SOTD: Choice Overload

Overchoice or choice overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.

Many years ago, when my collection was less than 10 bottles, every morning I would just look at all the bottles on my shelf and choose one of perfumes that spoke to me that day.

Angry Birds and 3 Demeter Perfumes

Once I fell through the rabbit hole, and number of perfumes increased, every night before going to sleep I would mentally sort through all my precious possessions and choose what perfume would get my skin time the next morning. Back then I would try new perfumes during the day, so I was equally wearing perfumes from my bottles and from samples. I enjoyed my nightly ritual, and it would save me some invaluable morning time.

As the collection … matured, a concept of wearing perfumes vs. testing them had been introduced: for me to consider an occasion of applying perfume as “wear” it should be a) applied to more than one point and b) at least for a while, be a single perfume on my skin. At that point I stopped wearing perfumes from samples: I had so many perfumes that I already loved and paid money to own that it made no sense to keep kissing an army of frogs instead of spending days with already realized kings. But even without samples the number of choices reached the level where going through them at night would have the same effect as counting sheep…

Serta Sheep

But since I face this first world problem every day (and even more so as the time goes, with every next bottle or decant joining my collection), I keep trying different methods.

Visual Inspection

If I’m not pressed for time in the morning (and sometimes even when I am), I would still try this proven method. The issue with it is that my bottles – still in their boxes – are placed on the shelves in several rows, so even thought I tried to arrange them the way that the taller ones go farther into the shelf allowing the shorter boxes to be visible, it’s not a completely unobstructed view. As to decants, being in drawers, they are not easily “readable” when I look at them from above. I even tried adding two-letter abbreviations on the caps, but good luck figuring out before the first cup of coffee what “AB” or “BA” stand for).

Plagiarism

Sometimes in the morning, while still in bed, I read through the SOTD thread on NST or APJ until I come across somebody mentioning perfume that I feel like wearing that day. The disadvantage of this approach is that a high percentage of the reports are for new releases: many of the participants are still in the phase of testing/wearing just released perfumes from samples, while for me it usually takes a while to get newly released perfumes to join the line-up for wearing (read: become a bottle or decant).

Projects

I participate in at least some NST’s community projects on Fridays but a week-long (as many of participants do) “wear your oddest fragrance” or “wear a perfume by ” is too much for me – though I did a full week of ambers recently to catch-up on wearing those before it got too warm.

Lucas’s A Month of Roses (February 2017), my NovAmber (2016) and A Month of Irises (February 2018) were fun and made it easier to choose what to wear (since I had to plan each month well ahead), but seemed too limiting – so I cannot do those projects too often.

Going Big Small Data

Since I have all my perfumes and their usage recorded in a database, I created a simple query that would produce a list of perfumes that I haven’t worn in the last 2 months. The drawback is that as it doesn’t take into account any additional aspects – season, office-friendliness or occasion (I explained my complex perfumes-for-occasions designation in the first part of this post) – the query would produce still a long list, inevitably trying to steer me into wearing Amouage Ubar (my “special occasion” winter perfume) or Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess (an ultimate tropical vacation perfume) all year round.

Rusty on Laptop

How do you choose what perfume to wear?

Jessica (Bonjour Perfume) recently covered this topic on her blog and told about the unusual precognitions that guide her in this important decision-making.

I do not possess similar abilities, so I decided to try to improve my perfume database to be able to ask that important question. But to get the right answer one should ask the right question – so I’m trying to figure out what question I should actually ask, and I’d like to get your help.

If you could ask an all-knowing Answerer to choose perfume for you to wear on any particular day, what data points would you want it to consider? I’m talking not about guessing your mood or predicting reaction of somebody you’d meet this day, but information about perfumes, your previous experiences with them or any environmental factors that can be put into some formula and calculated.

Images: my own

 

The Royal Nonesuch of Perfume

Several years after we moved to the U.S., we found our friend F. who we knew back in our student days. He emigrated about 8 years before we did, and we lost each other. So it was great to re-connect. But since we settled down on the opposite coasts, we visited each other several times over the years, but mostly our communications were over the phone.

Most conversations with F. revolved around the topics of trips and theater attendance – mostly F.’s since my vSO and I, being new immigrants, weren’t traveling or going to theaters much. We would also talk about books and movies, and there we probably still had a lot in common, though sometimes during those calls I had that strange feeling as if I was being quizzed on how interesting our life was. Most likely, it was all in my head and F. was sincere in his attempts to share with us cultural experiences and impressions but I do remember the feeling and my limp attempts to keep up. And then one day F. told me about a wonderful new film they’d just seen: a very unusual, avant-garde and so forth…

Today I don’t have much patience to waste time on something I dislike, if I can help it. But 17 years ago I patiently sat through the complete 81 minutes of The Blair Witch Project, going through the stages of confusion, disbelief, annoyance, anger and – did I mention disbelief? I couldn’t believe F. actually liked that and recommended it to us! And he wasn’t the only one who raved about it: there were enough high ratings and favorable reviews and articles online. It was beyond my comprehension… And then something clicked: I knew what it was!

