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 for you.  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

Malta 1565 – Blood, Sweat, and Cumin

MaltaMy Hub has written a book about renaissance Malta, and since it is coming out this week, he looked at me and said, “Can you write a post about Malta?”

Of course I was willing to write a post about Malta, but since I write about smelling and gardening for smells, I needed some whiff, or huff, or some sort of olfactory in for me to write about.

The Hub’s book deals with some fairly hair-raising events which occurred 450 years ago (The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John, Bruce Ware Allen, Fore Edge Books, there it is!), but not so much with agriculture on Malta. The island has traditionally been a source for world class honey (the Greeks referred to Malta as Melite, “honey sweet”), which would suggest a rich lode of blooming flowers – but for whatever reason, this has not translated into perfumery as it has in, say, Grasse.

The one unquestionable perfume contribution of Malta, however, is cumin.

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Over to Spring

snowdropsHow many people who wear perfume are seasonal I wonder?  Many aren’t, the folk who wear perfume as a fashion accessory or who have favorite notes that they always wear.  If you adore vanilla, or if amber is your personal vice, it’s difficult to exile the essence for six months just because of a little planetary activity.  You know what you like and what you like accompanies you all the time-in one formula-or another.

This strikes me as being efficient and polished and disciplined. Selectivity makes so much sense on every level, including the budgetary one, and wouldn’t you know?  I just can’t. No matter how much I talk myself down, there are always about six to ten scents in my wardrobe every year, and I change them as soon as the seasons change.  I can’t help myself. Continue reading

Mount Hymettos in November

hymeyyusSometimes a favorite note goes off your wrist until another season.  This happens to me every fall after Hallowe’en. My favorite green perfumes get banished until March, and it seems like a long time to me. Let’s face it, I’m a lover of green perfumes no matter what the weather conditions, and could be shoveling snow and still want to fill my lungs with something that smells like leaves. Continue reading

A Green Wind Blows Again

If you’ve never encountered Vent Vert, you are in for a bracing experience.

It’s said to be the first of the green perfumes, composed by Germaine Cellier in 1947.  Personally, I think the first green note was Alpona from 1939, but a lot happened in France during the mid-forties and it’s not surprising that the perfume dialogue was interrupted for a while.  The green innovation, which may well have been Ernest Daltroff’s originally, was taken up again after the war by Ms. Cellier, with very successful results. Continue reading

Down a Lazy River Before the Blitzkrieg

Of all the old Patou perfumes, the one that many people seem to love the best is Vacances.  Some smellers even claim it as their ideal scent, the one they’d pick if the perfume world suddenly turned small and ungenerous, and they had only one measly choice.

Vacances is a sunny perfume, and meant for daytime.  There’s nothing remotely vampish or glamorous or hard in the bottle. Released in 1936, the year paid vacations were inaugurated in France, it coincided with the bicycle craze of the thirties.  Everyone who was anyone, on that first nationally mandated vacation, climbed on a bike:  “At Patou,  culottes worn with a little blouse are designed to meet its requirements.  Plus fours are only seen in the little season and shorts with short stockings and a little bag attached to the waist come in.”*

It’s a far cry from spandex cycle shorts. Continue reading

Some Like it Hot

Then there is the perfume in which the whole spicy carnation floweriness I have been writing about sinks in a morass of heavier, hotter materials like a bouquet in a lava flow.  The one time floral composition becomes an oriental and a heated one at that.  This is what happens in Caron’s Poivre from 1954.  The perfume belongs to that group of Caron compositions done after the death of the house’s founder Ernest Daltroff in 1940.  Daltroff’s companion and business partner Felicie Vanpouille was still in charge at Caron and she employed the perfumer Michel Morsetti as in- house talent( he had been Daltroff’s assistant.)

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