Best Perfume and Worst Perfume – Genius and Evil Genius

En Passant triggered my thinking about Perfume Genius.  For the purposes of my list, I defined Perfume Genius as a combination of notes, or a scent effect, that makes me stop in my tracks and go:  whoa!  That right there is pure fricking genius.  So here you have – it was the best perfume and the worst perfume, but they were both genius perfume.

You will notice the conspicuous absence of Houses of Genius – I´m not talking about the brilliance of the Guerlinade or the god-like qualities of Christopher Sheldrake (although I can´t help but notice that Olivia Giacobetti is behind half of my genius scents.)  I´m talking about individual great scent ideas that rocked me.  By the way, that does not mean these are fragrances I love the most, or even wear much.  They are just… genius.

  • Frederic Malle´s En Passant – we just can´t leave this alone, can we?  To borrow from Patty, this is Perfume Portraiture at its finest.  Walk down the road with Olivia Giacobetti, past the bakery with the faint smell of baking bread, past the cucumber garden, past the wet fence and the lilacs in the rain.
  • L´Artisan Tea for Two – another one by Giacobetti and my winter comfort scent.  Not a summer tea like one of the Bvlgaris.  This is lapsang, leather and smoke.  The olfactory equivalent of your favorite armchair, a cashmere throw, a fine cup of tea and a great book in front of the fire on a rainy day.
  • Parfums de Rosine Rose Ecume – I seem to like rose better when it´s mixed with something.  This is beach rose and salt water.  Salty rose?  Pure genius.
  • S-Perfume 100% Love.  Something that sounds nasty and is actually perfect, like sushi.  I am going to pull a quote from my recent post: you can parse the smells (yes, there is the rose, there is the chocolate, here comes the incense) but they meld together so beautifully and seamlessly that it is easy to imagine 100% Love as something God thought up but just didn´t get around to creating.
  • Wickle Chestnut & Vetiver.  The olfactory equivalent of the One-Hit Wonder.  Ten years from now, no one will remember this.  Is it Great Perfumery?  Well, not really.  But these two smells were made for each other; hence, it is Perfume Genius.

yardbirds best perfumePatty’s Perfume Genius (March and I share some of these best perfume genius that we agree on)

  • Wickle Chestnut & Vetiver.  Agreed, this thing is so simple, but the most delightful, happy smell.  I would have never put them together on my own, but once joined, they just shout how brilliant it is.
  • Frederic Malle En Passant. For all the reasons that I have repeated over and over.  This is such an unexpected combination, that at first you just shake your head, and then it makes you wistful while laughing.
  • Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman.  Using hemlock just gives this perfume such a distinctive note.  Her whole base in all of her perfumes are ones you can pick out anywhere. It’s like a great singing voice, it may not be technically the best voice, but it is distinctive, like Bob Dylan or Karen Carpenter or Bruce Springsteen. You would recognize it anywhere. That is genius, the thing that is set apart as unique and not like anything else.
  • Shiseido Feminite du Bois.  I’m not even sure I like this perfume all that much most of the time, but other times I adore it.  Who knew you could throw in a bunch of fruit and some woody notes and come up with something that would be the mother of about ten more perfumes, each distinctive and special.  This is like the Yardbirds of perfume — you may not love it, but it set up so many other distinctive things that would spin out of it, you can’t help but admire the creative genius behind it.
  • Hermes Hermessences.  Three of these are what I think of as the pinnacle of subtle and accomplished perfumery, Rose Ikebana, Vetiver Tonka and Osmanthe Yunnan. Even though I do not love Poivre Samarkande, I have to include it as well because it likewise is unique and subtle. The finessed hand of Jean Claude Ellena in these just make me curl my toes in delight. I’d have JCE’s babies.  These I think of as the Four Quartets (well, three that I love, one that I admire, and one that… well, you’ll see, and that makes five, but I don’t like math to get in the way of a good parable), each can stand alone perfectly well, but it is when you look at them in total that it is clear how unique and beautiful they are.  There is an exception…

(March) –Lifetime Achievement Award for best perfume genius:  L´Artisan Passage d´Enfer – Incense is one of my favorite notes in fragrance.  It tends to add weight and a solid base à¢â‚¬” it is austere, serious, meditative, dark, mysterious, smoky.  CdG Avignon is a prime example.  But Giacobetti (again!) did something brilliant and completely original in terms of the weight, development and tonal variation of this one.  Passage is shot with light à¢â‚¬” it is buoyant.  (I have decided calling it The Gates of Hell is some sort of ironic joke.  It is about as far from hell as you can get.)  It is one of the very few things in my regular rotation.  In addition, it is my favorite fragrance to layer with: it creates depth with light fragrances, subtracts sugar from sweet fragrances, it adds a gorgeous sheen to almost any uncomplicated floral. I cannot imagine my perfume life without a bottle.

