It’s cold here, and we’ve had some lovely snow. I was walking along in the sunlight, getting a bit of fresh morning air, and the most interesting, delightful combination of smells wafted over me – that frosty, icy smell of a cold day, combined unexpectedly in the moment with the smell of hot roofing tar. My guess is someone was fixing a roof nearby. Anyway, it was swoon-worthy, so much more interesting and enjoyable than the hot-tar smell would have been in warmer weather, in my opinion.
That got me to thinking about birch tar and weird adjacent/combination notes in perfumery – there’s Bulgari Black with its rubber and tea, and that even more outré rubber-tar-gasoline Santa Maria Novella from eons ago … Nostalgia? And other unusual combinations from years past, often leathers. There’s Knize Ten, a very dark leather with a strawberry on top, and also the first time I ever smelled vintage Jolie Madame which was shocking to me, so much darker than I expected, that combination of extreme leather and creamy florals, although the fact that my bottles were old might have magnified the leather at the expense of the floral notes.
That led me to thinking about unexpected juxtapositions in perfumery, like in Tom’s recent post on Angel. I’m assuming most people aren’t getting what I get from Angel; Tom’s right that I once described it as “choco-vomit,” because the patchouli in Angel smells so sour and bitter to my nose. But I can’t deny that it’s an interesting combination, that baking cocoa and patchouli. I still don’t like it, never did, but obviously many, many people do.
Perfumes can be novel but also deeply familiar – like CB I Hate Perfumes Memory of Kindness with its tomato leaf, or Black March with its frosty earth, or some of Christopher Brosius’ other “virtual reality” scents. They call up memories — they’re weird because they evoke something specific and familiar, conjured out of scent; out of thin air, so to speak. They’re not weird like hot tar/cold air, or patchouli/chocolate. In contrast, the tomato-leaf note in DKNY New York is just … oddly out of place to my nose, with its cool-water-ozone-floral backdrop, like a tomato plant in an office building.
Mitsouko is manifestly odd, but odd all in one fell swoop – there’s not a single unexpected note sticking out of that golden, furry orb. In contrast, there’s the weirdness of the mint-herbal note in dirty ol’ Diorella — Chandler Burr described it as a fur coat rubbed with mint toothpaste. When I first smelled it, I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect that! (Tania Sanchez compared it to Vietnamese beef salad.) And I adore the surprise of sweaty notes in “nice” places they don’t obviously belong; in a men’s cologne they’re just a shorthand for sexy, but in Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger and Vero Kern’s Rubj they’re so much more arresting — what is that doing there?
Is there a fragrance with an unexpected combination of notes (maybe just unexpected to you) that has captivated you?
(home page image: Rafael Guajardo via Pexels)