Fragrance Emergency

On Saturday I had a fragrance emergency.  We were on our way out the door to a holiday cocktail party, and we were already late, when I realized in all the chaos that I’d neglected to apply any scent.  Which in my world is akin to leaving the house and noticing I’d forgotten my pants.  It just wouldn’t do.  So everyone had to hang tight for one more moment while I chose a fragrance.

Notice I did not say “selected the fragrance” or “selected the perfect fragrance.”  My track record on those occasions has been mixed.  There are times when I know absolutely without fail that either Mitsouko parfum or vintage Femme will be perfect.  (Sometimes my vintage Cinnabar parfum slips onto this list.)  Other times I am not so sure.  The vanillic confection is too cloying.  The floriental that caught my eye at home fails to enchant.

The event we were attending was a teensy bit fraught.  It was given by a friend of my late mother-in-law’s, in the lovely building she used to live in, downtown.  So I knew the dress was relatively formal, and I knew I could get away with a little more drama perfume-wise, because those ladies are used to perfume, although I didn’t want to overspray and kill anyone in a crowded party, which it turned out to be.

More worrisome was the fear of attaching a mixed bag of memories to a favorite scent.  I haven’t been to that building since we closed up the apartment prior to sale, and what if the whole thing made me sad?  It’s possible.  I loved visiting my in-laws down there.  I felt like a fairy-tale princess every time we pulled into the circular driveway out front and the doorman swung the door open.  The building has gargoyles.  My children still call it “Grammy’s castle.”  I spent countless hours there, under the eye of a woman who treated me (for better and worse) as her daughter, who did a lot of living and was no wallflower.  The men would pour themselves drinks and wander off to the library to do something boring, like watch golf on TV.  She and I would curl up in her yellow club chairs, under my favorite painting, a cheerful abstract thing done by an acquaintance of hers, and gossip, she with a martini and I with a glass of champagne, served in one of the small, hand-painted flutes I still treasure.

So what scent to wear?  I had no idea.  In the 90 seconds I had to devote to the task I realized I didn’t want to wear anything that had intimate associations for me.  I wanted it to be as pretty and as free of emotion as a nice dress I’d borrow from a friend.  I was utterly out of time when I ended up grabbing the small bottle of Annick Goutal Passion that someone (Louise, honey, was that you?  Or perhaps Nancy?) left for me as a gift at my perfume party.  It was still in the kitchen, literally in front of me, so I wouldn’t have to run upstairs.  I knew I liked it, that it was sweet and frothy and acceptable, although I couldn’t quite remember what it smelled like.  I wear it occasionally in similar circumstances, when I want my fragrance to be something nice and undistracting.

And so we had a fine time, and I met and talked with many interesting people, including an erotic portraitist old enough to be my daddy, who was a riot.  And the evening was a bit bittersweet, if for no other reason than being there at that party, with those people, was a reminder that everyone has moved on, and I will never go to the old apartment again, butterflies in my stomach, before some fancy dinner.  That part of my life is over.  I peeked down their hall, but the corridor smelled different, and the wreath on the door wasn’t the one I remembered.

In its own way, Passion was perfect.  It is as sweet and cheerful as a macaron at the top; it seems just right for the movie Marie Antoinette, all vivid pastels and dubious substance.  But like passion itself, the fragrance is a little more complicated than it lets on initially.  There is something very slightly unsettling about it, a coolness that translates as a sort of yearning to me, and in the drydown it is more animalic than I remembered.  I wonder whether it was just the heat of the evening causing the fragrance to bloom on my skin.  At any rate, it got me through the evening smelling nice, and I didn’t find myself having to pause and mentally give it some attention, which I do sometimes with the fragrances I find most beautiful.

I was surprised to see that my review of Passion was in August, for some reason I thought it was longer ago than that, although I didn’t intend this as a review, more of a scent moment.  But I’d be curious to hear of a similar fragrance emergency — when you had to throw something on at the last second — and how it worked out for you, did you end up being pleased with or regretting your choice?

