Slutty sophistication: Agent Provocateur EDP

Dear Scent Diary,

imagesI don’t like rose except when I really like rose.

There are enough rose fragrances I dislike that if sniffed in a row, one would conclude that I have a hate on for rose. Which is what I honestly thought for a while. But I’ve discovered that there are also enough rose fragrances I absolutely love that if sniffed in a row, you’d come away thinking that I’m a huge fan of rose. Tricky business this rose note.

UnknownOne of the perfumes I place firmly in the ‘love’ column is Agent Provocateur’s first and signature scent, Agent Provocateur. I don’t live in a country where the brand actively advertises, so I had no preconceived notions when I took my first sniff. I believe I vaguely knew it was a lingerie company, maybe “Victoria’s Secret-ish” is what I’d probably have told you.

Agent Provocateur starts with a blast of dark, deep, oily rose, almost black, that second by second gets sweeter and more tangy as it dries. This is not a sheer fragrance – it is a potent and strong, take-no-prisoners type of scent. I expect this kind of quality from Amouage and Serge Lutens, but not from a mass lingerie brand, so it had my attention right away.

As it dries down, the rose melds with saffron and cedar to give it a more abstract, aromatic impression that’s deep, dense and gorgeous. It throws like crazy and I find the projected scent a bit cleaner than what you smell up close. Still, the waft is dark and aromatic with all the notes creating a cedary, mentholated rose feeling. That aromatic quality of the silage gives it a freshness that keeps the scent from being too heavy. A beautiful evening fragrance for me.

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Agent Provocateur Spring Summer 2013

When I sat down to start writing about Agent Provocateur, I acquainted myself with the brand’s imagery. Um, whoa! Coupled with the brand’s blatant, ornately sexual aesthetic, the perfume takes on a sultry, bad ass sexiness. Before I associated the scent with french maid ‘playsuits’ and disco pasties, I would have compared it to such sophisticated fragrances as Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady. Now, what? Portrait of a Lady of the Evening?

Since scent is blind, I’ll go with my initial impression. It’s a high quality, dark, aromatic rose fragrance with a wonderful sillage and incredible longevity. If you prefer your roses soft, simple or fresh, you won’t like Agent Provocateur. If you like them edgy, dark and sultry, you can join me in the ‘love it’ corner, prudishly trying to forget it’s associated with the image above.

Ring it up: Byredo Bal D’Afrique

Dear Scent Diary,

I try never to buy perfume on first sniff. First of all, it’s impossible to get a sense of how it wears on your skin during the course of a day. Will it last? Will it change? If it does, in an interesting way or in a way you’d rather it didn’t? And then there are the less quantifiable reasons – will I get bored with it or decide in a week that the gorgeous elixir in the store is actually unwearable in my daily life.

DSC03426The key word in the first sentence above of course is ‘try’. My perfume hobby is useless to me if it isn’t entertaining and enjoyable and sometimes illogical and impractical. And so on my recent trip to Seattle, when I fell in love with Byredo’s Bal D’Afrique at Barney’s, I happily committed the first sniff purchase sin.

DSC03429The initial whiff reeled me in: a slightly musky, juicy citrus note – a blend of bergamot, vetiver and orange blossom gives the impression of sweet juicy orange (I gather since orange isn’t listed as an official note on their website). At this point early on, there are similarities to Atelier Cologne Vetiver Fatal’s opening blast. As it develops though, they diverge down different paths – Vetiver Fatal towards a dry green woodiness, and Bal d’Afrique towards a musky, cedar-y, yet still juicy dry-down.

DSC03430Overall, Bal D’Afrique is light, juicy to the end, extremely well-blended, lasts and is downright gorge-licious. And how does it fare on all the caution points I listed above? Pretty damn well. It does last (10 or more hours on me with liberal application), it does change to a take on a musky, woody character but retains the sweet juiciness that grabbed me originally, and it does keep my interest.

