Foodies have a built in problem with perfume in that many scents just clash with whatever it is you’re cooking. In fact and to get specific about it, perfume often squares off, in the nose, against the whole process of food preparation.
In our household a good deal of cooking and baking goes on every day, and it doesn’t help the smell in the kitchen when whatever it is I’m wearing or testing simply curdles in the air around the chopping block. If you cook, necessarily you spend time in the kitchen.
In my case, and for reasons that probably have to do a lot with growing up in Italy, there are often onions and tomatoes and garlic in attendance. It would be nice if the perfume got along with them instead of playing an airborne game of The Dozens with them.
There are, however, perfumes that work well in kitchens. These are the scents that have a strong herbal component, and are on the dry side. If you’re baking, gourmand scents might work well, but that’s another topic. Cooking – as opposed to baking- is about the savory side of the taste spectrum, and herbs and sometimes citrus work well there.
Three perfumes I have known tend to play nicely in front of the stove, and all three have a prominent herbal note. The first is Philtre d’Amour from 2000. Philtre d’Amour was one of Guerlain’s Les Parisiennes line and it had a very short shelf life. The reason I think was the restriction placed on oakmoss by the industry watchdog IFRA. So Philtre only survived for a meager eight years or so. I knew it through a decant and came to love it though it never really smelled quite like a Guerlain to me, because for a French perfume it smelled so very Italian.
You see, the sweetness of Guerlains, the little sachet of vanilla that all Guerlains seem to tuck into their underwear drawer, was missing. Instead Philtre was intensely citric, beginning with bergamot, verbena (the herbal component) and lemon. Philtre had a floral heart that circulated myrhh, along with jasmine, neroli and petit grain around its Tuscan Archimboldo body, and the whole curious composite was propped up in patchouli shoes. It was a trifle strange. But it also was a perfect companion in the kitchen and later at the dinner table, never fighting with flavors or over powering wine. I do miss it very much indeed; perhaps the most of all the recently defunct Parisienne perfumes.
Among still living perfumes there is Maitre Parfumier et Gantier’s Baime. This one is entirely herbal, and the slant of light through the perfume is green rather than lemon yellow, although packaged in the jaunty red glass that it is, you have to perceive this with your nose rather than your eyes. Baime has a lavender note and jasmine as well but you will notice them far less than the basil that the perfume highlights. The core of the fragrance manages to be herbal and dry at the same time. I can’t guess how. Perhaps this accounts for reviewers claiming that it smells like salad dressing. But denizen of the kitchen that I am, with the burn scars on my hands to show for it, Baime worked very well for me, and I was sorry to finish the last of my sample. Indeed there was a good deal of shaking and peering to make certain I had used it all up. Again, the sense of place was Italy, but maybe Naples rather than Tuscany.
Basil rules again in the last of these three culinary perfumes. This is Parfums de Nicolai’s Eclipse. Now this one is decidedly skewed because although it is about lily of the valley, recognizable, easily identifiable lily of the valley, those lilies are set off by black pepper (not pink pepper please note) and what smells like a smidgen of licorice or anise to me, and a positive wallop of basil. The effect is pretty far from the delicate early spring atmospherics of Diorissimo, as my mother (having finally forsaken Tabu) used to wear it. Instead this perfume is earthy and subtly sweet but the sweetness is made to serve the purposes of the dominant note here which is probably the basil rather than the lily of the valley.
It is a green floral alright, but one of a very idiosyncratic sort, and still another excellent ally in the kitchen being a natural companion of many white wines, aniseed confections and anything peppery. The effect is of an opinionated lady possibly French but I’d say from Southern France arguing with her neighbors about the proper recipe for pistou. It is not remotely elegant but it does have a four on the floor kind of grip on the road of every day reality and the pleasures of inhabiting it. Some days, you like to be just exactly where you are: in the kitchen.