What is Beauty? / Tommi Sooni

By March

March came in like a lamb.  Warm and sunny, then a day of intense rain, pushed out by a front.  I was expecting a cold front, but it was lovely, warm and sunny again.  I walked the dog, smiled at the snowdrops blooming, the daffodils, the crocuses Hecate loves to pick and bring to me from other people’s yards; so ephemeral.  How can I scold her?

So tonight I sat on the porch, supremely happy, watching the sunset paint itself across the sky in red, orange, indigo.  And I thought: what is beauty?  This sunset is beautiful.  But if I were blind, I could still tell you about the sounds.  The birdsong, the cardinal looking for a mate, the geese returning, my own children laughing in the street as they race up and down on their scooters.  And if I were blind and deaf, I could still savor the loamy smell of the warming earth, harbinger of spring.

Three senses – sight, sound, touch – seem most important (at least in the first world) for survival.  Those senses will keep you from being mowed down by a Metrobus or an ambulance, will keep you from being scalded by your bath water.  But I cannot imagine a world without smell.

Some of my memories, my strongest memories, from childhood revolve around smell — hot asphalt melting in the summer, nail polish, rain on red dirt, Nehi grape soda, chlorine pools, fireworks, Georgia peaches ripening in the musty cool of our next-door-neighbor’s garage.  Mothballs in the cedar closet.  The motes of dust in the air.  My mother (Lipton tea, Carltons), damp silk from the sofa.  Leaf-piles, pine boughs, the blue-wet smell of snow and the candle-wax we used for the runners on our Flexible-Flyer sleds.  Rubbery wet galoshes, radiator heat.  The smell-not-smell of the apple tree I climbed each spring in the cemetery next to our house, hiding myself in the petticoat-pink-confetti blooms.  Life begins again, and I am reborn.

Every now and again I run across a weird-science article about some poor soul with a disorder that renders all smells into rotting meat, or no smell at all.  I have my own experiences with allergy-related anosmia.  No sense of smell?  I can’t imagine how I would live.

 * * *

I am behind on my perfumage, to put it mildly.   Over the past several months I’ve been steering my ship through perilous waters and mighty rough seas, and for awhile there I did wonder whether we’d capsize.  To all of you who held me in your hearts — you sent perfumes and chocolates and mash notes, you made funny comments, maybe you just waited patiently for me to chart a new course — I thank you all.

But what to review?  I now have dozens and dozens of unsniffed samples staring me in the face, although maybe they’re just waiting patiently, too.  Where to start?  It seemed so overwhelming.  I decided to sniff the first thing I ran across on my desk, which brings us to Tommi Sooni.

I loved Tarantella – a smooth, elegant chypre — when it came out a few years ago, also from this Australian perfumer, and apparently I was still on his mailing list.  There’s another unsniffed sample in there – Jinx – but I have had enough jinxes, thanks very much, so I went with Eau de Tommi Sooni I and II, which are also (along with Tarantella and Jinx) available at LuckyScent.

Here are the notes for both, cribbed from Fragrantica:

TS I – lime, lemon leaves, bergamot, bay laurel, jonquil, metallic rose, Cuban cigar accord, pine, sandalwood, benzoin, oakmoss.  “A rich, deep Oriental enhanced with oakmoss for an urbane, warm, sensual presence. Created by Tommi Sooni perfumer Brett Schlitter.”

Man, I couldn’t have picked a better place to dive back in.  TS I is an unapologetic, big-boned, old-school affair lost somewhere in time between Katherine Hepburn and Paloma Picasso.  It’s got a head of that bitter/powder accord that makes me think of the long-lost Parfums of Paris mini-bottle collection from my childhood, mysterious elixirs of adult womanhood I doubted I’d ever achieve.  Like Tarantella, TS I doesn’t give the impression of chasing after the current trends.  The bay, jonquil and woods give it a sharp greenness, the benzoin gives it warmth, and I don’t know how he did it, but it’s mossy as hell.  Two thumbs up.

