You Must Like It, And It Must Like You

BottomThe oddity of body chemistry is one of those imponderables that never cease to amaze me.  We all know the scenario by now, how two people can try on the same perfume and it will coalesce into a beautiful flower arrangement on one wearer’s skin, and devolve on the other’s, into a rotten soggy mess.  Hard to believe, but it does happen.

Sometimes the quality of the perfume is at fault.  If a formula is harsh or thin, then skin will not save it. Conversely, even well made scents can fall apart on an epidermis like an under rehearsed ballet on stage. Chandler Burr in The Perfect Scent laments the formulation of fragrances to perform best on paper, which isn’t very useful, he remarks – unless you are made of paper.  This I find true especially of the simple accord perfumes.  Jo Malone’s Black Vetyver Cafe, for instance, when I sprayed it two days ago, lasted a ½ hour on the wrist, although a respectable two hours on the strip. It might have been my skin, but this seems unlikely.

Other personal disasters, in order of their severity, have included Angel, which is all caramel, all the time on me and no patchouli; L’Heure Bleue which is all plastic and no flowers; and various Amouages, many of which are just all of everything you can imagine at once. Annick Goutal’s Vanille Exquise smells like Kleenex, Robert Piguet’s Douglas Hannant smells like a fart, and Chanel Beige is unspeakable, a dead mouse under the floor boards, even the sales associates recoil.

You get to know your own skin after a while, know what works on it and what does not. Here is the funniest part – you really do have to venture outside of your comfort zone from time to time. You never can tell what really will bloom on you.  Various masculines have been revelations to me: Terre d’Hermes, A* Men, Dior Homme, and Vetiver, just about anything containing patchouli, even the cheap patchoulis one can buy in soap at Whole Foods.  Would I have picked all these myself?  Not necessarily, but they smell better on me than on many men.

The best that I can say about skin chemistry is that it is definitely there and that you have to be realistic in selecting your perfume.  You may love the scent of roses, but if they are nothing but soap on you all the time, then you need to look elsewhere among the florals.  The same goes for tuberose, which may smell fine on your mother but will forever go off like milk in an unsupervised carton when you wear it.  The whole thing is rather like color in clothing; just because you like a color doesn’t mean it looks good on you.  White may look great on you while pink stinks, and if so, welcome to my world. You like it, it doesn’t like you, love at cross purposes – wait, isn’t there a Shakespeare play about this?

Oh yeah.  A Midsummer Night’s Perfume.

What would you have loved to wear that didn’t love you?

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23 thoughts on “You Must Like It, And It Must Like You

  1. Chypres. I had a brief love affair with them, but then realized they became harsh on my skin, and I couldn’t wear them comfortably. Same with green fragrances – I like the idea of them, by my skin turns galbanum into insecticide.

    • You are my scent opposite when it comes to skin chemistry. Wow. I had no idea things could be as inverted as that.
      Therefore you do well with aldehydes, florals and orientals?
      Did you ever get a chance to try the Tokyo from the Guerlain Une Ville, Un Parfum series? It’s green, but not with galbanum, the green comes from a wonderful sencha tea note/ violet accord. Less good but still pretty, is a new Robert Piguet called Chai that is also a green fragrance with a tea quality, but some spice.

      • Yup, yup, and yup! Oriental is my favorite category and the one I wear best. I also love aldehydes, and do best with floral blends rather than soliflores.

        I haven’t tried the fragrances you mention, but am not too sure about tea notes. Long ago I wore Arden’s Green Tea, until I found it sickening, and I’ve avoided tea notes ever since (an exception was Neil Morris’ Tea House, which was nice and smoky).

        • The Tokyo is a really good tea though,even though tea is not your cuppa, and all this makes me wonder what you think of things like Patricia de Nicolai’s Odalisque? That is only faintly green, being mostly lily of the valley and iris.

          • Recently tried Odalisque (on the report that it was a LOV fragrance) but found it to be not much of anything, rather innocuous. I do love LOV (a Holy Grail note), and on the same sniffing expedition ran into it in Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don’t Swallow, from ELD’O. I may have to get that one, just to see the look on someone’s face when I respond to the question, “What are you wearing?”. Ha!

