Perfume feels like a very frivolous topic to address on this particular day, given the obscenity of what is unfolding in Washington as this post goes up.
Yet… Our focus on scent is less trivial than it seems. Smell is a sense that people mostly use to detect and reject -- food that’s gone bad, but also the cooking of others, the smells of others. As perfume lovers, we’re able to go beyond that gut-level, “this isn’t me/us” rejection. Not just because of our fabled fascination for skank, but because we’ve learned to embrace notes we didn’t care about initially. We’re willing to approach them, spend time with them, “see” them differently. Go past our prejudices. Find out more.
This openness, this willingness to engage with otherness through the most intimate of our senses (along with taste) could stand as a metaphor for the open-mindedness we need to counter the rancid stench of toxic masculinity that is creeping over our poor planet. We also need the curiosity and love of knowledge that yielded the teeming culture we’ve created around perfume. Disregard for facts starts with the B.S. we get fed to make us buy stuff. It ends in post-truth.
In the short, cold days of winter, we crave warmth, comfort and light. Today more than ever. So here’s a mix of the new and old, to fight the cold and help us stand up. Scents of comfort and fortitude. As our dear departed Leonard Cohen sang in Anthem: “There’s a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”
Little Bianca (Mizensir)
“Smells don’t cheat, little Bianca. They speak to the heart, in a language that always tells the truth”, writes Alberto Morillas in the press release for Little Bianca, the rose cologne he composed for his granddaughter. A simple, luminous scent that brings together “everything I love, simple, beautiful scents so you’ll recognize what is true and essential”. This includes Paradisone, a gorgeous upgrade of hedione, which smells like the souls of all the white flowers that died for us and went to heaven. But the main ingredient is love.
Cologne pour le Soir (Maison Francis Kurkdjian)
Often neglected in favor of its more outrageous variation Absolue pour le soir, this powdery, honeyed, incense-infused scent is as softly comforting as its inspiration, the benzoin-based Papier d’Arménie.
Ambre Éternel (Guerlain)
Despite its name, this isn’t the creamy vanilla and cistus blend called “amber” in perfumery, but a gauzy aura of frosty, carroty iris layered over incense-infused orange blossom. A touch of sweet smokiness lingers like the faint memory of a log fire on a woolen scarf.
Close Up (Olfactive Studio)
Perfumery’s Riot Grrrl Annick Menardo finds the sweet spot connecting amber, cherry and tobacco on the toffee-to-coffee continuum. Anise and green coffee provide the link with the licorice-y tonka. Caramel-smooth, toasty, incredibly long-lasting and unexpectedly tough.
Oeillet Bengale (Aedes de Venustas)
The pepper-sparked, incense-fuelled carnation explosion set off by Rodrigo Flores Roux has been a winter mainstay of mine since it came out. I’d warm myself up with the Mexican firebrand at the Women’s March if I were in Washington tomorrow…
Blackpepper (Comme des Garçons)
As a (symbolic) antidote to pepper spray: after the initial blast of the titular ingredient, Antoine Maisondieu’s dark blend unfolds into a marquetry of faux noirs ranging from the dark-chocolate smoothness of tonka to the matte amber of clary sage, by way of flint, dust, leather and tar.
Encre Noire (Lalique)
Vetiver is the most vertical ingredient I know: the very definition of an olfactory backbone. Deftly faceted by Nathalie Lorson, Encre Noire brings out glints of flint and bitter chocolate.
Cuir de Russie (Chanel)
Remember that scene at the end of Casablanca? Captain Renault (Claude Rains) bins a bottle of Vichy water, ditching the collaborationist French government (then based in the spa town of Vichy) to go over to the Resistance with Rick. Given the current circumstances, the scene popped into my mind as I reached for Chanel’s classic… But I’m hanging on to the EDT version I bought days after Obama was first elected. The new EDP version, while lovely, tones down the cool sheen of aldehydes and that slight stable-y funk, while amping up the musks. In either version, this olfactory emblem of women’s emancipation in the 20s is still pretty badass.
To remember that spring does come back, eventually. Because I need a scent with a backbone. A scent that is irrefutable. I’ve got a couple of vintage bottles in the fridge, along with a recent-ish extrait that’s still glorious.
Aromatics Elixir (Clinique)
I recently caught a patchouli-laden whiff of this in an office and thought: this classic American fragrance is unimpeachable.
For more seasonal round-ups, see the usual suspects:
The picture above was taken by me in Montreal.