Love- But Not at First Sniff

James Macneil Whistler

James Macneil Whistler

Some of my very favorite and most enduring loves in the perfume world began with serious dislike.  You might almost call some of those encounters Beatrice and Benedict  run ins*, and even though smelling a perfume is a great deal less complex than a human friendship-or feud- there were times when I really felt as if I was the last person to know my own likes and dislikes.

The converse may also be true.  You may love  a perfume from the very first time you encounter it, but my experience is that such easy affairs seldom involve the heart, and wind up being boring in the end.  I want, not drama exactly, but twists and turns that indicate a little complexity in a formula.  I don’t want to guess every move a fragrance is going to make long before it makes one.

Another Whistler Waterscape

Another Whistler Waterscape

Chant d’Aromes was the first fragrance to really give me a hard time.  I thought I would love it from the notes and my research.  I lived in rural Vermont in those years, and ordered a bottle.  I could afford exactly one bottle of perfume then, and Chant d’Aromes bought blind was it.  When the box arrived delivered to another address by mistake ( a dairy farm half a mile away) I chose to walk rather than wait for our single car to come home. So I trudged a mile to bring the precious Guerlain back, opened the box, spritzed Chant- and what was that smell? Not flowers not woods not fruits…what? Nowadays I know that the opening was aldehydes and green notes,but at the time I had no clue.  Gradually I got used to Chant, and even more gradually began to love the fragrance which is a long stream of abstract aldehydes, like a  atmosphere that clears enough to show successive images: peaches, gardenias, honeysuckles, then roses and jasmine, then suddenly but distinctly heliotrope, and only finally wood and oakmoss, when the perfume fades still a faintly green abstraction. The process of understanding took months, and I could never remember what Chant smelled like when I did not have it on.

Parisian Cafe 1925

Parisian Cafe 1925

Then there was my fractured love affair with Tabac Blond.  I hadn’t asked for Tabac, the sample simply arrived one day along with an order for Alpona in a miniature glass bottle with an imitation topaz on the cap.  So I dabbed some on and…what the heck? The stuff smelled like art erasers to me, you know, the kind that are gray and moldable into shapes? Kneaded erasers they’re called. Anyway this was emphatically not how a perfume was supposed to smell.  But my husband disagreed.  He loved Tabac Blond from the moment the sillage hit the air of our kitchen. Largely because of him I hung in there with Tabac Blond and eventually one day the perfume re-arranged its molecules into orange blossoms, tobacco, smoke, and the loveliest leather you ever inhaled, something like Marlene Dietrich in a flask.  Now I adore Tabac Blond, but once again, the process of adoration was not  short.

And lately I’ve got a case of here we go again on my hands because my local Guerlain SA gave me a sample of Bois d’Armenie.  And since that came with other samples I tried everything and put BdA aside because… cough, cough, wave hand in front of face, this thing was a bit smoky-wasn’t it?  I don’t want to smell like a Parisian Bistro pre-smoking ban n’est ce pas?

Whistler Nocturne in Black and Gold

Whistler Nocturne in Black and Gold

But the darn thing grew on me.  I can smell the benzoin, the incense ( little iris, en passant some putative pink pepper) and the sour note everyone else finds in BdA is to me a fascinating identikit vanilla extract, just like the little black bottles you can buy from Penzey’s or Williams Sonoma. There’s the same strong nearly black smell, the same stringency the alcoholic edge, and then the whole thing turns into a softly burning incense, wood and resin-y, nothing but base notes but delicate and ethereal. A study in darkness, shot through suddenly with light. In short, I like it, and how the devil did that happen? Why was I not informed?

So have you ever developed a love for a perfume that you thought you were going to hate at first?


* I’m referring to the verbal battles of Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing



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13 thoughts on “Love- But Not at First Sniff

  1. This has happened to me many times, though my mind always goes blank when someone asks for chapter and verse. But hold on…a recent volte-face was with Shalimar, and I also came round somewhat belatedly to Amouage Lyric, Guerlain Angelique Noire and SL Tubereuse Criminelle. And I do routinely go off things I loved too soon and too fast. I shan’t mention any of those though to save face. 😉

  2. Oh Shalimar! You ought to read my next post then!

    You also make me wonder whether I dismissed Angelique Noire too fast? Very bitter on my skin that was, and also to wonder what you think of Iris Ganache? I would be really curious to know as it struck me as being a modernization of LHB but on a very dry iris note and a rich vanilla one too. it’s like Kelly Caleche hard to decide which it is gourmand or floral? Our lovely Guerlain SA here gave me most of what remained in their bottle and so I have a stash of IG!