TS II — Rhubarb, bergamot, lemon, daphne, jasmine, ylang ylang, honey, vanilla, amber, sandalwood.  “Gently drift along the fragrant canals of South East Asia. Close your eyes and fall under the spell of the lilting boat, its scented oars of sacred sandalwood. Receive the offerings of sweet spices mixed with honey.”

Look at that list of notes.  That thing is made for me, right?  Right?  And for about fifteen minutes it is perfect.  It’s a heavy, spicy, gourmand oriental that reminds me quite a bit of the raspy-oud/spices of one of those killer Laura Mercier LEs (Minuit Enchantee?)  It’s powerful stuff, more suited for cold weather, heavy on the jasmine and vanilla.  Unfortunately on my skin all the interesting bits blow off in fairly short order, leaving me with an ambernilla that is a hair too sweet for my tastes.  But I keep putting it back on, enjoying the opening.

The best part of these?  As I was tucking my sleepy boy into bed, having just reapplied them, he mumbled with faint surprise in his voice, mom, you smell like … you.  By which he means, like one or several perfumes he’s never smelled before in his life.  I hope he’ll always remember me that way.


image: witch-hazel.  I love that smell, there’s a tree hidden somewhere near my new office.  It’s an ethereal combination of honeysuckle and sweaty feet.


  • perfumemall says:

    Well. today i have really enjoyed reading your post, its always being a pleasure to reading your post as i enjoyed it a lot and find it quiet interesting.

  • Undina says:

    I came to read this post only today – as I’m wearing TS II. I enjoy it even more after reading your review. Thank you.

  • Sarah says:

    Ah March!
    Thank you for the shared smells, intuitive re-baptism thru a child’s words, the beauty and power of your inner light. Shine on, March, shine on.

  • Nina Z says:

    Beautiful, beautiful post today, March. Once in a while, I read something on a blog that transcends the usual fun and informal chatter (as much as I do enjoy that), becoming something more like art. When that happens, I always try to let the writer know because, well, I’m a writer myself. Wonderful.

    • March says:

      Thanks so much. That means a lot to me. I know I’ve said before that this is a creative outlet for me, and I appreciate your commenting.

  • Milena says:

    March, thanks of your reviews I bought a few perfumes and never regretted. Now I am inspired to try this line, especially Tarantella.

  • Gina says:

    My boyfriend sometimes says that – me “what do I smell like today?” him – sniff, sniff “you smell like you”. I always wonder what that smell is, exactly.

    I did not know you grew up in Georgia. I did too, a tiny place called Warm Springs. Lovely little town. We lived on a dirt road on The Foundation, a center with houses around it for the treatment of polio. Little springs came up out the ground. The whole place smelled amazing. Like a lot of the things you described, really brought me back to that place. I go back to GA every year, but not to Warm Springs. Georgia has a smell and a feel to it that I miss in a way. Los Angeles is so much my home now, with entirely different smells. But, thank you for taking me back there with your descriptions.

    • March says:

      Oh, I love your story! I did not grow up in Georgia, but in (then-sleepy) Virginia, which has similar heat and smells in the summer. But our next door neighbor, an elderly woman, was from Georgia, and each June (?) she had an entire flatbed truck of white Georgia peaches delivered to her garage, and she sold them by the bushel to the neighbors. It was my job to pick out two bushels, and I took it very seriously. I ate so many peaches out on the front stoop. I still miss those peaches, the best of my life.

  • andrea says:

    Love that mail.

    • March says:

      Wait … that mail? Samps that come in the mail? Me too. Samps or chocolate. Or samps AND chocolate! I must talk about chocolate too much on the blog!

  • Kathryn says:

    What a lovely, thoughtful, evocative post, March! You inspired me to seek out my almost forgotten and never sniffed sample of TS II. ( Still looking for TS I which is in hiding somewhere. ) A few years ago I would have told you that this kind of sweet floral wasn’t my kind of thing at all, but this morning I am completely enjoying it, particularly that slightly tart rhubarb counterpoint at the top. It’s a sunny day but there’s still snow on the ground here in the frozen north. You’re right, TS II suits this kind of weather, a harbinger of the spring I hope will soon arrive.

