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.
Myself, I rather like No22, which I think is a beautiful perfume. But I understand her feeling, 22 is performed on the upper keyboard of the human nose. There are few deep chords to the formula.
Similarly, I came across a few others perfumes recently that played very high tinkling tunes, so thin, so high, that in our household, I suspect only the cat would be able to hear them.
Take the case of Niona. That was a perfume handed out during the festivities of Sniffapalooza, and it was SHRILL. Meg, who reviewed the stuff at Parfumieren, really thought it an unqualified disaster.
I didn’t find it all that bad although, undeniably, Niona had this smell in the head-notes that I have smelled before when my daughter had stomach flu and was puking her little tiny guts out. On my skin Niona’s stomach acid element is momentary (thank heavens) and then the perfume proceeds on its high altitude pass through the mountainous regions of the floral oriental category. I smell vanilla in there somewhere, and some expensive materials. This perfume was obviously a pet project for someone, but it is for olfactory daredevils only, and will depend (and I’m seriously Not Fooling here) on the skin that wears it. Niona can be a throw-up number, and if you see it, you must test carefully before use.
But this issue of being borderline shrill is one that you come across in vintage stuff just as much as in new perfumes.
Jean Patou’s Adieu Sagesse is one of those. I have had a little bottle for years, and still cannot make up my mind whether I like it or not. It is a curious mixture of carnations, tuberoses and opopanax. There’s supposed to be neroli and jonquil and lilies of the valley in the headnotes, and some little matter of musk and civet in the base, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Adieu Sagesse just manages to make tuberoses and carnations sing in a falsetto duet over a bit of civet and usually long before the concert is over I’ve scrubbed off the performers. It’s described as “tart” in Jan Moran’s book, Fabulous Fragrances. Well, that is one way of putting it, I guess.
Mind you, it’s not bad. Adieu just sings its duet in squeakily pitched voices, like Neil Young’s and Joni Mitchell’s, and for a Jean Patou, that’s just out of character.
Then there’s counter tenor that I can’t help liking. In the City of Sin is the new By Killian that came out in a set – including the epically, ridiculously, named Forbidden Games (these would be Olympics held in Pyong Yang?) and the even sillier Good Girl Gone Bad. (Now who is going to repeat a name like that when asked what they are wearing?) But In the City of Sin, which is also very high, and light, and predicated on cardamom, is pleasant and garrulous and doesn’t have the menace of a chorister’s Christmas Concert. Singing in a register higher than a Justin Bieber (pre-pubertal) soprano, In the City is still charming and likable.
All of them make me wonder though, could I get to the end of the block without a following of every insect on the wing in June ,wearing any of these? They are all so shrill and buzzing that they would inevitably attract a hive’s worth of wasps.
Well, anyway, now I know what to wear if I ever take up bee keeping.…