In the Search for the Perfect Vanilla, Part 1

I realized how uneventful recently my day-to-day life has been when I started questioning myself whether I was going a little overboard with a number of posts based on a single week’s vacation… It made me thinking that, as much as I enjoy my work, I should probably at least try to do something about it taking up most of the resources in my life so that I would have inspirations without having to fly two thousand miles. Meanwhile, I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth and proceed with the post.

The last day of our Maui trip we spontaneously decided to go to Makawao – an old Upcountry town. A Guide book (yes, I still use a paper book despite Internet, smartphones and all other modern ways of getting useful travel information) highly praised town’s famous bakery (it was closed that day but we knew about it beforehand thanks to my iPhone) and promised “unexpected shopping finds” (not the exact quote since my book currently is traveling again with a friend).

Makawao Restaurant

Going from one small shop to the other, we agreed with the Guide: there were many interesting small boutiques selling not the usual touristy rubbish you see in most other places everywhere in Hawaii. One of the stores (Designing Wahine Emporium) surprised me by an unusual choice of perfumes. Most often in Hawaii you can find some local offerings that play on the most common ingredients – plumeria, pikake, coconut – or exploit ambience theme – Kauai or Maui Rain, Hawaiian Night Mist and so on. None of those that I’ve ever tried was good enough to come back with me even as a souvenir from the pleasant vacation. But in that store I came across a large selection from the TokyoMilk line and several Kai perfumes.

Since I’m not a big fan of either brand and I haven’t even heard about the third one I saw on the counter, I was a little skeptical about three perfumes from that unknown brand. I inspected them carpingly: the bottles reminded me of Comptoir de Sud (one more brand that has never won me over), and they had “Made in France” label but the name of the brand did not sound familiar. I smelled all three from a nozzle: they all smelled of vanilla, which wasn’t surprising since each of them had that ingredient in the name. I even liked what I smelled but there were no paper strips to try them and I was an hour drive away from the place where we stayed, so testing unknown perfumes on skin was completely out of question.

It was almost time to head back, so we left the store but decided to make a quick stop at the local coffee shop – Sip Me. If you ever get there, try their wonderful drink “Simply Coconut” – a smoothie-like blend made just from fresh coconut. As we were drinking it with vanilla shortbread cookies, I kept thinking how wonderful the cookies smelled… until I realized that the smell was coming from my fingers.

It was too late to return to the store and try to figure out which of the three perfumes transferred to my fingers; so for the last sunset of my vacation I had to satisfy my hankering for vanilla with Diptyque ‘s Eau Duelle, which was great in the warmth of Maui evening.

Maui Sunset

On the return from the vacation I spent some time looking for that brand, the name of which I completely forgot. Somehow I managed to figure it out, went to their website – and a week later I had a full set of La Maison de la Vanille‘s samples.

La Maison de la Vanille is a relatively new niche brand from France: they started in 2006. Based on how they allude to exotic locations and “distant shores” citing those as inspiration, either their perfumes do not contain specific vanillas from those destinations, or their marketing department’s not doing a great job. My money’s on the former.

Even though 10 out of 11 perfumes in the set contain vanilla, only 6 of them are vanilla-centric, so I concentrated on testing those 6 – Vanille Givree de Antilles, Vanille Noire du Mexique, Vanille Fleurie de Tahiti, Vanille Divine des Tropiques, Vanille Sauvage de Madagascar and Absolu de Vanille. I can’t say that I disliked any of the six I’ve tested.

Vanille Fleurie de Tahiti and Vanille Sauvage de Madagascar are too sweet for me to wear. Somebody who’s more tolerant to this type of sweetness might find more nuances in these two but most of the notes listed on Fragrantica are lost on me.

Vanille Noire du Mexique and Absolu de Vanille are less sweet than the previous two and have some additional facets that make them a little more interesting to wear but probably I won’t: they are just not distinct enough. But, again, your mileage…

I like Vanille Givree de Antilles: it reminds me a lot of Angel. But I already love, own and do not wear the original Angel and its Taste of Fragrance flanker, so I should probably skip this one (after I test the remaining juice in parallel with Angel – just to confirm my impression).

