“A truly great perfume, however, is one which provokes genuine emotion in the person who smells it for the first time….The best perfumes are ones which ‘give us a shock’.”
from Perfume by Elizabeth Barille and Catherine Laroze
If you’re a perfumista long enough you begin to drift away from the days in which you frequently got shocks from perfume. But I still experience them and the wonderful part of each shock is that it is completely unpredictable. I can wear something artisanal and unprepossessing and I can put on something from the CVS (Canoe actually) or I can put on some perfume that I was pretty sure I disliked, only to find the formula opening out brilliantly on skin- to my surprise. I’m blown off my feet by a few scent molecules, and not for the first time.If I were the sort of person who is easily bored this might not still happen, but in fact I find smelling just as interesting now as I did when I first paid attention to scent in my childhood. Still, the assertion of Mmes. Barille and Laroze gives me a little pause. Is it really true that perfumes are so finely balanced? Is this impression of emotion or ennui just a few carbon bonds apart for the consumer? Maybe so.
I have been trying therefore to remember which perfumes gave me a shock when I first encountered them and why that was. The first I recall was Fidji. Part of the impact that scent had on me was the sudden switcheroo my mother had pulled. She had traded in Tabu for the new green fragrance and I was bowled over by how fresh and grass blade smooth the fragrance was in comparison to old Tabu. Full of lifting aldehydes and galbanum, lIke someone flinging open windows on green fields that ran down to a beach. I associate Fidji not with its tropical advertised island, but with Fire Island and dune grass and picnics. Done by Josephine Catapano, Fidji is actually quite a lot like Norell but to my nose just a bit fresher and less formal.
Second was Annick Goutal’s Heure Exquise. That perfume was so relentlessly pretty and so elegant that I had a hard time believing it, sort like passing an exotic beauty on Main Street. I could fathom things like Chanel No 19 but Heure was bare of everything but iris and turkish rose, with no opening and no closing, just a May garden in Tuscany. So I wore it for one evening when my husband and I were celebrating an anniversary. I’ve never worn Heure since.
Third was Habit Rouge when I first met that perfume in Montreal. No one in my family wore Guerlain and previously I had not understood their language, but that one January day in 1995 or so, bam! I got oranges and incense and flowers and leather, and have been speaking fluent Guerlain ever since.
My most recent shock was certainly Frederic Malle’s Lys Mediterranee. I don’t think I expected anything out of the way at Aedes de Venustas, but when the SA opened up that bottle and out rushed a virtual armload of white lilies with a trace of ginger, I was spooked by their realism. They are fortunately more reminiscent of seasides than churches, and thank goodness, because as with Chysanthemums, too many people associate lilies with funerals, still LM was a surprise. A “Who let the lilies out?” green genii of a scent.
Has anyone else ever been shocked or surprised by a their reaction to a fragrance?