Fierce Beauty

Diva came to me and said, madre (she´s taking 7th-grade Spanish), show me your nastiest perfume. Why? I don´t know. I don´t ask. Maybe she´s collecting raw material for the therapist´s couch when she´s 23? I haven´t gotten my sample of Human Existence yet, and Borneo´s gone missing (shudder). She was underwhelmed by my Bal a Versailles parfum, dismissing my delicate suggestion of ladyparts with a shake of her head. So the choice was clear: I trotted out the ELdO Magnificent Secretions. When it got to the point of me saying, sweetie, this smells like sperm, I choked (figuratively) and left her to form her own opinions. I was fascinated when she declared it smelled “like a knife covered in blood. It smells like metal. It´s scary.” I was pleased, since I think it smells like blood, too.

Every now and again, when I catch myself making one of my pronouncements about how much I loathe Fragrance X, I like to go back and re-smell it to see if I´ve changed my mind. Having said three times in a week during blog-related discussion how much I hated Prada Woman, I decided during my last mall sniffage to give it another go. So I put on a spritz and waited and … it was lovely. Notes are: Bergamot Oil, Bitter Orange, Mandarin Flower, Mimosa, Rose Absolute, Peru Balsam, Patchouli Oil, Labdanum, Tonka Bean, Vanilla Absolute, Benzoin, Musk, Sandalwood.

I´m still scratching my head over this. My best guess is that over time my tolerance for patchouli has gone up. This time around with Prada I got all the sweet, soft florals I´d somehow missed before. When I look at the notes up there I think, damn – I should love this. I don´t get the big citrus at the beginning that some people do, but the mimosa is much more noticeable to me, although I can´t identify a “rose” note. I would even go so far as to describe this as predominantly floral on my skin, with the patch/sandalwood base gently cradling those florals rather than bludgeoning me with its astringent assertiveness. The sweet creaminess of vanilla/benzoin/tonka also help to highlight the florals, I think, and mutes the patch a bit.

In the meantime Patty keeps sending me samps of the Carons – the really nice ones I can´t smell in the store here. And she´s wearing me down. I want to post on them, but the thing is, every time I open the package of 10 vials, I´m overwhelmed by the gorgeous smell of them all together. It smells like honey to me, dark and rich and sweet, with that furry feel you get in the back of your nose when you smell beeswax. While Diva was mulling the Secretions, I dabbed on some Parfum Sacre extrait – which I don´t think they even make any more – and that´s a crime, because that jus would bring any normal person to his or her knees in gratitude. Everything I hated about the Caron base – that bitter, medicinal iodine smell – is muted into something powerful and strange and, yes, beautiful in the parfum versions, and what kind of fool was I? I couldn´t stop myself, and at the end I was wearing four of them: Parfum Sacre, Alpona extrait, Pois de Senteur extrait, and En Avion.

Then I grabbed Diva and Enigma and ran out the door to see a show, Flamenco Vivo, even though it was a school night, and late. Because, really, is there anything like flamenco? We had box seats looking down on the stage, and the acoustics were excellent. The five dancers seduce and retreat, invite and repel. They are tightly choreographed, but they improvise. The guitarists and the singer call out to the dancers, and the dancers work their castanets into a beat like rattlesnakes, unbelieveably, dangerously fast. They move their hands and their arms behind them, arching, graceful – and then they do this bizarre thing – they beat their hands against their breasts, smack them across their hips – Look At Me! At the end of two hours, the diva, Carlota Santana, came on stage with a man, and they beat that floor until it was smoking beneath their shoes. And I sat there, wafting an immense sillage of Caron, my wrists up near my face to maximize the scent. The sight and smell of that much fierce beauty all at once just about did me in.

