How a Perfumonogamist Learned to Cheat


I have never had a signature scent. I’m too greedy for that: there’s always something new to sniff-spray-covet-own, and I want it all! But my friend Lea is a serial perfume monogamist. She started off her adult life wearing Givenchy Ysatis, which she describes as “harmless.” Damning with faint praise? Sure, but when I thought about it, I realized I’d dated men who fell into that category: pleasant, easy to be around, undemanding. Not a grand affair, true. But sometimes pleasant is all one needs.

After wearing Ysatis for some years, Lea found true love: Le B by Agnes B. She adored its “fresh lightness,” its ephemeral floral character with a sophisticated edge. It was perfect. It was her. Lea was certain she’d never need another perfume. The love affair was interrupted—temporarily—when she wound up working for someone who was allergic to Le B. So she wore Ysatis to work—but it was only a stand in, and when her work situation changed, she went back to sporting her beloved Le B 24/7.

Until she couldn’t find it anymore.

In 1996, Lea was informed that Le B had been discontinued. She nursed her broken heart (along with what little juice she had left). But Lea was lucky. True love struck again on a spring day in New York. As she walked down the street, she passed a woman exuding a scent so marvelous that Lea grabbed her arm and asked what it was.

“Eau d’Hadrien,” the woman told her.

It was love. Clarity! Brightness! Citrus! Woods! Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien bore little resemble to Le B, but it was nonetheless perfect. Again, it was indefinably her. By the time I met Lea—long after we’d each moved from NYC to northern New England—Eau d’Hadrien had been her signature scent for a decade. For my part, I was thrilled to walk into a room in the tiny town we then lived in and discover someone wearing a brilliant, exquisite perfume that I had long adored. Eau d’Hadrien had never been my signature scent—I told you, I don’t have the heart for that—but it was in high rotation for many years. I loved hugging Lea whenever I saw her. (Because she’s a great person! But, uh, also for that bright hit of Eau d’Hadrien.) As I’m sure you all know, Eau d’Hadrien is delightful but far from long lasting. So Lea had to have lots of it on hand. She kept (literally) vats of Hadrien in her fridge. When the rest of us were sweating in the summer heat, Lea could be counted on to smell cool and fresh. When the rest of us were lost in mid-winter gloom, Lea wafted Mediterranean breezes wherever she went.

Until her love went sour.

In 2009, Lea ordered another jug-o-Hadrien and received it along with a carded sample spray of the scent. She idly sprayed the sample—and was shocked. It didn’t smell anything like Eau d’Hadrien. (I sniffed it, too; it was awful.) The juice was harsh and screeching in a way Eau d’Hadrien had never been. The good news was that her signature scent was now extremely long lasting. The bad news? “It smelled like the disinfectant they use to clean Greyhound bus toilets,” Lea said. I wasn’t totally surprised: I’m been reading online that the formulation had changed—as IFRA outlawed citrus—and not, it seemed, for the better. But Lea was devastated.

For the second time in her adult life, she began the search for a new perfume. This time she turned to the internet for help. Lea contacted the blog Now Smell This and became a subject of one of their Monday Mail posts, in which seasoned perfumistas write in to help others find the perfect scent. As a result of their suggestions, Lea tried nearly a hundred perfumes. Possible contenders ended up being Jo Malone Verbenas of Provence (but it was even more short lived than Hadrien, and not as glorious) and Parfums 06130 Yuzu Rouge, which she liked but didn’t adore. Long past the days of being happy with a “harmless” fragrance, Lea struggled through nearly two years of fragrance limbo as she rationed the vats of Eau d’Hadrien still in her fridge. By April 2011, her Hadrien supply was nothing but fumes.

On a business trip to Chicago, Lea decided she had to do something. That something? Purchase Hermes’ Un Jardin En Mediterranee. Though she didn’t love it, she liked it well enough to wear it. But on her way to the Hermes shop, she made a detour to Saks. It didn’t make sense, but she decided to give Eau d’Hadrien one last try. She just couldn’t believe Annick Goutal would abandon Eau d’Hadrien, their flagship fragrance, in its brutal post-reformulation state. So she headed to the Goutal counter and held her wrist out for a final spritz.

And it wasn’t bad.

