A gift to Myself – La Via del Profumo

A few months back I was browsing the internet, reading about perfume (what else?) when I remembered Luca Turin’s blog post about ordering a bespoke scent from Dominique Dubrana’s website, AbdesSalaam Attar Perfumes.

I loved Turin’s retelling, from mockery of a custom-made perfume (like having a book written only for you) to the direction he ultimately took: throwing in the notes of a beloved vintage Lelong, curious whether the result would somehow point in the same direction. Turin’s a fan of Dubrana’s work, and admired the process, particularly that Dubrana asked him nothing about himself and just got on with it. The result was a success.

In a moment of weakness, I decided to do the same. I am, for the record, not the sort of person who’d spend $250 on a whim, not even for a perfumer I admire a great deal. I have bills to pay and if I have extra cash sitting around I’ll spend it on something more urgent than a crap-shoot vanity scent. Which, in the moment, made the idea even more compelling; why not? Why couldn’t I, on rare occasion, be the impulsive spendthrift, rather than following my usual dull borderline CPA-level cost-benefit approach to life?

So I filled out the form (link here) which contains a minimum of information and groups your choice of notes into different categories like a menu, without much in the way of guidance. I didn’t sit there and ponder my choices – the point was to be swept up in the moment. I found myself being drawn to particular notes that are almost always attractive to me, and also make me think of Italy.

As an American, I have the humorous and likely universal experience when traveling to Europe of marveling at how old everything is. A hundred-year old house in the US is old; 200 years is bordering on ancient. In Rome, or Paris, or London, “ancient” is a completely different thing. For all I know, a hundred-year-old dwelling in those cities doesn’t even exist downtown, unless it’s in an area deliberately (or accidentally) razed and rebuilt.

So, back to my perfume quest – I found myself selecting notes that I hoped would conjure what Italy smells like to me – like dirt and dust (in the best ways), and polish on old wood and stone, like candles in the duomos I visited. And finally, like orange – a hat-tip to the tiny bottle of Arancia Dolce I bought at i Profumi di Firenze in Florence years ago, after a few hours of smelling everything they had, in ecstasy, at what turned out to be the stealthy beginning of my perfume obsession.

I didn’t write down what notes I’d selected, and there wasn’t a place to write down anything else, either – any hopes or dreams or whatnot. I picked honey, beeswax, smoke, orange, and some resins, poked the submit button and hoped Luca Turin’s assumption – that they’d get back to you for further tweaking if your combination of notes sounded terrible – was correct.

I got a generic confirmation email that my order had been placed. I replied with cheerful thanks and an offer to stand by for any questions. A few weeks later I got a hurried email from Dubrana himself that he’d been traveling, and then ill, and he apologized for the delay. I replied that I didn’t have a timeframe in mind (I didn’t), and that I hoped the resulting fragrance would make me think of my joyous time traveling in Italy (also true), and not to worry, and was there anything else he needed to know?

In the crazed run-up to the holidays I got an email regarding shipping which I promptly forgot about, and then a few days later, the bottle itself arrived.

And it’s lovely. It reminds me of Mecca Balsam, which I adore; not a huge surprise considering the notes I picked. But instead of Mecca Balsam’s sweetness it’s smoky, and the oranges at the top are a delight. I wish the orange stuck around longer, although I’m hardly surprised that it doesn’t; oranges never seem to. The drydown, hours later, is a quiet haze of earth and snuffed candle.

Ultimately I like it better as a room spray than a personal fragrance, which makes sense given my scent-memories’ basis in the physical spaces I visited. Like everything else I’ve tried from Dubrana, the scent lasts forever. And so now, improbably, I can walk into my small, cozy living room in suburban Washington, D.C. and spend a moment basking in the smell of a villa in Italy.




  • Austenfan says:

    Loved this post, I’ve yet to try my first Dubrana, but I will, at some point I will.

  • Ann says:

    This is wonderful, March!! What an exciting leap of fragrant faith! And how cool is it that now you’ve sort of got your own custom room spray? Can’t sniff it anywhere else but at Chez March! Love it!! Hugs to you, dear!!

  • sara says:

    I loved this post and the vicarious thrill. Thank you!

  • Koyel says:

    I really enjoyed this post 🙂 so much so that I’m commenting without having anything useful to say.

  • Kathleen Smith says:

    March, I told myself “why not” as well and splurged. I placed my order for the bespoke fragrance, choosing my favorite notes, hoping to create a fragrance honoring a special scent memory. I cannot contain my excitement anticipating how the perfumer Dubrana will interpret my choices.

    • March says:

      Oooooh, tell me more! And at minimum, report back and tell me how it worked out! Did you spend hours over your choices? Did you already have notes in mind?

      • Kathleen Smith says:

        Thank you for informing me of this perfumer and opportunity to request a custom fragrance! I was planning on waiting for my birthday, but then thought “why not” now?
        I already knew which notes I wanted, and selected my favorites without further thought (jasmine sambac, Angelica, bergamot, vanilla, Tonka, civet, and labdanum). I am intrigued how this will come together in the perfumer’s hands? I love fragrances with these notes. I am hoping these notes will create a sense of peace, comfort, and connection to the memory of my sweet Bentley (I love my dogs more than anything and he was my special boy my heart aches I miss him so). He always calmed my world and eased my anxiety, and I hope this fragrance will take me to that place. I have a fragrance in memory of my special girl dog Brie, I initially found a candle to burn when she passed and since found the similar scent in DSH Vanilla Bourbon Intense. I love comforting scent memories! I’ll update you March when I receive the fragrance.

  • springpansy says:

    I loved this post, the same way I loved the one you did about times that we splurged on something special (yours was Encens Mythique). What a intereseting and fun thing to do – have a custom perfume created. And as you said, “why not?” Why not (once in a while) take the different fling-caution-to-the-winds, experience life in the fullest, spend more on yourself and enjoy it approach?

  • cinnamon says:

    What fun — and how interesting. I have a notes list tucked away for ‘one day’. Maybe this could be a way to address it, though not at the moment (need a new laptop battery, among other things).

    • March says:

      I know, there’s always some boring thing that needs our money — I think the cold has more or less killed off my car battery….

  • Andrea says:

    Thank you for trying it out and writing about your experience! It is a flicker of the thrill if one did it oneself. Choosing your own notes was the first thing to get me interested in perfumes. Love your blog!

  • Maya says:

    This sounds really lovely. I checked out the form page and not surprisingly everything I picked was from the Flower and the Special Scents. I cannot imagine how they would/could come together to create something nice, but who knows, maybe I will try this someday. It could be fun and interesting. and satisfy my never-ending curiosity.

    • March says:

      Yeah, how does that work anyway? If you pick seven flowers, does he just use that? Or does he end up putting something else in there for the base?

  • Musette says:

    You have such a lovely approach to life. Just sayin’. xoxoxoA

  • Maggiecat says:

    Must. Get. To. Italy!

  • Tara C says:

    How lovely! Your note selection reminded me of Séville à l’Aube, although that one has a green stemmy opening that isn’t in your scent. Some day I’d like to order one from him too, just for fun, but when I’m obsessing about perfume I never think of it. He is so far off the radar if you are not a perfumista. I know a couple of people who have done it and they were happy with the result. However I’m obsessing over jewelry right now, so maybe next year. 🙂