AT THE COURT HOUSE!
FOR 3 NIGHTS ONLY!
The World-Renowned Tragedians
DAVID GARRICK THE YOUNGER!
AND
EDMUND KEAN THE ELDER!
Of the London and Continental Theatres,
In their Thrilling Tragedy of
THE KING’S CAMELEOPARD,
OR
THE ROYAL NONESUCH ! ! !
Admission 50 cents.

LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED

I’m not sure if you were as impressionable as I was when I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to remember what that handbill was about, but I was so captivated by the psychological component of the scam that it stayed in my memory for decades.

In short, a couple of scoundrels announce that performance in a small town. First night, when it proves to be not much of a performance, the audience figures out that, in addition to losing money, they will be ridiculed by their peers. So instead of beating up the con artists right there and then, the first half of the town goes out and tells the second half how hilarious the play was. Then the rest of the town’s population pays for the same questionable experience. So the third night the whole town comes to the performance anticipating the revenge and armed with things to throw. But the con men disappear right after collecting the entrance fee.

My theory is that with The Blair Witch Project it just took too long for the “whole town” to watch it, so meanwhile the “first half” had time to cool down.

Recently, after reading Mals’ (Muse in Wooden Shoes) review of Oriza L. Legrand‘s Chypre Mousse, I started thinking that for the last couple of years I was participating in another adaptation of The Royal Nonesuch. And while it’s definitely not on the TBWP’s scale, I would say that it covers a population of at least several Twain’s towns.

The Royal Nonesuch

Mals was the first blogger (out of those whose blogs I read) who openly described how awful her experience with Chypre Mousse perfume was. Until then I read only positive reviews and I paid my “admission fee” (I got a 5 ml decant in a friendly split). The first test was such a shock! I actually hated the scent but suffered through the development hoping it would get better – it didn’t. Then it took me some time to get around testing it once again – the same result but that time I quickly retreated to the shower.

I do not plan to ever test Chypre Mousse again and, just in case, I will probably stay away from the brand altogether. But for some strange reason not only I didn’t write about that experience in my blog, I don’t think I’ve ever commented on any discussion of this perfume. I call it strange because I don’t have any loyalty towards this brand, I didn’t get it as a gift from somebody’s deeply loved bottle and it’s not even a small indie company, which I would be afraid to harm by saying something negative. Of course, it means I wasn’t saying anything good about it either so analogy isn’t complete but still I feel like with my silence I helped propagating the illusion of the consensus about this perfume being great, and one day we may end up in the “third night” crowd, as it was described through the eyes (nose?) of Huckleberry Finn:

I see that every man that went in had his pockets bulging or something muffled up under his coat – and I see it warn’t no perfumery, neither, not by a long sight. I smelt sickly eggs by the barrel, and rotten cabbages, and such things; and if I know the signs of a dead cat being around, and I bet I do, there was sixty-four of them went in.

 

Now, when I feel that I’ve done everything I could to warn “the rest of the town”, I do not mind hearing how great Chypre Mousse works on your skin. Does it?

lebaB fo rewoT or Found in Translation

Not knowing a language usually creates difficulties in many aspects of life: doing business, traveling or trying to appreciate not visual forms of art. But sometimes the confusion of tongues produces amusing results.

A couple of months ago Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume) in one of her travel reports shared a joke:

We didn’t encounter any ‘Geisterfahrer’ on tour though – so-called ‘ghost drivers’ who drive the wrong way down the motorway, causing a major risk to other traffic. Oh, and the bass player remarked that for a long time he had thought ‘Ausfahrt’ was a major city in Germany, as so many roads seemed to lead to it…

It reminded me of my own road-signs-related confusions. One of them also involved German language. The first time I was in Vienna, for a good five minutes I stood next to a street name sign on a building trying to put a mental “You’re here” on the map in my hands. Finally I willed together all the shreds of my year-and-half of the German technical translation course and had an epiphany: it wasn’t a street name!

Einbahnstrasse sign

When I moved to the U.S., the first time I saw a road sign “$1000 FINE FOR LITTERING”, it enthralled me: I didn’t realize it was a regular road sign. I thought it was a custom-made board by clever city officials who chose that sarcastic way of fighting against garbage on the road to their city. You see: I didn’t know the “penalty” meaning of the word “fine.” So in my head I read it as a short version of: “If you have extra $1000, go ahead, make all the mess you want – it’s gonna be just fine!”

1000 dollar fine for littering sign

But sometimes foreign language might play tricks even with well-known words. As I was descending down the rabbit hole I kept reading about Lush/Gorilla perfumes but there were no shops close to where I lived and buying Amouage or Tauer‘s samples seemed like a better idea. But one day, while on a vacation, I spotted a LUSH shop.

Have you been to a Lush store? In my opinion, it’s an offense on the olfactory system (Body Shop and Body Works are in the same boat) and I try to pass those stores while holding my breath. But I really wanted to try their perfumes – so I braced myself and went in. I don’t remember much. I think at the time they had five perfumes – The Smell Of Freedom, Tuca Tuca, Orange Blossom, Lust and … Breath of Dog. At least that was how I read it back then. And while it didn’t surprise me much (what else would you expect from Gorilla Perfume?), I wasn’t in the mood to subject my nose to that experiment on top of everything that was going on scent-wise in the store. So after quickly trying the other four I left.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized my mistake. But the damage had been done: I could never bring myself to testing that perfume. I see that it’s still (well, again) in production though new packaging looks beyond cheap and doesn’t inspire me to overcome my preconception.

