Niki de Saint Phalle Parfum (1982)

Niki de Saint Phalle Parfum, 1oz (1982) © Victor Wong
Niki de Saint Phalle Parfum, 1oz (1982) © Victor Wong

My interest in Niki de Saint Phalle began to develop when I asked people in a fragrance group why it smelled so bad, specifically of stinky feet. I mean, wouldn’t it be embarrassing to ask a sales rep that you are looking for a perfume with an obscure name, and it smells like your husband’s stinky feet? Well, apparently Niki de Saint Phalle didn’t not smell like that, for people in the group immediately defended the fragrance, questioning the sample that I had got and telling me how it must have gone bad.

To be honest, I rarely encounter a perfume that has gone bad, and I am curious under what circumstances a perfume would turn into smelling like athlete’s foot. Regardless, another unexpected incident happened, a friendly perfume store sales lady decided I was the perfect person to receive a small landfill of samples of Niki de Saint Phalle parfum (yes, parfum, not EDT), and perfectly they all smelled great, proofing that my first sample was bad.

So, Niki de Saint Phalle is an excellent green floral chypre (heavy moss, heavy woody, dark green carnation, rose and ylang) from the 80s and a joy to wear. I like its unusual intensity, but somehow, the scent never blows me away, I guess because it is also a chypre from the 80s that I have smelled a lot before. The experience I get from smelling it is eerily similar to smelling the current wave of oud wood, oud fleur, oud oud, so oud, duh oud perfumes. What get my attention are the crazy fragile entwining snakes on top of the flacon bottle, the marketing of a waning chypre in the 80s, and of course, the artist herself.

With the help of the Internet, I found out that Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002, last name “de Saint Phalle”) was an artist born in France. Her parents moved the whole family to America when she was three, and she grew up pretty and became a model briefly. Later she moved to Spain to start her family and there she got influenced by Gaudi’s amazing architecture artwork (which I had suspected the case when I browsed through thumbnail images of her artwork). She had made some controversial and ugly-ass “shooting paintings” that looked like some wet toilet paper got stuck on a canvas and shot at with a paintball gun. Luckily the Gaudi bug got into her head instead, and she had created some colorful, whimsical abstract artwork and giant sculptures that are quite distinct, and in my opinion, inspired by Gaudi, late Herni Matisse and her contemporary, Fernando Botero.

Ok, why the two snakes on the bottle? Happy-looking toothless snakes are a recurring image of Niki’s work and according to The Guardian, they were borne out of what she called the ‘summer of snakes’ – when she was assaulted by her father. I shouldn’t and couldn’t question her, but I think it’s a recurring image because it’s easy to draw. (Yay, what colours should I pick for the stripes?)

In the fancy box that houses the parfum flacon, there’s a little leaflet – besides this flacon, you could also buy Niki de Saint Phalle EDTs, body cream, body lotion, bath oil, shower gel, perfume soaps, and shimmering perfumed powder! It makes me wonder, how successful was this perfume? (Not many people talk about it anymore.) Who came up with the idea and took the gamble to launch this massive line of products? At this moment, I know that they succeeded in creating a memorable product and I am enjoying just the echo of it.

Six L’Artisan Parfumeur Perfumes…

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L’Artisan Parfumeur’s perfumes © Victor Wong

It’s a bit surprising to find out that L’Artisan is a 40 year old “niche perfume” company and have published nearly 80 perfumes, and I am glad that they are still here.

Although I really like the new 2016 packaging design of L’Artisan, I see it as a signal for me to bite the bullet and buy some of the bottles with the old design that I’ve always wanted – my collection will look better, also right now the prices are really good on eBay.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’eau du Caporal (1985)

L’eau du Caporal, one of the earliest releases, is a scent that’s supposed to make you smell like a handsome corporal with perfect pearly teeth on the cover a paperback romance novel. To me, it’s a combo scent of fresh breath after a vigorous gargling of spearmint mouthwash (that lasts and lasts), and a light fougere with hints of lavender and patchouli that fights your perspiration under that blue stiff jacket. The combined effect is actually quite unusual (light manly minty cologne), I have never smelled anything like it, and it doesn’t smell dated at all.

