Musks again

I do love musk. I revisited Jovan White Musk for Women and Kiehl’s Musk (in the EDT form). And a new one for me is CB I Hate Perfume Musk Reinvention.

I remember saying at some point that the Jovan was less powdery and froufrou than Kiehl’s. I don’t know what I was on at that time. Jovan definitely blows me away as a sub-$10 Walgreens perfume; it’s not quite a clean musk but it proceeds into a creamy, ever so slightly soapy cloud. I think it’s feminine in an “actual girl with skin” way, having as it does just a tantalizing hint of dirtiness at the opening. It’s happymaking, and it’s cheap enough to keep little bottles in the bathroom and in my bag as well as at my vanity: if I forget to put on some other scent before I leave the bedroom, there’s no occasion or mood that this scent won’t work with.

Kiehl’s is definitely more unisex than the Jovan. It has soft citrus and a floral burst at the beginning, but straight on the heels of that is definite skank and I love it. Reading suggests indoles from the orange-blossom florals may contribute to that skank; okay. It’s very suggestively crotchy, but fades fast into a close-to-the-skin people musk that I think is sexy. It stays really close but wafts up if the body’s temerature rises a little.

Musk Reinvention is very strange. It’s not comparable to any other musk I’ve smelled and lacks entirely the “velvety” olfactory feel I associate with musk. Instead, it shifts through notes that remind me of clean horse, slightly dirty horse, horse stable, the sweetness of living rabbit fur when you bury your nose in it, and finally fleshy mushroom. So in that sense it really makes me understand “animalic”, but I can’t see wearing it to enjoy it; it feels like a curiosity. (I lied, I also smell sweaty horse and stable in Declaration by Cartier, which I do wear for the fun of it; but that has a lot of spices, wood and a splash of citrus to add to the pot.)

Cotton candy comparisons

The first new-perfume kick I’ve gone on in years consists largely of falling completely in love with cotton candy scents this summer. I typically hate “foody” perfumes with so much prejudice that I can’t believe it took me this long to realize how a smell I’ve enjoyed for years is one I might, y’know, like wearing. Doh.

I went straight for Aquolina’s Pink Sugar, of course. Because I’m a cheapskate and a reverse snob, I wanted to also try Gayle Hayman Delicious Cotton Candy, which had a lot of good reviews and costs less than half the price of Pink Sugar.

I was dubious about Pink Sugar at first because of the opening, which had way less sweetness than I was expecting (I smell citrus and spice, and maybe the wee-est vanilla-tonka note). Drying down, though, it immediately blooms into warm cotton candy. It perfectly suggests the dual child/adult nature of a cotton candy booth at the carnival: yep, it’s got the comforting associations of a balmy evening on a fairground after a day of treats and play, producing a cuddly feel. But it’s also definitely sexy. I’d been picturing an infantilizing, manufactured babydoll “sexiness” but this is cotton candy and entirely adult skin, lovers sharing candyfloss on the midway: the contact of mouth to fingers, the clinging sugary smell mingled with the heat of the body, and the ever-so-slightly sticky flavor left on lips to be found with kisses.

Delicious Cotton Candy couldn’t even put up a competition. In comparison, it’s thin and cool; sweet and sugary, but not cuddly, lacking warmth and depth. I smell unidentified artificial berrylike notes, as if it represents a fruity sweet from a bag rather than fresh, just-cooled cotton candy. No skin, no sexy, just sweetness that suggests candyfloss instead of producing rich olfactory imagery.

I feel properly chastened for dismissing Pink Sugar as one of those cloying scents fit only for preteens. This is a complex perfume painting a detailed picture — telling an interesting story — in the way I most like perfume to do.

Avon Timeless cologne

This was my first run-in with vintage Avon. I bought a cute little Avon owl bottle at Goodwill for 99 cents, thinking I’d dump the contents and use it to hold rosewater in the bathroom. Thank god I tried a dab on my wrist first because I think I would have committed seppuku if I’d dumped this stuff down the drain.

My beloved Chanel No. 19 came out in 1972 and Timeless only a few years later. I do not think this is a coincidence — the two scents definitely share a mossy, leathery, chypre kinship. Where No 19 tops the darker, leathery notes with white rose and crisp greens, Timeless goes in a richer more Oriental direction.

