Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Copy love isn’t lesser love

duplicate-originalI should write this post after I receive the bottle of vintage parfum Fleurs de Rocaille that I finally broke down and bought, but after all I decided not to wait.

Because it’s actually FLEUR de Rocaille that I love.

Yes, the one in the much cheaper pink (not Baccarat) bottle.

I bought Fleur de Rocaille early in my perfume collecting habit – 2010, maybe? – but not so early that it was one of the first things I smelled. I knew even when I first smelled it, at a Caron event, that there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about Fleur de Rocaille.

I didn’t know, I don’t think, that it was a descendant – a devolved copy, if you will, or perhaps even just a ripoff – of its antecedent in the same Caron brand, Fleurs de Rocaille. Fleurs – plural Flower, not singular, and no I can never keep them straight without Googling – dates back to 1933 and was composed by the legendary Ernest Daltroff for the Caron line. Luckyscent still sells it (and warns you that it is not to be confused with the singular Fleur.) I’ll tell you what it smells like, or at least what a vintage bottle smells like, when I get my hands on it. I have learned to appreciate oakmoss over the years but I don’t worship it the way a lot of perfumistas do and I don’t know exactly how I will find it.

But Fleur de Rocaille has just proved to me again that my most impulsive perfume purchases are often some of my best. I bought it on first sniffing and have never regretted it.

I haven’t worn it in years, I must say, and had even been wondering lately where I had left it. Then I got up yesterday and went and looked and yes, it’s right in the drawer where it’s supposed to be, oddly enough, in a position of “Favored but not most precious”.

And I put it on and enjoyed it just as much as I did when I first bought it.

(Well, to be honest I did do some “throat-clearing” sprays into the sink in the bathroom first – it HAD been a while since that plunger was depressed.)

I had forgotten how cheap the bottle looks, with its pink juice and its plastic cap. But don’t let me neg this perfume. It’s really very, very pretty and to me, it’s the epitome of “wearable under all conditions.”

The construction of Fleur de Rocaille is definitely that of the type of fruity-floral clean patchouli that is too omnipresent these days. But here’s the thing: I don’t object to fruity-floral clean patchoulis. It’s just that I feel like when you’ve smelled one, you’ve smelled them all. To be honest, I think they smell good; it’s just that I can’t tell them apart.

Fleur de Rocaille, though, doesn’t bore me. This formulation, which apparently dates to 1993, takes the big white floral bouquet of the 80s and adds a quieter feminine touch with the addition of a few purples – maybe lilac, or violet. The fruit is practically unidentifiable to me, which makes me question whether it’s fruit at all. To my nose, it isn’t berry, it isn’t peach, it isn’t pear. It might almost be apple, of all things, but if so it’s practically unidentifiable as such. It also isn’t sticky and it isn’t cotton candy sweet. I kind of like the thought, if only because apple is such an American fruit, and apples smell beautiful (I adore the floral-sweet scent of a perfect Fuji apple), but they don’t feature heavily in French perfumery for obvious reasons. I like the idea of some secret apple tucked away in this bouquet.

In fact, perhaps one of the best features of Fleur de Rocaille is its balancing act. Not balancing like one of my big orientals likes to balance, with amber sword blades flashing over a molten lake of cumin or perilously shivering atop an axehead of vanilla. This isn’t a bunch of big things in productive tension. This is a tea tray balanced to perfection with flowers in a nice, perhaps porcelain, vase. It isn’t precious or baby-girl and it doesn’t mince. But it is arranged, and purposefully illuminated in appropriate spots, like a Vermeer painting.

The base of Fleur de Rocaille I think is a cleaned-up patchouli but one you wouldn’t notice as such unless you were looking for it, I think. In fact, as a drydown it’s probably the least basey base I can think of. I think that’s part of the reason you see different stories in others’ reviews about whether it’s a musk, or a sandalwood, or patchouli. It’s clean but it’s not distinctive; it does not overshadow the previous sections of the perfume, which some might consider a drawback (if your favorite part of a perfume is the drydown, this is not for you) but which I consider simply a well-made part of this perfume.

Several online reviews also mention its longevity, which is impressive for a perfume that isn’t made up of a heavy vanilla or patchouli base. In a world where people seem to have gotten the impression that the job of perfume is to smack passersby and say out loud “I AM WEARING ANGEL, PEOPLE”, Fleur de Rocaille is admirably restrained simply in lacking a whacking great base.

Its longest-lived section is the fruit and floral center, which can be a benefit if you like it or a catastrophe if you hate it. I can only imagine that some of the online reviews who found it loud or screechy are recovering from overexposure to Flowerbomb and are wearing nothing but vintage Miss Dior in retaliation. Fleur de Rocaille is the opposite of screechy. It is not an 80s powerhouse but it has learned something from them and moved on – moved on to a more grown-up place.