  • ula says:

    what a nice post! I was so pleasant to read, thanks, March.
    It happens to me too, now and then, that I run out of the flat without a perfume and then feel weird (…somehow smelly lol). luckily, I almost always have at least 2-3 samples (sometimes even full bottles) in my handbag.
    I have to check out more of the Annick Goutal’s, I was told by many that they are not really that interesting…But recently, I sampled Songes and was pleasantly overwhelmed by the flowers that ‘jumped’ at me and smelled just like France I visited so often as a kid and it was just nice. I guess I will get at least a sample, to bring back memories, when one feels like it.

  • Olfacta says:

    Hmmm…meeting some friends recently at a tavern, then going to a sort of warehouse party/ravelike thing — I’d switched handbags, and all the decants and samples were in the other one — and forgot to put anything on on my way out — the horror! But I was feeling around in the alternate purse for a pen and, eureka, found a good-sized spray sample of Timbuktu that someone had sent me. Enough to share. It was perfect.

    • March says:

      See, now that’s a sign of a true perfumista — if you dig around far enough in the bottom of your handbag, one turns up!

  • AnnieA says:

    My emergency scent is Cristalle, the same as my security-blanket scent. I also have a small bottle of Bois de Filao at work if I’ve rushed out of the house at sixes and sevens…

  • Andrea says:

    Hehe. Smelling worse than the polo elephants and disgracing the Western Hemisphere… I did bring some ‘Axe’, luckiliy. – Though leading far astray from your lovely description this brings me to one very serious and pressing question I wanted to ask all of you: What is the perfect deodorant for a perfume lover? So far my best bets are Fresh Sugar Roll-on, Malizia Uomo Vetiver, Hermes Terre d’. Still, they smell and superimpose themselves over the frags:-?
    AS TO THE BEST ‘ARMOUR’ SCENT: that is a hard one. There is one scent I exclusively reserve for narrow stretches, difficult talks and visits to the lawyers: VINTAGE MADAME ROCHAS. Absolutely intimidating.

    • Andrea says:

      Where is Delete this has to go somewhere up!

    • March says:

      The best deodorant? I have no idea. I have teenage girls … I myself just avoid the ones that are clearly trying to be their own girly perfume (“Tropical Breeze”) or whatever. I’m partial to the Old Spice stick antiperspirant, which I’ve gotten one of my daughters hooked on as well. It’s cheap, readily available, effective, and its scent is recognizable but not overpowering.

      • Andrea says:

        Yes, for my teenage boys its easy, too (Pino Silvestre) (Whole range is good by the way – as simple green pine scents go and ever so moderately priced) Thanks for mentioning Old Spice – so easy to find you tend to forget about it. Maybe it is just best to avoid all that is labelled ‘neutral’ – same cloying weird smell in all of them.

        • March says:

          I really need to try Pino Silvestre, Luca Turin got me curious. Those neutral ones? Ugh. They have that same sour smell as unscented laundry detergent. I’ve decided they have to smell like something. The Old Spice I really like, and the smell is fairly subtle and fades away in any case. I used to get a Mennen one (I like men’s products) but the particular scent I like I could never find.

          • Andrea says:

            Yes, it is one of those freshly showered after a day on the beach CIAO! Ci VEDIAMO AL BAR IN PIAZZA! fun things and it’s been around forever. Outside Italy you get Pino Silvestre in masses on Ebay.

  • perfumegeek says:

    I love how you said neglecting to put on a fragrance is like forgetting to put on pants….I totally feel the same way. Horribly it has happened to me a few times. I almost forgot to apply a scent one day during the hectic Thanksgiving weekend and found myself quickly grabbing OJ Woman. I always feel like I can conquer the world when wearing it, but less about being aggressive and power-hungry….more like being centered.

    • March says:

      OJ Woman for Thanksgiving, you know what? That sounds absolutely perfect. It would be very calming, and it doesn’t have any hyper-aggressive sweet notes that would be disgusting with food. In fact, it would smell great with the food, wouldn’t it?

      • perfumegeek says:

        It did smell great with the food. Somehow it worked with the pumpkin spice cake I made. I’m glad I moved OJ Woman from my “maybe” pile to my “yes”. It’s not quite the orgasmic “yes yes yes!” fragrance but it is evocative.