Lush Breath Of Dog perfume

But as I have recently discovered, when it comes to perfumes and their names, someone’s native language can also be the culprit.

I realize how hard it is to come up with a name for a new perfume and maybe I’m being too partial when it comes to perfumes based on Russian culture or references (remember my rants about Swan Princess or Russian Tea?) but the name of the latest perfume from Suleko (a brand reflecting strong Russian heritage of its creator) – Baba Yaga – makes me shake my head every time I see it: What were they thinking?!!

On the brand’s site they tried to give it a spin: “Baba Yaga is the terrifying witch, which appears in the Russian tales. Since our childhood, she lives deep inside us and represents this dark force, which encompasses all our fears, our doubts, our anxieties. This force gradually grows upon our head and will get so powerful one day that we will have no other choice but to face it if we want to live instead of survive.” It’s such hogwash! (Should I have said “hagwash”?) Unlike the English word “witch”, which can bring any associations from the Hansel and Gretel‘s hag to the sexy trio from The Witches of Eastwick (and for which in Russian there is another word with the similar plenitude of meanings), “Baba Yaga” means one thing – “a hag who lived in the woods in a house on chickens legs. She would often ride through the forest on a mortar, sweeping away her tracks with a broom.” Together with the description of the bottle –“Two eyes are coming out of the wood, they watch you and challenge you, and Baba Yaga’s tortuous hands appear on one side; she is gradually coming out of the bark of the tree which one can feel with its coars [sic] and rugged touch.”- it makes me think of some bizarre hybrid of LOTR’s Gollum (psychobabble about living inside us) and Fangorn (the appearance).

Sand Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga on the picture above was made from the sand but it’s a good depiction of what comes to mind when a Russian-speaking person of any age hears that name. Would you like to wear this old lady perfume (literally!)?

Speaking of perfume, I can’t say it’s bad. It doesn’t smell cheap or artificial. But I didn’t find it interesting or appealing to me. And then again, that name…

Have you ever misjudged perfume or decided not to test it based on its name? If yes, which perfume was it and why?

Images: the first sign from here; the second sign from here; BOG – from Fragrantica (edited by me); Baba Yaga – my own.

“Orchids haven’t started blooming yet…”

I saw my first live orchid when I was about twenty years old. I knew about their existence, read about them in books and maybe even saw them once or twice on TV (not sure about that part though) but they just weren’t present where I grew up.

As I tried to remember from where I knew about orchids, Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout were the first suspects that came to mind. Those who read the novels know the important part that the orchid greenhouse plays in the stories: the fact that the famous detective was spending in there four hours daily making clients, police and everybody else adjust their schedules around that activity is one of the common elements of most books in the series. I liked these mysteries and read many of them. So it was hard not to get intrigued by the orchids.

Orchids

But no, these books came into my life later and they weren’t my first encounter with the fascinating flowers. I think the first impression – or rather imprint on my psyche – had been left by the film based on Arthur Conan Doyle‘s novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Do you remember the scene when Miss Stapleton meets Dr. Watson for the first time and, thinking he was Sir Henry Baskerville, tries to warn him?

“Man, man!” she cried. “Can you not tell when a warning is for your own good? Go back to London! Start tonight! Get away from this place at all costs! Hush, my brother is coming! Not a word of what I have said. Would you mind getting that orchid for me among the mare’s-tails yonder? We are very rich in orchids on the moor, though, of course, you are rather late to see the beauties of the place.

That is the only scene where orchids are mentioned in the book and it’s not too captivating. So why did it have such an effect on me? As I mentioned, it was a film not a book and orchids played a much more prominent role there.

Unlike that character in the book, Sir Henry in this film version was depicted as a slightly goofy and peculiar man. I would go so far as defining him as a comic relief. There is a scene in the movie – a totally original one, there’s nothing even remotely close to it in the book: Sir Henry and Dr. Watson, while waiting in Sir Henry’s room to discover the reason for the secret night journeys of the butler, Mr. Barrymore, to the window, got drunk and Sir Henry, for a minute and a half of the screen time, kept asking Dr. Watson what exactly Miss Stapleton, with whom he was falling in love, told Dr. Watson about orchids and Dr. Watson kept answering: “She said: it is too early to see the beauties of the place since orchids haven’t started blooming yet.” And they went on and on about it (see the video clip below; it doesn’t have subtitles but body language and manner of speech is clear enough to understand what is going on).

That last part about orchids became a popular expression. I’m not sure if others caught the season swap – I didn’t. It wasn’t until I looked up the original quote for this post that I realized that there was a switch.

I don’t know with any degree of certainty why the script writer or the director decided to do that: I doubt it was done for the phrase. But knowing where the movie was filmed, my guess is that they’d decided it would be easier to depict Devon’s nature in early spring without any greenery. And did I mention we had no orchids whatsoever?

