Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Querida : an anthology about mistresses



I'm very pleased and proud to be part of a new anthology titled Querida, a word of Spanish origins which in the Philippines means “mistress.”

My piece is a semi-fictionalized biography of Josephine Bracken, best known for her scandalous relationship with the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, but whose days as a revolutionary fighter (the war for independence against Spain in the late 1890s) have been largely forgotten.

Love the cover photo. Definitely evokes the old-time concept of mistresses -- and a reference to the days when people all smelled a bit of violets and roses, and more than a little bit skanky under their clothes.

The anthology is edited by Caroline Hau, Katrina Tuvera and Isabelita O. Reyes, and is published by Anvil. It will be in Philippine bookstores and possibly available on-line very soon.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Helium balloons and pretty vapors: more perfume reviews

Working on my own creative writing, I take some time out once in a while to engage in something truly different : the feel-good perfume review. This subgenre of a subgenre enables me to explore a popular writing style within the narrow framework of one or two paragraphs. I post my reviews on Fragrantica.com, because it gets too complicated if I started patronizing any number of the others that are available to anonymous users online.

On my website of choice, if a certain number of people like your review, you get awarded a balloon. There are four levels, with the balloon icon to the left of the review becoming increasingly dense with these little multicolored ovals as more people click on the "Like" button. (That's a screen capture to the right). Sure, it's juvenile, but it's fun. Of course have no idea how many people actually click, since that figure is classified, known only to the administrators of the website.

As it is with many online review systems though, people tend to respond when a review is something they have a strong opinion about. If they have had good experiences with a perfume to begin with, they will most likely click on the "Like" button to express their concurrence. If they don't know the perfume, they will most probably move on to the next without doing anything more. The rare exception is when a review is so intriguingly written that a user might click on the "Like" button in response to the power of the writer's words. But it's a sure bet that if you make your love explicit, you'll get peer love in return.

Since the reviews are read mostly when users search for a particular perfume, it's the popular designer perfumes -- the overpriced and highly desired -- that get the most responses. The drugstore releases of yesteryear, now selling for five or so quid online, get little attention and even less love.

Am I compensated for these reviews? Certainly not. Is everyone else? Certainly not. But we continue to post them, out of love -- we are amateurs truly, and we are legion. Who benefits from these reviews? Probably the perfume companies, though more web attention probably does not translate to more sales, as can be gleaned by the desperation with which the larger companies scramble to produce the latest confectionary-like novelty, reaping their tiny share of profits (if they're lucky) before competition and counterfeiters send the product to the discount bins.

From about a couple of years of daily visits to Fragrantica, I've grown familiar with the unwritten laws of perfume reviewing that have naturally developed within this system, which is both contained and borderless. It's a lot of fun. I love getting those balloons. Oh, how we long for the approval of our peers -- or for that tiny social engineering fix we crave once in a while.

Amaranthine Penhaligon`s

The moment I applied this, I was struck by how realistic impression of a flower in bloom it offered. A warm, summery tropical flower, not so much the clear scent of flowers in spring. But there was an odd note that kept getting in the way of my judgment that this was yet another high-end floral fragrance. It was a sappy note, green but not clean, reminding me somehow of heat, sweat, muck. There was also something that registered to me as the musk of clean skin, with an overlay of dried perspiration from the heat or from labor.
The combination was so disquieting I had to go check the list of notes, which I'm trying not to do nowadays, whenever I review a new perfume. Immediately I reaized it was the scent of banana leaves. Banana trunks, actually, banana flowers, any part of the plant except for the fruit. I grew up in a tropical country and bananas were everywhere, even in suburbian backyards, but this incredible scent was of a young girl's peramubulations off the beaten track -- of endless banana groves and the thatch huts in between, of artesian well water, unpaved mud-slicked paths, of sunlight on a tangle of vines, of Third World poverty.
As for the musky skin note ("animalic") it may have been the effect of the milk accord in combination with the banana leaf, and my own memory.
The banana vegetation note will mean different things to many people: I can understand how Europeans would equate this with expensive and exotic, as the only banana plants they might encounter would be the disciplined, manicured ones decorating a corner at a tropical resort, and the musky animalic quality the result of their own recreational labors. I see how many would enjoy this perfume based on those images, experienced or imagined.
After I had identified the note, I couldn't enjoy this fragrance much longer, nor get a good, objective picture of the other elements of the composition. It smelled too realistically of a world infused with frustration, uncertainty and unrealized dreams.
EDIT: The dry-down IS to-die-for, though. Delicate and woody, almost no trace of the earlier accords. Such a strange, disjointed perfume.