  • Francesca says:

    PS I’m with everyone else thinking your post was wonderful and evocative. 😡

  • Disteza says:

    I’m there with you on feeling the need to wear perfume almost everywhere: to the gym, grocery shopping, wherever else…. I’ve recently changed my ‘just spray it already’ fragrances (for when there is little time for deliberation) to Iris Pallida and Amouage Epic Woman. Epic is a bit dressier, but I have never felt wrong throwing it on. Iris Pallida seems to be what I need at the moment, so I’m wearing it practically every other day.

    • Disteza says:

      Oh yeah, my long-awaited bottle of Champaca finally arrived, so that’ll be joining the list as well. @};-

      • March says:

        Jealous jealous! I wish the perfume gods would send me a bottle of Champaca. That would be my choice.

        I think those simple irises are very easy to wear, and easy for others to tolerate.

  • Mindy says:

    I love this post. You wrote it so well and I now have more perfumes to add to my must try list.

  • Masha says:

    If I’m having a fragrance emergency, it’s usually because I’m frazzled, so I’ve found a frankincense-based scent is great (truly calming aromatherapy and smells great), or Barbara Bui, can’t go wrong with that one!

    • March says:

      I have a teeny bottle of headshop frankincense oil that I swear smells great, although I think I like Norma Kamali Ceremony better.

      And hah — I’d forgotten! I have one of my three :”> bottles of Barbara Bui in the drawer where I leave my car keys. I have squirted myself with that more than once on the way out the door!

  • Francesca says:

    If I have to throw something on at the last second, I’ll go for Promesse de l’aube or 31 Rue Cambon. And there was that time I said, “oh, well, what the hell?–and spritzed myself with The Party–for work! If I really forget to put something on before work in the morning, I do have a bottle of Eau du Sud in my desk.

    • March says:

      Now, woman, there’s a gal with excellent standards! Promesse and 31RC being your throw-it-on scents. And if I worked in an office it would definitely have a bottle or three in it … hell, it would probably have a bowl of samples.

  • Connie says:

    oops .. should read “The same “look” I would have given anyone with that response a year or two earlier.

    Must get more coffee….:)

  • Connie says:

    What a beautiful post, March. And as mentioned above, how fabulous to attend a glamorous party with diplomats, FSOs and maybe a spy or two, oh my!

    I love those kind of elegant parties, don’t get to attend many of those anymore but I did get to attend the very antithesis of one last Thursday night. The Uber hip, over the top, ultra difficult to get tickets for opening night party, The Vernissage, that kicked off Art Basel. Though I much prefer the coziness of the one you attended I had a nice time, nonetheless, amid the mayhem.

    What to wear fragrance-wise? I needed something modern, I thought, and since I had just received my LL Vanille 44, I went with that. I entered the elevator to exit my building, a neighbor (and I use that term loosely) quickly entered after me and we headed down to the lobby. After nodding hello, he said “you smell delicious.” I thanked him and thought that was it and then he said “No, really, what ARE you wearing you smell really delicious.” I told him and he had a confused look on his face. The same face I would have given anyone with that response a year or two earlier. :”>

    I loved it! Now, for future recollection, I have decided that aforementioned neighbor in the elevator will become gorgeous Italian guy who after becoming helplessly entranced by me decides to forego his previous evening plans and whisks me off to get to know me better over a drink or two at a quiet lounge with fabulous low-level lighting. 🙂

    Yep,yep … it’s my fantasy and I’ll lie to myself if I want to. tee hee!

    • carter says:

      Jealous! =:) On all counts.

      • Connie says:

        Hey Carter, thanks, though it really sounds more glamorous than it is. I vow not to be swept up in the frenzy every year and every year some of my friends give me VIP tickets and I end up going and having a great time.

        The after-parties are usually quite good and I didn’t do that this year because nothing will top the Swarovski private party I was lucky enough to go to a couple of years ago. It was magical and held at the old Paris Theatre replete with velvet ropes, black carpet as as you entered strewn with Swarovski crystals … there and everywhere else with amazing art collaborations, a giant crystal chandelier and fabulous music … sigh.