I like orchids. Not only they are utterly beautiful but they are also very enduring: they bloom for months. But orchids do not like me: the longest I managed to keep one of them alive was about two years and it never bloomed again. Usually, though, it ends up like this (giraffe finger puppet optional):

Orchid post bloom

So while I still get real orchids in my house from time to time, I decided to focus my attention on more … durable objects. Who would have thought I could find a context to classify perfume as durable? But compared to orchids…

Black Orchid by Tom Ford does not require an introduction: by now everybody has tried it and made up their minds (but for those who landed on this post right after returning from a desert island, Kafka’s review provides all the information for this perfume you might crave). I just want to touch on a couple of aspects.

First, Black Orchid is one of a few perfumes that live up to the qualifier: it smells deep and dark. It’s not a day-wear perfume and it even smells differently in the evening (OK, I know that this part is subjective but I had to share how I feel).

Second, I fail to smell chocolate in Black Orchid. Usually I’m not surprised when I cannot get some notes since my nose isn’t too good with discerning them. But chocolate?! Do you know how many kilograms of dark chocolate I’ve consumed?!!

Speaking of chocolate, are you aware that there is an orchid variety that smells like chocolate? I encountered it on my Hawaiian trip – in a greenhouse though, not in nature (see the picture below). Black Orchid doesn’t smell like it either.

Orchid that smells like chocolate

Back to durability… I’ve recently discovered that my mini bottle of Black Orchid has gone bad. I got it in a swap so I’m not sure how old it is but it reinforces my bias against dab mini bottles. If I go through the remaining spray sample I might consider a small bottle since I like both the scent and the bottle. And I like the idea of a black orchid.

 

Images: my own

Entertaining Statistics or Marketing Faux Pas de Deux

Try to remember what was the association that came to mind when you heard perfume name Swan Princess for the first time? Was it one of the images below? Or was it something else?

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While writing this post, I decided to survey my friends, relatives and co-workers. I asked them the same question but since most of them are “civilians” (©Tara) and they haven’t heard about this perfume before, I didn’t want to influence their opinion so I just asked for the associations based on the name, without showing them the pictures I chose for this post (actually, Barbie idea came from my co-worker).

Disclaimer: Since I used a sample of convenience (rather than a probability sample), results aren’t representative of any real trends. This is intended strictly for the entertainment purposes.

I split all of the respondents into two categories:

  • native Russian speakers with English as a second language
  • native English speakers and other native language speakers with English as a second language

The majority of the respondents in the first category (native Russian speakers) correctly guessed the association intended by creators:

The swan is a gracious bird which has been glorified in the folklore of many countries. I can’t say that we were inspired by a particular piece of art. There are many which leave you breathless, like Mikhail Vrubel‘s painting Swan Princess, which we chose to illustrate our creation.

Swan Princess by Vrubel

I’m not sure how much you’ve previously read on the topic so I’ll give a short summary. Pay close attention: this is not a trivial construction. Swan Princess is a painting (1900) by Mikhail Vrubel that depicts a character from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899–1900) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was based on the poem The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan (1831) by Aleksandr Pushkin. Oh, and the painter’s wife – Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel (see photo below) – sang the role of the Swan Princess in the première of the opera.

Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel

I’m not surprised that Russian-speaking respondents picked up on the association: even though we all knew well the tale, Swan Princess (Tsarevna-Lebed) didn’t feel like a main character but it was the painting that was firmly connected to that name.

The most common association expressed by participants from the second category (native English speakers and non-Russian speakers) was Swan Lake – a ballet (1875–76) composed by Tchaikovsky. Other associations mentioned were movies and a TV show – Black Swan, Princess Bride, Barbie Swan Lake and Swans Crossings. One person mentioned a children’s book.

Not to waste such an opportunity, I also included a picture of the perfume and asked to guess just by the name and the packaging which age group is a Swan Princess’ target market.

Swan Princess by The Vagabond Prince

Since I didn’t suggest any age groups as possible choices, responses were highly dispersed. The range I got was from 8 to 85 years old with two peaks: 13-20 and 60+. Variations on “teenage girls” and “Grandmother” were mentioned several times each.

Probably ballet isn’t the worst association (Penhaligon’s and Les Parfums de Rosine recently went directly for it) but even in my small poll group there were many… less flattering associations. And with the packaging that says anything but “luxury niche perfume” it can’t be easy to sell $200 bottle of perfume for teenagers.

Why do I care? Why didn’t I just dismiss this release the way I do with most perfumes by which I wasn’t impressed? It’s simple: I did expect more from creators of Fragrantica and I feel disappointed. And I still can’t believe that they, out of all people, decided to launch their perfumes only in 100 ml bottles.

What about perfume? I know tastes differ but, in my opinion, Swan Princess is just boring. It’s not unpleasant. It’s not pleasant. It’s unremarkable. Which isn’t that surprising: as talented as Bertrand Duchaufour might be, nobody can create 10-20 masterpieces per year (and we’re talking only about official releases: who knows how many dictators’ daughters had urges to launch their own brands in those years…)

A Simple Equation Or In the Search for the Perfect Rose

I deadened
The sounds, dissected music like a corpse,
Proved harmony by algebra. And then,
Then only did I dare, with all my lore,
Yield to the bliss of my creative fancy.
A. Pushkin, Mozart and Salieri

In celebration of this Valentine’s Day I brought you a bouquet of the rose stories. They all can be described by a simple linear equation:
Ax + ByWhere x is “a single rose stem” and y is “a colored glass container.” Changing parameters A and B I got three different results.

