Suzanne's Perfume Journal
When it comes to musk perfumes – by which I mean musk-dominant perfumes such as Jovan Musk, the drugstore musk scent that was popular in the 70s, or today’s upscale versions, like Bruno Acampora Musk Extrait – I’m usually at a loss. In a complex composition, with other notes to bounce off it, I can detect musk much better than when it is the heart and soul of the perfume. In other words, the more musk in a composition, the more “empty” or “invisible” the perfume becomes to my nose, and until recently there were only four musk perfumes I really liked (this one, this one and this one, as well as Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur, which I’ve yet to review). Now there’s another: Musc Tonkin from Parfum d’Empire, a musk I can smell, hear, feel and see! It’s not loud, but it is lively, as well as purring. It’s an interesting intersection of both these things, and when I wear it I find myself thinking about mariachi music and men in cowboy boots and tight pants (too-tight pants even, but in a good way), which is essentially to say that Musc Tonkin smells like the olfactory representation of Dwight Yoakam in his “Guitars, Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music” days (or his “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” days, when his cover of Queen’s former hit was used in a Gap commercial to sell khaki pants to the masses, while his own music video for the song showcased Dwight in his signature look, wearing what was surely the original version of skinny jeans).
I think I fell in love with Musc Tonkin because it also reminds me of the vintage, 1960s extrait version of Chanel No. 5 – the warmest and most sex-kitten version of No. 5 I’ve ever smelled, with its shimmering aldehydes, naughty nitro-musks and the honeyed jasmine at its floral heart. Parfum d’Empire’s Musc Tonkin smells of these same identical things, only in a different ratio: musk makes up the largest percentage of the perfume (at least in terms of smell), and though there are enough aldehydes in Musc Tonkin to make for a showy perfume, this is the country version of showy. Its sex-appeal is more open, natural, and upfront; more exuberant and declarative. Here’s a musk perfume that knows how to swagger and cut a rug at the same time it’s fixin’ you with a devil-may-care grin. On an animalic level, I’d describe it as having pants tight enough that you can smell its tang (its animalic quality that is slightly urinous), while being quick to note that Musc Tonkin isn’t a dirty perfume so much as it’s suggestive: it is far too intelligent to pander to the notion of being raw. To wit, a distinct aldehydic accord in Musc Tonkin imparts a sense of ebullience and style. A glittering, uplifting component of this perfume, it soars above the musk and heralds in the other most prominent element in the composition: a honeyed hay smell (jasmine-y and alfalfa-like), which while not strong is nonetheless detectable and influences the way I see this perfume. Were this whiff of hay not present, Musc Tonkin might cross over into urbane territory; there is certainly enough complexity and aldehydic sparkle to cast a wink in that direction. Yet it is there, underscoring the animalic nature of the perfume and giving it a campesino air, such that this hay component makes me see this perfume as having a provenance that is far from Hollywood – a place more freedom loving and down to earth, yet proud and sexy too.
Annick Goutal Les Absolus Vanille Charnelle eau de parfum has top notes of ylang-ylang and pepper; heart notes of vanilla, tonka bean, and white musk; and base notes of vanilla absolute and vetiver. It can be purchased from Saks Fifth Avenue or LuckyScent.com, where a 75-ml bottle is priced at $280. My review is based on a sample sent to me from a dear blogging friend.
Images: film stills from the 2001 film Bridget Jones' Diary can be found countless places on the Internet; I can't say for sure where I stole mine. Photo of Vanille Charnelle perfume bottle is from LuckyScent.com, where the perfume can be purchased.
†Excerpted from "Sonoko Dreams of Soba", an article by Francis Lam featured in the March 2016 edition of SAVEUR magazine, copyright © 2016 by SAVEUR, a Bonnier Corporation Company.