    One of the things I like most about sniffing new perfumes is that you just never know, lists of notes and past preferences notwithstanding, what is going to strike a note of delight. It’s a continuing reminder that life is good, even when (maybe especially when) you’ve had some recent experiences to the contrary.

    • March says:

      So glad you found the TS II and enjoyed it! It’s been sitting on my desk since … November? And today feels (ssshhhh!) like actual spring. I think it’s supposed to hit 70. But I’m afraid to notice because we are not quite out of our snow-smack window. In another week we should be good.

      And yes — notes are (and should be) a general guideline, but I wish I had a dollar for every time the notes turned out to be misleading, or my guess based on the notes was entirely wrong. I could buy a bottle of Amouage. :)>-

  • Musette says:

    That sinus infection is still lingering, compounded by stress – the kind that makes your shoulders and neck stiffen up. Yoga and stretching are helping but it’s requiring more time than I currently have (no sooner do I get them stretched out than some new drama occurs to make them stiffen up again. At this point I will have to get a job as a yoga instructor to keep myself loose. :-j

    anyhoo, I am having fugitive anosmia. One thing I’m definitely NOT anosmic, to, though – fish grease. I made salmon croquettes last night. Washing down the kitchen in vinegar today. Fish grease is Forever.

    xo >-)

    • March says:

      I love fish, but you’ve hit on one of the reasons I hate cooking it indoors — fish is forever. I grill outside as much as possible, even in the winter. I’ve been known to wade out there in the snow… not this year though!

      I really hope your anosmia goes away soon. 😡

  • mals86 says:

    How utterly delightful to have created a sweet memory for your kid(s): Mom smells like herself. Wonderful.

    I sometimes wonder if childhoods were smellier in previous generations. I can’t smell honeysuckle without thinking of waiting for the school bus in June, the last few weeks of school – the taste of the nectar and the whoosh of bus exhaust and the excitement of anticipating summer. Mimeograph ink, and new Keds and cut grass and the smell of my grandfather’s farm truck, woodsmoke and wet wool coats and snow and burning leaves… my kids in particular will have smell memories of the farm, certainly, but I’m not sure their peers will have so much to remember in the way of odors.

    My first year of college, I was thrilled to find a Crabtree & Evelyn shop near campus, and bought scented soaps for all my best girlfriends as Christmas gifts – only to have one of them ask me if I thought she smelled bad and needed a shower. I was mystified. “Um, no. These just smell nice. I love them, and I thought you would too. They’re just… for pretty.” She explained that she had never been able to smell anything, and my jaw hit the dorm floor. I’d had no idea. And then I felt so terribly sorry for her.

    • March says:

      That’s an interesting idea about smellier childhoods … a lot of our powerful memories are outdoors, I notice. I wonder if it’s because kids spend more time indoors in a controlled environment? Mine certainly do. My guess is if you grew up on a farm, for instance, much of your childhood would have smell-associations (in a good way!)

      That’s terrible about your soap-gift experience. I would have been thrilled, it’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t have splurged on for myself!

  • Tatiana says:

    Beautiful post. Your son will remember. I still remember hugging my mother when I was 4 or 5 and the smell of her sun warmed skin and the starched cotton wrap dresses she used to wear.
    So glad things are going better for you.

  • maggiecat says:

    Beautiful post, and an olfactory walk down memory lane for me as well. TS II sounds like a wonderful scent to try, though spring is coming fast here in Dallas, and we hardly had winter at all. Ii can’t imagine a life without smells – this is so much a part of who I am. Who we all are, I expect. And knowing that there are others out there like me is absolutely wonderful!

    • March says:

      We hardly had winter either, although I’m afraid to say anything because we are not quite out of the window where we could get clocked by some ridiculous snowstorm.