It wasn’t the Eau d’Hadrien she’d once adored: though still lovely, it had lost a bit of its lemon bite and become a tad more powdery. But more important was what it wasn’t. It wasn’t peculiarly long lasting; it had regained its winsome ephemerality. It wasn’t blaring; it was nuanced and inviting. No other fruit scent had been added; it was still lemon, just not Lemon Pledge. It was Eau d’Hadrien Redux, and if some of the passion was now gone, Lea felt the tender joy of reuniting with a love thought lost.

She bought a bottle on the spot.

But something had happened during the two years she’d scoured the internet for Hadrien replacements. She’d gotten it into her head that somewhere, somehow, she might be able to find her first love, Le B. Maybe there was a bottle on *bay, maybe she could uncover forgotten stock at an online discount store. Eventually, she struck gold. It turned out that in 2007 Le B had been “reworked”—by Olivia Giacobetti—and relaunched in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the original Le B. According to Fragrantica, Giacobetti “created a new composition of the old notes, inspired by sun, orange tree, sand, cotton, white flowers and clean linen.” The drawback? It was only available in Paris. Fortunately, a friend was headed to France and agreed to bring back a bottle. Lea found the new version more serious, more long lasting. “The astringent side of florals,” she described it. It was like rediscovering a high school sweetheart: Lea could still spy the bright and hopeful face of her first love beneath its current sophisticated veneer. Bottom line? Yes, it was indeed Le B.

And so a perfume monogamist learned to cheat. Precisely which perfume she’s cheating on at any given time is unclear: is she cheating on Eau d’Hadrien with the revamped Le B? Or should Le B claim pride of place in her heart, rendering reformulated Hadrien the interloper? Either way, Lea now does what the rest of us have long done: she lets mood or occasion dictate her choice. Eau d’Hadrien is still her daily default, but on days when she wants something fancier, or “more grown up,” as she says, she turns to Le B.



PS: Thanks to Lea for the title!

Photo credit: Phillip Toldeano (via


  • Perfumista8 says:

    Great article! I too am perfume promiscuous (love that term). I’m no “pretty woman” looking for the one, though. I’m foolin’ around just for the fun of it.

  • Eldarwen 22 says:

    Before I fell down the rabbit hole, I was wearing Pleasures and Happy for years until I got bored with them both. I have a few that I do wear on a regular basis and and that’s Cuir de Russie and Lyric for women, even in the dead of summer.

    • Sam says:

      I just put on Lyric Woman the other day–in the heat–and it was glorious. I bet Cuir de Russie would be good in warm weather as well–I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Tom says:

    I am a serial monogamist, bordering on scent slut. I wore Hadrien for years and still have some of the old stuff- and yes the first reformulation was disastrous, the second not so bad. Then Eau de Sud, mostly because they were very work friendly. But at night? Total scent slut..

    • Sam says:

      Ha–thanks for the chuckle, “scent slut.”

      I think you mentioned the Hadrien reformulation on PST years ago, which was the first time I’d heard about it. My friend Lea smelled her awful sample not long after–and I was able to say that, indeed, I’d heard from “an authority” that a reformulation had taken place. So thanks for the heads up back then–and for confirming her sense that a second reformulation had subsequently occurred, with far better results.

  • nozknoz says:

    Delightful! Also great to hear that Eau d’Hadrien has reemerged – it was my first niche scent back in the 1990s, too. I’ll have to schedule a little rendezvous! 😉

    • Sam says:

      It was my first niche scent in the early 90s, too! What a wonderful gateway drug–er, fragrance. I’d be curious to know what you think of it now.

  • Joao says:

    This story reminded me my own story. Since the late eighties Bel Ami from Hermes have been everything I needed on a daily basis. Until the reformulations changed it in a way that althought still pleasant,it is not everything I need anymore.
    I still wear the current formulation, but I’m trying to find (for more than a year now) something that I can love in the same way.
    I’ve found some interesting alternatives, but nothing like the passion I had by that particular perfume so I’m still searching.
    I think the major diference today perfumes have when compared with the older ones are the lack of ingredients in their bases, and that leads to a lack of longevity and projection that is sad.
    Today is very dificult to find something excelent. Or maybe I’m wrong and I have just a bad luck.

