Monday, December 21, 2009


Lately, I've been dipping my toe back into perfumed waters a bit. I realized that I was missing the thrill of discovering new fragrances, and have been nosing about some. The hilarious and incisive Tania Sanchez, in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, the book she co-wrote with her so-smart-it's-a-bit-scary husband Luca Turin, describes six stages in the evolution of a hard-core fragrance lover. Number 5 is Decadence (which I would interpret as the full fury of a serious perfume addiction) followed by the final stage, Enlightenment. Enlightenment, according to Tania, is "satisfaction in things in themselves."

(Before I go on, let me please urge you to read this book.

The Second Edition has recently been released, updated with many new reviews and now in paperback, which makes it more affordable. If you have any interest at all in smelling good, this book should be one of your bibles -- not just for the reviews but for the mini-education on perfume history and why things smell the way they do. Even if you're not particularly interested in perfume, the book is worth reading to witness how two terribly talented people write clearly, evocatively, and entertainingly about a subject that is notoriously difficult to get your hands around. I'm anxiously awaiting my copy.)

I've been through my Decadent phase. I went down the perfume rabbit hole several years ago and wallowed there for some time in resplendent scented gluttony.

This is my readily-apparent perfume collection, the bit that sits on the top of my dresser. Not actually all that impressive. This is because light, as any perfumista worth her decants knows, is perfume's greatest enemy. And so, the real action of my collection takes place IN the dresser:

This is what lurks in the top drawer, hidden away from the perfume-murdering sunlight. I know that for most people this looks like a LOT of fragrance, but I assure you: my collection pales and quails in comparison to many others I know of. Seriously, I'm strictly small potatoes.

Decadence was wonderful, but at some point I did pass into Stage Six, where I have been content -- even happy -- with the fragrances currently in my collection. Lately, however, I've had the itch again. If you are not a Frag Hag like me, it is hard to describe the small, delicious thrill to be had by looking at a few sample vials of new things to smell. It's even harder to describe the big, falling-in-love thrill of discovering something that rocks your olfactory world. I have smelled a fair few perfumes by this point, and while I often run across things that I think are really great and that I would love to wear, it isn't often that I bump into something that has the potential to de-throne one of my Top Three. (Perfumistas are big with the list-making and ranking.) But last week I dug into a pile of samples and pulled out one I've had for a bit: Parfums MDCI Enlèvement au Sérail by Francis Kurkdjian. (Perfumistas also like to credit the creators of a fragrance if they know him or her. It's not just pomposity -- perfumers often have a recognizable signature style, like great musicians, and knowing who made a perfume can tell you a lot about how it's going to smell.)

I went slightly weak in the knees as I sniffed this stuff. Good googly-moogly, what a beautiful thing. Eye-rollingly, jaw-droppingly, dizzyingly beautiful.

Let me just say here that Style Spy likes a Big Perfume. The things I really go for tend to be enormous stonking door-openers, fragrances that pounce on you and won't take no for an answer. I have loved & appreciated many lighter, more transparent fragrances, and even have several in my regular rotation that are very dear to my heart, but when asked to do a Top 3 or Top 5 list, they're all going to be monsters. It's just my thing, and probably surprises no one who knows me. Enlèvement au Sérail is what I would classify as a floral chypre. It is a Grown-Up Lady, perfume-y perfume. It is a fragrance in the grand manner, and makes no apologies. If you are one of those timid souls who says things like, "Oh, I just want to smell clean," this stuff is not for you. Which is great. More for me.

Chypres are misunderstood creatures, and other people can do a better job of explaining them than I do. (Read Vika's article on Bois de Jasmin here, and helg's on Perfume Shrine here.) The Mother of All Chypres is, of course, Mitsouko by Guerlain. (Actually, the real mother of all chypres is Francois Coty's Chypre, the originator of the species in 1917; but since it's extinct now, Mitsouko is our yardstick.) Mitsouko is one of the Olympians of perfume -- it & Chanel No. 5 function in sort of the same way that the Beatles and the Stones do in rock & roll -- the question of which is greater is sort of a litmus test of personal taste, but they are inarguably the most important things going. Suffice to say that I have yet to see a Ten Best, All-Time Greats list from any perfume critic with any claim to legitimacy without both of them on there, and there's better-than-even odds one of them will be in the top slot. Mitsouko is not just a perfume, it's a rite of passage for a perfumista. Appreciating Mitsouko means you've probably reached a certain level of sophistication in your sniffing. Notice I did not say, "liking Mitsouko." Nor do I mean to imply that it doesn't smell good, because it sure as hell does. But not everyone can wear it. It is notoriously difficult.

