Miss Balmain

missbalmain-milliedeel (Vintage ad from australianperfumejunkies)

Miss Balmain comes in a pink package with old-fashioned typeface, in a tall bottle with reddish-brown juice. It looks designed to sit on a 1950s vanity. Miss Balmain seems like a staple perfume: the kind of thing you’d wear every day with a wool skirtset and gloves.

untitled (Modern bottle from 99perfume)

Miss Balmain isn’t fruity-floral or avant-garde. The mood is distinctly vintage. It reminds me a little of Ivoire de Balmain in tone: musty and adult. There’s a lot of aldehydes and a lot of powdery overlay like the kind used in Habanita. To me it’s a leather floral with a touch of chypre.

It was hard for me to pick out the notes. I got the note list from Fragrantica:
Top Notes: aldehydes, coriander, gardenia, lemon and green notes
Heart Notes: carnation, narcissus, orris root, jasmine, rose and lily-of-the-valley
Base Notes: leather, amber, patchouli, coconut, oakmoss, vetiver and tonka bean

Seeing that, I noted that it’s a great exercise in balance. Rose stands out more than any other flower, but the other notes balance it so the rose is more abstract. The citrus and green aren’t noticeable, but I think they’re keeping Miss Balmain from becoming too powdery, too earthy, or too floral. The patchouli becomes more noticeable towards the end. Miss Balmain has good lasting power, and smells great on fabric.

Ultimately I wish it would veer further into any one direction. That would give it more character. I haven’t smelled the vintage, but other reviewers say it’s a marvel.

Miss Balmain was first introduced as a fresh alternative to other popular scents, like Jolie Madame (also by Cellier). People used to like their perfumes a lot heavier, with more natural notes. Read Barbara Herman’s Scent and Subversion for more about how perfume genres have gone in and out of vogue throughout the years.

It’s hard to get the natural notes now because of environmental regulations and society looking down on the use of animal ingredients. Those 100% natural perfumes made of plants always seem a little thin. But that’s okay, I’d rather have less pungent perfume than have whales killed for ambergris or deer killed for musk. I like that perfumery is becoming more experimental. I like that I can smell like a rubber tire if I want to. But I still wonder why people have become so afraid of strong smells.

Perfumer: Germaine Cellier
Price Range: Relatively Inexpensive
Recommended Occasion: Casual
Release Year: 1967
My Rating: 7.5

Barbara at Yesterday’s Perfume loves the vintage. She says it’s tough, a leather in training.

Australian Perfume Junkies gives another vote for the vintage.

Perfume Posse reviews it as a large, rock-star style leather, if a bit old-fashioned.

Posted in Aldehydic, Amber, Carnation, Chypre, Coconut, Coriander, Coumarin, Gardenia, Green, Jasmine, Leather, Muguet, Oakmoss, Orris Root, Patchouli, Powdery, Rose, Tonka Bean, Vetiver | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Sarrasins by Serge Lutens

sarrasins (Fragrantica)

Sarrasins is a wine colored perfume that smells like jasmine, leather, and white flowers. Not necessarily in that order. It’s one of Serge Lutens’ classics. I’ve wanted to try it since I read the review in The Book (Perfume by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.)

It opens with a big, sexy dark jasmine. “Saracen” was a medieval term used to describe Arabian desert tribes. I wouldn’t call Sarrasins wild though; I’d say you can sense the wildness there, but overall it’s a tactful fragrance.

Next comes a soft, lived-in leather note that meshes well with the jasmine. The leather/jasmine accord goes for a while, and then Sarrasins gets a little bit fruity, a little bit peachy, and a little bit herbal. Overall it’s a fleshed-out, old-fashioned classy effect.

There’s also a huge white flowers note. I’ve smelled this note before in Givenchy Organza. I don’t like it. I think it’s bland. But sometimes a refreshing tuberose rawness peeks out.

Sarrasins is one of the few perfumes that has an interesting drydown. It leaves you with a supple jasmine/leather accord that melds beautifully to skin. It’s like the conclusion of an essay winding back to the opening paragraph.