        PS… I always love your posts!

        • March says:

          Oh that all sounds like great fun. It’s so wonderful to dress up like that and have a good old time. The closest we get to that on a regular basis is an annual party at the National Gallery of Art which is pretty phenomenal. It’s great fun walking around in there drinking and eating oysters for a change! 😡

          Aha, and it was a vanilla scent! Of course. Men really do love that vanilla, although I don’t think most of them would recognize it as such.

        • carter says:


  • Rockinruby says:

    I love this post, March. It sounds like such an old-fashioned, glamorous party — it’s been years since I’ve been to a gathering like that, and I’m more than a little bit jealous! I just watch them in old movies now. Sigh. I can imagine it was bittersweet for you in many ways, though.

    For fragrance emergencies of the elegant variety, I have a few stalwarts:

    Scandal, #19, Shalimar parfum, Mitsouko, and, believe it or not, Heure Exquise. These almost always feel “right” and fit the scene for me.

    • March says:

      Heure Exquise! Tom at Bergdorf told us the most beautiful story about that. I know I’ll bungle it, but here goes: Annick (he knew her) had that fragrance as her fragrance, the fragrance of passion (sex) that she shared with her husband. And when they went through some rough patch she put it away and didn’t wear it … I’m not doing it justice at all, he tells it so well. My point being that it always smelled a little wild/uber-musky to me, and it made sense then.

  • Musette says:

    What a vivid, evocative post! I was right there with you, even down the corridor to Chez MIL. I know what you mean about wearing a fragrance that you can just put on and let it go. The empresses don’t let you do that, even if you’ve worn them a million times.

    My defaults are every bit as predictable as Carter’s. Mitsouko, Jolie M …if I think Pink then I go with Shocking or Fracas. And I suspect my new default will be Lelong, when Mits or JM are just too bludgeon-y.

    I had just such an emergency recently, when I was stuck in the hospital with my papi’s unexpected drama. I’d brought some innocuous fragrances for my stepmother’s memorial service, figuring JM and Mits were too powerful for the throng – boy, that’ll never happen again. I now carry a small vial of Mits in my purse 😮 Much easier to wrangle nurses and doctors if I am wearing Mitsouko. Like a Birkin or Mulberry she does a bit of the work for you.

    xo >-)

    • March says:

      Really. You have Mitsy in your purse? See, we could have a whole conversation about this … I feel like Mitsy, just putting her on, is like taking the sword out of the scabbard, although that’s not quite right … I need a MOMENT when anointing myself. I can’t imagine whipping her out and dabbing her on in the CVS.

      Fracas. You make me so happy with that one. I don’t wear Fracas, but I love it when other folks do.

  • rosarita says:

    What a marvelously evocative post! I’m pretty boring at the last minute kind of thing. Chanel is the house that works best for me; 19 is classic *me*, Coco is classic *us*, #5 is just classic. Or there’s always a little vintage Shalimar or Norell. Thanks for the lovely read. 😡

  • DJ says:

    that was such a lovely read. thank you.

  • Jen says:

    I have left the house so many times without any scent on. I feel so ashamed! haha

    But when in a pinch I grab Ava Luxe Angel Face.

    • March says:

      Well, but perhaps that’s healthy? I’m one of those people who feels unclothed without scent. The only time I leave it off is if I’m on my way to Saks, etc. to try something. 🙂

  • zeezee says:

    I love this post. It conjures up the exquisitely detached feeling of watching others enjoy themselves in rather superficial pursuits that I know best from reading The Great Gatsby.

    In re emergency stand-by’s, I keep a few decants of my most worn in my bag for just such an occasion. Tam Dao, Dark Amber & Ginger Lily and an alternating 3rd (last summer it was Eau des Merveilles, these days it’s Ava Luxe No 23). For some reason I would rather wear any of those to a relatively formal affair than a perhaps more fitting Shalimar or any classic Chanel – I think it’s due to a very deep-seated feeling that being “all” formal would not be me. There has to be some quirk, something contrasting or it would feel uncomfortably like dressing up to me.

