Chloe Narcisse towards the beginning of my fragrance collecting, and was met with a bold explosion of rich, narcotic yellow flowers, spices, and apricot syrup.

Narcisse has that classic powerhouse quality in that it’s opening is… difficult. This is actually one of things that I find distinguishes a lot of mainstream fragrances from the 90s and earlier from what’s popular today. Fragrances of the past weren’t as afraid of being a bit prickly when you first met them. So many fragrances now have the pressure of having to smell great straight out of the bottle, on a blotter, lest a potential buyer write it off for the hundreds of other options within easy reach.

Nope, Narcisse is a bit of a grower. It opens with strong apricot syrup- thick, warm, almost like cough syrup when mixed with the spicy, clove-like bitterness of carnation. Weather the storm for about 20 minutes, and the distinct smell of daffodils emerges to temper the syrup. It’s incredibly naturalistic- you get the whole daffodil package: the crisp, almost celery-like quality of the stem, the greenness of the leaves, and, of course, that unique spicy, pollen-filled yellow flower itself. There’s also marigold in there, along with tolu balsam, to provide some oriental, resinous sweetness. It’s a heavy yellow floral- in fact, when I first smelled Narcisse, the phrase “flower bomb” came to mind. Then, I remembered there’s already a fragrance called Flower Bomb that doesn’t really live up to that name.

Longevity is true to powerhouse status- Narcisse lasts all day, and just gets better and better as it dries down. In the real stretch, it reveals the slight woody creaminess of sandalwood. In a world of mostly roses, gardenia, and tuberose, the idea of a daffodil based scent, or any yellow floral really, feels exotic and intriguing. Plus, a heavy, unabashedly feminine powerhouse floral feels almost edgy among today’s mostly clean, restrained, unisex floral offerings. And that bottle! So gorgeous. AND when that bottle can be yours for around $15? Chloe Narcisse is a rarity: a high quality, bold fragrance that won’t break the bank.

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Blandly Literal: Jil Sander Sun

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I’ve been intrigued by Jil Sander Sun for a while now. It’s one of those classic 90’s scents that still has a cult following, and it frequently comes up on “cheapie but goodie” fragrance lists. I’ve always been drawn to scents that are made to smell like skin- clean skin, dirty skin, or, in this case, sun-warmed skin. I like how conceptual that point of inspiration is, rather than simply replicating an exact, isolated smell. Looking at the note listing for Sun, also, paints a picture of a complex, multi-faceted fragrance (carnation! Benzoin! Ylang-ylang!) Unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed when I finally came around to trying it.

Sun just smells… Bland. And sometimes, actually off-putting. I suppose it has all the right elements to get across that “skin sweetened by the sun” quality- it has sweet, creaminess, powder, resins, woods, light, spicy florals… But all of these elements just never feel quite balanced- like an inexperienced chef trying to follow a recipe by just eyeballing everything, rather than measuring. I also feel like the sweetness is overdone- especially in the opening. It has a grating, chalky quality to it. Think of the smell of opening a bottle of Tums. Yeah, not the sweetness I was looking for. It actually kind of smells like all of Sun‘s notes have been pulverized and crushed into a tums-like pellet. You don’t get the distinct, powdery almond sweetness of the heliotrope, nor do you get the real warm, resinous creaminess of the benzoin- the personalities of each individual note has been beaten into submission. Sun also doesn’t go through very noticeable development- it just dries down slightly less sweet, and gets a little more pleasant and woody by the end. But it still just ends up smelling like the residue from some generic, sweet suntan lotion- which, admittedly, fits the bottle design. Sun is most tolerable once it hits the 4 or 5 hour mark, where it becomes a soft skinscent that lingers for a few more hours.

Sun can be found very cheaply online- I got my bottle for less than $15. And that’s the thing- this review is for the current formulation of Sun. I’m sure that back when Sun was more popular (and therefore, more profitable) it was probably a better scent. But, alas, it’s current formulation is nothing impressive. Sun, despite seemingly containing every note under the sun, weirdly just ends up being boring.


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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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Gap Close- The Bargain Summer Skinscent

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Unfortunately, my fragrance tastes don’t really align with the typical weather here in the desert. My absolute favorite scents are heavy, sweet, smokey, earthy, and rich. That’s all well and good, but when it’s triple digits outside and the sweat is rolling, those aren’t exactly the smells that you want mixing and mingling with your hot and heavy bad self. I’m not a huge “shower fresh” kind of gal, but sometimes ya just need to do shower fresh, for survival’s sake. A shower-fresh scent that I love? Gap Close. The kicker? It costs less than a movie ticket.

Like any fresh fragrance, Close opens with a citrusy, slightly aquatic zing. However, that goes away rather quickly to reveal a creamy, lotion-like scent. It honestly smells like freshly-lotioned skin after a shower- real skin- slightly salty, a bit creamy, and musky. This comes thanks to a lovely salt water note, along with some almond and fluffy, non-sweet vanilla. The whole package is tied together with soft, non-cloying white musk. It’s a very well blended scent, so these notes don’t take turns taking center stage, but all merge together in this lovely scent of healthy, clean skin. It’s so well balanced in that it’s fresh but not sporty, clean but not detergent-like.

As the name suggests, Close stays close to the skin- which is what you want on the hottest days where even a relatively light scent can become cloying. It lasts almost all day on clothes, but disappears from my skin in 3-4 hours. But at less than $10 for a 50 ml bottle (at my local TJ Maxx,) you can reapply with no guilt. So many sporty-fresh-aquatic scents just smell so.. robotic. Like, nobody naturally smells like calone. That’s why I’m so thrilled to have found my perfect summer skinscent- something to make me smell clean and fresh, but still human.