(Don’t forget I love me some Angel and I love me some 80s powerhouses. I own Giorgio, goddammit. I’m just saying that this is NOT that.)

I’m so pleased to have rediscovered it in my collection. I would be very relieved if I spent the rest of my days rediscovering things and adding a lot less! Particularly if the rediscoveries are as pleasant as this.

Image is “Duplicate Original” by woodleywonderworks, via Flickr; used under Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

Bookmark or Share

Despite snob

snootyducksHi all, sorry I haven’t been posting (if you missed me); I’ve been busy and have to prioritize. I haven’t forgotten about my little survey either; since the point of it was for me to learn how to do a regression analysis, trust me, I’ll be back to it, but not right away.

But that is not the subject of today’s rant.

No, today’s rant is brought to you courtesy of a healthy dose of self disgust.

See, I recently did get a chance to smell Thé Noir 29, which is coming out from Le Labo this month. And I will tell you, it’s good. It opens with a whacking big hit of tobacco, following the tradition of Le Labo scents that don’t smell much like what they claim they are. (Thé Noir meaning black tea, and if you don’t read French don’t worry about it, neither do most Americans and I can’t help but suspect this thing is going to get referred to all over as The Noir, like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.)

After the tobacco there’s a hint of tea but the rest of it is just plain good – a floral tea scent, which you don’t get often, but very unisex, with a slug of the same woody musk blend in the base as my beloved Gaiac 10, such that the touch of rose in there would never really be noticed as floral. My point is, it’s good, I will have to get some, and when I get some I will wear the hell out of it.

Which annoys me. Because here’s my point: Le Labo pisses me off.

I don’t know where they get their attitude from. I hear they’re big in Hollywood? Or hotels? Or something? Who knows and who the hell cares. This is New York City. It’s gauche here to point at celebrities, and how exclusive can it be to be associated with specific hotels? – the same used to be said of hookers.

Their SoHo store has this faux-industrial thing going on which is very Brooklyn, very appealing – and very done; Brooklyn’s been doing actual industrial for more than a decade now, but whatever – and some of the packaging pulls on the same aesthetic. I admit, I like my stupid steel tube travel case and I will one day give in and get the container for the solids made by the same manufacturer. That lasts-forever industrial aesthetic does appeal to me. And everyone else. That’s why Mason Jars are big these days. It’s not that revolutionary.

Meanwhile the juice is distinctive. And that is no faint praise. In a world where even the indy lines can get to be cookie-cutter, it is true and worthwhile that Le Labo actually has an aesthetic and maintains it. Their dry abstract unisex synthetic combinations didn’t appeal to me at first; then a switch went off in my brain and they did. Le Labos don’t tend to smell like much else but each other (and part of the reason I like Thé Noir so much is its family resemblance to Gaiac 10 which is, I admit, one of my desert island fragrances.)

The juice is distinctive enough that I overlook the Brooklyn-y posturing, the cleaned-up-for-uptown industrial trendiness, and yes, even the stupid pricing on the stupid exclusives that are now available every fall (just in time for gift-giving – how exclusive), where there is supposedly a scent per large city that is only available in that city. For an even higher price per bottle. Except that you can buy them once a year anywhere anyway.

In fact I overlook the ridiculous pricing in general, because even the regular scents are, for the ingredients that they smell of, overpriced. I don’t use the word “overpriced” much, you don’t see it here on the Unseen Censer, because hey, if I want it, and I’m willing to buy it, how overpriced can it be? I might be a sucker but I can’t blame the company if I’m willing to pay for it. And the travel sets are nice in that they let you mix and match scents – a godsend to perfume freaks.

No, I overlook all that. What really fries my beans is that I have never had a great experience in their store.

There’s usually one nice person in there (on Elizabeth Street) but the rest are all “why are you in here you middle-aged suburbanite” – which is a very, very foolish way to treat a customer who spends as much on perfume annually as I do. (One could argue that it’s a very foolish way to treat any customer, but I am hip to the classist divisiveness of the average sales floor, and I would argue that, fair or not, if I get fawned over on the beauty floor of Bergdorf Goodman – and I do – then I do not look like the sort of customer who is unlikely to spend money in a perfume store.)

Not only do they not want to wait on me, but most of the staff don’t even want to talk to me about perfume. This is madness. What does the store sell again?

