Parfum de Vie – The Smells We Love and Perfume Psychosis – A Meditation


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:

Baltus Van Tassel from Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Baltus Van Tassel’s Bursting Barn from Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

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 primordialDune 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.


The Aromatic Fougere incarnate

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?


Autumn Rhythm – My Search for the Ultimate Fall Perfume

Don’t you think there ought to be a perfume called Autumn Rhythm?
The Bombshell Manual of Style

I do.

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.”

Ah, tradition.

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?

  • cloves
  • pumpkins
  • apples
  • cinnamon
  • squashes and gourds
  • rain
  • leaves
  • color
  • sweaters
  • scary movies
  • caramel
  • brandy
  • Applejack
  • baked goods
  • hay
  • harvestiness (TM – me)
  • books
  • fireplaces
  • bonfires
  • incense
  • candles
  • football (open to interpretation, but surely a little leather and sweat wouldn’t hurt anybody)
  • Gothic fiction
  • Ghosts
  • 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*

The Hand-Walking Queer

Iris Levandowski, The Hand Walking Queer

Let’s talk perfume.

One note in particular is making me smile these days, and that is iris.


Quite literally, anytime I have fallen instantly in love with a scent lately, it is chock full of iris.  What is it I love so?  Well, while iris is a flower, the scent is actually extracted from the root, not the bloom.  Ergo that fecally bad breathy hint of indole screeching out of your average white flower isn’t there.  Iris is dark, cool, powdery, mysterious and rich.  It’s also rare in that extracting the oil from the dried iris root (orris) is difficult, painstaking, and frankly, now that there are synthetic interpretations, not quite as lucrative.  Not quite.  However, orris root butter (the raw fragrance material) is worth three times it’s weight in gold.  Intriguing, no?

Orris Root

I fell in love with Iris because of her friend Lily of the Valley.  They blend oh so well together.  I was loving green powdery perfumes with an underlying richness.  I knew that mysterious dark and woody scent wasn’t coming from any recreation of a little bell shaped bloom.   That rich dark scent was iris.

If you want to try out iris, here are a list of fragrances to sniff:

Chanel no 19

Chanel no 19 (If the Chanel section of the perfume department doesn’t have it, try the makeup counter.)  This is a powdery green perfume, but the anchor is iris.

Parfums di Nicolai Odalisque

Parfums di Nicolai Odalisque:  This is the current love of my life.  You won’t find it on any perfume counter.  Try Luckyscent.  You can order a sample for 3 bucks.  Unless you know me, then I’ll give you a smellin’ strip for free, so to speak.

Chanel no 18

Chanel no 18 (This is available only at the Chanel boutique)  This is a rose iris, and it is gorgeous.  Personally, though, Odalisque will do the trick and it costs about $150.00 less.

Prada Infusion d'Iris

Prada Infusion d’Iris.  This is readily available at Sephora, perfume counters, etc.

Bvlgari Pour Femme

For a lighter touch of iris, try Bvlgari Pour Femme.

Dior Homme

Dior Homme is also a contender for great iris.

Aqua di Parma Iris Nobile

Finally, Aqua di Parma Iris Nobile is a cologne version of Iris.

The thing to remember with Iris is (and this goes for all perfume) don’t gender it.  What I mean by that is if you are a woman and you dig Dior Homme, girl, WEAR Dior Homme.  Same for men.  If Chanel no 19 trips your trigger, then dude, WEAR Chanel 19.  Only in the past 50 years or so has perfume been so segregrated by gender.  Ava Gardner wore Aqua di Parma.  Bridgette Bardot and numerous men wore Jicky.  I mention this in a post about iris because iris knows no gender.  Iris just knows a certain sensibility, and that is mystery.

Go back to your roots, so to speak, and find yourself some iris.  Learning what notes you both like, love, dislike and loathe can be the foundation for your personal map of the weird, huge, and overwhelming world of scent.