One of the most telling perfume occasions is when you’re going to be meeting someone for the first time and you’d like to make a favourable impression. Which scent do you choose? Sure it depends on the type of person you’re meeting and how they fit into your life (is it your mother-in-law or a new business associate?). But regardless, this kind of stress test for my perfume collection often produces some very useful information.

DSC03425On two such occasions (a dinner party and a new client meeting) I reached for Bal D’Afrique. Granted, it has the shine of a new love, but the boxes it checked for me are what was telling – it’s what I chose to give a breezy, appealing, carefree, and happy impression at the dinner party and a ‘not trying too hard’ impression at the client meeting. Huh.

As far as new acquisitions go, I’d call it a great success.

The Most Interesting Perfume Articles and Videos From Around the Web

Dear Scent Diary,

I”ve been torn about posting each of these individually over the past month or so and finally came to the conclusion that they’d be most appreciated as a collected ‘best of’ post. So here it is –  the most interesting perfume reading and watching I’ve come across in the last little while, in no particular order:

“Making Scents” – An engaging, well-produced documentary-style film by Monocole.com about the fragrance capital of the world: Grasse. It’s about six minutes long and well worth a look. Watch it here.

“For Hire: Perfume Nose” – An interview with Celine Ellena (yes, Jean-Claude’s daughter) by Smithsonian.com. First published in 2007, it delves insightfully into what its like to be both a perfumer, and the daughter of a famous one. Read it here.

“On the Scent of Luxury with an Upper East Side Perfumer” – A Wall Street Journal article where an interview with Frederic Malle about a room spray made exclusively for the Mark hotel in New York becomes ultimately, an interview about Frederic Malle. Read it here.

“The Perfume Odyssey; A Scent-imental Journey” – A New York Times article first published all the way back in August, 2000. Calice Becker gives a particularly good argument against the idea of layering perfume. Read it here.

“The 50 Best Fragrances” – UK’s The Independent lists its top 5o perfumes – and it’s not bad! When a newspaper or magazine publishes its ‘best fragrances’ list, they’re often written by a beauty editor and not a perfume enthusiast – which is why so many end up being nothing more than a compilation of the latest mainstream releases. This one is a mix of good mainstream and niche with reasonably good descriptions of each scent (as opposed to the usual “for the sporty scent lover!” dreck). Read it here.

“10 British Perfume Labels Changing the Scent Game” – The title is a bit overstated but the perfumes and houses highlighted are interesting and worth noting. Read it here.

“Posting Your Scent of the Day (SOTD): What’s the Point?” – The infamous article by Andrew Buck of Scentrist.com that sent Facebook fragrance groups into a tizzy and offended many a fumie. Read it here.

“SotSolipsism” – A fascinating rebuttal to the Scentrist article by Sheila Eggenberger of TheAlembicatedGenie.com. Read it here.

“Katie’s Perfume Collection Update Part Four” – Katie Puckerik shares some of her fragrances with us, including those of her late Dad. If you’ve never teared up while watching a perfume collection video, this will be the first time. I’m serious, get a Kleenex. Watch it here.

Seattle Sniff Spree Part 2: Nordstrom (Sample Heaven)

Dear Scent Diary,

As a Canadian, I’m realizing now that we northern fume enthusiasts are slightly crippled compared to our neighbor to the south. I had no idea perfume samples were doled out with such abandon in the US. I haven’t travelled abroad since my perfume affliction took hold so I can’t speak for the sample situation anywhere else, but man – you Americans have it good. I was bowled over when I spied these containers at practically every counter during a scout of the Nordstrom fragrance section:

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As you can probably guess by my reaction, we have nothing like this in Canada. Samples are given out stingily or at special events only. And they are generally never offered.
A little giddy and not really knowing the lay of the land, I picked up one of the empty spray sample vials and started making myself a sample of the exclusive Guerlain L’Art et la Matière fragrance, Cuir Beluga, which to my surprise and delight was sitting oh-so accessibly on a shelf with every other Guerlain perfume.

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Guerlain (L’Art et la Matière testers, top right), Annick Goutal.

