Scent Maps

Once again, like a river heading to the fragrant ocean, this post won´t be a direct journey to perfume. We will get there though, I promise. Strap on your pith helmet, have a flashlight at the ready, and settle on down for the meandering ride.

As a kid, if I wasn´t digging holes in the garden/yard to the misery of ma, or reading novels, or setting light to newspaper in the old bomb shelter up the road, I could be found studying maps. Man, I loved them. My grandfather had given me a pre-war atlas where half the globe seemed coloured a colonial pink, and that bore little resemblance to the ongoing transformation of the world in the 1970s. I´d sit there in my florally embroidered denim flares (funny how feminine male wear was in that mad decade) and look at the names of far flung places and the contrast between the political maps and the natural tapestries of the physical ones. Like many young boys and girls, I longed to travel and see these deep purple mountain landscapes, lost lakes, and lands of ice. I felt by touching the maps, by saying the place names, I could somehow transport myself to the contours under my fingers. It was an aesthetic appreciation rather than a political one – I didn´t much care for the borders or the shapes of countries, or who apparently owned what. What most appealed was the feeling of place names in my mouth as I said them – Kamchatka, Tierra del Fuego, Ouagadougou; the patterns of blues and browns and greens against each other.

I didn´t really get to travel until my late teens. Before starting university I bought a two month European rail travel ticket and set off in late June. I had a choice to head east or west, and after much prevarication I decided a provisional route would be through France to the Alps, down the spine of Italy and then the Greek islands. I had a wonderful time, came back bronzed and apparently worldly (little did I know…), but in my heart of hearts knew I´d travelled in the wrong direction. Italy and Greece were after all the ROMANTIC destinations and were therefore the default settings for a young man whose head was full of fluff and longing. But in reality I longed for Spain. And Morocco, which was somehow magically included in Europe as far as interrailing was concerned.

Spain, for dreamy old me at least, wasn´t the land of the tacky costas but a world of unbridled passion and reinvention, kissing distance from Africa, the continent with the best names on the map. I had romanticised it completely in my head: all Moorish legacy, gypsies, beautiful people, danger and wild party spirit that kept going forever through an eternal summer. Surprisingly, when I finally made it to Seville much later on, I found I was right. Morocco, in contrast, was a shock.

As a fragrance fiend, both these places are recalled by smell. Seville is a cliché of orange blossom of course, but it´s also reawakened in my head by wafts of Guerlain´s Vetiver, sniffs of smoked paprika and fresh fish frying in olive oil. Morocco, and Marrakech in particular (a must visit before it changes completely), is a little different and works more as a juxtaposition of the sublime with the downright malevolent – intense heady florals sit right next to a layered accord of intense heady piss (male of course) drying in the intense heady heat; delicate spices waft up as a fragrant counterpoint to the nasal wtf? of raw sewage and rot. Aaah, memories…

In his standard faux-poetic promo blurb, Serge Lutens, denizen of Marrakech, is described as a traveller in time´. Well, it´s not time I´m after today even if we´ve ended up in the souk, it´s space, and my nomination for traveller in space, in a non-Neil Armstrong sense, would be another perfumer altogether, Bertrand Duchaufour. My hunch is that BD was also a childhood map studier, as his inventions are as site-specific as that sculpture you recently raised your eyebrows at outside your least favourite office block. You know the one.

Take Sequoia, that winy liniment heavy Comme des Garà§ons number which does for West Coast sap what Viagra did for other wood (aherm): you´re in a redwood forest, or at least a virtual version of one, with all its aromas, including the decay, with a few eucalypts just round the corner. Or Timbuktu, a place I´ve never been to, but which seems to be securely bottled by Duchaufour. It´s mayhem close up – shrill acidic shrieks, spices and flowers and heat and dirt – transformed into an exotic yet friendly incense in its sillage. The close up is the reality; the long shot is the romantic imagination at work. I never seem to like Timbuktu when I spray it, but no other perfume garners as many compliments when I wear it.