And Vanille Divine des Tropiques is a winner for me. I should admit: out of the promised amber, jasmine, hyacinth, tuberose, gardenia, heliotrope and vanilla I think I can smell amber, vanilla and some floral component though I fail to recognize. And if tuberose of any kind – be that the most natural or a Fracas-style one – is in there, it hides well from my tuberose-adverse nose. I’m thinking about getting the smallest bottle of Vanille Divine des Tropiques for the next time I crave vanilla or want a reminder of the great vacation I had this year.

La Maison de la Vanille Samples Set

If you like vanilla perfumes and haven’t tried this brand yet, at 10 euro for the set, including S&H, I do not see a good reason not to (if French isn’t your strong suit, I’d suggest using Chrome’s “Translate this page” functionality as I did).

Images: samples from the brand’s site; the rest – my own

Black Lace in Tropics

If I were to name the best material for tropical clothing, I would be choosing between cotton, linen or silk, and I would be looking at it from the point of the comfort of wearing it in the heat and aesthetic. But, as I discovered, in the beginning of the last century there were serious debates in the Great Britain on that subject from the prospective of health and hygiene in tropical climates. People were writing serious articles in the Journal of Tropical Medicine arguing pros and cons of those fabrics that I mentioned above plus wool, about which I wouldn’t even think despite the existence of the term “tropical wool” (now I actually know what it means). The best color for tropical clothes was also widely discussed: wearing less heat-absorbing white/light colors was supported by one camp, while the other one advocated the idea of mimicking “black” skin (for the health reasons).

Also, it was interesting to learn that Burberry was producing and advertising clothes for working and traveling in the colonies, and that those weren’t cheap back then either.

Burberrys' Tropical Clothing Ad

From when I was a child, I knew that skin doesn’t “breathe” in clothes made from synthetic fiber (one of those wisdom that is passed from the older generation and usually isn’t questioned). A couple of years ago I had a chance to actually prove it to myself: as I was using a steamer on the clothes I had with me on a trip, I noticed how great it worked with my wool sweaters and my vSO’s cotton shirts but was completely useless for my blouse made of one of rayon’s variations.

It pains me to see that more and more summer clothes are produced from the synthetic or semi-synthetic materials. I understand that it’s cheaper than natural fabrics but how greedy are those companies that charge $100+ for a “summer” dress made of polyester?!

So why would I bring a black lace with me on my tropical vacation? I wouldn’t have if it hasn’t been … a lipstick.

Lipstick Queen Black Lace Rabbit

When I read about the upcoming release of Black Lace Rabbit, which was “playing on the idea of “going down a rabbit hole where nothing is what it seems” (a nod to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), I immediately felt drawn to it. And since I love Lipstick Queen‘s Hello Sailor (I’m finishing my second lipstick and plan to buy the third one), I ordered Black Lace Rabbit online without trying to find it in a store first.

In a tube Black Lace Rabbit looks solid black with golden flecks but on lips, unlike those cheap Halloween makeup lipsticks, Black Lace Rabbit is just a sheer and slightly shimmering tint – like a veil over the natural lip color. It seemed very appropriate for the tropical evening attire.

Lipstick Queen Black Lace Rabbit and Hello Sailor swatches

As I was taking pictures of Black Lace Rabbit, a perfectly color-coordinated with my photo session local cat visited our lanai. I think that with his third eye he perceived how much by that time in our vacation I was missing Rusty…

Maui Cat

Images: Burberrys’ ad – from the article referenced above; others – my own

Song of the Sea

There is a term “false friend of a translator” – words in two languages that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning (see Wikipedia). These words do not even have to look/sound exactly the same but as long as they somehow “click”, one’s mind does the rest.

My first encounter with this phenomenon was a word “complexion”: it sounds similar to the word in Russian “комплекция” that means “build” (as in “the dimensions or proportions of a person’s or animal’s body”). The next one was even more drastic: English “pathetic” just begs to be used as a translation for Russian “патетический” (“grandiloquent”).

As I’ve discovered, it doesn’t even have to be a foreign-native pair; foreign-foreign works as well. For a while in my mind “Sogni del Mare” was associated with “Song of the See.” I don’t know if for a native speaker (reader?) “sogni” looks anything like “song”, but for my eye it was (and is) close enough – even now when I know that it means “dreams.”

I tried Sogni del Mare (Dreams of the Sea) by Antonia’s Flowers for the first time many years ago from a dab vial that I bought from the brand’s site as a part of a sample set*. I liked it very much and was even considering a bottle purchase (in my regular “think ten times” manner). Then one day I saw Sogni del Mare at Barneys and was about to buy it but decided to spray it first – just to see how I like it in that form.

