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.

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.…

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13 thoughts on “Music for Mosquitoes

  1. Blacknall, I don’t wear a lot of perfumes that use a lot of aldehydes, generally, but one perfume that immediately comes to mind for its shrillness is Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady, at least on my skin. I know it has many fans, but it just overwhelms me. I’m not sure if there are aldehydes in the Malle, but I know it contains a lot of ambroxen.

    • Portrait is a bit controversial, isn’t it? I haven’t smelled it, but judging from Basenotes, opinions are pretty divided. Ambroxan is one of those things too, it turns up all over the place, and sometimes I’m not sure that I like it, supposed to be a substitute for super lux ambergris, but I dunno about that. It can definitely get up to a high pitched whine. I think I’m always “listening” for a good engine noise in a perfume, if that makes sense, a steady thrum that can roar if you floor it, now I know that doesn’t.

      • I like your analogy of a high-pitched whine/good engine noise! Thinking about it that way, it makes a lot of sense – from now on when I wear perfume I’m going to struggle to get that out of my mind (not that its a bad thing of course)!

  2. I find most chypres to be very shrill. It’s too bad; that’s a fragrance category that I can admire and even aspire to, but which I can’t wear well.

    • Interesting that you get that reaction. I’d say a number of Chypres can begin high, old Chant d’Aromes, that whistled past your ears, also Ma Griffe, which is pretty similar. But then there were a lot of aldehydes in those. Diorella and even Cristalle, can make me howl a bit to this day, just like our late dog did during flute practice sessions.

      • I do love me some aldehydes, though. That’s a more recent taste that I’ve acquired. Upon first smelling White Linen years ago, I absolutely hated it; now I love it. Also like the aldehydes in YSL Champagne and Chanel Nos. 5 & 22. I think it’s something other than that in chypres, could it be the green notes, or maybe the oakmoss?

        • Those aldehydes they are an acquired taste for some of us! I never liked them either, until after wearing Chant d’Aromes, then I woke up to their appeal.Maybe it’s the oakmoss with something green that powers those scents, but I think the reason aldehydes click with so many of us, is that they make fragrances sparkle and tingle in the nose like ginger-ale! (OK, maybe that’s just me.)

  3. I owe you SUCH a massive email, pal. Hope all is well with you.

    Ah, so I wasn’t dreaming– you noticed the bile note in Niona, too! I feel vindicated (particularly after fretting, “Was I too hard on the poor widdle perfume…?”).

    For me, it’s peony that sings — to paraphrase Martin Short as Irving Cohen — “a high C above C, a bouncy C!” That flower is most mosquito-esque– or to be more precise, like that phantom high-pitched electronic whine that people who live near radio towers often hear. Tinnitus for the nose. :)

    • Hi Meg, You for sure weren’t dreaming about the Niona, there was a definite upchuck note there, and boy I recognized it from the time little missy had strep throat and was tossing cookies right and left. On me it didn’t last BUT should Eau de Upthrow be anywhere in a perfume???
      And I like your peony observation, that peony fest Rose Pivoine was very high/harsh in the opening and I couldn’t think why -but now I know! A glass shattering high C!

      • I keep wondering about the notes for Niona, about which its creator remains deliberately opaque. What exactly produces that upchuck element? Did the perfumer actually like it? Did they actually NOTICE it? If you & I did, and if my husband (whose sense of smell is muted at best) did, then you’d figure that a professional perfumer whose nose is a finely tuned instrument would have picked up on it– and then pitched it unceremoniously in the trash.

        “Should Eau de Upthrow be anywhere in a perfume???” No, never! (What, NEVER?) Well… hardly ever.

        • Just not a selling point for me, but Chopard’s Casmir had a “who hurled in here?” accord too. That one was peaches and jasmine and vanilla and I smell vanilla in that Niona as well. Could it be fruity acidic notes like osmanthus, squished up against notes that are sweet and milky that cause it? Added together do they equal pavement pizza every time? Anyhow, no way, Jose, am I wearing it.

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