Thursday, April 8, 2010

House of Chanel

No. 5" **
"Coco" ****
"No. 19" **
"No. 22" *
"Chance" *
"Mademoiselle" *
"Cristalle" *
"Cuir de Russie" ***
What can you say about the guilty pleasures from when you were a kid? The ones you treasured and obsessed over, like a pet bug kept in a jelly jar? Do they shape you, bend you, warp you forever?

My mom was a bit of a hippie—no use for processed foods or junk tv, which only made my kid brother and me want them all the more. I spent half my waking childhood hours trying to get my hands on candy.

And all of the silly “cop” shows of the 70’s and early 80’s? Streets of San Francisco, Starsky and Hutch, Cagney & Lacey, Magnum P.I. There was only one word to describe them: ~~*~Heaven~*~~. (Now I don’t eat sugar, and can’t stand police procedurals—not even Law & Order, which is ostensibly smart and well-made.)

Oh, but then there was the jiggle cop show, the one that launched a whole sub-genre of beautiful buxom girls with guns, gave us Barbed Wire and Laura Croft, and the whole rest of the silly lot.

Let me just say right now, that I LOVED Charlie’s Angels when I was a kid. It came on in 1976—I was eight—a formative age if there ever were one. But I loved it from afar, from a distance, because, and I don’t exaggerate when I say this, I never saw a single episode. Never caught it at a friend’s house, never managed to pull a scam to get a babysitter to let us watch it. When I was finally old enough to have a tv, Charlie’s Angels were loooooong gone.

But somehow, I knew all about it. I knew the theme song, with all the poses and the kick-ass explosions; I knew John Forsythe's voice (May he forever rest in peace in Charlie's Heaven); I knew every Angel and their names throughout the seasons. Angels for a time there were just in the air everywhere you looked. Other kids at school had Angel notebooks and lunchboxes—with no thought at all to ever being cool, I would just stare. I studied the ad promos the way a rabbi studies the Talmud, searching for signs of my own impending crime-fighting girl-power bad-assitude. Bell bottoms, big hair--This was going to be my life, people! Putting away the bad guys with my sassy gal-pack, and looking *fabulous* while we were at it!

Ok. And looking back on it, as I sit here and type this, I realize my real life turned out almost exactly kinda that way, but without the bell-bottoms and the big hair. But that’s a story for another day.

So it goes without saying that I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Angels, but when I say that, I mean the original three. (I mean, Shelly Hack. Come on!)

Then, when I first fell in love with perfume, I had a conundrum to solve: How to think about, write about, put into context several of the Chanel crushers? What to do with “No. 5,” "Le Monstre," so big and such a cliché? And then how to write about “Coco,” my go-to scent for some 15 years? These two were so huge, there was almost no way to say anything about them.

But, as I have found to be true so many times throughout the years, I found myself to be rescued by an Angel, or a trio of Angels, to be exact: relating to the House of Chanel through the Angels of Charlie, it all just fell into place. Allow me to introduce: Chanel’s Angels.
“No. 5” **
How would I ever encounter the Greatest Perfume Ever now if I were smelling it for the first time? It’s impossible to say—“No. 5” defined what perfume was supposed to be for me for many formative years—I’m sure I’m not alone in that. The huge everywhere floral whiteness of it all, the aldehydes expanding to fill infinite space—it’s hard to imagine that I’d take to it now.
In my mind, #5, while it may have French roots, is the All-American girl-trying-to-be-sophisticated perfume: blonde, wholesome, friendly, accessible to the masses. (“Farrah” could be a fakey French name, right?)

Like the poster and the flip hair-do, #5 was just, well, everywhere-- an unavoidable cultural fact. It’s not my favorite scent by any means, but I don’t mind it either. It conjures an old boyfriend who bought it for me, trying to be poetic and gallant; it conjures Marilyn Monroe. It will always and forever be lodged in my mind as a certain kind of corn-fed blonde beauty that I, as an American, am related to by birth but not by blood, if you know what I mean.

