Thursday, February 28, 2013

More fragrance reviews

Whoa, looks like the posts on perfume (reviews and the short feature on "Singapore" fakes) have become the most popular on this blog! No kidding.
It's late winter and I've been doing a lot of sniffing, wish-listing and occasional buying. Just for fun, here are more fragrance reviews, which I originally posted on the perfume website / on-line community Fragrantica. Take them with a grain of salt -- each person's skin is different, experiences are unique, and no two persons have exactly the same repertoire when it comes to description.
More reviews available on my profile page.
Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant Kenzo
One of the spiciest, most exotic scents I have ever sampled. I smelled plum, cloves (a ton of cloves!) and what I thought was cinnamon (turned out to be cardamom) in the first moments. It opens with a pleasant medicinal-gourmand odor, and in its warmth I am reminded of Chopard Casmir, albeit less vanillic. A friend keeps a mini in her guest bathroom, and one day she let me dab it on: it could be smelled all around the table as we sat down to dinner, a big bully of a side dish that threatened to take over the main course. What a bottle, and what a name! I suppose the reference must be to Indian elephants with their neat ears, their jewel-encrusted saddles and their sinuous movements as they haul teak logs through the jungle. However, it’s the African elephant that comes to my mind – a perfume that rushes straight at you, all ivory tusks and huge flapping ears as it trumpets its presence.
Maroussia Slava Zaitsev
I admit half of the draw was that this is a perfume by a Russian designer. The bottle is irresistible in the photo and looks even more beautiful in your hand, like a jewel. The scent is of another era, or belongs to a more mature and elegant woman than I am. It's a dress-up scent, for special occasions, and would work better in fall-winter. I can detect the civet note, which actually makes it exciting, if odd. But there are no discernible floral notes, just a dark hovering bouquet, as though ten thousand flowers were massed up in a chapel. Maroussia is a strong and distinctive animalic fragrance, so I recommend spraying into the air and walking into it, rather than direct-spraying on your person or clothing.
Sweet Honesty Avon
I got this in a little bunny rabbit bottle for my 10th birthday (which always seems to fall around Easter) way back in 1979. It is quite an unusual scent, girlish and feminine, the young Jessica Lange, Olivia Newton-John, something a kid never forgets. Recently I received the contemporary version in a swap with another community member and friend. On first application, the scents were virtually identical, and so I relaxed and thought, A rare one indeed, an undisturbed classic. Immediately, things fell apart, the streak on my forearm turning to pure weightless powder, the ghost of that beautiful, distinct personage from way back. Something is missing from today’s Sweet Honesty… my nose seeks out the sparkly nip of what was probably aldehydes, and maybe a smidge of sandalwood or perhaps oakmoss. (I’m not looking at the reviews or the posted notes as I write this, just going on the scent and memories.) Today’s young uns are missing out on a lot.
Lovely Blossom Armand Basi
The opening skish is very fruity, like a melon-laced drink you order at a tropical resort. A moment later comes the girl herself – yes, this perfume has an airy pink feminine presence -- sweet like flowers on a breeze and sweet like the layer of sugar at the bottom of that drink. I thought the flowers might be honeysuckle, but the notes tell me otherwise. The scent does have that agreeable nature of syrupy fruit, candied but “lite.” It’s young but ageless, playing not to a demographic, but to a mood. It’s a bottle of shimmery early-summer. Total congruence between scent, bottle design and name.
Ambar Jesus Del Pozo
Starts off with blurry, non-astringent citrus that persists for several hours. Beneath that, I can isolate what must be the amber accord (a synthesized, fictional accord, as true amber from prehistoric resin has no smell). It is exotic, slightly woody and resinous, non-vanilla, and there is a similar facet to Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Twilight”, although Twilight and Ambar have a radically different effect. If I spray Ambar (I love that name!) on before bedtime, by morning it has become a pleasant and rather unisex skin-scent, the citrus and amber melded into one.

I still have to road-test it in tropical heat, but in winter in northern Europe, the scent so far has been dry (non-sweet), non-floral, unobtrusive, the perfect backdrop for, say, writing a thesis. The scent goes fast, since I need two or three sprays to really feel its presence. The bottle, full or otherwise, is a true gem, and suggests something far more medieval or mystical than the scent itself.
Fraicheur Vegetale Cedre Bleu Yves Rocher
It’s not foresty so much as woody – the clean honest smell of cedar planks, or the inside of a chest or cupboard. A bare cedar, separated from the pure air and verdant foliage of its origins, and already prepared for domestic use. There is a touch of vanilla, or the benzoin that, to many, registers as vanilla. When I wear it, it’s not the color blue that comes to mind, but a warm beige: a masculine beige, as this is a warm, rather masculine cologne. And although I’m a woman that suits me just fine.

This is a cologne I will reach for when I know I’ll be working alone, no people to please or impress, just me and my keyboard and my thoughts. The bottle is sleek yet unprepossessing, and it’s all of 125 ml, meaning I can use it (1 burst from the sprayer is strong enough) without worrying I’ll run out.

Omnia Bvlgari
I love this perfume. It’s my go-to fragrance when I’m teaching. I’m a foreign language instructor and it serves me well to appear friendly, culture-savvy, and a bit androgynous. I see a lot of spices listed in the notes, but to me this is a straight-up woody fragrance, a la Yves Rocher Nature Millenaire (for women). It opens faintly and citrusy and this is probably the reason why so many people express disappointment in it. Don’t let the opening fool you: the scent strengthens, whether you’ve sprayed it on skin or clothing, the sort of elegant, discreet, rather masculine lacquered-armoire vibe that I really love.

