Reconsidering Smells

Christmas tree cauliflower

Christmas tree cauliflower

There are some smells that all of us have a visceral dislike of, some people hate boxwood with its pungent slightly cat pee odor.  Others love it and have all sorts of happily associated memories of parks, gardens and playgrounds triggered by boxwood.  Eau Illuminee from Parfums Delrae is said to feature boxwood as part of the sensory landscape of San Francisco. Then again some people love the scent of cumin while for others cumin (especially detectable in  the revamped Femme from Rochas or old Alpona from Caron) can put off a lot of people who only smell sweat and stale takeaway curries. Even roses can be controversial, although most of us love them. Anne of Austria (Louis the XIV’s Mum) so hated them that reportedly she couldn’t stand to see a rose in a painting and who knows what happened when she spotted one in a vase…*

The Queen’s reaction was a bit extreme, but it’s true nevertheless that most of the people in this world have a smell they just can’t endure, and sometimes it’s one that many of the planet’s other inhabitants adore.  I used to loathe the smell of cooked cauliflower.  Who knows why?  I just did which was unfortunate because that was one of my husband’s favorite foods.  Eventually I  got over the cauliflower aversion, but only by dint of

My "favorite" cauliflower

My “favorite” cauliflower

experimentation with soups.  Cauliflower cheese is still quite beyond me.**

In perfume the smell of synthetic melons is one I really hate, so much so that I would throw out bottles of shampoo scented with whatever it was that mimicked melon.  When I got around to wearing le Parfum de Therese last summer the famous melon note made it impossible for me to adopt as a fragrance.  Even the smell of ripe melons is no great favorite of mine.  The smell is very pungent and one ripe melon can really advertise that it’s time to chill said melon and get out the prosciutto pronto.

I have changed my mind about smells that I once hated.  The most marked case is cumin.  I used to get that sweat odor and dislike the note.  I mean I can and do produce my own sweat fairly copiously and so  saw very little reason why cumin was going to enhance anything by smelling more sweaty. That was big time counter-intuitive.

I have come around though, and find the cumin in Alpona a very good counterpoint to the galbanum and rose accord that is the basis of that Caron minor classic.  I’ve smelled versions of Alpona that downplayed the cumin and frankly, they were not as good. I’ve even come to like heavy cumin frags such as Vetyver from Parfums de Nicolai which has a big wallop of cumin in the heart, so expansive I doubted I could ever get past but surprisingly I ‘ve come to like the note.

Melons fabulous on a summer evening but in perfume?

Melons fabulous on a summer evening but in perfume?

Perhaps melon is more than I can absorb, but this makes me think that our tastes really do evolve over time with scent, and what you end up with in a wardrobe may not be what you started out with.

What scents have you changed your mind about over time, and which perfume persuaded you to like what you’d previously detested- if any?

* I got this odd story from The Welcoming Garden by Allen Lacy.

**Actually I made my very first cauliflower cheese two nights ago and my daughter remarked that it smelled like,” very salty garbage” which shows perhaps that aversions are hereditary and that adolescents seldom see much point in tact.

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4 thoughts on “Reconsidering Smells

  1. Hmm, interesting.

    I love blackcurrant and boxwood – they do not smell like cat pee to me, they smell like themselves (and there is nothing quite like the old-Virginia smell of old bricks and a well-established boxwood hedge, if you ask me. I love it). I don’t think I loved galbanum the first time I smelled it, but the love developed fast. Ditto aldehydes, to mention just a few of those difficult notes that people often despise. Cumin I’m on the fence about, and it depends on the treatment.

    I love melon in real life, but I can see where the perfumery stuff could be objectionable… I have one aunt who could practically live off watermelon, and her sister can’t stand the smell of any kind of melon; Aunt Cindy says she can never get it past her nose to her mouth, to enjoy.

    What I hate? Fig. Specifically, fig leaf. There are a few fig fragrances I don’t mind, a very few. (PdN Fig Tea, and… oh, I can’t remember. A fruity one as opposed to a leafy one, though.) But mostly they are bitter* and horrible and gagworthy, and I cannot. bear. them. *I do find it peculiar that I adore the bitter green crushed-weed smell of galbanum – and marigold, for that matter – but fig leaf absolutely does me in. I can’t explain it at all.

    Balsams, too. I think it’s tolu that bothers me more than peru. Combine tolu with certain musty-rubbery grades of labdanum and I’m going to suffer; combine the two with that dusty, earthy grade of patchouli and I’m going to want to die. Youth Dew, Opium, Cinnabar, Coco… any hint of the dreaded Youth Dew accord and I’m instantly miserable. That hasn’t changed much since I was a child.

    I’ve come around to certain uses of patchouli. Combine it with rose and I’m happier with it. I’ve found that I particularly like the aged stuff, which seems much greener and smoother to me – no mummy dust.

  2. I do like Mummy dust patchouli as a descriptive. I’ve smelled that. There is a sort of live patchouli grade which is very good and a bunch of dry nasty ones that just aren’t.

    Interestingly I also agree with you about fig. Never found a fig frag I could tolerate- not even Fig Tea. What was the fascination? Never understood that.

    Cumin surprises me, and yes I do know what you mean about how it’s used. My favorite use is that vintage Alpona, but cumin’s also in chypres like Houbigant’s Ciao, the original Femme, and in Molyneux’x Fete. It seems to function as a connection to the woody core of the frags and works well in that capacity. I can’t imagine it in a floral though…

  3. I still hate synthetic melon, haha! I have come round to civet, though I can’t be specific about which perfumes changed my thoughts. Weirdly, I have always liked Bal a Versailles, but this was the only civet-forward perfume that had got under my radar. Heliotrope is challenging for me, so I await more of a rapprochement there. ;)

    • One perfume struck terror into me and that was Emotionnelle which was supposed to be mostly melon and a horror fest as far as one was concerned. Don’t blame you in the least.
      Heliotrope…that’s sort of old fashioned these days although apparently a lot of people like Kiss me Tender, which is awfully sweet. Better I liked Hilde Soliani’s Conafetto, or Jeffrey Dame’s Mate, Heliotrope and Patchouli is quite modern.

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