Americans are famous for loving shriekingly clean scents, shunning anything remotely unwashed, and themselves smelling like nothing interesting to the point that more than once, when smelling the latest designer released flanker intended for just such an audience, I’ve wondered if they were simply bottling drugstore cleaning fluid and calling it a day. Once when sniffing an unlabeled sample I was forced to wonder, “Is this Versace Bright Crystal or CLR?” So I was absolutely enthralled when I posed the question “What are your favorite smells?” on Facebook, and got responses that ranged from earthy to filthy. A Perfume Freak’s Dream.
Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Scent memories are powerful. With one whiff of a familiar smell, we can be mentally whisked to a moment in our past, the presence of an old companion, or a particular time or place we will never forget. I know that when my college friends smell Calgon Turquoise Seas body spray (if it’s even manufactured anymore) they think of me which is pretty hilarious, but whatever. I cannot deny my past and frankly, I still dig some Calgon. (And Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Heavenly which resulted in more than one person telling me, “You smell like a stripper….no no! That’s good.” Alright, sure.)
My past is full of lots of potent and unforgettable smells (I did live on a farm for some time, you know…) For years I have dreamed of a perfume that would smell like my Dad on a morning before church. It is the most wonderfully comforting scent of Irish Spring, coffee, toast, perhaps a smidge of smoky bacon, shaving cream, mouthwash, and Tuscany Pour Homme. Nothing smells more like “home” to me than that. Penhaligons Sartorial comes close. As does Creed’s Green Irish Tweed, but the toast and coffee are missing.
Similarly, another scent from my past that I wish I could recreate is the scent my parents seemed to effortlessly emit when they would return from an evening out. Melded perfume and cologne, a touch of charbroil from the steaks they probably had, someone else’s cigarette smoke, a hint of booze, hairspray, leather, and the fantastic zing of a wool coat that has just come in from the cold. They would walk in the door looking handsome and beautiful respectively, and that scent would just take over the house. It was so grown up and mysterious and I miss it, although I suspect that I might occasionally smell this way myself. There is something about Molinard’s Habanita that grasps this concept for me, and it is downright cheap and cheerful. CB I Hate Perfume has an offering called Winter 1972 that has that cold wool coat with just a hint of cigarette. Jasmin et Cigarette by Etat Libre D’Orange gets the smoke, but lacks the beef.
Yet another scent I wish to smell again is that of my Gramps’ basement, which sounds dubious, but read on. Gramps, in his heyday, had a fully finished basement complete with wet bar and jazzy 70’s organ. It was a wonderful place. It smelled, quite frankly, like the business end of a wine cork. To the wine cork add a bit of pipe tobacco, perhaps a bit of basement-related mustiness, maybe a bit of pine (for the holidays), a lingering waft of cigarette from somebody’s coat (we’re talking early 80’s here), and more than a dash of bourbon (Truly, I thought eggnog was the color of dishwater due to the ratios of rum to mix my Gramps used. Only in college did I discover it’s true density.) Think about it: wine, cork, smoke, must…truly, if any of these scents are to be taken literally, this is the one that would make a fantastic men’s fragrance. If only I were a chemist.
Great smells in their natural habitat need only be experienced, however. They need not necessarily be bottled. Certainly, they aren’t all meant to be worn on the skin. That said, owning a bottle of something that, when sprayed, has the ability to transport you is an experience of pure comfort and joy.
Using the scents put forth on my Fbook page, I’m going to offer perfume-related suggestions that just might spark a memory or two.
Let me first state, however, that the intent is not to be literal. For an exercise in literal scent recreation, check out the Demeter line of fragrances. It’s arguable that they are fully-fledged perfumes, but they are a master’s course in scent science. So, truly, if the scent of a thunderstorm is what you are after, Demeter has a scent aptly named Thunderstorm (as well as Earthworm, Funeral Home, and Humidor, just to name a few). My project, rather, is an experiment in the art of true perfumery and it’s ability to be an appealingly wearable scent, and yet still evoke an ethereal image of something you love.