Baubles, bangles and beads

What a weekend! Firstly, I’d like to welcome my dear dear brother in law, Adam, to our fair city. Until him, I’d never had a brother, and he is the best one could have. He’s just moved in down the street, and tomorrow starts his job with Americorps. We’re very happy to have him in the ‘hood.

Secondly, I tried absinthe this weekend. Why oh why must all highly touted liquors taste like licorice? I do no like the licorice. Think about it, absinthe, ouzo, jaeger, that one swedish one that I can’t remember the name… I don’t think I had enough to invoke it’s purported halucinogenic effects, so I feel like it may deserve another try.

The aforementioned absinthe was purchased at one of my favorite haunts in Chicago, The Violet Hour. I call it Alice in Wonderland for grownups. If a caterpillar smoking a hookah was curled up in the corner, you wouldn’t be surprised. I took my 21 year old sister Ellen and her friend Misty, along with Leslie to experience the wonder.

My trip to the Violet Hour (like every trip to the Violet Hour) resulted in a new favorite drink. Pimm’s Cup! It’s what I’ve always wanted a mint julep to be, except it’s not a mint julep. So add to my list of fave drinky drinks for summer:
Salty Dog
Hush and Wonder (another Violet Hour speciality)
Gin and Tonic
Icy cold martini (gin, of course)
And now Pimm’s Cup!

Meanwhile, the perfume search continues. Today I trotted down to Merz Apothecary to sniff L’Eau EDT by Diptyque. It is a marvelous combination of smells, inspired by (allegedly) a 13th century pomander (I eat these type of anecdotes up with a silver spoon.) To me, L’eau is a masculine without doubt. It smells more like a home fragrance than a people fragrance on first sniff. BUT I am highly interested in experiencing how it blooms upon the pulse points of my significant other.

I also tried Dune again. Still in love. Although it smells saltier to me than before. I also sniffed Angel Sunessence. I tried the original Angel on Friday at Nordstrom. While it smelled to Misty like cookies, it smelled to me like cookies accidentally baked with cumin. While I understand it’s place in perfume history, and how it has been influential, it is not for me. I know I mentioned it earlier as a proper contender for my wrist, but we have since parted. It was like a wonderful first date followed by a miserable second.

Chanel Cristalle, however, was another matter entirely. Of all the people I forced my sample upon, I was the only one who liked it. It is so crisp and so refreshing, I very nearly wanted to bathe in it to combat yesterday’s humidity. But at 80 bucks a pop, that bath will have to wait. Ultimately, Cristalle will probably not make my cut. It just doesn’t have the staying power I require, even though I truly love it. Perhaps I can find it in lotion form and stick that in the fridge.

I also danced through the Annick Goutal and Guerlain lines while sticking my nose in anything from Calyx to Joy along the way. It was a wonderful morning.

I ended up coming home with samples of Badgley Mischka, Q’uel Amour by Annick Goutal, Pure White Linen by Estee Lauder, and Cristalle. I have also since completely lost track of which is which. Badgley is fruity, so I think I have managed to pick that one out. And Chanel is labeled, but Pure White Linen and Q’uel Amour flummox me.

The latest grail I seek is Norell. You’d think, what with White Shoulders and Tabu being so readily available, that Norell would be a mere skip to a drugstore. But no. While I’ve found many online sources, I’m not really interested in purchasing a whole bottle just to sniff. Frankly, the bottle’s not pretty enough. BUT I believe that Perfume-mania in Norridge may have just what I’m looking for. Anyone up for a field trip later this week? Tonight I’m heading to Barney’s to sniff the L’artisan, Serge Luten, and Comme des garcons lines. Also, I think I will put 100% Love to the test, along with Samsara (I highly expect to not like it), and Apres L’ondee. maybe a sniff of Rive Gauche if I don’t get a headache.

