Don’t you think there ought to be a perfume called Autumn Rhythm?
The Bombshell Manual of Style
I am once again on the hunt for perfume. This means a few things 1. I will drop a lot of cash. 2. I will succumb to perfume press descriptions which I’ve learned are complete bullshit, generally speaking, but nonetheless will reach saturation point where I will feverishly smell any sample that uses words like “honeyed” “spiced” “tonka” or “boozy”. Full disclosure: I already hit that point a week ago. 3. Further, when my husband arrives home he will find me surrounded by samples, blotters, bottles, notebooks, and guides and will say without fail, “It smells like a whore house in here.” To which I will reply, “A really expensive one.”
Speaking of tradition, we have entered my favorite season of the year. For a few years now, I’ve been searching for my perfect Autumn perfume. I love perfume and I love Autumn. It only makes sense that I would want to meld these two loves into one symphonically spiced dream stormcloud that is bathed in fallen leaves, Jack o’Lantern light and atmospheric moodiness.
Now that I’m fully graduated and carrying around a card that says I am an adult… Aren’t I? Didn’t we get one of those? Autumn has become more of a leisure season than summer. It’s my favorite time of year and as such, I feel I should be scented appropriately for it. Just like I ritually pull my sweaters out of my cedar chest each year, I love the idea of pulling a pretty crystalline bottle of something spiced, boozy, and warm out of a drawer.
I mean, of course, bourbon.
But after THAT, I would like to reach into a second drawer and pull out a perfume that has patiently waited until its “time.” I want to build a scent memory and limit this particular scent only to September, October and November. I crave ritual and tradition.
What I want is to wear on my pulse points my ultimate concept of Fall. For me, each September, October, and November I am sucked into an autumnal bolt of toile fabric frolicking merrily amidst the falling leaves, drinking a cidery cocktail as I wave to hay-riding, football-tossing passersby on their way to a pumpkin patch, having just left an apple orchard where they ate pork chops and traded flannels. We are all rosy cheeked, good-looking and temporarily freckled. We will meet up a bonfire that night where we will tell ghost stories, drink hot toddies, and wear cloaks.
Can we bottle this?
I’m not looking for my Fall perfume to be revolutionary or weird. Nor do I want to smell like a Glade plug-in. To illustrate by contrast, I like my Winter perfumes to feel like a cozy cashmere blankie scented with vanilla smoke, a cup of caramelized something or other in my hand. For Autumn, I want things a bit more outdoorsy– less shelter from the cold, but still warm enough to kick through some leaves. Slightly dry, but still cozy. In Summer I love zingy citrus and herbs, cool breezy berries, and white musks. Spring is all about Iris, for me, but that’s a different post.
Not all perfumes or notes have a seasonal connotation, of course. Paris by Yves Saint Laurent, for example, is a loud rose. Roses, to be sure, could be associated with, say, June. But a tea rose is to Paris as Ru Paul is to a woman. Fabulous but not real. This is a rose that showed up via spaceship after aliens caught a glimpse of Alice and Wonderland and the Golden Afternoon. It is juicy and shouty and I wear it not because I love roses but because it is the smell of hot pink. Azzarro pour Homme is similarly seasonless in that it smells like the world’s most attractive man and we can all agree that’s a wonderful thing year round, no?
So my quest is specific and has a hypothesis: Is there a scent, wearable by a human who must occasionally occupy space near other humans, that contains all the atmospheric things I love about fall?
- squashes and gourds
- scary movies
- baked goods
- harvestiness (TM – me)
- football (open to interpretation, but surely a little leather and sweat wouldn’t hurt anybody)
- Gothic fiction
- Witches (in the cauldron dwelling healing wise woman sense, of course)
- Pencil shavings
- Unsolved Mysteries
I’m speaking conceptually, of course. The concept of an apple is far more interesting in the world of perfumery than a literal apple. I mean, save yourself the $80 and just grab a Granny Smith. Unless the literal kind of fragrance is your jam, then hithee to a Bath and Body Works. I’m talking about art and shit.