I think Sarrasins is pretty good as a panoramic fragrance, but I wish it had stuck to the point and pushed harder. I want more jasmine, more leather, more raw tuberose and apricot and less filler flowers. I get the point, but I think more oomph is in order for a shockingly dark-colored juice named after the nomads who scared the crap out of Crusaders.

Price Range: Expensive
Recommended Occasion: Any
Release Year: 2007
My Rating: 7.5

Here’s some more reviews:
The Candy Perfume Boy sees Sarrasins’ restraint as a snake holding back. Marina at Perfume Smellin’ Things and March at Perfume Posse agree that Sarrasins doesn’t challenge itself enough.

Posted in Fruity, Herbal, Leather, Uncategorized, White Flowers | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

French Roast Uptown

2-french-roast_650_20130327 (from newyork.com.)

French Roast Uptown is the place to go on the Upper West Side. I used to live on the same block, about 20 yards away from it.

It’s a mixture of a bistro, diner, and bar, having equal qualities from all of them. It’s set up like a charming if somewhat generic French bistro, open all night like a diner, and it has a good bar with a special every night. There’s an interesting cast of characters who hang out there at night: I met an opera singer, a photographer for Ralph Lauren, a writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and the retired owner of a music bar. You can go there and order a (superb) French onion soup at 2 AM, have a great conversation, and watch an attractive regular throw a tantrum any night of the year.

It’s always crowded. There are people there at literally any time of the day. I’d recommend going early in the morning or after 9 pm, because it’s hectic in there during the day. The best items on the menu are as follows:

Brunch: Tomato Avocado Salsa Omelette. It has gruyere in it. I know it sounds gross but it’s fantastic. The omelette is light, almost like a crepe, and the tomatoes are crisp and the avocado (mashed like guacamole) isn’t too goopy. The gruyere gives it even more flavor and blends well with the egg. It’s better than Chipotle, and it’s in omelette form.

Dinner: Pumpkin Ravioli (Fall and Winter): It’s filling and smooth with brown butter on top (it tasted warm and hearty and a bit sugary.) It’s cooked al dente, so you get the flavor without it being too soft.

Avocado and Goat Cheese Ravioli (Spring and Summer): It looks intimidating but it’s actually even better than the pumpkin ravioli. It’s cooked in brown butter. The asparagus and goat cheese are both inside the ravioli and out, sprinkled on top for both a garnish and flavor. The crisp asparagus slices add texture to the dish. It’s a mix of savory, crisp, and just enough sweet tang from the goat cheese. Ask for some of their rustic bread to soak up the brown butter.

French Onion Soup (Lunch and Overnight): The best French onion soup I’ve ever had. It’s in a vegetarian broth with slightly browned gruyere on top and a lot of onions. It’s meaty and filling and wonderful.

French Soda: An Italian soda. It’s seltzer, cream, and syrup. I ordered the almond soda. They give you a generous wallop of cream, so it’s almost like an egg cream.

They also make a mean Caesar salad for brunch, lunch, and dinner. The espresso ain’t bad either.

French Roast is generally consistent, but not always. I’ve been there a couple of times where it wasn’t what I was used to. The soup tends to be better earlier rather than later. The conversation, however, is always great.

There’s also a French Roast downtown. It has Wi-Fi, but is lacking in every other way.

My Rating: 8.5
Recommended Dish: French Onion Soup, Pumpkin/Avocado Goat Cheese ravioli, Tomato Avocado Salsa Omelette
Atmosphere: Dim light, bistro decorations, cozy, often crowded
Clientele: Upper West Side professionals, often who work in the arts. Grad students.
Price Range: $12-$30 per person

French Roast Uptown
Upper West Side
85th and Broadway
(2340 Broadway, New York, NY 10024)
212-799-1533

French Roast Downtown
West Village
11th and Sixth Ave.
(78 W 11th St #1, New York, NY 10011)
212-533-2233

Website: French Roast

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Shopbop Sale!

