Heart notes about perfume from @rachsyme and @helfitzgerald.


It’s that time of year again!
This December, The Dry Down officially turns two years old (how time flies!) and we are so grateful for those of you who have stuck with this letter and have continued to read, and comment, and participate in the Slack, and have made this into such a vibrant community and a merry and bright spot on the Internet for us (in a time when so many parts of the Internet are terrible). This year, the Dry Down moved to Substack, and while that’s been an adventure on its own, we are so glad for those of you who subscribe and support us (and you still can; yearly subscriptions end at the end of this year, so if you want one of those you must subscribe before January, otherwise monthlies will still be available in 2019). You really have made it possible for this letter to continue, so thank you again. And if you subscribed to the yearly option and are still waiting on your personalized Perfume Genie survey, we are churning through the last of them this month, so be on the lookout (and please, email us at thedrydownletter@gmail.com if you have any questions or if you did not receive the survey form). Also, if you’re not in the Slack, join the Slack! It’s a fun time.
Last thing before we get into the guide this year (we have 4 picks each for you below) — we wanted to repeat our note last year about how to find samples. We know a lot of you use these guides to find new things you might want to try out for yourself, and we want to make it easy and affordable for you to do that. If we get one question most often at DDHQ, it is about how we manage to smell so many perfumes. The answer is easy: we sample like fiends. We do know a lot of you know about sampling and its joys, but some of you don’t! So, for the briefest possible roundup: here are some tips. You can get a lot of niche samples from trusty fragrance boutiques with online shops, like LuckyScent, Twisted Lily, Aedes, Indie Scents, Arielle Shoshana, Indigo, and others. For older, vintage perfumes or designer brands, you can try the decanting shops, like Surrender to Chance or Perfumed Court, which are almost always having flash sales and curating starter packs from every era. Also, you can usually find a little dram of what you want on Ebay (authenticity is a risk; but we have both found treasures there). There are also a lot of sample swapping communities on Facebook, Basenotes, and Fragrantica, where people are flinging decants back and forth across the world like perfume pen pals. The Dry Down Slack also has a swaps channel you can check out. Another hot tip: If you go into a Sephora, you can ask for two free samples of anything, always. And lastly, and this one is important: you can usually always buy samples of scents from the perfumers directly, especially with indie brands (you may have to pay a small fee, but never too much). Go to the website, grab a contact email, and ask around. Perfumers are generally thrilled to get these requests and get their work into your nose. Now, go forth (by which we mean, please don’t blame us when little glass tubes start spilling out of every pocket). And happy holidays!

Functional Fragrance, The Nue Co.: For that person who really has their shit together (or your friend who deserves to feel like they do)

The Nue Co. isn’t a fragrance line exactly, but rather a company jumping on the current trend for aesthetically pleasing health supplements. Their functional fragrance is their only perfume, and it is meant to slot into a line of wellness goods that includes probiotics, energy supplements, and sleep aids. The ad copy claims that this perfume is a de-stressing tool - the “function” in its name is that it, supposedly, brings clarity, calm, and focus. It is “designed to help you reset at times of high stress.”

As you can maybe tell, I’m not a great believer in wellness products. The functional side of this scent might work as well as it claims, or it might not, who knows. What I do know is it that it smells great, and great in a very specific way that speaks to a particular longing in me, one I suspect might be shared by at least a few others: Functional Fragrance smells like a high-end beauty store. It smells like standing in the middle of an Aesop, or Le Labo, or Fresh store and thinking that you and your own home could never smell this clean, this intentional, this perfectly put together. None of the individual fragrances at those stores ever quite smell like the interior of the store does, but somehow Functional Fragrance’s combination of green cardamom, violet, cedarwood, and- perhaps most crucially - very scrubbed-clean palo santo smells exactly like that kind of store. It’s the scent of having everything perfectly organized, matching your toenails to your scarf to your handbag, the smell of knowing what’s coming next without having to think about it. It’s the scent of a room with blond wood accents and tastefully chosen, well-kept indoor plants. It’s how you think sometimes, what if you threw all your clothes away and just bought six pieces that all matched each other and all really worked. If never being late to anything had a scent, it would smell like this. Buy it for the person you know who most has their shit together, or for the friend who most deserves to feel like they do, who quietly works hardest to hold all the edges in place. - HF

