Why won’t you be what I want you to be?

Have you ever decided you’re going to love a perfume before you’ve even smelled it? What happens when you finally try it—that perfume that is going to be The One, The Ultimate, The Perfect Perfume—and it’s nothing like you expected? If you’re like me, you beat your head against that perfume bottle, trying to force it to become the perfume you wanted it to be.

I beat my head—figuratively, that is—against Hermes Caleche for a solid decade. I worked near Saks and used to spend lunch hours snuffling ‘fumes. One day, I was introduced to the new “Soie de Parfum” version of Caleche, and I was smitten—by my idea of myself wearing it. I’d recently turned 30, I was a semi-big wig at work, and Caleche smelled as sophisticated as I wanted to be. So I wore it. Or rather, it wore me. For years, I’d spray it on periodically and would try to live up to it. But I couldn’t. Then one day I slapped on the Caleche and was utterly unimpressed. It was dull. A bit sour. Loud. It still wasn’t me; but I no longer wanted to be it. And I stopped beating my head against that bottle.

But Ormonde Jayne Woman took its place. I’d read about it online and became convinced it was going to be My Perfect Perfume. Maybe it would even be my Signature Scent, something I’d long given up on. When it arrived, it lived up to my dreams. Cool, dark, a bit magical, utterly individual. Everything I wanted to be. And when I put it on, I was. Eureka! I’d found The One. I imagined spraying it on letters instead of signing them; I envisioned leaving a delicate waft in my wake that people would identify as cool, dark, mysterious, unique me. And that would have happened—if I’d lived in the Pacific Northwest. Or a rainforest. Because it turned out that OJ Woman glowed and glimmered on my skin in the rain and fog; but on a bright sunny day, hot or cold, it turned. The resin was stinky, the green became bitter, the amber smothered and cloyed. It gave me a reason to love rainy days; but it would never be mine, all mine.

Chanel No 5: I wanted to smolder like Marilyn Monroe, but it moldered on my skin like yesterday’s fried chicken. Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur: I craved naughty, I got cuddly kitty. Donna Karan Black Cashmere: I sought warm spices and mystery, it dispensed someone’s musty spice rack. Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with these perfumes. The problem was my idea about what they would smell like—and what I would become in wearing them.

So what sets these perfumes apart from fragrances I tried once or twice and simply didn’t like? One word: denial. I didn’t shrug and put these scents aside. Instead, I bought bottles and kept spraying. Maybe not every day, but regularly, and for years. I remained convinced that one day I’d spritz on one of these fragrances and it would be…perfect. Just what I’d always imagined. And I, in turn, would be transformed.

What about you? What perfumes were you convinced you’d love before even trying them? Is there one you’ve persisted in spraying despite a distinct lack of love for it? Or am I only the one beating my head against a perfume bottle here?

  • Jennifer says:

    My Mom has Ellen Tracy Peoney Rose because on her it springs to life with effervescent florals in a dew drenched meadow.On me No.Effervescent.Florals.I spray and get strongarmed onto a bullet train that dumps me off in Drydown City.
    We simultanious tested.
    Mom said maybe I would grow into it when I get older.(uh-huh,right! I’m 33!)

  • Tatiana says:

    Along with everyone else, I have problems with No.5. Keep trying it, but all I smell on my skin is aldehydes. No flowers are evident, whatsoever. It’s odd, because some of the other Chanels that are supposed to have aldehydes work better on my skin.
    My other beating my head against a bottle scent is Parfum de Therese. Sigh. I love Diorella and other Roudnitska scents. Luckily for me, my local Malle SA has been generous with samples. I went through two whole samples trying to get to the love on this one. I wore it in cool weather, sunny weather, rainy weather, in between weather and at different times of the day and month. Still, it is the worst smelling thing imaginable on me. Sigh.
    With all due respect to Turin and Sanchez, I disagree. When Elie Saab Le Parfum first came out I was shopping with my daughter. We both tried it from the same tester at the same time. And while it was recognizable as the same scent, it did smell markedly different on each of us. Both us noticed this, the SA helping us noticed this and so did the two other SAs she called over to sniff noticed this. So it wasn’t just my nose.

    • Sam says:

      I’m sorry to hear that PdT just won’t cooperate with your skin. I didn’t like it at first (all that melon!) but in the past year have grown to enjoy it. However, I cannot bear Diorella. So I envy your ability to wear it! 🙂

  • Lisa D says:

    I simply don’t believe that perfumes smell the same on every person’s skin – all due respect to Turin and Sanchez. Scents that should love me – SL Jeux de Peau, PG Un Crime Exotique, Tauer’s Eau d’Epices – absolutely refuse to do so. I’m also one of those for whom hope springs eternal, though!