          • Oh my goodness, OH MY GOODNESS! Those people over at ELd’O are so odd. What sounds delightful in the line usually isn’t, and what sounds gross is very nice- well, OK, is often nice. They work by opposites.

  2. Burberry smells great on so many people, and turns terribly on me. My mom asked why I had sprayed bug repellant. Ouch. I’ve tried several from that line, and something in the base does it. I enjoy it on others. I wonder what happens chemically with that fragrance on my skin.

    I tend to amplify sweet notes in general, so I tend to stay very far from those fragrances (gourmands). Otherwise, I smell like VANILLA, chocolate or caramel, and sickeningly so. As I live in a hot, humid climate, that’s unbearable.

    I think climate may play a larger role in our choices than we realize. While I enjoy dry ambers, I have little time to wear them, when the scent won’t asphyxiate me and bystanders. Boozy and vanillic ambers are not really an option, except for one or two days a year, when it gets cold enough, but then my sweet amping skin chemistry comes into play. . .you get the idea. Now an ambery leather, that might be just the ticket, but perhaps too butch for me on most days. It’s fun to play, anyway. This is why I love this hobby. It’s like putting on invisible costumes :D Have fun and be well.

    • Having sweet zone skin is a problem. A similar thing happens to me. Vanilla scents, I find, go big, but don’t go home. I end up feeling like The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters: a towering sucrose monster! This effect must be worse still if you live where it’s warm.

      Boozy ambers are better. I like the Ambre de Merveilles, and that’s in spite of usually not liking ambers. As for leathery ambers, still turn to Tabac Blond for that little job! Have invisible costumes for every occasion!

  3. Orange blossom. In general, it goes straight to creamy soap on me. (As you know, I do well with mixed white florals. Even Poison gets cuddly on me, go figure.)

    Cuir de Russie. HORRRRid – other people get “pale pink suede gloves” or “luxury auto seat,” I get Virtual Cattle Working Pen.

    Let’s see… Puredistance Antonia made my kids jerk their heads back in disgust. There was something else, too, something popular, that was “not supposed to smell like that” on me… OH YES. Duh. Estee Lauder Beautiful. On my scarf, lurvely. On me, gack.

    • Cuir de Russie was a no go area for me too. And I was sure it was going to play nicely but NO! Had to put that bottle down. But it smells great on other people.

      Beautiful surprises me, until I remember, that Beautiful has a principal note of orange blossom! No wonder.

    • Cuir de Russie was horrid on me, too, Mal. I feared being stoned for how much I disliked it but, on my skin, it was all horse feces under a large pile of soap. I dislike soap as much as I dislike horse manure. I hear people rave about CdR’s heavenly creaminess and elegance, and just sigh. Damn my skin.

      Speaking of Puredistance Antonia, I got a lot of soap from that one too. I’m not a fan of green perfumes generally but soapy greens are truly not my cup of tea.

  4. I’ve had SOOOOO many bad perfume experiences lately that it’s almost hard to know where to start. In terms of things with high expectations that I thought I’d love:
    – Vero Profumo’s Rubj started as sweaty feet, before turning into sweaty feet and unwashed genitalia with a dash of dirty, caked, encrusted panties along the way.
    – Parfum d’Empire’s Azemour turned into a dustbowl on me. (L’Artisan’s Dzongkha was also a dustbowl and horrid, but I never expected to like that one.)
    – L’Artisan’s Seville à L’Aube was so traumatically sweet and generally unpleasant, that my jaw was on the ground. (And I love orange blossom normally!) Same thing with yesterday’s experience of Robert Piguet’s Mademoiselle Piguet which had the added shock of bug spray and nuclear green bitterness at the same time.

    And those are just the perfumes that I thought I’d actually like. I will spare you the list of the ones I had no expectations for and which made me want to poke my eye out with a spoon… :D

    • That’s quite some list. But I know what you are talking about regarding Seville a l’Aube which was distinctly underwhelming on me, and generally orange blossom is a shoe in! Mademoiselle Piguet, hm, think I’ve tried it but don’t remember… but bug spray does not sound promising at all, at all. Am currently working up the nerve to try Petit Fracas!