Empress of Fashion, Diana Vreeland: For the Person Who Deserves A Treat

It is important to note that Diana Vreeland, the kooky, exacting late editrix of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazines who is now something of a slight folk hero to women who fancy themselves eccentrics in training, had nothing to do with the line of perfumes in her name. She died in 1989, which will be three decades ago next year, and her perfume line launched in 2014; so really it’s an homage collection, for which her grandson contracts top perfumers to make exuberant floral concoctions after her image, like one of those tribute concerts at Carnegie Hall where a bunch of musicians from various genres get together to cover the discography of the dead. In this case, what the perfumers are conjuring is some of her more sumptuous language, as most of the scents are named for the types of phrases she used often, like “Devastatingly Chic” and “Simply Divine.” Diana Vreeland loved adverbs almost as much as she loved jaunty cloche hats and the color red, which is to say to an extreme degree. It seems that being around her might have been like being around an older, slightly deranged Eloise, which probably was in practice exhausting but is fully enchanting from a distance. She represents the sort of aggressive glamorama weirdness you want to spritz on your body, so I see why her perfume has done so well that it has its own counter at Bergdorfs. I always think about a quote from The Eye Has to Travel, the documentary about her life, in which an interviewer asks her for her fashion icons, and she does not name a person but instead says she looks to horses, because they have “a little extra pizzazz.” It takes a very unique mind to run Vogue and still think horses have more style in their little hoof than any living person; but that’s why she’s passed into legend.

The Dry Down Six: Amber and Incense

Welcome to another installment of The Six, in which we each (Rachel and Helena) recommend three fragrances loosely connected by a theme. This week, we were feeling wintery, and so decided to dig into amber and incense perfumes. Amber is an elusive ingredient, in that it smells like vanilla sometimes and like charred barbecue at others, and it has become a diffuse buzzword in the industry when perfumers want to market their scents as rich and opulent without ever really saying what they actually smell like. But pure amber -- melted down petrified tree sap, basically -- is intoxicating, and that’s why it appears so often as the base in compositions. It is like a pool of honey that other ingredients cling to, and in doing so, offer up their best selves to the sticky embrace. Incense, on the other hand, is a sharp note, herbaceous and pungent. It smells like the holidays, like sitting in Sunday Mass, like ancient churches. But it can also be refreshing and bewitching and sexy in its own right without always smelling like a baptism. So, join us as we dive into these two notes and explore why we keep reaching for them when it turns cold.

Ambra Aurea, Profumum Roma - RS

To begin with, a confession: for most of my life, my reference point for amber was Jurassic Park. All I knew about the hardened tree resin (which is all that amber, the rock, is; it’s just pine sap, dried out and fossilized over many millions of years) was that in the Triassic period some (fictional) mosquitos carrying Brontosaurus blood in their bellies flew into some sticky pitch of the extinct Pinus succinifera tree (or some other ancient conifer) and got stuck there, and bingo: Dino DNA. Laura Dern seemed very interested in this magical yellow rock that contained the traces of our primordial past when humans were still made of diffuse star stuff, and so of course I had to have it too. Every time my school would go on a field trip to the Natural History Museum (which you do often if you grow up in the American Southwest, a rich area for digging up trilobites and other paleozoic oddities) I would score a little hunk from the gift shop. If I got really lucky, I got a nugget with a bit of insect remnants inside -- the tiniest filament of a wing, or a single antenna. I remember in middle school I wore a hippie-ish amber amulet on a silver chain, which I often held up to the light in class when I was bored and which I considered to the be height of fashion at the time (did I mention I am from the desert?).