In the meanwhile, some of our favorite scents are available quite easily in bottle form. Flowers, woods, and bakery treats dominate the perfume market, particularly those available and heavily advertised in the US. So, for our purposes here, I am far more interested in conceptual scents and oddities. A good lavender isn’t so hard to find. Something with the snapcrackle of printer paper straight out of a Xerox or the spice of your dog’s fur may prove more difficult.
What can I say? It’s a hobby.
Certainly, smell is all about context. While my friend Nick and I agree that shallots slowly caramelizing in butter is probably the best smell on the face of the earth, I wouldn’t want to smell that way sitting at my desk. Just like the smell of fresh raspberries might be a delight in nature, and refreshing post-bath, it would be hard to take someone seriously in a business meeting. As such, I believe that flowers are best experienced as, well, flowers. They are what they are. There’s no great lilac perfume because you’re better off just smellin’ a lilac.
I guess this is just my way of saying the following perfumes are all in the name of fun, and if you are so interested, broadening your perfumery horizons. I will never have smelled All the Perfumes, but I have made a bit of a dent. I hope you enjoy.
Books, Magazines, and Other Related Paper: People love the smell of paper in it’s many incarnations, as do I. However, the scent of newsprint is not the same as an old book. Sharp crisp copies still hot off the printer don’t smell the same as a freshly cracked magazine. A trade paperback smells very different from a leather bound classic. The library, the used book shop and Barnes and Noble all are singular smelly beasts. Certainly, paper is, underneath it all, wood. But if you were only identifying things by smell, a cedar chip and a ream of printer paper wouldn’t seem very near to each other. The cedar is still rich with it’s oil, the printer paper bleached and sharp.
The creator of the aforementioned Demeter line is also the genius behind CB I Hate Perfume which seeks to create in either water perfume or extrait (pure perfume) form, just such things as these amalgamated dream scents from our past and our experiences. One such creation is a scent called In the Library. It’s an intimate scent. Vanillic in the way that, trust me, a good ol’ book is vanillic. Warm, aged. It’s a great pick, and I highly recommend it. Truly, the love of the scent of paper seems fairly universal. A newly launched scent called, aptly, Paper Passion has just launched, it’s subtitle – “perfume for book lovers.”
For that hot off the press slightly shrieky cleanness, I recommend Thierry Mugler Cologne. It is far from subtle. I believe Perfumes the A-Z Guide calls it “steam iron.” Like paper, it somehow manages to evoke sharp coldness and steamed fresh ink.
Tires, Cars, Industry, Tar, Gasoline and WD 40. For all the times I’ve driven through Gary, Indiana and experienced the sulfurous fumes that emanate from Steel plants, one would think I would be convinced that industry = stink. However, this is not always the case. The Blommer chocolate factory, on occasion, fills the city of Chicago with a very out of context air of baking brownie. It is wonderful, and as reported in the Tribune a couple of years ago, likely highly carcinogenic. BUT with our inherent love of pipe tobacco, gasoline, and vinyl, humans love to stick their noise into a cancer causing chemical and breathe deeply. I ain’t here for your health.
My father, an engineer in the automotive industry has a job that is both white collar and yet requires trips to the plant floor donning earplugs and goggles. When he arrives at home, he smells like a freshly sprayed can of WD 40 and it is one of the world’s most wonderful smells.
My husband loves a fresh tire. He describes them as “sweet” and so they are, and of course rubbery. Bvlgari Black is the premiere rubber perfume. It looks like a puck, it is unisex and it smells great. Women the world over have been attempting to woo men with bottles of fruity silliness, clean musks, and flowers, when all the time it was grease they were after. Good, clean, grease and rubber.
Grass, Snapped Grean Beans, New Mown Hay, Horse Barns, Alfalfa, and Good, Clean, Dirt. Only a kid from the country could assert that, in fact, cow shit is a vast improvement on all other kinds of barnyard shit including pig and turkey, in particular. It is second only to the nicely grassy horse or rabbit shit which, in comparison isn’t just “not bad” it’s sort of kind of nice. Even comforting if you were ever on first name basis with a horse or rabbit.