I want to know: has there ever been a moment like that for you, when you were transported by a sight or an event, and a perfume connected to it? Or: is there any fragrance you´ve done a complete reversal on and fell in love with, and why do you think you changed your mind?

images of Carlota Santana y Flamenco Vivo:,

  • Robin says:

    My first niche sample set I ever bought was from Aedes, and I don’t think I liked a single one other than PdN Balle de Match, which they no longer carry. I am pretty sure that today, I own every single one of the scents in that set. I distinctly remember thinking Philosykos in particular was just disgusting.

    • March says:

      R, how typical!/:) When I think of you, I think of Philosykos in particular, oddly… I am assuming that, in many cases, we just grew into things.

      I am *really* enjoying your Annick Goutal series.

  • Amerie says:

    I loved your post and totally agree. There is nothing like that overwhelming feeling of losing yourself in a performance where your senses go into some other realm. Live performances are so much that a small image on a screen can never be. Maybe that is why Carons come to mind- they tend to be the same large experience, that cry no pardon and, if you are willing, catch you up and envelop you.
    The Christmas before last my partner saw that I was watching a vintage extrait of Nuit de Noel on my ebay (as I often watch those perfumes I am hoping a miracle will happen and nobody else in the world has seen it and I’ll get it for a song!!!). He bought it for me. That was the nice part of the story. My Beloved unfortunately believes that expensive vintage perfumes should be left untouched- they are after all an investment.
    The god of perfume lovers however was watching over me. It was a busy time and at night I would ensconce myself in my chair next to my perfume cabinet and wonders -a most blissful smell arose.So sad that the old seal had broken down and it took me sooo long to replace. Christmas time is now always Caron’s Nuit de Noel, spicy, warm, intoxicating.

    • March says:

      Amerie — I love all parts of your story, except the part where your perfume is an investment and you can’t wear it…

      It is my opinion only, but I believe perfume is for the living.:)>- Yes, you’re lucky to have yours precisely because someone else didn’t wear that old bottle. But still. Perfume wants us to love it, and life is often much too short to do without it.@};-

  • sariah says:

    Diva and Enigma sound like 2 lucky little girls. Lovely post March. The thing that does it for me is live music, but I don’t have any perfume memories linked with it – more like the smell of pot and sweaty bodies.

    • pitbull friend says:

      Sariah, are you sure? Doesn’t Etat Libre d’Orange make “pot smoke and sweaty bodies” perfume? Don’t worry, I’m sure they will soon! 🙂
      — Ellen

      • sariah says:

        Ellen – I’m sure they’ve got some poor perfumer chained to his desk working on it right now.

        • March says:

          S — I’ve now spent two days mulling this. I swear there is something that makes me think of pot smoke and sweaty bodies, but cannot come up with it. Driving me nuts.


  • Mike P says:

    Great story about scents intertwined with events…

    Mine is: Wearing Ambre Narguile for the 1st time (from one of those HUGE vials they sample at the Hermes boutiques when you get a nice SA) at a Christmas party I threw in my house. At the climax of the party – when all of my family & friends were there, people were meeting each other, everyone was eating & the Christmas tree was twinkling & sparkling with all of the gifts, my Ambre Narguile came alive on me!

    I remember thinking, ‘is this the smell of happiness’… I almost felt ‘high’ on the smell of it & every time I spritz AN, I think of happy Christmas memories.

    • March says:

      Mike — what a great scented memory! To be able to pop open that bottle of AN and have that wonderful Christmas jump out at you is indeed a fabulous thing.

      You know, AN layered with some sort of Christmas tree scent would, I think, be particularly lovely. Hmmmmm…. wondering what I have on hand…

  • Patty says:

    o/~ Soonah or latah, Caron is gonna Get ya
    o/~ Soonah or latah, Caron is gonna get ya o/~

    Hey, those castanets are really hard. My tap teacher years ago told me I hopped like a White Girl when I tapped, and she gave me the castanets to use to try and get better rhythm, which I do have great rhythm, I just hop when I’m rhythmic. I loved Delno, even if she never could make a tap dancer out of me.