No surprise then that dear Bernie was asked to invent scents to capture the smells of Paris, Budapest and Helsinki in a 2003 olfactory exhibition. Or that the Eau d´Italie line of fragrances used him as the nose behind their four scents. And it´s these I´m going to talk about now.

Like I´ve already said, unlike many, Italy doesn´t hold a romantic footing in my imagination, and for some reason, Italy in French less so. However, lagging behind many other scent fiends, I finally got in touch with the delightful Sebastià¡n (who´s Spanish – so that´s three countries covered…), one of the brains behind the line, via Eau d´Italie´s gorgeous website ( and blagged some samples. Their eponymous first scent sets the scene for the other three – they´re naked and clean in design, transparent and minimalist fragrances with little clutter in top or base. This one begins with a refreshing blast without resorting to the cologne 101 of in your face lemon or bergamot or some other predictable hesperidic HELLO. It´s quiet, understated and for me the best bit of the scent. Their website says that the scent has a je ne sais quoi quality to it and that it melds with the wearer´s own skin chemistry. Unfortunately for me, I sais exactly quoi the scent does with my skin chemistry, and it´s plastic, melted slightly in a Bunsen burner. Oh dear. Seems like I´m unlikely to become that cosmopolitan European who stays at Hotel Le Sirenuse as a matter of course, if this scent´s response to me is anything to go by.

Paestum Rose in contrast is much more likeable, and perhaps more recognisably a Duchaufour fragrance. It has a little something in it to dirty up the rose, and is as much about resins as it is the flower itself. It´s dry, crisp, bright and fairly rapid in its journey from top to base notes. It has been blogged about in greater detail elsewhere and I can imagine it being the most popular in the line.

A theme seems to be emerging – I like the first few minutes of these scents much more than the scents overall. And this definitely applies to Sienne l´Hiver which is a delight at least in its top notes – crisp lychee (not listed but I´m sure of it) and violet – before it becomes a green scent very reminiscent of something else I´ve smelled recently (and wasn´t too keen on). It´s early spring rather than winter to me, and will appeal to green scent lovers quite readily.

My favourite of the line I´ve saved until last – Bois d´Ombrie. This has notes of cognac, leather, orris and vetiver, a deliciously rich combination. Here though, they retain that sheerness of the other scents, whilst being slightly more linear. It´s very much a reading by the fire sort of smell – in an old fashioned sepia world where everything is a shade of brown and the flames flicker caramel colours in the glass of brandy warming in your hand. In fact, this combination of notes smells most like rich pipe tobacco and for that reason alone this brings me comfort. My grandfather, who gave me my first book of maps, was a pipe smoker, and he´d always allow me to fill his pipe with the aromatic herbs before tamping it down and inhaling.

I´m there again now, lying on the floor in front of the fire, whispering place names to myself as the delicious smoke fill his lungs, and my nose. My grandfather nods off in his chair as I flick through pages, gaze up at the fire and speculate about my future. I´m already living more in my imagination than in the room in which I lie. Travelling in space; travelling in time.

The Eau d´Italie line of fragrances are available from or in the States and Liberty in the UK. You can also pick them up in Positano.

  • Leopoldo says:


    Blimey! A potential fan. This could go to my head. And I’m only at the planning stage. Best get a move on. I don’t want to let down my loyal public!:d

  • Leopoldo says:


    Thank you for teaching me that Duchaufour is the brains behind other scents, particularly Avignon and Kyoto (both of which I also love). I wish I knew that before my posting; it makes complete sense. He’s been lucky to get so many wonderful opportunities – and the companies he’s worked for are lucky to have him.

  • Leopoldo says:

    Gaia – I reckon it’s because our interior landscapes are all entirely idiosyncratic. They fling us into separate worlds, even as we exist alongside each other in the actual… Or something…

  • Leopoldo says:

    FF – I’m with you for the atlas gifting. What a lovely reply. Thank you.

  • Leopoldo says:

    Tom – I’m already clinging to far too much in cyberspace…!