Weeks ago, when I jotted my first thoughts about Musc Tonkin in a notebook, I wrote: “A collision between dirty animalics and sparkly rhinestones and brass instruments.” It’s hard to explain to non-perfumistas how such a description could take shape in one’s mind, and I can’t say for certain what notes comprise this scent. Perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato (he is both the nose and the brand owner of Parfum d’Empire) doesn’t divulge them on his website, and LuckyScent.com lists them as “African stone absolute, musk, and after that, your guess is as good as ours.” Nonetheless, I smell an aldehydic accord meeting the golden yet piquant smell of honey, and it becomes brass instruments and rhinestones. Why not champagne and diamonds, such as the aldehydes in a Chanel perfume often suggest? Simply because Musc Tonkin’s aldehydes are met by aromas reminiscent of rural places – pastoral places – to my nose (scents of hay, a tendril of jasmine, and the urine-tinged fur-and-skin scent of musk). The aforementioned aldehydes thus become the rhinestone suits and merry horns of a mariachi band, and joined to such a sensuous musk that won’t quit but keeps on strutting its stuff, I suppose that’s where long-legged Dwight sauntered into my scent scene.
February 9, 2016:
In the waning days of my perfume obsession, I find myself asking, “How did I become so infatuated with perfume that I went to curious (and curiouser) lengths to describe it?” Looking back, I’m struck by my often overzealous attempts to concoct narratives around perfumes, and I wonder whether people reading my reviews found them farfetched. Still, despite the pause that reading them gives me, I know I couldn’t have written them any other way. When moved, even by something as trivial as perfume, I want to give full expression to that experience and to write about it as smittenly as any romantic scholar. In this regard I’m not alone, of course, and this fact was driven home recently when I read this article in Saveur magazine about Japanese soba noodles. Titled “Sonoko Dreams of Soba,” it is writer Francis Lam’s account of a day he spent learning to make soba noodles from Sonoko Sakai, a former Hollywood movie producer who left her film career behind to embark on her dream of cooking, teaching and writing about Japanese food, and what’s clear from the article’s get-go is that Lam has followed her into the dream state. “Soba is what philosophers slurp—a simple buckwheat noodle, a cuisine of purity and contemplation,” he says, guiding the reader on a meditation in which he implores:
“… I mean, they're not for everyone, you know? You really have to take care of vinyl. It's very delicate, it can get wrecked so easily. You really have to love it. Do you hear how full it sounds? Now, what you want to buy is a thicker record. They're more stable. The grooves in them are sort of deeper and wider. You get more detail. I mean, they're harder to carry around 'cause they're heavier, but they're worth it. You know, my parents have this... It's an amazing turntable. It's vintage, cherry wood Victor 45. Oh! Perfect tone. All the original parts. I can't wait to hear it again.”
That quote alone is a fitting metaphor for how Aomassaï comes across to me, and it’s equally telling of the film. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, two people fall in love with each other by way of loving something larger – the world itself – and in so doing, their romance becomes an inclusive experience for the viewer. Wearing a perfume like Aomassaï is a reminder of this, and of the delicious experiences I don’t want to miss out on.
Parfumerie Générale Aomassaï (also known as Aomassaï No. 10) eau de parfum can be purchased from the perfumer’s website or from LuckyScent.com, where a 50-ml bottle is currently priced at $125.