    • Sam says:

      SL Jeux de Peau…shudder. Another that I thought would be perfect and ended up being horrifying. On to the next obsession! 😉

  • Teri says:

    I so wanted to grow up and wear Shalimar. My 3rd grade teacher, Alice Ellingson, who I absolutely adored wore Shalimar, as did my dental hygenist and other adult women I liked and admired in my childhood. But when I reached Shalimar age (per my mother, the arbiter of such things in my family), I found out that as much as I liked S, she hated me. On me, she was Eau de Litter Box. Boy was I crushed. But undaunted. My mother reassured me by saying that sometimes one’s body chemisty changes as one goes through life changes and I should try it again later on. Well, I’m in my 50s now, and although I’ve taken S out for a test drive often over the years, she has never relented in her dislike. Still Eau de Litter Box.

    Sadly, she seems to have shared her disdain with all of her Guerlain sisters, as with one lone exception (Iris Ganache), none of them works for me.

    If I live to be 90, I’ll probably still be trying S occasionally, because I’m stubborn that way.

    Another iconic scent that disappointed me was Chanel 5. It doesn’t smell BAD on me, but it just lays there and does nothing for me. It was supposed to make me chic, elegant, sexy, and powerful, wasn’t it?

    • Sam says:

      I LOVE that your mother is the arbiter of who-wears-what-perfume-when in your family. So great. I do agree that scents change on us as time passes (I was going to say, “as we age,” but passing time is much more romantic than aging, don’t you think?)–and you KNOW I applaud your commitment to trying and trying and trying yet again. 😉 I hope Shalimar gets it together and plays nice with you one of these days!

    • Carrie says:

      I spent about 10 years between the early 70s and early 80s trying to make my peace with Shalimar. I loved it on other people. I loved the name! This perfume and I were just not going to come to a compromise, no matter how many times I hit the Guerlain counter. But on my last trip to give it yet another try, around 1982, is when I picked up a bottle of Mitsouko and never looked back.

      Also in the late 70s, I spent about a year beating my head against a bottle of Halston. Loved it in the bottle, hated it on my skin. I kept hoping my chemistry would magically change overnight and it never did.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    Right there with you on No.5. I just don’t get it- I sniff, I spray, I dab, shake my head, scrub and …repeat. I have a bottle of vintage (50’s) parfum from my grandmother’s effects and still no dice. But I will always keep the bottle mainly for the memories and partly in eternal hope.
    In fact, Chanels in general don’t like me and all smell like wet cardboard with a soupçon of damp dog. The exceptions are Cristalle and Allure but even Allure is too sweet.
    On the other hand, Guerlain and I love each other . Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Chamade, Habit Rouge , Jicky all love love love. Mitsy doesn’t like me yet but she will, oh she will.. One day it will be.. :I-got-an-idea:
    Great post!

    • Sam says:

      You’re so lucky that the Guerlains love you, and you love them. Not all of us are so fortunate.

      But this made me laugh out loud: “I will always keep the bottle mainly for the memories and partly in eternal hope.” As you could tell from my post, I’m with you on the eternal hope! 🙂

  • rosarita says:

    Great post and comments! I should love Serge Lutens Chergui. All the notes are there, right? I’ve tested it multiple times, I’ve swapped away samples and then swapped them back, just sure that *this time* it will work for me. No. Neither does Arabie, or Ambre Sultan, etc etc. How can I, a lover of heavy hitting orientals, have this failing? Yet other, much less loved SLs bewitch me: Gris Clair, Bas de Soie, Clair de Musc. Musc KK I tried eagerly, hoping for SuperSkank, but instead it smells like old school Cabot musk oil – Kiehl’s is way dirtier, imo. I know what Turin & Sanchez say, and I can recognize scents on others, but I still believe that some scents smell better on others than on me, and vice versa. Haven’t we all experienced that?

    • Sam says:

      Totally agree that scents smell different on different people. Why, scents smell different on ME depending on the season or hormonal shifts (or perhaps at the whim of the Fragrance Gods). It’s kind of a good thing, ’cause we get to enjoy smelling scents on others that we cannot tolerate on ourselves!