It was awful! Not just different from how I remembered or less interesting but plainly awful. There were some very unpleasant herbal notes I never smelled in it before… Of course, I didn’t buy it then.

At some point later at home, when I remembered about the incident, I re-tested my old sample: I still liked it. I couldn’t believe it was the same perfume! “Maybe they’ve reformulated it since I got my sample?” – I asked myself and ordered another set of samples. Reformulation wasn’t the case: I still liked Sogni del Mare from the new vial. Then the only explanation I could think of was that Barneys had a turned tester bottle.

A year later, while at Barneys again, I decided to try Sogni del Mare again – with the same result, believe it or not. I was amazed and I couldn’t explain how it could happen (it couldn’t have been the same tester, could it?). But I asked for a sample, which I brought, together with the other two, to my recent Maui vacation.

Antonia's Flowers Sogni del Mare

I wasn’t imagining things: the sample from Barneys’ bottle was clearly off. I do not know how exactly they managed to do that, but even remains of my ancient first sample (from 2007!), though slightly changed, smells closer to the newer sample than what I smelled twice at Barneys (a year apart).

Sogni del Mare isn’t a statement perfume: it’s soft, tender and … dreamy. I’m not a big fan of colognes but this perfume’s citrus opening charms me. I do not like rhubarb in any of its uses but it doesn’t bother me here. I love black currant and like lotus note in perfumes but I do not distinguish them in Sogni del Mare. All that said, every time I try Sogni del Mare, I realize that I still like it. The only reason I haven’t bought it yet is my fear that samples were from the “old batch” while the perfume was reformulated and “what you smell [at Barneys] is what you get.” But maybe I should still risk it?..

I’m not sure I have a notion about how exactly dreams of the sea might smell, but if you would tell me they smell like Sogni del Mare, I would say: I don’t see why not…

Maui: Dreams of the Sea

Images: my own

* It looks like the sample set is still offered from the brand’s site for a nominal price. They do not ship to Europe but if you’re in the U.S. and haven’t tried their perfumes, you have to!

Mary Greenwell Plum Giveaway Winner

Either most of my readers live not in the U.S., or everybody got all the Plum they bear, but I got just two entries for the giveaway.

It was easy for Rusty to choose the winner, and it happened so fast that I wasn’t able to take a picture of the process. But at least I managed to catch his tail seconds before he completely lost interest in my photo session and ran away.

Rusty and Mary Greenwell Plum

But probably at least a couple of people are curious as to who’s the winner.


Please contact me with your shipping address (Rusty played with my travel spray; yours is still in a shrink wrap).

crystesmom, if you’d like to get the remaining 2.5 ml of my Plum sample (and a couple more samples to keep it company), please send me your shipping address as well.

Image: my own

Wearing White After Labor Day

I don’t think I’ve heard that expression before I moved to the U.S., but once I did (moved and heard) it felt intuitively understandable and logical. I knew that it wasn’t a rule actually imposed or followed anymore, but it came naturally for me since I didn’t wear white clothes either before, or after that arbitrary check mark in the calendar.

I don’t have anything against the color white per se (unless we’re talking about cars: for whatever reason it’s my least favorite color for a car exterior), but I grew up thinking of white clothes and shoes (especially shoes!) as of completely impractical and wasteful.

Where I lived, people weren’t really poor but everything was a little scarce: nice(r) things were hard to get, so everybody used what they managed to buy for a long time. Many people did not have washing machines and there were no dryers – so there was a tendency to wear clothes longer between washes than we normally do nowadays. Most people used only public transportation, which was in a much worse state of cleanliness than those that I do not consider clean enough today. Somehow streets even in big cities were much dustier in dry seasons and muddier in wet ones than even in suburbia where I live now. And on top of that we didn’t have that many hot weather days compared to cold or at least cool months. So with all that in mind, it’s not surprising that many of us favored “not easily soiled” clothes.

Long after I moved to the U.S., started buying as much clothes as I wanted and even got my own washing and drying machines, I still steered clear of white in my wardrobe – just out of habit. Until several years ago, while on a vacation, I realized that I kept admiring white dresses, pants and tops that one of my friends was wearing. After some internal negotiations, I agreed (with myself) that I didn’t have to be practical any longer. I could afford (in all meanings) to start wearing impractical* white things from time to time.