This week, the perfume at the center of my own dream state is Vanille Charnelle (by Annick Goutal)—a perfume that smells simple yet compelling, such that I’m calling it the Bridget Jones of vanilla perfumes. I’ve only ever watched the original Bridget Jones film, Bridget Jones’ Diary, not the sequels, and I still find it memorable. It’s as fluffy as romantic comedies come, while offering enough grainy emotional truths to engage me on a deeper level. Bridget’s love life is messy and so is she, in a sweet way. Because her life is messy with the kinds of things everyone deals with—physical insecurities, bad habits, lack of willpower, the embarrassingly dorky family moments and the embarrassingly painful ones—it’s easy to see oneself through her mirror. Played by actress Renée Zellweger, who gained twenty pounds for the role, Bridget is blonde, zaftig and sexy, not in the ways one traditionally views sexiness in the media, but in terms of her attitude (she clearly likes sex) and also because she has an open-book vulnerability about her that is appealing: she’s very real. It’s this latter quality that brought her to mind in thinking about Vanille Charnelle. While this smoky vanilla perfume doesn’t have Bridget’s zaftig qualities or excesses—it’s not overly vanillic, it’s not overly smoky—it does have her au naturel style, which is to say it’s a charmingly soft vanilla scent with a lick of the sultry about it, and nothing more. No other accoutrement, that is. The vanilla in Vanille Charnelle isn’t rich or opulent: it’s a drifty vanilla, dry and lightly almondy, like an almond cookie of the variety served in Chinese restaurants. One could call it a powdery vanilla, though not in the cosmetic sense of “powdery”; it reminds me more of powdered milk, albeit a pretty powdered milk, like what might go into a milk bath (which is actually the inspiration behind this perfume, although it’s hard to imagine the bath itself due to the perfume’s aridity ). Within minutes after Vanille Charnelle is applied to skin, its vanilla becomes enmeshed in a base that is ambery and smoky in a specific way: the smoke component smells bone-dry and edged with a whiff of seared spices (cinnamon particularly), and the amber is attended by a Play-doh scent (perhaps attributable instead to heliotrope, since heliotrope often smells like a mix of powder, almonds, cherries and Play-doh). This is a very urbane style of smoke, more dry than smoky, and, accompanied by the aforementioned air of tempered spices and Play-doh, it sends a signal of being bedroom sexy as well as youthfully playful. I can’t account for this smokiness in the perfume’s official notes (see bottom of page), but the scent is more than there for me.
NOTE: Due to a change at my webhosting company, I'm in the process of copying all of my previous Perfume Journal posts to the pages of this new site. I'm almost done ... stay tuned! I hope to finish and start writing new posts in September. -- Suzanne, 8/14/16
Chew, and think about their texture—how firm, or yielding, or firm-but-yielding. Take in their flavor—do they taste nutty and earthy or round and mild, like buckwheat or wheat? Do this over and over, learning to notice the unnoticed: how evenly the master cut each strand; how much sauce clings to them; how the noodles change from day to day, season to season, as the flour ages and new crops replace old.†
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Images of actors Steve Carell and Keira Knightley (collected from numerous sites on the Internet) are from the 2012 American comedy-drama, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria in her directorial debut. Currently it can be streamed for online viewing at Amazon.com or Netflix.
Perfume bottle image stolen from LuckyScent.com, where this scent can be purchased.
Perfume and a Movie: Parfumerie Generale Aomassai and
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. But you can find other interpretations of this gorgeous perfume here, here, here and here.*
*Please note that some of these linked reviews are for the extrait version of Musc Tonkin, which was the original formulation (issued as a limited edition) before the eau-de-parfum version was released. My review is for the edp.
December 22, 2015
April 9, 2016:
Musc Tonkin eau de parfum can be purchased from the Parfum d’Empire website, where a 100-ml bottle is currently priced at 120 Euros, or in the United States at LuckyScent.com, where the same sized bottle is priced at $140. My review is based on a sample I purchased.
Images: Photo of Dwight Yoakam (top of page) was stolen from someone's Pinterest site, but can be found various places on the Internet, as well as the photo of the mariachi band. The photo of Dwight Yoakam playing music with Buck Owens was stolen from the blog Serialeclectic.com, from an article titled "Bakersfield & Bourbon."
Perfume bottle image is from LuckyScent.com, where the perfume can be purchased.
Soba Noodles, Bridget Jones and Noticing the Unnoticed
(Along the Way, a Review of Annick Goutal Vanille Charnelle)
“Do this over and over, learning to notice the unnoticed.” Something really clicked for me when I read that line; in one ten-word statement, it was as if Francis Lam had both identified a compulsion that I and others share and validated it. “Learning to notice the unnoticed” is an exquisite and precise explanation of why we do what we do (and by “we” I’m not only talking about perfume bloggers, but beer reviewers, wine experts, food writers, et cetera, et cetera). The joy of recognizing what most other people miss might be viewed by others as a form of snobbism—and for certain people, I suppose it is—but I think the original impetus really and truly is a compulsion, a healthy one, born of wonder, obsessive curiosity and a love for ferreting out secrets. I also think that if you choose to share this inner dialogue with someone else by writing a review of a perfume or wine or a spankin’-good mole sauce, you must use whatever dialogue is true to your experience and not worry whether it will make sense to the rest of the world. Because it won’t. But there will be at least a few people who’ll follow you into that dream state.
