RSP: Undina Edition

In RSP (Runway, Sidewalk, Perfume) posts, I try to connect fashion and perfume.

If I were given only one word to describe Undina‘s personal style, it would be “polished.” Her clothes are always carefully selected and often have a story behind them. The last time I posted an RSP, reflecting my typically more messy style*, I jokingly told Undina that I was going to dedicate an entire RSP to her style. And then, I decided that it would be a fun challenge to actually do it.

Since we have the luxury of knowing a few of Undina’s favorite perfumes, I’ve started by selecting perfumes, then paired them with “sidewalk” clothes, and entirely skipped runway clothes. And just because I’m so nice, I’ve given Undina an unlimited budget.

Please let me know how you think I did, and share whether you have any outfits or particular items of clothing or jewelry that you think pair especially well with particular perfumes. And Undina, I hope I got it (sort of) right!

*I realized after the fact that this sounded as if I was saying I’m a slob (and fishing for compliments). Au contraire! I think (I hope) I care too much about clothes to be a true slob. I simply don’t feel like myself if some aspect of my outfit or my hair is not a little “off” in some way, so my look is less “done.”


Climat Collage Rev

Dress: Oasis via Asos / Shoes: Coach via Zappos / Scarf: JCrew / Cuff: Lanvin via MyTheresa / Earrings: Bauble Bar

Portrait of a Lady

POAL Collage Rev

Dress: Asos via Asos / Shoes: Whistles via Asos / Earrings: Kenneth Jay Lane via Haute Headquarters

Bombay Bling

 BB Collage

Skirt: Burberry / Shirt: Sabine via Piperlime / Shoes: Bottega Veneta / Earrings: LK Designs via Dazzling Jewelry

La Femme Bleue

La Femme Bleue Collage Rev

 Jeans: Mother via Piperlime / Top: J Crew / Shawl: Silkshop / Shoes: Jimmy Choo / Necklace: Anna Designs

Happy Anniversary, APB!

apb anniversary

Today marks the third anniversary of APB. And d’ya know what? Three years of blogging are incredibly easy to recap.

In the past three years, I’ve shared a Mother’s Day Q&A with my mom, fallen in love with several versions of Chanel No. 19, enlisted your help to choose my wedding perfume, found a new favorite perfume based on an old favorite, and tackled the terrifying task of writing a negative review of a niche fragrance.

The most-viewed post on APB is my Perfume Shopping in San Francisco post (no surprise there), but the second-most-viewed post is my review of Keith Urban Phoenix. Consider my mind blown. My favorite post is my review of Vol de Nuit. I tried to pick least favorite post, but it was too difficult (and led to a round of deletion that almost decimated the entire archive, and a crisis of confidence that required 10 minutes 20 minutes a lot of looking at bunny pictures on the internet to cure).

The most challenging thing about blogging is trying to keep coming up with new, and hopefully interesting, ways to talk about perfume. The best thing about blogging is you. You there, reading this. You’re the best. Thank you.

xo, Natalie

Nuit de Cellophane

This musky floral is not a typical Serge Lutens creation. On application, it settles like a dewy mist, infused with osmanthus and apricots. Just purely pretty.

Nonetheless, when I bury my nose in my wrist, Nuit de Cellophane is swirling with surprises. The spices and indolic white florals are cartoonishly dirty up close, although they project a light and pretty sillage.

stephen jones


Perhaps because of its more sour elements, Nuit de Cellophane doesn’t develop on the skin like a typical musk. It doesn’t create an everlasting fluffy cloud effect, and it doesn’t fade to a sweet nothing. It goes even more indolic, and even becomes smoky. If the beginning of the fragrance feels like it is swirling, the development feels a bit like a frenzied spin. This stage is more Lutensian, and maybe not for everyone. Personally, I like how deceptive it is, and I always get compliments when I wear it. I just need to wear it more often.