Ax + By = A Genetic Mystery

One of the rose bushes in my grandmother’s garden bloomed with big dark red flowers with velvety petals. They had a very light and unremarkable aroma but were extremely beautiful and, judging by the reaction of grown-ups, very rare. I don’t remember seeing anywhere else such roses. Or apples, apricots, cherries, tomatoes and many other agricultural wonders. It was a matter of fact that most of my classmates, who was growing in the big city without any relatives in villages or smaller towns, had never seen fruits or vegetables of that quality. But as a child I had never thought of how it came that my grandparents, who lived in a small town in a single family house with some land, had the best produce in the neighborhood where everybody grew those plants – I just was very proud of it. Now I realize that they both were big enthusiasts who were actively seeking good cultivars for plants they wanted to grow and spent a lot of time taking care of them. It was their hobby and they did it in addition to their regular jobs – he was a plant foreman and she was a surgical nurse. And probably thanks to their avocation, unlike many kids, I grew up loving fruits. But I was talking about roses.

As many beautiful things are, this rose was very fickle: it didn’t want to propagate through the cuttings. It didn’t reject the idea outright but it never produced the offspring of the same deep color. From everything I know about this method, it shouldn’t have happened but I saw it once with my own eyes and heard my grandmother’s neighbors and friends’ complaints that their new roses weren’t the same as on my grandmother’s rosebush. Of course, they didn’t grow to be yellow roses with divine scent but you would not be confused that they came from another bush. The picture below is the closest to the color I remember but the shape was different.

Dark Red Rose

A = “dark red”, B = “painted mason jar”: “A single stem of the dark red rose from Grandma’s bush under a painted mason jar” = an unexplainable evolution phenomenon.

Perfume to match: Amouage Lyric. When I wear this perfume I think of the beautiful and capricious rose that I saw last several decades ago and still remember. I wonder if a bottle in RL has that nice deep red color as on pictures. I think it’ll look nice on my shelf…

 

Ax + By = Lesson Learned

The second variety that grew in Grandma’s garden was a Tea Rose. Whereas it didn’t look as gorgeous as the whimsical dark red one it smelled wonderful and I remember it being used in conserves and home-made liqueurs. Have you ever tried rose petal conserve? The taste is nice but not too interesting: it is mainly sugar syrup with rose flavor. But the texture is very unusual: petals get soft during the cooking but they keep some residual firmness. Natural home-made rose petal conserves have light amber color and taste better than they look.

If instead of cooking rose petals were left to ferment (I saw the process many times but was too little to remember the sequence of adding water and sugar) and later fortified with alcohol, the result was a very tasty and beautiful dark-pink colored liqueur. I was allowed to taste some before Grandma would add alcohol.

One of the first perfume experiences in my life was using rose oil. I don’t remember if it was available where I lived but in the smaller town where I spent summers at my grandparents’ you could buy a tiny 1 ml vials on a card with Bulgarian Rose Oil. It wasn’t too expensive: I think you could have it for the price of two ice cream cones. But one can be expected to forfeit only that many ice cream cones…

Tea rose in the garden smelled very similar to the last drop of the rose oil in my vial and since I observed my grandmother’s dealing with all those petals – how hard could it be to make my own perfume?! I picked the most scent rich flower from the bush, tore off the petals, put them in a small cobalt glass jar (somehow I knew that it shouldn’t be transparent) and left for several days to steep. It smelled rather nice during the first day and I had high hopes for the end product… When a week later my grandmother explained (as much as she could – I was 10) the disappointing result of my experiment and bought me another rose oil vial, she allowed me to throw away the jar without trying to clean it. It was the last time in my life when I experimented with making my own perfumes.

Lancome Mille et Une Roses

A = “tea rose”, B = “cobalt glass jar”: “tea rose steeped for a week in a cobalt glass jar” = I still love blue bottles but will stick to buying “ready-to-wear” perfumes.

Perfume to match: Lancôme Mille et Une Roses. Many years ago a friend shared with me a decant of this perfume. She said it wasn’t as good as the original 2000 et Une Rose but I liked it. Since then I’ve added a bottle to my collection. The color of the juice mesmerizes me and even though real blue color is unobtainable for the roses (we won’t count dyed white ones or genetically engineered with blueish hue), the beautiful peppery rose of Mille et Une Roses doesn’t smell artificial.

Ax + By = An Improvised Holiday Decoration

When moving overseas with limited luggage allowance one has to choose carefully what to pack and what to leave behind. Among other things, bringing which was completely out of question, were vases with which I grew up. Those were massive cut crystal vases that alone would have sent our suitcases into the excess baggage category.

When it’s your first apartment in the new country and you need to buy pots and pans and plates and cutlery and bedding and … everything, vases aren’t high on the list. So at least for the first several years the only vases I had were those free ones that came with premade bouquets. One day when I came across Moselland Cat Bottle Riesling, I bought two bottles – white and black – just for bottles themselves. Wine was perfectly drinkable (back then, I’m not sure if I would think so today) and bottles moved with me as we changed apartments.

Rose in a Cat Vase

With A = “red” and B = “white cat bottle” you get “red rose in a white cat bottle” – a romantic single rose bouquet, which is good for any occasion but especially for Valentine’s Day. A = “black artificial” and B = “black cat bottle” result in the perfect Halloween decoration.