  • Olfacta says:

    Beautiful post. I can’t imagine a world without smells. Someday your son will remember exactly how you smelled while tucking him in. I have a clear memory of that, my mother tucking me in as she got ready to go our, smelling like Moment Supreme. The memory returns every time I smell it, as tactile and sharp as if no time had passed.

    • March says:

      Moment Supreme? What a lovely memory. I’m afraid my kids won’t have the benefit of *one* particular scent, but there are worse things…

  • Style Spy says:

    Oh, honey – welcome back. So much love.

  • pam says:

    Dear March, what a beautiful post. I, too, can scarcely imagine a world without smell. But my mother can no longer smell, since she suffered some strokes. And as kathleen says, that affects the sense of taste, too. So she gave me several of the perfumes she still had–Opium was one. And her anosmia is probably what triggered my collecting of perfumes in the last few years. It’s a fear that I, too, may lose my sense of smell, so let’s enjoy it while we can.

  • Gina says:

    I was putting a 1/2 full bottle of L’eau D’Issey in a box for donation a while back(it’s been sitting on my dresser for about 13 years), and my 20 year-old daughter wouldn’t allow it. She said it smells like me though I haven’t worn it in many, many years. She kept it.
    I appreciate your taking the time to write. It can be so difficult to find time for the things you love when you are navigating rough seas. Peace and love.

    • Musette says:

      That is such a lovely scent-memory! Mine of my mother is a combination of cigarette tobacco and face powder. She always smelled of face powder, even when she didn’t wear it. My dad said her skin smelled like milk (in a good way). Wonder what I smell like to El O? Probably 8-x

      xo >-)

    • Milena says:

      This is exactly what my 21 year-old daughter tells me, and I also keep L’Eau D”Issey because of her.

    • March says:

      Thanks! Writing is hugely important outlet for me. And I appreciate all the kindness of the Posse.

  • kathleen says:

    Very enjoyable post. I’ve a decant of Tarantella and was planning on ignoring the others for a while. Because, you know, sometimes you get to a point when enough is enough. Now I have no choice but to sniff.

    I have a friend who is anosmic. Has been for some 19 years now, since her 2nd pregnancy. I can’t imagine it. The thing we forget about anosmia is that it affects your taste, as well. Not only does it render aspects of life dull, it can also be dangerous. You can’t smell smoke if your house is on fire. You can’t smell if food has gone off. Horrible affliction.

    • March says:

      That’s my worst nightmare, anosmia triggered by something or other. I suppose I’d cope, but I would rather not.

  • Ann says:

    Hi, sweet March, and what a lovely post! It nearly brought tears to my sleep-deprived eyes this morning. What a great comment from your son — just precious! And so glad things are looking up for you. Those TS fragrances have caught my eye a time or two, but I’ve never done anything about it; now it looks like I will have remedy that. Thanks for the beautiful post and descriptions! Hope you’re having a great week.

  • Karin says:

    “mom, you smell like … you” – so sweet!!!!

    So relieved you have weathered the storm, and are healing and happy. Life is not easy at times. Sometimes it’s downright devastating. Hugs to you, March!!!!

  • Francesca says:

    Woke up way too early, couldn’t get back to sleep, turned on the computer, and found–this. What a beautiful way to start my day. Thanks for the lovely gift of your evocative words.

    I’ve never heard of Tommi Sooni—would love to investigate Tarantella (which my sleep-bleared eyes of course first read as Tarantula) and TS1.

    • Musette says:

      It is, of course. In folklore it is the dance caused by the bite of the tarantula. I think. I’m a bit bleary-eyed myself!

      It’s one of my favorites. It was my first real OOMPH of ‘real’leather. Alas, I’ve not been able to replicate it since that first experience, try as I might. It’s still gorgeous, though.

      I was up at 3a, myself, writing down notes for that giant quote. We could’ve had tea and conversation! 😡

      xo >-)

    • March says:

      Yeah, well. Australia. Tarantula. Makes sense to me.