(Patty) — Lifetime Achievement Award for best perfume genius:  Guerlain Mitsouko.  I’m not able to wear this one that often, but the complexity and depth and uniqueness of this perfume is just breathtaking. It is the one perfume in this world that I insist everyone should smell because how you react to it is as unique and different as the perfume itself. There is no easy classification for this, though it is a chypre, it is just wildly different and thematic, and this round peg should never be jammed into a square hole. I know, I know, it is a round peg in a square hole, but then that’s a cliche, and Mitsouko is no cliche.

Of course, then there must be Evil Genius – fragrances that I can recognize the brilliance or artistry of that I just cannot stand:

(March’s)

  • The Carons – all of them.  Urn, classic, vintage, menthol, ultra-light 100, etc.  I greatly respect the artistry of the house, and I keep looking for one that doesn´t make my face squinch up like Bill the Cat´s.  I suspect there is a Caron base, and it´s something I can only admire from a reasonable distance – like the next solar system.  The only one I didn´t completely loathe is Aimez-Moi, a sweet violet and probably the least Caron-ish of the Carons, but even that I wouldn´t wear if you gave me a bottle.   (Patty, I am so, so sorry.  Please don´t hate me for my idiocy.) Editor P — Bitch. :)( 
  • rasputin best perfumeSerge Lutens Miel de Bois and/or Borneo 1834.  Let´s give Serge an A for Abominable on these.  The MdeB is really just the most amazing honey after four or five hours.  Of course, you´ll be dead by then, because the ammonia vapors will have killed you.  And Borneo – wow.  Earning my rare Rasputin´s Armpit Award for Tenacity.   A fragrance I find both brilliant and completely unwearable, the same way many (normal) people feel about my beloved Etro Messe de Minuit (moldy books?  What moldy books?!)
  • POTL Luctor et Emergo – I get none of the goodies – no white flowers, no resinous incense, no woods.  It is instant Play-Doh – let´s call it the Play-Doh-nic Ideal.  Maybe I´ve spent too many hours picking Play-Doh out of our carpets and upholstery (it is now an official banned substance at Chez Marchlion) but it´s a smell I hate only slightly less than Borneo.
  • Apothia Velvet Rope – A great idea: Eau de Nightclub – vanilla, vermouth, vodka, grapefruit, tobacco.  Reality: on me it is a drugstore floral so lame and laughable it makes those Escada summer crap scents look edgy.  Even the dreaded Cigarette Butt note would be a welcome addition.
  • Frederic Malle Parfum de Therese.  A brilliant creation that, if it is your thing, is as stunning as En Passant.  And let it be your thing, because it is certainly not my thing, never was, never will be, get that thing away from me, it smells like cilantro, urine, leather and unwashed nether parts.  Pure Evil Genius.

(Patty’s)

  • Hermessence Ambre Narguile, aka “The Nazgul.”  A sweet confection of amber and honey and goo that vaguely reminds me of caramel — caramel from the depths of Mordor, made by the evil hands of orcs.  I can sniff this and realize how completely unique and wonderful it is, as long as the cap stays on it and it is kept in a vault with no key. How could JCE create such masterpieces and also this “evil masterpiece” in his Hermessence series, but have this one go so completely bad on me. This is one I put on, and my husband has made me go into the other room — to another floor and then held his nose every time he walked by. Just when I thought JCE’s knowledge for what I love to smell was complete, he had to hatch this little Satanic monster.
  • four horsemen best perfumeSerge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle.  Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love this evil thing with a passion, but evil genius it is.  A mix of camphor and tuberose, it assaults the nose, calling to mind the the sound of hoofbeats as the Four Horsemen pull up to your house to let you know the End ‘O the World as you Knew It  has come, and there will be no more just sweet flowery perfumes on their own, they will be combined with “other things.” like rubber mentholatum steeped in turpentine.
  • Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur — Sex and sin and things that bump together in the night. If you could just bottle “Cat in Heat” this would be it.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be hot enough to wear this with a straight face.  Should always be worn with only stockings held up with garters, but stay away from dogs.
  • Le Labo Vetiver — Normally I would not think this is genius, but something that smells like ammonia and rubbing alcohol on me, but causes such swooning with March and Marina and Robin and others had to land in this category. This is the.worst.thing.I.have.ever.smelled, except that one time I fell in our shit pit on the farm.  That anyone loves it with the same passion I hate it gives witness to its genius.
  • Guerlain Shalimar — Soap, powder and baby spit-up for me. The best thing ever for others.  That it has withstood the test of time and has so many fans either shows what a poor nose I have or what a difference in taste there is amongst people. I’d like to think the latter. I don’t want to smell like powder!!!  Baby spit-up would be okay, but never powder. I look at my bottle longingly from time to time and wonder what this should be like if the world inverted for a day to a place where I liked powdery perfumes or they actually smelled good on me.

