Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Farewell to Diptyque’s Roses Candle in Pink Glass

The year is almost over. For those lucky souls who live in the moment, or who look ahead with hope and excitement, this time of year can be joyous. I’m the sort who glances back at the about-to-end year, who thinks of the good things the year brought and the things it took away. For me, New Year’s Day is always a pensive time, but in my last post of 2006, I’d like to keep things light, or should I say pink, and eulogize a frivolous thing: a candle.

In a cursory, fifth-grade art class, my teacher asked me, out of the blue, that dull question: "Kevin, what’s your favorite color?" Always wanting to be precise, I felt time quickly pass as my mind hunted for the right answer. Was it tangerine orange? Grass green? Or the blue-purple of my nicest wool sweater? “What’s that blue called?” I thought, "Gentian?" Finally, my eyes rested on my friend Meredith’s knit cap. It was pink and I liked pink, and pink was pink, so I said, "Pink". No one laughed, not even the boys; but the teacher said: "Pink is for girls". I didn’t flinch. I looked at the teacher and said to her, with all the sang-froid I could muster at age ten, "Orange then".

The teacher didn’t know me very well, didn’t realize telling me that someone or something was "off-limits" or "crass" or "too fancy" or "sinful" or "unwearable", or was in any way distasteful or risqué, was to send me running in that person’s or object’s or activity’s direction. My 'study' of and eventual regard for pink was born out of being told it was Reserved — for girls.

Today, I am a big pink fan. I love walls and wood furniture painted with soft, dusty “Paris Pink.” I love the vibrant flamingo pinks of Maharajah’s silks and pink sapphires. I love the softest pink imaginable: the delicate winter-pink skins of Chinese red birch trees. Who can resist Fra Angelico’s enchanting pinks? (I know — many of the pinks one sees in Renaissance paintings are, in fact, faded reds, but doesn’t that attest to the power of pink to endure?)

I love to eat and drink pink: strawberry ice cream, watermelon, rose jelly, rosés, infused Russian vodkas, tinted pink with fresh raspberries or currants.

In my garden pink flowers reign: dahlias, daphnes, zinnias, cosmos, and, of course, clove-scented "pinks". Shirley and Iceland poppies, in blushing conch-shell pinks and salmon shades, bloom in profusion in early summer. Sarah Bernhardt peonies are a demure pink but their swollen heads take deep bows as they offer their overwhelming scent, best smelled from a respectful distance (a strange brew of roses, singed feathers, and wood ash). Bending backwards, seeking refuge under my porch roof, the fragrant Bourbon rose Madame Ernst Calvat blooms from spring thru winter, proving pink is no sissy. Audacious Cleopatra camellias, smelling strongly of pollen, honey and jasmine, flaunt their delicate blossoms in late November or early December, daring autumn’s chill and rain to interfere with their show.

English Bulldogs have cool, rose-petal-soft pink bellies that are made to be rubbed. Pink cheeks are cute. And pink noses? When I see one on an orange cat with green eyes I’m delighted.

I raise a pinky to pink and to all who appreciate it.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Lulu Guinness Fairytales, Fresh Sugar Lychee

Lulu Guinness has launched a new limited edition perfume, Fairytales, "inspired by mystical gardens and magical places".

The fragrance notes feature pink grapefruit, crème de cassis, raspberry, magnolia, Madiera jasmine, strawberry leaf, cocoa powder, caramelized sugar and exotic spice accord.

Fairytales is $58 for 100 ml of Eau de Toilette, and is available now at sephora.

Also at Sephora, Fresh has launched Sugar Lychee, a new entry in the Sugar range which includes Fresh Sugar, Fresh Sugar Lemon, and Fresh Sugar Blossom. The fragrance contains notes of grapefruit, Italian lemon, lime blossom, lychee, mango flower, freesia, sandalwood, tonka bean amd amber. Sugar Lychee is $75 for 100 ml of Eau de Parfum.

