Perfumes, Wine and Ocean

This was planned for the previous week, but time just ran away from me. So, it’s a Second Sunday Samples post on the third Sunday of the month.

* * *

As we were planning a short getaway with friends, I was facing the usual perfumista’s dilemma: which perfumes to bring. Not only we had really vague plans that included wine and cheese tasting (not at the same time), eating oysters and beach walks, but also those activities were spread in two distinct temperature-wise areas – wine country (+32C/90F) and oceanside (23C/73F). Since I wasn’t sure how long each part of the trip would take, I didn’t want to subject any of my favorite perfumes to hours in a hot car trunk, so I didn’t consider either full bottles or even travel ones. At the same time, as a rule, I do not wear perfumes from samples that I test – unless I’m trying to decide whether to buy more. So I took with me samples for perfumes that I’ve either already included into my collection or considered for that.

 

Perfume Samples

 

I ended up wearing just one of the perfumes featured in the picture above – Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia: it was wonderful on a hot day and somehow managed not to clash with aromas from wines that we tasted that day, even though theoretically I wouldn’t recommend this perfume for the activity. I did a mini-review for it almost seven years ago in my post In the Search for the Perfect Pear, and I still enjoy wearing it but I still haven’t bought a bottle because I haven’t finished the decant and several samples that I got. It is though one of my strong favorites from this brand, and just in case you missed it in the sea of Jo Malone’s releases I encourage you to try English Pear & Freesia. Unless they change it beyond recognition, I see a bottle in my future.

 

 

One more Jo Malone perfume – Wood Sage & Sea Salt – I brought with me because it seemed like a good fit to the aquatic part of our trip. Created by Christine Nagel in 2014, with a short list of notes – ambrette seeds, sea salt, sage, seaweed and grapefruit, it felt right in place during our walk on the beach and later for the oysters and champagne dinner at the house that we rented with our friends. Wood Sage & Sea Salt wears nicely both on the tropical beach and on a cool NorCal shore (but I’m glad that I do not smell seaweed in the composition: even though I do not mind smelling it from time to time in nature, I wouldn’t want to smell of it). Will I buy a bottle once I finish my decant? I’m not sure but I might.

 

 

The biggest surprise for me was Mito EdP by vero profumo: I have tried it soon after the release and even remember liking it, but somehow I didn’t go through with the thorough testing – and the sample just stayed in my library for the last several years. It felt right for the occasion, so I took it with me, wore it on a sunny warm day for another round of wine tasting – and loved-loved-loved it.

Most of my readers had probably tested Mito before (and some even reviewed it), so I won’t go through the complete list of notes. But I want to mention my most favorite moments in this perfume development: prominent citrus opening that manages not to take this perfume into the summery cologne territory, slightly bitter greenness of galbanum in development and sweet warmth of … I have no idea what produces that effect but I keep bringing my wrist to my nose trying to figure it out… I think my almost empty sample isn’t enough to finish my study of this beautiful perfume, so I’ll just have to do something about it – in the interest of science, you know.

 

Vero Profumo Mito

 

Images: my own

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Sniffapalooza Samples Draw Winners

I’m having some technical difficulties that prevent me from posting a screenshot that hajusuuri has sent me for this draw winners but I assume that you’ll believe me that I saw it. So I’ll just announce two winners:

crikey

Brigitte

Winners, please send me or hajusuuri your shipping addresses.

(I can’t believe how limited the WP mobile app is. If I had to use it regularly, I would have stopped blogging years ago.)

Know-how: The Wizard of Oz

Samples play an important role in our shared hobby: first, it’s the only way to experience perfumes that aren’t carried in stores close to where we live. But even for perfumes that we can find in B&M stores, paper test is not completely adequate even to get to the Yes/No/Maybe point – let alone form the final opinion; and skin “real estate” is too limited to get a proper wearing to more than maybe 4 perfumes during one visit even in summer time. It means that we need those precious fractions of ounces to do the testing without having to immediately share our delight, or lack thereof, with a helpful and eager SA.

I started writing this post in the second-person of view format “you should [not]” or “do <this>,” but quickly realized that I didn’t feel comfortable giving advice while I know that most of my readers could write all that themselves. Besides, I do not undertake step-by-step instructions but rather want to share my experience and thoughts on the subject. So I’ll stick to a first-person narration.

