Paris (Yves Saint Laurent)

There's so much hubbub in the blogosphere over Penhaligon's famous Hammam Bouquet, but YSL crushed that grape years ago with none other than Paris. Sure, Hammam is significantly less feminine, and pulls powdery roses from its ass with an impressive 19th century flourish, but in the end Paris comes out smelling better - better balanced, better poised, better designed, and just plain better smelling. Look, it's better, okay? Trust me on this.

People talk about how Hammam creates an olfactory representation of repressed Victorian desire, Turkish steam baths full of semi-nude concubines eating grapes from the magistrate's belly button, blah, blah. All the contrived imagery fails to correspond with what good perfume is truly about: association. We can't associate a perfume to things we've never known. It's simply not possible to sniff Hammam Bouquet and honestly say, "this takes me back to that lukewarm Turkish dip I took in Manchester back when Willy IV started remembering his bastard offspring." Unless you're 180 years old (or older), you wouldn't know. You just have to take Penhaligon's word for it.

Paris avoids the memory game by keeping within its own realm, with all associations based on perfume, specifically European perfume. There are no questions about bath soaps and oils, or who the queen is. Paris interprets the evening romance of a modern European square: roses, violets, woods, booze, powder, and the aura of every man and woman's perfume wafting on a breeze across the tables of an outdoor cafe. It's an association we can easily make, as everyone has had a divine moment of fume-overload at one time or another. It happens at dinner, at business meetings, at church. People mingle and gather, and so do their smells. Together, the combined perfumes form a new fragrance, something ephemeral in spirit, but ever-present on the exhale. That's Paris, a truly universal experience in the form of a scent.

Sophia Grojsman is incredibly skilled, and this is some of her best work. Her composition stands alone as one of the few contemporary feminine perfumes to successfully straddle old-world and modern styles. I personally think it would go well on me with a double-vented suit and a new pair of Florsheims. Paris is full of light and sound, and it's a terrific product from Yves Saint Laurent.

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