Friday, June 30, 2017

Aftelier- Memento Mori Perfume Review

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, photo by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874*

The sample of Aftelier's Memento Mori has been sitting on the side table for many months. I'd carefully open it, take a whiff, and quickly put the cap back on. Occasionally I'd dab the smallest droplet I could manage onto my wrist, usually when the husband wasn't around to protest. Something about the dirty bodily butter smelled offensive to him from the very first moment. I'm all for butter. Danish butter, Irish butter, orris butter- they're all good. Do all of them belong in a perfume? Perhaps. When the perfume is a personal more or less bespoke item that becomes part of the wearer and a signature statement.

Memento Mori is not a condiment to go with your fresh baguette. It's too disturbing for that because of a strong animalic thread that goes through every stage of the perfume's unraveling. The dying violets heaped upon the butter here and here contribute to the forlorn atmosphere. There's a lot of skin here, but not the one of a present person you can touch and see. I picture going through the personal belongings of a loved one that have been stored and preserved in a clean and undisturbed attic. As you open an old leather suitcase you find a jacket you've borrowed countless times, letters bound in a faded blue ribbon, a book that you open to find a press wildflower from that summer long ago.

As the memories creep in with scents you haven't smelled in years the emotions also rush in, overwhelming you. You have no idea why they call it bittersweet. It's neither bitter nor sweet. The taste in your mouth is of salty tears and the scents you recall are rich and thick. You go outside and walk the all too familiar path until you reach the spot that used to bring you much solace. Today you see that someone has rearranged a handful of stones and scattered violets on the ground around them. You pick one up, the petals no longer fresh or bright. You'll press it and save it in the old book, adding the scents of this day, the air, the present, to the vault of memories upstairs.

Memento Mori ($180, 8ml) is available from Aftelier's website. The sample for this review want to me by Mandy Aftel.


* This was one of those times I knew immediately which image I was going to use for the review. I've been fascinated for decades with the work of Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian era photographer, whose often staged scenes have a ghostly atmosphere. This was long before the internet brought another Victorian photographic "memento mori" genre to my attention (don't google if you don't have to). The parting of Guinevere and Lancelot has all the sorrow, doom, love, passion, and regret encapsulated, as we the readers know what the future will bring them,while they only have their grief and perhaps a premonition. Valar Morghulis.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review- The Price of Illusion: A Memoir by Joan Juliet Buck


When I received a PR pitch about Joan Juliet Buck's memoir, The Price of Illusion, I was certain it was going to be a hate-read. Ms. Buck had a certain reputation based on her tenure as the American editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris between 1994 and 2001, when she was fired amid a scandal caused by a whirlwind of rumors. She was succeeded by Carine Roitfeld, who didn't seem to harbor much warm fuzzies for her predecessor. A decade later Ms. Buck, by then a freelance writer, took an assignment from Anna Wintour. She was to go to Syria and interview the first lady, Bashar al-Assad's wife, for Vogue magazine’s March 2011 “Power Issue.” The unfortunately titled "A Rose in the Desert" article was the end of Joan Juliet Buck's relationship with Vogue, as well as with readers around the world. With that in mind I passed on the offer to phone-interview the author and bought my own digital copy.

As I expected, the memoir has an underlying apologetic undercurrent as well as a good dose of rationalization. What I didn't expect was for it to be good, in parts enchanting and enlightening, sometimes juicy, often surprisingly frank, and almost consistent in its flow and narrative. I was captivated by Ms. Buck's stories about her childhood, her parents and grandparents, growing up in the world of movie-making surrounded by mega-celebrities who were close family friends. This upbringing doesn't breed ordinary people. It might, however, encourage a skewed worldview and character flaws, which is how Ms. Buck sees the road that caused her to make some very bad decisions.

Do I buy it? To a point, maybe. I'm not sure if and how I would have found it in me to to ask Anna Wintour what the hell had she been thinking and to send her to find a moral backbone. The book, though, offers a lot more than excuses. The stories and the worlds they paint are fascinating for someone interested in vintage movies, London and Paris of past decades, and, of course, fashion. The anecdotes are rich in details about people, decor, and stunning clothes. Ms. Buck doesn't hold back  the snark regarding certain people (every Karl Lagerfeld mention is delicious), but a thread of sorrow and regret saves the book from being more mean-spirited than necessary. The decades and locations come to life in front of the reader and you are free to make judgment for yourself. I might have cringed at certain points, but I was not bored for a second.

The Price of Illusion: A Memoir by Joan Juliet Buck (originally $16.02 for the digital version on Amazon) is currently available for $1.99.

