The Scent Haunting

By March

It started out innocently enough.  Louise and I were at Bloomingdale’s, playing in makeup and conducting a thoughtful, nonbiased exploration of some of the newer scents.  By which I mean, we were mocking them.  That new Gucci Guilty?   Pffffffffffffffft.   Those four man-scents, the Ralph Lauren Big Pony Collection?  Sporty, Seductive, Energizing and … Posh?  No, wait, sorry, that’s the Spice Girls.  The last one’s Adventurous.  We sniffed them all, trying to decide:  if they were actual men, which one would we … kiss if we absolutely had to?  The rest of the conversation is unprintable here, and I hope the SA didn’t overhear us. (I think I opted for Energizing.  These scents are a big ol’ polo mallet of fresh, right upside the head.)

Eventually we paused at the Hermes counter, where they had a little travel atomizer of the Parfum des Merveilles.  (An atomizer that wasn’t available for purchase, naturally.)  I was talking about how much I like the Eau des Merveilles, I bought a partial bottle awhile back and it’s almost empty.  It smells like salted orange, it’s a great exploration of ambergris, and a salty fragrance I can wear that doesn’t go hideously marine on me,  that dead-beach smell.  It’s lovely.  But maybe I should switch it up, get a bottle of the Parfum des Merveilles next time?  It’s not just stronger, it’s a different scent construction — richer, with a finish that’s more cognac, moss and patchouli, a smooth feeling of something like chocolate at the end.  I sprayed it on absentmindedly, raved over it, and we headed out the door to Sephora.

But that thing just stayed and stayed and stayed and … you know what?

Someone call the exorcist.  I’ve been scent-haunted.

A scent haunting isn’t a scrubber.  It happens with scents I very much like as opposed to ones I don’t.  Scent hauntings can manifest themselves in various ways.  There’s nothing like an incipient migraine to make any fragrance wear out its welcome fast.  Or, sometimes it’s just the wrong choice on an off-day.  This happens to me mostly with my snarlier vintage classics.  I’ll spray on Mitsouko or Jolie Madame and an hour later I’m thinking,   I can also be scent-haunted in a good way – where the ghosts of multiple fragrances are more than welcome, their presence on a frequently-worn scarf or wool sweater quite enjoyable in the winter months.

But the scent haunting that baffles me unfolds as it did with Parfum des Merveilles.  I don’t understand what the problem is.  I like that scent.  I thought it smelled gorgeous.  I didn’t feel flattened by it, like Aunts Spiker and Sponge under the giant peach (Byredo Pulp will do that to you, as will MDCI Peche.)  Parfum des Merveilles just … started to work my last nerve, you know what I mean?  It wanted too much attention, like the kids whining in the back seat.  I was so put off that the next time I picked up the jeans I’d been wearing and smelled Merveilles, I promptly tossed them in the laundry.  But I still want a bottle.  What is wrong with me?

For those of you who are wondering what you Must Own – Lee’s invisible-to-some post on Friday – we’ll repost it and I’ll clear the formats.  In the meantime it was reposted in comments yesterday (Random Sunday.)

image: window ghosts, some rights reserved, flickr

  • Sara A. says:

    On Monday it was finally cool enough to slip on a jacket before heading off to work. As I was walking back to the metro I ran into a friend and as we were talking I kept on getting a whiff of Youth Dew. Finally, I smelled the cuff of my jacket and there it was, the ghost of Autumn…

    Then I made the mistake of wearing it today on a hot, Indian Summer day and it was too much like a cat twining itself around my legs and demanding to be picked up and smelling completely unlike itself. It went completely floral and chocolate on me.

    On the upside I think I’ve finally trained myself to recognize the scent of rose as rose! For the longest time my nose has been completely blown out by the Tea Rose my grandmother wore that I couldn’t smell a rose perfume with out my brain trying to turn it in to Tea Rose. Then my brain would fail leaving me to think “This smells really pleasant and floral but I don’t know what that is.”