“Coco” ****

The whole world was gaga for Farrah, and I just couldn’t care less. I always thought that Jaclyn Smith, as Kelly Duncan, was the true beauty of the pack—I never could figure out why nobody else could see that. If Farrah was the big-toothed girl-next-door, Jaclyn was the European belle dame. Her cheekbones, sculpted brows, and delicate frame, she just radiated everything that meant elegance and refinement to my eight-year-old sensibilities.

And I wore and loved “Coco” for nigh on fifteen years. I could follow the arc of its wearing from out of the bottle to drydown like a piece of Rachmaninoff in my mind: its orange citrus open, revealing a dark rose-and-jasmine amber heart, the cinnamon and spices stepping into the fore after 30-45 minutes. Then the soft, spicy amber powder drydown. During my wild years, it completed me—gave me the sensuality and refinement I needed. Liquid Courage, you might say.

Why I cannot pull the trigger and give my old flame five stars, I simply cannot say. I have given thought to grandfathering “Coco” onto my five-star list since the day I created it, but I have never…quite…been able to do it. The love affair has ended: For fifteen years, “Coco” was my queen, but the woman who wore and adored “Coco” is no more. I will always carry a flame for you, “Coco,” but I’ve moved on.

“Cuir de Russie” ***
I’ve written elsewhere that I always identified with Kate Jackson (Sabrina Duncan-- I always thought she had the best name of all the Angels.) Tall, long face, long legs, brunette, flat as a board. Sometimes she even wore glasses, and all these butchy, butchy suits-- she was the dykeiest thing on tv for, like, ever.

Quoting from a prominent Angel-related website here, she was the "smart" Angel, remember? (How could I have possibly known that, and yet I do…) And not a flashy pretty one, either. I understood her, recognized her as a fellow traveler in the Order of Things.

So when the idea popped into my head to connect Farrah to “No. 5” and Jaclyn to “Coco,” naturally, my next task was to find the scent that said “Kate.”

Since I am the Queen of Imaginary Rules, I decided that it had to be a “classic” Chanel—not a new one. (If you’re wondering, here are the three scents for the new and ever-so-not-improved Angels: Drew Barrymore =“Mademoiselle;” Lucy Lu = “Cristalle;” Cameron Diaz = “Chance.” Love you ladies, but, hey, what are you doing dressing up and playing pretend Angels? The real Angels would never wear those boots. Take up your one-star juice and be gone!)
Not knowing much about the “classics,” I had a few try out. “No. 19” was fun—an angular chypre, all elbows and green edges. It gave me insight into the kind of woman I would never be: tailored, refined, fine-boned, gorgeous. I genuinely appreciate “No. 19”—it’s perhaps my favorite chypre, but it’s an intellectual love—I don’t love-love it.

“No. 22” almost repelled me—a big white floral on a powder base. “No. 22” gave me insight to how I might have encountered “No. 5” on another time/space continuum, and I didn’t like what I smelled.

But then, “Cuir de Russie.” Aaahhhhhhh. Leather is one of the most difficult notes for me—too soft and I don’t understand it, too strong and it repels me. CdR is the Baby Bear of leather scents for me—it’s juuuuuust right.

The very first thing I smell when I dab on CdR is a cloying clichéd jasmine open and I do not like it at all, but in less than a minute, help arrives: the leather settles in underneath, and a little fresh rose brightens it and gives it lift. There is a balsam heart to CdR that my nose heads straight for—like the word itself, it is calm and comforting.

Like “Coco,” the powders don’t kick in for 30-45 minutes (How do perfumes do that, I wonder?), and then CdR becomes a luxurious floaty aura. The leather in CdR is a high-quality kidskin—light, supple, soft. I always see the same set of pink suede gloves in my mind when I wear CdR.

And somehow the thought of Sabrina wearing CdR makes me smile—understated, not a screamer. Not overly flowery or feminine, with a well-integrated, attractive butch side—the Thinking Woman’s Chanel.