For a review of Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellphane, see The Non-Blonde or Nathan Branch (who also thinks Nuit de Cellophane is “deceptive” – I was tickled to see we both chose that word).

Sample was my own acquisition. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

Conversation with Jean Claude Ellena: Part 2

Read Part 1 here.


In the 26 February 2010 entry in The Diary of a Nose, Ellena writes:

“The ogre Economy needs feeding. It has a fierce appetite and refuses to tighten its belt. And yet it has no curiosity, is not attracted by novelty, and always wants to be served the same dish …Trend … likes to have competitions laid on, beauty competitions, all sorts of competitions, because it wants to be accepted. It has to be referred to humorously, even ironically—it’s not afraid of self-mockery. It surrounds itself with groupies and bloggers and chatter. Tocqueville anticipated the fact that, in a democracy, society would tend towards unified tastes. Trend may be the price we have to pay for democracy.”

When I read this passage, its tone seems to me quietly scathing, although it softens at the end. But what stays with me is the feeling I have when I first read it, of potentially seeing myself in a way I’d rather not, e.g., as a thoughtless and insipid trend-sheep.

A random collection of thoughts

Being accepted is nice.

Eschewing trends (or the discussion or consideration of them) just for the sake of it is as silly as thoughtlessly giving them credence.

Tocqueville may have been guilty of forgetting that “history belongs to the victor”—or, in this case, the apparent homogeneity of society reflects the cultural dominance of the dominant group(s).

With increasing globalization, the dominant groups may be squeezing out other voices even more.

What was the dominant group, in perfumes, in 2013? I met Clayton of What Men Should Smell Like this weekend, and he mentioned how attendance at perfume shows can enable one to quickly distill what’s trending at the moment. When all those perfumes blend in the air, what do you smell? It reminded me of my comment about “perfumes that smell like 2013.”

Ellena’s perfumes for Hermes have not, as far as I can discern, followed trends. But I think many of them will smell “of their time” in 10 years. The Hermessences, Jour de Hermes.

What was the last truly unique, boundary pushing perfume I smelled that still smelled like a perfume? I think it would probably be something from Tauer Perfumes, something around 2008-2009. Can this really be?! I’m going to keep thinking, and will update. Definitely would like to hear from you all in the comments on this question.

And thus

It is at this point that I decide I’m damned if I know how to strike a balance between independence and, well, daily life as a functional member a community. I figuratively throw my hands up, as Ellena does in the passage quoted above. I’d like to adopt a similarly detached acceptance, but I suspect one must be French to carry that off. We Americans are too earnest.

Cruelty-Free Fragrances Update

I want to take a moment to share an update on my effort to identify cruelty-free fragrances. This is one of the projects that has kept me from blogging as much as usual lately, and it has been a big effort!

Before I get to the update, let me say this: I do not expect people to choose cruelty-free fragrances, or to feel guilty if they don’t. Everyone has to make this decision individually. But I think it helps to be informed. For example, would knowing that a perfume company tested on animals deter you from a $20 impulse buy of a fragrance you don’t totally love anyway? Or, would knowing that a fragrance company doesn’t test on animals make you feel better about spending $180 on one of their perfumes, instead of $100 on one that does animal tests? I’m not telling anyone what to do, but I would like to help provide information.

So here is my update.

1. If a company sells its products in China or Russia, it cannot be cruelty-free. Even if the company itself is headquartered in the EU (which has banned animal testing), and even if all of the ingredients in the product are exempt in other countries from the need for animal testing because they have been around long enough to have been proven safe, China and Russia require that the end product be tested on animals. Please note: it appears that the Chinese and Russian governments themselves, not the companies, are doing this testing. However, regardless of who is doing it, the testing is enough for these companies not to be considered cruelty-free.

2. I am in the process of contacting each fragrance company to hear their position on animal testing. I am populating the “Cruelty-Free Fragrances” page that you see in the menu bar as I receive responses from the companies. That page also has information about the criteria and questions I am asking the companies.