Perfume to match: Les Parfums de Rosine Rose d’Amour. It is not a big favorite in the Perfumeland, you’ll find maybe a couple of reviews and those aren’t too glowing. But I loved it the first time I smelled it in the store, tested it for a while, bought a bottle six months later (which is really fast for me) and enjoy wearing it almost every time I put it on (it doesn’t work in hot humid weather).

There are many other rose perfumes that I like and wear so one day I’ll add their stories to the bouquet. What about you? Do you have any rose [perfume] stories to share?

 

Images: dark red rose from here, all others my own.

Captured in Amber of My Memory

Two young girls (about 11 years old) from different parts of the country met during a summer seaside vacation and became friends. One of the girls, let’s call her Emma, wore a pendant made from amber that had a tiny fly inclusion in it. She told her friend (let’s call her Ann), who admired the pendant, about the gem – from where it comes and how it is discovered. And each morning of the trip the two of them would be searching the beach hoping to find amber – without much luck. As Emma was leaving a day earlier, she suggested to Ann, who had lost hope to find anything, to do the last search alone. Even though her parents were hurrying her to leave, Ann went back to the beach and, against all odds, found a beautiful piece of amber. She was so excited that she just clutched it in her hand and ran back to her parents. The first time she actually looked at it was on her trip back home. First she was amazed by how beautiful it was – even more beautiful than the one in Emma’s pendant. Then she was surprised that her amber also had an inclusion in it. And then she discovered a tiny hole in the gem and realized that it was from a pendant’s bail…

Amber Pendant

This is an abstract of the story I read many-many years ago. Since I remembered neither the author nor the name of the story, I tried all the searches I could think of and didn’t find it online. So I did my best reconstructing it from memory. I wanted to share it with you because it was the first association I got when I heard the perfume name Captured in Amber. Not just the story itself but that warm feeling from the generous and completely altruistic gesture of friendship: Emma, whom Ann would probably never see again since they were too little and lived too far away from each other, not only gifted her friend with her own amber but made it in a manner that ensured that Ann couldn’t refuse it.

*

I find it fascinating that Shelley Waddington, the founder of En Voyage Perfumes and the creator of Captured in Amber, included in the composition both ambers known in perfumery: the accord created from labdanum, benzoin, vanilla, etc. and ambergris, which used to be known as amber before this name was adopted to mean “Baltic amber (fossil resin).” You could say that this perfume is a study in amber.

Despite what it says in the list of notes or what I read in others’ reviews, I do not smell chocolate in Captured in Amber. For me it’s rather a honey-like smell. But it is good honey, not the one that gets urinous# as it develops. When I applied Captured in Amber for the first time I was astonished by how precisely it fitted into how I imagined perfume with that name should smell. It is sweet and viscous and rich and warm and I cannot stop smelling my wrist – even when I’m wearing it with the regular application, not just testing. I keep doing that because the scent is such that I just want to soak it up in the less diffused form, directly from my skin. I feel caught, captivated, captured in that amber and I won’t even try to escape…

Amber Ring

It would be perfect to conclude this post with a picture of Rusty sniffing a bottle of Captured in Amber but I still can’t decide which concentration I should buy – eau de parfum or parfum extrait. As soon as I make up my mind I promise to make it up to you.

 

Images: pendant – from Via Valeron online store; ring – my own.

 

# MS Word spell check insistently tried to replace “urinous” with “ruinous”; not just suggesting but actively substituting. It’s not completely wrong: urinous honey note in perfume is ruinous to my enjoyment of the said perfume indeed but still I prefer a software application not to put words into my mouth, so to speak.

Everything Is Relative

He didn’t feel comfortable. Not comfortable at all. He had never bought anything from that type of stores before. But it was her birthday. So he sighed deeply end entered.

“Hello Mr. Stone! Or do you prefer Tom?” a bright-eyed, professionally exuberant shopping assistant smiled at him.

Some of his friends though it was spiffy when kids addressed them by their first names so he went along with that but he could never understand the idea of complete strangers’ familiarity, “Mr. Stone is fine.”

“Mr. Stone, I’m Cindy; I will be your Scent Guide today. Are you looking for something new for yourself?”

“I need to buy a gift… A perfume…” he paused trying to collect the thoughts: everything he saw looked a little strange and not the way he remembered or expected.

“Would you like to try the newest flavor from PepsiCo?” she made a slight move towards the stand on her left.

“No-no, I don’t need the newest…” A couple of times when he brought her something a sales assistant persuaded him “everybody is crazy about”, she thanked him with a polite smile but later, as if without connection to anything, she would go on and on: “I don’t understand why they try to re-invent the wheel: my favorite perfume was just perfect – why did they have to discontinue it?!”

“Oh, I see, Mr. Stone,” the girl smiled understandingly. “Here, Blanc Noir is one of the best sellers for the last couple of years. It’s a truly unisex composition and it’s very popular with our customers.”

“Sorry, Cindy, I didn’t explain it right… I’m looking for the special perfume. I need…” he chuckled apologetically. “Of course, now I can’t remember the name… Wait… I have it somewhere… somewhere… Right! Here it is.”