A couple things I know now that I did not know before this weekend:
1. Gardenia, if truly gardenia and not a sneaky tuberose, smells as much to me like bad breath as jasmine does.
2. I am absolutely as much interested in the presentation as the perfume. Whether I like it or not, I can’t have Angel Sunessence lying on my vanity. It looks like a starfish toy out of a kid’s meal. Call me shallow. I’m just being honest.
3. I like thyme more than I thought I did.

Finally, I spent much of Saturday antiquing. Violet Hour may be my favorite place to cool my heels, but my favorite place to make them ache in the first place is now Lazy Dog Antiques on Belmont. I found, along with some nice porcelain bathroom accessories, a Chanel no. 5/Arpege 14k gold pen set for twenty dollars. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but it was love.
And lastly, I know I already said “finally”, but I write in the stream of conscious here, this is it. It is really the week/weekend I start to paint the kitchen and living room. I bought a reproduction Bon Ami tin sign to inspire me. Painting…hmmm…I might require an apron for that.

You down with EDT? Yeah you know me…or rather EDP? That’s what I’m tryin’ to be!

HA HA HA HA HA!!!! I don’t care if you don’t think it’s funny. A good parody of OPP will make me laugh every time.

Between my essential oils, The Bombshell’s post last week, and reading this book on perfumes, I’ve become disenchanted with my signature scents. The present ones will always hold a place in my heart, but they have faded from day to day use. I’ve outgrown some, and placed some in the category of Scent of Major Events. And some I plain don’t like anymore.

These were/are my old standby’s:

1. Ralph Lauren Romance. My late college scent. I also wore it on my wedding day, and now it has sort of become my wedding fragrance. So I don’t want to reinvoke it for daily wear.

2. Calgon Turqouise Seas body spray. I know, I know. What am I? A stripper? No, just a girl who has to rush from one place to another and who requires a shower in a bottle. And frankly, it smells pretty good in my opinion. BUT it is soooooo high school and college Betsy, and I feel I’ve outgrown it.

3. Sarah Jessica Parker, Lovely. Actually, I really dig this fragrance. And it may stay in my rotation.

4. Dolce and Gabbana, Sicily. My first foray into the world of Aldehydes. It was the first really “different” perfume I ever purchased. I like it when I’m feeling ornery. Which is often, I admit. This also may stay in rotation. It’s nice in a sea of Trixies. Girl, I said it. Don’t read it if you don’t like it. It’s like if there was a room full of Hillary Duffs and Sophia Loren busted through.

5. Clean Fresh Laundry. This was given to me as my wedding gift from Will. Therefore, I plan on having this bottle last forever, and as such, can’t have it as daily wear because of that. My perfume book panned it, but I really have always loved the smell of fabric softener and sheets on the line, and that is what this invokes for me. And my honeymoon.

Other perfumes on my vanity include the teensiest little drip left of Amor Amor by Chacharel. I used to love it, but it has become a little collegey to me, too. There are notes that I like, but I have discovered other perfumes that rock those notes better. Sensi, by Armani, because I thought I was buying Sicily. It smells okay. A little sharp, but I’ve gotten compliments on it. No. 5, teensy little sample I’ve been eeking along for years. A classic. Creme Bouquet by Stila, another sample I’ve been eeking. I didn’t like it the first time I smelled it. Now I find it warm and cozy. It might be a little sugary for me, I’m not sure. But the lactonic notes are what I dig. It really is creamy, in a way. Shalimar. It’s so layered and ambery and vanillaey and smells different depending on how long you’ve been wearing it and the story behind it is grand. It’s the idea of Shalimar that is sitting on my vanity, more than the actual perfume. Then there’s Tabu, what I just found out my Grandmother used to wear. I never met her, and having that bottle there is like…I don’t know. A sense of her. I just need to track down Evening in Paris, her other perfume. White Shoulders. I love the bottle, and my Aunt Becky used to wear it. Once I find a bottle of vintage Heaven Sent, my family collection will be nearly complete.