And here is where I commit a bit of Perfume Heresy: Enlèvement au Sérail is what I always wanted Mitsouko to be but never was. Mitsouko has always been Just Not Quite for me - something too stern in it kept me from loving it thoroughly, though I admired it. But every time I wore Mitsouko it was a hundred repetitions of me catching a whiff of myself and then being ever-so-slightly disappointed. As we all know, there's only so many times one can go through that before she finally gives it up. To quote my darling mother (although in a radically different context), "You do what you do until you can't do it anymore, and then you stop." That pile of tiny disappointments finally stacked up to the point where the scales tipped, and I stopped wearing Mitsouko. I have never stopped admiring it, and I believe - I know - it to be one of the greatest fragrances ever composed (without going into how much of its soul is left after a century of reformulations). It's just not for me. In Perfume World, Mitsouko is often referred to as "she," as though this fragrance were a living thing, and a lot of jokes are made among perfumistas about her persnickety nature and how she either loves you or hates you. But Mitsi never seemed to feel very strongly about me one way or the other. What it felt more like was that each time she met me, she was sort of mildly interested in me, enough to spend a short time getting to know me, but invariably I would say or do something that disappointed or annoyed her and she would drift off to talk to someone else at the party who was more worth her time, someone cleverer or more sophisticated or exciting. I was left standing there all alone, holding my drink, blaming myself more than her.

Enlèvement au Sérail, on the other hand, really, really likes me. Loooooves me. We spent the day in a fascinating conversation that ended in a warm embrace the like of which I have not received from a perfume in a long time. Most perfumes are built to have three more or less distinct phases: top notes (which are the bits you smell immediately after you spritz), heart notes (which are the bits that reveal themselves after the fragrance sits on your skin for a time), and base notes (which is usually the longest phase and the one with the most depth). This is true of the vast majority of fragrances, even skanky cheap ones, but there are exceptions -- see: Bulgari Black. If you're lucky, you will like all three segments of a fragrance and if you are really lucky, you will like them more & more as they progress. The beginning of Enlèvement au Sérail, with its juicy bergamot (one of my favorite notes) is arresting, the jasmine-rose heart of it is swooning, but it was the gorgeous, deep, plush, delirious, better-with-every-passing-moment woody-chypre bottom of the thing that really sealed the deal for me. Love. Utter, utter love. (For a better idea of how the stuff actually smells, read carmencanada's review on Grain de Musc here. Or, of course, Luca's review in The Guide.)

And as it stands now, unrequited love. Because if you click on the photo of the gorgeous bottle above, you will find out that this is going to be a very expensive love affair, one that I cannot continue in any real way for a bit if I want to do things like... ohhhhh, feed myself. (Right this moment I'm really, really bitter about the money I had to spend on new tires this weekend. Yeah, sure tires are important, blah blah automotive deathtrap fishcakes blah, but dear god, you should smell this stuff!!!!) So right now I am mining all my resources to come up with a decant of it to swap for or purchase, and officially Saving Up for a bottle. It has seriously bumped several other hoped-for purchases way down the ladder -- I'm going to be mooning like a Twilight-besotted teenager until I get some more of it.

Photos: Style Spy,

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Four Eyes

Yours truly is a near-sighted Style Spy. (I can only spy what's very nearby, unless I'm wearing glasses or contacts.) I've been wearing corrective lenses since I was twelve years old. I came by it honestly -- both my parents were four-eyes, it was only a matter of time for me. I remember the first time I actually put on my glasses -- it was so wonderful to be able to see that I've never felt in the least resentful about them. Given that I've gotten increasingly near-sighted with time, I'm downright enamored of my eyewear these days. Thank god I wasn't born two or three centuries ago, or worse yet, two or three millenia. I would have totally been saber-toothed tiger lunch. I literally cannot see my hand at the end of my arm without my glasses on. (Okay, I can see it. I just can't count the fingers.) And no. I'm never going to have the Lasix thing. Because it's a laser. ON MY EYES. No, thank you. Plus, I'm already storming down the middle-aged hill toward bi-focals (there are readers scattered all over the house these days), so really, what's the point? I'd still need glasses half the time.

