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.
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.
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?
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