  • Mary says:

    Hmmmm– maybe this is what’s been going on with that Perfume Diaries Bare Skin– I keep smelling it and thinking about it. I do sort of like it– but there is something in it which just smells like–my own skin. :-?

  • ggs says:

    I have Parfum des Merveilles, March, and it comes in a 7.5 little glass flat circle bottle (“refill” ~$100.) as well as the silver flacon. I’d love to see it in a bigger bottle, but it would get pricey! A great summer scent, in either concentration ;)

    It does seem possible that the travel atomizer size you sniffed was really the Elixer. The Parfum dM is a richer, parfum version of Eau des Merveilles, while the Elixer is a different scent with a chocolate note.

  • Frenchie says:

    Oh, Angel has haunted me for years. Sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes it makes me sick. I’ve finally reconciled with the fact that it will not always work for me but that I still want to have it in my collection. I tried living without it but that made me sad. :(

  • Ursula says:

    I have been scent-haunted in a disgusting way … mostly when the scent contained musk or oud. Lesson learned to avoid anything that contains musk molecules – with the exception of my beloved Cuir de Lancome where the leather scent has been muted from the original formula and the new version is more wearable.

    I like to be scent-haunted in a pleasant way … when my favorites stay on nicely and linger …

    Then I can be reasonably sure that others like those scents, too.

    Whoever walks around sporting an unpleasant choice, is doing the whole perfume world a disfavor … but some may not know it. Perhaps they do not know how to properly apply perfume, and moreover, judging from paper strips and in the fumes of the department store aisles, bought the latest star fragrance without ever giving it a thought how it will radiate from the individual’s skin and chemistry.

    And yet, the pursuit of a beautiful scent choice is such a rewarding endeavor, mistakes can be corrected … and, hopefully, that process is not too costly.

    Have fun and a nice fragrant day !

  • carter says:

    L’Antimatiere. Not really, but I like to say it because it annoys the heck out of CERTAIN people.

    Okay…Daphne! No, wait…L’Air de Rien! Manouuuuuuuumalia! Just messing.

    Vintage Dioressence is the real ghost. I love it and it makes me sick sometimes, but no matter what I just can’t quit it. It must be the whale vomit accord.

    • March says:

      Hahahaha! I have a bottle of Dioressence sitting right here and it is a bit vomity but in a good way. And I’d rather have whale vomit than Mammalia (shudder).

  • Winifreida says:

    Laaah Myrrrhe is my most powerful haunter…and I often find ghosts of perumes in other perfumes, in a good way…the one that most comes to mind is the spectre of old Shalimar in Spiriteuse Double Vanille.
    I was always more Mits and L’H B than Sh, but mostly had a bottle around down thru’ the years, so I adore SDV because of that!

  • Catherine says:

    This post is bad, bad, bad. Too enabling. The only fragrance I’m itching to buy right now is Eau des Merveilles, which I’ve successfully put off for about five months by reasoning the body lotion is good enough.

    Quit it! :)

  • Daniela says:

    Oh March, what a timely post. I spent the entire day yesterday being scent haunted by Tocca’s Stella. One lonely spritz directly on skin in the morning – initial thought “Hmm interesting… Maybe I should explore this one further, maybe it’s not so bad”. Two hours later, “Hmm it’s still here, not bad”. 10PM – “Oh for the love of God, I need to get this scent off me! :((”.

    That’s the bad side of scent haunting. White musk also tends to stick around for a while on me. SJP’s “Lovely” was downright disgusting after a few hours. The good side of scent haunting are scents like L’Artisan’s Premier Figuier, which sort of sneaks up deliciously on you just when you think it has faded away. :)

    • March says:

      Those sneak-ups are glorious, aren’t they? Ones that fade away and then come back? PF would be an excellent haunting.

      I really liked a couple of those Toccas, I think Stella might have been the one. But I think, like your experience, it wore out its welcome. That’s just funny about SJP, I cannot smell it at all.

