Monday, May 24, 2010

marc jacobs splash cucumber review

Before I dig into this post, a quick reminder that my book and fragrance drawing and giveaway is still in full swing. don’t forget to enter your name here if you are interested!

cucumber This review is probably about 5 years behind the times. Remember when cucumber notes were all the rage, in dish soaps, detergents, shampoos, and perfumes? It was a puzzling phenomenon then and I still don't understand it now. I remember one time I was cleaning up the kitchen and I reached for what looked like an ordinary, slightly old cucumber sitting on the counter, and, as I picked it up, I discovered to my great disgust that it was not solid at all. It had liquefied entirely inside—it was like those fairy tales where the heroine reaches for a perfect fruit from a magic tree, takes one bite, and discovers that it is crawling with maggots. It was disgusting, and the most disgusting part about it was that it smelled almost exactly like the standard-issue cucumber note that was all the rage at the time. This is the problem, I suppose, with the whole phenomenon; the cucumber notes were too big—too round, and didn’t smell like fresh cucumbers at all. They smelled, I realized, like rotten cucumbers, a category of vegetable I hope never to encounter again. Although I had been sitting on the fence about my attitude towards the cucumber-smelly fad, this event pushed me right off of it into the field of cucumber scent haters. And that is too bad, because I love cucumbers as a vegetables (well, I guess they are technically fruits, but whatever.)

All this is a long preamble to my review of Marc Jacobs Splash in the cucumber limited edition, something I avoided for years because I was not happy about the rotting cucumber-smell phenomenon. The cool thing about this EDT—I discovered today-- is that it doesn’t really project too much cucumber, and certainly not that odd synthetic rotting corpse of a cucumber I have come to know far too intimately. It’s rather more about fresh watery notes of all kinds—water lily, lotus, very light-scented woods as a base, and, yes, cucumber, but a well-behaved one that really doesn’t stick around too long, but happily moves out of the way so the other notes can swim about. And these watery lily notes are very nice, mermaidlike, and shimmering, and they do stay around for a few hours at least. It is fresh, cool, and very nice for hot humid days like today.


Plus, it goes really well with drinks out on the patio, especially gin-based ones like the one I am enjoying right now. I am pleased I bought this on a whim, for now I have something sort of light and foodie for sociable hot afternoons just like this one. I intend to keep it in the fridge, since it is light enough to be used as a cool refreshing splash. All in all, very pleasant, and a very good deal as well!

UPDATE (June 25):

I was wrong, oh so wrong about this fragrance in my review. After a few hours, a synthetic cucumber returns with a vengeance, and hangs around with nauseationg tenacity all evening. I wishe I could run away from my own skin for a while, which is NOT a comfortable feeling. This is what I get for breaking my rule of try three times always before reviewing. Shame on me. I am sorry to say I no longer appreciate any cucumber scent!


cuke image: Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. digital image courtesy of wikimedia commons

mermaid print image: Von dem Meerfröuwlin, picture of a double tailed Mermaid in Gaius Plinius Secundus (dt. Plinius der Ältere) book: Naturalis historia, German edition, Frankfurt 1565, page 309? digital image courtesy of wikimedia commons



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book and fragrance giveaway: Rebecca

Many authors use perebeccarfume as a novelistic shorthand for memories awakened in complete recall. A character smells something and it awakens deep memories, or takes him back in time. In Daphne du Maurier’s neo-gothic romance Rebecca, this motif takes a sinister turn. A youung girl marries a widower with an obscure, tragic past and moves to his ancestral estate . She soon discovers that the place is haunted by the presence of the memory of the previous wife, Rebecca. 

This ‘haunting’ is mostly expressed through smell and fragrance. Azaleas, overpowering, overfeminine, unnaturally-abundant blooms which choke the manor of Manderley, become a symbol of the dead wife’s overpowering femininity. Rebecca even wore a perfume which smelled of azaleas. The hapless new wife discovers traces of perfume on Rebecca’s clothes, which have turned musty with age, she experiences the oppression of the obscure yet present past in the form  a choking fog that blights the landscape at the moment of crisis in the book and functions as an anesthetic for the heroine’s pain, and breathes in the must of long-evaporated cologne on all sorts of things around the house. Du Maurier uses all of the scented moments to intensify the miasma of the haunting presence of the dead first wife of the brooding hero Maxim. I can say no more about the plot of the book, because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will include some moments of fragrant realization from within its pages. The word scent is used at least 22 times throughout the book, so I chose some of the most evocative.

 daphne du maurier
First, when throwing on an old mackintosh to go on a walk, the heroin (00ps, heroine! ) pulls out a discarded handkerchief from the pocket and smells it—it belonged to Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca: “I noticed that a dull scent clung about it still. A scent I  recognized, a scent I knew. I shut my eyes and tried to remember. It was something elusive, something faint and fragrant that I could not name. I had breathed it before, touched it surely, that very afternoon. And then I knew that the vanished scent on the handkerchief was the same as the crushed white petals of the azaleas in the Happy Valley” (118).

