En Passant triggered my thinking about Perfume Genius. For the purposes of my list, I defined Perfume Genius as a combination of notes, or a scent effect, that makes me stop in my tracks and go: whoa! That right there is pure fricking genius. So here you have – it was the best perfume and the worst perfume, but they were both genius perfume.
You will notice the conspicuous absence of Houses of Genius – I´m not talking about the brilliance of the Guerlinade or the god-like qualities of Christopher Sheldrake (although I can´t help but notice that Olivia Giacobetti is behind half of my genius scents.) I´m talking about individual great scent ideas that rocked me. By the way, that does not mean these are fragrances I love the most, or even wear much. They are just… genius.
- Frederic Malle´s En Passant – we just can´t leave this alone, can we? To borrow from Patty, this is Perfume Portraiture at its finest. Walk down the road with Olivia Giacobetti, past the bakery with the faint smell of baking bread, past the cucumber garden, past the wet fence and the lilacs in the rain.
- L´Artisan Tea for Two – another one by Giacobetti and my winter comfort scent. Not a summer tea like one of the Bvlgaris. This is lapsang, leather and smoke. The olfactory equivalent of your favorite armchair, a cashmere throw, a fine cup of tea and a great book in front of the fire on a rainy day.
- Parfums de Rosine Rose Ecume – I seem to like rose better when it´s mixed with something. This is beach rose and salt water. Salty rose? Pure genius.
- S-Perfume 100% Love. Something that sounds nasty and is actually perfect, like sushi. I am going to pull a quote from my recent post: you can parse the smells (yes, there is the rose, there is the chocolate, here comes the incense) but they meld together so beautifully and seamlessly that it is easy to imagine 100% Love as something God thought up but just didn´t get around to creating.
- Wickle Chestnut & Vetiver. The olfactory equivalent of the One-Hit Wonder. Ten years from now, no one will remember this. Is it Great Perfumery? Well, not really. But these two smells were made for each other; hence, it is Perfume Genius.
- Wickle Chestnut & Vetiver. Agreed, this thing is so simple, but the most delightful, happy smell. I would have never put them together on my own, but once joined, they just shout how brilliant it is.
- Frederic Malle En Passant. For all the reasons that I have repeated over and over. This is such an unexpected combination, that at first you just shake your head, and then it makes you wistful while laughing.
- Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman. Using hemlock just gives this perfume such a distinctive note. Her whole base in all of her perfumes are ones you can pick out anywhere. It’s like a great singing voice, it may not be technically the best voice, but it is distinctive, like Bob Dylan or Karen Carpenter or Bruce Springsteen. You would recognize it anywhere. That is genius, the thing that is set apart as unique and not like anything else.
- Shiseido Feminite du Bois. I’m not even sure I like this perfume all that much most of the time, but other times I adore it. Who knew you could throw in a bunch of fruit and some woody notes and come up with something that would be the mother of about ten more perfumes, each distinctive and special. This is like the Yardbirds of perfume — you may not love it, but it set up so many other distinctive things that would spin out of it, you can’t help but admire the creative genius behind it.
- Hermes Hermessences. Three of these are what I think of as the pinnacle of subtle and accomplished perfumery, Rose Ikebana, Vetiver Tonka and Osmanthe Yunnan. Even though I do not love Poivre Samarkande, I have to include it as well because it likewise is unique and subtle. The finessed hand of Jean Claude Ellena in these just make me curl my toes in delight. I’d have JCE’s babies. These I think of as the Four Quartets (well, three that I love, one that I admire, and one that… well, you’ll see, and that makes five, but I don’t like math to get in the way of a good parable), each can stand alone perfectly well, but it is when you look at them in total that it is clear how unique and beautiful they are. There is an exception…
(March) –Lifetime Achievement Award for best perfume genius: L´Artisan Passage d´Enfer – Incense is one of my favorite notes in fragrance. It tends to add weight and a solid base à¢â‚¬” it is austere, serious, meditative, dark, mysterious, smoky. CdG Avignon is a prime example. But Giacobetti (again!) did something brilliant and completely original in terms of the weight, development and tonal variation of this one. Passage is shot with light à¢â‚¬” it is buoyant. (I have decided calling it The Gates of Hell is some sort of ironic joke. It is about as far from hell as you can get.) It is one of the very few things in my regular rotation. In addition, it is my favorite fragrance to layer with: it creates depth with light fragrances, subtracts sugar from sweet fragrances, it adds a gorgeous sheen to almost any uncomplicated floral. I cannot imagine my perfume life without a bottle.
(Patty) — Lifetime Achievement Award for best perfume genius: Guerlain Mitsouko. I’m not able to wear this one that often, but the complexity and depth and uniqueness of this perfume is just breathtaking. It is the one perfume in this world that I insist everyone should smell because how you react to it is as unique and different as the perfume itself. There is no easy classification for this, though it is a chypre, it is just wildly different and thematic, and this round peg should never be jammed into a square hole. I know, I know, it is a round peg in a square hole, but then that’s a cliche, and Mitsouko is no cliche.