  • maggiecat says:

    I’ve found that both iris and violet tend to haunt me (how apropros!). I love the scents they appear in, happily douse myself, and after an hour or so, I find myself…annoyed. Kinda like the guy you meet who seems really nice but turns out to be needy and whiny. Not as scary as a stalker, ut certainly not someone you want around. I’m still looking for the iris scent that’s good for a long-term relationship – any suggestions?

    • March says:

      I’d say try to figure out which part of the iris is annoying? I’m guessing if violet haunts you too that it’s the violet/iris overlap. In other words, maybe a lighter, less sweet, and/or more rooty iris would be a better fit for you? How about Prada Infusion d’Iris or Dior Homme (lots of iris in there)? My personal favorite is probably Chanel 28 La Pausa.

    • Dante's Bra says:

      Infusion d’Iris haunts me, and i just tried it again yesterday just to make sure. it’s so quiet, yet so weirdly persistent, i feel like it bends my sniffer for the rest of the day. It bothers me in the same way as Dan Tes Bras, so it must be that iris/violet overlap like you say, Ms M. I wish I could find a violet that suits me– the closest has been Cuir Venenum and vintage Jolie Madame. Maybe those are enough in themselves…

      I had unsavory tasks today (court testimony, bill-paying, etc.), and vintage Femme powered me through! I love that stuff, it just makes me feel like I’ve had aplomb and grace surgically grafted on and I can handle anything!

  • Rappleyea says:

    This really *is* spooky! I’m not normally a dreamer, but last week I dreamed about one of the Merveilles scents – not sure which one as I’ve actually never smelled them. All I remember is a big, empty room with a tall ladder in the center and a big, round bottle of one of the Merveilles sitting on top. I was half-way up the ladder when I woke up.

    Any dream analysts out there?

  • Musette says:

    ps. what Mals said about Merveilles. I tried to like that one, I did. And I nearly succeeded. But something (the chocolate, prolly – strange that a chocoholic hates chocolate in scent) always sent me scurrying to the ladies’. Or the Number 4 toner.

    xo >-)

    • March says:

      Just in the Parfum des Merveilles or the regular? The regular to me is much lighter and salty.

      • Louise says:

        There’s the Elixir des Merveilles-thrown in here to confuse. It is much more chocolatey-sweet. I beleive what we smelled was the perfume concentration of the Eau de Merveilles-but I think a re-check is in order, since the SA said they only had the “big” bottle for sale-and that surely wasn’t 3.4 ounces of parfum!

        • March says:

          Oh my god. You know …. did I read the label wrong? That’s so funny. Here, let me bust out my 😮 😕

          If you look online they have the travel ones of the Elixir, wonder if that’s what we smelled? Because that’s the EDP. Here, let me go change my identity and leave town….

          • Musette says:

            Wait. What?

            I’m cornfused.

            The one(s) I know (think I know) are that orange one that stinks of chocolate – that’s the Elixir, right? I don’t know if I’ve tried the Eau – huh. That chocolate skeered me off and I think I just assumed they were all variations on that Chocolate Hate.

            xo >-)

          • March says:

            Yeah, the Elixir is the chocolate one. I SWEAR it wasn’t the Elixir, because I know that. I squinted at the label … we’d stopped to smell the Clair de Merveilles, at least I did, which was pretty meh.

          • Louise says:

            I didna smell choco, neither…but am relly curious now wth it was!

          • Louise says:

            I’m keyboarding with a brownie in each paw…

          • carter says:

            Oh for crying out loud.

          • sweetlife says:

            Well if you did smell the Elixir it’s good news for your wallet! Those travel vials (the slender 15 ml jobbies) can be had for >$20.
            The Parfum, as far as I’ve seen, is only available in the fancy silver flacon.

            I adore the Eau and the Elixir–the Eau slightly more–but didn’t find the Parfum different enough to justify the cost. Maybe because part of what I love about the Eau is it’s transparency.

