Thursday, June 14, 2012

Floral Grab Bag

And now for something a little different! I promise not to mention patchouli, Thierry Mugler, or my half-baked musings on the fragrance industry in the following post. This week, as befits the season, Toilet Water and Whale Vomit is knee-deep in flowers.

Astute readers of this blog may have picked up on my predilection for fragrances rife with woods, spices, musks, and moss; forest-floor chiaroscuro, and all that is dense and dark. The skipping-through-a-meadow school of perfumery - ie. floral - has never really appealed to me, and even darker, dirtier floral fragrances rarely seem to "fit" my skin. (It's a failing on my part, not theirs.) However, in an effort to shake up my perfume paradigm and inject some garden-variety variety into my wardrobe, I've been trying on some florals lately and finding a few that actually work for me. I've discovered that fresh, dewy, green, and spicy florals strike my fancy more than sweet and/or powdery ones; flowers coupled with citrus and woods can provide a wonderful olfactory backdrop to a high-ceilinged spring day. The Four Florals of the Apocalypse - jasmine, tuberose, ylang-ylang, and orange blossom - are still iffy territory for me, but I'm making progress. Herewith, three floral perfumes that actually turn my crank, and hopefully more to follow.

Stella, by Stella McCartney. Admittedly, this is a bit of a training-wheels floral; specifically, a beginner's rose. I used to think I disliked rose, and then I tried YSL's Paris and discovered that I hated rose. At least, a particular sort of perfumery rose: powdery, soapy, evocative of cosmetics and potpourri. Stella is not that rose. In fact, it's not entirely about rose at all. Stella's rose is more akin to a swathe of maroon satin that blankets a lovely springtime composition of peony, amber, mandarin orange, and soft musk. (For once, a fragrance's official listing of notes nails it; I find nothing to add, nor take away, from Stella's PR blurb.) Katie Puckrik refers to Stella as a "peekaboo" rose - now you see it, now you don't. Sometimes it's front-and-center, sometimes it's just a background flavor, enhancing the overall composition. What makes Stella work for me is its languid quality, a late-afternoon glow that fits cocktail hour as easily as a stroll in the park. This floral isn't forced, girly, lascivious, or in-your-face; it simply is, and it's blessedly free of powder and/or sugar. In Perfumes: The Guide, Tania Sanchez pithily labels Stella a "salty musk" and a "tight-lipped rose...for women who programatically say no". Agree to disagree: I find Stella relaxed and reflective, only gently musky, and comforting. On a clear spring day, this one sings a lovely, lilting tune, tinged with the slightest melancholy. (Or perhaps I'm projecting onto my perfumes again.) Four flower pots out of five.

Lust, by LUSH. It figures that my first proper jasmine perfume would be a juggernaut like Lust. This past winter, I was hit by an out-of-left-field craving for jasmine, spurred on by remnants of Mugler's Alien clinging to my jacket sleeve after a department store spraying spree. (Oops, I dropped the M-word. Three lashes and a forced wearing of Drakkar Noir for penance.) I sought out Lust, rumored to be one of those jasmines capable of swallowing whole planets. The verdict: "Yuck", followed by "WOW", followed by "...meh." This is indeed a no-holds-barred jasmine: lush, full-bodied, and indolic. Problem is, the good stuff lasts only about an hour, after which the blend dissolves into harmless white floral wallpaper that neither ruffles feathers nor inspires lascivious thoughts (the scent of jasmine has long been held to be an aphrodisiac). A gentle and short-lived drydown of vanilla and sandalwood makes one long for a fresh spray to relive the opening tropical floral fireworks. I dig Lust, but it's one of those hysterically not-me fragrances that I'm in the mood for maybe twice a year, and it's awfully raw (as most LUSH perfumes are). My 10 ml travel spritzer should last me quite a while. Three flower pots out of five (unless you're a jasmine fiend, in which case it's beyond rating - you must smell this now, if you haven't already).

Fleur du Mâle, by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Once upon a time, I had a fling with Gaultier's Le Mâle. I adored it, and wore it gaily and shamelessly (and probably far too lavishly). I now find it unwearable: sweet, stuffy, synthetic, and cloying. I don't know what compelled me to try its 2007 flanker Fleur du Mâle recently, but I know it works a darned sight better for me than the original. This is a gorgeous (and strong) orange blossom fougére, blending early-summer optimism and barbershop elegance in a soft, pillowy package. It rears its synthetic head a few times throughout the duration, and sometimes the orange blossom is a little over-the-top...but then, this is Gaultier, not Guerlain. And unlike the original Le Mâle, Fleur has the good sense to let its guard down a little and not be so plastic and fake-friendly. Terrific lasting power, great bone structure, and sexy in a crisp-white-shirt sort of way. Four flower pots out of five.

Next up: More florals, followed by a week of nothing but Bulgari Thé Vert as a cleansing ritual.

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