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This last week or two I’ve taken a kind of summer break. They’ve been having a lot of ads on Pandora about how you shouldn’t let your summer go to waste and sit indoors all day. You should go to Las Vegas! Well, they lost me at Las Vegas, but it did make me think, Yeah, I want to enjoy some more of summertime. I want to feel the sun and not have an agenda and I want to read good books all weekend and have a lot of peace and quiet and ice cream.
So I did it. I took a break from non-essential house work, I took a break from having company over (or rather, the Chief obligingly gave me a break from his friends), I took one day off of work last Friday just because, and tomorrow I am going to the beach.
In honor of summer vacations and the joys of the senses, I give you two of the best, most beloved summer fragrances out there that you’ve probably never heard of.
First is Bronze Goddess by Estee Lauder.
Total disclaimer: I am not a bronze goddess. Ahem. My skin is rather pale and I like it that way! It tans a little bit, stubbornly, over the course of a whole summer’s worth of lunchtime walks. Also, I don’t particularly love beach culture, the smell of sunscreen, or tropical blossoms. And yet somehow this islandy-beachy fragrance delivers just such an atmosphere in a way that makes it widely beloved. Victoria likes it on her white Russian skin in winter to remind her of brighter days. Robin wore it through an entire vacation. These are picky ladies!
As I described this fragrance I found myself writing in a dreamlike mood, and that is a match for the atmosphere it creates. The sea’s salty film – overheated skin – sandy warmth all baked together in slick sunscreen over hours and hours relaxing in pleasure and leisure at the beach. Warm and approachable yet elegant, the hot baked languor is slowly visited by a single tendril of frangipani. Not sweet, not nearly overwhelming enough to to become tropical, it is as if the fragrance of the beachside gardens has infused itself into her very hair. Or perhaps the sun has gone down, and she has pinned up her hair and slipped into a simple silvery-black evening dress and flat jeweled sandals to savor a delicious dinner for two in an intimate coastal bistro, sitting on the outdoor patio where the flowering vines grow along the railings and the sea casts back the twinkle of the lights of town.
This is delicious and evocative, creating a fantasy of yourself – you could actually be this woman, and it is wonderful. Through the base notes of all that warm salty suncreened heated skin comes a thread of warm cedar woods, grounding the coconut milk and flowers, and later a bit of gardenia. Really a wonderful magical scent. I’m glad it exists. Four stars.
When I am not in the mood to be transported to a beach fantasy, I often reach for Philosykos by Diptyque.
I suppose a Greek isle is surrounded by beaches, but it is also full of Mediterranean plant life. As a fragrance, Philosykos is about the fig tree – its contrasts, bark, moist earth, green-white sap, unripe fruit, the fuzz on the palmate leaves. I first tried this scent on a cool, cloudy day and was not particularly impressed with the sap, leaf, dirt and fruit medley. It was like trying to drink a mint julep in fall – why would you?
But then the dog days of summer arrived, and one hot and sweaty Saturday I gave it another chance… and it came alive. This scent sinks into your skin and is released back to you by your body heat with added depth. I like to spray it in the bend of my elbow to maximize this effect and its longevity. With a snap of fig leaves and green twigs, Philoskyos weaves a shady bower overhead on the hottest days. Just as being surrounded by the color green can make you feel cooler, this fragrance makes a hot day not only bearable but downright wonderful. I swear the temperature drops five degrees when I have it on. It’s like running through the sprinklers, or (blog title reference alert) sitting under a fig tree on a Sunday afternoon. Five stars.
Sometimes the negative reviews can be the most fun to read. Gushing on and on about a great perfume is all very well, but the reviewer’s disgust when a scent fails to delight can be even more memorable. I’m about to give you an example of that.
When perfume is your hobby, you sample a lot. And the truth is, you find far more perfumes that you dislike or are bored by than ones which put a giant grin on your face. It comes with the territory. We sample perfumes to pursue the adventure of discovering perfumes, not necessarily to find something specific and perfect.
Frederic Malle’s Cologne Bigarade is from my summery sample batch. “Bigarade” is the cold-pressed oil from the peel of the bitter orange, a tree whose aromatic bark and oils are used in perfumery, hence this cologne’s name and the name of my post. It’s amazing how you can research reviews from other people who tried a perfume, put it on your short list, and then when you finally try it, it barely relates to what you were expecting.
Cologne Bigarade is meant to be a unisex aromatic (i.e. herbaceous) citrus. It starts out well enough… but only for about five minutes. At first spray, delicious half-peeled tangerines lie coolingly alongside liquid aloe vera soap. Rapidly this transforms into something vaguely smoky and musty, with a cigarette note reminiscent of an ancient apartment owned by your eccentric, leopard-wearing old aunt with all the costume jewelry dripping off her and the lipstick applied a little crookedly. (Oh, you don’t have an aunt like that? Well neither do I but it still reminds me of her!)
After this strange but brief phase it just gets perfumey – you know, that dated smelling perfume odor, your grandma’s vanity table, the whole deal. It’s fusty. When I press my nose close to my skin, I get something better – something with warmth and salty sweet orangey gold mixed with a twist of white rose petals, but none of that wafts up as I go about my daily business. It can’t elevate the perfumey sillage into something I’d ever want to wear. In the drydown, which seemed to start around the three hour mark, it smells musty in a fresh way… kind of like a really dusty aloe vera plant that’s just been trampled and has broken slippery aloe gel all muddled with the dust.
I expected a light, fresh citrus cologne that is weekend worthy and open. I got a 40’s style perfume for a divorced aunt.
