The Shock of Recognition

“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

Lightning Strike

Lightning Strike

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.

Fidji advertising 1960's

Fidji advertising 1960′s

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.

Frederic Malle's Lys Mediterranee by Edouard  Flechier

Frederic Malle’s Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier

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?

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12 thoughts on “The Shock of Recognition

  1. Rochas Femme. Instant shock of recognition. ‘Oh, you … ‘. And yet I hardly ever wear it. I can’t explain why. It’s somehow just too familiar, like I wore it in a previous life but can’t go back. Really odd.

    But I will get out my Heure Exquise. It was one of the first niche perfumes I fell for but ultimately I find it very, very dry, like sweet desert dust. Will you go back to it do you think?

    • I was wondering about Heure Exquise. I ran into the bottle again at Saks and that smelled the way that I remembered it. Not too many irises appeal to me but that one did. I shall have to try HE again :-)

      Imagine Femme from a previous existence! I felt slightly like that with one of the Creeds ( mind you in a previous life I strongly suspect I was the village idiot) but the perfume…what was it? Fantasia de Fleurs.

  2. SSS Tabac Aurea. I’ve certainly mentioned it before, in various fora, but it *was* a shock – in that first .3ml sample was my high school boyfriend (who did not smoke, but whose parents both did, and whose clean clothes carried a faint trace of smoke): the cinnamon, the leather jacket, the warm sweet musk of the skin of his neck. I nearly swooned.

  3. That is so very … I can see how it would give you a shock. It’s a real relationship madeleine, sentiment and sensuality rolled up in one sense memory. I can’t say I’ve ever smelled anything so romantically evocative.

    Bel Antonio (the Soliani) did smell like Italian airport cafes in the 70′s! But the romance is all in the Italian pop tunes the smell calls up.

  4. I have loved scents/perfumes since I was a young child. I had worn perfume since my teenage years, but I live in a place where there is not a wide range of sniffing opportunity.
    Then I discovered the world of Perfumistas on the ‘Net.
    Whoa Nellie! I fell down the rabbit hole good and quick.

    I had never smelled any Guerlains in my long life. Looking back to those first heady days of discovery, I ordered, blindly, as one does, a bottle of L’Heure Bleue edp. Finally, it arrived and I boldly spritzed some on my arm.
    Such a rush of emotion. I don’t know why – to this day, it is still a wonder – but that first encounter with a masterpiece of perfumery, so out of my realm of experience, made me cry. Literally, cry. I was standing in my kitchen, sniffing my arm and weeping. It was a beautiful moment.
    Something in L’Heure Bleue struck a strong chord in my psyche, and I have since experienced that same rush of emotion, “shock”, if you will, at smelling something amazing; something that moves me. It is wonderful, isn’t it?

  5. You’re probably familiar with Jean Paul Guerlain’s comment that women are either L’Heure Bleue women or Shalimar women and you had such a visceral reaction to L’Heure that you must be the former! Still I really like your story very much because I know what you mean. For me Fidji is forever Fire Island.

    The reason why I own so many Guerlains and Carons is that no other perfume houses reach me quite as directly as those two. I absolutely can understand having a profound response to any of their things. I wonder if you also tried Apres L’Ondee?

  6. The only real shock I ever got from a perfume was Angel in 1992:it was like absolutely nothing else I’d smelled before. Since then the emotion I experience is more of a surprise: I feel astonished every time when I wear some perfumes I own. I can’t believe how great I think they are and how much I still love them. I won’t try to name all of them, but this is a feeling I had with Climat, Cruel OJ Ta’if, Cruel Gardenia.

  7. I hear you about Angel. I wore that for a weekend a couple of years ago to try and do it justice and could not get my head around it. My Hub started calling it, “The Blue Bitch Goddess” I’m still not sure if he liked it or not!

    Some perfumes are startlingly great every time you wear them, Vanille Tonka gets me every time because it sparkles so, and I also like Ta’if, a gorgeous thing.

    THis is why I find myself not allowing too many consecutive wearings of my favorites because I don’t want to become to accustomed to them, I want that little punch of pure pleasure.

  8. A serious shocker for me of late was Tubereuse Criminelle, in a good way, also actually Rozy Voile d’Extrait. Recent provokers of softer epiphanies were Attrape-Coeur and Shalimar Extrait, though going back in time I also agree with Undina about OJ Ta’if.

  9. Do you know I have yet to smell a Shalimar Extrait!

    However I can see how that would be a shock, it is the vanilla extravaganza of all time they say. Did you love it, being a vanilla enthusiast?

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