Ipso Olfacto

fragrant musings


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My Top Boudoir Scents

“Boudoir” is one of my favorite scent genres. Even before my more involved fragrance exploration, I was always drawn towards anything evocative of vintage glamour: waxy lipstick, warm face powder, boozy vanilla… These qualities are perfume at its most “perfumey” and womanly, embodying that grown-up, elegant mystique that gets many young girls intrigued by the mysterious elixirs on their mother’s dressing tables. Although, my mom never wore perfume, so I think the perfume bottle-shaped hole in my heart was extra large in my case. So, I’ve acquired a number of boudoir scents over the years that have filled that olfactory void:

First up, we have Classique by Jean Paul Gaultier:

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Classique is a classic boudoir scent – the EDP, that is. The EDP is harder to find than the EDT, but it’s worth it. Its a rich, complex vanilla that’s evocative of a burlesque dancer dolling herself up for the night. There’s heady orange blossom and orchid, boozy vanilla, and a heavy dose of spicy rum. It’s rich, spicy, a bit powdery, but surprisingly not too heavy or overwhelming. It has a bit of a vintage nail varnish thing going on that tickles your nostrils a bit- back when nail polish was scented. I can’t help but think of Jennifer Lawrence’s character in American Hustle:

Next up, we have Lipstick On by Maison Martin Margiela:

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If Classique is a burlesque dancer getting ready for a wild night, then Lipstick On is her more introverted sister. Lipstick On is a very evocative scent – it opens with waxy iris and vanillic powder that vividly replicates the scent of vintage lipstick. Heliotrope provides a lovely touch of almond and cherry tartness, while rice powder adds a “starchiness” rather than talcum-powderiness. The composition is kept from being too sweet and soft with the addition of bitter galbanum. The overall feel is very warm- it feels like the olfactory equivalent of blushing. Absolutely gorgeous, and a must-smell for anyone into makeup scents.

Next up is another cosmetic scent: Misia by Chanel:

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which I sadly only have this adorable miniature of. Misia has that same warm, makeup quality of Lipstick On, but is much more powdery thanks to a heavy emphasis on violets. There’s also a pronounced tart rasberry sweetness that makes the composition even more delightfully girly. Misia truly evokes the smell of vintage face powder, with just a hint of lipstick.

A kind of runner-up is Angel Liqueur de Parfum by Mugler:

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It’s not as obviously “boudoir” as the others, but it still embodies that spirit. As you can imagine, this flanker is boozier than the original. It’s much drier, and has a subtle woodyness that recalls an aged liqueur.  Most prominent, though, is the honey. Non-sweet, slightly animalic honey. It’s drop dead gorgeous, and, in true Mugler fashion, incredibly potent. Perfect for a femme fatale putting on her “war paint” for the night.

I love how some fragrances have the ability to evoke a specific feeling or place. No matter how casual your lifestyle, being able to access a little vintage glamour via a scent is such an enjoyable form of “time travel!”

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Stash by SJP- The Celebrity Niche Scent

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 The prevailing formula for virtually every celebrity fragrance release seems to be: make it cheap, make it sweet, make it boring. These fragrances are all too often just concocted as a quick cash grab, based entirely on the popularity of the “celeb” promoting it. They’re like a manufactured pop band created based on an aging record exec’s idea of what’s cool and “hip.”

Stash is a notable exception to this vicious celebrity-fragrance cycle. It’s dry, woody, totally unisex, even a tad masculine- with barely any sweetness. There is no caramel, no cupcake, not even any vanilla! Which means that Stash never had a ghost of a chance at being a huge seller. Which is such a shame, because it’s a wonderfully cozy, unique, and actually quite “on trend” scent. Who knew Sarah Jessica Parker would make the perfect unisex-woody-aromatic alternative for Brooklyn hipsters who are tired of paying big $$$ for Santal 33.

Stash starts off very dry, woody, and peppery, with just the tiniest twist of grapefruit, to add just a bit of zing. As it settles down, Stash actually smells remarkably like fresh coconut rind- dry, woody, nutty, and just a touch creamy. Stash also has an interesting warm/ cool quality. It’s heavy cedar, balsamic resins, and smoky incense certainly feel “warm,” but there’s also a bit of a “chilly,” aromatic quality to it that can be found in a lot of men’s fragrances. This is thanks to aromatic rosemary and masculine, cool vetiver. Stash‘s unisex woody-incense-aromatic-ness makes it feel a bit like something Comme Des Garcons would release.