Honorable mention genius —  Mostly because they just appeared at my door through the magic of United and DHL — Guerlain Sous le Vent and Plus que Jamais Guerlain.  Sous le Vent is an outstanding green chypre. It is like lavender wafting over a field of green, near a forest, with the occasional sweet note of carnation or iris in the distance.  It is completely captivating. It has some of the strangness of Djedi, without kicking all your moorings out from under your nose.  Normally Lavender in perfume leaves me cold and with a headache, but this is blended perfectly so it captures the beauty of the lavender without overhwhelming the composition.

Plus que Jamais Guerlain — I stand by my love affair with the small sample I had before. This is  True Love® .  I’s just creamy velvety goodness that keeps my smitten nose pressed to where I have spritzed it.  I could just hug them for making this available in the bee bottle with a better price tag.

It was the best perfume and the worst perfume, but they were both genius perfume.

31 Comments

  1. Well, I certainly agree with the En Passant, but I have never tried some of the others. Ambre Narguile seems like one I MIGHT be able to pull off. Still waiting to try Tubereuse Criminelle and any Ormonde Jaynes. Passage d’Enfer must be one I will love, since I have recently decided I love incense perfumes a LOT, after swooning for L’Air du Desert Marocain so completely.

    I don’t even have to try the Velvet Rope to know it will smell like an old ashtray on me. And I STILL don’t like Shalimar, dammit! I am glad I’m not the only one.

    Great lists, great idea, as always!:d

  2. You ladies have really made me regret giving away my En Passant sample! I think I need to give it another chance.

    Great list – well, except the “Nazgul” sacrilege:)

  3. Hahahahaha — I forgot about TC (I guess the memory is sooooo painful):-& I guess Serge Lutens is an evil genius after all.

    I can’t get on board with Shalimar, either.

    Can’t believe you wrote that about Mitsouko!!!

    The Nazgul….. for the first time, I understand the true depths of your hatred.

  4. Traipsing behind the rest of the knowledgeable, perfume educated/obsessed, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to wax eloquent as March. Or Patty ^:)^

    I’ve a slowly growing collection of samples I’m trying to figure out. Darn it! I want to smell a perfume and get a portrait of roses and sea spray rather than my senses reporting “that smells purty” #-o

  5. I’m going to have to re-examine Passage D’enfer. I remember once spraying it on my wrist then on the drive home from the store wanting to scream and keep my nose as far away from my arm as I could. But suddenly I couldn’t resist it.

    Borneo 1834; Life is cruel. I received the sample, dabbed enthusiastically, went to my local hangout hoping for someone to ask me what i was wearing so I could breathily whisper “Borneo” My friend Vince walked up, asked me what i was wearing, then informed me I smelled just like a head shop. :-w

  6. I don’t know what to do with you, ladies. En Passant on both good genius lists?? Therese, Musc Ravageur, Ambre Narguile – evil geniuses? Aiiee! March slightly redeemed herself by putting The Evil POTL on her EG list.

    That was such a fun read!!

  7. I got a sample of SL’s Miel de Bois, sprayed a little to test, and my husband asked me to never, ever spray it again.

    I don’t care for Shalimar either. I just thought something was wrong with me. I love the smell of Mitsuoko, but it does not like me. Husband says I smell like I am wearing a household cleanser. And he’s right. *Sigh*

  8. Wow! Well written, as always, and very well thought out and justified.

    I could quibble with a few (like 100% Love, March, and my beloved Shalimar parfum, Patty), but why bother?