So I don't mind needing my glasses & lenses, and I don't even mind wearing them. (All this bitching & moaning about not being able to see the moment your eyes pop open in the morning bewilders me -- what's so great about being able to see before you've had coffee? And gee, does that reach over to the nightstand to pick up your glasses and put them on your head really interfere that much with the beginning of your day? 'Cause if it does, you need to roll back over -- you're obviously not getting enough sleep.) What I do mind? Is PAYING for them. Good googly-moogly, glasses are expensive!! The last pair I bought was at least five years ago and I got them at one of the mall places and I waited until they were having a half-price special and they were STILL about 200 bucks. I don't know anyone lately who's gotten out of an optician's office for less than $400 -- I have a friend who just got progressive bifocals and just his lenses were over $500! It's insane! I have literally thousands of small plastic items in my home that cost pennies to produce -- you cannot make me believe that my eyeglass frames are really worth $250. And contacts -- sheesh, I pay almost $30 a box at my optometrist's for a box of 6 lenses. (And I have a different prescription in each eye, so it adds up quickly, let me tell you.) They are little blobs of mostly water and some sort of polymer and they've been mass producing these things for how many years now? And they still want nearly 5 bucks a piece for them? Ya know -- I may not see so good, but my sniffer works juuuuust fine and that? Smells like a rip-off to me.

So a few weeks ago I was at a party and someone complimented a friend on her nifty eyeglasses and she told us something that got me aaaaaall excited. She got her eyeglasses online, and they were cheap. Not kinda cheap for glasses -- seriously cheap. Way less than I'd pay for dinner on an average Saturday night. And they were so cool! Apparently, a lot of people feel the way I do about spending so much money for their glasses, and there are several many discount eyeglass sites on the ol' Series of Tubes.

Hot damn.

My friend recommended a site called Zenni Optical, and so I hot-footed it (hot-laptopped, really) over there as soon as I could. There was a bit of a delay because when I dug out my prescription I found that it did not have my pupillary distance on it, which you need to order glasses. (I solved this problem by asking the nice lady at the optical desk at Costco -- where, by the way, I'm now buying my contact lenses for about 6 bucks a box less than at my optometrist -- and she held a little thingamajig that looked like a Viewmaster up to my eyes and pushed a button and then wrote it down for me.) No kidding, friends, they have glasses on this website that start at EIGHT DOLLARS A PAIR. And yes, that is WITH lenses. Prescription lenses. I bought two pairs of glasses for just over $24, which included shipping. It took a bit less than three weeks for them to arrive, but arrive they did, in nice little hard-shell cases wrapped with dustcloths.

I got a pair of metallic purple wire rims:

and a pair of BRIGHT red plastic frames, just for fun.

See, these are the kind of glasses I'd love to have but never do -- BECAUSE THEY'RE SO DINGDONGED EXPENSIVE.

Now. These are not brilliant, high-quality glasses. Actually, the wire rims are pretty nice -- they feel pretty sturdy and have good springy-ness in the hinges. The red plastic ones have a heft that's roughly equal to a Scotch tape dispenser, but for eight bucks I'm really okay with that. The prescriptions are right -- I have no trouble seeing out of these glasses, they do not give me a headache or any other problems. And they're fun! Here -- see what you think:

The purple ones are better for wearing. The bridge of my nose is extremely narrow, so glasses with an adjustable nose piece are a good idea for me. Plus, these are just a little larger, so they give me better peripheral vision. That lack of peripheral vision is one reason I almost never leave the house in glasses -- I wear my contacts outside the house and my glasses in.

I also tend to like wire frames because they "disappear" more from my field of vision -- I don't notice them as much.

Unlike these bad boys:

(It's not the glasses that are crooked -- it's me.)

which are very present. It takes me a bit after I put them on to stop noticing the frames at the edges of my sightline. I also think I might need to get some of those foam pads to prop them up a little, they tend to slide down my needle-nose.

But they're fun, aren't they? Again -- this particular pair aren't what you'd call sturdy. But ya know -- I'm not eight years old, I'm hardly ever on a trampoline, I put them on once and take them off once and that's it. I don't need titanium-reinforced, gale-force-wind-withstanding, crush-proof, survive-a-nuclear-blast glasses. I just need something to put in front of my eyes so I can see my television. They have more expensive frames on offer on this site and when the novelty of these has worn off I'll probably get some, but for the first run I went with cheap; and it was the best 24 dollars I've spent in a long little while.

I will also offer the caveat that my prescription is pretty straightforward -- single-vision lenses with one correction. (I'm very near-sighted, but I'm only near-sighted. No astigmatism or anything else.) I cannot speak to how well they'd handle anything more complicated than this. But, hey -- for the price it's really worth a try. I know my mom is planning to give them a whirl, and she's got a much more complicated scrip, so we'll see how that goes. It is a bit weird and risky-feeling to order glasses without trying them on, but they have very good photos of the frames, and very thorough measurements. I measured the glasses I already had and then went with frames that had similar numbers, and it worked pretty well, as you can see. I'm sure every optician in America will disagree with me on this, but I really feel okay about them. I need to get the earpieces on the purple ones adjusted a bit because they squeeze my head more than I'd like, but I'm thinking the nice lady at Costco is going to help me out with that the next time I go there to buy 17 pounds of coffee, enough toilet paper to make a bed out of, and sweet bell peppers by the bushel. (Costco cracks me up. I love it, but it cracks me up.)