      I was interested to read what you said about Chergui. I’m lukewarm about it, and have done the same thing you described: gotten samples, given away samples, gotten more. I even bought a bottle one day when I was determined to adore it–then returned it unopened. On me, it’s not bad–just not what I want it to be. 🙂

  • Maureen says:

    I have a FB of Penhalion’s Bluebell that I should love…a pretty little Spring fragrance is what I thought it was. What it turned out to be on me is kind of men’s after shave. Once it dries sown it is OK, but man, until then I feel like I’m in Drag! I feel like I should love Madonna’s Truth or Dare because I like her music, but I sprayed it on at Macy’s, and just did not like it. Maybe I don’t like gardenia, because I had a niche gardenia scent that I gave away…it just did not like my skin. Oh well, lots of others to try.

    • Sam says:

      I’ve often wondered about Penhaligon’s Bluebell. Sorry to hear it didn’t end up being a pretty spring fragrance (one can never have enough of those!).

      As for gardenia–yeah, not a favorite of mine, either. It’s wonderful on others, but on my own skin, it smothers me. Luckily, that leaves a lot of other floral notes to love! 🙂

  • reglisse says:

    I save all the “banging the head against the wall” for relationships.

    The list of things I think i should love (but oh, so don’t) is nearly endless. I’m pretty quick to cut my losses if it isn’t good after 2 or 3 fair trials. I know I have difficult skin, so it’s not a surprise when I end up gagging at a perfume that everyone else has deep love and respect for. Fortunately, there’s always something new to try!

    • Sam says:

      How funny–as I was writing the post, I thought, boy, this could really apply to relationships, too! Sorry to hear you agree! 😉

  • I’m right with everyone else on a lot of the classics. I own four bottles of Shalimar and can’t stand it on myself! Love it on others; can’t stand it on myself. Love the silage; hate it up close, at least on my skin.

    I have a bottle of Creed Love in White I bought on impulse. It smelled great in the store (so I thought!) but every time I try to wear it screeeeeches at me. I spent all that money; it should like me at least a little, right? But, no!!

    Apres L’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue: I like them, but just don’t love them like a perfumista should. Like Shalimar, they remind me of older relatives, so that makes them both sentimental and impossible to wear.

    • Sam says:

      You cracked me up with “I own four bottles of Shalimar and can’t stand it on myself!”

      I had a similar experience with Creed Royal Water as you had with Love in White. Fell in love with it in the store (who knows why), but it shrieked loudly every time I wore it subsequently. I love what you said–yes, for all that money, these frags should love us back!

  • Amy,

    I hear you on the Chanels and the “formaldehyde accord”. I like the fragrance but can barely smell it thru all the chemicals. Have you tried the vintage eau de cologne? I got a bottle from ebay and love it. Not sure the age, but there was a sticker on the box that said $6, so I’d guess pretty old. The “cologne spray” in the black spray bottle is the one I’ve had good luck with. You have to be careful which version you get; I got a vintage edp and it was also fairly chemical. However this cologne spray is so elegant–even sexy! No wonder Chanel became so popular if this was what it used to smell like!

    Also, you might try the pure parfum, even in the present version.

    • Sam says:

      I second that about Chanel No. 5 pure parfum; it plays more nicely with my skin than the other formulations. Tho what I ultimately had to admit was that the best formulation of No. 5, for my skin, is Eau Premiere–an admission that might get my perfumista card rescinded! 😉

      • Kay says:

        Hi. Just curious have you tried the now extinct Chanel no. 5 cologne? Its different than the rest and very wearable! I just done like any Lutens nor L’Heure B or Mitsouko, either. Funny. Love your essay!

        • Sam says:

          I haven’t tried the No. 4 cologne. Didn’t even know there was one! It’s very wearable? Sounds like I missed something good. 🙁

          • Sam says:

            Whoooops…that should be the “No. 5 cologne”–not the “No. 4 cologne.” Ha! End of the day, my brain is soggy.

  • Poodle says:

    L’heure Bleu is just awful on me yet every time I go to the mall I head for the Guerlain counter and give it a try. Thankfully I never bought a bottle thinking that because everyone seems to love it, I will love it too. I want to, but LB makes no effort to help me like it. Mitsouko and I don’t get along either for that matter. The only bottle I have that I have that type of relationship with is Flora by Gucci. I keep wearing it and most times I think it doesn’t work but every now and then it’s okay. I keep wanting it to be what I hoped it would be but it doesn’t come close.

    • Sam says:

      Interesting how many of us want to like L’Heure Bleu, yet can’t. It should be perfect, right? Sigh.

      I’ve never heard of Gucci Flora. I’m going to have to give it a sniff next time I’m near perfume civilization. (I live far off in the middle of nowhere, so trips to perfume counters are planned long in advance. Flora will be on the sniff list!)

