I joked with Marina that I was going to do a “review” of stuff like the canned air you clean your keyboard with, but I´d do it straight and see if anyone called me on the joke. Then I got bored with the whole concept, but at the core of my joke is a kernel of truth – in my visiting (and revisiting) of fragrances, inevitably I´ve run into a few things that, basically, (how do I put this delicately?) … I can´t smell at all.
I´m not talking about staying power issues – the summer colognes and florals (and teas) that are gone in 30 minutes, leaving you wondering whether reapplying is worth the effort. You can at least smell the stuff when you put it on. No, I´m talking about fragrances that for some/many/most people don´t smell like anything from the get-go. Confession: Narciso Rodriguez is like that for me – sometimes it´s strong (usually on other people); on a scent strip it´s often barely there. (An aside for you NR fans – the most stunning application I ever smelled was at a cocktail party, and the woman was wearing Narciso EDP over Nars Monoi oil. Yes, I asked. To do so I had to shove my way through the wall of men hovering around her; she smelled like something you´d definitely want a taste of.)
I find perfume anosmia fascinating. Christopher Brosius had Patty and I smell a vial when we were in New York, and we couldn´t smell a thing. It turned out to be labeled “wet sheep” (apparently it smells like wet wool) and is an example of gender-based anosmia – most men can smell it, most women can´t. There are all kinds of synthetic musks, and any number of people can´t smell particular ones among them. Anecdotal evidence on the fragrance boards suggests that a number of people can´t smell Narciso and SJP Lovely, while to some other people they´re fairly strong.
Anyway, all this was rolling around in my head at Art With Flowers when I smelled the new Miller et Bertaux, “Close Your Eyes and ….” Notes (courtesy of Luscious) are: Sicilian Lemon, Mandarin de Calabre, Fresh Jasmine Petals, Antique Roses from Turkey, Bois de Gaiac, Crisp Pear, Cinnamon Tree, Heliotrope, Almond. Yeah, whatever – here´s a hint of citrus, a breath of gaiac, but how could this smell so … tenuous? It´s a fragrance for someone who wants to wear fragrance but not smell it. Like Gertrude Stein´s fruitless search for her childhood home, there is no there there.
However, Close Your Eyes wears like Bandit next to my next nominee – Les Nez L’Antimatiere, which is the smell of having your leg pulled by Isabelle Doyen. It is the fragrance equivalent of The Emperor´s New Clothes; I don´t care how pedigreed it is, or that she’s been working on it for a decade – dude, you are naked. I kept my nose away from it for the first five minutes to avoid the alcohol somebody (Patty?) complained about. Then I thought, wow, it smells like a grape popsicle – weird! Only that turned out to be the popsicle stick sitting on the table next to me. I gave it two trials, two hours each, and a little aerobic activity to help it bloom. I get something – just the faintest whiff of wood shavings, and then something that smells like a cross between Escentric Molecule 01 and Chaos after 5 days – and that´s not a bad thing, is it? But I could soak my head in this (I practically did soak my head in this) hoping for one of those cool stealth perfume presences, but … nothing. I´ve read comments on other blogs describing the way this smelled, and some people are just wild for it, so I guess I´ll chalk it up to Wet Sheep.
Fragrance preferences also seem to be cultural to some degree. I´ve always heard (although I don´t know if it´s true) that Japanese women prefer much, much lighter scents and wouldn´t be caught dead in anything musky or animalic. Certainly Issey Miyake and the Kenzos support this argument, along with the mainstream Shiseidos (although some of their non-exports are weird and very strong.) Anyway, here in stuffy D.C., wafting big sillage is frowned upon unless you´re the wife of the French ambassador or some other exotic diplomatic bird. In my social circle, your fragrance should be chic and subtle, and should not convey the sentiment that you´d like to jump anyone’s husband. Which brings me to my favorite stealth fragrance – Armani Prive Cuir Amethyste. It´s pretty clear that I´m anosmic to some aspect of this – I sense it rather than smell it strongly, and I have to be careful not to overapply. I tend to wear it to cocktail parties. To the women in the room, it doesn´t seem to register as much of anything. But the men! Men looooove this stuff. The men are definitely getting the signal, so maybe this is another gender-anosmic scent. It´s just violet and leather, but it´s got some weird vibratory hum. I feel powerful when I wear it, as odd as that sounds. When I run out of my sample, I may have to suck it up and buy a bottle.
I´d nominate Hermes Eau des Merveilles as another example of something that is both subtle and powerful. It took me forever to come around to Merveilles. I fell for the rest of the line, one by one (Hiris! Sur le Nil!! Rocabar!!! etc.) but Merveilles was always that light, boring one. So there I was at Saks one day recently, and the SA wanted me to revisit Merveilles. I was about to say, meh, whatever, but she already had the bottle in her hand, so I stuck my arm out. And for once, I didn´t run off and bury it under some Dior in a fit of boredom five minutes later. Instead, I waited. After an hour, I was hooked. It´s here, it´s there, it´s everywhere – I can spray it all over myself, I can smell it the next day, it pleases me insanely. If an alchemist cooked up Seville orange marmalade, cumin and the ocean, with the musky smell of a sleeping child, you´d have Merveilles. There are people who dislike Merveilles; there is nothing sweet in its watery strangeness, and there´s an undercurrent of something a little like sweat. But I love to catch glimpses of it over the course of a day (it has surprising lasting powers) and it seems perfect to me right now. When I re-read Robin´s lovely review after falling for Merveilles, I found myself nodding in agreement.
Okay, now it´s your turn. What are your nominations for fragrances that smell like nothing? Which ones do you find to be stealth fragrances – deceptively light but a vital part of your wardrobe? Can you smell L’Antimatiere?