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.

Continue reading

Ripeness Is All

Fig Fruit

Fig Fruit

The fig note in perfumes, now fairly widespread, was an innovation of the 1990’s. Olivia Giacobetti’s Premier Figuier for L’Artisan Parfumeur dates back to 1994 and with it was born a perfect craze for figs.  For a while they became the only green fragrances that were in vogue.  You could smell leafy and edible at one and the same time, which I suppose was the point.

There is also the enduring connection between human sexuality and figs, and therefore the use of fig leaves.  Walk through a Vatican statue gallery, and a perfect gale of marble leaves apppears to have been stripped off stone trees, blown in, and hit the nudes with unerring accuracy all in the same spot. They are the Renaissance answer to Speedos. Continue reading

Sex Positive Parure

Anouk Aimee the quintessential Parisienne

Anouk Aimee the quintessential Parisienne

Most people when they write about the chypres of Guerlain do tend to go on (and on) about Mitsouko.  If you knew Mitsouko, like they knew Mitsouko, your whole outlook on life would change. There is a kind of mystic union between the wearer and the perfume, and if you love peaches and bergamots and lilacs, vetiver, amber and oakmoss , not forgetting a bit of cinnamon, you will indeed love Mitsouko.

Still Mitsouko is not the whole story in terms of chypres chez Guerlain.  There is always Chant d’Aromes (a sort of back crossing of Mitsouko with Ma Griffe) and Sous le Vent which is a skinny chypre with herbs and lavender in the beginning and less going on its dry down than in Mitsouko,rather like a girl with no behind, and then…there’s Parure. Continue reading

Spritzing with the Enemy

Audrey Volk  The Mother profiled in Shocked

Audrey Volk
The Mother profiled in Shocked

You may be familiar with Hal Vaughan’s book, Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War.  The book came out in 2012 and caused some flutter as mention of Coco’s wartime activities inevitably does.  The fact of Coco’s affair with Von Dincklage, and her attempt to emphasize her larger amount of “Aryan” blood to oust the Wertheimers from Parfums Chanel is all pretty easy to discover.  However, having a spouse who writes non-fiction history makes you sensitive to primary material, plus I have always wondered if we know some of Coco’s war activities, how much did people know during the forties? Continue reading

Bare Skin Scents

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara

Maybe this is an ooh la la sort of question, but I wonder what are the best fragrances for nudity?  Now I realize that the answer is going to vary a good deal because the subject of skin and what works on the skin also varies considerably from one person to another, but factoring that in, which are the very best scents for nothing at all? Continue reading

Don’t I Know You From Someplace?

william-bouguereauThe other day I received a sample of Etat Libre d’Orange’s Rien.  A good deal has been written about this perfume which has been considered toxic and difficult and so forth and so on.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Rien is just a good old leather chypre, genus Banditus, species Cabochardus.

My sample of Rien came from the lovely Sigrun at Rigtigparfym, and although I had read about it from time to time, I had never come across the scent before.  The brouhaha online about it does strike me as overblown.  Rien is no more difficult to carry off than Absolue Pour le Soir, the other Cabochard wannabe I’ve encountered in the last six months or so.  However, one thing about these polarizing scents that I do note, besides their obvious descent from Cabochard, is how blatant references to sexuality were in the perfumed past, and how muted they are now.  Continue reading