But I’ve been slowly sniffing around town and the internet, looking for the signature scents of 28 year old Betsy, not 21 year old Coco Mademoiselle Betsy. She didn’t quite get the power of scent yet. I mean, she smelled good. But she didn’t think too much into it. Luckily for her, the boys didn’t either. Now we both do.

Sure, I might bust out Shalimar for a trip to the Violet Hour, but I need some solid signatures for Summer Day, Summer Evening, Winter Day, Winter Evening, Casual, and Special Occasion Formal and Special Occasion WATCH OUT! (that’s when I come home with holes in my jeans and someone else’s shoes on…I’m suspecting Angel by Thierry Mugler may be just the thing. It smells like a drag queen…pre-show, of course.)

Nominees thus far:
Dune by Christian Dior. Everything I love about Coco, Allure, Mademoiselle, and Chance and nothing that I don’t like about them. Warm. Oceany in a way, sandy. Subtly spicy. I luuuuurve it. I tried it yesterday and I couldn’t stop smelling my wrist. Or shoving it in other people’s faces.

White Linen by Estee Lauder. Soapier and cleaner than no. 5. Richer than it’s offspring, Pure White Linen. Breezy.

Pure White Linen by Estee Lauder. Sweeter than it’s predecessor. Quieter. Perfect for SPring and Summer days. A major contender. I’ve had more than one person call it “Bridal” but it wasn’t MY bridal.

I have an Amber oil I picked up at Whole Foods that I really like. It’s probably going to be my official casual scent. A male cast member of mine said, “Wow, that’s too wild for me.” Just as I was about to say, “It’s so peaceful and cozy.” Go figure.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Lovely. Makes a nice rehearsal scent. I mean, in rehearsal you can be seriously up on people, and you don’t want to offend. But then Leslie says she thinks it smells likes chemicals. So maybe I’m just fooling myself, but it’s so peachy and apricotty to me, that I like to wear it with sweaters.

Initially I thought, why not just pick something Will likes? He’s the one that has to smell you. But then he picked Tabu, and my Aunt Becky said Oh your grandpa LOVED Tabu on Clara (my Grandmother)…and then told me that Will liking it was a little scary. I’m well aware in some ways I married my grandfather. My favorite photo of us is Gramps babysitting me. My bottle is being held up by a can of Colt 45. But freaking out my family is something else entirely.

And also, I can’t bear to wear a perfume I don’t love from top to toe. I love Tabu for sentimental reasons, but it will be an occasional wear for me. Same with my homemade rosewater.

So trotting off to Ulta I go today. I’m looking for the Bvlgari line (Black and Pour Femme), Badgley Mischka, and a whole bunch of the Estee Lauders I didn’t smell yesterday (Beautiful, Azuree, Knowing and another good sniff of White Linen), and Lolita Lempicka (I’ve smelled it. My Mom used to wear it, but I want to try it on me.

Disenchanted, ladylike gem

Well, while traipsing about the Internet I discovered this: It’s a computer program to organize your clothes. Like on CLUELESS! I have dreamed of this since I saw the movie for the first time. I shall be downloading.

Meanwhile, my essential oil love affair has centered itself squarely in the perfume aisle for the time being. I have a very long list of perfumes I want to sample. In that after smelling 5- 10 perfumes, your nose kind of wears out, far be it from me to suffer “Trop de bouquet” (translation credit to my partner in all things glamorous and rare, Ms. Leslie Frame.) I’m planning several different perfume sniffin’ outings. Sephora and Nordstrom will be my brick and mortar destinations. Macy’s, pardon my low English, SUCKS when it comes to perfume shopping. In fact, I may write a terse letter explaining to them why, even though the State street store is more convenient for me to visit, I shall be taking my perfume shopping business to Nordstrom. The selection is better, and they will give you a sample. If you’re super nice they will decant one for you.
Perfume is a commitment. Olfactorily speaking, it’s your first and last impression on the people you meet. It really and truly does say something about you. Chemically it smells different on you than on anyone else. I’m not going to take one whiff of Britney Spears Curious and then purchase it. Well, that’s mainly becuase it smells like a slutty version of sweetarts, but you know what I mean. Perfume requires a date. You have to know what it smells like now, in a half hour, an hour and three hours from now. I mean, Shalimar smells like four different perfumes if you treat it that way. PLUS the eau de toilette and eau de parfum can be completely different formulations and that’s just Chanel no. 5!