And I was.
I mention this because in perfumery there is an aroma-chemical called Indole that makes an appearance in both white flowers and poop, so if I mention that something has a barnyard quality or rather lacks a barnyard quality, I mean it with much affection and all seriousness (as the discussion of perfume allows).
But let us begin with a proper lawn mowing which engages no indolics whatsoever. Newly mown grass is one of the world’s most wonderful, fresh and naturally occurring smells. Frankly Gap’s recently re-issued Grass scent smells just about like it. I’ve never smelled Demeter’s grass scent, but I bet that ‘s pretty great too. I often wonder if Californians or Floridians feel quite as passionately about grass as we Midwesterners. Surely they don’t have that bleary eyed look we all get stumbling our of homes in late March and maniacally fall to our knees, praising the heavens taht we have seen something that is both naturally occuring and green. LOOK AT IT! IT’S GROWING!!!!!!! I sort of get why dogs roll around in things. I bet they are just grateful that it’s there at all.
But I digress.
Moving away from the literal green of grass and moving on to the conceptual family of “green scents.” Galbanum, a resin, is the primary player in the most famous green scents: Chanel no 19, Gucci Envy, Chanel Cristalle (a green citrus). Many Iris perfumes find themselves in the green family. The Vintage Vent Vert. Parfums di Nicolai’s Odalisque.
Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans L’Eau is a trip through a rain-soaked garden on a hot August morning. Tania Sanchez says it better than I that it smells like a “snapped green bean”. To that I would add a dash of tomato leaves. To anyone who grew up with and/or now tends to a veggie garden, this is a trip down memory lane.
Hay is sweet. Not straw, but hay. I prefer alfalfa, myself. Green, sweet, fresh, and earthy. I’ve read that Hay Absolute is a perfume in and of itself, but I’ve never had the pleasure. And, unfortunately, for me I am allergic to it all. Still, I rarely let that stop me. Parfums di Nicolai has a very sweet offering both in scent and concept with a delicious hay accord that is actually a bit sweet for me. It’s called Kiss Me Tender. Serge Luten’s offering, Chergui, is hay inspired with a dash of honey and tobacco which evokes something of a Baltus Van Tassel-like character, in my mind:
Bath and Body Works had a “clover” scented lotion that came as close to my childhood memories of an alfalfa field that anyone has ever gotten (that I know of). I long for someone to recreate that scent. I’ll help if I have to.
Love, Sex, Bodies, Babies’ Heads, and other Animalic Bits: This would be the area in which Americans tend to squirm and look around for their Puritan bonnets, buckled shoes, and bottles of Dolce and Gabbana Blue. One whiff of Muscs Kublai Kahn has the potential for the sniffer to look at you like you’ve just told a dirty joke in church. If you’ve ever met someone from basically anywhere BUT the US, Canada, and the UK, you’ll quickly come to realize that the rest of the world just isn’t bothered by the natural smell of the human armpit. In fact, during the creation of Sarah Jessica Parker’s perfume, Lovely, she insisted on a little body odor because, “Secretly I think everyone likes it.” While I think the true dirty animalics were probably focus-grouped out of the formula, a bit of duskiness remains. And, indeed, it’s one of my favorite perfumes.
The new formulation of the perfume classic Femme by Rochas has a distinct and dirty-minded cumin note, and cumin smells like pits. The Chanel orientals do not shy from the civet, leather, or animalic notes available to them in quality form.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Often these big ol’ classics (Chanels, Lauders, Guerlains) are quickly dismissed by people of my generation and younger as “old lady perfumes” but per usual, your grandmother has lived longer and knows more than you do about such things as quality and class. So to dismiss her Youth Dew as a scrubber is to dismiss the true art of perfumery. Sniff again, and notice the cinnamon, vanilla and booze.