Another item of clothing left behind by the departed Rebecca is a lovely apricot nightdress, which  is bearing the scent of azaleas as well, but it has grown musty with age (foreshadowing, anyone) “there was a dim mustiness about it where the scent had been”(166).

When imagining the considerable elegance and charm of her dead rival, the heroine jealously imagines her dancing at a ball: “when she danced [she] left a stab of perfume in the air like a white azalea” I love the idea of a stab of fragrance. Sometimes it can be lethal, monstrous, overpowering like that.

And then the famous lines about memory and fragrance. The heroine exclaims: "If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again."

I’m gonna stop there, so as not to give any of the plot twists away, but please take my word for it; if you are interested in the psychology of fragrance, you should read this thriller.

One note: I didn’t know azaleas had a smell; I guess the ones I have been around have had all the fragrance bred out of them. But I looked up azaleas in Basenotes’ directory, and sure enough, some perfumes contain the note.

That brings me to my giveaway drawing. I am going to give the winner of this drawing my copy of Rebecca and a few samples of floral fragrances that could potentially ‘stab’ the air, on  the right wearer, that is…. As I mentioned before in my previous drawing for rose scents, I really want to get some more regular followers (I am writing this blog for my own benefit, but I wouldn’t mind having some friends to converse with as well) so please, get my rss feed, become a facebook networked blog follower, add me as a blogger friend, or subscribe to my blog in any other form you please, then post a comment below letting me know you are interested in winning a copy of Rebecca and some lethal floral perfume decants as well as  following Hortus conclusus. (if you already subscribed somehow before, I know you, so you don’t need to tell me.) When I post my 115th posting (in about a week, I imagine) I will announce the winner of the draw!

one quick note: my accidental misspelling of ‘heroine’ as ‘heroin’ reminds me of my mishearing of ‘heroin’ for ‘heroine’ in one of my favorite Bowie songs,

“The Secret Life of Arabia”:

“I walk through the desert sand when the heroine/heroin dies…” Which does he mean? I imagine the ambiguity was intentional.. I mean, it’s Bowie, for God’s sake!

That was a tangent!

Hitchcock movie still from
azalea forest from
image of young du Maurier courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rebecca (Penguin Modern Classics) Rebecca 

Is that really what Malle meant? Allure article irritations.

gardenia SO, I was bumming around in Barnes and Noble last night waiting for my husband’s history class to come back from a 4-day tour of Civil War battlefields so we could get in the car and drive back home to be together for the first time in a little under two weeks, and I came upon an article in the June issue of Allure that irritated me a little—ok, a lot! (that was way too long a sentence, I know) In this brief article, the journalist writes [and I respond in parentheses]:

At what point did we start wanting our perfume to conjure a poisonously scheming man-eater or an underwear-clad model? [um, what? Haven’t perfumes always had something to do with sex, or at least with ‘allure’?] Apparently, perfumers have been asking themselves the same questions, [have they now…?] because this summer heralds the return of the pure floral scent [has it ever been away?]. “These florals smell like nature, like a natural flower,” explains perfumer Frédéric Malle [in the first sentence that actually means anything in this article]. "They convey a kind of organic simplicity” (p. 129, June 2010 issue)

The journalist then goes on to recommend that women who like simple scents should go for lighter soliflores, while “those who like richer fragrances” should consider tuberose or gardenia. BORING.

This makes me a little angry. I mean, mainstream perfume has been moving away from complexity and ‘dangerous’ smells for almost two decades now. This is not some major ‘turn’ in the industry—people have been wanting to smell like flowers and nothing else (well, with a little candy sweetness thrown in) for way too long now. I take exception with the journalist’s attitude about perfume in general, and I feel she may have twisted Malle’s words to make them fit into her own slant on perfumes as something monstrous, decadent, and ‘untrue to nature.’ Well, damn it, of course perfumes are not true to nature—we wouldn’t want them to be in most cases! They are works of art, expressions of something other than just ‘holding a mirror up to nature’. Organic is all well and good, but….aw, I don’t know. What do you all think?


gardenia pic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



If you liked this post, I would be very grateful if you would consider joining my blog,  through RSS feed, email, Facebook networked blogs, google friendconnect, or any other way that appeals to you. I also always love getting comments!


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