For each of these aforementioned autumnal concepts, I can offer a perfume-related option:
- Incense? Armani Prive Bois D’Encens
- Pumpkin – Etat Libre D’Orange Like This ( a weird “pumpkin” accord inspired by Tilda Swinton of all people and frankly, it’s too much for me) I wish the bottle would hiss, “If it’s war Aslan wants, then it is war he shall get!” when you spray it, but that’s neither here nor there.
- Football – Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Kahn – Rrrrggggllll. Full disclosure, this perfume smells like leather, musk, and armpits. Really very expensive well-crafted leather, musk, and armpits. Between the sheets leather, musk and armpits. It’s wonderful. As a former cheerleader, I can tell you that a football bus smells nothing like a high-end French manufactured perfume, even with the armpits. I only WISH it did. Rather, it smells like all the things that glandular adolescent boys smell like including hormones, sweat, and anger. And not just the present ones, but the total tonnage of all the football players past who also rode this bus year after year, like ghostly hormone-addled, often bloodied and grass-stained masses of testosterone and young masculinity, silently accompanying their successors to and from battle. An image that’s almost beautiful, if not for the stench. Throw in 50 Booster-provided sack lunches complete with bologna sandwiches, Doritos, and Twinkies as well as a few liberal and ultimately futile pumps of raspberry-scented body spray from the cheerleader occupied front of the bus and you’ve got a cumulative odor that I will never forget and yet inexplicably miss.
- Pears – Annick Goutal Petit Cherie. A charming little scent that is not dark enough for fall. Yet, if you love pears, this is your girl. (This particular juice is known to go bad before it’s time, so buy the small bottle.)
- Witches – Ormonde Jayne Woman. Witchy, not in the evil green-faced way, but rather the cauldron-dwelling wise woman, beautiful and terrible and lurking behind dark branches and mossy glens. It’s unlike anything else out there.
But throw all of those together and you smell like an Autumn-themed migraine.
And I want ALL the things.
After going through dozens of samples and bottles, I’ve learned some things, realized some notes I don’t want in this perfume and I’ve narrowed down my list to the following:
- Brandy perfume – There is a perfume company called Brandy that produces only one perfume, also called Brandy, that smells like boozy apples and spice. It’s great.
- Lolita Lempicka by Lolita Lempicka – The most mainstream pick of the bunch. The bottle is a purple apple covered in gold writing. The juice is sweet with notes of licorice and fruit, vanilla and booze.
- Oliban by Keiko Mecheri – Very spicy and autumnal with a big dose of incense.
- Geisha Rouge by Aroma M – It’s an oil, instead of an EdP. It’s gorgeous. It smells like everything I love about the season. I am also fantastically allergic to it, but this has never stopped me in other areas of my life like hayrides, cats, dogs and rolling down grassy hills (which is awesome.) So Geisha Rouge is NOT OUT YET even though it makes my neck burn. There IS an EdP formulation which will probably solve the issue. And yes, I am willing to go into aniphylactic shock for a perfume.
- Commes des Garcon White by Commes des Garcon – A spectacular cinnamon cedar.
- Dzonghka by L’Artisan Parfumeur – It smells like woods and tea and dry wonderful things. It also has this peculiar (and great) note of what Finesse mousse used to smell like in the 80’s. Like if you soaked a cedar plank in Finesse mousse, while drinking a cup of Earl Grey. Which might sound, I don’t know, sticky– but it would smell amazing.
- Ormonde Jayne Woman – Far too fabulous to stay with just “witches”. I hesitate only because the thought of ONLY wearing it in Autumn saddens me. Also, it costs a lot of money.
- Bois de Violette – Serge Lutens. I once heard this perfume described as “purple.” This is right on. I’ve also heard it described as the ultimate “rainy day at the library” perfume. Also right on. What’s more autumnal than plummy shades and rainy days surrounded by books? Purple is also the traditional color of royalty and so is the price tag on this perfume. However, the point of luxury is not to calculate all the practical things you could have purchased with the amount you spent. Rather the point is to enjoy it. Still, if I do settle on this perfume, I may hyperventilate a bit at the Barney’s counter.
- Padparadscha by Satellite – It is none of these…and yet all of them. It’s an amber, which is hardly exciting in the world perfumery but undeniably pleasant. What it does have is a dose of pepper. I love pepper. It is dry, spicy and warm. Which is exactly how you want to feel in Autumn, as opposed to wet, bland and cold.
