Seeking a Hint of Winter in Midsummer

Summer struck my particular neck of northern New England this week, and with it came a predictable, corresponding craving for refreshing fragrances. Citrus-based scents are nicely crisp, and green fragrances can cut the heat, along with mint perfumes, if you can find the right one. But in 95-degree weather, I don’t want cool, I want cold. Snow. Ice. Frost.

So I pulled out a perfume sample that had just arrived a few days earlier: CB I Hate Perfume Walking in the Air. Offered originally in 2008 as a Home Spray, it’s currently available in perfume form as well. On the CB I Hate Perfume site, Christopher Brosius wrote:

One day, in November 2007 when it was unseasonably warm, I found myself longing for the smell of Snow. Not on me but in the air around me in my studio. I wanted to imagine myself working quietly in the middle of a snow covered pine forest – rather like the ending of the first act of Balanchine’s Nutcracker…

So I made up a bottle of Snow-scented Home Spray.

Narnia in the Winter, the Waltz of the Snowflakes, or perhaps just the fond memories of Snow Days away from School, the smell of Snow is one of the most beautiful things I can think of…

Just what I was looking for! I poured on some of the absolute and waited for the snow to start falling. First up, I got a nice airy menthol note that I smelled/felt more in the back of my nose than right up front in my nostrils, if that makes any sense. Crisp. Near-minty. Yes, I could buy that as winter. Then, just after a waft of wet earth coasted by, I got fluffy. Sweet fluffy musk. White musk, enhancing the snow effect, but warm and cuddly, not crisp at all. My nose lead me right back to childhood: ice-skating on Wollman Rink in Central Park at night, cocooned in a fluffy angora sweater. Walking in the Air offers that same pleasant contradiction: a hint of frost ending in cuddly warmth. On my (sweet-enhancing) skin, the sweet and warmth grow until they take over and the scent becomes a white musk fragrance, all hint of crispness gone. So, is it a snow scent? Yes! Is it refreshing? Not so much. I actually think it might be quite warming in winter!

That mix of frosty and cuddly reminded me a bit of Frederic Malle’s L’Eau d’Hiver—apparently created by Jean-Claude Ellena as the first “Eau Chaude”—so I spritzed on some of that. After a refreshing burst of bergamot, this crafty scent develops a split personality, half frozen, half molten. The cold part is crisp and mysteriously vegetal: I picture a dark-green plant growing out of an ice-covered stream. The warm side of L’Eau d’Hiver is a bright streak of caramel that twines through the frost. Rather than detracting from the perfume’s icy bite, the warm sweetness heightens the chill, illuminating and sustaining it. The two sides of this personality dance around each other until the perfume is nothing more than a whisper of musk on skin. L’Eau d’Hiver never fails to refresh in summer—but, as I imagine could be true of Walking in the Air, I can wear it during the colder months, when the caramel comforts perfectly.

What are your beat-the-summer-heat scents? Do you have any icy fragrances you adore? Does citrus do the trick, or have you found something more crisp? Please share!

My sample of Walking in the Air was purchased from Surrender to Chance; my spritz of L’Eau d’Hiver came from my own beloved bottle.

 

8 Comments

  1. I was raised in the upper Midwest where snow season can run from September through April. We experience numerous types of snow there — dry granular snow from the north, big soft wet flakes from the plains, and the dreaded lake effect snow, so laden with moisture picked up over the Great Lakes that you will immediately get water if you squeeze a handful of flakes in your glove. And of course all the gradations in between.

    Ten years ago I moved to the high desert in the rain shadow of the Rockies where snow is usually dry when it comes at all, and is often swept immediately away by the high altitude winds. It is a snow without much in the way of personality.

    So when I would say to my new neighbors “it smells like snow today”, they’d look at me as if I were a bit tetched. “Snow doesn’t have a smell”, they’d scoff. “Oh, but it surely does”, I’d reply, but when pressed, I’d find it a very difficult thing to describe. Although I know it instantly when I detect it.