    You guys are perfume blog geniuses. 😉

    Hugs!

  9. ITA with Violetnoir—you gals are perfume blog geniuses. My dearest March, I cannot imagine life without Carons. Yesterday I wore En Avion, today I’m wearing Bellodgia on the left and Coup de Fouet on the right. But, as you pointed out in the blog about your MIL, our chemistries can be so different. BTW, I have an intense meeting coming up that I’m not particularly looking forward to—my frag of choice? En Avion.

    Patty, I’m so glad you awarded Mitsouko. I kinda like Shalimar; truthfully, I much prefer Shalimar Light. And I love Jicky, too.

    Hugs to you both and to all the lovely readers who stop by.>:d<

  10. Flora, AN is really incredibly lovely. That I can’t wear it causes me a lot of pain. 🙂 I envy those who can because it is deep and rich and complex and really genius.

    Passage is one that I dearly love too, you just can’t go wrong with it alone or with something else.

  11. Amy, I have heard an ugly rumor that not everyone loves En Passant like a few of us do (heathens!), and it took me two tries to fall in love. The first try, it just smelled too different, and I didn’t give it much of a chance at all.

  12. March, you must have repressed that memory. But, remember, it was the TC you got compliments on. Can you really afford to ignore something so whip-snappingly fun?

    Mitsouko is amazing. I have a hard time wearing it, too, though I still keep hunting for the Parfumor EDP. I think that would work for me far better.

  13. Oh, Donna, don’t worry! I still have a terrible time distinguishing notes, and sometimes all I can come up with is “that smells purty.” But no need to wax eloquent if a perfume is a slice. Some are purtier than others. It took a lot of practice to think about how different perfumes made me fell or what came to mind, but I don’t think that’s necessary at all to enjoy a perfume as much or more.

    Too bad about the Borneo. I *adore* it, March hates it. I’m not going to be wearing it every day, but on the days I do, I just fell smarter somehow.

  14. Marina, can you ever forgive us? 🙂 I’m not sure how I can overlook that Caron slander March wrote. I’m going to ship her off some more Nazgul if she keeps this up. \:d/

  15. Greeneyes — I agree on the Miel de Bois. I had a sample once, briefly, and then I took my barbeque tongs and some rubber gloves and moved it to the trash can. Gak! I couldn’t give it the title of genius because I couldn’t bear to have it on me long enough to get more than a “I hate this with a passion” thought.

  16. Hugs back at you, R. You know we are right on these. 🙂

  17. Miel de bois…I made a visiting friend test smell a bunch of SL samples. (DH was burnt to a crisp with me doing the wristtonose tango. Here, smell this!) He recoiled in shock and said “Is that perfume? God! You shouldn’t buy that one!”
    And when I smelled POTL, I couldn’t believe what all the fuss was about. This is famous why?But so far, the worst I’ve personally smelled is (and I’m sorry to say this, Marina, if you’re reading this) is SL Muscs de Kublai Khan. I think the drydown may have been OK, but I was so freaked out by the, uhhmmm, opening smell that I was actually afraid to smell my wrist…
    And, what Donna said…I am in awe of the educated and excellent writing on this (and many other) perfume blogs.

  18. Oh I am so glad you made this list and added Miel de Bois and Therese on the evil genious lists. I thought I was going to pass out from both of them, since, having High Expectations, I doused with them. Urp. I have to say Carnal Flower caught me by surprise on the Urp side of things. I tried it right after March’s Fracas. It was the greatest smell I ever wanted off my body. (where-as I loved the strangeness of a light coat of Fracas)I washed and then doused with fleur de Oranger to kill the smell. Together the two were wonderful. I also love the Rose Ecume, and it does especially mix well with its friends. Tea for Two is totally my comfort fragrance along with Cedre’. I have just discovered mixing my Incense scents with the Rose for instance. Ahhhhh

  19. Great Lists Ladies!

    I can’t think of many of my own to add except to chime in and say that I wish I could wear Mitsouko. I think it’s interesting, it has a long history, and comes in a beautiful bottle. It just doesn’t smell good on me.:(

    You can also add me to the roster of people not fond of Shalimar. Even lightly spritzed it is much too overpowering with my chemistry. However it has been loved by millions for decades, so I feel like I’m somehow defective.