L’artisan Parfumeur’s Seville a L’aube (2012)

I’ve heard many good things about Seville a L’aube and some people call it the reference orange blossom perfume. I can see why, but somehow any perfumes with an orange blossom theme tend to smell similar, like any vanilla themed dessert when you start putting strawberries or chocolate on top it’s no longer a vanilla themed dessert.

I over-applied this perfume once by reflex action because it’s a L’Artisan perfume – they rarely last more than three hours on me, but this time I was wrong. It stays with me like a bucket of orange blossom concentrate that has rained on me in the movie Carrie. Luckily, the scent has a soapy vibe; I smell like I have taken a really good shower.

L’artisan Parfumeur’s Mimosa Pour Moi (1992)

Before smelling Mimosa Pour Moi and Diptyque’s Mimosa candles, I only had a vague understanding of what mimosa really smelled like because they are often blended in perfumes to give some olfactive effect. (Kind of like flour mixed into oil to make gravy; it thickens a perfume to make it smells gelatinous. I sound like a lunatic, don’t I?)

I can’t say I am crazy about the scent of mimosa, and it has a smell that I can’t describe perfectly – it smells resinous and a bit raw and vegetal but not completely; and I can’t even say it smells floral to me. It’s just strange.

Mimosa Pour Moi to me is a perfume for reference. It’s not complicated at all, it’s just… mimosa and something light. It doesn’t bring me much joy but more like an enlightenment.

L’Artisan Parfume’s Passage d’Enfer (1999)

The translated French title is “Passage to Hell”. With a name like this, how come no one talks about it? If it really were a passage to hell, you are going to be greeted by a silly golden retriever licking your face and a welcome basket of kittens.

This is a 17 year old incense themed perfume and it still smells modern and “niche” by today’s standard, but it doesn’t have a distinct, opulent or bad boy character of today’s incense perfumes. It is light, airy, mildly sweet, woody scent infused with a little bit of lily. If you like Le Labo’s prohibitively expensive Gaiac 10 perfume, this is the incense version of it.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mandarine (2006)

I got this when L’Artisan put everything on sale to get rid of the old packaging, and possibly this one for good. This scent reminds me of two things – hotel lobby and Tang artificial orange powder drink.

The opening is a refreshing, friendly, mildly sweet citrus scent with ginger to make it slightly exotic, but this blend smells like the lobby of a few hotels that I have stayed in Hong Kong, which runs powerful aroma diffusers 24/7. The scent is nice and inoffensive, and even my friend has been looking for this scent for his home ever since he returned. Now if I wear Mandarine next to him, he might ask if I have just visited Hong Kong.

The mid phase of this scent is Tang orange powder that has made millions of kids fat, unfortunately I am one of the victims, and the needle is hovering between “you ruined me” and “why does it smell powdery” and wouldn’t stop like a sine curve for an hour or so.

Eventually it settles into a sweet, mild ambery orangey skin scent that would smell nice on anybody on a summer day.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fou d’Absinthe (2006)

From zero interest to full-blown love. It wasn’t the most interesting scent from L’artisan when I started exploring the line and the 1ml sample didn’t help. Now I find absinthe smell more interesting than vetiver and this scent is elegant like Chanel’s Sycomore, “barbershop-style humble”, manly, but staying 10 yards away from the gang who wears Drakkar Noir. An elegant classic.

Cacharel’s Loulou (1987)

Cacharel's Loulou (Splash Bottle and Parfum) © Victor Wong
Cacharel’s Loulou (Splash Bottle and Parfum) © Victor Wong

I’ve heard that people who have had a near-death experience recall seeing their whole life being played back like a rewinding videotape in their head at lightning speed. If this is true, I might see a hexagonal blue perfume bottle flash by in my head for a nano-second too long when I die. Yes, that strange geometric blue bottle with a red pointy cap created in the far off exotic land of the discordant color scheme had left me with a lifelong impression. I first saw it at a department store in the late 80s, and I thought, “What is this crazy thing?” I stared at the bottle but was too afraid to touch it because I was a well-behaving young man.

Almost 30 years later, I finally know its name – Loulou by Cacharel, and own a splash bottle and a parfum bottle. They are both sitting on my desk, emitting an alienesque blue aura like two pieces of quartz, humming. My expectation for Loulou was quite huge. Luca Turin gave it a 5 star review with very little explanation, and it was one of the best-selling perfumes from the glorious 80s.