* * *

I try to buy as few samples as possible. On the onset of this hobby I went through the “initiation” phase when I wanted to test all the best perfumes created by that time and then try everything new. But as I reached some saturation point, on one hand, and the industry exploded on us, on the other, I realized that it didn’t make sense to keep paying to test more and more new perfumes while neglecting those for which I previously paid, sometimes even twice – first to try and then to add them to my perfume wardrobe. Besides, with my “success rate” (I like about 10-15% of new perfumes I try) I would be just wasting 85-90% of the costs that add up really quickly.

So, whenever possible, I sniff perfumes for free in stores. If I see any free manufacturer samples offered, I grab them and do not waste time on trying those perfumes in the store, unless there is nothing else to try at that time. I also try to resist temptation to “re-visiting” perfumes that I already know and/or have samples of, unless I want to try something sprayed (vs. a dab sample at home), or if I’m trying to decide on whether to buy it, or there is nothing else to try at that time.

 

Samples

 

Since I’m not trying to be the first to write about some new perfume (heh, I’m not writing much about any perfume), I never buy samples because perfume is not available yet in the store near me. I know that it will be there before I notice, and, most likely, I won’t like it anyway.

It helps to know stores’ policies and “habits” regarding perfume samples. Do they allow making your own samples (Nordstrom)? Will they make you several free samples whenever you ask (Sephora)? Do they have at least sometimes and give away samples or can make them if you ask (Neiman Marcus, Barneys)? Will they sic on you mental health social workers if you ask for a sample even with a purchase (Macy’s)? If there is anything of interest, and I know that the place, in principle, gives away samples, I always ask for them with confidence – and often get them.

 

Samples

 

The next best thing to getting samples for free is to obtain them almost for free: swapping. Costs: shipping and maybe some supplies if I want to make samples from my bottles (and the cost of perfume though it’s immaterial since I won’t use up all of those 1.7/3.4 oz bottles anyway). But it’s a tiny cost compared to other avenues for procuring samples. I prefer to exchange samples with people to whom I wouldn’t mind sending those samples “just because” even without the actual exchange (it takes away the pressure of negotiations), but I did some more formal swapping as well.

Not too often but from time to time I realize that if I want to try particular perfume, I have to buy a sample. First I check if a brand itself offers samples from their website, especially if it’s a small company: even if the price of a sample is the same as elsewhere, I want to cut off the middleman.

 

Samples

 

If the brand doesn’t sell samples, I look for a split on NST or one of the FB groups because for slightly more money than it would cost to buy a small sample from a decanter site, in a friendly split I can get a small decant. And since splits are usually done for new or very popular scents, even if I end up not liking that perfume, it’ll be easier to swap it for something else.

When all that fails, I’m trying to buy samples from real perfume stores that sell samples online – Luckyscent, Twisted Lily, Tiger Lily, Aedes, Osswald, etc. I prefer places that specialize in selling perfumes, not samples.

As a last resort, I go to The Perfumed Court or Surrender to Chance. I’m grateful that there are such businesses: without them I wouldn’t have been able to try at least several perfumes when I needed to (“needed” as in tried to decide, on a couple of occasions, if I wanted to buy perfume that I liked in the store but didn’t get a sample: as the result, I bought one of such and voted down the other one). But since it is their business, and they need to make money doing it, it is the least economically sound way of getting new perfumes to try.

 

Rusty and Samples

 

How do you sample? What was the last sample that you’ve bought?

Me? Naomi Goodsir Or du Serail. After smelling it in Tiger Lily perfumery first, I decided to buy a sample to try it on skin. So, it looks like I do not blind buy even samples any longer.

 

Images: my own

Skin-Deep [Red] Chemistry

Skin chemistry is a debatable topic: purists will explain that there is absolutely no merit to using that term in reference to perfume-skin interaction; while numerous perfume lovers constantly refer to “my perfume-eating (or loving) skin,” complain about some notes or perfumes being nasty on their skin, or tell how great perfume in question smells on somebody else.