3. There is some good news! China has stated that it will end its animal testing requirement in June of 2014. Whether this will occur, and whether they will have appropriate transparency to assure us of it, remains to be seen. Another good news item is that there is a bill before the US House of Representatives to ban animal testing in the US, as it has been banned in the EU. You can sign the petition to get this bill co-sponsored (it literally takes 30 seconds). You do NOT need to be a resident of the US to sign the petition. If you ARE a resident of the US, you can also follow the link on that page to ask your representative to co-sponsor the bill.

4. There is some more good news! I’m so, so happy to say that some fragrance companies are foregoing retailing in China and Russia in order to remain cruelty free. Three cheers for the first big niche brand I have heard of in this category: Frederic Malle. (Please note I am waiting for this to be confirmed by the brand; I was informed of it by an SA.)



I hope you find this helpful. As I have also been going back and re-examining all of my products in light of the changes created by the Chinese law (previously cruelty-free brands like L’Occitane*, The Body Shop, MAC, and others are no longer cruelty-free), I have been amassing and testing tons of new cosmetics and household products. If you are interested in a series of “cruelty free cupboards” posts on the products I have found to be winners, let me know in the comments, and I will share some of those.

*Regarding L’Occitane, some of you may find this interesting.

Conversation with Jean Claude Ellena: Part 1

Alright, alright, I admit I have not been given the opportunity for an actual conversation with Jean Claude Ellena. But, I have decided not to let that stop me from having an imaginary conversation with his book, The Diary of a Nose, and with you all.

Press launch for 'The Diary of a Nose' by Hermes perfumier Jean-Claude Ellena, interviewed by Josephine Fairley.

Source: The Beauty Press

I read The Diary of a Nose when it came out in 2012, and have meant to do this series ever since. As I mentioned back then, I really admired the book, as I did Ellena’s previous book as well. There were many sections that I thought would be fun to discuss with other people who are interested in perfume. Hopefully you agree, and join in the discussion!


In his entry dated 10 November 2009, Ellena discusses movement. Some passages:

“Movement is defined by the form a perfume takes and its longevity. So a more baroque perfume is all about complexity, power and performance. Its complexity follows its evolution, enhancing each new phase. Perfumes like this are seen as elaborate, structured, rich, full and perhaps overbearing. Conversely, a cologne-type structure favors simplicity, vigour, and lightness of touch … the rapid succession of notes within them makes us think they don’t stay on the skin for long … [such a perfume] requires a very particular attention because its discretion keeps such lovely surprises in store.” (Ellena, Diary of a Nose)

One thing this section reminds me of is probably not very directly connected, but it is the idea of describing perfumes by type or even using a note pyramid. I always pay attention when people talk about categories or types of perfumes. (For example, Christos at Memory of Scent discussing Alec Lawless’s conception of perfumes having “heart, nuance, and intrigue” elements.)

Impressionistic or abstract ways of categorizing scents tend to resonate with me more than literal ways (e.g., floral, oriental). I wonder what would happen if the impressionistic descriptor became the broadest category for a perfume, and then the more literal note category followed, rather than the other way around. To take Michael Edwards’s system as an example: he currently categorizes Tuberose Criminelle as a Floral, in the subcategory of Rich. For the way I think about perfume, I’d rather see Rich as the main category, then Floral. When I go to my perfumes in the morning, I am thinking (to switch now to Ellena’s language) that I want to wear something baroque, or something sheer, or something lush. Then I think about what kind of notes I want it to contain, whether floral or herbal or oriental, for example.

This passage also gets me thinking about actual movement in the context of perfume. How often do we describe a perfume using movement vocabulary, like swirling, blasting, enveloping? Words like these say so much about a fragrance; Ellena encompasses the structure, force, and development of a perfume in the term movement. After re-reading this passage in Diary of a Nose, I am considering how the perfumes I wear “move” in all these different facets. No conclusions yet, just thoughts.