My little bottle is clearly the worse for age, and no wonder because it’s been exposed to light for who knows how many years, so I don’t get any topnotes at all and the initial smell is stale. But in 10 minutes or so, its lovely complexity of heart and base notes just blooms. I get oakmoss (real oakmoss), patchouli, vanilla-tinged amber, resinous incense and maybe some jasmine. My favorite thing about it is how the potentially glorpy-sweet amber and vanilla are perfectly balanced by the deep leatheriness — so much more interesting than your standard plush Oriental.

Avon Unforgettable

This weekend while I was at St. Vinnie’s, I spotted a box full of mini cologne and perfume bottles shoved to the back of the glass case. A lot of it was novelty and mini Avon bottles, maybe a collection someone left behind when she went where you can’t take perfume collections. (Say it ain’t so. Well, at least I have enough perfume to embalm me when the day arrives.)

I wanted to buy all of it, but instead I picked about half a dozen bottles, some for the shape and some for the scent. I didn’t realize till I got home that because I hadn’t paid attention to the contents of the bottles I bought for their shape (wee tiny snail! omg) I ended up getting a bunch of different bottles all containing Unforgettable. I guess our presumed perfume collector had a favorite.

Unforgettable in the perfume concentration goes on quite soapy and sharp, reminding me a bit of the very beginning of Chanel No. 5. I think I pick up lily of the valley (as I do with the big 5) but I’ve seen others describe this as “aldehylic”, so, whatever. Then some beautiful orange blossom kicks in, and the whole thing softens from soapy to powdery with some deep basenotes I have trouble identifying, but there’s definitely some slightly incensy patchouli in there. The result is very feminine but not twee girly-girly, a peach cashmere sweater of a scent, and needs a light hand.

The cologne concentration is softer without the soapy beginning, and with maybe more patchouli. Of course, some of the difference could be the vagaries of ancient bottles probably exposed to light and maybe heat for decades — the perfume is thick, dark and syrupy in its snail bottle — but none of them smell turned. In both concentrations Unforgettable has a lovely old-fashioned vintage feel without smelling “dated”. This is my second surprise encounter with vintage Avon, and I’m really impressed with the quality of their older scents. I don’t know if it’s an Avon thing or a vintage perfume thing in general, but it blows me away that these were low-price-point perfumes for those who couldn’t afford the “good” stuff.

Bulgari Black

Okay, so here’s the thing about Bulgari Black: after I read Tania Sanchez describing it as one of the scents that set her on the road to perfume enthusiasm, I really wanted to smell it. But no one carries it. Not Nordstrom, not Macys, not the Sephora in town and forget Penneys or Sears. I could have got it online, but I have a thing about not buying perfume unsniffed.

So I squealed like a Daisy Scout when I spied it way over in the men’s fragrance section of the Seattle Sephora. Had it been there on my two previous visits? Had I walked past it each time? Probably! I made a beeline for it with a speed that left Mr Kristin’s head spinning, and one whiff told me it was just as interesting as I’d expected. (“It’s supposed to smell like rubber,” I may have explained as I towed him over. “And you want to smell that why?” he may have asked. “Because it’s weird, duh,” I may have shot back.)

Bulgari Black does smell like rubber. To be exact, it starts with fairly strong and slightly sweet vanilla, which the smoky rubber catches up on until it’s the dominant note. I guess if you really wanted to you could call it leather. I say it’s rubber, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. The thing I love about Black is that the rubber’s not just weird and interesting, it’s pretty. Black manages to fold it in as something that utterly belongs even while it’s hogging the limelight. It simmers down a little as some warmer and well blended possibly-woody things come out, and some gentle musk helps the vanilla gets powdery. The rubber is definitely there the whole time, although the smokiness fades as the powder gains, and it takes what would probably be a boring scent and makes it fascinating with the balance of innocent powderiness versus dark leatheriness and woods.