I might have listened to those who object to that definition had we been talking about a scientific publication or a presentation for the industry symposium. But “skin chemistry” is a good enough label to describe in layman’s terms the complex interactions perfumes have with our “soft outer tissue.” Our skin type (oily/dry), body temperature, foods we eat, products we use during and after shower, stress level, how well we slept and maybe even our clothes choice – all that can seriously affect how perfumes smell and develop on our skin, and I don’t think it really matters what is the exact nature of those differences.

Every time I read about perfume something that seriously contradicts my experience with it, I start wondering if it’s my nose or my skin to blame. I know that with different ingredients it might be either, but I had at least one experience when the “skin chemistry” explanation seems to be the most fitting.

Many years ago, in the office where I worked two other co-workers were also avid perfume devotees. All three of us, among many other scents, owned Hugo Boss Deep Red. And almost every time one of us was wearing it, the same dialog would ensue:

– You smell great! What are you wearing?
– Deep Red
– Really?!

It would happen in some variation again and again between any two of us, in any direction. We all liked Deep Red – both on ourselves and on each other, but we could never recognize it “in the wild.” From my side, I can tell that it didn’t smell even familiar – the way when you know that you smelled it before but cannot pinpoint what it was. Not only didn’t it smell on them like I it did on my skin, I couldn’t even tell that they both were wearing the same perfume. And back then neither my co-workers nor I had dozens of perfumes to wear or hundreds of samples. Eventually, I started guessing that it was that perfume just by recognizing the pattern of my reaction (“I like it very much, I do not know what it is but it smells really good on J… Oh, wait! It must be Deep Red again”).

 

 

Deep Red is one of a few mainstream perfumes that survived in my collection from the pre-rabbit-hole days. It is much simpler than most of my current favorites but I still like and wear it. Seven years after I mentioned it first in my post In Search for the Perfect Pear, I finished my third bottle of it (the red one on the picture above) and would have been thinking about getting the next one (hoping to find the older stock – just in case it has been reformulated beyond recognition in the recent years; I bet it was), but Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume) had rehomed with me her partial bottle of Deep Red (limited edition, in a silver bottle). So I’m probably all set for the next seven years.

 

Rusty and Hugo Boss Deep Red

 

Has anything like that ever happened to you?

 

Images: my own

Just a reminder: You still have until 11:59 PM PST today, May 20, 2018, to enter hajusuuri’s giveaway for samples from the recent Sniffapalooza.

Timeless Beauty

I have a friend whose hobby is to lead guided tours in San Francisco. Last weekend she invited us to join one of her tours – San Francisco Waterfront Walk. I had no idea what topic she had chosen but it didn’t matter because we went mostly for a walk itself and to spend some time with her and her husband later that day.

The tour started from The Palace of Fine Arts. It was designed by Bernard R. Maybeck and constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition as a temporary structure to exhibit works of art. It was intended to last for a year or so and be torn down after the exposition was over. But the Palace was so beloved by citizens of San Francisco that it was spared the demolition. Consistent with his design concept (it was supposed to evoke the impression of a Roman ruin), Maybeck had intended that the Palace should just fall into ruin, and so it did for a long time while serving all possible purposes – housing multiple exhibitions, lighted tennis courts (1934-1942), storage of trucks and jeeps (during the WWII), limousines motor pool for the UN representatives after the war, and other odd uses. By 50s “the simulated ruin was in fact a crumbling ruin” but in 60s it was rebuilt to its current state and is being maintained since then.

 

 

From the Palace we passed the streets that replaced the exhibit halls in the years that followed the exposition. We went by beautiful Art Deco buildings, through blooming jasmine, lilacs and irises, all the way to the Marina from where you can see one of the world’s largest examples of the Art Deco style – the Golden Gate Bridge on the left and Alcatraz Island on the right.

 

Up the hill, through the park and Fort Mason Community Garden, to the Haskell House and back down to the shore. It was a wonderful 3-hour walk on a sunny, breezy and, surprisingly for San Francisco, clear day.

What perfume does one choose for such tour?