So it’s probably apt that in a posting devoted to friendship, childhood inspirations, and crime-fighting bad-assitude that I make the announcement that I’m putting LCN on indefinite hiatus. I launched this blog exactly 6 months ago Saturday, and I promised myself that I would pour myself into this project for those six months. It has been a wonderful experience—I have loved the writing, my readers, and being part of a much larger conversation with wonderful thinkers and scentualists.

However, as these six months draw to a close, the prospect of LCN as an open-ended artistic project has shut me down creatively. I’ll be taking time to reassess what I want LCN to be, and I’ll be launching my new blog as well, still in its infancy as of today, but you can take a look at where I'm headed over at

Please know that I’ll be dropping in on all my fellow blogistas from time to time to keep up with what you all are sniffing and writing about.

Again, a thousand thanks to all my readers and commenters and fellow bloggers and sample swap partners and sniff buddies, and to everyone else that made this labor of love possible.


  1. Okay I'm pretending that you're not shutting this down (how can you do that to me!?! I love your posts - they make me think for weeks! But I really do understand, I'm just being an obstinate child at the moment)

    I liked Kate the most; as a child, I was told by one parish priest that next to my sisters, I was the 'smart' one (he actually said "well, it's a good thing Carol is smart...")

    Streets of San Francisco was my fave of all the ones you mentioned, but of course I loved the Starsky and Hutch car-jumping-into-the-air scene.

    I think testing Chance gave me headache yesterday -

  2. Oh but no! But maybe it´ll be good in the end? And about Chanel, most of their scents have a smell of wet diapers on me, not that obvious though, but still there. One of few Chanel that I can wear is the new Chanel No 5 Eau Premiere.

    Perfume seems like such a waste of time compared to save the world, but however I never drive (I have no driving license), I walk and walk and walk and sometimes I take a tour on my old (so old it´s even retro i think!) bike.

    And please enter me in the draw, I would love to try some more Ormonde Jayne perfumes, I´ve only tried a coupple of them this far.

    Best wishes with your new blog,
    Annelie (perfume nerd aka rebella)

  3. Where did this come from? You can't leave! I mean, at least say you will post a thing or two eventually. Of course, I will follow your other blog, I am sure there will be a lot of interesting stuff there. :)
    Btw, I almost thought when I read the title of the post, that I was late and there went my great post idea (which I can't seem to write for months now, but I have in my head) and it's called How I came to love Chanel? :)
    Have you ever tried No. 18? I have a small sample of the best cristalline (in a diamond way) perfume I tried so far and I keep it hidden from myself. :)

  4. Having recently discovered your blog, I'm sad to see you go on hiatus! I am a neglectful blogger, myself, though, and your open acknowledgment of a hiatus is probably much fairer than my disappearing acts. I've been really enjoying your blog, so thanks! And please enter me in the draw--I love me some Ormonde Jayne.

  5. Hey, this was starting to be one of my favorite perfume blogs! Plus, I love it that you're in the Bay Area (me, too). But it's cool that you're announcing your intentions rather than just fading away. Good luck with your next project. And please enter me in the draw!

  6. Yeah I have to say this announcement is killing me, too. I'll happily follow your other blog, but I hope to keep talking to you. I feel like I've made, and am now losing, a real friend, like you were my kindergarten BFF for the half a semester your parents had to move in with your grandparents b/c they lost their house in California but now are moving since your dad got a new job in Toledo. (Incidentally, I'm convinced this is how the population of the Midwest manages to maintain and grow, rather than shrink each year.)

    Much love form California's Canada....and I hope to keep seeing you around the cyber block.

  7. Sorry to see you go, Rita. I will definitely look for you on the new blog. "Bad-assitude" Ha! Thanks for the new word--I love that. Please enter me in the draw. Good luck and happy trails!

  8. Aw, I'll be really sorry to see you go. I love your blog but I'll definitely be following your new one. x

  9. Oh no!!! Well you are an absolutely fantastic writer and thinker, so I know that you will find great success (said in Borat voice) in many areas beyond perfume. I would love to be entered in the draw. I've loved reading this blog, Rita.