Lovers of Mad Men and all things retro, I implore you to move beyond the Chanel no 5 and experience the Guerlains, Balmains, Lanvins, and other grand players from the great age of perfume. It will challenge you. You will have the urge to wrinkle your virginal little nose in distaste. THIS IS THE MODERN ERA OF PERFUMERY’S INFLUENCE ON YOU AND MOST OF IT IS CRAP. Not all, certainly. But our noses have been trained to love nothing but what amounts to hand soap and shampoo in EDT form.
Grab a bottle of Shalimar and experience the genius of Guerlain’s inedible desserty masterpiece.
If you can, find a bottle of the long discontinued My Sin and prepare yourself for a perfume adventure. It loops from aldehydes to grimy leather in the blink of an eye.
Sarah Jessica’s Parker’s Covet perfume was said to be inspired by the scent of her babies’ heads. Now, I have never smelled the noggins of her children, but this perfume smells more chocolatey to me (if my memory serves.) Still, thought I would mention. Rather to capture the close to the skin-ness that I think one is looking to evoke here, I would suggest an oil based scent. Perhaps Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely in the oil form. I have a great little amber oil I picked up in the hippie dippie section of Whole Foods (is there any other section?) for 8 bucks.
Leather, while a chapter of perfume that stands alone, is by all accounts animalic, no? So is honey, if we’re getting technical. In a more specific area of perfumery lies the animal fur. Clean, living animal fur is a spicy natural wonder. We have a cat that is downright perfumed naturally. Peppery. Dry. And comforting. We have another cat who some people say smells like butt, and I say smells like beeswax…which probably smells like bee butt. If so, count me in as a fan of bee butt.
Just one more weird statement I have made when talking about perfume.
The Grand Joke played on the world of perfumery by Etat Libre D’Orange comes in a small glass bottle adorned with the infamous “crying penis” artwork that I am downright not joking about. It is called Secretions Magnifique and it is nauseating. However, it fits the category as it is an experience, most certainly, and moreover inspired by all bodily secretions that are not urinous or fecal. That still leaves a lot of secretions. They also threw a little jasmine in there for good measure. But then again, sometimes jasmine smells like floral bad breath.
The ocean, salt, beaches and the primordial: Dune by Dior is considered a marine scent. This doesn’t quite do it justice. But, in fact, there is a dry salty note in it. It’s wonderful. Vetiver is a dry grass that rasps, in a way. I burn the essential oil sometimes, and if I overdo the vetiver I feel like I’m mummifying. That said, vetiver fragrances are downright sexy.
Hermes Eau des Merveilles is salty and incensy and very very calm. Very close to the skin, and very dry. It is unisex, and I would recommend it for somebody who wanted to broaden their horizons beyond fruity florals, without announcing it to the world. A good subtle experiment, and nicely beachy. But not summery beachy – Eau des Merveilles is a beach after the tourists have left for the season. It mysterious and moody. I suspect it would layer nicely with a bit of amber or vanilla, as well.
In a complete reversal, let’s talk about the old school european suntan lotion fragrances. Those would be Bobbi Brown Beach and Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess. I have a mild distaste for white flowers and I feel that these fragrances, Bronze Goddess in particular could be my in road.
Tobacco, Cinnamon, Vanilla, Burnt Sugar, Espresso, Booze, Ground Coffee and the gourmand. These are the least challenging and easy to come by perfume offerings. Prada’s latest: Candy. The cognac firm Frapin’s offerings. Aqualina Pink Sugar. On a more classic note, Guerlain’s Shalimar and L’Heure Bleu. If you walk up to the department store perfume counter and say you want something that isn’t floral or citrusy, you will walk away with one of these most likely.
So, I’m going to go a bit weird with this one and give you some slightly less literal takes on the gourmand.
Ready? Let’s go.
Anne Pliska is a bit Christmasy. There’s gingerbread here. And oranges. Apparently, orange is not an easy note in perfumery. Mainly because I can only count about three of them that manage to have an orange note that sticks around. While it is a gourmand, it’s also icy. It’s frankly gorgeous and completely reasonable in price. I only hesitated to tell you about it because I wear it and I convinced my mother in law to wear it, too.