Estee Lauder Beautiful Love

Estee Lauder will launch Beautiful Love in January. Beautiful Love is a variation on the classic Estee Lauder fragrance Beautiful, which was introduced in 1985 with advertisements featuring a bride in white and the tag line "This is your moment to be beautiful".
While Beautiful Love is inspired by the voluptuous, heady florals in the original Beautiful, it is infused with a rich, velvety, deeper tonality, juxtaposed with a modern clarity. Beautiful Love uses less intense green notes and has a greater emphasis on the classic's white floral elements, though in a more understated way. As a result, the dry down is creamier and more sensuous.
The perfume notes include pomelo zest, cantaloupe, mango mist, white freesia, magnolia, marigold, wet ivy leaves, pink pepper, Tahitian tiare, tuberose, jasmin absolute, jasmin sambac, rose, osmanthus, carnation, black violet, white orris, vetiver, cashmeran, heliotrope, tonka bean, whipped cream accord, sandalwood, white moss and patchouli.

Beautiful Love will be available in 3 sizes of Eau de Parfum: 30 ml, 75 ml, and 100 ml. (via press release from Estee Lauder)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Home fragrance report: Claus Porto Alface Scented Candle

“While traveling the Silk Road between Asia and the Mediterranean, explorers ate almonds to maintain health. Thought to promote fertility, the Romans showered the bride and groom after a wedding with almonds.” (from the Claus Porto description of the Alface candle)
The almond tree (prunus dulcis) and its blossoms and fruit have had symbolic meaning for cultures in Asia (the tree’s native habitat), the Middle East and Europe. The long-lived tree represents endurance and the wish for a long life. The abundant, fragrant almond blossoms of late winter convey the promise of coming spring and proclaim the ability of the earth to renew itself. In China, white almond blossoms symbolize feminine beauty.

The almond fruit has played a part in wedding ceremonies for thousands of years: giving almonds at wedding celebrations reminds the bride and groom and their guests that marriage (and life) can be sweet and tinged with bitterness. In the U.S. and Europe, candied almonds are popular wedding favors — three almonds represent the groom, the bride, and their child-to-be, and a tiny bonbonnière of five almonds expresses the newly married couple’s wish for happiness, health, wealth, a long life and many children.

In India, almonds are brain food (eat them and get smarter).

Claus Porto's Alface almond oil fragranced candle is glorious — and more floral than foody. In addition to sweet almond essence (a fresh, milky almond aroma), you will detect powdery orange blossoms and tangy honey. If you have ever sipped almond syrup, made with sweet almond emulsion mixed with orange flower water and sugar, you’ve already had a "taste" of Alface’s perfume.

The lavishly scented Alface candle is housed in a heavy, clear glass jar that has been etched with an Art Deco design. The candle is housed in a substantial cardboard box (with a magnetized lid!) that is decorated with a vibrant green, yellow and white design from the Claus Porto archives. An interesting note: "alface" means "lettuce" in Portuguese. Though there is no "lettuce" scent in the Alface candle, the packaging design does bring to mind both a stylized field of lettuce plants, and the leafy layers of a head of lettuce, viewed from above. (Please comment if you know any other “alface”/lettuce/almond connections.)

The 10.5 oz. Alface candle is made of soy-blend wax and burns for approximately 70 hours. The burn is clean and even, and the candle’s throw is exceptional. Price: $32. Claus Porto/Lafco New York offers 14 other fragrances in its wonderfully scented, beautifully packaged and reasonably priced candle range.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

How to get perfume samples

By definition, I should think, the true perfumista wants to try everything, or at least, very nearly everything. If you're lucky (much luckier than I) you can afford to just buy all the latest perfumes unsniffed, but the rest of us have to make do with samples. Here are a few tips for getting your hands on samples of the latest fragrances:

Beg at brick 'n mortar stores
For many fragrances, especially new mainstream releases, about the only way to get a sample is to go to a store in-person and ask for one. Nordstrom and Sephora top my list of the absolute best foraging grounds: both stores will happily give you a carded sample (i.e., a sample from the manufacturer, usually attached to a card or folded enclosure) if they have one; if they don't, they will happily decant a sample for you. Nordstrom uses little glass vials; Sephora uses plastic atomizers. Being given a sample on demand makes me inordinately happy; if I was the sort of person willing to pay full price for a bottle of fragrance, I would do all my perfume-buying at Nordstrom and Sephora. As I am most emphatically not the sort of person willing to pay full price for perfume when I don't have to, I try to buy all my other makeup and beauty things at those stores.