Rusty and Puredistance White

WHITE by Puredistance was a strong “like” for me from the first spray: it was so bright, happy and sunny. And immediately in my head it became a summer time perfume – not as something I would wear in a heat wave’s afternoon but perfect for a warm summer night out. I tested WHITE, liked it, and told myself that I’d buy a bottle once my samples were gone. But then the fall came, I moved to wearing my colder season favorites, while waiting for the next WHITE-appropriate season.

I do not know what makes WHITE a summer perfume. When I’m thinking about it, I can’t say that WHITE is lighter or less opulent than, for example, Amouage Dia or Frederic Malle Iris Poudre, both of which I associate with autumn (or even with our NorCal winter). And still WHITE feels right for the white clothes season.

This summer I enjoyed WHITE again getting closer and closer to the end of my second sample, so I’ll need to get that bottle soon. But we’ve just celebrated Labor Day…

Rusty and Puredistance White

Have you seen already Puredistance’s new website? It’s white!


Images: my own (no, I didn’t allow Rusty to play with a bottle of WHITE – it’s a factice bottle sent to me by the brand together with the samples that I’ve been enjoying but from the fact that I plan to buy a bottle you can infer that I truly liked it)

* A curious coincidence: in the definition of the word “impractical” in Google, “impractical white ankle boots” is given as an example of use

If it didn’t work the first time…

I read that this perfume was about to be released. I’m a little surprised to see it on the counter already, but since it’s there, of course I want to try it. I do not expect much but, against all odds, I still have a faint hope that it will be good…

“It’s a great new perfume featuring … “<here goes a list of notes> – announces an SA materializing at my side, –“It’s not available yet, you know. It’ll release next month. But I can pre-order it for you…”

I’ve heard a variation of this line a dozen of times. And every time I feel baffled: why?!! Why would I possibly want to pre-order the scent that I just smelled for the first time? It’s not something exclusive or limited. They do not offer any type of deal or a discount. So why to pre-order now if in a couple of weeks it’ll be in all the stores for me to buy on the spot or to spray in abundance and think until the next holidays if I want it?

My standard reply usually is: “I’ll think about it, but meanwhile could I get a sample of this great new perfume?” Not a single time I left without it.

Jo Malone Basil & Neroli is a typical Jo Malone perfume: it’s not unpleasant, not complicated, and becomes a skin scent within a couple of hours, leaving you free to choose whatever you want to wear next. I think it’s rather appealing for the opening five minutes: it’s juicy, moderately sweet and very uplifting. But then it gets just flat on my skin.

While Basil & Neroli still might be considered a unisex perfume, at least initially it is more feminine then Jo Malone’s staple and “a modern classic” (even if they say so themselves) Lime Basil & Mandarin, which is strange, if you think about it: shouldn’t the fruit (mandarin) be sweater than blossom oil? But 30-40 minutes into the development I’m not sure I can really tell them apart unless I smell them side by side.

Speaking of Lime Basil & Mandarin, being a Jo Malone fan, for years I tried that perfume again and again hoping I’d change my mind but kept on strongly disliking it – until I got Lime Basil & Mandarin soap as a part of a GWP. I simply love it! The combination that felt too masculine as perfume is just perfect for daily washing rituals. A couple of months ago I got anxious that there would be soon just a sliver left from my current then bar of LB&M – and hurried up to buy a replacement bar. Today I’m still using that first bar, and from the way it looks, there is another month or two in it. So if you were to wait for one of the brand site’s good deals, which happen from time to time (like 3 samples or, even better, a 9 ml travel bottle with any purchase), with free S&H that soap might be the best $20 spent.

Rusty and Jo Malone Lime Basil & Mandarin Soap

As for Basil & Neroli, I can’t think of a reason to even try it – unless you’re looking for a citrus piece for your perfume wardrobe, or find yourself in a store or an airport’s Duty Free with absolutely nothing else interesting to test.


Image: my own

Bargains That Hunt (Haunt?) Me

“The more you spend, the more you save” – we all heard this phrase or some variation of it. Every time I sigh, repeat in my head: “The more you spend, the more you spend” and resist buying things I do not need.

