Every perfume enthusiast has them, scents that really ruin a fragrance. Sometimes it’s the dreaded melon note, other times it’s the oceanic note ( no less a perfumer than Jacques Polge has kept that out of Chanel perfumes. He says it never actually smells like the seaside.)* Others can’t bear the animalics, the stinky civet or sweaty palmed musk notes, and then there are people who really detest woods like cedar or vetiver.
One of my worst aversions and for years was cumin. I thought it smelled like sweat, and not clean sweat either, but coming off a three day bender sweat, the sort you whiffed inadvertently on the New York Subway, usually on the local No 1, generally below 14th street. When I ran across perfumes simply crammed with cumin- like Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom- I would practically hold my nose. I knew it was interesting and had something to say for itself but that cumin! The stuff just knocked you sideways. It was Eau de Grit.
Then one day some years later I was checking the health of one of my old Caron bottles, and noticed cumin. The perfume was Alpona and the cumin was unmistakable, I wondered how I could have missed it for so long because I have had Alpona in my perfume collection since about 1995 or so. The odd part of this was that here in Alpona cumin did not bother me. In fact the note enhanced the formula. Alright, I said to myself, “I hate cumin everywhere except Alpona.”
Shortly afterwards I ran into an older bottle of Rochas Femme and darn it, there was the cumin again, very lightly dosed but there, and once again I was compelled to admit to myself that I really did not find the cumin there annoying, actually the note worked. So I was a cumin hater except for Alpona, and Femme. Alrighty then.
Finally when I was in Paris at the Patricia de Nicolai shop they gave me a nice big sample of New York, and what do you know folks? Yes indeed there was cumin there too and I actually loved the perfume and wore the sample dry and now wish I had a bottle. I am actively jonesing for the stuff, and what about the cumin?
There you are. I must not really hate cumin. Now I’ve admitted my mistake, cumin can take some of the pretty banality out of a fragrance and make it relevant to the modern world, give a formula that touch of tough, similar to the Doc Marten’s worn with the chiffon tulle skirt. You need that dryness and that slightly rough texture to make your perfume say something interesting rather than clicheed. Also cumin works really well in chypres and that includes fruity chypres like Femme or Moyneux’s Fete or Azemour les Orangers the Parfum d’Empire orange chypre. Cumin is like caviar, and olives, and Miles Davis, an acquired taste, a little salty, a bit umame, and when you finally get it, kind of irresistible…
Have you ever come around to a note you once hated, and which perfume did it for you?