Feerie Van Cleef & Arpels

Nice concept, but I would have expected fairies to exude a cold, green and somewhat heartless odor. Feerie is a sweetish, surprisingly voluptuous youthful floral. I could smell a hint of sharp fresh peach (actually, it could have been the blackcurrant giving it that pleasant tartness). The heart veers away into a sticky rosy peachy musk. I wore this to an afternoon party and two sprays were still going strong 12 hours later, and I didn't even spray my clothes. I didn't detect a powdery element in the dry-down though: after the first hour, the fragrance stayed pretty much the same.
Feerie is a 20 something girl with a full face of makeup applied with a sure and experienced hand. Its raison d'être seems to be to make the wearer as attractive and non-threatening to the opposite sex as possible: the olfactory equivalent of a huge pink bow atop a present. Despite the obvious quality of the scent (rich and very long-lasting), it can be placed well within the contemporary genre of tooth-achy offerings that give young women a generic sexual-sweet aura regardless of the price point. A similar effect may be had with Justin Bieber Someday. I like Feerie but would steal spritzes (to read 10 years younger!) rather than hanker for a full bottle.
D&G Anthology La Roue de La Fortune 10 Dolce&Gabbana

This opens with a soft spicy, rather sweet character that reminds me of a bit of Pink Sugar’s heart notes (albeit less bombastic). I think I smell a tiny bit of patchouli and something resinous. The fragrance is rather subdued, I had to lay on quite a bit from the vial itself before I could really be sure about what I was smelling. There is definitely a yeasty sweetness going on here. Vanilla leaves a definite imprint, and (contrary to what you would expect from the simple niche-like bottle and cool blue juice) this is certainly a gourmand. But a light one. The florals I get are vague-white, and contained by that confectionary-sweetness. Even after three or so hours, it still smells pink and nibbly, rather than truly floral.
For young women who need their sugar fix yet stress about rolling into a room in full old-lady battle regalia. This is a pretty little perfume that, thanks to my sample from supergirl83221, I can now tick off my list: Tried it, Liked it, But... I prefer my so-called oriental-florals a bit more lush and elderly.


Ambre Sultan Serge Lutens

First impression: strong and medicinal. Resinous. Two images: unnamed medicines in dark-brown bottles in a hot humid Chinese shop, and pine cones picked on a cool day, opening slowly by a fire and releasing their scent. Over all this, something aromatic or camphorous, the same effect as mentholated candy but NOT minty. I got something sweet and vanillic as well, but this went away, to be replaced by more of that dry, resinous scent.
The fragrance is VERY strong and concentrated, and one can tell it is quality, just from the lushness and volume of the scent. The pleasure I get in it is very, very visceral, and very much tied up with memory, and in sampling it I now understand the clamor against those crowd-pleasing concoctions whipped together to try to make as much money as possible, even those that go by the name amber (in many commercial offerings, it’s more of an alias than a name). I actually get the impression that Ambre Sultan is not so much a perfume as an experience, something to transport the wearer elsewhere in time and space. I can compare the fragrance, in its mature dryness, to some of those little bottles of Middle Eastern attars where amber is a major player -- but tons more complex and evocative than the typical attar you can get for a few quid on Ebay. Ambre Sultan is not your Ambre de Cabochard / Jesus del Pozo Ambar / Sarah Jessica Parker Twilight sort of tweetums amber. This is a womanly amber AND an amber with balls.