    There is definitely a component of mint to the scent of snow in the air, although it’s a wet mint, like a field of spearmint after a chill rain. Because I grew up along the Great Lakes, snow for me always has a bit of the marine to it, and there’s that element unknown to the younger generation – the smell of a freezer that needs defrosting.

    I’ve not tried either of the scents you describe in your piece (although I think I clearly should), but there is one scent I’ve encountered that has an iciness to it that could be considered snow-like, although because of its name, I’ve always associated it with the chill of outer space, and that is Sun, Moon & Stars from Karl Lagerfeld.

    • Teri, your comment reminds me of the novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow–you have a beautifully developed understanding of snow (and its smell), rather like the main character did. I have lived in the Rockies and in New England, and I certainly know that the snow in the two places is quite distinct, but I’ve never parsed out the differences and subtleties as you have. What a beautiful comment–I learned so much.

      As for perfume, I’ve never heard of Sun, Moon & Stars by Karl Lagerfeld. But if it embodies “the chill of outer space,” as you described, I will have to hunt some down. Soon!

    • Teri, I live in northern IN, where we get lots of Lake Michigan-effect snow. Your snow scent descriptions are perfect! I love that smell, and I love snow and cold. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Sam, thanks for a lovely read. I’ve not tried either of the perfumes you mention, and will need to remedy that one day.

    My favorite kind of unexpected hot weather perfume is Etro Messe de Minuit. I understand that it’s a high church incense smell, which I don’t have a frame of reference for; to me, it smells like the cool, dim, slightly damp interior of an ancient stone building. Think small building, deep shade, English countryside, cool breeze. It’s like I’m wearing my own personal little air conditioner.

    • Oh, yes, Messe de Minuit is perfect for warm weather! I love your description of it as evoking “the cool, dim, slightly damp interior of an ancient stone building.” Thanks for reminding me of MdM; I’ve not worn it in years.

  3. The two most refreshing hot-weather fragrances in my collection: Guerlain Vetiver and L’Artisan Fou d’Absinthe. For a quick splash, I like Caswell-Massey Number Six, Caswell-Massey Lime, or Caldey Island Lavender Water (one of the few lavender frags that doesn’t go all harsh on me). I love the poetry of Christopher Brosius’ I Hate Perfumes line, but they last about ten minutes on me. Other CB I Hate Perfumes wintery frags you might try are Winter 1972 and Fir Tree.

    I was born in Virginia, but grew up in northern Illinois. There is a kind of smell when snow is coming, and the clouds are like translucent grey paper in front of the sun … or it’s a feeling that my brain interprets as a sort of expectant smell. Then there’s the smell of snow falling — that’s the one that has a minty sort of aspect for me, and also the smell when the temperature plummets after a snowstorm and the smoke from chimneys hug the housetops and you can hear dogs barking in the far distance. The last for me is associated with the sulfery-minerally smell of coal smoke … I was a child in the early 1950s and many neighbors heated their homes with coal.

    One of the powerful things about CB I Hate Perfumes’ fragrances is the way they evoke past memories … even though the sillage and longevity isn’t that great, they’re worth an investment for that alone.

    • Another mid-Westerner with a powerful awareness of the scent of imminent snow and of snow falling! My brother lives in Illinois–perhaps I’ll make a point of visiting him in winter to smell the snow there for myself…

      I completely agree with you that the ability of CB I Hate Perfume fragrances to evoke memories is marvelous. I love so many of them. The trade-off in sillage/longevity doesn’t bother me particularly, as I wear many natural perfumes that aren’t particularly long lasting. Hey, it’s an excuse to reapply, right?

  4. Sam, thank you so much for the kind comments. And how apt that you should mention Smilla’s Sense of Snow, as I was given that book for Christmas last year by a friend who had read it and thought about me waxing eloquent on the various types of snow.

    Rosarita, I was born in Beverly Shores, IN, so we probably hail from very similar places. I think only we Lake Michiganders and the folks in Buffalo, NY can really appreciate the phenom that is lake effect snow. In its own way, it can qualify as a natural diaster.

    Vasily, I’m no spring chicken either, and although I’d forgotten that coal smoke smell until you mentioned it, I can recall that scent as clear as a bell now.

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