Sacrebleu is a gourmand in the sense it has gourmand ingredients…but you wouldn’t want to eat these. It’s one of the few fragrances with a detectable tuberose that I still love. (Tuberose is very challenging for me. I’m trying to push myself.) IF I had a “signature scent” which I just don’t, this would probably be it. Similarly (with FAR more tuberose) is Dior Hypnotic Poison. I am convinced, if the Bronze Goddess thing doesn’t work out, that this will be my in-road to tuberose, because THIS tuberose is covered in coconut and almonds.
Coco by Chanel. I call it the Brunette of the Chanel bunch. It’s warm, spicy, a bit loud but never shouty, and full of layers.
Tabu by Dana. Now listen. It’s going to stonk your socks off the first time you smell it, and if you are just dipping a toe into the older perfumes, maybe avoid this one. It smells cheap. It IS cheap. But it is very hilarious and a great gourmand. My advice is look for the root beer. There is a distinct root beer note to Tabu that can be heard about all the shoutin’, and there IS shoutin’. Patchouli has some things tosay. As does clove. Musk. Heavy hitters all. Seek ye the root beer.
Coffee – Bond no 9 has a very warm and welcoming frag called I Love New York. And even though it’s never been my experience, their version of loving New York smells like coffee. Still, not a bad thing to smell like. My only qualm is that it might smell slightly too much like coffee.
The best vanilla ever created is the aformentioned Shalimar. There is no getting around it. It is the finest, Frenchiest, richest, most sumptuous vanilla to be had.
If, however, you were looking for a lighter vanilla. Less creme brulee. Check out Vanilia by L’Artistan Parfeumer. Sadly, it’s been discontinued, but it wasn’t discontinued very long ago, and thanks to the Internets, you can get your hands on a decant, or even a bottle.
Lolita Lempicka – I talk about this perfume a lot. It was one of my Autumn picks. It is one of my faves. And it is a vanillic licorice with herbs. Grand. Distinct. And very well done. Also can easily be had for a reasonable price.
I put tobacco under the gourmands because it smells like you could almost eat it. When, as a teenager I smelled an unlit cigarette up close and personal fo rht efirst time I shouted “IT SMELLS LIKE A FIG NEWTON!” Uncool. But accurate. Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille makes you want to eat yer tobackey. How very un-Ford like behavior. A drier and smokier tobacco you might want to check out is Sonoma Scent Studio’s Tabac Aurea.
Wood, Forests, Workshops and Cedar Chips
Wood smells great. It has natural oils. It smells clean and warm at the same time. Each wood has a distinct smell. While we may not be up on the obscurities of the many different trees, certainly we know the difference between pine and cedar. Sandalwood is the queen bee of the wood perfume family. Mysore sandalwood oil (heavily overharvested and endangered) is supposed to be a perfume in and of itself. I’ve never had the pleasure.
Ormonde Jayne Woman lists Black Hemlock as one of its primary notes. When you sniff Ormonde Jayne Woman for the first time, when you look up you expect to have been magically transported to an enchanted forest where you may or may not be in danger due to the local sorceress.
On an more earthly plain, fresh unsullied hamster shavings smell downright grand. The cedar ones in particular. Cedar oil, in it’s essential form, somehow isn’t quite as warm and cozy as the wood itself. In fact the oil can be a bit harsh. Lately, the cedar that has been invigorating my pulse points is Commes des Garcons White. It’s cinnamon and cedar and it’s downright cozy.
Recently…very recently, as in I got the sample a couple days ago, I discovered Sonoma Scent Studio. Perfumer Laurie Erickson’s work is just great. Honestly, I can’t recommend it more highly. Her perfumes are old school good. They aren’t dumbed down. There’s no flash. They are adult and really well crafted. My personal favorite at the moment is Winter Woods (I got this last Friday and I’ve already gotten several compliments). It sort of combines the mystery of Ormonde Woman with a very really woodsiness and just a hint of smoke. Although it isn’t listed in the notes, I get a very subtle vanilla and a pure incense in the drydown.
