Saturday, September 23, 2006

With great fanfare, not to mention a whiff of tuberose and a top note of musk, the New York Times has hired a perfume critic. The smelly among us don’t know whether to laugh, cry, splash on some Jean Nate or make bad puns:

He must have a nose for news. He must make scents. It’s not the new factory, silly, it’s the olfactory. Why, Mr. Sulzberger, why Punch, all’s smell that ends smell.

Yes, yes. But the nose does know. Chandler Burr, a dashing Manhattan writer who speaks four languages, has been hired by the Times to review and rate fragrances in a column called Scent Strip, complete with a star rating system and lots of poesy, maybe a few onomatopoeias, even.

“Darkness, when it is crystalline and somewhat luminous, may be the most difficult quality to capture in a perfume,” Mr. Burr wrote in his inaugural column, and with those words, the entire fragrance industry uneasily pondered the notion that this scion of fragrance might make or break a newly introduced perfume.

Mr. Burr is interested in the hoity-toity side of things rather than condemning some hapless cologne to purgatory down at CVS.

“Every other art has a serious criticism. I believe perfume should as well,” Mr. Burr said recently.

He has described one scent as a “radiant glass roof sensation,” another as “a box of truffles with the lid on,” still another as “insecticide inside an aluminum cell.”

Here at the Questionable Odors Desk, we hope and pray Mr. Burr does not come down with a cold.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sulzberger — as in Mr. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the hallowed and hair-raising Times — may be onto something that could make big waves, fig- and green-tea-scented, of course.

Fragrance has billowed into a $6 billion-a-year industry in America, with a thousand perfumes on the market at any given moment, according to our tastefully aromatic pals at the Fragrance Foundation, an industry group currently gearing up for Fragrance Week, which is sort of like Fleet Week, but smells much better.

It’s a hoopla: Last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who probably does not wear Aqua Velva but can sniff out a good political opportunity nonetheless — issued an official Proclamation of Fragrance Week. There are fragrance career fairs, fragrance dinners, fragrance auctions, fragrance outreaches.

Surely the Republican Party should create its own fragrance: Eau de GOP, perhaps, something warm and woodsy.

Meanwhile, about 400 new scents are introduced each year, destined to be placed in an honored spot upon the bureau or float off into the ozone of anonymity. Will that caramel-rosewood-citron concoction be pressed lovingly at the national pulse points or be gone by next Christmas? That all depends on the aromatic whimsy of men and women alike, who cultivate a most intimate relationship with their scents of choice.

“It’s my signature perfume,” proclaims the lady who gasses everybody out on the elevator with Opium.

“Cosmopolitan or mojito?” asks the gent whose neck has been bathed with Burberry.

This year’s new offerings include: Mandarina Duck, Guerrilla 1, Guerrilla 2, Florence, Blue Rush, Black Orchid, Play-Doh, Shanghai Butterfly, Kiss Her, Fire Island, Desperate Housewives Forbidden Fruit, Chocolovers, Apparition Sun and Cleopatra.

Here at the Questionable Odors Desk, we wish Mr. Burr’s olfactory receptors luck from this point onward.

Yet many of us are scent-obsessed. There are dozens of online blogs devoted to perfumania — including Aromascope, Now Smell This, Scentzilla, Scentbloggers and Perfume Shrine. Each fragrance blogger does as Mr. Burr does: They all spritz; they dab; they inhale; they write. They also gossip, argue, speculate and extrapolate.

Yes, indeed, the nose knows.

Yet somehow, this restless world leaves one pining for the discontinued scents of yore, back when “toilet water” was not associated with the Ty-D-Bol man. Consider the lost fare from Shulton, Coty, Faberge, Prince Matchabelli, Richard Hudnut or Avon; the ladylike fare of Galore or Lactopine, dime-store colognes like Ben Hur. Happily, some still can be ferreted out in CVS, Sephora and the Cosmetics Center, where a nostalgic pal recently unearthed Heaven Scent.

And everything smells forever online.

The fearless can buy old, genuine goodies on EBay or at sites such as www. or www.aunt, where a quarter-ounce bottle of Ben Hur — originated by the Jergens Co. in 1910 — goes for $118. Back in the day, the little bottles were lined up like soldiers at Woolworth’s and retailed for a dollar or less.

New incarnations of oldie-but-goodies Evening in Paris, Blue Waltz, Arpege, Tweed, Tailspin, Jungle Gardenia, Florida Water, Woodhue and Tigress can be found at, though some purists say they’re just not the same. The lonely can check out the “discontinued fragrance” message board at

And Mr. Burr? Bless your smeller.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and dime store perfume for The Washington Times national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@

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