  10. Say it ain't so. You're leaving? I'm going to miss you.

    Call me a blasphemous idiot but quite a few of the Chanel's are so similar that there's no reason to buy but one. I have a bottle of No. 5 and I recently acquired samples of Bois des Iles and No. 19 from Signature Scent and I swear I couldn't find a whole lot of difference. They all seemed overwhelmingly aldehyde-y and distinguishing differences were very pale. Anyway, love No. 5 and Jaclyn Smith most.

    Life will not be the same without LCN. I'll check in at So this isn't really good-bye, it's see you later but in a different form--like re-incarnation.

  11. Please enter me in the draw. Your leaving sucks.

  12. LCN! Not so much good bye - as see you on the other side. Can't wait to start reading your new blog! Please don't give up the perfume habit though.

  13. Gosh, Everybody--
    I am truly and deeply moved. I've shed more than a tear over this decision, but it's exactly like this:

    When I first hit perfume for real, it was like falling in love for real-- sensuous, mind-blowing, all-encompassing. The writing that came along with it a few weeks later was like being in love-- I couldn't wait to get up every morning to write. I was just in it. As I mentioned-- I gave myself six months to do whatever I wanted-- an artistic sabbatical, as it were, and I just reveled in it.

    What I started to notice, however, is that the ideas started to dry up, and the writing became more like work. Believe me-- if I were writing now, I'd be posting now.

    I told my husband it's like my blog and broke up with me and it's moved out-- everything in my life is exactly the same-- except it feels empty now.

    Now I'm in that excruciating phase where you've been dumped, and you're supposed to get on with your life, but instead, you just wait by the phone, waiting for it to ring...

  14. Hi R -- I know exactly how you feel. I'm trying to decide what to do too. Sometimes it feels like I've said everything I have to say about perfume, and don't want to be one of those sites that simply parrots press releases.

    BUT be assured that I'll follow your other blog! It's been fun getting to know you. I've enjoyed every single word. I get out to California once in a while (although probably not this year) and who knows.

  15. I wrote a long, touching, clever homage... and cursed Blogger ATE IT.

    So, fine, I'll try to recreate it later when I have time - just know that I've been thinking about you.

  16. I'm in shock and denial. Tailspin and nosedive are coming along shortly. The fact that I could legitimately pinch your shade of Frisco Fog Grey is zero compensation for this startling news. Sure I will look at the other blog, though you were saving the world just fine through perfume as far as I am concerned.

    You're going away? - "I should Coco!"

    : - (

  17. Again, All-

    I'm truly moved-- so nice to be appreciated by so many of my fellow bloggers. Yesterday was the first day in more than say, 2 months I found myself out in the world actually making some notes. But, as we all know, the distance between a few notes and a whole post is pretty far.

    Maybe me and the blog just need our space, and then my blog will realize how much it misses me, and we can have all that great make-up writing, and it can move back in like it never happened. I hope.

  18. ~BF Ah, yes. I got the "it's so much better to be smart than pretty" lines a little later-- let's say early teens--it scars you for life!

    Oh, yeah-- Streets of SF!! Sooooo fun to watch now when ever I catch a snippet: First the car is racing through Chinatown, then swerving around a corner on Telegraph Hill (20 blocks away), then flying down Lyon Street (halfway across town) almost right into the bay!

    That show seriously warped the time/space continuum-- I think they thought that nobody actually lived there to notice. Or, they thought that EVERY SINGLE AWESOME THING about SF should be within a 10-block radius.

  19. ~Annelie Well, perfume is pleasure, and there is certainly something to be said for that. Better yet, it's the way we please ourselves first and foremost, and compared to all the other ways be prettify ourselves for other people, I think finding and wearing a perfume you love to make YOU happy makes it kind of unique.

    As for saving the world, I tip my hat to you! Come and guest post-- put up a picture of your bike! I'd love it!