And then we have agarwood or oudh or aoudh or any of the other spellings that indicate as an American, you are just not gonna pronounce it right. I say oudh with an “oo” that sounds like the “oo” in “foot.” Here’s hoping I won’t get laughed at. Anyhoo, I don’t know too much about oudh except that it’s like Hansel: So hot right now. I’m only just teaching myself about it, and will just have to report back. I CAN tell you that if you are just dying to drop insane amounts of cash on perfume, start here.
Smoke, Fire and the Burned. Growing up staunchly Protestant, I never experienced what my Catholic and formerly Catholic brethren think of as “church smell”. To them, church smell is distinctly related to incense. To me, church smell is a combination of green beans with ham in it, that cheap pink public bathroom soap, floor cleaner, Youth Dew, coffee in styrofoam cups and cheesey potatoes. It’s true, being a Protestant just isn’t quite as glamorous as the ritual-practicing incense-burning Catholics, particularly when talking perfume. Thankfully, through perfume, I can still relive what I never experienced. In perfumery, incense goes far beyond a gas station purveyed joss stick. Incense ranges from cracklin’ breath-takin’ frankincense to sweet purrin’ myrrh. Resins. Saps. It’s fascinating. I like Armani Prive Bois d’encens, Annick Goutals Encens Flamboyant and Sonoma Scent Studio’s Incense Pure. The best, however, is Chanel’s Coromandel which is just wonderful and I would bathe in it if I could. White Chocolate Incense is the best way I can describe it. Imagine having a mug of spiked hot white chocolate placed in your hand and a cashmere blanket wrapped around you. You are ushered into a room that is bathed in silk, cashmere, angora and leather. There is the purest frankincense burning in the corner and the floor is of the smoothest cedar. That’s Coromandel.
It’s not just incense our noses like to burn. Wood, fireplaces, even sugar (which I will address under a different category.) Smoke is downright a-okay.
I mentioned CB I Hate Perfume earlier. They have a particularly smoky offering called Burning Leaves. If that is a bit too much bonfire for you, I recommend Sonoma Scent Studio’s Fireside Intense which is smoky but a bit closer to the skin and wearable.
Patchouli 24 by Le Labo is more than just smoke, but it’s the smoke that helps it stand apart. Frankly, I could have thrown this under many categories such as the Animalics, or even the blurb on Books. As Luca Turin says, There is a vanillic sweetness to an old book, and you will find that here in Patchouli 24. Fear not the Patchouli, my friends. We all have our hippie related patchouli fears but patchouli is used is many many perfumes to round them out. If you are a fan of the more oriental Chanels or Diors, it’s patchouli that is toasting your toes. Think rich sumptuousness not raspy head shop.
In perfumery, herbs range from the very literal to the very weird. The oldest cologne recipes originating from medieval times (even Egyptian) utilize thyme, rosemary, mint, and many other aromatics. A perfect example of British style apothecary perfume (ie smells “older” than it is) is one of my faves: crisp, clean and herbal L’Eau by Diptyque. In fact, L’Eau was one of my “in roads” to niche perfumery, but that’s a different post. Herbs tend to be a bit masculine in perfumery. The classic “masculine” scents are called Aromatic Fougeres and are packed with Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme and Vetiver.
However herbs are not always so very manly. An herbal selection that falls under the “minty” category (a notoriously difficult note to achieve…however, I love mint in most forms and am therefore not as picky as your average perfume freak bear) would be a selection from the Guerlain Acqua Allegoria collection (a very reasonably priced way to get some Guerlain). It is called Acqua Allegoria Herba Fresca. Another great mint pick is Dirty by Lush, and the solid is about ten bucks.
Herbs and Citrus often go hand in hand in the perfumery world. One of my summertime picks is Eau d’Hadrian by Annick Goutal. It’s unisex, fresh and decidedly herbal. I wear it on the hottest days of summer when most perfumes are too much but none won’t do.