 

Paris, 1926. ‘Art deco’ is all the rage, exoticism fascinates, and jazz stirs passions. People dream of faraway lands and precious woods. Once again, Coco Chanel shakes up the history of perfume by launching the first woody fragrance for women. An intoxicating, enveloping, warm, sensual, spiraling scent. It’s all there: the precious woods, the opiate scents and magnificent, languid flowers. The fragrance is a mysterious, faraway continent in itself.

 

That is an old quote from Chanel’s website. They’ve changed the description at least a couple of times over the last several years (I wonder if it coincided with reformulations) but you have probably guessed already that I chose Bois des Iles as my Waterfront Walk perfume. Since I didn’t know any details of that walk in advance, my perfume choice was just a serendipitous one. But it felt just right – airy, with a whiff of lilacs, jasmine, iris and rose, warm, slightly sweet and woody. Same as The Palace of Fine Arts and the Golden Gate Bridge, this beauty has survived all the years and reconstructions and is still mesmerizing and awe-inspiring.

Chanel Bois des Iles

 

Images: my own

Too Special to Enjoy … Ever?

Recently I read an article in NY Times “Aging Parents With Lots of Stuff, and Children Who Don’t Want It

As baby boomers grow older, the volume of unwanted keepsakes and family heirlooms is poised to grow — along with the number of delicate conversations about what to do with them. […] As […] older adults start moving to smaller dwellings, assisted living facilities or retirement homes, they and their kin will have to part with household possessions that the heirs simply don’t want.

This reminded me of how things were in my childhood.

I suspect that life was better in large cities than in more provincial towns or rural areas, but I can speak only about what I saw or experienced: I lived in a large city.

There wasn’t poverty around: you could buy food, clothes and other products one needed for the day-to-day life. But almost everything was not of the best quality, and even that you had to “procure” – spending hours in lines to buy something, moving from one store to another in hope to catch a delivery (of very limited quantities of goods), or “knowing” people who could “get” something for you – either in exchange for favors or for extra money. Demand always exceeded supply, so everybody was on a constant hunt for something. Official prices for small items weren’t extremely high but anything bigger or better required months or even years of savings.

Because of all that, most clothes and household items were used for decades. And even when our parents or grandparents managed to obtain something newer and better, they would usually save that for special occasions or a rainy day.

Nicer china, stemware and flatware were used 2-3 times a year for very special occasions with guests while in everyday life families kept using odd items from previous decades – chipped, discolored, missing parts and their set “relatives” but still perfectly usable. But at least those “special” sets got some use. It was worse when it came to towels and bed linens: while old sets were used until you could see through them (and sometimes beyond that), the new ones stayed in dressers for decades waiting for weddings, funerals or some very important guests. So usually it was the next generation who would get to use something that stayed new for a decade or two.

 

Spoons

 

By the time I grew up, the old life came to a sudden halt: within one year inflation ate up our parents’ life savings; fresh out of university and working for a private company, I was making 5 times more than highly educated and experienced people of my parents’ generation who worked for government-owned enterprises; and goods that flooded the market were … awful if you look back from today but so much better than everything that the older generation was saving carefully hoping to pass onto us one day.

We moved to the U.S. with two suitcases leaving behind most of the things we got passed on from a couple of generations.

 

Rusty and Two Suitcases

 

Many years later, I have “dress up” clothes but my daily outfits are nice as well (because I can afford it, which wasn’t the case for many people back in my childhood years). I have special dinnerware but I try to use it more often – for evenings with friends or even for more special dinners just with my vSO.

I also have many “special occasions” perfumes. A couple of them were designated as such: since I love them very much, I prefer to wear them for celebrations. But I’m talking not about these few.

When I started my current job, I became more perfume-conscious because in a smaller office I have a couple of people who [think they] have sensitivity to perfumes. I started using less and lighter sprays but would still get (very polite) complaints from time to time.

And recently I realized that I’ve changed not only my office environment but also my perfume habits and wardrobe. For years I had “daywear” (aka “office friendly”) and “dress-up” perfumes, and I wore those according to their designations. Daywear perfumes were light, pleasant and non-intrusive while perfumes that I wore away from the office were much more dramatic. But over time I accumulated too many perfumes that I put into that latter category, since those perfumes attract me the most. And when a large part of your perfume wardrobe consists of not-so-office-friendly perfumes, you end up wearing them more and more often. So, if to think about it, it’s surprising that co-workers do not object more often.