If you were hoping primarily for a spicy gourmand, misled by the well-publicized white chocolate note, you’ll be disappointed. The note does appear, albeit elusively as the perfume plays mind games with you: now you catch the white chocolate, now (frowning in perplexity) it’s the same note but it smells balmy… no, woody… no, like benzoin maybe. This is great in winter, misted all over a wool sweater.

Je Reviens Worth
When I first sprayed it on, I had to run to my computer and check the notes for ylang-ylang, and sure enough, there it was. The opener is all ylang-ylang, coupled with a chemical sharpness. (The aldehydes?) The scent of this lovely yellow flower shades off into that of daffodils and something odd and burnt, as though the various blossoms making up the fragrance had been singed at their hearts. I had to apply more than I usually do, as for all its classic undercurrents, the current formulation of Je Reviens does seem rather weak and watered down.

Here is something macabre: when I was six years old, my grandfather died, and as he lay in his casket, us cousins took turns peering past the glass at his gray slack face. Candles dripped and occasionally smoked over our heads. There was a pervasive odor of wilting tropical flowers. To allay our tension and fears, we gathered ylang-ylang blooms fallen from the trees across the street, and stuffed them in amber-colored bottles filled with water and sealed with wax, to make “agua.” I am perturbed that after putting on Je Reviens it is this memory that welters up, after more than 30 years.

Moringa The Body Shop
I fell in love with this fragrance the moment I tested it last year. It’s available in body butter format, so I got that for Christmas. Moringa refers to a genus of tropical plants; the Philippine type is called malunggay. I have smelled the living flowers, which are surprisingly sweet (albeit light), such glamour for such a humble plant.

I don’t know which species the Body Shop’s essences were extracted from, but man, this scent is STRONG. It is lush, creamy and sensual, of the same intensity as tuberose but of different character. No wood, no astringency, no green.

One application of the body butter will defeat any other “nice” scent you may happen to be wearing. I have found it is best on its own, as it won’t make friends with rose, iris, incense, cedar or tea. Would probably get along well with orange blossom, tuberose or gardenia, but I haven’t dared. That would be the equivalent of a lunch table of glammed-up fashion editors in the first, garrulous stages of intoxication.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Eugenia Apostol: a profile

Here is a profile of Eugenia "Eggie" Apostol, acclaimed Filipino journalist and founder of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The piece was originally written for the February 2006 issue of the magazine Me, but did not see print due to a change of editorial teams and a change in the magazine's focus. The piece was commissioned by then-Me editor Maya Besa.
Eugenia Apostol: Caring for the truth
By Lakambini A. Sitoy
Eugenia Apostol emerges from the front door of her unassuming Dasmarinas Village home. Though there are servants about she opens the gates herself. She is petite, her complexion very fair, her features tiny. Today she walks with a slight limp, making her seem especially fragile, though at 80 years of age the founder of the Philippine Daily Inquirer – career journalist, lifestyle commentator and savvy businesswoman -- is as active as ever.
In her living room, Apostol, “Eggie” or “Tita Eggie” to friends and colleagues, chooses a carved wooden armchair and, straight-backed and poised like a dancer, begins to reminisce about her life. The room, with its nacre-inlaid chests, a Japanese screen, and folding doors that open out onto a terrace lush with plants, evokes a bygone era, the glory days when education, hard work and fair play were the formula for prosperity. A crepuscular Sanso landscape, and a collection of images of the Virgin Mary, antique by the looks of them, add to the atmosphere of nostalgia.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Eternal Avila

Text and photos by Lakambini A. Sitoy

Originally published in Philippine Graphic newsmagazine,  November 2005

AVILA, west of Madrid, blazed in the 40-degree heat of midsummer. The city squatted, a veritable fortress, in the middle of an inhospitable plain strewn with boulders and scrub trees. A massive 11th century stone wall encircled the ancient city -- 2.5 kilometers of round towers, gates and battlements. Above the wall tiled rooftops were visible, and a Gothic cathedral with its distinctive rose window. 

Avila is best known for St. Teresa of Jesus, whose feast day is the 15th of October. Many monasteries and churches in the city have some affiliation to this scholar and mystic. Born of noble parentage there in 1515, she was brought up in an atmosphere of books and religion. Following her mother’s death when she was 14, she was sent to the Augustinian nuns for her education. Against her father’s wishes, she entered the Carmelite convent at the age of 19. A serious illness in her early 20s left her health permanently impaired. Shortly after she began to experience visions, one of the most famous being the piercing of her heart by an angel armed with an arrow.

As a nun Teresa reorganized the Carmelites along a more severe and disciplined path, and she managed, before her death in 1582, to found 15 women’s and two men’s monasteries for this barefoot order. She exerted great influence on the spiritual life of her time through her visions and revelations, which she described in a flood of books. She was canonized in 1622.

We entered the Convento de Santa Teresa, within the city walls. It is a baroque church from the 17th century built over the saint’s birthplace. Because the church is very much in use as a place of worship, flash photography is forbidden, especially when masses are being held. Though there was no activity as we went in, the pews nonetheless held devotees sitting in quiet contemplation, in contrast to the tourists roaming the aisles and peering at the statuary and paintings. In the summer, Spain’s cities and monuments are besieged by out-of-towners, scantily clad, a jarring sight. Most speak Spanish, coming either from Latin America or other parts of Spain.