    Now you see why I call my precious few drops of PS Extrait The Preciousssssss. I cry every time I think of the day when it is all gone, but I can’t keep it just to myself!

    • pitbull friend says:

      Patty, you’re a cutie bug! Did you ever see “When Harry Met Sally?” He refers to a special dance guys do, when they hate to dance but are trying to be cooperative on an early date: “The White Man’s Lip-Bite.” (The “dance” is a gentle swaying, accompanied by clenched jaw & agonized expression.) And thanks for the dang earworm!

    • March says:

      P — honest, that smell is sooo amazing. Thank you for that special gift. I think that, smelled individually and rationally, CanCan is blowing my skirt up the highest, but results may vary from day to day.:x

      Did you actually learn how to use those castanets? Dang. I tried once for a couple of weeks. It was hopeless.

      • Patty says:

        I’m such a maroon. Wrong comment in wrong place, look UP!

        I did learn to use them. Not great at them or super-fast, but I finally got what they were doing. I would *love* to do some flamenco dancing lessong, but W is just not interested. I think I need to try the, um, March advice given to L to convince him it’s in his best interests to go?

        The CanCan is amazing. It’s pretty high up on my list too.

        • March says:

          hahahahaha!!!! Warren will appreciate the effort, right?;)

          I could probably get The Cheese to wear a dress.

          That CanCan just might be THE ONE.^:)^

  • Maria B. says:

    I too had a transporting flamenco experience. I’ve enjoyed flamenco since I was a child, but never had much opportunity to see it live until I moved to California. Four years ago K and I got tickets to see the troupe Noche Flamenca in a small playhouse in the UC Berkeley campus. When we got there, we noticed a lot of leaflets for flamenco schools in the area. The audience was packed with people who knew what the dance was about. Oh, and our seats were in the second row! The flamenco that Noche Flamenca offers up is the real article, with improvisation and inspiration. The audience kept participating (as it’s supposed to) by yelling encouragement to the dancers. Then came the last number. Soledad Barrios, the lead dancer, took the stage by herself. What followed was not so much dancing as possession. She opened herself up completely to the duende–there, for us. I was full of gratitude and awe, as was K, as was the rest of the audience. I have never experienced a more electrifying theatrical moment.

    We saw Noche Flamenca again a couple of years ago, but it was in a larger theater at UC Berkeley. Soledad Barrios again opened herself to the duende, but the moment was diluted a bit by the size of the theater. Still, she was marvelous, and the experience was not to be misssed. If the troupe ever goes your way, make sure you take the girls, whether it’s a school night or a school day. Other flamenco artists just dance (many of them wonderfully, of course).

    I hope for my sake I was wearing Habanita extrait. Of the fragrances I had then, that’s the one that would have fitted the experience best. I’m only uncertain because it was July in Sacramento, my starting point, but I knew it would be cool in Berkeley. Another great one for flamenco would be Poivre, but I didn’t have any then.

    • March says:

      Maria — I have so many questions! I really need to do some research on flamenco. I’m used to seeing one dancer, up close, in a restaurant setting (from living in the Southwest) and I’m tempted to call it “tourist flamenco,” although I mean that in no way disparagingly — it’s just different. This was … more athletic? More dance-troupe-ish? Not sure if that makes it more or less authentic. I did get the strong sense that we should *all* be calling out, supporting them, except that a) most of us wouldn’t have any idea what to say (it would be the Spanish version of “work it!” and “you go, girl!”, I guess), and b) the venue was way too big and formal for that. But I felt like they really needed each others’ support to get where they needed to go. I love your use of the word duende. That was there, in the finest moments; it was staggering. I wish I understood the nuance of the individual gestures better; and there were the curious, almost graceless, but profoundly compelling movements — they did this hand-wiggle-waggle, and the breast-pounding (arms straight out at the side), and that wild leg-thwack … wonder if those were “authentic” or dance-craft add-ons, you know?