What are your thoughts? Abstract descriptions or perfume categories? What about “movement”?

Quotes from the UK edition of Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Perfumeur, published by Particular Books / Penguin in 2012. Apologies that I can’t provide page numbers: I only have the Kindle edition of the book.

RSP: Easy Tailoring

In RSPs (Runway, Sidewalk, Perfume), I try to connect current fashion trends and perfumes.

One of the big style feelings on my radar at the moment is easy tailoring. This has been around for a while, but in my opinion may have reached its zenith of perfection in the Celine Pre-Fall and Chanel RTW Fall 2014 shows.

easy tailoring

Sources:,, Zimmerman

I’m referring to it as easy tailoring because classic, tailored shapes are modified and eased by elements like sloping shoulders, extra volume, cocoon shapes, loads of usable pockets (yippee), etc. As someone who was a teenager in the 90s, this style feels very comfortable to me in many ways, a modernized version of clothes I already know, so to speak. It also complements my ongoing love affair with sneakers.

For this post, I’m pulling the “sidewalk” images from The Sartorialist, just to save time. What’s nice about these clothes is that they are so easy and casual, all that need to be added are good grooming and individuality.



sartorialist 2


To pair with perfume is a bit harder. I had to laugh at this realization, given how comfortable and easy these styles are. But how many perfumes are both dramatic and streamlined, style conscious and utilitarian? I don’t think minimalist or very masculine perfumes pair well, but neither does anything very grand.

However, I did eventually come up with some pairings: Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellophane, L’Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine, Bottega Veneta Parfum. What do you think?

Also, for those of you who see perfumes as colors, I wonder if you think the photos above call for a perfume that is camel-colored, and which perfumes you think are camel-colored?

The entire Chanel show is here. A fashion blogger who embodies the more minimalist side of these clothes is Fash-N-Chips.

Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

Iris Prima

Is there any art form that is more subject to fantasy and fetish than ballet? From little girls dreaming of tutus and tiaras to movies featuring battered feet and pointes (and mentally ill ballerinas), the image of ballet in many people’s minds is one of masochistic self-immolation–beautiful, but mostly painful.


Fantasy: Painful and bloody / Source

When Penhaligon’s announced that it would be launching a perfume representing ballet, Iris Prima, and that it was being inspired by a behind-the-scenes look at the English National Ballet, I was intrigued to see the result. Would they invoke the pretty-but-painful stereotype? The drama of ballet? Or the same-old-same-old tutus and tiaras image? You get three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Yes, in the end, the perfume is pretty and boring. Very much the tutus and tiaras route. Sparkly pink pepper ushers in a veil of iris, cosmetics, and kid leather. It is so pretty and benign that I could almost believe it is intended as a parody of some ballet cliches.

(Side note: There is a particular ingredient in Iris Prima that was used in Bottega Veneta’s initial perfume, and it is strong enough that I perceive more of a resemblance than is actually there between the two fragrances, but I think it is worth noting that they are very much in the same style. It is further worth noting that Bottega Veneta is a vastly more interesting fragrance.)

I wish Iris Prima had taken some risk in its concept. The fantasy element of ballet is important (after all, part of the art is about making it look effortless and highly stylized), but I hoped for more. Having spent half my life in ballet studios, when I think of ballet, I think not of the beauty or the pain, but the less dramatic realities: routine and discipline. Doing the same things, working on the same things. Have you ever thought about how many movements comprise classical ballet? There aren’t that many, but dancers spend a lifetime working on them. American ballerina Julie Kent has been quoted as saying “My friends say to me ‘Are you still practicing? Don’t you have it yet?’” The true artists keep finding new meaning in the same movements and often the same ballets.

It’s too bad Penhaligon’s couldn’t find a way to explore that effort and artistry, which would actually have fit very well with their restrained aesthetic. I’m sure the result would have been more evocative than Iris Prima.