It’s soft but not girly, warm but with the warmth of skin rather than a snuggly wool sweater or toasty spices; I think it’s as good as it is because it’s not a RUBBER! scent sprinkled round with other notes but a good skin scent plus rubber, which makes it utterly intriguing while still being completely wearable. I was head over heels in 5 minutes.

I wouldn’t describe this as a sweet scent — the vanilla and the rubber and woods balance out well to a sort of neutral on the scale, and because of the smoky rubber/leather ambiguity it maybe leans slightly salty. It doesn’t have a lot of throw, and because of the rubber plus skinlike nature it’s kind of naughty-sexy, but not overwhelming sex in a bottle (although a touch of perspiration might change that). It reads gender-neutral to me.

Bulgari says: lapsang souchong tea, bergamot, jasmine, cedar, sandalwood, leather, amber, musk, vanilla.

Versace Exciting

The funny thing about having a wishlist of stuff to smell is how I keep running across scents to try that aren’t even on it. It’s how I ended up with a pocketful of samples two weeks ago on a random shopping trip that was not, originally, in any way related to perfume. And it’s how I ended up swapping for a decant of Versace Exciting.

But I’m really glad I did. To be honest, Exciting isn’t very easy to get to know right away because it opens up with a lot of rubbing alcohol (I think this is the smell people mean when they complain about “department store perfumes” that smell of alcohol and nothing else). Afterward, though, there’s a fresh and distinctly wet-not-aquatic smell, lightly green in a way that I really think I should be familiar with but I can’t put my finger on it. It takes on a little pepperiness but overall it’s a juicy, crisp scent — although it doesn’t actually smell like celery at all, it reminds me of biting into a stalk of celery.

Then the rose comes out, a very interesting rose because it’s distinctly rosy without being blowsy, plush, or rich. It’s kind of a thin rose, like the petals from a bud that hasn’t opened yet, and maybe it’s still wet from the dew as well. A scent that’s almost as much vegetal as it is floral. Looking at Versace’s listed notes for Exciting, I think this is actually mostly supposed to be lily, but it feels rosy to me, so I’mma keep calling it rose. The slightest bit of something citrusy, orange maybe, joins in but the thin wet “rose” definitely dominates. It smells like immature rose petals, and stems, and skin. It’s maybe a little soapy — lily of the valley perhaps? Don’t see lily of the valley listed, but I do see jasmine, could be that. I think the “peach” combined with musk probably account for the skinlike impression without too much heaviness.

There was a BPAL scent I smelled once that was similar to this rose — someone  described it as smelling like a florist’s refrigerator. Exciting is like that but without the chilliness. Late in the game I smell some very subtle cedar; it has an incensy vibe to it and really sets off the musk well. If you had asked me half an hour ago I’d have told you a combination of musk plus incensy cedar would stomp all over the light fresh feel like an elephant, but it actually works really well.

Hermes Un Jardin Sur le Nil

I’m learning to appreciate Jean-Claude Ellena’s perfumes as being interesting and worth paying close attention to even when they’re not my bag. Un Jardin Sur le Nil is supposed to be inspired by green mangoes in a garden by open water.

It starts with grapefruit. I like grapefruit. Then, it sort of opens up into something very subtly suggestive of florals, and a sense of open air without any of the usual “fresh”, ozonic or calone-type smell. The greens come out, tart so I almost feel them in my teeth but not in a bad way.

It takes on a peely sort of edge, which, combined with the green smell between my teeth, does make me think of green mango, although I don’t know how much of that is the power of suggestion.  It’s crisp, with the very slightest suggestion of earth in the background. I don’t get any aquatics, thank god. The overall feel is quiet, faintly spicy green-ness, with that hint of earthiness in the background sort of helping to anchor and meld the fresh parts to my skin. Late in the game there are some gentle floral tones that smell white — orange blossom? I think I smell orange blossom in everything, though, man.

I really appreciate that this perfume doesn’t try to hammer home the “river” concept with a great unsubtle whack of aquatics. It’s not a river with a garden beside it, it’s a garden on the banks of a river; there’s a distinction there. The water is sketched as a sort of inference by how it would affect the air of the garden itself. With the green, the tang and the gentle lighthanded florals it feels very eau-de-cologne-y to me, like a deliberate original spin on that framework.