Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Perfume review: Bond No. 9 New York - Chinatown

You know how your teeth can suddenly hurt from sweets? Well before I became intoxicated with Chinatown, and the bottle it came in, I thought I was going to retch from its initial painfully sweet smell of almondy cake icing. Then, without really thinking about it, my mind wandered to a spring day in New York's Soho district when the sidewalk trees have just leafed out, and the blue skies and weather are perfect, and you can smell street vendor's new clothes, art galleries, and the city's metals - like the nearby subway stairs and fire escapes. It was that strange metallic tinge that led me to popping the cap once again, this time to figure out the source of the metallic smell. To my astonishment, I discovered it wasn't metal, but rather lemon and vanilla -- and I suddenly thought FORTUNE COOKIE!

I thought, "Aha! I have cracked the mystery of its name. I understand like no other person on earth, why it's called Chinatown." After all, other reviewers had decreed the stuff 'sweet cakey poison' (and other nauseating adjectives) -- but I, and ONLY I, had found its lemony-sweet, crisp vanilla fortune-cookie heart. And metal. Hmm. And an insane resemblance to Black Phoenix Alchemy Laboratories' perfume oil called Dragon's Milk.

Still mentally admiring a bright and colorful street in Soho, I continued to smell the bottle and my wrist, looking for the requisite cherry blossoms (or sakura, as they say), thinking there must be more to this perfume's name than a fortune cookie. Instead, I found peach blossoms, which I also love in Clive Christian's X for Women, another heady perfume that's hard to describe. But back to Chinatown: why the strong peach blossoms? Again my mind wandered and I found myself thinking of the bright orange poppies that are blooming in my front garden. They are blindingly bright studies in delicate silk, fluttering in the cool Spring breeze. I sniff my wrist again and I detect a slight powderiness, soft and delicate, a little like a Geisha's flawlessly made-up face. Could peach blossoms be considered oriental, or was synesthesia getting the best of me?

But wait, I know that smell. It's . . . it's peony! Those gigantic dinner-plate sized fluttery pink or white blossoms that bloom in the spring. Another heady flower and so amazingly blended with the peach blossom flowers. Cool, refreshing flowers, and a base earthiness that reminds me of a garden's earthiness, a bit of patchouli, which smells like fresh clover and moist loam. And there's an interesting spicy note reminiscent of Indian food: cardamom. It has given a tiny edginess, a burst of energy, to the flowers and earth.

Nose to wrist again. I find the lemony-peony-peach flowers, and earthiness, have combined with yet another aromatic accord that is brilliantly cheerful and luxurious. As time progresses, the powderiness identifies itself as a sultry woods, gardenia and tuberose accord that bloom together like white flowers in a dense, dark night. They are as bright as a full white moon on a black sea. I begin to think of antique wooden Chinese ships at sea, loaded with silks and fragrant with spices, heading into port. And Chinatown begins to take shape in my mind, not as a part of New York City, but rather as an impression of China, and luxury, and beauty.

I smell silks and wooden ships, big blousy peonies and delicate fruity-fresh peach blossoms, crisp lemony fortune cookies, and a busyness, a pure energy, waiting to be unleashed.

Long hours later, after the perfume and my senses have calmed down, I find the patchouli note, in its fresh and tender green earthiness, has risen to a balsamic finish and the perfume becomes very sophisticated, very "night out," and strangest of all, it becomes comforting. The scent of the toasty lemon-vanilla fortune cookie has returned to float just above this beautiful perfume, and so my own arm, finally, scents the air around me like a mouth-watering dessert.

Chinatown perfume is the impression of China on New York. The sophisticated artsy image of Soho fades and is replaced by bustling Chinatown. Not as a part of New York, like Elizabeth Street with all its wonderful restaurants, but more like those wooden Chinese ships gliding into The Port Authority and unloading their cargo into New York so we can admire it, and smell it, and wear it. I think Chinatown perfume is New York's ode and Thank You, to China.

What the perfumer says: Top notes of bursts of peach blossom (a mystic fruit in Chinese Mythology that Taoists consider the elixir of life. The midnotes are an intoxicating cross-cultural bouquet; Peony (known as Sho Yo, or Most Beautiful, the Chinese flower of love, luxury, and indulgence), blended with creamy-sweet gardenia (the flower Billie Holiday wore in her hair) and sultry tuberose (known in the Western World as the Mistress of the Night), and mouth-watering patchouli, which adds a spiky note to the other florals. The lingering basenotes are cardamom (an ancient spice from the East, long used as a condiment) and dark woods (recalling the scent of Chinese inlaid lacquered boxes).

Parfum, EDP and EDT Strengths

Parfum, EDP, EDT and Cologne perfume terms refer to the strength of the perfume oils. The higher the percentage of oils, the longer the lasting power. Also, the less diluted the perfume is, the better you can detect all the different oils that were used to create it. Think of it this way: a perfume that has rose, jasmine and amber might also include a hint of peony. In a parfum strength, you'd probably be able to detect the peony, whereas in the cologne, it might be diluted so much that it disappears. This very slight difference doesn't seem very important when you compare bottles by sniffing them, but when you go to wear the perfume, the alcohol/perfume oil dilutions play out very differently on the warmth and chemistry of your skin.

Eau Fraiche has very little perfume oil. Eau de Cologne (or just Cologne) is next with 2 - 5% perfume oils. After that is Eau de Toilette (or Toilette Water), then Eau de Parfum, then Soie de Parfum, then Parfum (or Perfume) which is usually the final concentration with the most perfume oil. Sometimes you'll find Perfume Oils for sale, and these can be very strong with 30% perfume in an oil base (rather than an alcohol base). Here is an interesting FAQ where you can read more about perfume concentrations and other quick info about perfumes - you'll have to register to access the page.

I usually prefer parfum, then EDP, then EDT. But there are some perfumes where a light touch is just perfect, like Maja, Tea Rose, and some others where the lightness of the fragrance is what makes it so charming. I think some vanilla based perfumes are better as an EDP because vanilla needs to be a little heavy handed to bring out its beauty. If a vanilla were represented as an EDT, such as Vanilla Fields, it needs to be blended with enough other notes to make it a more complex scent that (therefore) smells very nice as an EDT strength.

I enjoy parfums the most because I can detect all the subtle notes in them. I think of parfum as being the best headphones on a stereo system, and edt as being the speakers the set came with. EDP is a medium priced set of speakers that most people are used to and enjoy.

Aunt Judy's Attic is also loaded with a quick/easy reference to a few perfume facts.