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

Ballgowns or Jeans?

“Some of the most beautiful perfumes are like a ball gown, but sometimes you just want to wear a comfortable pair of jeans.”

Christopher Brosius

Dandelion Clocks by Pippalou

Dandelion Clocks by Pippalou

At this time of year, the ball gown analogy, though apt, breaks down to “the most comfortable pair of jeans”. Today was too lax and lazy for anything formal at all. I had been planning to wear my Guerlain LE Plus Que Jamais, but that was simply too grand. I had to roll around in Krigler’s Juicy Jasmine instead, the equivalent of a pop tune, rather than wear the complicated Miles Davis jazz piece that Plus Que Jamais is, or to continue the original comparison, shrug on a slightly slubby maxi, instead of a cocktail dress.

Does summer call for this sort of fragrance? I think so. In fact I can’t make myself wear anything that requires complication or thought. I just want comfort.

To this end I’ve compiled my brief list of End of Summer Perfumes, suitable for hammocks, barbecues, and porches. Their common denominator is the low number of easiness.  These are perfumes that almost anyone can wear and enjoy whether a newbie, a collector, or a perfumista with a perfume population explosion.  Continue reading

More Powder to You: Luctor et Emergo and Farnesiana

woman powderingTo powder or not to powder?  It’s not even a question of the nose, no matter how shiny, but of what wafts off your skin.  Powder these days carries with it the suggestion of the infantile. I bet this has to do with a major brand of baby powder co-opting what must have been a popular scent of the thirties or forties, and sending it, in millions of talc bottles, to nurseries around the world with the result that when we smell powder, we tend to say, “Oh, that’s for babies.”  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.)

Continue reading