Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Douce Amere and Diversity

Serge Lutens' Douce Amere has been haunting me lately. It seems like a personal failing that I have not bought a full bottle of this fragrance from the export line. Released in 2000, and created, as usual, by Christopher Sheldrake, it is described as a "fresh oriental", a category that seems to be gaining some currency. (Bvlgari's Omnia is similarly labeled, and has a similar combination of bright topnotes and creamy drydown.) Douce Amere contains absinthe (artemisia absinthium), anise, cinnamon, lily, jasmine, tiare, marigold, tagette, cedar, vanilla and musk. Now Lutens and Sheldrake took some heat early on for creating "just bases", perfumes that did not follow the neo-classical development and therefore have the "finished" feel of the greats of old. This argument seems to me to miss a crucial point: who else on earth could have ever made such a devastatingly wonderful perfume out of that mess of ingredients? The answer, it seems to me, is nobody else. (If you are looking for a profoundly odd but great dessert, however, you can count on Heston Blumenthal of London's The Fat Duck. Check out that Firmenich reference.)

Douce Amere starts with absinthe's trademark bitterly green bite, preposterously dusted with cinnamon. The opening moments are sharp, and I am going to (atypically) recommend using a light hand. Things settle quickly, though, and a heart of near indecent creaminess is revealed. In an odd way the tiare is prominent, but the scent remains cozy instead of tropical. It is like a creme brulée from Iron Chef Sakai during a Good 'N Plenty battle.

Why should I own this fragrance? Well, besides the fact that it is stunningly good... I don't own any other anise fragrances. Wait, can this be true? I check. Discounting samples and decants, I currently possess 44 fragrances (40 bottles, three minis and one oil). The weird thing I notice is that there is very little overlap. Somehow, without consciously willing such a thing, I have diversified my perfume portfolio. Only Yohji Homme and L'Eau du Navigateur, two masculines featuring coffee, can be said to share much ground at all. I have only one real amber, one true leather, one white floral. There is a floral chypre and a fruity chypre. I have a floral musk, an aldehydic floral, a green floral, a floral gourmand. One fragrance evokes the desert, while another evokes the beach. There is one fragrance each based around immortelle, lapsoung souchong, fig, iris and sandalwood.

Initially, I am absurdly pleased with my unintentional system. But then the choices I have made begin to bug me. Why, oh why, did I settle for Knize Ten when I should own Cuir de Russie? Will a purchase of Andy Tauer's L'Air du desert marocain cut into the territory of both Chergui and my amber? What about the Parfum Sacre that should arrive in the mail tomorrow? Will it intrude upon the rose-and-vanilla comfort scent space owned by Tocade? I start coming up with ridiculous sub-categories. Is this an overly elaborate form of buyer's remorse? And do any of you suffer with me?


At 5:25 a.m., Blogger chaya ruchama said...

I DO suffer w/ you- but fear not, Andy's L'Air doesn't interfere w/ your enjoyment of anything else- it merits classic status all on its own.
Parfum Sacre will make you deliriously happy [it does me !], love your Tocade anyway...

Is there remorse?
The question I ask myself is this:
Do I adore this ?
Does it express a part of myself?
How does it make me feel?

If a perfume can do all of these, I will often buy it.

My only cautions, these days, are iris, leather, and incense scents.
There are a slew of them out there, and unless you have a mint at the ready, you need to determine how many, and which qualities, you desire before you buy-
Pretty tricky!

At 9:48 a.m., Blogger Erin said...

You see, that's why I didn't dig Bois D'Argent - it would take up my iris, leather *and* incense categories all at once! No, seriously, thanks for talking me through my brief moment of sanity when it comes to buying perfume. I should just buy Andy's masterpiece. And Cuir de Russie. And Iris Silver Mist. And Kenzo Flower Oriental. *sigh*

At 10:20 a.m., Anonymous AngelaS said...

I have to second (and heed) Chaya's caution on the iris, leather, and incense--at least, my perfume collection has enough incense to fuel the cathedrals of Europe. I also agree that L'Air du Desert M is in a class by itself, and Parfum Sacre seems barely related to Tocade once you smell it, even though they seem similar on paper.

Douce Amere is definitely sui generis. It sounds like you don't get that honeyed-lemon top note that I get. The sweetness fades pretty quickly on me, thank goodness.

Now I'm tempted to put all my perfume on the dining room table and group it! I know I'd find a surfeit of incense and leather. I probably should weed out a few of my less wise purchases, too.

At 10:49 a.m., Blogger Erin said...

angela: Yes, and yet, I can't stop thinking about Patty's proposed homemade coffret of the CdG incense series. It looks like I have much more on my Christmas list than I thought. Still really hoping hopelessly for the Ma Collection, though. I've got to try Cocktail, L'Heure Attendue, Normandie, etc.

At 12:56 p.m., Blogger marchlion said...

No no no! They're all different! C'mon, there is room in any sybarite's life for all those and much more ... if you suffer from particular addictions, as I do (incense, leather, linden) there are bound to be overlaps, but nothing is ever THE SAME. You can't replace Cuir de Russie with Knize Ten (okay, in that particular instance, I think you should replace Knize Ten with Cuir.)

We will have to agree to disagree on Douce Amere, though. I find it achingly sweet -- I'm good at taking the Sweet off of most things, but Serge defies that effort.

You guys and your "too much leather, iris and incense..." Bah! Seriously, what are you going to spend your $ on that makes you half as happy? Handbags?

At 1:57 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Look at March, busting out the vocabulary! Sybarites, indeed. Good one. Now, I most definitely do not spend money on handbags (Old Navy - $10) or clothes (thread-bare and casual). So, thanks for the pep talk...

I must agree that Serge's "Bittersweet" is more sweet than bitter. I would enjoy more green. But then loook at all the MUA'ers complaining how sharp and unpleasantly medicinal it is! When Serge is encouraged to experiment beyong market taste, he comes up with Miel de Bois. I am not sure it is a step in the right direction.

At 1:59 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Beyond, of course, beyond. But "beyong" is kind of cool. Mark my words, it will be a popular name within a few years.

At 5:53 p.m., Blogger marchlion said...

I keep leaving out the ... what are they called, the little connecting bits? Adverbs? No, that's not right ... articles? I'm hoping this isn't some sign of perfume-related brain damage. It would be ... beyong comprehension.

*snerk* (as Scentzilla says)

PS those people complaining that Douce is too sharp and medicinal? are nuts. It NEEDS some medicine.

At 7:46 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Conjunctions, I believe you are describing. 7 years of university education in English and two degrees and that's about all I can remember at this point.


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