On this visit they really didn’t want to reveal Thé Noir despite my being there FOR an exclusive sneak peak that the store, presumably, arranged. This just makes me see red. Fake exclusivity makes me insane, especially when it is a product for sale. I like to think that anyone could visit the JAR boutique in Bergdorf’s and be treated to the same experience – it’s exclusive in that you can only buy the JAR fragrances in that boutique, but if you are there, you are entitled to shop. What on earth FBI-level security do they think they need on products that, if not yet available for sale in that store, will be for sale in that store within weeks (and if they want me to take the damn train back down there to see them, they should give me a reason to come back)? Does it really take a multi-person, multi-round discussion to decide to give me the security clearance to smell their new perfume? Do they really only plan to sell to people within a ten-block radius? What is up with that anyway?

The unpleasantness of shopping with Le Labo just makes me mad at myself for liking the scents of theirs that I like. I tend to refer to my beloved bottle of Gaiac 10 as “my stupid Gaiac 10”; when I take out my travel bottles of Le Labo (and I have six) and put one into my steel container, I don’t enjoy it as much as I want to; mostly I feel successfully duped.

This also means that even when I do decide I actually want a Le Labo scent, I generally just order it rather than go down to that off-putting store and check out what else is there. If I decide I want the Rose 31 oil – and I did – I just order it rather than visit. I don’t want Le Labo to sell me anything else; I’m embarrassed enough to be buying the Le Labo I already own.

It’s a dysfunctional relationship, and I’m coming clean about it right now, on the Internet. Actually it’s not even a relationship. I don’t know what to call it. I might buy their stupid scents – but I refuse to claim that it is anything but rather foolish to do so. I lose a little bit of self-respect every time I leave that store.

It’s SO annoying that I don’t even want to explore the other stores. Why risk being sneered at by more than one Le Labo store? Wouldn’t it be an even stupider expenditure of my time?

Actual exclusivity, if that is what drives you, would be perhaps a JAR scent – there are JAR boutiques only in Paris and New York City. Roja Dove’s Pierre de Velay scents, which are only available at Harrod’s. Something from IUNX, which really is sold only in one location in Paris. “Exclusive” means “not in wide distribution, you can’t just get it anywhere”. Not “you have to appease a handful of twenty-somethings to get it”. This short list doesn’t even include things like Christopher Brosius I Hate Perfume, which is really quite hard to find especially since the Brooklyn boutique closed to customers, or one of the natural perfumers like Joanne Basset who are making perfumes from very limited substances that they source or even grow themselves.

If your goal is a store rather than a particular bottle of juice, let me recommend some stores I would be happy to visit any time:

Scentbar in Los Angeles
The perfume boutique at Harrod’s in London
Les Topettes in Barcelona
Atelier Cologne downtown in Manhattan
Twisted Lily in Brooklyn
The IUNX shop in Paris (that guy’s a hoot)
or my beloved Bergdorf Goodman uptown in Manhattan

or, though I haven’t been to the store yet because it just opened, Arielle Shoshana in Washington D.C., because I’ve been waited on by Arielle before and I would be happy to buy more perfume from her.

If you want to SHOP, let me recommend any of these stores to you. These are my actual shopping experiences – places I have enjoyed. (Funnily enough, and probably not coincidentally, all of them have staff that aren’t different every time you visit, as well – so you can actually talk to people and, if you go back again, have the pleasant experience of talking again to someone who was actually nice to you last time.) If you decide you do need Le Labo scents – and you may well not, but if you do – let me recommend mail order. Via the web.

Image is “Snooty ducks” by Roger W, via Flickr; used under Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

Bookmark or Share

What do you do in the heat?

There are a lot of tricks people pull out of their perfume hats when it gets hot. There’s the keeping it in the fridge trick, for instance.

I own a lot of light, sheer perfumes. I own several of the huge Marc Jacobs splashes (yes, they all dry down the same, but the initial impression . . . → Read More: What do you do in the heat?

Fun with research

***EDITED TO ADD: THANK YOU, THE DRAFT SURVEY IS NOW CLOSED! Stay tuned for more news on this project! ***

Do you like Undina’s posts about perfume stats of various sorts!? Of course you do! We’re perfume nerds and we love data about perfume.

As it happens some buddies and I are studying survey design . . . → Read More: Fun with research

Telling twins apart

Is it just me or is it sometimes hard to tell a flanker apart from its original? I guess if it smelled exactly like the original, I wouldn’t buy it. But I’ve bought two flankers recently that other perfume reviewers (with much better noses) reported as having all these different notes; to me they just . . . → Read More: Telling twins apart

To prevent being ingested

I am delicious, and the way that I know that I am delicious is that outdoor creatures dine upon me every chance they get. When I was younger every bug bite would swell up into a little mountain of horribleness, and I would scratch like you couldn’t believe. I tried everything to get them to . . . → Read More: To prevent being ingested