There is a story in our family about my first grade parent-teacher interview. The excellent, jolly woman who taught my class reported I was doing well, but confessed to my mother that she experienced considerable anxiety when introducing what she called "controversial topics". Mom, a teacher herself, did not ask which first grade topics these could possibly be, and she did not encourage the woman to elaborate. She was already familiar with what my brothers later named "the squinty face". She knew well my favorite phrase: "Now, wait a minute..." (No doubt this was preferable to a tic I developed later: "You mean to tell me...?!") Most importantly, both my parents had learned to avoid being drawn into discussions on, say, the vagaries of English spelling, the habits and duties of Santa Claus, or the basic road safety rules a young lady of six might be expected to follow. For years, I described myself as a contrarian. Now Christopher Hitchens has tried to make it hip to be a young contrarian, and I've decided to start taking popular, rather non-committal stances on current issues. It's hard to get rid of the squinting, though.
Old habits die hard, then, and in the interests of both truth and disagreeing with people, I have found myself defending Perfumes: The Guide on points of accuracy and style in various online forums. Still, this sentence from Luca Turin's review of Caldey Island Lavender gives me pause: "Lavender is summer wind made smell, and the best lavender compositions are, in my opinion, the ones from which other elements are absent, and only endlessly blue daylight air remains." Well, despite having never sampled the Caldey Island Lavender, I must disagree. (I have found that to properly enter into the spirit of arguing, you must be prepared to dispense right away with proper research.) Leaving aside the blue air — surely wind can't be blue? And air is merely stationary wind? — I fail to see how Guerlain Jicky would fit into his best lavenders category. And any best lavenders category that excludes Jicky cuts no mustard with me. Let us discuss a list of other surpassingly wonderful complex lavenders, just to be difficult.
Parfums de Nicolaï Nicolaï pour Homme: One of my favorite masculines, this is a lavender composition in which numerous other elements are present and sounding at once. Certainly from the note list, which includes galbanum, orange, lentisc, mint, geranium, jasmine, moss, amber, spruce, cedar, tobacco, benzoin and labdanum in addition to lavender, it may seem that the palette is crowded. But we are in the skilled hands of Patricia de Nicolaï here. I have always found Nicolaï's compositions to have a particularly visual effect, and this fragrance is one in which the light is ever-changing, a lavender as seen through mist or smoke. As we gracefully slip through the scent spectrum from cool to warm and musky, a forest spotlight falls on different notes: bone-china galbanum, the sweet, green gum of lentisc, an oddly apple-like orange, airy mint, the undergrowth rustle of moss, wood smoke, an earthy thrum of amber... and all the while, different shades of lavender. Rather than a feel-good breeze, I find Nicolaï pour Homme to be a melancholy fragrance. It makes me think of what would have happened if Turner had painted forests, instead of the sea. Highly recommended.
Parfums de Nicolaï Maharadjah: A wholly different approach to lavender here, but I find it equally interesting (if not as appealing to me). The scent starts with a blast of very herbal lavender and then hot spices — cinnamon, clove — start to roast underneath. I'm not sure if the Maharadjah lamp oil or the personal fragrance came first, but, in any case, this feels like a fully-fleshed perfume, sensual and direct.
Aveda Men Pure-formance: Other than a truly awful name, this natural and organic spray has a suave, rounded feel to it. There is none of the cramped, headshop quality natural compositions sometimes have, and the lasting power is extraordinary for a fragrance in this genre. Starting with bright citrus notes, green lavender and understated herbs, this eventually morphs into a debonair vetiver, warm and smoky. Nevertheless, the base retains a cheerful mintiness — very nice.
Jean Patou Moment Suprême: To quote myself, Moment Suprême has "the tactile feel of nylons, simultaneously silky and textured". The lavender here gives the raspy feel, as well as a bit of the static you get from pantyhose. The amber gives the body-warmth to this fragrance, that touch of old-fashioned richness and beauty that you find in vintage Rochas Femme. An irreplaceable classic by Henri Alméras, now sadly rare and expensive due to discontinuation.
Vero Profumo Kiki: It is almost as if natural perfumers must give their scents silly names. Luckily, Vero Kern saves all the real fun for her fragrances. Out of her trio, I admire the dry, farm-bouquet Onda, but would save my (thousands of) pennies for either the classical, smooth-limbed beauty of Rubj or this freaky lavender. Like some kind of Halloween prank, Kiki smells like a combination of shaving foam and caramel-dipped apples. I love it.