          • March says:

            If I smelled the Elixir and didn’t recognize it and confused it with something else (with almost the same name) I’m going to have to do an egg-on-the-face post. Which emoticon should I use, :”> or ~:> ? Or, wait, :o) ?

  • Musette says:

    Current Femme.

    As much as I love it I have to be really careful with it, wearing very fitted, flat clothing and controlled hair (I’m talking as close to an updo as I get). Any other situation and I am haunted and freaked out for days! Vintage Femme is fine at any time.

    My smell hauntings are usually food-related. 30 years ago I was haunted by tarragon – I’d gone to Les Nomades and ordered a dish with a tarragon-infused sauce – excellent, but I quickly forgot about that particular dish – I dined out a lot in those days. For nearly a year, though, the back-smell of tarragon would rise up, unbidden, and haunt me but I couldn’t make the identification or the connection (to be honest, I wasn’t trying all that hard)…then it became an obsession. Finally traced it back to Les Nomades where they were gracious enough to allow me into the kitchen and taught me the dish.

    Moral of this story? Who knows. Maybe “PAY ATTENTION, ANITA!!” or…eh, who knows.

    xo >-)>-)

    • March says:

      Let’s face it, that Femme will break into your house, throw a party and steal your cash if you let it. It’s big, bad, out of control. I am veeeeeeery careful applying it, as I don’t want vestiges clinging to my unwashables for the next decade or two.

      Haunted by tarragon! I so understand that! I myself am only haunted by tarragon in chicken salad sandwiches on a croissant, so sometimes I have to have that exact thing and nothing else will do. Tarragon is haunting (in a good way.) Cilantro is more like a visit from 8-x

      • Catherine says:

        Mmmmm…. Cilantro. How can you NOT want to be haunted by cilantro!?!

        Musette, I’m now haunted by your tarragon sauce. Can I come by your kitchen to learn?

        • Musette says:

          I’m with you, Catherine. Chicken salad with cilantro is da bomb! Chicken noodle soup (with hot peppers and cilantro) is off the charts delicious! March must’ve gotten a bad burrito or something… :-D

          You are always welcome in my kitchen – just not ‘this’ kitchen. Wait until it’s renovated. I can barely stand it in there meself, it’s so unbelievably horrible.

          But the sauce is simple – this was a breast of chicken in tarragon cream sauce w/ wild rice. A basic cream sauce infused with the white wine jus from the chicken (strained, of course) – the tarragon was steeped in the cream, then removed (little teeeeeny chopped tarragon bits added to the presentation at the last second). It’s a really easy dish and very flavorful.

          xo >-)

        • sweetlife says:

          I was relieved to learn that disliking cilantro is a genetic thing. To some people (like myself) it tastes like soap. Really like soap.

          The weird thing is, I liked it for awhile, when I first tasted it. It just made everything taste so fresh and green–so I do understand why people love it. But then I moved to Costa Rica for awhile, where it was in EVERYTHING, and one morning I went in to the kitchen and everything smelled and tasted of it–the counters, the water, the flat of my knife… I can tolerate it in very low doses, but basically it overwhelms everything, and I’ve never been able to get back the initial good taste again.

          • Musette says:

            rrrrrrrrrowwwwr! I can certainly understand how you could learn to hate it – sounds like it was pumped into the vents! Anything (other than 11cwt emerald-cut diamonds or vintage Bollinger) starts to get on your nerves if served in enough quantity. I think herbs in general need to be used with discretion, lest they overwhelm a dish or your palate – the beauty of that tarragon sauce is that it’s more about the illusion of tarragon, rather than a whompin’ big ol’ hit of licorice. That little sprinkle of chopped taragon could fit on the end of a hummingbird’s beak – and it lent the perfect olfactory finishing touch to that dish.

            xo >-)

          • March says:

            Baby, build me a house out of Bollinger and string some big rocks around my neck. I’ll put up with it.

