Sunday, December 2, 2012

Perfume: My Favorites

I love Hostess Ding Dongs. (I'd better run out and find some before they're gone forever. If they aren't already.) I'm not under any illusion that they're a high-quaity example of the pastry-maker's art, but I love the things anyway.

I mention this because I've been thinking about the difference between the perfumes that I hold in the highest regard, and the perfumes that I love the most. If I were required to come up with a list of the ten finest perfumes, I'd spend a long time fussing and researching and come up with a list of mostly well-regarded creations. If I were required to come up with the ten perfumes that I'd limit myself to for the rest of my life, I'd come up with a different list, after just as much fussing and researching.

When I want to come up with the perfumes that I love best, there's really not much fussing and researching; they just come forward and announce themselves. I'm slightly relieved to see that there are no real guilty pleasures in the lot, but that's just how it turned out, not evidence of any good taste on my part. 

So here they are, with links to the relevant Review Roundup. They're not presented in any particular order, except for their leader.

Chanel No. 19 ParfumWhen the call comes for the favorites to come on stage, most of them gather together, chatting and giggling. They hang back and wait for No. 19 to calmly, coolly, push her way through the curtain and stand--arms folded; why am I wasting her time on this?--before the audience. No. 19 isn't easy, or friendly, or affable; she won her position on grounds of sheer beauty. Clear, knife-sharp green softened with just enough floral sweetness to barely--barely--keep her from drawing blood. I'm a little afraid of her, and so I should be.

Shiseido White Rose: I've been struggling to explain White Rose, and I finally realized what I was recognizing but failing to put into words: Her personality. See, White Rose is utterly beautiful; I can imagine falling down and drowning in the rose and being perfectly happy to die that way. But beauty, however glorious, can be dull without context, some dominant aspect beyond the beauty--without personality. For Chanel No. 19, that personality is the abstractness, the other-worldliness, the razor edge of the green, the fact that I can see her standing on that stage, impassively watching me and daring me to declare White Rose to be her equal.

White Rose has enough beauty to spare for caricature; when I smell her I get a vibe that's exaggeratedly classic. I see debutante balls--not the debutantes, but the still-beautiful mothers in their ball gowns. I see The Shop Around The Corner, the well-dressed lady settled comfortably by the counter, tended by deferential shop assistants scurrying with perfume bottles. I see black and white photos of ladies lunching, and lengths of pink taffeta, and those little hats called fascinators. White Rose is classic, gorgeously so, but she's laughing about it.

Aftelier Cepes and Tuberose: I sniffed this one quite early in my perfume obsession, after reading about it in 100 Fragrances every Perfumista Should Try. It was beautiful then, before I developed my craving for the weird, and it's still beautiful as that craving grows. Tuberose is a wonderful inseparable mix of clean and dirty, bright, clear sweet floral beauty and warm, close, unwashed animalic notes. Cepes & Tuberose adds earthiness and forest floor and fungus as another contrast with the clean and bright, and in time it also introduces an oddly edible browned butter note. The result is deeply strange, faintly repellent, and therefore glorious. 

Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale: Fire; brilliant cold flying sparks. Ginger tapdancing on a shining marble floor. That gulp of ice-cold root beer quenching a thirst that was created just for root beer to quench. An ice-coated winter tree with the sun blazing through it. This is winter joy, but a comfortable joy, not the almost-too-deep kind that nudges up to sorrow and sometimes makes you cry.

Balmain Ivoire: I mean the fairly recent version in the ugly square-column bottle, not the earlier versions, or the newer version in the nicer bottle, neither of which I've ever smelled. It's odd to love this one, knowing, as I do, that it's probably a sad travesty of the original. Odder, given that trumpeting aldehyde blast at the top, when I'm still not sure that I like aldehydes. But I don't care. I love that aldehyde blast, and the dry now floral/now green top that's tippety-tap-heels ladylike, a lady with old-fashioned manners but feminine power. My favorite part is the drydown scent of expensive soap, one of the most luxurious smells of any perfume. 

Serge Lutens Daim Blond: And here's more luxury, a warm silk-and-fur pool of it. Daim Blond smells of suede and fur, but the apricot and heliotrope merge with those smells, making them almost edible. Sushi Imperiale is a dancing scent, one of movement and freedom; Daim Blond is a long nap, wrapped in scented fur.

That's only six perfumes. What happened to Cristalle? Serge Noire? Tea for Two? Cuir de Russie?  don't know; I still love them, but at least today they didn't step forward with the crowd of favorites.


  1. I adore Serge Noire so imagine my despeartion when I realized my bottle was empty! (I thought there must be at least a third left)
    Still, until I deal with the size of my collection, not purchases are allowed.
    Knowing how fast I am and are bound to be with it, I'll be saving money for years to come. ;)

  2. I continue to be baffled at not loving No. 19 parfum. I just don't love it. The vintage EdT, that's love mixed with a lot of fear. The modern EdP, that's comfort and pleasure and respect. THe parfum? Ehhh. It didn't poke any of my brain's emotion nodules.

    I will say, though, that I don't think you can ever completely explain love. You can come up with a zillion reasons why you love, but they're never complete. Somewhere in there is a magic, an alchemy, a faith, a tacit commitment, that you can't explain.

  3. Hey, Ines! Oh, noooo! I haven't yet run out of any favorite perfume; in fact, my attitude is that a bottle of perfume is a machine that will produce a specific scent forever. It would be very upsetting.

    I'm tempted to suggest some of my rationalizations for buying things when I shouldn't, but it's wrong to try to undermine someone's resolve. :)

  4. Yo, Mals! In spite of loving No. 19, I can easily see not-loving her. She's scarey. Distinctly scarey.

    Your description of the EDP tempts me to try it again. There are times when I'd like an unscarey version, but the Poudre version is a little too friendly.