    • March says:

      Hm. I could have worn any of those. Tam Dao I appreciate more than I used to, and Dark Amber would have been the right kind of sultry. And your point about having something not formal is well taken — there’s a softness to those scents.

      I love those kinds of parties, and I don’t get to go to as many of them since our in-laws passed away.

  • Louise says:

    Blame it on Louise 😕

    So glad the Passion suited the moment.

    In cases of dire scent emergencies I’ll usually grab Datura Noir. Although I’m not at all a floral gal, this was my gateway scent, and always plays nicely on me-dressy when needed, cozy if asked. My son called it “Eau de Maman” when he was younger, that’s how much I wore, and how well it somehow suited me :)>-

    • March says:

      I love you. You can take a giant head-space head-case like DN and turn it into a cuddly dressy/cozy scent. 😮 And what a lovely scent to have associated with you.

  • Fiordiligi says:

    What a wonderfully evocative post! It sounds like the event stepped straight out of one of those glamorous 50s movies where the women wore fabulous dresses and long gloves and used cigarette holders.

    I’m with carter on the possible choice of scents for such an event, but I would be, being stuck on vintage lovelies as I am. Guerlain Ode would have been perfect, too.

    I can honestly say that I am never and have never been without perfume since I was a young teenager. As you say, for me, going out without perfume would be like forgetting to wear any undies (and believe me, that isn’t going to happen)!

    • March says:

      You know … they *were* fabulous. Lots of ex-Foreign service and diplomat types, so they tend to wear some interesting piece of festive clothing, like an embroidered scarf or what have you, from somewhere they lived overseas. And they’re always interesting to talk to, because they’re trained in the art of conversing.

      Ode! I have a sample of that somewhere, it’s their variant on Joy, right? It was lovely.

  • Andrea says:

    I just went to India for a few weeks, planning to buy a frag from my must try/stock up list at the duty free. Feeling sans allure and hurried I ended up buying nothing. So I had only Diptyque jasmin shower gel and DSH pikake lotion with me. My husband navigated me cunningly around every perfumewallah in sight (Gulab Singh, Johri Mal, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi! – I had checked you out for your Narcissus oil!) so I couldn’t even get near any frag. I ended up with cheap incense sticks which I burned under a tent-like heap of relatively clean clothes…Holy Champa….

    • March says:

      Yes, but your solution sounds so evocative! And since you didn’t have any Axe 🙂 with you you made do with some lovely incense. I hope it was a wonderful trip.

      • Andrea says:

        Hehe. Smelling worse than the polo elephants and disgracing the Western Hemisphere… I did bring some ‘Axe’, luckiliy. – Though leading far astray from your lovely description this brings me to one very serious and pressing question I wanted to ask all of you: What is the perfect deodorant for a perfume lover? So far my best bets are Fresh Sugar Roll-on, Malizia Uomo Vetiver, Hermes Terre d’. Still, they smell and superimpose themselves over the frags
        AS TO THE BEST ‘ARMOUR’ SCENT: that is a hard one. There is one scent I exclusively reserve for narrow stretches, difficult talks and visits to the lawyers: VINTAGE MADAME ROCHAS. Absolutely intimidating.
        Oh I’m sorry – my first attempt at replying was pasted right at the bottom of this talk due to certain juvenile distractors UArrgggh here

  • Flora says:

    Chypres have become my default “emergency” scents recently, it seems – Houbigant’s dry,oakmass infused Apercu seems right for just about any occasion, as does her rosy yet equally mossy sister Demi-Jour. My rediscovery of Jean-Louis Scherrer means it is now in regular rotation, and I reach for my vintage bottle when I just can’t think what else I might want. (For evening I like Jolie Madame too, but alas I have no vintage yet.)

    I have not yet kept samps in my car but that is actually a great idea!

    • March says:

      Apercu… that really should get some more attention, shouldn’t it? I have a review on here somewhere. Great, great scent. One of my kind commenters sent it, was it you? And the car thing works in theory, but not if it’s too hot in the summer (or too cold in winter?) I wouldn’t leave something pricy in that kind of temp. fluctuation.