    Tuberoses are another in this line, a flower I don’t necessarily love but then, I’m inconsistent and wear Caron’s Tubereuse-which is very underrated in my opinion, and yes, I came around on that one too- like your retake on TC!

    Lyric – must smell.

    1. Haha, I just did! Iris Ganache didn’t really make much of an impression on me during a big sniff-in in the Paris HQ, but I was like a kid in a sweet shop, so it may not have had due attention.

      When I first tried AN I thought it too treacly and rich – like SDV, say – but I did revise my view on subsequent testings. Thanks to smelling it on Tara, I think.

      1. I just smelled Angelique yesterday and that is beautiful to start with but takes a frighteningly chemical turn on my skin. I have to leave it alone-but Iris Ganache I have made peace with. A member of Perfume of Life got me to take it seriously and though it still smells like a compromise between LHB and Insolence to me, I like it better than Insolence. Less frenetic, more Guerlain, if you know what I mean.

  3. For a long time I avoided incense perfumes because I thought they smelled harsh and sour, then one day I re-visited a vial of Jubilation XXV and I could *feel* it re-arrange itself in my head – like a video clip of a smashed plate run in reverse (a chaotic mass of shards leaps up and becomes a coherent and beautiful object). Jubilation XXV is one of my all-time favorites now, and I love incense notes in general.

    I’m still working on No. 5 and Shalimar, though… nothing but a pile of spiky shards there according to my olfactory cognitive centers. Maybe someday!

  4. Oh I like the plate coming together! What a very vivid way to think of the process, I can tell I’ll be wondering if any perfumes have reassembled themselves in my head for some time to come 🙂

    As to Shalimar, that’s a fragrance I couldn’t cotton to until I smelled the old Coty Emeraude which is very like it, but I have to confess that I still prefer the Coty and have never been able to wear No 5 either.

  5. The few times that’s happened to me with a perfume (the plate un-smashing itself), it’s always been with something that’s very well-made – if not an outright classic, like Mitsouko. Generic or mediocre fragrances (like mall-bait fruity-florals) wouldn’t provide enough complexity, I think.

    I have to admit I’ve never tried vintage Shalimar in the extrait format; maybe that’s the twist I need.

    I’m looking forward to your post on Shalimar!

  6. It hasn’t happened to me yet: not a single time I’ve changed my mind 180 degrees. I might fall in love with perfume I just liked or decide that the perfume that impressed me initially wasn’t all that special but I don’t remember a single time when I would completely turn on perfume one way or the other.

  7. You are in a good position for a perfumista because you know your own mind! It’s probably an advantage in life generally not to be changeable. When you pick you know you are going to go on loving your purchase. So far I’ve managed to fall out of love with two Lubins and a Van Cleef & Arpels, and sadly many Serge Lutens.

    This is probably why I stick to Guerlains and Carons now with only one or two extras thrown in fcddddddddfffffffcd! ( Sorry the cat is helping to answer comments. She sends a purr!)

  8. Memoir Woman. I was bound and determined I would review it for the blog, but it made no sense to me. NO sense at all, as in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Is THIS on my skin???” And I didn’t even *like* it. It took something like eight wearings to click, but when it did… ooooh, love. I can’t wear it that often, though, and that’s probably a good thing. It doesn’t do to become too familiar with a royal personage.

    It took me at least a few tries to get Silences (the first time I wore it, it was chilly fall and Silences was screechy) and Safari (started with the parfum, which was waaaaaay past too sweet in the drydown). Also took four wearings of Alahine to fall for that one, too, but it turned out to be love.

    OTOH, I loved Le Temps d’une Fete from the first nanosecond. You never know.

    1. Your story about memoir Woman reminds me of interlude Woman which now think I just did not understand. Also, did not try long enough, and gave the sample away, so can’t go back and try again.

      I’m still waiting to understand some Carons, old N’Aimez Que Moi for instance: a violet, rose, oakmoss, chocolate chypre…and yeah about as complicated as some Amouages. But it is super feminine very grand dame. You should try some.

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