Unfortunately, the "free samples on demand" policy is pretty much limited to those two stores; nobody else comes even close to that level of customer service. Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus (at least, my local stores) will usually give a carded sample if they have one, but of course, they don’t always have them. I have never managed to cadge a single carded sample out of Macy's or Lord & Taylor.

If you have no shame (and why have shame?) you can carry empty glass vials with you and ask if the store will allow you to make your own sample. This is rather hit or miss, but in general, I find the higher-end stores are much more likely to give permission than the lower-end stores. Bergdorf Goodman has allowed me to make samples any number of times, so have Saks, Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Takashimaya and Bloomingdales. Once, and once only, I was given permission to make samples at my local Macy's, and within minutes a manager materialized from out of nowhere and very nearly threw my friend and I out of the store. Thanks, Macy’s!

Smaller stores, again, are hit or miss. The Coach boutique I visited last month was passing out samples of their new fragrance to anyone who asked. Hermès is generally very nice about samples when they have them, especially at the flagship store in New York. L’Occitane gives them out when they have them, but they almost never do have them.

Beg or buy directly from the manufacturer
Another option, if the company has a website, is to write and ask if they will send you a sample. Some will, some won’t, but it is always worth a try. Some of the larger companies post free sample offers online right around the time a fragrance is launched. Unfortunately, they often take 4-6 weeks to mail them, and when they do, what you get is frequently one of those little liquid “bubbles” on a card or a pre-moistened towelette. I find either very nearly as useless as a magazine scent strip.

Another tip: if you find a website specifically devoted to an upcoming fragrance release, take the time to enter your name and address if there is a place to do so. When Hermès launched Terre d’Hermès, their teaser website allowed you to enter a name and address (and it was not at all clear what for), if you did, you received a 10 ml miniature bottle of the fragrance after it was released.

Some of the niche lines sell samples of their products online.
A no doubt far-from-complete list: Abinoam, Aftelier, Amouage, Antonia's Flowers, Anya's Garden, Apothia, AromaM, Art of Perfumery, Ava Luxe, Ayala Moriel, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, CB I Hate Perfume, Creative Scentualization, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Eadward, Ebba, Fresh Scents by Terri, Ineke, Lagniappe Oaks, La Via del Profumo, Les Nez, Liz Zorn, Miller Harris, Miriam Mirani (Aqaba), Ormonde Jayne, Penhaligons, Rich Hippie, Sonoma Scent Studio, Strange Invisible Perfumes, Tauer Perfumes.

Buy samples from online boutiques
There are very few online stores selling samples of mainstream scents, but check Beauty Encounter and Parfums Raffy (Raffy also carries some niche brands). Both of these stores sell carded samples only.

If it’s niche fragrances you’re after, you’re in luck – there are lots of great online boutiques with sample programs: try Aedes (7 samples for $15), Beauty Cafe (5 samples for $5, but only with an order), Beautyhabit (6 samples for $11), First-in-Fragrance (Germany, individually priced), La Crème Beauty (8 samples for $15), Les Senteurs (London, 6 samples for £15), Luckyscent (samples individually priced). All of these stores will send carded samples when they have them in stock, when they don’t, they’ll send you a decanted sample vial if they can. Most of these stores ask that you provide one or two alternates in case they don't have all of the fragrances you're looking for.

Buy them on ebay
There are any number of ebay sellers and stores devoted to selling decants and samples of fragrances, both niche and mainstream. You won't find everything on ebay, but you'll find a pretty decent selection ranging from the latest celebrity launches to the hard-to-find exclusives from Serge Lutens. If they don't have the fragrance you want, try entering a "Favorite Search" so that ebay will send you an email when your item comes up for sale.

I have had very good luck on ebay, but I am sure some stores/sellers are better than others. Checking a seller’s feedback is one obvious way to make sure you’re dealing with someone reputable; another is to post a query on one of the fragrance forums.