She looked at the name blankly and paused looking at the surface in front of her; then a flicker of recognition appeared in her eyes but was quickly replaced with almost disdain, “Oh, it’s an “old lady” perfume…” she burst out, then stopped herself and tried to recover, “I mean, nobody uses this one any more…”

“My mom is 70, so I think she would qualify,” he smiled for the first time.

“Of course, Mr. Stone. I’m sorry. Just a second, I’ll start your order,” she re-applied the cheerful smile to her lips. “What application form does your mother prefer? Do you want it as a drink, pill, food supplement or a patch?

“I need a perfume…” he felt as if they were speaking different languages.

“You mean, you want it in its historical form, in a bottle?” she tried very hard not to sound surprised.

“Yes, please!” he made an effort not to get annoyed telling himself that it was just a usual arrogance of youth.

“Here’s your order summary. Please check the price and your payment credentials. We scanned your biometric information at the beginning of the session but you know how those systems are sometimes…”

“Everything looks correct.”

“Great! We’re almost done,” her smile was shining exactly the way it was in the beginning of his visit. “Please make sure your 4-D printer is on. When ready, just say “Deliver!” or use OK gesture. I’ll stay online until your order is delivered.”

“Thank you, Cindy. You’ve been helpful.”

“Thank you for shopping with us, Mr. Stone! I hope to see you again soon.”

He fiddled with the bottle for a while: it looked very similar to those he saw on his mother’s dresser when he grew up. He didn’t remember the scent but hoped she would like it as much as the perfume the memory of which she loved.

V&R Bonbon

This fantasy came from my thinking on the topic after reading “old lady perfume” musings of one of the young(er) bloggers (yes, believe it or not, there are some people who consider themselves perfumistas and still use that term!) And though I’m still some years away from qualifying, for some reason it bothered me enough to create that story. It must be age-related.

War’s Unwomanly Face: Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin

Even though I was born to the generation born to the generation that went through the War, we grew up knowing about that war, remembering it and not leaving it behind us. Not only around holidays and special dates, but all year round we were watching movies about that war, reading books, listening to songs. We had our own mythology that became a common knowledge, the uniting force. Fascism wasn’t an abstract term: we knew a lot about it and hated it. Even people who opposed the Soviet regime held that war sacred. It was our war.

Of course, we knew about World War II, allies, joint effort to defeat Nazi Germany but in the country we always thought and talked about it as of the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945.The USSR lost twenty million people to this war. There were probably no families not affected by that war. It was our War. It was our Victory.

One important part of that patriotic mythology was an image of the Russian Soldier – the Defender, the Protector, the Liberator.

Soviet War Memorial in Berlin

So when I first read the explanation behind Serge LutensLa Fille de Berlin perfume in Kafka’s review, I was appalled: how could he?! How dared he?!! They had started it! They were enemies who invaded our country, who methodically exterminated civil population, destroyed cultural heritage and stole everything they could steal – and they did it not even on an individual level but as an organized and controlled plan.

I understand that any war has multiple faces and that regular people who might have not contributed to their country’s decision to start a war might suffer from it as a result. I understand that horrible actions of one side do not justify those same actions from the other. But while Nazi Germany for years tortured and killed millions of civilians – just for belonging to the “wrong” nation or ethnic groups – as well as employed forced laborers, killed POWs and bombed hospitals, Germany got to endure the hardship of the regular army occupation for a couple of months (I’m talking just about the after war chaos since later both the Soviet and the U.S. authorities put an end to an uncontrolled violence) – and we should pay a tribute to their women’s resilience and hardship they went through?! I sympathize but … cry me a river. You don’t want to pay homage to women of the country that brought communism affliction to Europe? Fine. How about Polish women who suffered greatly from Nazis? Or Jewish? Not sexy enough, Mr. Lutens?

Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin

Yesterday, on May 9th, the Victory Day, I wore La Fille de Berlin. I did it as an act of a symbolic protest against current Russia’s actions against Ukraine and its attitude towards the rest of the World. I like this perfume. I like the disturbing color of the juice. I like the opening rose burst and the metallic undertone of the scent. I wish I hadn’t read Kafka’s or Victoria’s (EauMG) reviews: I usually do not care for an ad copy or perfumer’s commentary so if it weren’t for those reviews, I would have skipped them (and I promise to myself never to listen to those pseudo-philosophical mumblings again). But what I read about La Fille de Berlin is imprinted in my mind now and I just cannot bring myself to wearing it.

During the Great Patriotic War my mother’s mom was brought to Germany against her will to be a Fremdarbeiter. She died young after the war and her sister, who during the war served as a nurse in front-line duty unit, raised her. I knew her as my grandmother. My father’s mother, a medical school student at the time, helped in the hospital in Evacuation. So I’d rather stick to my Portrait of the Lady rose – it suits me better.

Al Farrow The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro 2012

War’s Unwomanly Face is a name of one of my favorite books written by Svetlana Alexievich. You can download it in PDF from here (author’s site):

A woman is the giver of life; she safeguards life, so “Woman” and “life” are synonyms.
But during the most terrible war of the 20th century a woman had to become a soldier. She not only rescued and bandaged the wounded; she also fired a sniper’s rifle, dropped bombs, blew up bridges, went reconnoitering, and captured identification prisoners. A woman killed. She killed the enemy who, with unprecedented cruelty, was attacking her land, her home, and her children.

