With age and experience comes the temptation of despairing prophecy. The landscape of perfumery is so ephemeral that is hard for even the most optimistic fragrance follower to not sometimes feel like Cassandra, plagued by futile visions of flaming, fallen monuments of smell. In truth, the internet has made possible the niche scent industry and new marvels are being created every month. Meanwhile, auction and fragrance decanting sites have ensured that, unlike the Library at Alexandria or the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the lost are not necessarily gone forever. There has never been a better or easier time to be a perfume lover. But the abundance and range of fragrances available to us, as well as the wealth of online information about those fragrances, has created an age of anxiety. What should we smell now, we wonder, before it's gone?
For at least the past year, I have been campaigning for the best perfume boutique in my area to start stocking the Heeley fragrances. When the owners thought the samples I brought to the store last autumn were merely nice, I warned them: Heeleys are sneaky. Cuir Pleine Fleur, Figuier, Cardinal, Verveine and Menthe Fraîche — I'd ordered and used up several samples or decants of each before I realized I was completely captivated by their quirky, quiet charm. It was a bottle of Cedre Blanc, however, that I intended to buy if it came to town. Formerly called Eau de Cedre and re-worked in late 2006 to include violet and white musk in addition to cumin, cardamom, violet leaf and Atlas Cedar, this was a beguiling unisex fragrance, abstract and yet weirdly natural and familiar. I racked my brain to determine what it smelled like. A perfume blogging friend and I met for coffee and I brought along a vial of it. "It's that Indian sauce, with grated cucumber, mint and spices in yoghurt," he said casually, immediately after testing it. "Raita?" I asked, amazed. Yes, blast it, he was right: the wood and sweat of roasted cumin, the watery freshness, the smooth, cooling milky base.
Several months after our meeting, the joyous day came: I dropped by my favorite store and they had carded Heeley samples and were ordering bottles from Paris. But no Cedre Blanc samples had been sent. As Scooby-Doo would say: "Ruh roh!" It was an odd perfume and I couldn't imagine it being a big seller. I tried to remain calm while waiting several months for the promised bottles to arrive. Last week, I called the store and one of the owners happily informed me the line would be available by Friday or so. Great, I'd take a bottle of Cedre Blanc. "Oh sorry, that one's not coming! We couldn't order it, I'm pretty sure it's discontinued," he said. And then fondly: "Erin, you've killed another one."¹ While he reminisced over our failed attempt to order me a bottle of poor, doomed Diptyque Virgilio, I began to make a bitter mental tally of all the perfumes I'd apparently condemned by my interest: Dior Cologne Blanche, Slatkin Persian Lime & Mimosa, Annick Goutal Eau de Ciel, Donna Karan Gold, the old formulation of Etro Messe de Minuit, Jean Patou's original Sublime, the Institut Très Bien colognes, Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, the Thierry Mugler Miroir line (gone from Canada anyways), numerous Parfums de Nicolaï scents and on and on. Next came the list of those I was sure would be next on the chopping block. I know it's shallow to worry about endangered scents as the snows of Kilimanjaro are melting and the Maldives sink into the sea... but does anyone want to spend the rest of their life regretting they once ignored a tester of Jovan Fresh Patchouli?
As a public service, I will now reveal five fragrances that have recently attracted my attention. You should smell them now, before they're gone.
S-Perfume S-ex: Approximately once a year, I decide I need a bottle of this Christophe Laudamiel oddity before its expense, very limited distribution and embarrassing name add it to the dearly departed list. Whenever the currency markets are in my favor, I go to the website and S-ex is out of stock.² The listed notes include salt, strawberry, oxygen (?!), camellia, willow, leather, musk and malt. Fresh without sacrificing richness, silky but also tough, S-ex mixes the inspired (and not insipid) strawberry note of classic leathers like Knize Ten with a sea air tang and a base note not unlike beer or Liziza flavored malt beverages (free of antioxidants, for good-times seekers!) This is how the amusement parks smell in heaven.
Kenzo Winter Flowers: This limited edition play on Flower by Kenzo is probably already discontinued, as it no longer appears for purchase online. My local department store had a few bottles left, but a sales assistant said the stock wasn't being replenished by the distributor. Orientals with mimosa are always weird — remember Chopard Cašmir? — and this flanker is no exception. There's something compellingly flat about it: the summery melon of the original is replaced with a more somber mandarin, the damp newspaper effect mimosa sometimes produces is evident and the vanilla seems to have developed a brûlée crust.
Armani Privé Rose Alexandrie: Just because this is part of the less expensive "Les Eaux Armani Privé" line, it does not mean it's selling well. The scoundrels at Armani have seemingly discontinued the more affordable refills of the original six "La Collection" scents, so they're apparently determined to keep costs high, even if it means going down with their Kotibe wood ship. Certainly, my local luxe department store has moved all the Armani Privés to the back right corner of the fragrance floor, where scents go to die. This is that rare creature, the quiet tuberose: gently spiced, milky white and with some of the steambath caress of the eighties great Rochas Byzance.
Guerlain Philtre d'Amour: Of the Parisienne fragrances available at my Guerlain boutique, this is the only one sales assistants have not warned me is in imminent danger of being discontinued. Naturally, I'm suspicious. Plus, it's such a weird cologne: citrus sweetness along with astringency, cold, lush florals and the whole thing overlaid with fuzzy musk. Too serious and smart to last.
Astier de Villatte Eau Chic: I haven't even smelled this darned thing, but I know the end is near. Released by makers of beautiful glazed ceramics, composed by the masterful Françoise Caron (she of Hèrmes Eau d'Orange Verte, Kenzo Ça Sent Beau and Pierre Cardin Choc), and enticingly reviewed by Kevin here, this unusual white floral eau has proved impossible for me to sample. I can't find the prices or place an order on the high-concept website and none of the North American stores I've called that sell the tableware line carry the fragrances. Please join me in my quest for this elusive scent and report back.
2. Currently, the American site has S-ex available for purchase. The international and Japanese sites (both indicating they ship from the Shaping Room, Tokyo) do not.
Note: image of Mount Kilimanjaro [cropped] via Wikimedia Commons.