Image: Vogue Paris December 1994/January 1995 cover. The movie themed issue is one of Ms. Buck's most iconic. Model Karen Mulder posing as Marlen Dietrich, photographed by Michael Thompson

Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer In New Jersey- My Top Pick Perfumes


My perfume picks this summer will focus on the here and now. Or mostly on the "here". Scents that evoke life in suburban New Jersey as I know it. The image above is a vintage postcard from Cape May, the southernmost point in the state (lovely bed & breakfasts, quaint and well-preserved Victorian houses, gorgeous beach where you might be lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins frolicking), but "my" New Jersey is up north, and my picks probably reflect that.

Tomato leaf scents are surprisingly polarizing. Some people can't stand them, but I'm in the opposite camp. Jersey tomatoes, just picked in my own garden are one of the greatest pleasures of summer, and I love rubbing the leaves and stems on my hands. The most widely known perfume utilizing a tomato leaf note is the classic Sisley Eau de Campagne, but reformulations have taken away so much of the charm it now smells too generic and thin. Instead, two of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's perfumes hit this summery spot like no other. Divine Gardens is a leafy green chypre That smells like my yard on a hot dry summer day. Tomato leaves, tagetes, and a herbal bouquet just ready to go into the salad. Speaking of herbs, the second DSH perfume that fits here is Agrestic from the perfumer's Cannabis collection. I'm not an expert on the subject, but to me this is a dry green and grassy perfume that entices with vetiver, moss, and a very noticeable tomato leaf note.

Speaking of grass, the scent of a just-mowed lawn is a weekly summer pleasure. The husband amuses himself in creating patterns in the back yard, but I just lean back and take in the smell that wafts inside. Many green perfumes have a grass note somewhere in the composition, but the most literal interpretation I've ever knew was the 90s gem Grass by the Gap (available on eBay in exchange of your firstborn). Luckily, we have Grass Accord by CB I Hate Perfume, which is exclusive to his gallery if I remember correctly (worth a phone call if you want to bathe in fresh green grass). For a more complex composition that has all the grassy blades but also the dreamy quality of a watercolor depicting a summer landscape, my absolute favorite is Parfumerie Generale's Papyrus de Ciane.

Marigold flowers (tagetes) are not just the most cheerful sight, they're also a natural bug repellent. We plant them every year around the tomato and pepper beds, and even Arlo, our groundhog, avoids the area. Tagetes play a supporting role in the background of many perfumes, but it's rare to find it as the star, perhaps because of its bitterness. Tagetes Femme by EnVoyage took a while to grow on me, probably because of the black current note and the general fruitiness. But it is a summer tagetes  perfume that's worthy of your skin space if you're a marigold fan (one of my cats is named Marigold and she isn't even orange). A more sultry tagetes perfume is the beautiful Tagete by Profumum Roma. It marries marigold with tuberose and jasmine, making it a perfumy and elegant choice for a dressed-up day.

Speaking of sultry, summer nights mean tuberose and other luscious white flowers. We can sit here until fall and debate Fracas vs. Carnal Flower vs. every maneater white floral under the sun. However, I wanted to point you in the direction of Fleur09 by Maria Christofilis. It's not really new as the perfume was released in 2014 (I bought a bottle for my mother, the Queen of White Flowers, soon after it first appeared in NYC).  The brand is getting traction now that two more gorgeous perfumes have launched. Fleur09 is a tuberose leaning towards orange blossom with a hint of honey as it warms up on the skin, perfect for a night on the town.

There's a reason vetiver perfumes are one of my summer staples. Summer here can be anything from glorious and picture-perfect to the dreaded triple H (Hot, Humid, Hazy). Days that feel like you're moving through a past-its-prime canned soup call for something that cuts through the air like magic. That's vetiver for me. My newest love in this category comes from Monsillage, the brand that gave us Eau de Celeri among other gems. The newest launch, Pays Dogon, is among the most complex and fascinating vetiver perfumes I know, without sacrificing sheer beauty. It's dry, raw, and spicy, and the added touch of ginger is exactly what we need these days.

One last sojourn into my back yard and a couple of old favorites. I started growing fennel years ago and discovered that on scorching days the fennel bed fills the air with a very distinct anise-like scent. It's another love it or hate it smell, and I'm firmly in the "adore" camp. The tender green stems of fennel are not the most assertive as a perfume note, so to get the effect of the fragranced garden I turn to absinth perfumes. They're not as gourmand as proper anise perfumes and are decidedly greener, which is what I want. There are several excellent absynthe perfumes on the market, and my favorite two are the classic L'Artisan Fou d'Absinthe and the less-famous and more herbal Absinthe by Ava Luxe.

What are you wearing this summer?

For more summer perfume suggestions please visit my fiends at Bois de Jasmin, Grain de Musc, and Now Smell This.

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