Not long after discovering the perfume blogs back in 2006 or 2007, I purchased a decant of Parfumerie Générale Aomassaï, and after using up every drop, my thought was that I loved it, sort of. It had a gourmand element that was scrumptious, but I felt guilty about loving its burnt-toffee deliciousness, so when the decant was used up I tried to forget about Aomassaï and to a degree was successful, if only because my perfume collection grew rapidly during those early years of reading the blogs. Periodically, though, I found myself thinking about its dark, rich beauty and about a ritual I had adopted at the time. I was in the habit of wearing a “sleep scent” (a perfume worn to bed, to extend the pleasure of wearing perfume) and I would apply Aomassaï after taking a hot bath that I made hotter, as well as cooler, with drops of peppermint oil. After emerging with mentholated skin, applying Aomassaï was the finishing touch to this spa-like ritual which could be likened to taking a steam bath and following it with a sauna, with Aomassaï metaphorically providing the sauna’s heat and deliciously fragrant wood. It was a ritual in which warmth was achieved not just bodily but in the brain. The peppermint-to-Aomassaï experience fired across my pleasure receptors like a mallet rolling the entire length of a xylophone and back again.
Fast forward to where I am now, with more perfume than I will ever use in this lifetime. I rarely buy perfume for myself anymore, yet a very big sale at one of the decanting sites recently spurred a very large purchase of Aomassaï -- and I can now say I won’t ever again feel guilty about loving its gourmand facet (which is not as overtly gourmand as I’d remembered), nor question whether it’s a “serious” perfume. For me it is one of those perfumes, like the original Chanel Coco or like Arquiste Anima Dulcis, which conveys the fullness of life, when life is at its most beautiful. It has whimsy and warmth and passion and, yes, a sense of gravitas too. It’s the kind of scent that goes beyond comfort; that stirs deeper, “pondering” thoughts about it. At least this is the case for me, because I’ve been thinking of this fragrance, off and on, for years, and then this past summer (before I purchased it) I found myself thinking about it in connection to a film.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an intimate, almost breathy film that seems fragile when I try to capture it in words. Not that it starts off in a breathy fashion: shortly after its gets underway, it takes us to a truly garish party – the kind of free-for-all one might expect if the world was ending – where its protagonist, a gentleman named Dodge (played by Steve Carell), wisely decides to make like a wallflower and retreat home, to his own four walls, where he exists much like a wallflower too. Actually, more like a doormat. It soon becomes clear that this was never “home sweet home” for him, but circumstances are such that he now must leave it behind – quickly. At least he’s not going alone. Accompanying him is one of the neighbors of his apartment building, a young woman named Penny (Keira Knightley). Together they weave their way through a maze of quirky events at the beginning of their road trip (both have a final mission, of sorts, they wish to fulfill) and yet, in the way this film is emotionally weighted, all the darkly weird stuff they navigate in the beginning of the film is just that – stuff: bizarre hurdles rather than anything fraught with peril. Interestingly, while the film’s dark elements have little weight and often provide levity, its lighter moments have a beautiful gravity that accumulates over the span of the story. The more time that Dodge and Penny spend together, the lighter, sweeter and, yet, more poignant their interaction becomes. Overall, this is a fine-boned drama borne on a tide of quirky, dark humor; of unexpected romance that is sweet and delicate and pure (not in terms of innocence but in terms of feeling); and of an inevitable sense of the apocalypse. The latter element provides the framework for this film’s story: Dodge and Penny are essentially two strangers trying to get through “the end times” together, with the end times in this case being the demolishment of Earth by an asteroid that is scheduled to collide with the planet in three weeks’ time.