Stash doesn’t go through any crazy development- it’s pretty linear. It just kind of melds into your skin, giving a gorgeously woodsy, slightly musky “worn in” feel. This vibe, combined with the fact that it’s completely unisex, actually makes Stash feel a bit sexy, in that effortless “perfectly tousled bedhead” kind of way.  I’ve been reaching for it a lot this winter, as it’s just that perfect sweater scent that feels appropriate for most any occasion. However, the dry, slightly cool quality of Stash could make it appropriate even for warm weather. Sillage is soft, and longevity is actually good- about 6 hours, but by then it is a skin scent. However, with Stash being so affordable (there are giftsets all over TJ Maxx and Marshalls right now,) I don’t mind indulging in a few vigorous applications (and re-applications!) In developing Stash, Sarah Jessica Parker (who is actually very active in developing her fragrances) said that she asked “how do you capture [the scent of] a sweater that has been worn by somebody that’s absorbed musk or patchouli?” I would say that with Stash, Parker has beautifully answered that question.

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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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Vacation in a Bottle: Yves Rocher Monoi EDT & Body Oil

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Ah, the proverbial “tropical vacation.” When most people think about “getting away from it all,” their imagination conjures up an exotic somewhere with plenty of sea, sun, and relaxation. Unfortunately, in reality, we don’t all have the time and/or money to travel to, say, Tahiti, for a summer getaway. Luckily, French beauty brand Yves Rocher offers an affordable way to feel a bit of island relaxation at home with their Monoi line of lush, tiare scented products.

If you’re looking for an exotic, tropical summer floral, you can’t do much better than tiare flower (also known as Tahitian gardenia.) Tiare is a rich, creamy white floral that has a hint of fruitiness, similar to tuberose.  In both the Monoi Eau de Vahines EDT ($33) and Monoi de Tahiti body oil ($17), the tiare takes center stage, resulting in a full-bodied, vivid white floral scent that feels natural, never overpowering. This is thanks to the fact that they both contain a high concentration of tiare essential oils (keeping with Yves Rocher’s “natural, botanical” brand image.)

Both the Monoi Eau de Vahines EDT and the Monoi de Tahiti body oil smell very similar- they both, at the end of the day, are mostly just creamy, tiare goodness. In the oil, the white floral creaminess is perfectly combined with nutty, also creamy coconut- giving it just a hint of sweetness. The EDT also has a hint of coconut milkiness, but it veers more towards a vanillic sweetness. There’s also a pronounced fruitiness to the EDT that reminds me of opening a fresh, slightly under-ripe peach. They are both lovely, feeling like a sweet, summer breeze- but I think that I actually prefer the scent of the body oil in it’s simplicity. It just pairs so perfectly with the natural smell of warm, sun-kissed skin.

The only downside is longevity. The EDT doesn’t last more than a few hours on skin (longer on clothes, as always.) The oil, I think, lasts a little longer. I also hate the bottle for the oil, as it’s hard to dispense without getting it everywhere. Sillage is low- close to the skin. As expected, both the oil and EDT are lovely layered together. I see these more as “summer fun” scents- their function is to enjoy applying them- to relax and celebrate the smells of summer. And with Autumn on the horizon, I’ll enjoy every last drop of carefree, summer breeze while I can.


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Your Skin but Better: Bruno Acampora Musc

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I discovered Musc by Italian perfumer Bruno Acampora by accident.  It was one of those “wild cards” that I threw into a large sample order.  I was intrigued because YouTuber Katie Puckrik (come back to us, Katie!) said that it was her favorite perfume at the time- that it was a sexy, lived-in musk that smelled like “clean, slept-in sheets.”  So, I thought it was at least worth a sniff. And lo and behold, I fell in love!

What you first notice with Musc is that it’s, well, musty. It specifically opens with the distinct smell of mushrooms, fresh from the earth. Now, musty doesn’t really sound like something you’d exactly seek out from a perfume. But I find that dank earthiness to be addictive, in the same way that the sweaty, sweet earthiness of Mugler’s Angel sure sounds like it’d be disgusting, when in reality,  it’s what you’ve been craving all your life.

However, if you aren’t a fan of smelling like a mushroom forest, then you’re in luck. The musty-ness settles down considerably after 20 minutes or so, allowing dry, powdery sandalwood to emerge. There’s wisps of spicy clove and the tiniest hint of creamy vanilla. It smells a bit vintage, without feeling dated. But of course, all of this is wrapped up in a comforting, “lived-in” musk. This isn’t a clean laundry musk, nor is it a fluffy, candy musk that you find in a lot of generic gourmands nowadays. It’s human, but not dirty. And it effectively blurs the individual notes so that you’re left with a full, distinct scent.

I feel like Musc makes me smell like I’m staying in a cabin in the woods, and I’ve just taken a morning walk through the forest (maybe foraging for mushrooms!)  There’s morning dew on the vegetation, and in the air. So, I’ve been outside, but not exerted myself. Afterwards, I take a nap with the window open, letting the moist smells of the forest mingle with the ambient, cozy smells of home. Musc is how I think I’d smell after all that. Although it stays pretty close to the skin, Musc has great longevity, keeping me in my relaxing fantasy cabin all day long- and sometimes into the next morning!

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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.