  20. Hi there, Ines-- "How I Came to Love Chanel": Well, when you write it, I'll be sure to read it!

    "No. 18"? No, I've never even *heard* of it... (Did they release a "No. 1", "No. 2", etc.? I always thought the numbers were sort of random...)

    Ines-- you're just the sweetest-- you know that. Everybody knows that.

  21. ~Aimee I know you are-- I missed you for months! So glad that you're up and writing again, and so glad you did finally make it over to my neck of the woods.

  22. ~Hey there, Nina, fellow "Bay Arean"! Well, maybe I'll run into you sitting at a stool in Barney's some day...?

  23. ~Howdy Diana-- I know-- A Fellow Traveller--I felt that way too! I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I just think you're doing great work over there with your blog...

    We'll stay in touch-- I promise.

  24. Ah, Queenie-- thank you so much and for all your kind words over the months-- you're swell!

  25. Hi there, Beautiful Things-- Thank you, Darlin'-- I'll be seeing you around the block.

  26. ~ScentsofSelf (Said in Ali G voice) "Perfume saves more lives than medicine." (Been dying to do that!!)

    Thanks, Sweetness- you're the best!

  27. ~Princess Glee I feel sad because I feel like I was baaaaarely just getting to know you. I think YOU need your own blog!

    Oh, and I was thinking about you yesterday-- I was dabbing on a bit of vintage Chanel "Bois des Iles," and I thought to myself, have I already tried this, or do all the damned Chanels smell the same? Right!?!??!?!?

  28. ~Siganture Scent Thank you so much-- I won't!!

  29. Howdy O-- Glad to hear someone else feels the same. And may I just say-- if you take your blog off into a non-perfume direction, I'll still read you, because your writing is great.

    And, and I mean this,-- you come my way, let's get together-- I'd love that. If I'm ever in Hotlanta, I promise to give you a shout.

  30. ~Ah Mals I feel like Dorothy a little bit, and you are Scarecrow-- I might miss you most of all, my Evil Scent Twin. Funny how we learn more from people we don't agree with than the people we do...

    Well, I'll be stopping by to check in on you, by-the-by...

  31. ~Oh FlitterSniffer You legitimately make me laugh out loud every time I read you. I still can't quite figure out if you are a magical wizard lady, bending the English language just right up to the breaking point to make it say something it's never said before, or you're just British-- it's got to be one or the other. You are a joy to read. Pinch my grey! Pinch away!

  32. Thanks for the interesting post. Charlie's Angels was one of my favorite shows growing up, and I associated most with Kate Jackson, mostly because I was very boyish with no curves (and I love CdR). I haven't tried Coco, and only like No. 5 in parfum. No. 19 is a HG for me, and I have a vintage bottle of No. 22 that I wear rarely, but do appreciate for what it is (a smack in the face of aldehydes, primarily!).
    I love OJ, and would love to be entered in the drawing. Thanks!

  33. ~Hi there, Elizabeth!! I bet on FaceBook there's one of those goofy calculators: "Which Angel Are You?" I would say that you *have* to try "Coco", but I think it's gotten thinner in some of the more recent formulations-- either that or my nose is disintegrating-- always a possibility...

    Consider yourself entered, my dear.

  34. Eep? I spend five days in a movie theater, and come back to find you're going? You can't be going. Maybe it's just a perfume wax and wane cycle? Maybe? I'm going to believe that, yep, yep. But I'll be reading your other blog, too.

    Re the Angels, my mother was more successful at popular culture deprivation than your mother. We had to do a school assignment once where we broke up into groups who were each required to write a mini "play" The girls I was grouped with wanted to do Charlie's Angels, and _I didn't know who they were_.

    This allowed them to make me play Bosley, while they each got to play an Angel. Hmph. At least no costumes were involved.

  35. ~Ah, yes, ChickenyGoodness, at least for a while it seems to be the sad truth-- my blog has dumped me. I check my voicemail 20X a day, but it's not calling... It was a great ride, though...