Save 25% on items that are already on sale through Wednesday, July 23!

shopbop sale

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Lost Innocence

Here’s a doll on the side of the road in Queens. It looked really surreal, like a metaphor for lost childhood or something. I can’t imagine a kid actually playing there and leaving it that way like it was fighting somebody off, so maybe someone put it there and positioned it like that deliberately.

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Creepy.

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Me In Soho

Wearing an H+M shirt, Express shorts, and New Balance sneakers.

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A Minor by Code Deco

o_26127 (codedeco.com)

Code Deco is a unique Singapore-based perfume company that started last year under perfumer and founder Gauri Garodia. She presented her jazz-based fragrance collection at Spring Fling Sniffapalooza. The concept is great: it’s such a hard thing to relate scent to anything else, let alone another fleeting sensation like music. Even better, the fragrances are good.

A Minor is designed for men. It has that distinguished feel of aftershave, although aftershave usually has the notes arranged differently and with lower quality ingredients. Here’s the note list from Code Deco’s beautifully designed website: pink pomelo, bergamot, plum, prune, clove madagascar, cinnamon bark, bay leaf, geranium, vetiver haiti, amber, red sandalwood, musk

A Minor opens up as a dark, spicy citrus. I get the cinnamon and clove as an abstraction more than stark notes that stand out. The citrus is coming from the pink pomelo, a citrus fruit originating in Southeast Asia. The bergamot manages not to be too bright, but jaunty nonetheless. It’s strong. It could be a better version of Old Spice.

The vetiver is the main note. It comes in after a few minutes and holds through the heart and the base of the fragrance, accented by the sandalwood. It remains sharp for a while. I don’t know much about jazz, but I went to a jazz concert once and I’m getting a similar mood from A Minor. The guy it personifies would definitely like exuberant, loosely-structured music in a cozy room. I usually find vetiver a bit dry, but this fragrance is brimming with good humor.

The drydown is musky and the sandalwood stands out more, but vetiver is still the main player. It has great lasting power and is better sprayed on clothes. I think a lot of guys would like to wear A Minor on a regular basis. It has the familiar qualities of men’s fragrance: vetiver, spices, not many florals, but it’s friendly and high-quality enough to stand out anyway. A Minor isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s a top-shelf everyday perfume for affable guys with good taste.

Perfumer: Gauri Garodia
Price Range: Very Expensive
Recommended Occasion: Any
Release Year: 2013
My Rating: 7.5

Check out another review at Style Flavors.

Posted in Amber, Bay Leaf, Bergamot, Cinnamon, Clove, Geranium, Musk, Plum, Pomelo, Prune, Sandalwood, Uncategorized, Vetiver | 2 Comments

Shopbop Sale!

Hey everyone. Shopbop is having a sale starting tomorrow (June 24, 7 AM). It’s 25% off all items already on sale.

See you there!

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NY Steel Flowers by Arts and Scents

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One of the great things about Sniffapalooza is that you get to learn about brand new perfume houses before anyone else does. Manuela Pfannes-Völkel is a German perfumer who started making privately commissioned scents years ago, and just started her own house, Arts and Scents.

Pfannes-Völkel likes to mix scents you don’t usually see together, like mint and tonka. Her perfume line is accessible and a little kitschy, with names like Wild Cat Musk, Fantastic Green Bird, and Dream Of India.

NY Steel Flowers was inspired by the mix of nature and industry you see in New York City. It’s a great concept. New York City thinks commerce rules everything, which is true in the human world but nature still fights back when prompted. That premise has not only brought forth cool fragrances, but also time-tested blockbuster films like Godzilla. (He feeds off nuclear waste. Watch the movie.)

New York City’s nature/industry pull can be shown in harmony, like in the High Line:

14435 (nycgovparks.org)

and it can also manifest with giant cranes dangling precariously from the most expensive residential building in Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy.

OB-VD728_NYSAND_G_20121029161313 (WSJ)

Anyway. It’s really hard to pin down the scent. It starts off sweet and woody, very, very sweet actually. It calms down fast. I think the overall effect is of a sweet tobacco. I can also detect some kind of machinized neocivet note in there, like a half-robot civet cat in 2134 who’s royally pissed at having been used to make perfume for so long. It’s a one-accord wonder, but recommended.