    My submission for Pure Evil (sans Genius) would have to be Guerlain’s Acqua Allegoria Pamplune: B.O. mixed with eau de catbox. It even smells vile sprayed on cardboard!

    Long live Bill the Cat and his squinched face!! :d

  20. Emote — pure, scientific research — WHICH two were good mixed together? Fracas and CF? Fracas and Oranger?!?! A girl needs to know these things!:d

    The CF — was it too sweet and cloying? Or was it the wintergreen/menthol that did you in?

  21. Cheez — Pamplelune = pee. I am convinced. But I have hopes for that new berry one they have coming out (hope springs eternal!)

    Well, Shalimar is the only “classic” Guerlain still commonly available that I don’t like. And it must be their most popular. It’s all powder on me. So add me to the loser list.

  22. Samsara will remain on the top of my Guerlain favorites and on my genius list. It was the first Guerlain I ever wore and to this day when someone else walks in the room wearing it, I’m carried off on the lovely sillage.

    Another genius I’ve recently splurged on a whole bottle of – Keiko Mecheri Oliban. Delicately musky frankensense. Not too sweet. Get lots of compliments on it.

    And Patty…don’t get me wrong ‘I’ love Borneo on me…I’m a patchouli-hippy-chick from the word go. The patch in Borneo doesn’t overwhelm, though, and the chocolate note…mmmm, no sweetness, just pure cocoa.

    Dior’s Poison however; smells dynamite on others; makes me smell like a drooling Orkheim.:((

  23. March, That’s it! I re-smelled the Carnal Flower today and the first big blast is a mentholly, melony sort of smell and neither of those notes sit fondly on my nasal sensors. My first response was, eeew, my other Tuberoses don’t smell that way. That’s when I washed it off. Since it still stuck, I put the fleur de Orange on top. They were very complimentary, I should try that with the Fracas too. It ends up that neither the CF or the Oranger are very long lasting on me, so I could safely go and coat myself with Rose Ikebana for the rest of the day.

  24. Emote — clarification —

    The CF is NOT long lasting on you?!?!?!

    😮 (that is SUCH a useful emoticon for perfume blogging)

    I think you could smell CF on me months later. Decades, even.

    You described the way I feel about SL Tuberous Criminal — the menthol just ruins the whole deal for me. But the CF is juuuuuust this side of acceptable.

    Which Oranger? L’Artisan or Serge Lutens? Sorry to be a pill, I NEED to reproduce your experiment cuz it sounds yummy.

  25. Aha March, you are right, I do have two different samples, the Oranger I used was Serge Lutens. (Lovely scent, reminds of a beautiful rock garden I had in California) Now mind you, on the CF, I did try to wash it off at first. That probably killed some of the longevity, although I do recall that most scents I try to wash off tend to stick like glue for days..b-( One horrible one comes to mind, it was Sandflower by Montale. I truly thought I was going to urp with this one. Think of having your face smooshed into rotting seaweed on the beach and you’ll get it.

  26. Interesting that you chose Borneo and Miel as evil genius frags: I absolutely adore Borneo, even though I usually loathe patchouli, and Miel de Bois’s back-of-the-throat tickkling astringency I kind of like.

  27. Emote —

    MMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmm SL Oranger. I am going to put it on with some CF (tomorrow — today I am already Fully Loaded.) I bet it will be lovely.

    You do NOT have to answer me but I am wondering if the cumin in SL Oranger gags you just a teeny bit. I just pretend it’s not there (and it isn’t, as long as I don’t sniff my skin)

  28. PS Emote — Montale Sandflower. What a great description!! Remind me to skip that one. (I had completely forgotten about that emoticon b-(

    it’s a keeper.)

  29. TMP — I’m willing to concede that Borneo is a love-it-or-loathe-it that has its fans.

    The fans of MdeB are, uh, a little less thick on the ground!!!:d

  30. For everyone who hates how Carnal Flower goes on, you MUST wait a few minutes for it to “open”. If you scrub it or add something else right away it won’t work properly. Yes, it’s cold and minty-green and stemmy and odd when you first put it on. But give it just five minutes on your skin before passing judgement! It is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

    (I got my sample from Patty, and as a result, when I get rich my first act will be buying the BIG bottle of CF. And En Passant of course) :d

  31. Flora — I totally agree, caterpillar to butterfly. I love, love, love Carnal Flower. Mostly if I keep my nose away from my skin during the opening, everything’s jake. The TC is just … caterpillar.

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