Of course, then there must be Evil Genius – fragrances that I can recognize the brilliance or artistry of that I just cannot stand:
- The Carons – all of them. Urn, classic, vintage, menthol, ultra-light 100, etc. I greatly respect the artistry of the house, and I keep looking for one that doesn´t make my face squinch up like Bill the Cat´s. I suspect there is a Caron base, and it´s something I can only admire from a reasonable distance – like the next solar system. The only one I didn´t completely loathe is Aimez-Moi, a sweet violet and probably the least Caron-ish of the Carons, but even that I wouldn´t wear if you gave me a bottle. (Patty, I am so, so sorry. Please don´t hate me for my idiocy.) Editor P — Bitch. :)(
- Serge Lutens Miel de Bois and/or Borneo 1834. Let´s give Serge an A for Abominable on these. The MdeB is really just the most amazing honey after four or five hours. Of course, you´ll be dead by then, because the ammonia vapors will have killed you. And Borneo – wow. Earning my rare Rasputin´s Armpit Award for Tenacity. A fragrance I find both brilliant and completely unwearable, the same way many (normal) people feel about my beloved Etro Messe de Minuit (moldy books? What moldy books?!)
- POTL Luctor et Emergo – I get none of the goodies – no white flowers, no resinous incense, no woods. It is instant Play-Doh – let´s call it the Play-Doh-nic Ideal. Maybe I´ve spent too many hours picking Play-Doh out of our carpets and upholstery (it is now an official banned substance at Chez Marchlion) but it´s a smell I hate only slightly less than Borneo.
- Apothia Velvet Rope – A great idea: Eau de Nightclub – vanilla, vermouth, vodka, grapefruit, tobacco. Reality: on me it is a drugstore floral so lame and laughable it makes those Escada summer crap scents look edgy. Even the dreaded Cigarette Butt note would be a welcome addition.
- Frederic Malle Parfum de Therese. A brilliant creation that, if it is your thing, is as stunning as En Passant. And let it be your thing, because it is certainly not my thing, never was, never will be, get that thing away from me, it smells like cilantro, urine, leather and unwashed nether parts. Pure Evil Genius.
- Hermessence Ambre Narguile, aka “The Nazgul.” A sweet confection of amber and honey and goo that vaguely reminds me of caramel — caramel from the depths of Mordor, made by the evil hands of orcs. I can sniff this and realize how completely unique and wonderful it is, as long as the cap stays on it and it is kept in a vault with no key. How could JCE create such masterpieces and also this “evil masterpiece” in his Hermessence series, but have this one go so completely bad on me. This is one I put on, and my husband has made me go into the other room — to another floor and then held his nose every time he walked by. Just when I thought JCE’s knowledge for what I love to smell was complete, he had to hatch this little Satanic monster.
- Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love this evil thing with a passion, but evil genius it is. A mix of camphor and tuberose, it assaults the nose, calling to mind the the sound of hoofbeats as the Four Horsemen pull up to your house to let you know the End ‘O the World as you Knew It has come, and there will be no more just sweet flowery perfumes on their own, they will be combined with “other things.” like rubber mentholatum steeped in turpentine.
- Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur — Sex and sin and things that bump together in the night. If you could just bottle “Cat in Heat” this would be it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be hot enough to wear this with a straight face. Should always be worn with only stockings held up with garters, but stay away from dogs.
- Le Labo Vetiver — Normally I would not think this is genius, but something that smells like ammonia and rubbing alcohol on me, but causes such swooning with March and Marina and Robin and others had to land in this category. This is the.worst.thing.I.have.ever.smelled, except that one time I fell in our shit pit on the farm. That anyone loves it with the same passion I hate it gives witness to its genius.
- Guerlain Shalimar — Soap, powder and baby spit-up for me. The best thing ever for others. That it has withstood the test of time and has so many fans either shows what a poor nose I have or what a difference in taste there is amongst people. I’d like to think the latter. I don’t want to smell like powder!!! Baby spit-up would be okay, but never powder. I look at my bottle longingly from time to time and wonder what this should be like if the world inverted for a day to a place where I liked powdery perfumes or they actually smelled good on me.
Honorable mention genius — Mostly because they just appeared at my door through the magic of United and DHL — Guerlain Sous le Vent and Plus que Jamais Guerlain. Sous le Vent is an outstanding green chypre. It is like lavender wafting over a field of green, near a forest, with the occasional sweet note of carnation or iris in the distance. It is completely captivating. It has some of the strangness of Djedi, without kicking all your moorings out from under your nose. Normally Lavender in perfume leaves me cold and with a headache, but this is blended perfectly so it captures the beauty of the lavender without overhwhelming the composition.
Plus que Jamais Guerlain — I stand by my love affair with the small sample I had before. This is True Love® . I’s just creamy velvety goodness that keeps my smitten nose pressed to where I have spritzed it. I could just hug them for making this available in the bee bottle with a better price tag.
It was the best perfume and the worst perfume, but they were both genius perfume.