Reality: Pretty normal / Source: Mine

For another review of Penhaligon’s Iris Prima, see Now Smell This or Bois de Jasmin.

Sample of Iris Prima was my own acquisition. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

FR 01 / No. 02

Fragrance Republic’s 01/No. 02 (I believe that is season one or year one, fragrance number two) was created by Julie Massé. It features notes of rose, tuberose, and cocoa resin. Massé said she “wanted to create a vaporous, almost ethereal Tuberose by combining it with an absolute of Rose of May.”


01/02 is ethereal, but not waifish. The combination of rose and tuberose reads more white floral to me, with the rose cutting the butteriness of the tuberose and giving it a subtle sweetness. The entire composition is creamy, dewy, and feminine, so it is a welcome surprise that it carries on firmly for six to eight hours, with the rose blooming more on the skin as time goes by. I’m tempted to put this in the same category as fragrances like Kai and the original Marc Jacobs for Women, although those two are more voluptuous white florals, because they all share a pretty-but-sophisticated vibe — nothing vampy.

Fragrance Republic is a subscription program that delivers to its members fragrances created exclusively for the Republic by established perfumers. I considered it the “idea whose time has come” in my best and worst list of 2013. I am finding it to be a very fun way to experience new fragrances that aren’t available anywhere else.

For another review of 01/02, check out Victoria’s take on EauMG.

Image courtesy Fragrance Republic. Fragrance provided by Fragrance Republic. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

Three by Krigler

I always feel grateful when a perfume shatters my preconceptions.

Krigler is a perfume house that has been in existence, off and on, since 1880 or so. Most of its perfumes are remasterings of fragrances from its archives, and there are many mentions of glamorous historic clients (Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, F. Scott Fitzgerald) in stories about the brand. There is nothing wrong with any of this of course. But the way that some brands overuse these “marks of authenticity” has made me skeptical.


Established Cognac 66 (if I understand their numbering system, this means it was originally created in 1966) is my reigning favorite cognac fragrance. In one word, it is chewy. It smells like fruit, warm liqueur, caramel, oak, and toasted almonds (or perhaps amaretto). The drydown is woody, but not especially dry. It’s very much in the vein of a “gentleman’s library” fragrance, but when something smells this good, I see no need for it to stay in such a small box. If it isn’t too masculine for me, I’d venture to say it isn’t too masculine for very many people. For a very different review of Established Cognac 66, see The Scented Hound.

Ultra Chateau Krigler 212 (2012?) is supposed to be an aldehydic floral, but I struggle to think of it as such because the prominent rose, lily of the valley, and aldehydic notes are almost transformed by a big gin-and-tonic accord. There is nothing like a bracing slug of quinine to make lily of the valley less insipid, right? The last time I wore Ultra Chateau, I ran across Blacknall Allen’s post on “bitter chypre martinis” and decided this perfume could be an honorary member of that club. For another review of Ultra Chateau Krigler 212, see EauMG.

Lieber Gustav 14 (1914?) was allegedly F. Scott Fitzgerald’s choice, but I remain unbiased, since I didn’t know that until I sat down to write this post. I’m proud to report my taste may be the same as that of my literary hero (if he actually wore this). It’s the standout of a strong bunch. Notes of lavender and black tea hover like a fluffy cloud atop woody notes that sometimes waft something much dirtier. (1) I don’t normally care for dirty notes, and lavender is hit or miss for me, but I adore Lieber Gustav. Any thoughts I had of Vero Profumo’s Mito are but distant memories.

Despite having more perfume than I’ll ever need, I plan to buy Lieber Gustav. A trip to the Plaza Hotel for perfume and a drink at the Champagne Bar? Yes, please.

(1) A baby’s stinky diaper smelled from across the room and partially smothered by the powder his mother uses to do whatever powder is supposed to do in children’s diapers.

Photo courtesy of Krigler. Samples courtesy Krigler, at my request. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.


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