      • Flora says:

        True – if I did leave it there it would just be a sample or two, not a whole bottle!

        I don’t recall if I sent the Apercu, I may have! I evangelize for that stuff all the time. 🙂

  • tmp00 says:

    I’ve had this happen to me a couple times, and I had the same reactions as if I’d forgotten to button my fly (which has sadly happened about with the same frequency) Luckily like Eric I do keep something in my car and something at the office. Indeed it’s part of my earthquake kit. Canned tuna, water, batteries and scent samps. Because I’m just that way.

    • March says:

      Well, frequently I have samples in my purse … not the same as having them in the car, though, and it was my husband’s car. He is keeping his car fragrance-free, since they’ve infiltrated everywhere else. 🙂

    • carter says:

      What should one wear to a natural disaster? Or does it depend on the disaster?

      • tmp00 says:

        I think it depends upon the disaster :s.. :d

      • mirandajane says:

        After Hurricane Ike, during the muddy & arduous cleanup, I wore L’Artisan Fleur de Carotte. It just smelled so fresh & cool & orderly & clean at a time when my world was not. That fragrance reminded me that there was a civilization outside of the post-storm chaos. Helped save my sanity. Now though, when I smell FdC–it reminds me of 1. Hurricane Ike & 2. some kind of bathroom something–cleanser or scented toilet paper or something.

  • carter says:

    At a swanky and sophisticated gathering such as your cocktail party, I don’t know why but I often reach for Shalimar. The heat of all those bodies in dressy attire and Shalimar just seem to work somehow. I rarely wear it at any other time, except once in a while with a t-shirt and jeans. It’s the kind of scent that should be worn very glam or very unadorned. But I find that nine times out of ten when I have to think quickly I reach for…wait for it…vintage Jolie Madame. God, I’m boring (insert sad little sigh-guy here).

    Vintage Scandal (hey there, Louise) and Rumeur are usually in the running, chiefly because I probably wear those two frags more than any other on a daily basis, even more than the JM. They just work for me, regardless, but Rumeur is generally only for evening due to the skank quotient. Also for evenings out I love to wear…wait for it…Tubereuse Criminelle. Okay, you can throw up now


    • Flora says:

      I’m sitting next to YOU at the next party!! :d

    • March says:

      Shalimar seems like the perfect fragrance for dressing up, doesn’t it? It’s grown up but not too formal. And vintage JM is tremendous, although for whatever reason my favorite time/way to wear it is if I’m heading out into the fray to run errands. I find it oddly comforting but *also* that force-field.

      • Eric says:

        I wore Shalimar extrait to the beach this summer (I wasn’t going swimming, no crime committed!) and now it’s firmly in my “Unbearable Heat” collection. Actually, so is Vol de Nuit….

        • carter says:

          Yes! I wore it on a whim last summer to see Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park on a sultry night and I smelled fabulous! :d

  • Eric says:

    This happens to me about once every three months, usually when I wake up an hour late and I’ve barely washed my hair. In those occasions, I scrounge around in my car’s cupholders for a sample to dab on. I still have a Gris Clair sample and I just used up the Borneo sample. If I wasn’t in the mood for those, it’s pretty depressing.

    Actually, now that it’s winter, I keep a bottle of vintage Nahema in the glovebox. My mother recently discovered several bottles of it. Probably the best present ever.

    • Flora says:

      Your car must smell like Paradise. I adore Nahema, I discovered it when it first came out and I have never wavered in my passion for it.

      • Eric says:

        It’s funny because I don’t remember my mother wearing it at all. She just mentioned it when I whipped out my Perfume: The Guide and I fell in love with it. And now these bottles! It is heavenly as soon as the cap is lifted.

    • March says:

      Vintage Nahema! Yum. I agree your car must smell amazing! I suppose I could keep fragrance in my car in the winter, it won’t freeze, right?

      • Eric says:

        Well, it’s mostly alcohol. I’d make an educated guess. Probably wouldn’t recommend leaving a bottle in your car and parking off in Antarctica but otherwise it should be fine.

        Frozen perfume sounds pretty cool, though. ;D