An SA instantly appeared and offered to label it for me. “Uh, sure,” I said as I handed it to her. She hurried off and rushed back with the sample carded. In the meantime, I’d started on making a sample of another L’Art et la Matière fragrance, Angelique Noire. “I’m happy to make samples for you.” she said. Oh. Is that how it works? I handed it to her and asked for some Mitsouko as well for good measure. “Right away,” was her answer.

DSC03389The Bond No. 9 counter was right next to the section we were in so I asked if I could try New Haarlem. I was immediately handed off to another SA who actually seemed excited to help me. New Haarlem has practically reached mythical status in my mind since I’ve read and heard about it for so long without the opportunity to try it. I was cruising for a let down but remarkably, I was impressed. It’s actually more refined than I expected. The lavender top notes keep it fresh and inedible even as the coffee note swoops in. This isn’t a frappuccino dumped on your wrist as I’d feared, but an aromatic frag with a warm, unexpected coffee aroma. Undoubtably encouraged by my oohing and awing, the SA practically fell over herself to make me a sample.

I may have to move.

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Chanel Les Exclusifs

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Creed

As I cruised the rest of the section, I reminded myself of Chanel Sycamore and Diptique L’Ombre Dans L’eau with a spritz to each wrist (I either already have or have had samples), made notes to come back and try some Creeds and some Annick Goutals. As I was leaving, I found a lonely bottle of Tonka Imperiale (another L’Art et la Matière) on a Guerlain makeup display. With no SA’s in sight, I made the most of the baskets of samples and helped myself to one.

I’ve read that Nordstrom has plans to expand into Canada (though unfortunately not to the West Coast where I live). I look forward to it regardless, as their sample policy will most likely force other retailers in Canada to do the same.

I will live in hope.

Seattle Sniff Spree Part 1: Barneys (Frederic Malle, Byredo, Arquiste, L’Artisan)

Dear Scent Diary,

A semi-planned, semi-spur-of-the-moment trip to Seattle materialized this past weekend and not only provided the opportunity for some perfume scouting and recreational sniffing, but also to meet a fellow perfumista. Live. In the flesh. With the ability to speak to one another, not through comments on a blog, but in real time over a table, and eventually over a Frederic Malle counter. (Those lucky enough to have friends who aren’t bewildered by your perfume hobby might not understand how exciting this was.)

DSC03408Dasi and I met at the entrance to Barneys (natch). After an enjoyable exchange of non-perfume related info (she’s as interesting and intelligent as I’d imagined) we descended upon the fragrance department where Dasi is a regular visitor (natch again).

Seattle’s Barneys is a small, intimate store with a very well-curated selection of, well, everything they sell. If you’re interested in drooling over shoes or handbags, they have the ones to do it over (read Celine ‘it’ bags and Isabel Marant shoes). Their fragrance section is the equivalent. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as an ‘it’ fragrance, but the ones they do carry are very much coveted.

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Frederic Malle

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Arquiste

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Byredo

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L’Artisan Parfumeur, Serge Lutens

I’ve been itching to try some of the fragrances in the Arquiste line and finally got a chance to take a sniff. I tried Anima Dulcis on skin (but was not as impressed as I wanted to be). None of them particularly grabbed me to be honest – more testing is required.

Dasi has ruined Seville a L’Aube for me. If you have it, go take a whiff. Now smell it again and see if you smell tortillas. Yep. Same thing happened to me. Sorry. You can blame Dasi.

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A Frederic Malle scent chamber.

I came dangerously close to buying Frederic Malle’s En Passant on first sniff. Gorgeous ethereal, watery lilac that is very soft up close and has a beautiful billowy, feminine sillage. Managed to stay coy for now. It’s only a matter of time, however.

On this day, it was the Byredo line that seemed to get the better of both of us. We tested each of them and spent all too much time trying to figure out the vegetal note that seems to dominate Pulp (it’s green pepper). But it was Gypsy Water that stole Dasi’s heart and Bal D’Afrique is the one that followed me home (biased review to come).

Kudos to the Barneys staff who knew just when to help and when to leave us to our happy huffing.

All in all, it was a perfumista’s dream date.