I must say I am a bit disappointed with Loulou, for I had read too many good things about it (I probably should give it more time). It’s supposed to be Cacharel’s reaction to Dior’s Poison – a fruity oriental bomb with massive sillage – but I found it rather tame. I brought a decant to work and asked my coworkers, “Are you ready?” then one spritz on the back of my hand, and three minutes later I asked again, “Did you feel the aftershock?” No one said anything except “Myeh” (I think it’s combination of yeah and meh).

The scent itself is quite interesting and a little “strange.” To me, it has two noticeable layers; the first layer is “something sweet and plasticky smelling,” like the smell of some brand new plastic toy. I think the plasticky smell is actually incense in low dosage mixed with some plum;  the second layer is “some white florals” that are soft, tender and slightly powdery (probably heliotrope) and feminine. I want to re-live the 90s to see how many people actually wore this perfume, brought down to Earth by some UFOs.

P.S. I decanted some parfum into an atomizer bottle and tried it on my skin, it’s quite potent and rich!

Paloma Picasso’s Paloma Picasso (1984, Splash)

Paloma Picasso Splash Bottle © Victor Wong
Paloma Picasso Splash Bottle © Victor Wong

Paloma Picasso comes in a glass bottle housed inside an elliptical plastic donut-shaped black plastic casing, which reminds me of everything from the 80s – big, bold and chunky. Not surprisingly, this perfume was indeed created in the 80s. What bugs me most is that I can see it wherever perfumes are sold in Toronto – “You again? But I don’t like your face!” I had never bothered to pick it up to take a sniff – until the sales lady at my local perfume shop ran out of perfumes to recommend and shoved it in my face, saying with an unenthusiastic voice, “It’s nice. Smell it.”

Was it nice? Well… I thought it’s quite nice, but no dice (reformulated version). Then, one day, a question popped in my head – does this brand have any other perfumes? It’s obviously a hit, (it’s still here after more than 30 years) and I can see it being sold brand-new in department stores everywhere. Why stop there? I began doing some research and this is my discovery:

  1. The perfume was actually designed by the daughter of famous artist Picasso…
  2. who was a jewelry designer for Tiffany and this was her first perfume (!!!) …
  3. and the “proper” category which the perfume belongs to is “Animalic Chypre”… (from the book “The Perfume Guide” by Susan Irvine)
  4. because it has a big dosage of beaver and civet musk

and I stopped right there – wait, it doesn’t smell animalic to me at all. When I think animalic, I think furry musk, Serge Luten’s Muscs Kublai Khan, and poopy oud.

I began looking for a vintage version of it to study more and luckily I came across a vintage splash bottle version that’s actually very cute. It smelled like a lot of perfumes from the 80s – a strong floral chypre, OMG! stop! stop! stop! Too much patchouli, with a very strong patchouli and sandalwood base that almost makes it very soapy and green (like Robert Piguet’s Bandit). It also has a sweet ambery side fencing off the patchouli from raping the jasmines and roses.

As for the notorious civet and castoreum musks that are supposed to be very apparent, I am still looking for them…

Boucheron’s Boucheron (Extrait, 1988)

Boucheron Extrait © Victor Wong
Boucheron Extrait © Victor Wong

My friend calls himself the “microwave oven expert” – give him any food, particularly leftover dishes, he can tell you exactly how much time each needs to be reheated to perfection. Chicken? 1:55. Pasta? 3:10. Frozen soup from the freezer? 18 minutes. “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure.” And sure he is. I wish I have similar skill, not of setting the timer on the microwave, but the exact number of sprays of any perfume that would make me satisfied throughout the day while other people around me happy, meaning I am not killing anyone with a fume cloud. (Seriously, a first-world problem.)

So I’ve learned that wearing parfum/extrait is a good alternative if you worry about wearing too much. You apply them by dabbing the stopper on your neck and pulse points, and they are less diffusive and last longer (debatable). Sounds like a good solution, but I am too lazy and clumsy to dab, dab, dab. I simply decant them to a little sprayer bottle and spritz it on my neck generously – repeating the same mistake of over-applying, but this time with parfum, not EDP, making it worse.