Nino Cerruti Pour Femme Cerruti

First notes are the distinctive acrid, burnt odor I associate with classic chypres, which remind me a bit of rust or iron filings. Perhaps this is the coriander mixed with something else. This goes away quickly, though, to be replaced by a stern dry floral scent, like tuberose strapped down under tailored gray tweed. I get spiciness, oakmoss, woodiness, but no other notes, certainly not the honey nor the plum listed above, at least not in the way those notes are treated in today’s bestsellers. (EDIT: But after an hour, whoa! Honeyed tuberose wafting up from the skin of my arm. This perfume is full of surprises)
Pour Femme is a very elegant perfume, and very different from the current lot of department store fragrances. It’s severely intellectual; it’s angular; but also insidiously sensual. It’s for extremely confident women, perhaps with PhDs.


Pivoine Yves Rocher

On first application, I got a soft spicy note and the lush yet clean sensation of sniffing at the very heart of a ruffley, newly-opened flower, stamens and pollen and all. I don’t recall how the peonies in my garden smell, it’s too early for them, but this was certainly a natural sort of scent. As it dried, I searched my memory and thought I smelled lilies with a wee bit of freesia, and a hint of magnolia. Then it hit me: this has echoes of Anais Anais, but without the leather accord.
It is certainly complex in that the scent moves from green to spicy to soapy to creamy and back, all within a tight, pale pink and feminine space. Sillage is intimate, inviting closer investigation. Oh why did Yves Rocher have to discontinue this pretty, pretty thing?

Orchidee Yves Rocher
I bought a vintage splash mini on Ebay. The top notes were off, so I had to wait a while before the heart notes made their appearance: a soft, powdery, ladylike spiciness. I am perplexed that hibiscus is one of the notes, as I know from experience it has no scent. I suppose what I smelled was the effect of the vanilla, the hyacinth and the unnamed spices. It does have the character of an elegant 70s perfume rather than a gregarious 80s one. The fragrance dried down to something extremely delicate and feminine.
Verdict: This is beautiful, even though the orchids it evokes are prom orchids arriving in a box with pastel ribbons. Not orchids as they grow in the wild -- green, lush and slightly malevolent. Yves Rocher, bring it back!

Eau de Shalimar Guerlain

This was my gateway drug to the world of Guerlain. The first liberal spray I gave myself was over my chest and the front of my shirt. I got lemon at once, not freshly squeezed, but a sweet confectionary lemon. Lemon pie actually. It wasn’t the Shalimar I knew about, but, heck, I thought, it smelled great anyway. Pretty soon (on the bus ride home) a full, rich, and buxom powdery-vanilla cloud began to steal up my cleavage and into the close air around me. Shalimar in da house!
This is a fresher, lighter take on that classic scent, and is wearable in summer or even for work, though I wouldn’t spritz more than once. It lasts a long, long time, too. It seems a sacrilege to mix it with other scents, but I discovered it does layer quite well with certain rose perfumes. And now I’m lemming for the original, plus Samsara and goodness knows what else from this house.
(Got a ton of balloons for this one: Guerlain is a crazy coveted house)
Navy Dana
Loved this one! A shocking sharp note on opening (or maybe my mini had been stored too long), and then a deep, spicy and quite masculine development. I seem to get a bit of sandalwood too. Is anyone else reminded of something from the JP Gaultier Le Male series, maybe Fleur du Male? Now I’m looking out for a full bottle, or a smell-alike. Really hard to find in Europe.

Naturelle Yves Rocher

This is the closest I have to a go-to fragrance -- something I put on liberally when I'm not too sure what to wear and I don't want to invest too much time worrying about it. Naturelle is a light fruity-green fragrance in the same vein as Dolce & Gabanna Light Blue and Anna Sui Secret Wish. The apple note is quite prominent but not too full: like the fragrant exterior of a green apple rather than the sensation of eating one. Alongside this image of late-summer ripeness is the feel of a spring morning, a combination of fresh growing grass and delicate natural flowers, the kind you glimpse around a lawn or blooming en masse in the bare branches of trees, flowers too humble, profuse and taken-for-granted for you to know their names.