  • Leopoldo says:


    I remember seeing those little dachsund symbols last time I was in Paris – but I guessed those chichi dog walkers would ignore them in their usual poodled up way. Good to know I’m probably wrong…

  • Maria B. says:

    I’m late because I was out of town, and while it is still barely today here, it is already tomorrow where most of you are. I just wanted to tell you, Leopoldo, that you write marvelously well and you shouldn’t let drop that dream of yours of writing a novel. You have the talent. I’ll be your fan.

  • Ellen says:

    Lee, thank you for another beautiful post. I know it’s one I’ll be rereading at my leisure because you write so well. While I do sincerely love the olfactory journeys of Jean-Claude Ellena, for one, I am forever in M. Duchaufour’s debt. His Eaux d’Italie are delightful (esp. that truffle/black olive note in Sienne l’Hiver!), as is Timbuktu. He also did (love!)Comme des Garcons Avignon and Kyoto, as well as the hot hot hot CdG Harissa and L’Artisan Piment Brulant. I first knew that it was love for me & M. Duchaufour when I smelled Comme des Garcons Sherbet: Rhubarb. Thank you for spotlighting his amazing talents!

  • Beautiful post.
    It’s interesting how subjective fragrance journeys can be. For me, Dzonkha is Midtown Manhattan, but most of the Bonds are not very New York. Italy is so many things to me, so I’m scared to even try connecting it with specific scents. But, I have a soft spot for everything “Bois”, so that alone is a good enough reason to sniff.

  • Lee,

    Thank you so much or this beautiful post. Like you, many of my happiest childhood moments were spend poring over atlases; in my case my dad’s gigantic National Geographic Atlas – the kind you had to lay down on the floor or a table to read (I preferred the sprawl mode of virtual travel). Though my international travels have been limited to a few months in the UK more years ago than I care to remember, I found that being open to the possibility of other people and other places actually existing outsied the small town I was born in, opened my mind to discover more about them in other ways – cuisine, music, personal adornment and most recently fragrance. The major one though, well that’s what I do for a living, moving freight around the globe those wonderous places. Amazing what an atlas will do for a child. I think one should be given to each kidlet as a birthright.

  • tmp00 says:

    I left actual boyhood well back in the last century, but I can cling to it in cyberspace. So should you!

  • Louise says:


    Denyse could describe the Parisian doggy-poo situation better than I-but it is much cleaned up in recent years, aided by the cutest Dachsund-like icons embedded in the sidewalks-noses pointing to the curbs…

  • Leopoldo says:

    Sariah – I can see the T42 thing and that reference to blood – true too. I’ll see what I can do sometime about Timbuktu and Dzongkha.

  • Leopoldo says:


    indeed – rarara etc. Though I’m convinced I no longer qualify for boy power – evidence of male pattern baldness is, after all, rapidly emerging on my crown…

  • sariah says:

    Hi Lee – nice review – I hope you review his L’Artisan scents too. I liked the Bois d’Ombrie the best too, reminded my of Tea for Two with leather, and blood. Good for the brawny hunter type, which I am not, I find the Paestum Rose the most wearable.

  • tmp00 says:


    (late to the party as usual, blame Pacific time!)

    Once again, brilliant writing! Glad to read that you will be gracing us with more on a regular basis!

    Boy Power! <:-p

  • Leopoldo says:


    Thanks. Yoiu know, I’ve got a decant of Dzongkha somewhere, and it’s really grown on me. But then, I think I’m a hopeless case for anything with iris. Truly hopeless.

  • Leopoldo says:


    You’re too good to be real!

    I’d show you around any time!

  • Leopoldo says:

    M – that probably should have been cara mia… Who knows…

  • Leopoldo says:

    Marina, caro mio

    Expect to see me here every other Thursday. And I appear sporadically elsewhere too (like perfumeoflife)…

    Thank you!