So has anyone else tried one of these discount sites? If so, how was your experience?

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Get Lucky

It's Friday the 13th, a day that holds no fear for yours truly because she was born on a Friday the 13th. But some folks tremble in their boots. I know how to turn this around and make Friday the 13th a Day of Joy: Shopping! Bargains!! Stuff on sale!!!


Adorable classic sweater from Sonia Rykiel with one little pink stripe to keep things interesting. Love this.

Women: Sheath knit dress - Black

Terrifically useful LBD. Also comes in Petites.


Perfect pink patent peep-toes from Pierre. Hot-cha!

Women: Heritage cargo pant - True navy

I'm still into my long, slouchy Parisienne thing and I'm really loving these.

Women: Leather foldover belt - Black

No kidding, just yesterday I was grumbling to myself that I need a big black belt to sit low on my hips (see above re: slouchy Parisienne thing) and today, voila! This appears. I just ordered it.

Women's shoes & accessories: Arturo Chiang Desiree - Black
That is some nifty hardware on those shoes. The black ones are in very limited sizes, but they are also available in grey. Great deal on these, too.

Perfect, go-to, omg-I've-just-been-invited-to-a-swanky-holiday-party-and-I-have-no-idea-what-to-wear solution:

Van Gogh Romper

BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH!!!!!!! No, just kidding, really!! HAH! (::wipes tears of laughter from corners of eyes::) Oooooh, that's a good one!

Rachel Pally Artemis Dress

How about this one instead? Oh, my goodness, that's pretty. And jersey! Which I love!

Are you a bag person? I'm not usually huge for the bags, but this?

Twelfth St. by Cynthia Vincent Snake Coltrane Bag

Is super-cool.

There's lots & lots of good sale stuff out there -- go and create some luck of your own!!

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

This Hurts... feelings, my head, my soul -- my entire existence is pained by this.

It's made of NFL football jerseys. Used ones. Oooooh, good googly-moogly. I have to go lie down now.

Go here for the story. I can't talk about it anymore.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Backup

Reader Sara alerted me to the fact that the link in last week's post for the Free People Ruffled Jacket wasnt working, so I checked it out. Turns out Piperlime was sold out of them. (I hope it was my readers who got 'em all!) So I did a little research and found a couple more places where you can get it, if you fell hard for this jacket like I did. Click on the photos for links.

Free People - Military Ruffle Jacket (Black) - Apparel

It's still available in black in a couple of places.

Free People Military Ruffle Jacket f549k304

(This is black, it's just a bad photo.)

But, interestingly, I also found it in a lovely deep red color

Free People Military Ruffle Jacket - Burgundy f549k304b

and, even prettier, winter white:

Free People - Military Ruffle Jacket (Ivory) - Apparel

Oh, I love that.

Then I decided to post a few more jackets, just because there are so many great ones out there. All of these strike me as the sort of thing you might like if you like the ruffled one above. Tell me what you think.


This is Dolce & Gabbana. It's fairly spendy, but it is on sale.

This is Givenchy.


It is not on sale. Still -- very cool denim jacket.

This is wonderful:

LOVE! Twill jacket with taffeta collar!! Also -- great price!!

This is from Love Moschino, which is a line the company has launched that's supposed to be more affordable. And the prices do look a little more in line with what I think of as reasonable. (The name "Cheap & Chic" has always pissed me off a bit.) This jacket is available in black, but I love this fuchsia. Delicious little thing.

Also Love Moschino. Another fantastic jacket -- it's a heavy knit. You should click on this link so you can look at the detailing and the back, it's really wonderful.

Betsey Johnson - Show Black Denim Jacket (Black) - Apparel

No ruffles on this one, but it has that quasi-military quality that I like so much. I think this is a great way to do this military trend and still get a jacket that you're going to be able to wear for several seasons -- it's not so extreme that you won't be able to pull it back out next spring without feeling embarrassed about it.

It's the sleeves here, of course. I adore this -- so soft and feminine and yet still with a great shape. I would live in this jacket.

Women's shoes & accessories: Rebecca Taylor Make Me Skinny Jacket - Charcoal

Perfect with a pencil skirt and pumps.

Miu Miu. Very wonderful.

Jil Sander. This makes me a little dizzy...

YSL. This makes me VERY dizzy.

I could easily have spent another hour looking at jackets online, but I had to get to bed. Here's hoping something in this lineup tickles your fancy. Tell me which ones you like best!

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