Monthly Archives: November 2012

Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Two: The Smell of Falling Snow

The smell of snow is one of the most ethereal smells on earth.  It’s very difficult to catch, being essentially frozen water and ozone, and I can’t think of  many perfumes that even try.  Of course, one famous house did make the attempt.

The perfume is  No. 5, the house is Chanel, and the scent was possibly incarnated once or twice before, as Rallet No. 1 and earlier as La Bouquet de Catherine,  both composed by Ernest Beaux when he was in the employ of Rallet, then a fashionable perfume house in Russia.   Continue reading

Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day One

It would have been nice to align the twelve smells of Christmas (or any other winter holiday you celebrate) with the items listed in the old carol.  But I can’t think what partridges in pear trees smell like – other than pears  – and so the next twelve posts will be a trifle subjective.  Here, at any rate, are some holiday smells and the perfumes that express them.

One of the most Christmasy to me is Grand Marnier, or Cointreau.  The smell of it is so wonderful, so delightfully orangey and spicy, that it is one of the immortally recurring fragrances of December, and good enough to swab onto your wrist, although when you factor in the stickiness involved, none of us ever do.

Thankfully, it is also one of the most successfully recreated scents and several versions of the  orange liquor in perfume form exist. Continue reading

Prince of Cats

Treat or claw,
Smell my paw,
Give me something
Good to gnaw!

(my daughter’s verse composed for Trick or Treating Cats)

You may have read that oakmoss, that dark extract that lends Chypres their  swarthy good looks is on its way out.  It seems that in 2013 oakmoss will be restricted to almost trace amounts in formulas, .0001% if I read the notice on the Basenotes thread correctly, and that is not good news for any number of classic perfumes. Continue reading

That’s Another Fine Bottle You’ve Gotten Me Into

To misquote the immortal Oliver Hardy, who was generally accusing his comedy partner Stan Laurel of being the prime instigator of their continual disasters.  With me, it’s my brain.


Because my Brain thinks it’s intelligent. The Brain thinks it’s educated. And worst of all, the Brain thinks it has taste.

My Nose is never concerned with any of that.  The Nose doesn’t care whether what it smells is avant garde or not, the Nose could not care less whether a perfume is clichéd.  The Nose just knows what it likes. Continue reading


My daughter likes to claim that she is a Nutmegger, that is, a native of Connecticut.  I don’t like to tell her the origin of the state nickname.  It’s actually a folk memory of the local cottage industry in the days of the tall ships, when the  Connecticut natives would toss hand-whittled “nutmegs” into baskets of the fantastically expensive real thing in order to up the weight and cheat trading partners.

Well, everybody should have a hobby, and that was how they got through the long winters back in Stamford and New London a hundred and fifty years ago. Continue reading

A Minuet for Mignonette

If you’ve ever cruised through the Wrightsman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you notice one thing at once.

The colors are different, different from 21st century Pantone shades, strikingly so.

I used to think, because of age and grime and the fading so many trips around the sun leave on an object, that 18th century taste in color was for grayed off pastels.

Nope.  In those galleries you see porcelains with the brightest parrot greens and acid yellows paired with turquoise blues, they are all vivid, but without the harshness that aniline dyes gave to 20th century colors.  It’s a different color palette, natural, but bright. Continue reading


The flawless green perfume is something that I keep looking for year after year.  In a perfect world, there would be one fabulous, gem like scent a year to ooh and ahh over, but in this cold world of hot button politics, that’s not the case.

Green perfumes are not in right now.  The closest thing to a green hit that I can think of is Patricia de Nicolai’s Le Temps d’une Fête.  Everything else is just not a hit, or is not green. There are plenty of people out there who love green perfumes, but not enough it seems to spawn a genuine blockbuster.  Chanel No 19, which is sort of a paradigmatic green fragrance, remains a rarified taste, and both Private Collection and Alliage, are not the same formulas they were when introduced. Continue reading

Music for Mosquitoes

Some perfumes are simply aimed at a very high note on the scale of smell.  They are in the citrus, aldehyde, or floral ranges, nothing else can stretch that far.  I mean, even standing on its tippy-tip toes, an oriental or a chypre just can’t reach that nose-bleeding altitude.

It is an odd concept, but I remember having a recent conversation with my sister about this, and her take was that some perfumes just buzzed in her head, they were so shrill. She named some Chanels in particular.

From her description I was pretty sure that her problem was chiefly with aldehydes.  She couldn’t abide Chanel No5, for instance, and also hated No22 for the same reason. Continue reading

Count Alfred D’Orsay and the Elusiveness of…..

The one difficulty in Brideshead Revisited (okay, there are a lot of difficulties in Brideshead Revisited, but I’m only interested in one of them) is the question Sebastian Flyte’s charm.

We are assured that he has it, repeatedly, but  somehow it never quite gets off the page.   Now Waugh is some kind of writerly genius, and Sebastian is based on the real thing, but in this exercise the author is coming up against a writing challenge even harder than describing sex without sounding absurd.  Charm, like certain jokes, is evanescent.

As with Sebastian, so with Alfred.  That he had charm and by the bucket-load is widely attested, and his CV ticks all the boxes for any romance writer’s dashing leading man.  His father, a general for Bonaparte,* was considered the best looking man in the army and a dab hand at warfare.  While the general  was off expanding and defending the empire, Alfred was raised by his maternal grandmother, another good looking and elegant wit,  Anne Franchi, aka Madame Craufurd, mistress of Duke of Wurtemberg among others.  (Of her it is written “there is considerable mystery about this good lady’s career”. But I digress.) Continue reading

A Meeting of Roses

Smells can convey so many things that sometimes it surprises me.  Take my recent testing of about five rose fragrances: Tom Ford’s Café Rose, Ineke Ruhland’s Briar Rose , Chloe, the new release from One Dozen Roses Amber Queen, and Balenciaga’s Florabotanica.  They were less perfumes than personality profiles, and that was an offbeat, but I maintain, a valid observation.

The Chloe,  I should say, is well known.  It’s been out there for four years now, we all know someone, a co worker or a relative or friend who wears it.  The beginning of it is sophisticated in a way, rather brainy, in fact, this you imagine is the scent of a young  woman who reads the New Yorker.  Pleasant enough for the first half hour, it then goes all sour in a chemically way that I don’t care for at all, and that I recognize from various trips into NYC.  Evidently a popular urban scent, is Chloe, and it says all the right things about you.  At first.

Then, like a false friend, it gossips unkindly about you.  I smell a lot of people hanging out with this Chloe, but they could do better. Continue reading