 

Images: The Soviet War Memorial from here; the rest – my own.

Down the Rabbit Hole through the Looking-Glass

 

I don’t like changes and there have always been many constants in my life. Today, on the third anniversary of Undina’s Looking Glass, I want to write about two things I liked for almost as long as I can remember myself: perfumes and storytelling.

At six my mother and I had a ritual: she would read me a chapter from Alice in Wonderland before bed time and the next day I would tell it in front of my group in a kindergarten. I think our teacher just appreciated 10-15 minutes of the calm time while she didn’t have to entertain us but I felt very proud to stand in front of the other 12-15 kids and tell the next part of the story.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There I read already on my own when I was nine. I don’t remember if I shared that book with anybody at the time but clearly it imprinted in my mind and many years later transformed into the idea behind the idea of this blog’s name.

Alice in NY

It has been long time since I was a kid but I still like telling stories: not fiction but rather something I’ve read, heard or experienced. And since I have the perfect audience (thank you, my friends and readers!), here’s the next chapter of my perfumed story for you.

Even though perfumes were always in my life, until recently I was mostly familiar with the mass market variety. Over the years I’ve approached the proverbial rabbit hole a couple of times without realizing it (several harder to find or niche perfumes made it into my collection without me knowing the significance of that) but every time I would return to the safe ground of mainstream perfumes.

Four years ago I had a small collection of perfumes, arrogant notion that I knew about most of new releases (my world was limited by local Macy’s, Nordstrom and Sephora) and a firm belief that everything smells like everything else. I still loved and wore perfumes that I owned but I felt apathetic about new releases and didn’t expect to find anything interesting and worth my attention.

In summer 2010 my vSO and I spent four days in London. The trip didn’t start well: due to an oversight we ended up staying in a tiny and extremely hot mansard room. 12 m2 for everything, including a bathroom and the advertised “kitchenette”. It was so tight that the bed was the only place one could spend time on while being inside. So we tried to spend as much time in the city as we could to get back after dark when the temperature inside would become more tolerable.

London Apartment

The idea to visit Harrods came from my vSO: he read about it in the guide book and thought it would be interesting to see the biggest department store in Europe. We were walking there as in a museum for a while before we came across the perfume department – the regular one, I hadn’t even heard about Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie until after we returned from that trip.

I wasn’t looking for a new perfume; I was just leisurely browsing the selection when a new perfume found me. An SA almost forced a scented paper strip on me. I knew nothing about the brand. I had never seen their perfumes before. But it was easier just to take that blotter… The brand was Ormonde Jayne. And the perfume was Ta’if.

I liked it so much that I was seriously considering an on-the-spot purchase but remembering an unpleasant experience described in My First Scrubber I decided that I needed to give it some skin time – 15-20 minutes. I sprayed my wrist, put the blotter in my purse and we went to the next department – just to wait for Ta’if to develop.

That next department happened to be a Jewelry Department. I was looking for anything in that department even less than for a new perfume… You know where the story is heading, right? I found a perfect ring that I just had to have. And the more I smelled my wrist the more I liked that perfume. And the store was closing so I had to decide quickly what I should get. I knew that once you pass on a jewelry you like it would be almost impossible to find it again. And with perfumes you should be able to find anything online and even cheaper (yeah, I told you I was a little arrogant). I left Harrods with a ring.

Shaun Leane Cherry Blossom Ring

Ta’if had transferred in my purse from the blotter to my phone and stuck to it for days (who knew about that property of gorilla glass?!) haunting me but at the same time making my evenings at that shoebox of a room a little better.

I came home, started looking for Ormonde Jayne, realized it wasn’t available in the U.S., and while at it I discovered The Perfumed Court, perfume blogs and the whole world of niche and indie perfumes.

Ta’if by Ormonde Jayne is my White Rabbit following whom I started my adventures in the Perfumeland. Had I been more spontaneous (which I’m still not) I would have gotten that bottle right then and there and who knows when or even if I would have come to where I am now. But it took me a couple of months to find a decant, a couple of years to get a travel bottle of Ta’if EdP and another year to add a bottle of Ta’if parfum to my collection. It took me three years and 240 posts to write my down-the-rabbit-hole story.

Ormonde Jayne Ta'if Parfum

There are many reviews of Ta’if EdP out there so I won’t even attempt to do a review. But I’ll share the opinion on the difference between the two versions – eau de perfume and parfum. They are very similar; the latter is a little smoother and has a slightly better longevity but all that isn’t worth an almost 2.5 difference in price ($126 vs. $300) and especially now when “premium French flacon with a gold OJ motif stopper and Japanese ribbons” are merely a false advertising on Ormonde Jayne website and a plain bottle they sell from the store is simpler than original bottles for EdP (the new version of which, at least on pictures, also looks cheaper). Ta’if is a gorgeous perfume and if you like it go for the eau de perfume concentration.

So this is the story of Ta’if, one of my top three all-time favorite perfumes with the other two being Climat by Lancôme, the story of which started this blog three years ago, and Ubar by Amouage, a story of which I’ll probably tell one day.

 

Images: my own