    They made you *BOSLEY*!?!?!?? Oh my gosh-- good thing you didn't know then what an insult that was. I mean, I think. I can honestly say I don't know a single thing about Bosley as a character, except that he sure as hell wasn't an Angel, didn't have awesome hair, and wasn't about to do any high-kicking crime fighting, if you now what I mean!!

    Good, heavens, Pumpkin-- did your mother keep you in a bunker?

  36. I love Cuir de Russie, too! To me, it really showcases that wonderful Chanel iris against the sweet and sour leather. I wear it on days I need to feel sharp and pulled together, so I definitely agree with your Angel pairing. ;-)

    (I'm assuming the contest is closed now, but I had this article saved in my reader and couldn't resist commenting. If it's still open, I'd love to win the OJ samples. Either way, thank you for the cool blog! You're one of my favorite discoveries in the past few months!)

  37. Hi there, Sue!! Nice to see you there, and thank you so much for the kind words!

    "Sharp and pulled-together"-- I couldn't have said it any better myself...
    Yes, the OJ contest is over, sorry!!

  38. Hi. I am not much of a commenter in general. I tend to read, and in your case, be blown away by your writing style, your insights, and above all, by your passion for all the senses, particularly smell. In the end, your engagement with your senses and writing aren't something you're going to be able to stop. Whether you choose to write about smell, that's a whole different thing. Please email me if you publish anything or are blogging elsewhere, I will happily read anything you write!

  39. Hi. I understand completely about your decisions. Please email me ( of what and where you are writing, as I will happily read whatever you write.

    And, if you don't mind, as an expert to a newbie, what 100 fragrances should I try smelling?

    Some quick comments: my favorite fragrances are almost always "men's" fragrances. I find gender construction, particularly by the contemporary media, vicious and destructive. I love BD from almost every angle. I find many foodie attitudes frustrating--as it destroys the deepest appreciation of food and the truest gift of hospitality.

    I love your sensual awareness, especially smell, and I enjoy your writing very, very much. I know it sounds trite, but your capacity to write, to create, will rise and fall over time. I don't mean to imply that creative work isn't a discipline! It is; however, it is not a constant flow. After the peaks and in the lulls, you fill the well.

  40. Yes. Bosley. Hmph.

    A bunker seems like the most logical explanation. :) And we watched plenty of TV, too! Now, I didn't have a lot of friends at school to talk to, but surely commercials, magazine covers, TV Guide, _something_ would have familiarized me with the idea of the show? Very strange.

  41. Hi there Silver Fox-- thank you for coming out to comment, and to say such nice things-- I means a lot to me! I will drop you an email so we can stay in touch...

    Be-lieve me-- I'm not an expert. I just fell down the perfume rabbit hole for a few months -- there are hundreds-- thousands of "important" scents I've never smelled. And I think it's safe to say, my tastes run more to the unisex (I like to call them "omnisexual")-- true "masculines" however that is commercially defined-- I find to be cliched. Just me.

    Not to cop out, but I really think that the 100 Perfumes Every Perfumista Must Try is pretty darn good, even if it's a few years out of date:

    It, at the very least, gives you a terrific overview of the scent that people who write about perfume reference. (Kinda like the great 100 books list they made you ponder in high school.) Obviously heavily weighted to the "feminines" (whatever that means...Nobody has successfully explained that to me yet.)

    Your final words, about the creative process, are wise and true. When I write again, I'll keep you posted. (Pun intended.)

  42. ~ChickenFreak Right!??!?!? The Signs of the Angels were everywhere you looked...
    No. Actually-- good for you for blocking that silly stuff out.

  43. Ummm, what?!

    Rita...Perhaps this will just be an extended coffee-bean sniffin' break? Because lord knows there's only so much perfume one person can sniff and write about before they need a break...

    But whatever you choose to do, I will dip into your writing for brilliant insights and humor. It's been wonderful being perfume pals. Keep in touch, and hope you're not running low on Bandit! ;)