Cabotine Fleur d’Ivoire Gres

Chypre floral? Really? This is state-of-the art floral woody musk – well, with the barest hint of spice and a pleasant, rather astringent note (I like those) which I attribute to the cassis, or the salicylate stated in the description. It opens with a breath of almonds, cassis, indeterminate florals and musk, gains a bit of strength once warmed on the skin, and declines into a long and pleasant dry-down that you can’t really sense (besides the assurance that somehow, you smell good). It reminds me a lot of Cacharel Noa, in effect as well as packaging. This is miles away from the original Cabotine. Nor is this the Gres that punched us with Cabochard, but the newer, compromising Gres of the Hommage fragrances.
I blind-bought Fleur d’Ivoire because it was cheap and I love the bottle shape (I find the basic Cabotine shape so romantic, and this had a classy ivory color scheme to boot), and it turned out the fragrance wasn’t bad – just not outstanding. A fragrance that can work magic on warm spring days, and one that manages to be so inoffensive and low-key it would be great for office, health care, or playing with little girls and their Barbies. Knowing me, for all my big ambitious crushes on Guerlain vanillas and atomic Elizabeth Taylors, it’ll probably be the Cabotine Fleur d’Ivoire that I’ll use up to the bottom of my bottle.

Relaxing Fragrance Shiseido

A light, pleasant, floral fragrance with some aquatic notes. I thought I smelled melon, but of a more natural sort than one would find in a typical 90s aquatic. It’s not among the listed notes, though. There is a delicate floral aspect too, alongside a sharp green undertone that I attribute to the Artemisia. Bamboo as a note tends to lend a woodiness to a composition, but not here. (I wonder how the bamboo accord is assembled: whether it is fictive, and whether we are encouraged to find it in this fragrance, relying on the powerful suggestion of the name Shisheido.) It’s a fragrance you wear for yourself, not to attract or impress others.
I got my vintage bottle for just 2.5 USD at a flea market. I don’t know whether the age of the juice is a factor, but this is pretty low-key, linear and reliable. I don’t get the sharp floral assault described by other reviewers. It is undemanding, won’t offend, wears close to the skin, is feminine without being froufrou. Love the bottle’s unpretentious lines and muted green glass. Perfect for sunny, dry spring weather.

Queen of Hearts Queen Latifah

Though I know Queen Latifah mostly through her screen work (Chicago – loved her in that!) rather than her career as a hip-hop artist, I got this perfume in the hope some of her sassy, buxom star quality would rub off on me. I wasn’t disappointed.
This is a confident and sexy perfume. It opens with a billowing explosion of what seems to be everything in its bag of tricks. This actually isn’t the best part – it reminds me too much of Avon Imari Seduction and far too many vanilla fruitchoulis of this nature. After about 15 minutes, the better aspect begins – the smoky, woody, refined, cinnamon-y part, which lasts about six hours, ending in a woody-musky drydown. Sillage is very intimate, a good thing when not everyone in your environment is a fan of strong, sensual fragrances. (Incidentally, this fragrance also bears a resemblance to Oriflame Mirage, but Queen of Hearts is considerably less powerful, which means you can better control the amount you put on.)
I love the strong turquoise hue and true gold of the box. The bottle has enough bling-y vulgarity so you don’t take it too seriously and stress about whether it’s the right fragrance to put on. Just spray it on and have fun.
I wore this last night to a long-awaited performance of the ballet Romeo and Juliet, with a beautiful young dancer in the role of Juliet, and the Queen of Denmark watching from the royal box. This fragrance was perfectly in keeping with the elegant music, setting. Two Queens, one heck of a perfume.