Perfumer: Manuela Pfannes-Völkel
Price Range: Moderate
Recommended Occasion: Casual
My Rating: 7

Check out Arts and Scents’ website and blog!

Posted in Green, Sweet, Tobacco | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Angel by Thierry Mugler

thierry-mugler-angel-perfumes (from www.celebrityendorsementads.com

Angel is probably one of the biggest perfumes out there besides Chanel No. 5 and anything released by a daughter of OJ Simpson’s defense attorney. Its distinctive otherworldly periwinkle star bottle (followed in spirit by Alien) is pretty much everywhere, as is the deceptively simple patchouli-chocolate miasma that comes out of it.

I didn’t like it the first time. The second time was when I walked past Times Square’s Sephora at about 11:00 at night and sprayed the travel-size bottle just because it was so ubiquitous I had to try it again. That same effect keeps people going to McDonald’s to get fries. McDonald’s fries aren’t anywhere near as good as Wendy’s, but you see the ads so much that they become a permanent part of your subconscious and it’s like you haven’t fully achieved self-actualization until you get it with a side of Mickey D’s extra salted fries and a Quarter Pounder.

Angel opens with the heady, throaty-voiced patchouli-chocolate blast and some ambiguous fruits (I’m getting orange rinds). It does have a distinctly androgynous character, like Tania Sanchez says in The Book. It’s such a powerful effect that I’m reminded of a falsetto choir singing at full blast in an echoing room.

(New York Polyphony, closest thing I could find)

The funny thing is, Angel isn’t loud. (Keep in mind, almost every other reviewer disagrees with me about this.) Its sillage isn’t much bigger than the average perfume, but its unmistakable effect makes you feel like it’s radiating to Mars. It was made in 1992, which was right before perfume houses transitioned from big distinctive beasts to osteoporotic clean fragrances. Also, Thierry Mugler designed things like this:

tumblr_mansisMdMJ1r06q46o1_1280 (from thierrymugler.tumblr.com)

so he obviously wasn’t afraid to make a statement.

Angel also manages to be powdery on top of everything else. It’s a musty effect that keeps it from being too raw. I think that an undiluted chocolate/patchouli/fruit mashup would smell like the apartment of a hippie with the munchies. It also keeps it from being too edible. Angel is referred to as a gourmand. It almost smells edible, but not quite.

In the heart notes it smells more vanillic and a little more appetizing. The grand slam is over. The caramel comes in and the sharp citrus notes go out. The drydown is a warm, delicious caramel vanillic treat. It’s cool, but I think the untouchable top notes are way more interesting.

Here’s the note list, from Victoria at Bois de Jasmin’s detailed review: bergamot, mandarin, dewberry, honey, red berries, patchouli, Australian sandalwood, coumarin, vanilla, caramel, chocolate.

There’s two reasons Angel isn’t going to be one of my top ten favorite perfumes. Most importantly, it’s aloof. I definitely get the effect that a distinct personality is sitting on my skin when I spray it, but that personality isn’t going to be my friend. There’s nothing natural-smelling about it, it doesn’t meld into a skin scent, and it doesn’t tell any kind of emotional story except that this pretty and possibly hermaphroditic character is high-concept, high-art, and totally uninterested in me.

Basically, it’s a famous fashion designer.

Second, it has so many flankers that I feel like I’ve grown up with it, even though I’ve probably only smelled it a total of ten times. I like it. I might buy that travel-size bottle at Sephora for 25 bucks. But I can’t imagine myself connecting with it.

Perfumers: Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chirin
Price Range: Moderate
Recommended Occasion: Any
Release Year: 1992
My Rating: 8

More Reviews:
Jen at ThisBlogReallyStinks is so-so about it.

The Candy Perfume Boy, like me, finds it brilliant but not relatable enough to wear all the time.

The Perfumed Dandy thinks it just smells too much like a chocolate shop.

Posted in Bergamot, Berry, Caramel, Coumarin, Dewberry, Honey, Mandarin, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vanilla | Tagged , , | 4 Comments