Note Bene: I do think my skin may have a tendency to make certain colognes go flat based on previous failed experiments like this – you may love it on yours. I just saw in House Beautiful that Yul Brynner’s daughter wears it for all its fresh weekend-y traits!
I’ve started reviewing my batch of summer perfume samples! It’s been a cool and rather damp spring with very few weeks consistently sunny and 70 or over, so I’ve had a slow start on my new options for summer heat.
Annick Goutals’ Eau de Camille is one of those fragrances that has been on my to-try list for a long time, but for various reasons it never got purchased. AG is a line that ought to suit me well. Their design and marketing appeals to me and they have an emphasis on lifelike fragrance notes rather than abstracted/filtered versions of notes. I’ve found that most of their fragrances don’t live up to my expectations, being either too sweet and naive (i.e. Petite Cherie) or containing a squishy herbal vegetative thread (Mandragore, Nuits d’Hadrien, Ninfeo Mio up close).
Eau de Camille, I am pleased to report, is almost exactly what I’d hoped for.
Broken hedges, the crushed leaves of boxwood and privet in their springtime vitality, green green green, sap and leaf juices! So enters Eau de Camille. Maybe it’s the effect of hours in my childhood playing among the overgrowth in the vacant lot next door, sidling through the narrow passage behind our house lined with ivy and shaded by trees, but I do love a lifelike broken leaves note in a perfume.
As the top notes drift away, the greeny leaf starts to play This One or That One with the scent of lilies, both the rich spicy-sweet white oriental lily and the small cool lily of the valley. This part is really fun. You get a sequence of leaf, candy lily, leaf, muguet, leaf. The oriental lily is white and sugar-crystalled with a pink heart, yummy and intense while remaining in the realm of delicious rather than overwhelming. It is very distinct but quite light: not an overpowering density of lily. Honeysuckle is also a major component of the heart of this fragrance. I loooove AG’s Le Chevrefeuille, a honeysuckle soliflore, and am delighted that the delicate honeysuckle found there makes an appearance in Eau de Camille. Sometimes the honeysuckle is a vine wound amonst the shrubbery, and sometimes it is the nectar lifted on a breeze.
As the perfume wears, the green eventually becomes a background, discernable as the underpinnings of a green floral. The scent retains its light feminine heart nearly all the way through with that curious mixture of sweet lily and cool muguet. It appealingly displays both the tenderness of feminine youth and the green vibrancy of life. I can imagine wearing this on any summer day and feeling just about as pretty as it’s possible to get. Apparently Annick Goutal created Eau de Camille in response to her daughter’s request for a perfume that smelled like their courtyard garden in the suburbs, and I think she nailed it.
The sole reservation I have about Eau de Camille is that in the drydown, the flowers huddle close to the skin and the only notes apparent in the sillage are a greenish soap, sort of a clean and fresh sportiness that is not really in keeping with the sweet femininity up til then, and this stage lasts longer than I’d like.
I am sure some people will find this perfume too aggressive in its greenness. For myself, I love the green. Eau de Camille goes strong for four hours or longer on me, plenty for summertime. The sillage is perfect for my taste: enough that when I spray it on my wrist, I can smell it without particularly noticing where it’s coming from. I’m reaching for it often on these early summer days.
**** Four stars out of five.
Ok, there won’t be an “after” peek of the living room for at least a week – our house’s 70 year old underground pipes finally developed a slab leak, so the Chief spent the weekend running all new pipes for the whole house through the attic and walls. I helped. We are beat. Thankfully the house has water again (yay! for a wonderful, skilled husband) but the drywall holes still need to be patched and the contents of three closets and cupboards are piled across the house. So, no photos for a while.
However, I’ve been wanting to share something awesome-smelling that happened to me!
I love perfume because scent is so evocative/ transporting/ atmospheric/ emotional. As the seasons shift I start to yearn for different types of fragrances. Here’s what some of my favorite late spring/midsummer perfumes “feel” like to me:
Annick Goutal Le Chevrefeuille: light, cheerful, dancing, sunshine yellow, flowers in your hair
Diptyque Philosykos: On a hot day it smells like moist earth under a shady fig tree
Tauer L’Air du Desert Marocain: Bone-dry incense in the desert, hanging in the still air
Dior Escale A Portofino: A garden staircase arched over with honeysuckle and mock orange and sparkling dapples of sunlight
Now the exciting part – one of the best perfume blogs out there is Now Smell This, and it has a weekly feature called the Monday Mail. Readers will write in asking for perfume recommendations based on what they’ve already tried and liked or disliked, and they usually get 40 to 60 responses from their fellow perfume hobbyists. I’ve been dissatisifed with my current selection of summer-heat perfume options and a few months ago I decided to write in to get on the Monday Mail waiting list.
You can find the whole post here. I said I wanted something that would make me feel light and energetic, summery, feminine but not too sweet. I have to admit that my list of likes and dislikes got kind of long and picky, so to encourage the responders I made sure to be active in the comment section as I have noticed in previous Monday Mails that this makes people more willing to think their best for you :) Including my replies, there were over 70 comments!
I’m very, very excited to try some of the new things suggested by people who are more familiar with the world of perfume than I am and I’ll definitely let you know what I decide to try and how it goes.
The sad thing is, my turn on the Monday Mail came up more quickly than I’d expected – I figured I’d be up to bat in May or so, when the summer weather would be here to complement my request for summer perfumes. Instead, my turn came in March literally a week after I received a big order of summery perfume samples that I had already had on my list to try, and the weather has been too cold to even try those until just recently. So my Monday Mail gloryful list of stuff to try probably won’t even happen till the far end of summer this year. But I console myself with the thought of how much good stuff I have to look forward to.