- Voleur de Roses – L’Artisan Parfumeur. Putting aside the apple and pumpkin spice version of Fall, this is a mysterious gothic rose. Wrought iron, thorns and the colors from the Crayola “bold” marker pack. This is Autumn from the dark corner of a Slytherin party. There’s patchouli here. And earth. Another “purple” scent. But this time, in deep dark velvet.
- Botrytis byt Ginestet. “Botrytis” sounds like some sort of elderly affliction involving swollen ankles and orthopedic shoes. The perfume, however, is nothing of the sort. It’s honeyed, spicy. It’s fruits are boozy. It feels like a sunny Autumn afternoon. Even the bottle is topped with a gold leaf.
- Brigitte by Tocca. The fruitiest of the nominees, take that as you will. It’s spicy and gingery with a rhubarb note I dig. Marketing jargon says it has a “panettone” accord, and that’ just fine with me. It’s pretty and it’s inspired by Brigitte Bardot. What’s not to love?
- 1270 by Frapin. Frapin is a French cognac maker that has delved into perfumery. To me, this makes FAR more sense than fashion designers making perfume. I mean, think about it. That makes no sense. Clothes and perfume have NOTHING to do with each other. In fact, I would argue perfume does better without clothes entirely, but that’s a philosophical discussion. ANyway, Frapin 1270 is a cognac for the skin with many wonderful layers that unfold as you wear it. It’s lovely and warm and unisex.
- Black March by CB I Hate Perfume. Oakmossy and dark without ever venturing into gourmand. It’s green but in a deep dark woods sort of way.
- Russian Caravan Tea by CB I Hate Perfume. The best tea perfume out there, in my opinion. It’s gorgeous and smoky and sweet. The only problem is, Will and I will fight over the bottle. We both love it.
But these are the “newbies”, relatively speaking. The best age in perfumery was arguably the 50’s through the 70’s when mysore sandalwood wasn’t endangered, Europe wasn’t freaking out about citrus oils and allergens, and perfumers weren’t ruled by cheap executives. What Autumn is, thematically speaking, is dark, rich, mysterious and textured. We must look into the perfumes of the past to truly delve into this idea. Although I must tell you that I have nixed a few of these from my nominees for the Ultimate Fall Perfume, that is purely from a personal point of view. As a student of perfume, these not only fit the bill, they wrote the book.
- Cuir de Russe by Chanel. Although I’ve never had this experience, I am convinced this is how it would smell sitting in the back of a Bentley with a wealthy gentleman who had a drink in his hand, a cigar in his mind, and the window open. It’s grand. There is something autumnal about leather, and this is arguably the best leather. Seek ye not the perfume counter for this masterpiece, but get thee to a Chanel storefront. It is part of their exclusive collection and yes, it is very expensive. That said, the bottle is very generous. And truly, you can’t beat the quality. If you are going to splurge, splurge into this.
- Mitsouko by Guerlain. Whereas I would put Shalimar in my “Winter” perfumes, Mitsouko has a drier edge. Much of the perfume community considers Mitsouko to be the greatest perfume ever created. It is an acquired taste for some, myself included. I’ve been “teaching” myself about it for years.
- L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain This one has a nuttiness to it. The Bombshell Manual calls this a summer evening scent, and I see their point. But I raise them L’Heur Bleue’s coziness.
- Bois Des Iles by Chanel. Another “brunette” scent. Probably a classier one, all told. Bois Des Iles is similar to Ormond Woman in that I dislike the thought of limiting it to Autumn alone. It is incredibly grown up. Even at 31 I feel like I might be being presumptuous to put it on. Like high heels when you are 5 years old. But how much fun are those high heels? Perfumes: the Guide calls it No 5’s Brunette sister. And I love that idea.
In truth, the likelihood that I would settle on a singular scent for an entire season is remote. However, I need some sort of figurehead for the theme. And if I pick up some flankers on the way, the more the merrier. September feels much different from November and certainly if I was feeling zany, I could find a scent for both the early and warm days and the later cold and grey days. Halloween opens the door to even further possibilities. My Ultimate Autumn Perfume will, I hope, encapsulate all those things and more. If not, well, it’s just perfume. *wink*