Sweet without being a pushover; sultry enough to suggest that here is a sex kitten; and urbane to the degree that it has a certain level of wit about it (a characteristic, it could be argued, that isn’t very Bridget Jones-like, as she’s often tongue-tied and prone to ditsy proclamations, but there are moments when her wit shines through), Vanille Charnelle is a perfume of flirtatious charm rather than complexity. It won’t dazzle anyone with its beauty, it’s more of an “easy like Sunday morning” scent, exuding a lounging-in-my-boyfriend’s-shirt vibe, and, like Bridget, prefers a straightforward approach to sex appeal rather than one that is full of artifice. (“Serious problem. You appear to have forgotten your skirt,” Bridget’s devilishly suave boss, played by actor Hugh Grant, says to her in an email when she waltzes into the office in a black mini. “Skirt off sick?” he inquires.)
Which reminds me (and yes, there is a point I’m leading up to), the first time I saw Bridget Jones’ Diary, one of the most striking things about it was how it dared to show the workplace, in this case a swank publishing firm where the doors to the boss’s office are made of glass and everyone is in plain sight (not hidden behind cubicles but completely transparent), as a place that could be sexy in all kinds of regards. The work itself could be sexy, as represented by the book-launch scene, which featured some very real, very famous authors in attendance; and the interaction between co-workers could be passionate too. In the real world, people fall in love at work, but at the time this film came out, most places of business in the US were so intently focused on enforcing laws to prevent sexual harassment, they made people wary of their interactions to the degree that the workplace seemed repressive. Bridget Jones’ Diary, for as much as it is a light comedy, was kind of subversive in its transparency, its straightforward acknowledgements. It acknowledged that Bridget Jones could be sexy in grandma panties, forgiven when flustered, and loved for just being herself. (“Just as you are? Not thinner? Not cleverer? Not with slightly bigger breasts or slightly smaller nose?” Bridget’s friend asks her at a point in the film when they are talking about Mark Darcy, the seemingly uptight barrister who has just confided as much.)
Sometimes the heart yearns for artifice—for femme fatales and high drama and profoundly beautiful perfumes. And sometimes it sees the entire cosmos in a bowl of naked soba noodles. The latter is what Vanille Charnelle, not to mention Bridget Jones, is all about.
I loved this film so much, I wanted to assign a perfume to it, as a way of anchoring it to my memory in a Pavlovian sort of way. Based on memory alone, Aomassaï struck me as its perfect olfactory complement, and now I can confirm it. The fragrance notes for Aomassaï are listed as caramel, toasted hazelnuts, licorice, bitter orange, spices, wenge wood, vetiver, balsam wood, incense, dried grasses and resins. Perusing them gives one the impression that this is a heavy scent, and heavily gourmand, when in actuality it is only so in the first five to ten minutes of wear. The burnt-toffee aroma of Aomassaï’s opening accord is arid to the degree that it doesn’t cloy; its dark opening salvo has presence but, surprisingly, not a thick or heavy weight. In fact, it’s much like the brûléed top to a crème brûlée: an obsidian-like sweet that imparts character, presence and even a bit of levity in its invitation to break through its shell to get to the crème. Except, in the case of Aomassaï, what lies beneath its burnt-sweet top is not creaminess but a balsamy, resinous woodiness that is surprisingly soft for an accord that retains an edge of swarthiness. Aomassaï’s woody base smells as if it long ago soaked up a bit of dark rum or bourbon, and these ambery-rich smells impregnating the wood render it more dashing and arresting. This isn’t the wood of a woodshop or a forest; it is wood that once traveled and perhaps had swashbuckling adventures, and most likely conveyed some sort of precious cargo – and which holds onto the memory of these things.
In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, there is a point midway through the film, when Penny and Dodge are nearing the end of their road trip and are holed up in someone’s house, enjoying a reprieve from chaos and listening to records – the old kind. “I don’t know, I just... I love records,” Penny tells him, as they’re lying on the floor together:
Musc Tonkin, Mariachi and Men in Tight Pants
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