      Habanita and Poivre would be excellent choices. I actually tried to think of something else besides the Carons that would have felt right, and came up emptyhanded.

      • Maria B. says:

        March, I never shout anything, though I envy those with the confidence to do it. Shouting is Not Me–under any circumstance. Yelling something like, “Ole, ni~na!” is fine. or “Dale!” The people who know how to do it can yell out more colorful encouragements and compliments. I’m shy and my DH even shyer. :”>

        Yes, those “graceless” but “compelling” movements–that’s what makes the experience more than dance for me. Soledad Barrios’s solo was mostly tough, “graceless” in the traditional sense, but full of a higher grace. Staggering is right. Those gestures of pounding themselves on the chest, etc., are expressions of the deep anguish and passion for life the dancers try to represent.

        I wouldn’t assume that one dancer in a restaurant wasn’t authentic. I saw such a performance in Madrid. What matters is what the dancer does with her/his time on the stage, what attitude she/he brings. And let’s not forget the musicians and singers–they should be an integral part of the performance.

        I’m so glad you had a transporting flamenco experience. There’s nothing like it. The troupe must have been very good. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

        Hot flower scents are great for flamenco: hot rose or hot carnation. I haven’t tried Rosa Flamenca, but it sounds promising. 😉

        • Maria B. says:

          Oops, now that I’ve read about it, I guess Rosa Flamenca is not actually hot. It has the right name, though. 🙂

  • Devon Darrow says:

    My best experience with a fragrance and an event was in the Cayman Islands airport. The airport at that time was just an open barn-like structure and a warm breeze was wafting through. I had just purchased some Bal a Versailles and was wearing it, sitting at the airport having a pop and a man said, “it’s sure nice sitting down wind from you!”

    • March says:

      That is such an interesting olfactory image — tropical breezes and Bal. I *never* think of it in warm weather, but I should, shouldn’t I?

  • donanicola says:

    my volte face was Tabac Blonde but my excuse is I rejected the edt first then fell in love with the extrait so I can appreciate your Caron extrait fest! What an intense experience though, with the flamenco – sounds hypnotic. It led me to wonder what perfume I would like to have been wearing when I first saw the Sagrada Familia or the Alhambra or being on De Hoep in South Africa. I like Lee’s idea of Arabie for the spanish experiences though maybe I’d need something a little more contemplative. Hm I have a couple of prada samples at home – will try again as I really didn’t like it at first….or even second or third.

    • March says:

      Yeah, I think we ALL get a free pass for failing to appreciate Caron in the lesser concentrations. Tabac Blond in the extrait is a whole different, uh, cage of wild animals! And so sensual. Great choice.

      Let me know what you think of the Prada — I’d be curious if it grew on you any.

  • pitbull friend says:

    At 18, I sat by myself in a diner on W. 4th Street in Greenwich Village, drinking good strong coffee and smoking a cigarette. I was having many difficulties (unemployment, roommate troubles, took me to my Aunt Sylvia’s in Queens. She lived above my grandmother and two doors down from my Aunt Dorothy. At her kitchen table, I felt complete security, nestled among loving relatives. The smell: coffee, cigarettes, cantaloupe, and chocolate cake.

    My aunts and grandmother have long since died, and they don’t allow smoking in NYC restaurants any more. Perhaps some day I’ll be able to combine C. Brosius scents, or commission my own: Eau de Sylvia, the smell of secure love.

    • pitbull friend says:

      OOPS. I just deleted part of a sentence. Try that again, please:

      At 18, I sat by myself in a diner on W. 4th Street in Greenwich Village, drinking good strong coffee and smoking a cigarette. I was having problems(unemployment, roommate troubles, caring for sick relatives). But I relaxed as the aroma took me to my Aunt Sylvia’s in Queens. She lived above my grandmother and two doors down from my Aunt Dorothy. At her kitchen table, I felt complete security, nestled among loving relatives. The smell: coffee, cigarettes, cantaloupe, and chocolate cake.