      • Poodle says:

        You can put it at the bottom of the list. I want to like it because it was a gift from hubby but it’s just blah. I don’t even think he likes it on me.

  • Amy K says:

    I just can’t wear those classic Chanel aldehydic fragrances, no matter how many times I revisit them. I’m a perfumista so I should be able to appreciate them, right? To me they smell too close to formaldehyde (I know nothing about the chemicals but I’m assuming they’re related in some way judging by the words and my nose), and I don’t want to give off that “been dissecting frogs at the lab” vibe.

    Thankfully Andy Tauer’s Miriam came along and gave me a version of Chanel No. 5 that I can love.

    • Sam says:

      I think some lines are just wrong for some people. For me, it’s Guerlain–I can’t bear that Guerlinade. But I’m glad you found Miriam! You’ve really spurred me to try it.

  • Brooke says:

    I have a tough time with Bal a Versailles and Azuree. I love the notes on both. I enjoy the way they smell on other people; however, they become sour on my skin.

    • Sam says:

      This issue of perfumes smelling different on different people is so interesting, isn’t it? I know Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez insist scents smell the same on everyone…but you (and I, and many of the people commenting today) have had a different experience! I empathize with you about Azuree: I really like it on others, but it never settles down on me/with me. It doesn’t turn sour, but it always wears me, never complements me.

  • For me, it’s L Heure Bleu. It reads like something I should love, but on my skin, it’s just plain stinky. I’ve tried and tried but it’s of no use. Just plain chemical warfare!

    • Sam says:

      Isn’t it interesting how something should be so right–but ends up so wrong? I know how you feel about L’Heure Bleu, by the way. I have trouble with all the Guerlains–they really don’t like me!

      • Musette says:

        One of the weirdest scent experiences I ever had was with L’HB parfum. Smelled like the kiss of an angel on my pal. Smelled like rancid powdered sugar on me.

        xo :Devil:

      • Ann says:

        Hey, don’t feel bad — none of the classic Guerlains like me at all. I do get on fairly well with some of the newer scents, however.

  • Ann says:

    Hi — great post! Try as I might, I still cannot feel the love for PdN’s Vanille Tonka. It sounds so perfect on paper, and I adore vanilla, frankincense and tonka, but that lime in it is somehow a deal-breaker every time. Every time, I tell you! And I do hate that, but whatcha gonna do? I am, however, a fan of her Odalisque and Sacrebleu and others.

    • Musette says:

      I’m a fan, too. They’re just not a fan of me! :Cry:

      xoxo :Devil:

    • Sam says:

      I haven’t triedPdN Vanilla Tonka (tho your description makes it sound enormously appealing!). Glad you’ve found a few other PdNs you enjoy. Like you, I wear Odalisque and a few others.

  • nozknoz says:

    I bought Lancome Climat years ago in duty free because a very cool acquaintance recommended it to me. I didn’t really like it (SSSSHHH!! Don’t tell anyone!) but tried to wear it anyway just to be cool.

    Usually I give up pretty quickly, but I do occasionally buy something impulsively against my better judgement because I’m in love with the idea of it.

    • Sam says:

      I can’t recall Lancome Climat–but I can TOTALLY (sadly) relate to “I tried to wear it anyway just to be cool.” Oy!

  • pyramus says:

    I am still to this day convinced that I ought to be able to wear Mechant Loup. Assuming it hasn’t been reformulated, it is composed entirely of things I adore: honey, hazelnut, licorice, myrrh, and on and on. And yet on my skin it is basically pulverized cardboard, and not even in an interesting way. I feel as if a cruel joke has been played on me. Fortunately, I have a clutch of other L’Artisans (Vanilia, Eau du Navigateur, Safran Troublant) that I wear all the time, so I don’t feel too hard done by.

    • Sam says:

      I know what you mean about Mechant Loup. I tried it, assumed it would be MAGICAL, and yet on me–it wasn’t. But yes, we’re lucky to have so many other glorious L’Artisans to choose from. I still haven’t tried Vanilia…hmmm, maybe that’ll be my perfect perfume…!

  • Musette says:

    oh, there are soooo many……..I, too love the idea of Caleche. It has never quite worked for me, either, alas.

    The worst are the Nicolais, though. I swear, I was SUPPOSED TO LOVE THEM! And they are gorgeous – they just do not work on me! I am humiliated.

    xxoxo :Devil:

    • Sam says:

      Those Nicolais! As you know, I’ve tried to adore the much-loved Le Temps d’Une Fete, but it’s just not for me. So I feel your pain! 😉

      As for Caleche, it’s so close, isn’t it? So close, and yet…