          • March says:

            No, it’s not a genetic thing. Cilantro really does taste like soap. That’s its flavor: soapy. It’s been perpetrated on an unsuspecting American public by jackbooted CIA chefs dropped from helicopters. Some sort of mass mind-control program. They’re administering it through Mexican restaurants but they’ve branched out.

          • carter says:

            There have been a number of articles about how the flavor of cilantro is horribly distorted for some reason in certain individuals. It is possibly genetic.

          • carter says:

            And don’t even get me started on pine nuts…

          • Momlady says:

            Cilantro haters of the world unite!

  • Tiara says:

    Haunting is an excellent way of thinking about those scents which bother you either good or bad. Shalimar is both for me. On paper it’s sound perfect. On me, it bothers me. And then it doesn’t. Oh, yes it does. Nope, it smells great and back and forth I go. So it haunts me. Very rarely wear it because of that.

    Cool image for this post.

  • mals86 says:

    What a beautiful photo!

    Cognac, moss, patchouli and chocolate sounds like Nausea in a Bottle to me… but, you know, whatever floats yer boat. (*I* like rose.)

    I’ve been doing a Celebrity Death Match between Bois des Iles and SSS Champagne de Bois over the last few days, so I keep getting whiffs of wood-spice at random moments. I think I accidentally got some CdB on my purse. Oops… except it’s lovely.

    Spiker & Sponge flattened by the giant peach is the best part of that book, IMHO. (Each one of my kids has a different favorite Roald Dahl, but JatGP is my youngest kid’s fave, and I’ve read that one out loud so many times I can’t count.)

    Looking forward to Lee’s Must-Own post, as it was invisible to me.

    • March says:

      Well, when I was typing those notes, I thought: Angel crossed with Frapin (or whatever that cognac one was) and ugh, no thanks. But I swear it’s not like that!

      Those little whiffs from clothing (assuming it’s something you like) are absolutely the best.

      I have my childhood copy of James and the Giant Peach, which we read over and over because it’s deliciously disturbing and my kids love it (the giant bugs! And they’re not very nice either.) It’s been a hoot rereading it as an adult. Anyway, the flattening is one of my favorite bits as well.

  • Louise says:

    Wow, girl. I have been haunted by the Parfum de Merveilles, too. In that I am dreaming of buying it. It only worked my happy nerve. Also eradicated all those nasty men’s stinkums we tried, yay!

    But what’s odd is that I can still smell it, and there is none around. None. I sprayed only a touch on the back of my hand, and yes, they’ve been washed this week. Yesterday, my ghost was Vintage L’heure Bleue, but there is none in my house. I went out, and smelled it strongly at Sbux. Huh?

    A few days before, I smelled YSL Y at school-clearly, distinctly, and there was most def none in the building. Only Axe, it seems. The scent was so clear that I had to spray some when I went home, just to be sure. Yup, it had been waiting for me.

    My ghost scents are apparently sometimes a result of olfactory hallucinations. I will occasionally get them around migraine times-I guess they’re a sort of aura. But they will also appear at random, and not always as a perfume. Cinnamon is a frequent imaginary friend (has been since childhood), and smoke sometimes wafts with no source at all. The nearest explanation I’ve gotten from a doc is some light touch of temporal lobe epilepsy. Oh, well, another brain issue…

    I sometimes wonder if these phantoms heighten my olfactory pleasure in general. As in, they’ve sensitized me to sniffing over the years, made me a scent hound. I don’t wish them away at all.

    Wanna split a bottle of Merveilles? : )

    • March says:

      Oh, that’s so interesting. I’ve gotten the occasional whiff of something I’m pretty sure I am imagining … it’s not on my clothing and nobody nearby is wearing it. It seemed clear to me in my mind in the moment that I was conjuring it up, if that makes sense. “A touch of epilepsy” sounds alarming, but if it brings on LHB…

      Maybe baby on the Merveilles, I should get some more, yes?