    • Sam says:

      I think it may be hard to “recreate” that passion one has for one’s first perfume love. And maybe we change as time passes so one fragrance no longer does the trick (because perfume snuffing and collecting, as Musette pointed out, has majorly addictive qualities!). Or perhaps you’re right and modern perfumes just lack that certain something that keeps us mesmerized. I wish you luck on your quest–and hope you get to sniff a LOT of great perfumes along the way!

  • Lisa D says:

    Samantha, thanks for a wonderful story! I can’t relate to Lea, being “perfume promiscuous” myself, but I loved hearing about her quest for The One.

  • DinaC says:

    What a great scent story. Thanks for sharing that. I’ve heard sad stories about how my old high school and college signature scent, Lauren by Ralph Lauren (in the dark red cube bottle), has been reformulated so much it doesn’t smell the same anymore. I want an old bottle, someday, for nostalgia’s sake. But I’ve moved on and don’t do the sig scent anymore. 🙂

    • Sam says:

      Yeah, I revisited my old college fragrance (Calandre) and was quit underwhelmed (or, rather, shocked). Whether it had been reformulated or my tastes had changed, I don’t know; but sometimes it’s better to leave the past in the past…

  • Missie Sue says:

    What a delightful story! I’m glad that Lea has learned to enjoy her dalliances; complete monogamy is dull for me in almost any arena, let alone perfume (although I have always thought signature scents were sort of glamorous, in an old-school diva kind of way).

    • Sam says:

      I agree with you about signature scents: they do seem glamorous. I’ve always wanted to be someone who could find a single perfume and make it my own. A dear friend of mine wore Chanel Cristalle EDT every single day, and when I smell it I think now–decades after I last saw her–she immediately comes to mind. Very cool; but not for me.

  • Sam says:

    Isn’t it interesting when people associate a particular scent with you, and you’re like, “Dude, that’s only one side of my scent personality?” For a while–in the mid-90s–I wore Hermes Caleche to work most of the time, so people associated it with me (too bad, since it was never “me” at all).

    If you live in Southern NH, then we can’t be that far away, since I live in Southeastern VT. In fact, I was just in Keene NH today…but I live across the CT River in Brattleboro.

    • FragrantWitch says:

      Ah Keene – at the end of the longest road from Peterborough – I swear that road is some lind of time space continuum as it takes AGES especially when you are behing someone slow and there are NO passing zones. Arghhhh…….I hail from a bitty town near Milford NH but currently live in England!

      • Sam says:

        Yes, the long road from Peterborough to Keene! I’ve driven it many times–and always wondered why on EARTH the drive was taking so long. 😉

        But you’re in England now! How marvelous. I used to live in Wales–a number of years ago–and loved it.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    Cute story! Shalimar was the closest I’ve ever come to a signature scent (and I suppose to some degree it is as people who have known me since forever associate it with me as it is always in rotation) but I was always out there sniffing looking for the ONE. Of course, now I know there are many ONES!
    I have to ask where in Northern New England you are, hailing from Southern NH as I do..

  • Musette says:

    That’s a great story!!! Of course I cannot relate. I’m that old, tricked-out whore on the street corner, leaning in every car window, hoping to score the latest, newest Perfume Crack. And it’s never enough – NEVAH! So I stay on the corner, in sun and snow, wind and rain, in my pleather boots…looking for that next score….

    xo :Devil:

    • FragrantWitch says:

      Awesome mental image! Snapping sample vials under your nose to keep your engines revving til the next hit while the neon lights reflect off of your red ( gotta be red, I think) pleather boots…

    • Sam says:

      Oh my god, thank you so much for that image. Is there a better phrase than “tricked-out whore”? I think not.

    • I’m right there with you sister Musette. Are we whoring or offering salvation, or dealing crack?
      Portia xx

  • Ann says:

    Hi, Sam, great post! I was nearly on the edge of my seat reading, to find out how things ended up for Lea. Glad she’s found her old love and now has several to love. I’m with you (and Sara above) — having just one signature scent would send me over the edge. So now I’m humming that old song “Too many fish in the sea …”

    • Ann says:

      BTW, that’s the old Marvelettes’ tune, in case anyone’s wondering.

      • Sam says:

        I was wondering! Lately I’ve been humming an old CSNY song, “Guinevere.” Who knows why. Nothing to do with perfume (but it’s pretty). Wonder what fragrance she wore…

  • Sara says:

    This story is utterly adorable. The idea of having just *one* signature scent makes my head explode, though!