    • You know, it’s interesting – I usually cannot do orange blossom because of the aforementioned soapy issue.

      But I did just fine with Seville a l’Aube. And By Kilian’s Sweet Redemption.

  5. I had high hopes for Lutens L’eau froide (I was hooked by hearing people describe it as cold, refreshing, and tart-orangey) but about ninety seconds after I put it on it turned into fake orange hard candy and bug spray. Really, really nasty; I couldn’t scrub it off fast enough.

    I was on a salt and ozone kick a while back and tried Heeley Sel Marin, and it went Jekyll-and-Hyde on me. It was 50% gorgeous cool fresh salt air, and 50% rancid powdery cotton candy; I kept getting a whiff of one and then a blast of the other like they were taking turns or something. Very strange.

    My skin has issues with lactones; beyond a certain threshold amount (or maybe with a certain type of lactone molecule, who knows) they turn into Godzilla-sized powder monsters that hijack the rest of the fragrance and throttle it to death. I can’t wear most Guerlain perfumes because they morph into grotesque Super-Dome-sized powder puffs on me (breaks my heart that I can’t wear Mitsouko; I love the way it smells on a strip). Anything from Ormond Jayne does this on me too.

    Oh, and most aldehydes turn into sinus-scorching soapiness on me (bye-bye No. 5). I tell myself that my epidermis is being protective of my wallet (hah).

    Thanks for an interesting post, Blacknall!

    • Hi Stina,
      A lot of people did not like L’Eau Froide, so many that I wondered if SL had lost his touch?

      The Heeley business is just strange, very schizoid behavior in a perfume, but the tragedy is… no Guerlains! Sympathize, because I love green scents myself and there are so few out of that house, but there are always some, and not to be able to wear any Guerlain seems a shame! But sometimes your skin changes. Mine did after having a baby, suddenly florals were possible.

      • Hi Blacknall – interesting that you can wear florals after having your baby; this is why I never get rid of my samples (unless I have duplicates), even if they go all wonky on my skin right now. Because maybe someday I’ll be able to wear them! (crosses fingers)

        Yes, the no-Guerlains thing is depressing, but to make up for that my skin seems to really like most Chanel and Hermes fragrances. Even something like Osmanthe Yunnan has incredible longevity on my skin (and never morphs or distorts; it stays gorgeous for hours).

        And anything tea- or tobacco-based wears well on me too; I must have been a pipe-smoking tea-swilling old man in a former life, and my skin remembers. :-)

        • How in the world do you get hours of wear out of Osmanthe Yunnan? Magic? Pacts with the Devil? Sprayed it on and Pouf! Gone in 30 minutes. Was I bummed.

  6. The only perfume I can think of that smells good (for my nose) on others but doesn’t work on me is Jo Malone Nectarin Blossom… Wait! I just thought of the second one :) The newest Bitter Orange & Chocolate from Jo Malone’s Sugar & Spice collection smells fantstic on my co-worker and it just hates my skin :( (I still bought a bottle hoping that maybe one day it’ll change).

    • Those chocolate notes get tricky, don’t you find? Sometimes chocolate just gets lost on my skin and though it’ll be in a perfume I just wonder where. Angel does this to me. Ineke’s Briar Rose did it to me too, chocolate listed, no chocolate smelled.
      One of those Jo Malones though was really good, I think it was the Ginger Biscuit. Did that work for you?

      • I realized that I didn’t answer your question. It’s not too late, is it? ;)

        I liked Ginger Biscuit but not enough to go for a bottle. So I settled for a small decant :)

        • Not at all, and I wish I’d snagged a decant because by the time I found I’d liked it Ginger Biscuit was gone from Saks, and Neiman’s!

        • Of course not, and that was popular. The whole series was. When I tried to find it, the series was gone from Saks and Neimans, and even on their website, the Ginger Biscuit and Bitter Chocolate Orange seem to be sold out.

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