The Difficult Season

A few years ago Guerlain, which likes to come out with sets of things, came out with a set of four fragrances.  It was called Les 4 Saisons, and the idea was that you had an instant seasonal wardrobe of perfumes.

The perfumes  in question were Muguet de Printemps, which is that first of May issue that Guerlain does every year like clockwork, the second was Quand Vient L’Ete, or translated into the demotic of online retailers Terracotta Voile d’Ete, and Winter Delice the old Christmasy Aqua Allegoria was the winter choice.  But what about autumn?

Other people like Autumn, or love Autumn, and seem to be really good at picking scents to match the season.  They wear leathers  or ambers, or they find a truly wonderful gourmand.

Me, I trudge off to my bottle of Caron Farnesiana, and my bottle of Que Sais-Je year after year, well maybe, this year I will wear the comforting old L’Origan as well.  But that’s it.  That’s my list.

Guerlain, however, seem to have been stumped as well.  There were no Mitsouko variations.  Instead they came out with Brume d’Automne (Autumn Mist) which was supposed to be a woody floral with aromatic touches. The notes, which began with pink pepper, coriander and rosemary, over ylang ylang and absinthe in the heart, ended with sandalwood and vetiver.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  But you would have thought that somewhere in the extensive Guerlain canon, there would have been an autumnal perfume?

But it goes to make my point here that autumnal scents are hard to list, much more so that Spring and Summer lists, because with Spring you get flowers and with Summer you get fruit and flowers and with Autumn you get- pumpkins?  Foliage, very nice, but not aromatic, and some fruit but it begins to be dried fruit, you know raisins, dried figs.

It all has a smell and it’s all evocative, but of what precisely?  Dying vegetation, cooking spices?  I wish we were still allowed to have leaf fires.  Robert Louis Stevenson said it best:

Sing a Song of seasons,
Something bright in all,
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall.

So like Guerlain, I struggle a little bit with fall.  I don’t care for hammer blow ambers or over tooled leathers.  Besides Farnesiana and Que sais-Je and L’Origan (and if you haven’t smelled vintage L’Origan*, try to, because it smells like L’Heure Bleue,  only softer and more warm, L’Heure d’Or, they might have called it).

There is always D’Orsay’s Le Dandy  which expresses the apply side of fall, the apple turned to armagnac.  There is Anima Dulcis which is a beautiful butter pastry/incense, although I’ve read that some people call it a chocolate incense, and there is Hilde Soliani’s Bel Antonio,  a lovely meld of coffee and tobacco, and there is Divine Folie the old leather perfume from Jean Patou, that is soft and supple on skin, less apricoty than Daim Blond, more gentle than Lancome Cuir.

A find, if you come across it, and there is Ineke Ruhland’s Field Notes from Paris, one of her best compositions a charming spicy coffee blend over tonka beans which accomplishes the feat of making an oriental perfume accessible and even friendly and chatty.

So I find I’ve written a list, but the list is made up of things that work, none of which is a jury-rigged scent, they are all, now I come to think of it fire side scents, one way or another, oh well, there is that one bright thing about the dark side of the year, those fires in the fall.

* My sample courtesy the kindly Meg of Parfumieren!

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14 Responses to The Difficult Season

  1. Michael says:

    For me the smell of autumn is vetiver, something strong, rooty, dank and dark like Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire. Wearing that one reminds me of walking in a damp, misty wood, leaves falling around me, with a faint whiff of bonfires or woodsmoke in the distance and crumbly, moisty vegetation rotting underfoot…!

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      A much more woodsy evocation of Fall than mine, your description takes me right back to Vermont in October!
      I like Vetiver myself, but have gotten into the habit of thinking it a Summer smell, because I haul out the Guerlain Vetiver every July. But you’re right, it recreates earthiness very well. There was that strange de Nicolai Vetyver that was sort of one part spice to two parts earth. Did you smell that one?

      • Michael says:

        Blacknall, I gravitate naturally to woody notes, so probably not surprising I like that type of vetiver. For me the sunnier/summery types of vetiver tend to be those that play on grassy facets, like the Guerlain. My preference is for the rootiness of vetiver. I haven’t smelled the Nicolai – is it still in production or discontinued?

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          Yup, still in production. According to the website it is “rafined and viril”, and you actually have a de Nicolai shop in London, you lucky people!