I’m very particular with brands I use in everyday life, so the “worst” I can do is to choose the one that is currently on sale if it’s one of those that I would buy full-priced.

Since I went down the proverbial rabbit hole, I haven’t been tempted by the deepest discounts different sites or stores like T.J. Maxx offer for mass-market perfumes. You won’t find those $20-$40 “couldn’t-pass-bys” in my collection: even though I like some of them while testing, every time I tell myself that I would buy a bottle as soon as I finish that sample – and I never do.

If to add all that to my cat-like “spontaneity” (I can wiggle for months or even years before pouncing on a bottle of perfume I loved when I tried it), one would expect my collection to be an extremely curated and tailored closely to my tastes. It could have been so if it weren’t for my Achilles heel – niche perfumes bargains.

Every time I come across a discount for the niche line that you cannot usually buy other than for the full price, or see a true bargain, I feel that I just can’t miss that opportunity! Or what, you’d ask? It’s not that I wouldn’t or couldn’t pay full price for a bottle of perfume if I really liked it. And the only risk of not having perfume to wear comes from me not being able to choose which one from my collection I want on that occasion. But at those times all my rationality goes out the window.

For a while I was able to dodge the bullet by buying perfumes that I would have probably bought anyway but recently I got a couple of “misses.” I still hope I’ll change my mind on one of them,  so I won’t mention it now. The second one was L’Artisan‘s La chasse aux Papillons. It was cheap (I think around $35 for a new 50 ml bottle), old design (who knows what happens with these perfumes now, when they’ve changed the bottles), and it was La chasse aux Papillons (nice perfume, everybody likes it – right?).

Rusty and La Chasse aux Papillons

When I got my bargain bottle and applied this perfume for the first time, I realized that I didn’t know or remember it. I’m positive that I tried it several years before and I thought that I liked it then, but the perfume I smelled from my wrist was completely unknown to me, and I couldn’t explain to myself what had possessed me to buy it without testing it one more time (I still had the sample!). It isn’t unpleasant, I do not dislike it, but with so many perfumes that I love in my collection why would I spend time wearing something that is just “nice” or “not bad”?! It seems Rusty shares my feelings: the picture above was the only one I managed to take of him and La chasse aux Papillons. After that he was totally not interested in that bottle.

Rusty and La Chasse aux Papillons

You would think that should have taught me… I am getting better. Once I read in Vanessa’s (Bonkers About Perfume) post that at The Fragrance Shop she “clocked the fact that Mary Greenwell Plum is on offer at £28.50 for a 100ml bottle, or £19.50 for 50ml. The more you spray, the more you save!” (emphasis mine), I immediately went for the sample I had.

I liked it. Probably as much as I did two years ago when I wore it from my sample for the last time. I went back to the shop’s site and put a 50 ml bottle in my “bag” (I’m curious, is “bag” a U.K. equivalent of the U.S.’s “cart”? Vanessa’s “on offer” was also a new form for me being used to “sale” or “deal” in similar context). The site immediately informed me that just for £9 more I could get twice as much perfume. I do not like 100 ml bottles. I think that even 50 ml is too much for most perfumes. But just £9 difference… I wore Plum for the next 2 days trying to figure out how I feel about it. I didn’t love it, so I decided to be rational and not to buy a 100 ml bottle… or a 50 ml one. “And this time I almost made it, came so close to saying no”, but Vanessa’s next post with a giveaway of the Mary Greenwell Plum bottle from Liz Moores of Papillon Artisan Perfumes (what is the chance of having two unrelated “papillon” mentioning in one post?!), who couldn’t resist the bargain but didn’t like it afterwards, had a strange effect on me: I felt a new surge of desire to buy this perfume. I struggled with myself for a while but finally capitulated and bought… two 8 ml purse sprays – one for me and one for the giveaway.

Mary Greenwell Plum

Since this perfume will arrive to me from the U.K., where you still can buy it for a song, I decided that one trip over the ocean should be enough, so the giveaway is open for anybody in the U.S. Other than letting me know that you live in the U.S., just tell me if you’ve already tried and liked Plum or want to try. The draw will stay open until the Labor Day, when the bottle is supposed to arrive. Either Rusty, or will choose the winner.

Do you succumb to bargains? What was your best bargain haul ever? Which was the most regrettable?


Images: Rusty & La chasse aux Papillons my own; Plum – my friend’s A., also known as a “perfume mule”