I had no idea as a child that what I considered essentially a novelty gemstone -- and an affordable one at that, as anyone who has set out planning to buy their mother diamond earrings and ended up with rustic amber studs can attest -- had a history --  not quite stretching back to the dinosaurs, but certainly almost to the beginning of recorded mythology. The Greeks believed that amber was the product of extreme grief. As the story goes, the Heliades (aka the “children of the Sun” or the seven nymph daughters of Helios and Clymene) watched one day as their boastful, beloved brother Phaethon flew a horse-drawn chariot into the sun in order to prove once and for all to his naysaying friends that he was Helios’ son (almost all Greek myths are dripping with daddy issues). The flight did not go well. The horses spooked, the Earth froze to ice, the chariot burned up. In order to stave off an even bigger celestial disaster, Zeus struck Phaethon down from the sky with a lightning bolt, sort of like cutting off a gangrenous leg to save a life. But the Heliades didn’t see Phaethon as an expendable limb. They wept for his hubris, and for his charred heart, and for all the days he would never get to see. They cried and cried, keeping vigil over the place where his body fell, sob sisters making an endless show of their pain. At some point, the gods could no longer stand the whimpering; maybe the noise was keeping them up at night, maybe it was making them feel guilty for murdering a youth in his prime. In any case, they shut the sisters up by turning them into trees, and their tears calcified into amber droplets.

Today, amber is found everywhere, spread out among the continents. There’s Baltic amber, which is golden and clear, like fine honeycomb. There’s Mexican amber, which is cloudier and more streaky. There’s translucent African amber, and deep brown Chinese amber, and blood red amber from Sicily. It is almost as if the sisters’ tears formed oceans, and the seas carried their hardened sadness to every corner of the earth.

This type of amber, the golden solidified tree tears, is not actually a perfume ingredient. The category of perfumes known as “ambers” are really rich mixtures of labdanum, benzoin, vanilla, and any other semi-sweet rich ingredient that makes a scent smell like a home being staged for sale, like those big 8-wick candles at Pottery Barn that you never buy because they belong to a different kind of life.

This perfume claims to contain “grey amber absolute,” which might mean ambergris and it might mean nothing. But it smells like a face frozen while weeping; like longterm melancholy, like a deep, dark well. It’s a haunted amber, an amber that has flown too close to the sun and returned smoky and singed and gasping. It’s sensual, in the way that a really good cry is sensual, that cleansing cathartic wail that comes from the core.

Amber Teutonic, D.S. & Durga -  HF

I often put on Mahler, the Second symphony in particular, when I have to do a lot of writing in a short period of time, or when I’m writing something new and overreaching that I’m not very sure of yet. This piece of music is useful for this type of writing because of the wild builds and frenzies in it, the kind of thing that sneaks up on me and then takes over. I can't type fast enough to keep up with it and therefore I can’t stop to think of what might be wrong with what I’m saying. It overwhelms the doubts, the know-better impulses that if they could would talk me out of ever writing anything. I stop thinking about what I shouldn’t say; ideally I stop thinking of myself at all. The music crashes in, huge, ridiculous, and obliterating, the cold-air rush of abandoning oneself, of giving one’s ego over to something faceless, larger than the small worries of praise or failure, manners or logic.

This sort of unchecked wildness, this relief of surrender to the uncaring elements, may have been what Mahler was after when he retreated to a small hut in the Tyrolean mountains, behind which a towering rock-face soars into steel-colored air. He composed his Second symphony and much of his Third here. What comes through most strongly to me in each of those is the deep thrill of seeking out that which is most frightening, hoping that that fear, like an electric shock or a plunge into cold water, might jolt one awake again, up out of the self and the ego, errands and daily life, into something grander beyond. It is the sound of wanting what is dangerous and uncaring, the desire to be crushed by some greater force, swept away into oblivion. I imagine Mahler walking outside and looking up at that mountain with the sick, heart-racing image of that the towering cliff collapsing, wiping away the house and the body beneath it, as though they had never been there. The music is wild with the hope of that obliteration, that grand nothingness.

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