      My aunts and grandmother have long since died, and they don’t allow smoking in NYC restaurants any more. Perhaps some day I’ll be able to combine C. Brosius scents, or commission my own: Eau de Sylvia, the smell of secure love.


      • March says:

        Ellen — another great story! Did Sylvia have any particular fragrance, I wonder?

        My house growing up had a very distinctive smell that I’d describe as books, radiator, dust and dog, with a drydown of cigarette and tea. To many people that’d probably be gross, but I can still conjure that comfort smell up in my mind.

        • pitbull friend says:

          Actually, March, it sounds great. I’d like a sample if you ever create it! In the Demeter discussion, someone mentioned the wonderful smell of rain on hot street. Freshly started radiator in the fall (dust burning off) isn’t a wonderful smell to me per se, but it is evocative.

          Aunt Sylvia’s personal smell from just up close was mostly cigarette, with a bit of pressed powder and the pencil she used to color in her eyebrows. That would be the slightly different “Aunt’s Hug” perfume! 🙂 Oh, and the coffee must be percolated Maxwell House, btw.

      • Patty says:

        Lord, you should have seen my tap dancing lip bite. Not just White Boys do it! Mine was concentration of trying to get the steps, sliding, shuffling all to go together gracefully. She’d even teach me some hard things, which I could do pretty well, It was the standard tapping without hopping I could not master. Jazz and ballet were EZ compared to tapping.

  • Elle says:

    My list of scents I’ve done a turn around on is embarrassingly long. Mostly involves white florals and rose scents. My best guess is alien abduction and something done to my olfactory receptors.
    I wonder how Diva and Enigma will feel about Caron in future years. What a great association you’ve given them! My father was an extremely serious opera buff and Wagner was his favorite, so he managed to get us to Bayreuth a few times. The first time we went I was seven and he decided Chant d’Aromes was the fragrance my mother and I should wear (me, since my mother really didn’t like wearing perfume, but I did). In truth, it’s not really in sync w/ Wagner, but it’s inextricably linked in my mind w/ Bayreuth, so it seems much more dramatic and intense to me than it actually is.

    • March says:

      Elle, if I ever find myself loving Angel or Borneo, I’m going with alien abduction, thanks.=:)

      That Chant story was beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing it. I can totally see what you mean; it’s not really Wagner material, but now it’s the perfect reminder.

      Hmmmm…. what WOULD go with Wagner? Mitsouko? One of the more outre Carons?

  • Flor says:

    It must be so amazing to see Flamenco dancing up close like that. I remember seeing a really intense Tango and I was floored.

    I really hate Prada and I don’t believe there will be a turn around. I hate it as much as I hate Angel, and that’s saying something. If I had read the notes before smelling it I would never have imagined that I would hate it so much. They’re all notes I love, but together in that perfume, I truly despise.

    • March says:

      Flor — Oh!! TANGO!!!! I would love, love to see some tango. It’s so sexy. I watch tango movies enviously, I’m not a very good dancer, so I have such respect for that.

      Well, you pretty much sound like me last month re: Prada! Angel is my go-to comparison for something scarifying.

  • Marina says:

    Sometimes, when I do come back ans re-smell(and I do do that, especially with the scents that are considered masterpieces and/or are very popular among the fellow perfume nuts). Sometimes the perception indeed changes and I fall in love (Feminite du Bois, Tea for Two, Rose de Nuit), but there are some scents that I have tried to like or at least to understand what others like in them many, many times (we are talking hundreds of samplings), in all their variations and concentrations, but in vain. Two examples- POTL and Mitsouko. (Yes, I tried the legendary POTL cream, yes, I tried Mitsi in perfume). :d

    • March says:

      Well .. POTL there is no confusion. I mean, it’s manifestly evil.:d Okay, okay, we both have the wrong skin chemistry for that one.

