Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bargin Basement - Fendi's Asja and Balenciaga's Rumba

Asja is discontinued and Rumba (and indeed the whole Balenciaga line) is sadly neglected, so I got bottles at an online discounter for less than $25 each. For such a price, I was prepared to get at least one dud. Instead, I have been rewarded by the gods of frugality with two of the best unsniffed purchases I've managed.

I had heard rave reviews about the "underrated" Asja (1992), just as I had about Fendi's Theorama. (I prefer Mauboussin's Histoire D'eau Topaze, which was also created by nose Christine Nagel, to the latter.) Of course, just after I ordered Asja, a number of people whose opinions I admire came out of the woodwork and announced they thought it was overrated. In Le Guide (1994), Luca Turin described it as (get ready for my poor translation!): "Not bad, but too somber and a bit confused." Perhaps this was the dud? No, indeed! It does sort of veer all over the place, and there are definite similarities to spicy oriental stalwarts like Cinnabar. It smells for some time, however, of the pineapple and apple fritters my mother made on Halloween for a few years during my adolescence, and I found myself getting nostalgic and fond. I lose a little interest once the carmelized fruit note starts to fade, but it works well for a cozy fall scent and you could do *much* worse for the price.

Rumba, created by Ron Winnegrad and the very famous Jean-Claude Ellena in 1988, has recently had a little revival on the fragrance boards and blogs. Check out the divine Angela S.'s recent write-up on Now Smell This. The opening moments are incredibly evocative of the eighties and the power perfumes of that decade. It is a big start, with a dense "perfumey" plum note. Now, I usually like me a plum note, but I like 'em mellow and this is a strident, forward plum with cleavage and linebacker shoulder pads. It sort of scared me. Things settle down eventually, and Rumba takes on the wax and powder scent of high-end cosmetics. There is a pleasant smokiness and an occasional whiff of something sharp (the baseboard heater smell of Angela's detection?). The sillage will kill small flies in your wake, and you don't have to worry about it fading.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge - Evan S. Connell

Whenever the subject of underappreciated books comes up in interviews, it seems it is obligatory to cite Evan S. Connell and his Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969). Together, the two novels make up one of the most convincing portraits of a family - any time, anywhere. Mrs. Bridge has what I consider to be one of the great openings of contemporary literature:

"Her first name was India - she was never able to get used to it. It seemed to her that her parents must have been thinking of someone else when they named her."

Indeed, India does not live a life full of exotic adventure, as she is a housewife in 1940s Kansas City. With Mr. Bridge (Walter) always at work and her household run by a black servant, Harriet, Mrs. Bridge is often at loose ends. A clever, loving, constantly worried woman, she has been failed by her upbringing and her era, and she lives a pathetically comic existence, one of isolation, shallow interests and desperate boredom. Though she is rarely able to overcome her nervousness and act on them, she still has good instincts - which is more than can be said for Mr. Bridge. The first book gives workaholic Walter a pretty hard time, and I think the longer second book was designed to show how he is equally caught in the role society has given him. Although it ends less neatly because (**spoiler alert**) Walter dies, I think it is in many ways a finer achievement than the more famous first novel.

India and Walter have three children, each one a fabulously drawn character. Unpredictable, wilful and prone to long silences, Ruth, the eldest, reminds me of Henny Pollit, the crazy, witchy mother of Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, another fabulous novel about family. Dark, unkempt and petulantly sexy, she is her father's secret favourite. Pale and stouter, Caroline or "Cork" is her mother's obvious favourite and the cleverest and most ambitious of the children. She is also the most demanding and dependant on her parents, unscrupulous when their backs are turned and the odd woman out when it comes to the siblings. Douglas, the youngest and nobody's favourite, is a genial troublemaker who is largely indifferent to family politics and manages to become the most well-adjusted of the children.

I have never seen the movie, which stars my favourite real-life husband-and-wife acting team, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. It is supposed to be wonderful, and perhaps I will rent it tonight.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Serge Lutens Borneo 1843

What was the scoop on this one, the latest Shishedo Paris exclusive? It was "dark brown powder", the patchouli for patch-haters, a thing "long-forgotten, bone-dry... like something found in a temple", Louis Armstrong's constipation remedy, an immediate scrubber, dark earth and leaves and roots, deliciously sweet, skanky, dry and camphorous. It sounded like love.

I opened my sample carefully. Dear Lord, no! Junior Mints! It was like getting to the secret chamber and finding somebody had gotten there before you and replaced the diamond idol with a previously-viewed DVD of Congo (featuring silly animatronic monkeys and poor Tim Curry as Herkermer Homolka, the villian with the most mystifyingly terrible accent in movie history.) Now, don't get me wrong, I like Junior Mints. But this smelt wrong, all wrong, and there was something that told me I'd actually found that source of suburban legend, the fatally tampered-with Halloween swag. I had expected that the worst that could happen would be that I would smell like one of those neo-hippies who wear blond dreadlocks and rancid essential oils, and now this! Where was the powder, the dust, the bitter brown dryness? Oh, wait a minute. There it was. Okay, everything's fine. Five minutes of unspeakable candied horror, then two hours of a silky smooth burnt soil smell. The patchouli will convert you, but you'll never trick-or-treat again.

Tomorrow's post: Evan S. Connell's Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Christian Dior Bois D'Argent and Eau Noire

When Hedi Slimane toke over the men's division of Dior in 2004, he launched an Eau de Cologne collection featuring three limited release fragrances: Cologne Blanche, Bois D'Argent and Eau Noire. The scents have been well-received, with each finding a devoted fan base that champions their favourite as the best of the three. I recently tried the latter two; if any powdery sweet Cologne Blanche finds its way to me, I'll review that as well (though I'm off the almonds lately).

The notes listed for Bois D'Argent are iris, honey, myrrh and other incense notes, patchouli and leather. It was created by Annick Menardo, who also did Bvlgari Black and the best of Dior's deadlies, Hypnotic Poison. The cologne starts promisingly with a beautiful buttery scent that turns... well, peppery. Yes, it's the same pepper/iris/incense note that is currently everywhere (Ormonde Jayne's Isfarkand and Orris Noir, L'Artisan's Dzongkha, Paestum Rose, etc. etc.) and is being used as a kind of shorthand for a masculine or unisex quality. After about half an hour, a wee bit of butter wafted back with the leather, and a very slight nutty carmel note cut the dryness, but these accents were too subtle and too late for me. It is elegant, expensive-smelling and extremely smooth, but ultimately I found it just a tad boring. When I was wearing it, however, a woman at a gelato shop who was making a espresso milkshake for me suddenly and loudly insisted I smelled "really fabulous" - so what do I know? The sillage must be detectable and the lasting power is superior for a cologne.

Eau Noire, created by the dashing Francis Kurkdijan, is another story. The star here is immortelle (Helichrysum or everlasting flower), a savory-sweet note that Luca Turin describes as "an odd, fenugreek-like smell halfway between curry and burnt sugar." Previously, it was famous for being the centre of Annick Goutal's Sables, where it was frequently mistaken for maple syrup. (Fenugreek is used to flavour the artificial versions - who knew?) Here immortelle is fresh and light, with lavender and clary sage giving the cologne a breezy, outdoor quality. There is still a pronounced sweetness, but it is an airy, organic-smelling one, rather similar in spirit to that of L'Artisan's Vanilia. It is both an arresting and comfortable scent, a strange duet that feels completely natural even though it shouldn't work. I think it smells "really fabulous" and is one the best men's releases in many years.