If you are really into aromatic herbs, however, you should probably wade into the men’s department (that goes for both men and women. Perfume is invisible. The only gendering happens in the marketing. Again, another post…) , but keep your wits about you. Head for the older stuff. Perfumes for men are notoriously badly made and insulting to it’s audience. The reason many people hate fragrance is because of newer Versaces and anything with the label of “sport.” Look for the classic Guerlains, Diors, Chanels. Tom Ford has done well for men. A good in road for those who are nervous about crossing gender lines is the classic Acqua Di Parma or Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage.
A classic that has maintained a little world of it’s own is Clinique’s Aromatic’s Elixir. I’ll be honest. It’s a bit of a love-hate perfume and I am just not on the love side of the aisle. However, much reading and research tells me it is very well done and a true classic. It’s clear it is made from very high quality ingredients and is incredibly well made. It’s distinct. It smells like a classic from its era (the 70’s. A wonderful time in perfumery.) I’m just…not there yet. (This opens the opportunity to discuss, “Why can’t you just not like it?” I can. I mean, I don’t. I don’t like it. But I know that Aromatics Elixir can teach me something about perfumery. Whereas Fame by Lady Gaga, another perfume I don’t like, is just more of the same old crap that’s been flooding the shelves for all of the 2000’s. As a cultural figure, she might have some lessons for me to learn, as a perfume figure, I’ve heard it all before.)
Seasons, Holidays and Memories – In a previous post, I attempted to capture All That Is Autumn To Me via perfume, and I made much headway. Above, I’ve mentioned more conceptual memories I’d love to recreate. My next project will probably be The Ultimate Christmas Perfume. It’s hard to recommend perfumes for other people’s memories. But even my own can be perplexing. One of my favorite scents in the whole wide world is very specific and very strong. It is Opening Night at a Theatre, Act Two Post Intermission. The smells range from fresh sawdust, the oily smell of stage makeup, the heat of the lights, the booze in the patrons, the faint scent of cocktail meatballs and party trays, the range in perfumes in colognes, sweat, nerves, paint, leather, dust, hairspray, cigarettes,mentholated cough drops, mints…. The amalgamated smell is so wonderful and singular
and in some form has been a part of almost all of my life from my Dad’s performance of King Arthur in Camelot to my latest opening night just a couple months ago. I don’t know if I’d want to wear it on my skin (if I don’t already by rote) but a candle would be nice.
Speaking of candles, sometimes this category is better served by atmospheric scents. Every year my Momma (and now me and my sisters) make “Christmas smell” which is just a saucepan filled with all things Christmasey and simmered. I love pine-scented candles. Vanilla hand lotion. Scent doesn’t always have to be EdP.
Nor does it need to be artificial. Each March, some day comes along that registers above 60 degrees and I fling the windows open with glee to smell fresh air, soil, and green sprigs. It’s a perfect scent, and one that must be walked into rather than put on.
There’s another category of scent is one that I think probably is the most fun, and also marks the true perfume geek: The scent memory of an experience you’ve never had. I remember the first time this happened for me. I knew that my Aunt had worn White Shoulders for years. And when I came across a description of White Shoulders in a book, I figured, “What the hell?” A bottle of the EdC concentration is about 12 bucks at Walgreens. If nothing else, the bottle is pretty. I grabbed some on my lunch break. When I smelled it, I expected to have immediate thoughts of my Aunt assuming I would remember the scent from childhood. Instead, for some reason, I was mentally whisked to Ginger’s first visit to her new house in the movie Casino. “What a Difference a Day Makes” was playing in the background and the world of the early seventies appears in a classic Scorcese long shot through closet upon closet of fur and jewels. I just knew that the house smelled like White Shoulders. And White Shoulders is just the sort of thing Ginger would have worn. That day at least. Trying to prove her innocence with an innocent perfume. I just have to figure out what she must have worn at night.
Jean Claude Ellena, Hermes’ in house perfumer, says he is inspired by the paintings of Cezanne and Matisse. Not their literal contents, but rather their spirits. This appeals to me. What’s the point of these big human brains if we can’t stretch out senses a bit?