A year or so into my trip down the rabbit hole I was concerned that my testing got out of control pushing me to test new perfumes instead of wearing those that I already had. Back then I made a resolution to wear my favorite perfumes at least three times a week. With the collection growing, I quickly came to the schedule where I would wear perfumes from my collection during work days reserving evening and weekends to testing. But now, I think, I’m ready to the next step: I decided that I will be wearing numerous “safe-for-work” perfumes to the office and will make a conscious attempt to wear my “special” perfumes in evenings and on weekends, even if I’m stuck at home doing mundane chores.

 

Guerlain Perfume Bottle

 

What special things do you own that could use … some use?

 

Images: my own (and before you ask, those are not the suitcases we arrived with; and I do not own that Guerlain bottle)

Gift that keeps on… lathering

Traditionally, before a concept of unisex perfumes appeared, or the notion that everyone can wear what they like re-emerged, perfumes were subdivided into masculine and feminine groups. In my native language, in the past, you would have never called creations for men anything other than “cologne”; while their feminine counterparts were called “parfum” (those were pre-spray-bottle times, which, as I suspect, in that country lasted longer than in the USA or some European countries).

Surprisingly, soaps – in the form we had them back then (I’ve previously shared some insights into experiences of my generation in older days so I won’t repeat it) – were strictly unisex before we even knew that term. There were some special “baby” soaps but everything else that I remember from my childhood was sexless. And even when later we were getting some coveted “imported” soaps – Palmolive or Camay – they were never thought of as feminine, and the most macho men had no issues using those fragrant soaps.

When I discovered soap for men (a German company Schwarzkopf & Henkel in 90s came up with the idea of targeting men with their products), a dark navy box with the inconspicuous name “Fa for men,” it was revolutionary! I loved that soap and bought it more than once, even though it was relatively expensive. It was marbled blue and white, and smelled wonderful though I wouldn’t be able to tell what it smelled of.

Fa Soap

They were probably before their time, so in a while it transformed into Fa Sport for Men first, then into something else (it had happened after I moved to the US, so I don’t know/remember what it was in between and cannot find since it was before mass Internet), and then into Far Energizing (the picture above shows the most recent reincarnation: both the box and the soap of  the original one were darker but this is the closest I could find).

In the US there were enough local mass-marker brands, so I completely forgot about that European brand… until many years later I smelled Caswell-Massey’s Sandalwood Soap on a Rope.

When I blind bought the first bar, I didn’t know what to expect from the scent: I was looking for soap on a rope to hang and use in the shower and liked how this one looked on the picture. Years apart, I cannot say with any certainty that Sandalwood and Fa for Men soaps smelled identical but in my scent memory they were very similar, and that made me predisposed to like Sandalwood even before I started using it.

 

Caswel-Massey Sandalwood Soap

 

Sandalwood soap surprised me: not only it perfumed my bathroom for months, felt pleasant while used and would leave a fine trace of sandalwood aroma on my skin, but it was a much better quality than I expected from that type of a product from some random brand…

Well, in my defense I should say that by the time I arrived to this country Caswell-Massey wasn’t a part of the shopping landscape any longer. But before ordering my second bar from Amazon, I decided to read about the brand. I discovered that, according to Wikipedia, the company, created in 1752, “is the first fragrance and personal care product company in America. […] is regarded as the fourth-oldest continuously operating company in America and the oldest American consumer brand in operation.”

If you’re interested, you can read more about the brand’s history from the link above, I’ll just mention that as of 2017 it was re-launched (still as a privately owned company), and they’ve re-released their perfumes and colognes line (with some “updated formula” – whatever it means).

I bought my second Sandalwood bar as a gift to myself and my vSO for Christmas 2016 – and for almost 16 months since then he’s been using it exclusively and I would rotate between this soap and several shower gels. And it still has probably another month of use in it!

 

Rusty and Soap on a Roap

 

Do you know Caswell-Massey brand? Have you tried any of their products – be that soaps, perfumes or hand creams? Have you ever used any soap on a rope?

 

Images: Fa – from the brand’s site; all others – my own