Woody Oriental-Oriental Woody

Nuit de Noel in old advertising

Nuit de Noel in old advertising

Woody perfumes are not so popular with women.  Don’t ask me why. I am one of the out-lying  oddities who like wood.  I wear vetiver and leather and chypres and all sorts of dark, dry things in winter.  You might think from the description that I was kindling some kind of aromatic fire, but it’s simply personal taste.

There is a small, repeat small, group of perfumes that lie right on the line between orientals and chypres.  I’m not discussing ambery orientals here.  Those are resin-y or incense heavy perfumes. The ones I’m writing about today don’t belong to that tribe.  They may contain some amber in the dry off, but they are not really amber perfumes. Continue reading

What the Bees Smell

Squash bees at work

Squash bees at work

My heliotrope was a big disappointment to me this year.  The seeds were ordered from Monticello and when they germinated and grew to plant-hood what did I find?  A great big bush the height of my waist with  feathery heads of purple and then lavender flowers that did not have any scent.

Color me disappointed.  But although I may have been cheated of my almond and sugar and cherry perfume, the bees were in heaven.  The bees and the butterflies were all over my heliotrope practically from the very first day it came into flower in July.  The bees evidently don’t care what human noses smell, they have their own standards of attractiveness.  Which makes me wonder what is it really that bees smell? Continue reading

Should Your Perfume Reflect Your Life?

Should Your perfume reflect you?

Should Your perfume reflect you?

There’s some very good advice out there for anyone who wears clothes (most of us, most of the time) and it’s that we should not buy anything that doesn’t fit in with our activities.  This means what it sounds like.  If you live in jeans and that’s what your life requires, or you are seldom out of Athleisure then don’t go buying the  vintage brocade ballgown from Oscar de la Renta circa 1985. Though who wouldn’t want to rock a train in  the coffee aisle of Shoprite?

Perfume though is different, or let’s say it ought to be.  You can’t see a mismatch between someone’s dreams and someone’s aspirations, you can only smell them.  This is probably what Roja Dove means when he says that “perfume can lie for you”, and it may be what is meant by those perfumers who claim a woman should have a perfume for “courage”.  Continue reading

Green Eggs and Vetiver

Green Eggs and Ham

Green Eggs and Ham

Vetiver is like comfortable old shoes to me.  Ahh…vetiver, it’s relaxing and there are relatively few versions of vetiver I’ve ever come across that I didn’t like.  I love Terre d’Hermes, though perhaps it’s not as good a vetiver as in its salad days.  I also love Guerlain’s wonderful old Vetiver.  A marvelous scent, and the tobacco in there is a brilliant touch.

I’ve always crossed the aisle and so wore Givenchy’s Eau de Vetyver and I loved and briefly wore Maitre Parfumier et Gantier’s Racines.  One was very masculine and comfortable- kind of like borrowing your boyfriend’s hacking jacket- and the other was more refined, good to wear in fall with woolens.  Naturally I also had Guerlain’s Vetyver for a long time.  The square bottle with the wave pattern on the glass was sublime but gave headaches, so I sprayed it in my shoes or on my feet.  I still managed to get my vetiver fix and discovered along the way that the Guerlain Vetiver killed moths. Continue reading

The Sweet Breath of Horses

Horse and Hay

Horse and Hay

My sister as a teenager spent some time working in stables, and says that what she misses most from that period is the smell.  Actually I’m pretty sure she meant something specific, not for instance the smell of mucking out- which is never the best odor in stables-and in fact she was thinking of the scent of the horses.  Horses while they were being groomed.  She liked the brushes, and the whiff of a healthy horse, and their sweet breath, and also she loved to clean tack.  Murphy’s Oil Soap was what they often used, and she enjoyed the smell of that too.  Murphy’s made her downright nostalgic. Continue reading

En Avion : What Airplanes Smell Like

An early advert for En Avion

An early advert for En Avion

Air travel used to be sort of glamorous. No really, before you fall over laughing, it truly was. Clean airplanes, cocktails, pretty stewardesses in un-stained uniforms. I barely remember this, my younger sister doesn’t remember anything of the sort, and no one conceived after 1975 can even imagine it.

All we can recall now is how awful our last flight was and how we swore that next time no matter what it cost, we were definitely going to bid on a seat in business class. Yeah, right.

In the 1930’s things were not only glamorous they were dangerous.  That was still the era of long distance solo flights by those impossibly thin entities Lindbergh and  Earhart.  A large number of people swear by Vol de Nuit as evocative of this adventurous airbourne history, but I just don’t think that smells anything like airplanes. Lovely perfume, nothing to do with airplanes even though it’s named after the St. Exupery novel.  En Avion though, the Caron perfume from 1932 actually does. Continue reading

The Smells You Hate to Love

Cumin in the garden

Cumin in the garden

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. Continue reading

Antique Oleanders

Oleanders in bloom

Oleanders in bloom

One final thought on the smells of Italy, and that concerns the scent of oleanders.  Oleanders do well in dry heat. They sprout into huge sprawling bushes all over Rome and because of their size, often grow near the ruins, especially around the Palatine and Santa Maria in Cosmedin, or wave in the desiccated wind off the autostradas.  The reason is space. Conditions in Rome are too cramped for oleanders and their expansive growth habits.

Their perfume, though, is one of the most recognizable ones of the city.  It’s heady, and  heavy, there’s a sweetness underwritten with toxicity. The toxicity is fair comment, because in fact oleanders are quite poisonous.  Somehow it’s fitting that oleanders with their narcotic scent of almonds (similar some say to arsenic) should drift about the Palatine.  The Roman emperors and their wives knew a thing or two about poison.

The smell, however, was very familiar to me.  As in nearer in time to me than my last stay in Rome.  This was a scent I had been on intimate terms with, and since perfumes are rather like old lovers, apt to bring up inconvenient memories at inopportune moments, this was one I had to re-visit. Continue reading

Parisian Atmospheres

Dalloyao Paris from tripadviser.uk

Dalloyao Paris from tripadviser.uk

So I did very little perfume shopping in Paris!  What!  Really?

Well yes.  For starters I was with my daughter and at fifteen you tend not to care about perfume, and Guerlain, and so forth. You care about food.  One aspect of French culture my daughter understood at once: eating.  French bread, and gallettes, and quiches and eclairs, and butter and cheese, and chocolate croissants for breakfast and no one saying, ” Shouldn’t you really be downing a power fruit frappe with seaweed and kale?” the way they often do in the States. (There’s a term for this in France “rabat joie”)  Plus the beefsteaks with Bearnaise sauce.  Oh, and did I mention the frites?

We therefore spent a good deal of time eating. What can I say?  French food is good. You should have some! Continue reading

Confederate Jasmine and Garbage

Current Roman Garbage

Current Roman Garbage

Rome has a problem with garbage.  I used to live there quite a long time ago and recall that the garbage problem existed back then too-from time to  time.  It’s nothing like this though.  Garbage piles up even in the more famous locales like Piazza del Popolo where the tourists collect every day, sit on the lions surrounding the obelisk fountain, and  leave behind plastic water bottles and candy wrappers…

The Romans are mortified.  Worse, they can’t seem to strike a deal with the sanitation people, who show up in snazzy jump suits in the civil colors of Rome: orange and  dark crimson, driving the smallest and most stylish garbage trucks ever seen, but they never seem to pick up more than a sack or two of garbage (well OK that’s about what they can fit in those adorable trucks) but this leaves behind la maggioranza of the problema on the sidewalks. Continue reading