I have only started paying attention to parfum or extrait recently, not because of their quality, but simply I have run out of desktop space. I have too many 100ml bottles and I know there is no stopping. I used to worry about finishing my favorite EDP/EDT perfumes too soon but I had realized that it’s an unfounded worry as I couldn’t even finish a 10ml bottle of decant in two years. (I will have a long and lonely time selling my perfumes on eBay before I go to a senior home.) Parfum/extrait usually comes in a cute 15 mL or 7.5 mL bottle, although it doesn’t sound there’s much, but it’s enough, trust me.

Boucheron parfum – where to start? I’ve been warned. I know it’s a beautiful floral monster – jasmine, tuberose, ylang, orris, lily of the valley, on and on… Wear it and hope no one can smell you is like wearing a Halloween costume not on Halloween and hope no one can see you. But I wasn’t prepared to smell this kind of floral – it’s so realistic and beautiful, but somehow you could tell the scent is all synthetic. I have been to some upscale malls where they put really expensive, full-bloom perfect flowers in giant urns that I thought no way they were real. And they were real, because in the middle of that giant bouquet, one flower had turned brown. And there were malls where they put synthetic flowers and trees in planters that looked imperfect, which I thought were real from faraway, and as I walked by them and touched them, it’s fake. Boucheron stays on my skin for a long time probably the ingredients are synthetics, and synthetic flowers don’t wither. Glorious.

Fendi’s Fendi (EDT, 1985)

Fendi's Fendi (1985) EDT © Victor Wong
Fendi’s Fendi (1985) EDT © Victor Wong

There is a good reason why Fendi’s debut perfume is discontinued – it’s not an unique perfume. I know, this is crazy, I’ve spent good effort and money finding this perfume and I am now badmouthing it. (But not really, read on.)

At the same time, it is one of the most sought after discontinued perfumes. Go search on eBay and the price is a good indication. I think I know why people miss it so much. If all the strict IFRA ingredient bans and regulations really are meant for protecting consumers, wearing Fendi from 1985 might give you some serious cancer. I mean, it is such a rich and potent perfume, (and it’s just an EDT), the oakmoss is real and fat, the leather is fat , the florals are fat, it’s just phat and bad ass with no implants and zippers are useless. The opening almost smells like cognac, then instantly the curtains are pulled wide open, it’s an all-you-can-eat chypre buffet. It’s the epitome of the opposite of a reformulation, it’s a fragrance porn.

One of my coworkers has really big boobs. One day we were walking down the street to the bus stop and we stopped at the red light. A huge truck tried to make a right turn and I saw the truck driver’s eyes keep staring at my coworker’s boobs as he steered the 10 ton truck. I was afraid the trunk might flip on us because her boobs distorted gravity. Yes, she definitely can rock Fendi.

Annick Goutal’s Passion (1983)

Annick Goutal's Passion © Victor Wong
Annick Goutal’s Passion © Victor Wong

I used to find Annick Goutal’s Passion merely a beautiful floral perfume, may be a little unusual and simple, but now I find it absolutely interesting, even funny.

You might have already noticed, on Facebook the most common adjectives to describe a perfume are “full bottle worthy”, “absolutely stunning”, and “continental US shipping only”. However, there are professional reviews that I’ve come across that use more descriptive adjectives such as “resinous”, “indolic” and “shitty”; but I am always stumped by the words “balsamic” and “camphorous”. With Passion I finally know what a camphorous perfume smells like. (Reluctantly I was enlightened by Tania Sanchez’s review in the book “Perfumes”.)

To make it simple, mothballs are camphorous. I wonder if Ms. Goutal’s true passion was pure cashmere sweaters instead of hunks, and her determination to protect them from moths. Adding just a little bit of a camphorous note to an otherwise typical and tropical ylang/jasmine/vanilla perfume was truly surprising and literally refreshing, (I think it’s the tomato leaf that she added) and the amount she added was just enough to make it minty and not make you think you are wearing a sweater taken out from an old dresser set up with poisonous darts and mothball canisters.

Now that I cannot un-notice there’s a nano mothball floating in my bottle Passion, nevertheless it makes it an unique perfume in my collection.