  2. Dionne says:

    I’ve noticed that fall is a difficult season to perfume as well. For me, the ambers and leathers and patchoulis are very much winter frags, and because where I live it’s winter almost 6 months out of the year (I kid you not – the snow is here, and it looks like it ain’t going away…..) they get a lot of time in the rotation. In fact, I’ve tried wearing my spring and summer frags in the winter, and it’s such a jarring sensation I swear it feels like they’re mocking me, “Who are you trying to kid? It’s still wiiiiiiinter….” Who knew florals were so petty?

    Anyhoo, autumn is basically the month of September, where the evenings and mornings are cool, the leaves are turning and the afternoons can still be lovely and warm. I find myself reaching for golden, joyful, honeyed things: Jour Ensolleilé, Golden Cattleya, and the figs still seem appropriate as well. And then October and snow come, and all of a sudden I’m craving spices in my perfumes.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      That is one short Autumn! I feel your pain because of the aforementioned stint in Vermont where we had two seasons: Winter and Mud Season. But anyway, there is this one floral for Fall, osmanthus. It has that golden, honeyed, goes with yellowing foliage kind of vibe to it. I like Parfums’ d’Empire Osmanthus Interdite, and there’s one done by Keiko Mecheri as well. I may have to go for one of them as my cherished Farnesiana is not what it used to be. Still, worth a try. Golden Cattleya I don’t know, and Jour Ensoille is very pretty now you come to mention it.

  3. Meg says:

    For the last two autumns I’ve been hoarding & using with utmost sparingness my samples of Parfums d’Empire’s Wazamba and Ginestet Botrytis, as well as a bottle of Fendi di Fendi. But now that Jour Ensoleille has entered the conversation…..

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      You know, I haven’t smelled either Wazamba or Ginestet Bottrytis. oh oh someone’s behind on the samples again! The Ginestet I must admit is purely down to the silly conceit (on my part) that it sounds like a disease. It probably means noble rot. No complaints about Fendi di Fendi, but Jour Ensoleille is a lovely Autumn fragrance. It’s a blast from the past but I used to like Antonia’s Flowers in Fall.

  4. Undina says:

    Here, in the coastal Northern California, we aren’t getting too much of any seasons so I usually just declare that “now it’s time for spring/summer/autumn/winter perfumes” and start figuring out what smells good. This year my autumn fragrances so far are L’Artisan Tea for Two, Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café and Blackberry & Bay (but this one, probably, because it’s new, in future I see it as a summer perfume), Serge Lutens Chergui and Guerlain Jicky. I should try and see how I feel about Field Notes From Paris for this season – thank you for the idea.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      If I understand San Francisco weather rightly, your pattern is foggy rather than frigid in Winter? It sounds almost European.
      I liked the Blackberry & Bay too, one of the best recent Jo Malones don’t you think? Pretty and light and not so musky as Mure et Musc, I’ll be using up my sample for sure.

  5. Mals86 says:

    So… um… it’s just me that falls headlong and happy into fall fragrances? I always enjoy the turn of seasons and the association of certain fragrances with certain weathers. Here in the Virginia mountains we do get all four seasons and I love them.

    Well, maybe I love summer less than the others.

    Autumn’s my favorite. And there are a number of fragrances I associate with autumn and not with other times of year: Tabac Aurea, Organza Indecence, Mauboussin, Magie Noire (the vintage, tu comprends, and it is Not At All My Usual Sort of Scent, calling for wet-cloudy-windy-chilly weather). Arpege in any formulation seems autumnal to me; so does modern Femme.

    Some of my year-round favorites work well in fall too: Le Temps d’une Fete is a gold-and-green autumn day. Smell Bent One’s old books and spice tea. DSH Chypre is a titanic, elemental nature goddess at each with the season.

    • Mals86 says:

      I get the Shalimar Light out in fall, too, but that one stays in heavy rotation through the winter as well.

      • Blacknall Allen says:

        What’s up with Shalimar Light in Winter? Did exactly the same thing until my sinusitis kicked up. Now I wear Mouchoir de Monsieur which believe it or not is pretty similar to SL-not identical mind you- but close enough. Wear it in Winter. Why? Wouldn’t they be Summer frags? But no.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Arpege for Fall, fills nostrils with the scent! Must smell the Mauboussin you mention. Yes they’re all good choices, and I haven’t smelled Magie Noire for years!
      I always think I should like Fall and its scents, because everyone else seems to, but then don’t. I’m switching to L’Origan this year (in vintage) because it is so lovely and I wouldn’t have known if not for Miss Meg and her sample. I do like Ineke’s Evening Edged in Gold and her Field Notes from Paris, those might become Autumn alternates for me, and I do like Lovely Patchouli, that’s pretty Fallish.

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