MEANWHILE, all the classic scents have become little holy grails of parfum. AND if you traipse yourself over to the Dior or Estee Lauder counter, the salesgirls have the nerve to explain to you that Dune and Youth Dew, respectively, are old.

Yes I know.

ME: “I’d like a sample of Youth Dew, please.”
ESTEE LAUDE ASSOCIATE: “OOhh..I don’t think we have a sample of Youth Dew.
ME: I’d like a sample of Youth Dew, please.
ESTEE LAUDER MANAGER: (surprised) Oh…well I don’t have a sample. I can give you a schpritz?
ME: Okay.
We travel to the far reaches, the barely lit “old lady perfume section” where she retrieves a bottle of Youth Dew.
ESTEE LAUDER MANAGER: Youth Dew is…Who are you buying this for?
ME: Well, I have this book of classic perfumes…
ME: (Smelling the card) Hmmm…Lots of aldehydes.
ESTEE LAUDER MANAGER: (Faux impressed) Ohh hoo!
ME: Well, thank you.

I wasn’t trying to impress her. What I meant was, “Wow, I forgot how similar to No. 5 Youth Dew is.”

Can’t we have nice things? I’m just going to go curl up with my bottle of Shalimar and have it lull me into luxurious sleep.

A deliciously fresh flight becomes hazy and sensual when the vanilla and powdery notes of its sweet, sensual base are discovered.

I done lost my mind.

Will doesn’t read my blog so I don’t feel bad about writing this: I just spent exorbitant amounts of money on classic perfumes. I don’t even like one of them. I just wanted them on my vanity.

My goal is to have a bottle of Joy by Jean Patou and not pay for it myself. Joy is the most expensive perfume in the world. Or at least it was, before people got all tacky about things.

But today, I purchased Shalimar, White Shoulders and Tabu. I totally get why Tabu is called Tabu. It smells like…naughtiness. And not particularly in a good way. I really don’t like it. But it’s title deserves a place on my vanity.

White Shoulders, however, makes me think of Ginger’s bedroom in Casino when she first sees it. ALthough that movie takes place in the 70’s, I think White Shoulders must smell like the sixties. It’s what I imagine it smelled like when my Mom watched her Mom get ready for church. Or my Aunt Becky before she went out on a date.

Shalimar…while not exactly my cup of tea has a lovely story involving romance and the taj mahal behind it, so it also deserves a place on my vanity.

Next purchase will be Heaven Sent: It’s what my Mom wore when I was growing up. (She says they changed the formulation, but that was awhile ago. Maybe they went back.)

I’m also planning on asking for Diorissimo for Christmas. Another I won’t purchase for myself.

But where oh where did I buy these fragrances?

Why…CVS! Best kept girl on a budget secret: Check out the perfume cabinet at your local drugstore. Packed with classics and all at a reasonable price. I nearly gave the cashier a heart attack when she rang up the bill, but she’s also used to scanning my bottles of moisturizer and bags of potato chips. This is the first time I laid down some serious cash on something other than makeup.

Some day I shall waltz into Nordstrom’s, merrily (and gingerly) tossing perfume bottles into shopping bags and saying things like “put it on my account, dahlings…” And then the counter girls will say…um who are you and we don’t do “accounts” and then I will drop the bags and flee the store…

I should get back to work. But I had to confess my gluttony…and vanity…and pride…and sloth… but curiously, committing all those sins keeps me nicely away from from wrath, while hopefull inspiring lust and envy in others. (Evil wink of eye.) (Cue “Evil Night Together” by Jill Tracy. Ta ta.