  • Leopoldo says:

    Elle – like you, I’m drawn to skanky smelling places. What made me love NYC in the summer was that intoxicating night-time aroma of pee and garbage; and Cairo (the city I’ve probably most loved without suffering a headache too often [I’m talking about you, La Paz]) even though it mainly smells of heat, fumes and rot… Not that Cairo edp would be a must buy… bleurgh.

  • Leopoldo says:

    Good points, all of em.

    Mind you, I’m not sure these smells ever really capture the essence of a place – they’re hyper-real journeys I think and allow us to perhaps inhabit imaginary landscapes in our interior selves (wordy, moi?). They often have that introverted character to them (except Timbuktu – which seems to be very much the show off…)

  • Leopoldo says:


    Om shanti baby.

    I’m with you really – they’re sniffers rather than wearers. But hell, we’ve got so much stuff, it’s nice to rule some out isn’t it?

  • Leopoldo says:

    Louise – love that juxtaposition of the old ladies and the pissoirs – so true! Is it still the dog crap capital of the world I wonder… It’s been five years since I was last there.

  • Leopoldo says:

    March – that’s true, though to be fair a lot of those travel smells are fairly challenging… Made up for by the sudden bursts of beauty I guess.

  • Ina says:

    I feel like I’ve just time-traveled to your childhood and all the places you mention. 🙂 I agree, BD’s creations are so transportational (?). If you haven’t been there, it’s probably hard to love the scent. I really like Bois d’Ombrie but cannot like Dzongkha, for instance. Keep writing, honey! 😡

  • Patty says:

    I’d meander with you any time, babe. Beautiful post, and it was so cozy. I’ve travel so little beyond the North American continent, and I really need to rectify that.

    I used to dream of going everywhere, and I keep encouraging my kids to do it when they are young or they will put it off an dhave kids of their own and not do it for 20-30 years. 🙂

    Haven’t sniffed any of these, and I really need to. To much else running under my nose these days!

  • Marina says:

    What a treat this was!! Leopoldo, please, write more, more, more!!!!!

  • Elle says:

    What a wonderful post! And such great memories of your grandfather – I could so clearly see that room and wish I’d had a grandfather like that (never got to know either of mine). Perfume and travel are two of the main things that make life worth living for me and my favorite scents almost always end up being very closely associated in my mind w/ a particular place. I think I often gravitate towards skanky scents because so many of my most loved places are dense w/ less than sanitized odors. Sequoia and Paestum Rose are my fav Duchaufour scents. I feel I *should* have loved the latest two Eau d’Italie scents, but my #*&@!% skin chemistry was rudely uncooperative.

  • carmencanada says:

    Wonderful post, Lee… it reminded me of my own finger travelling on maps and atlases as a child. I’ve been giving some thought to the now-pervasive perfumery idea of creating scents to reproduce (or conjure) places. It must be my classical bent, but I still can’t wrap my mind around the idea of wearing the scent of a place. Unless, of course, the idea is to move about in a little bubble-aura of elsewhere-ness. Must think more.

  • chayaruchama says:

    Well, beloved-
    In the words of ‘young Mr. Grace’:
    “You’ve all done very well !”

    Great job reviewing these…

    Myself, I find that I enjoy sniffing them more than wearing them .
    I find the Eau d’Italies to be too linear on my skin, with the woody notes remaining rather harsh- but they’re fun to smell.

    I’m probably in the minority, though !

    Keep on truckin’, baby.

  • Louise says:

    Lee-I love your far-ranging post today! Time and space and especially late teen years, when so much is shaped. So well captured. You helped me understand some of my love for Lutens-pulling up long-buried memories of Paris, when richly perfumed old ladies side-stepped the open pissoirs (before the scary 2 Euro sanitized toilettes). I also adore Bois d’Ombrie. Quick word of warning-the Positano shop is closed for the winter. Go to the Amalfi coast for the scenery-but order the fragrance online!

  • March says:

    Great post! You make me want to take a travel and smell some things. There is nothing like getting out of the daily routine to open my mind to new smells.@};-