      Regarding Mitsouko — do you think it’s manifestly evil? Or does it just not do it for you? (Ina’s Admire but Fear?) I confess to feeling that way about the mainline Patous — I think Joy, Sublime and 1000 are pretty awe-inspiring, but I wouldn’t wear any of them on a bet.

  • chayaruchama says:

    Well, dearheart,
    You did well.
    Despite the awful things I’ve forgiven my mother for, what I will always be grateful for, are the moments you describe…

    Saving pennies to see the Ballet Folklorique,Stokowski at Carnegie Hall conducting Beethoven’s 9th, Dinu Lupatti playing Chopin…

    Taking me out of school to witness the opening of the Whitney Museum; taking me to MoMa at a drop of the hat-
    Candlelight breakfasts on snow days, on the good china.

    This is your legacy.
    It’s a grand one.

    Love you, March.:x

    • March says:

      Chaya — thanks for the encouragement. I’m trying to recreate some of that for my kids… my mom wasn’t much for going out (anywhere!) but they routinely sent me *alone* to the Kennedy Center. And I was, I admit, exactly the sort of reliable 8-year-old you could do that with. I saw Barishnykov dance several times. I want my kids to be exposed to something other than American Idol, ya know?

  • Louise says:

    What a great mom! Sharing beautiful and scary scents and flamenco with the girls. I have had many times with my son, unconnected largely to perfume, though, when I sensed the enormity of a moment. A squeaky violin note, a soccer goal, a shared painting.

    Scent turn-around-it’s actually yer fault, March. Bois des Iles. I was ready to turn it over, noting no beauty, when you made me re-sniff. Now-I spray with wild abandon, feeling grown up and very pretty.

    Prada is great on you. If only it would last on me…

    Thanks for such a rich review!

    • March says:

      Louise, your scent-eating skin is legendary. Really, the whole Creed CDR thing fills me with awe.

      Yeah, I am glad the Bois worked out for you. It’s lovely on you. Did you find any keepers from our outing? (I forgot, which one smelled so good on you?)

      • Louise says:

        March-my skin-eating scent is only of awe to other…just an annoyance to me. I didn’t find any keepers from our junket…but did try Prada (don’t hate me, ladies and gents) layered with the lotion….and it stayed, nice and patchy, for 4-5 hours! Might have to hit ebay.

  • Lee says:

    I really liked Prada from first sniff.:d

    Arabie has done the connection thing for me more times than I can remember. And it’d probably be perfect for flamenco… That’s for those people who don’t despise it.

    • Maria B. says:

      I love Arabie. I don’t care who hates it (Patty). :d

    • March says:

      Lee — I guess I need to retry Arabie, don’t I? I wasn’t wild for it, but … you know … things change!

      What do you like about Prada, anyway? I would have thought not.

      • Lee says:

        You know – I only tried it once. I should’ve said I liked it from first and only sniff. Meaning, I didn’t like it that much.

        I’ll sniff it out later today.

  • Gaia says:

    My biggest crow-eating regarding perfume was with Regina Harris. I used to think that it was old lady juice, but months later it brought sexy back and I actually bought a bottle.
    And, I just posted this evening about how I no longer hate Zagorsk, and actually enjoyed wearing it this week. I don’t adore it, but it’s no longer kryptonite.
    In both cases, the reason might be time of the year, time of the month and better tolerance for notes that used to be out of my old comfort zone. My horizons are significantly broader this days. But I still hate Prada (though it’s not the patch. I think it’s the mimosa making me gag). Or, do I? I’ll have to check again soon.

    • March says:

      Regina Harris?! Hardy har. That’s an expensive habit to develop… Zagorsk, huh? 😕 That one seems so tame … I have mixed feelings about the Ourzazate (not sure I spelled that right) but, hey, I’ll probably come around!